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
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.”
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?”
“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.
“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.”
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.
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.”