B.J. Culver: “The Two-Headed Rat” (partial, from a novel for middle-grade readers))

AUTHOR:  B.J. Culver

TITLE:  “The Two-Headed Rat” (first three chapters of a novel)

GENRE: Middle Grade (9 – 12 years… suitable for some younger readers)

SYNOPSIS/LOGLINE: When evicted from his home for not conforming, Tom, a young rat, grows up quickly.  Fearful but productive adventures help him find his own destiny.

The Two-Headed Rat

from a novel by

B.J. Culver

           Deep in the sewers, on the good side of town, lived a young insecure rat who did not fit in.  His name was Tom.  To keep busy he explored tunnels and read discarded newspapers.  His nest held awesome junkyard garbage.  He occasionally tried to follow the rules Max, his older brother, set, but mostly…he did not fit in.

Tom’s tunnel ended at the south side of Slinky Town, after the junkyard, before the forest.   He was not to go beyond there.  It was the only rule he really paid attention to. Not once had his long thin toes crossed over that line.  He shuttered, as he remembered stories of rats that never returned.  No matter how curious he was.  No matter how much he wanted adventure.  He was not brave enough to break that rule.

His brothers often made fun of him.  They were not kind.  They were not close; still… they were his family.

Tom cringed when his brother, Max, approached.   Big, slimy and not very patient, Max’s eyes were dull and filled with evil as he glared down his long black nose at Tom. 

“Your tail is too short.  Your toes are too long.

You’re white, and your nose is not black.

There’s nothing remotely correct about you and

my brother, that is a fact.

You’ve no courage, no wit, no fortune to boast.

Can’t believe we’re related, you’re dumber than most.

Just look at this place, not a dust mite in sight.

We’re rats, not mice, we don’t clean…we’re not nice!!

We’ve friends who look up to us, watch what we do.

My position as leader is damaged by you.

It’s not just our family who live in this place,

and frankly Tom…you are a disgrace!

Can’t teach you to hunt, to blend with the pack.

You leave on your own, no one watching your back.    

We work as a team.  We’re a unit of one.

We’re here to survive, not here to have fun.

You’ll never last long if you do it that way,

so follow directions and do what I say.Try harder,  be smarter, use your brain and just think.

Your doing it wrong…don’t wiggle…slink!!

You’re unreachable, useless, I’m disgusted, I’m done.

If you’re trying to anger me, Tom, you have won.”

With a sigh he continued…his face a stern mask,

“Tom, there is only one thing that I ask…

Leave this place now, just that cloak on your back.

Find courage, or strength, whatever you lack,

just don’t return

 till the rules you have learned

and you know how to act

like a RAT!”

            The longer Tom stared at his older brother, the smaller and more pinched were that rat’s cold, black eyes.  He wasn’t kidding.  Tom cringed.  He lowered his own eyes, unable to stand the challenge. 

            “Oh my, what to do?  What to do?”  Tom whispered to no one in particular.  Curling his short pink tail close to his body, he shrank into himself, drug his belly threw the dirt and scurried away.   As he ran from his brother, the soft upper ground shifted under his paws.  The tunnel widened and brightened as he neared the entrance.  He dropped his cloak and peeked outside.

            It’s too bright, too hot, and too big.   How can I go into the forest?  Is he right?  Am I just a coward?  Do I even belong here? Tom thought, as he shivered in fright.

“No time to think, no time to plan,

 I must decide just who I am.

Must take a chance, I have to leave.

In myself, I must believe.”

 CHAPTER 2 

            Gasping, panting, running, Tom made it to the first line of trees at the edge of the forest.  Never had he been so fearful.  Never had he gone this far from home.  What next?  What would he eat?  Where would he sleep?  He would be alone.  A large tear crawled from his eye and made its way to the end of his pink nose.  He sniffed and swiped at it with his back paw, feeling oh so sorry for himself.

            “Watcha doin?” a low-pitched voice drawled.

            Tom squeaked like a mouse and shimmied under a broken tree branch.

            “Ha Ha.  Not much experience in hiding, huh?”

            Tom cracked one eye open.  “What do you want?”

            “I want some company is all.  Been sittin here for awhile.  Just waiting…waiting…waiting.”

            Curious, Tom opened his other eye and croaked, “Waiting for what?”

            “Company.  Hey are you deaf?  I knew a deaf squirrel once.  Not much for conversation but served a nice nut pie.”

            Tom pushed farther out of his hiding place, eyeing his new company up and down.

            “What are you, anyway?”

            “I am an orangutan.”  He poked himself in his puffed-out chest.  “I come from a long line of orangutans.  I’m supposed to be looking for food.  We eat a lot you know, because we get

 really, really big.”  He pushed aside the knapsack he was wearing and stuck out his hand.  “Name’s Sammy.  What’s yours?”

            “Tom.”

            “Hey, Tom.  You interested in going with me on an adventure?  I could use some help.  For instance, I bet with that long nose of yours you could get honey out real easy.  You know out of that hive over there.”  He pointed to a tree with beautiful red leaves.  “So, what do you think?  Wanna try.  Huh?”

            “I don’t really know much about honey or hives or orangutans or adventures.  I’ve never been this far out of the tunnel.”

            “You live in a tunnel?  Underground?  Isn’t that dark and cold?  I could never live there.  I need sun and space and spongy leaves to roll in.  Nah,” he spat in the grass, “that would never work for me.”

            “You sure talk a lot.”

            “Thanks.”  Sammy’s mouth quirked.  “Let’s go”.

**** 

            Not seeing an alternative, Tom followed his new companion down the path toward the tree with the beautiful red leaves.

            “Hey, where do you live anyway?”

            “Over there,” Sammy nodded over his shoulder.  I sneak out when I can.”

            “Huh?  Sneak out from where?”

            “Shh, we’re almost there.  Not that there is any danger or anything.  I just think quiet would be a great idea right about now.”

            Sammy slowed and dropped to all fours.  He looked left, waited, sniffed the air.  Looked right, waited, and sniffed the air again.

            Tom shook his head totally confused and scared.  He tried to gather his shredded courage as he peeked from behind this new stranger.  Everything looked as it should so Tom began to breathe again.

            “Hear that?” Sammy asked.

            “No, what?”

            “Exactly, there’s no buzzing.  That means the coast is clear.  They’re all gone.”

            “Who’s gone?  Who are we looking for?  I’m not feeling good about this, whatever this is.”

            Sammy chuckled, “Don’t worry, Thomas.  I’ve done this many times and I’m still walking.”

            Tom was not assured, however he liked being called Thomas.  That had a ring to it.  He inched forward.  This was worse than leaving the tunnel, thought Tom.  His stomach rolled.

            Regardless of his brave words, Sammy hesitated.  “You’re not scared are ya?” he whispered.

            “Ah, no,”  Tom’s voice cracked.

            “Good, follow me.” 

            Tom shook his head.  His experience in the world consisted of weekly trips to the junkyard.  He had no real friends so he always went by himself.  He had read in a newspaper what a hive was, and he had read what lived in hives.  Bees.  He also knew you should not go near them or bother them or try to take their honey or they would follow you and sting you.  He wasn’t quite sure what that meant but he was sure it was not pleasant.

            Sammy inched along.  Not wanting to end up on his own again, Tom reluctantly followed.

            Sammy reached the tree and climbed.  His paw disappeared into a hole in the tree, came back out, and disappeared into the orangutan’s mouth.  With a soft “woof”, he closed his eyes.

Strange but amazing, Tom had to admit,

the notion that he might be liking a lick.

 Sammy looked happy way up in that tree,

licking his paw as content as could be.

Whatever he’d found in that hole way up high

seemed worth any danger that might happen by.

Tom was convinced.  He had now seen enough.

Sammy had found some delectable stuff.

            “What are you doing?” Tom asked.

            Sammy did not bother opening his eyes.  He just licked his mouth, sighed contentedly and finally slid to the ground.

            Tom forgot his fear, even forgot the buzzing he was supposed to listen for.  He scurried over and looked at the paw that had finally come out of Sammy’s mouth.

            “Taste it.  Come on, it’s really good”

            “You want me to open my mouth so you can stick your paw in it?  I may be a rat but I know when something is gross.”

            “Suit yourself but trust me, you are passing up a real treat.  It’s called honey.”

            Not convinced, Tom started to back away.

            Suddenly Sammy dropped to all fours and yelled, “Run!”

            Leaves and dirt flew in Tom’s face as Sammy’s claws dug into the ground and he lumbered forward in an lopsided  lope.

            Stunned, Tom gulped as his stomach sped toward his very short tail.  He saw the small yellow and black flying bugs even before he heard the buzzing.  The fearful noise got louder as they got closer.

            “Yikes,” he squeaked as he sped away.

            Panic chased him.  His heart thundered in his chest.  He ran until he had nothing left, then he dropped into a heap on the ground.

            “Feels great, doesn’t it?”

            Tom knew that voice.  “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said.

             “Okay, check it out.

Is your heart racing a little too much?

  Is your mind extremely clear?

Do you feel like you’re really alert inside?

That you’re glad that you made it here?

Do you feel more alive than you did before?

Wasn’t that just a little bit fun?

Live on the edge and you’ll get a high

more than anything you’ve ever done.

            He whirled in a circle and dropped down beside his pal.  “It’s called life, living on the edge.  Love it.  Yes, I surely love it.”

            Tom did check it out.  He felt a great rush.  He felt very alive and he felt a large uncontrollable giggle rise in his throat.

            “Didn’t think I could run that fast.”

            “You were awesome, my friend.”

“You passed me up, Thomas,

 and you didn’t know it.

 It’s good to feel great.

It’s good to show it.”

            Tom smiled.

The grass was soft.  The tree made shade.

 He lay real still so his fears would fade.

His eyes rolled back, his lids hung low,

and he tried to relax so his heart would slow. 

            “Hey, Thomas, wanna come meet my family?  They’re great.  You’ll like them.”

            “Drat, I was almost asleep,” Tom sighed.  “Fine, just let me close my eyes for a second.”

            “Well…you could do that, or…we could leave now and have some time with my family before its dark and you have to go home.”

            The breath left Tom in a whoosh.  Sadness rushed in and that pesky eye started leaking again.  He refused to look at Sammy.

            “Well, I kinda got kicked out of my home,” he muttered.

            Sammy’s eyes grew huge and round.  “Families don’t kick each other out,” he demanded.  “Ahh,” he grinned, “you’re messing with me, right?”

            Tom didn’t answer, he just swished his tail back and forth, burrowing it deep in the leaves.

            “Sorry pal,” Sammy said.  I just never heard of that before.  You could always come and live with us.”

            Never down long, Sammy jumped on that idea and wrapped it around his warm gentle heart.  Playfully punching Tom’s shoulder, he eased his way closer, lending his body warmth, as the afternoon had turned chilly.

            Comforted, as never before, Tom fell asleep and his warm companion soon followed him.

 CHAPTER 3

            Tom woke first.  He glanced at his furry companion and chuckled.  The big guy had totally worn himself out.  His head rested on his out-stretched arms and he snored softly.

            What a day it had been.  So many new feelings still rolled inside of him.  The  excitement, good and bad, had simply overwhelmed him.  He even had a real pal of his own to share it with. 

            He twitched with excitement as he remembered the tree with the honey in it.  According to Sammy, the risk of being stung by bees was worth the taste of honey.  Before he could tell himself what a bad idea it was, he eased out from beside his new buddy and sneaked back toward the tree.

He had never looked for danger, never had the heart to try.

It was just a silly notion to make the time go by.

 Blood rushed quickly through his head flowing faster than it should,

He would have some of that honey.

to lick on if he could.

            “Oh, this is a bad idea!  I’m wanting to do something very stupid, just to say I did it.” Tom mumbled as he headed toward the tree. 

            He didn’t care about the noise he made.  He jumped onto the base of the tree, grabbed tight with his claws, and raced up the trunk.  With no further thought, he plunged his nose into the hole and was filled at once with the most pleasing scent and taste he had ever known.  His tongue flicked out again and again, filling his mouth with oodles of honey. 

Sticky, sweet, supremely tasty.

I could stay here all day long, but

I must go to Sammy now or he will see that I am gone. 

What?  I find that I am stuck!

I cannot move.  It’s horrible luck.

 If bees find me when they return, a

horrible lesson I will learn.

            With that thought in mind, Tom pushed with all his strength and popped free, just in time for the buzzing to register. 

            “Ouch!” Tom yelled as one particularly large bee stung his tail.  “That hurts!”

            “Buzz,” said the bee.

            Tom ran even faster than he had the last time.

Through the bushes he ran, then through the trees,

tying so hard to escape the bees.

I’ll be safe with Sammy.  Tom knew it was true.

I’m not alone now.  He’ll know what to do.

            Even with a destination in mind, he raced blindly forward.  Startled by a sudden noise, he ran head first into a tree and everything went black.

            “You just couldn’t let it go, could yeah?” drawled a familiar voice, “You had to get some of that honey.  Told you it was good.”

            Tom felt one of his eye lids being raised.

            “So, was it worth it,” Sammy asked?

            Tom’s tail burned from the bee’s sting.  His head ached.  His sides still heaved with exertion from his second race through the forest, but he was grinning.

            “Yeah, actually, it was.”

18 Responses to B.J. Culver: “The Two-Headed Rat” (partial, from a novel for middle-grade readers))

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Architecture or Art?

  2. I LOVE this. I like the way you drop into and out of rhyming. Very personable characters. I like the “nice nut pie” phrase too. And “Buzz,” the bee said. 🙂 Big question though. It seems far too young for 9th graders to 12th graders. To me it reads more like a read along book for little kids, say 6 to 8 years old. Hope that doesn’t insult you. It has that lyrical quality of Seuss and Milne. I really do love it. I just don’t see it for high schoolers. It would also make a great animated film! Of course, many of the great animated “children’s” films have a lot of wry humor that adults get.
    (I think you mean “shudder” instead of “shutter.”)

  3. B J Culver

    Thank you so much for your kind words. Actually it is supposed to be 9 years old to 12 years old, a Simple Middle Grade reader. Sorry for the confusion. I will also consider the 6 to 8 years old group, thanks to you. No it does not insult me at all. I relish your feedback. Thanks for the help on the spelling, you are totally right. I had hoped the prose and rhyming would work and was very glad to hear you enjoyed that. Also I would love to have it made into an animated film! Again, I can’t thank you enough for the feedback and your ideas. B.J.

  4. Kathryn J. Bain

    I agree, it is for the younger crowd. I’m glad you clarified it. Also, sometimes you have him rhyming when he’s thinking, sometimes not. You need to be consistent. And since, your in his POV, that would mean rhyming most of it. You might want to stick to just rhyming when he speaks. Also, have you considered doing this in first person. I think it would read better and get us more into the character. Just a thought.

  5. B J Culver

    Thanks for the comments, Kathryn. I am glad you pointed this out. I definately need to be consistent. I had not considered doing this in first person but I will. Thanks for reading. BJ

  6. Heather Eckert

    You have a wonderful way with words! What a delightful story! 🙂

  7. B J Culver

    Hey Heather thanks a lot. I really appreciate your comments! B J

  8. Dawn Peterson

    I’d punch up that first paragraph by not telling us that Tom is insecure—but show us HOW he’s insecure by his actions. (example: ran and hid every time the rat pack devoured rotting birds or ______) To increase the odds of loss, don’t tell us that Max set rules but give us a real meaty, juicy rule that would be antisocial behavior to a human, but not a rat. Something that will endear us quickly to Tom’s POV. Instead of telling us “he did not fit in…”–what you really want is to express the EMOTION that Tom is feeling that we can relate to as a reader. We want to feel what it means to be so alone that our little, thumping rat hearts hurt.
    Second paragraph, you start using a lot of passive language, such as WAS and WERE. Change that to active. You tell us that Tom “…was not to go beyond there.” It doesn’t hint at the danger or the stakes. WHO told him that and WHY (besides rats don’t come back, which is too vague.)
    You tell us that “they were his family”, but you’re missing the chance to show us how bizarre or maladjusted his family really is. Crank it up by showing us some behavior of this family that increases Tom’s loneliness.

  9. Shirley

    I’m actually loving the feedback as much as the original writing, which, by the way is a very brave offering. Thank you, B. J. We need books with exactly this sentiment for the age group (I’d go younger too) that is your target audience. The rhyming (with the consistency suggested) works right out of the box and will appeal to kids, even those with reading difficulties, maybe particularly to kids with disabilities as forming patterns they can attach to some real meaning. Keep it coming!

  10. B J Culver

    Wow! Dawn…awesome comments. I am excited to explore that whole area of thought. Thank you so much for your thoughts.
    Shirley…I am so glad you like the rhyming (with consistency) ha ha, I have already jumped all over that one. Thanks for the encouragement, it’s like music to my ears and spurs me on to follow through with the wonderful suggestions I have already received from people.

  11. Corbie Hohn

    “Not once had his long thin toes crossed over that line.” My favorite line!

  12. B J Culver

    Thanks Corbie 🙂

  13. Hey-

    To expound on what Dawn already said, your first segment/chapter could be about 3x as long:

    Deep in the sewers, on the good side of town (???starting off with something that will make reader’s eyebrow go up. Mention of sewers isn’t normally equated with good side of town. What made sewers good/special/unique to the rat living there? Instead of fresh milk on a doorstep, perhaps exquisitely rotted lunch meats and various cold cuts are delivered to Sewer Junction #125, home of the Insecure Rat Family, etc.), lived a young insecure rat who did not fit in. (Don’t tell me that! Why doesn’t he fit in? Does he like to read the papers and get upset when his father thinks they should be put to better use, like reinforcing the family nest? Does he insist on fashioning clothing of somesort, making him seem “above” everyone else? Or does he prefer being in all his nekkid rat splendor when everyone else is wearing ascots?) His name was Tom. (Tell me this in dialogue. “Tom, for the love of dirt. Would you stop reading the nest materials? Here, hand it to me. Make yourself useful.” Mr. Rat reached out an impatient paw. With the other paw, he scribbled a change to the dimensions of the addition he was building for Mrs. Rat to accommodate their ever-growing family, yada yada) To keep busy he explored tunnels and read discarded newspapers. His nest held awesome junkyard garbage (Such as…? What made the garbage special to Tom? Let me see the garbage in action. The discarded spool of thread which he uses as a nightstand, etc. Sci-fi’s big thing is “world building.” Soooo much to do with this world!!! Awesome playground you built yourself : ). He occasionally tried to follow the rules Max, his older brother, set, (why is older brother charged with setting the rules? Mom and dad too busy with the baby shipmets that keep showing up from somehwere?) but mostly…he did not fit in.

    Tom’s tunnel ended at the south side of Slinky Town, after the junkyard, before the forest. He was not to go beyond there. It was the only rule he really paid attention to. Not once had his long thin toes crossed over that line. He shuttered, as he remembered stories of rats that never returned. (Ix-nay the “It was the only rule he really paid attention to” and go straight to, “Tom’s tunnel ended…before the (deep dark) forest (with smells wafting up that were worse than his mother’s December 15th Thanksgiving Rotted Turkey dinner). He (shielded his eyes from the sun and)shuddered as he remembered stories of rats that never returned (from the forest’s depths).” Give me outrageously exaggerated (?) stories of the rats that never returned. They were kidnapped into a life of slavery to cats?) No matter how curious he was. No matter how much he wanted adventure. He was not brave enough to break that rule. (Instead: He was not brave enough to risk being a cat slave the rest of his life, etc.)

    You’ve got SOOOO much blank canvas here to work with! : ) I’m jealous. Fill in the details. Be a ridiculous, faniciful 9-12 year old when telling me this story. Have you listened to a 9 year old recently? Holy crap, they’re nuts. I had one ask me a few weeks ago, “Would you rather eat vomit or barf?” I answered, “Barf, because it’s chunkier and thus has more nutrients.” Think like a 9-year-old nutcase when giving me your world-building details. Without the details, you’re sounding like the start of an Aesop Fable – an undisguised ADULT writing for kids – which could be part of the reason for the earlier misinterpretation of your intended age group. Your writing seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere, which is good to a point, but you have to make sure the trip is worth it along the way. Telling details, etc. The details are rad because then you can later mine them for plot or reincorporate them somehow to make the reader feel the story is not just a nice story but a super-cohesive package that they can’t wait to open the next package/offering from you.

    Thanks for writing something that made me want to dive into! I made it about 1 paragraph on some of the other submissions before getting bored.

  14. Why is it as soon as one hits the “submit” button, THEN they have the epiphany? : ) You’ve got 2 different stories here.
    1. Rhyming Tom Learns About Familial Conformity, Responsibility.
    and
    2. Innocent speaks-in-normal-dialogue Tom Learns About The World From Been-There-Done-That Sam.

    Earlier feedback was based on premise that #2 was your story. I’m not completely sure your book will be as strong as it can be if you don’t fully commit to one or the other.

    Aside: I’m super-titchy about using a disability or other physical abnormality as a character detail (I’m assuming it was Tom’s unfortunate additional control center which begs the title of your story?) I have every confidence that you can make Tom fascinating and unique without plopping another head on him. Kid readers like to read about kids, even if they’re rats (the kids they read about, not the readers ; ) Tom as an anthropomorphically odd kid (perhaps one who speaks only in rhymes : ))) is far more more interesting than him having to pay for not 1 but 2 haircuts a month.

  15. B J Culver

    Ha Ha Katie..you are a nut…I very much enjoyed your comments. I am interested in what you said about an undisguised adult writing for kids.. Hummm you may have a point. You really do have some awesome ideas. Would love to chat over iced tea… I think we would be laughing ourselves silly in a very short time. Just found out I need to add about 5,000 words. Not an easy thing, you have just made that more a more exciting challenge..thanks. By the way there are no parents and Tom doesn’t really have two heads. That is not literal. As Sammy explains…the two heads are Tom not being able to make up his mind what he wants to do, obviously I didn’t make that clear enough. What I am reaching for is a coming-of-age story. Tom is trying to find out where he fits in. Thanks so much for taking the time to critique. I appreciate it..B J

  16. Evonne M. Biggins

    The Two-Headed Rat
    from a novel by
    B.J. Culver

    B.J., I hope that critiquing like this is okay. I did have red in the comments, but you can fnd them… My comments may be way off from what you want, I see chances where you can show not tell. I agree with all the great compliments you received on your story! You have a wonderful writing voice and your humor is great. Your story offers a world of possibilities; I’m seeing a series here.
    Evonne

    Deep in the sewers, on((under)) the good side of town, lived a young insecure rat named Tom who did not fit in. His name was Tom. ((do we need to know that he needed to keep busy?))To keep busy he explored tunnels and read discarded newspapers. His nest held awesome junkyard garbage. He occasionally tried to follow the rules Max, his older brother, set, but mostly…he did not fit in.((this is telling, but it seems to work here).
    Tom’s tunnel ended at the south side of Slinky Town, after the junkyard, before the forest. He was not to go beyond there. It was the only rule he really paid attention to. Not once had his long thin toes crossed over that line. He shuttered shuddered?)), as he remembered stories of rats that never returned. No matter how curious he was. No matter how much he wanted adventure. He was not brave enough to break that rule.
    His brothers often made fun of him. They were not kind. They were not close; still… they were his family.((show them being rude, etc)
    Tom cringed when his brother, Max, approached. Big, slimy and not very patient, Max’s eyes were dull and filled with evil as he glared down his long black nose at Tom.
    “Your tail is too short. Your toes are too long.
    You’re white, and your nose is not black.
    There’s nothing remotely correct about you and
    my brother, that is a fact.
    You’ve no courage, no wit, no fortune to boast.
    Can’t believe we’re related, you’re dumber than most.
    Just look at this place, not a dust mite in sight.
    We’re rats, not mice, we don’t clean…we’re not nice!!
    We’ve friends who look up to us, watch what we do.
    My position as leader is damaged by you.
    It’s not just our family who live in this place,
    and frankly Tom…you are a disgrace!
    Can’t teach you to hunt, to blend with the pack.
    You leave on your own, no one watching your back.
    We work as a team. We’re a unit of one.
    We’re here to survive, not here to have fun.
    You’ll never last long if you do it that way,
    so follow directions and do what I say. Try harder, be smarter, use your brain and just think.
    Your doing it wrong…don’t wiggle…slink!!
    You’re unreachable, useless, I’m disgusted, I’m done.
    If you’re trying to anger me, Tom, you have won.”
    With a sigh he continued…his face a stern mask,
    “Tom, there is only one thing that I ask…
    Leave this place now, just that cloak on your back.
    Find courage, or strength, whatever you lack,
    just don’t return
    till the rules you have learned
    and you know how to act
    like a RAT!” (HOW MEAN! Poor Tom)!
    The longer Tom stared at his older brother, the smaller and more pinched were that rat’s cold, black eyes. He wasn’t kidding. Tom cringed. He lowered his own eyes, unable to stand the challenge.
    “Oh my, what to do? What to do?” Tom whispered to no one in particular. Curling his short pink tail close to his body, he shrank into himself, drug his belly threw through the dirt and scurried away. As he ran from his brother, the soft upper ground shifted under his paws. The tunnel widened and brightened as he neared the entrance. He dropped his cloak and peeked outside.
    It’s too bright, too hot, and too big. How can I go into the forest? Is he right? Am I just a coward? Do I even belong here? Tom thought, as he shivered. in fright.
    “No time to think, no time to plan,
    I must decide just who I am.
    Must take a chance, I have to leave.
    In myself, I must believe.”
    CHAPTER 2
    Gasping, panting, running, Tom RAN made it to the first line of trees at the edge of the forest. ((is this telling?>>Never had he been so fearful. Never had he gone this far from home. What next? What would he eat? Where would he sleep? He would be alone. A large tear crawled from his eye and made its way to the end of his pink nose. He sniffed and swiped at it with his back paw, feeling oh so sorry for himself.((I like “tear crawled”)
    “Watcha doin?” a low-pitched voice drawled.
    Tom squeaked like a mouse and shimmied under a broken tree branch.
    “Ha Ha. Not much experience in hiding, huh?”
    Tom cracked one eye open. “What do you want?”
    “I want some company is all. Been sittin here for awhile. Just waiting…waiting…waiting.”
    Curious, Tom opened his other eye and croaked, “Waiting for what?”
    “Company. Hey are you deaf? I knew a deaf squirrel once. Not much for conversation but served a nice nut pie.”(CUTE!)
    Tom pushed farther out of his hiding place, eyeing his new company up and down.
    “What are you, anyway?”
    “I am an orangutan.” He poked himself in his puffed-out chest. “I come from a long line of orangutans. I’m supposed to be looking for food. We eat a lot you know, because we get
    really, really big.” He pushed aside the knapsack he was wearing and stuck out his hand. “Name’s Sammy. What’s yours?”
    “Tom.”
    “Hey, Tom. You interested in going with me on an adventure? I could use some help. For instance, I bet with that long nose of yours you could get honey out real easy. You know out of that hive over there.” He pointed to a tree with beautiful red leaves. “So, what do you think? Wanna try. Huh?”
    “I don’t really know much about honey or hives or orangutans or adventures. I’ve never been this far out of the tunnel.”
    “You live in a tunnel? Underground? Isn’t that dark and cold? I could never live there. I need sun and space and spongy leaves to roll in. Nah,” he spat in the grass, “that would never work for me.”( (:-} Sammy sounds so real))
    “You sure talk a lot.”
    “Thanks.” Sammy’s mouth quirked. “Let’s go”.
    ****
    Not seeing an alternative, Tom followed his new companion down the path toward the tree with the beautiful red leaves.
    “Hey, where do you live anyway?”
    “Over there,” Sammy nodded over his shoulder. I sneak out when I can.”
    “Huh? Sneak out from where?”
    “Shh, we’re almost there. Not that there is any danger or anything. I just think quiet would be a great idea right about now.”(FUNNY!)
    Sammy slowed and dropped to all fours. He looked left, waited, sniffed the air. Looked right, waited, and sniffed the air again.
    Tom shook his head totally confused and scared. He tried to gather his shredded courage as he peeked from behind this new stranger. Everything looked as it should so Tom began to breathe again.
    “Hear that?” Sammy asked.
    “No, what?”
    “Exactly, there’s no buzzing. That means the coast is clear. They’re all gone.”
    “Who’s gone? Who are we looking for? I’m not feeling good about this, whatever this is.”
    Sammy chuckled, “Don’t worry, Thomas. I’ve done this many times and I’m still walking.”
    Tom was not assured, however he liked being called Thomas. That had a ring to it.(cute,)) He inched forward. ((This is?))was worse than leaving the tunnel, thought Tom. His stomach rolled.
    Regardless of his brave words, Sammy hesitated. “You’re not scared are ya?” he whispered.
    “Ah, no,” Tom’s voice cracked.
    “Good, follow me.”
    Tom shook his head. His experience in the world consisted of weekly trips to the junkyard. He had no real friends so he always went by himself. He had read in a newspaper what a hive was, and he had read what lived in hives. Bees. He also knew you should not go near them or bother them or try to take their honey or they would follow you and sting you. He wasn’t quite sure what that meant but he was sure it was not pleasant.
    Sammy inched along. Not wanting to end up on his own again, Tom reluctantly followed.
    Sammy reached the tree and climbed. His paw disappeared into a hole in the tree, came back out, and disappeared into the orangutan’s mouth. With a soft “woof”, he closed his eyes.
    Strange but amazing, Tom had to admit,
    the notion that he might be liking a lick.
    Sammy looked happy way up in that tree,
    licking his paw as content as could be.
    Whatever he’d found in that hole way up high
    seemed worth any danger that might happen by.
    Tom was convinced. He had now seen enough.
    Sammy had found some delectable stuff.
    “What are you doing?” Tom asked.
    Sammy did not bother opening his eyes. He just licked his mouth, sighed contentedly and finally slid to the ground.
    Tom forgot his fear, even forgot the buzzing he was supposed to listen for. He scurried over and looked at the paw that had finally come out of Sammy’s mouth.
    “Taste it. Come on, it’s really good((.))”
    “You want me to open my mouth so you can stick your paw in it? I may be a rat but I know when something is gross.”
    “Suit yourself but trust me, you are passing up a real treat. It’s called honey.”
    Not convinced, Tom started to back away.
    Suddenly Sammy dropped to all fours and yelled, “Run!”
    Leaves and dirt flew in Tom’s face as Sammy’s claws dug into the ground and he lumbered forward in an lopsided lope.
    Stunned, Tom gulped as his stomach sped toward his very short tail. He saw the small yellow and black flying bugs even before he heard the buzzing. The fearful noise got louder as they got closer.
    “Yikes,” he squeaked as he sped away.
    Panic chased him. His heart thundered in his chest. He ran until ((his legs collapsed?))he had nothing left, then he dropped into a heap on the ground.
    “Feels great, doesn’t it?”
    Tom knew that voice. “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said.
    “Okay, check it out.
    Is your heart racing a little too much?
    Is your mind extremely clear?
    Do you feel like you’re really alert inside?
    That you’re glad that you made it here?
    Do you feel more alive than you did before?
    Wasn’t that just a little bit fun?
    Live on the edge and you’ll get a high
    more than anything you’ve ever done.(“))
    He whirled in a circle and dropped down beside his pal. “It’s called life, living on the edge. Love it. Yes, I surely love it.”
    Tom did check it out. He felt a great rush. He felt very alive and he felt a large uncontrollable giggle rise in his throat.
    “Didn’t think I could run that fast.”
    “You were awesome, my friend.”
    “You passed me up, Thomas,
    and you didn’t know it.
    It’s good to feel great.
    It’s good to show it.”
    Tom smiled.
    The grass was soft. The tree made shade.
    He lay real still so his fears would fade.
    His eyes rolled back, his lids hung low,
    and he tried to relax so his heart would slow.
    “Hey, Thomas, wanna come meet my family? They’re great. You’ll like them.”
    “Drat, I was almost asleep,” Tom sighed. “Fine, just let me close my eyes for a second.”
    “Well…you could do that, or…we could leave now and have some time with my family before its dark and you have to go home.”
    The breath left Tom in a whoosh. Sadness rushed in and that pesky eye started leaking again. He refused to look at Sammy.
    “Well, I kinda got kicked out of my home,” he muttered.
    Sammy’s eyes grew huge and round. “Families don’t kick each other out,” he demanded. ”Ahh,” he grinned, “you’re messing with me, right?”
    Tom didn’t answer, he just swished his tail back and forth, burrowing it deep in the leaves.
    “Sorry pal,” Sammy said. I just never heard of that before. You could always come and live with us.”(it’s a bit confusing here as to who is talking…
    Never down long, Sammy jumped on that idea and wrapped it around his warm gentle heart. Playfully punching Tom’s shoulder, he eased his way closer, lending his body warmth, as the afternoon had turned chilly.
    Comforted, as never before, Tom fell asleep and his warm companion soon followed him.
    CHAPTER 3
    Tom woke first. He glanced at his furry companion and chuckled. The big guy had totally worn himself out. His head rested on his out-stretched arms and he snored softly.
    What a day it had been. So many new feelings still rolled inside of him. The excitement, good and bad, had simply overwhelmed him. He even had a real pal of his own to share it with.
    He twitched with excitement as he remembered the tree with the honey in it. According to Sammy, the risk of being stung by bees was worth the taste of honey. Before he could tell himself what a bad idea it was, he eased out from beside his new buddy and sneaked back toward the tree.
    He had never looked for danger, never had the heart to try.
    It was just a silly notion to make the time go by.
    Blood rushed quickly through his head flowing faster than it should,
    He would have some of that honey.
    to lick on if he could.
    “Oh, this is a bad idea! I’m wanting to do something very stupid, just to say I did it.” Tom mumbled as he headed toward the tree.
    He didn’t care about the noise he made. He jumped onto the base of the tree, grabbed tight with his claws, and raced up the trunk. With no further thought, he plunged his nose into the hole and was filled at once with the most pleasing scent and taste he had ever known. His tongue flicked out again and again, filling his mouth with oodles of honey.
    Sticky, sweet, supremely tasty.
    I could stay here all day long, but
    I must go to Sammy now or he will see that I am gone.
    What? I find that I am stuck!
    I cannot move. It’s horrible luck.
    If bees find me when they return, a
    horrible lesson I will learn.
    With that thought in mind, Tom pushed with all his strength and popped free, just in time for the buzzing to register.
    “Ouch!” Tom yelled as one particularly large bee stung his tail. “That hurts!”
    “Buzz,” said the bee.
    Tom ran even faster than he had the last time.
    Through the bushes he ran, then through the trees,
    tying so hard to escape the bees.
    I’ll be safe with Sammy. Tom knew it was true.
    I’m not alone now. He’ll know what to do.
    Even with a destination in mind, he raced blindly forward. Startled by a sudden noise, he ran head first into a tree and everything went black.
    “You just couldn’t let it go, could yeah?” drawled a familiar voice, “You had to get some of that honey. Told you it was good.”
    Tom felt one of his eye lids being raised.((did Sammy raise it? That’s what it sounds like))
    “So, was it worth it,(?)” Sammy asked?
    Tom’s tail burned from the bee’s sting. His head ached. His sides still heaved with exertion from his second race through the forest, but he was grinning.
    “Yeah, actually, it was.”

    ((If this is the end, it feels “not finished” like Tom should have closure with his brother, prove that he is a great rat, too. Though, you may have not submitted the whole story….. :-} I loved it!))

  17. BJ, you’ve got the start of a good read here! My number one piece of advice is learn to vary your sentence structures a little more. You tend to start a high percentage of your sentences with a pronoun (he, his, they, she, Tom). This adds a sing-song quality to your writing, which is why I suspect some people are feeling as though this reads more for the grade-school ages. Take a page, highlight every sentence beginning with a pronoun, and then see if you can (in an unstilted way) vary some of the sentence structures.

    Also, a nitpick, but ‘shuttered’ in the second paragraph should be ‘shuddered’ instead. 🙂

    It’s clear you have a great imagination. Keep writing!

  18. B J Culver

    Anthea…thanks so much for commenting. I will start checking paragraphs as that is an excellent suggestion! I appreciate you taking the time to look it over. 😀 P.S. It is amazing how many people picked up on the shuddered instead of shuttered, ha ha..took care of that for sure. B.J.

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