Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat (10 page)

BOOK: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
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I
T WAS, EMMY THOUGHT,
a telescoping kind of experience. She had, first, an odd, shrinking feeling in her stomach, very like going suddenly down on a fast elevator. Next came a prickling in her arms and legs. And last came the intensely strange sensation of watching her sweatshirt and backpack grow mountainous above her.

There was a long silence.

“Now you've done it, Ratty,” came Joe's voice from the top of the steps.

“I didn't mean to,” sobbed the Rat. “Don't blame me, I have nightmares.”

Emmy sat flat on the sidewalk, her legs the size of chalk sticks. Any minute now, she'd wake up. Any minute now …


Meow?
” Muffy padded closer.

Emmy's heart gave a great panicked jolt as the sharp, predatory scent of cat filled her nose. She risked one horrified look upward and felt her insides
go soggy. Those cat teeth—so huge! And that pink tongue that licked all around as Muffy yawned, wide as a cave!

Emmy didn't even want to think about the claws, or the way that Muffy played with a mouse, batting it back and forth until the poor thing died of terror. Instinctively, she crawled into her sweatshirt and down the sleeve. The air was stifling, but it beat being eaten alive by Muffy, the Assassin.

“Hey! Muffball! Get lost!” Joe's voice, sharp with anxiety, pierced through the cotton surrounding Emmy's ears. “Ratty, help!”

A low, frightened moan came from the depths of the backpack.

“SCAT!” shouted Joe, and a small, fierce burst of gravel skittered across the sidewalk.


Mrrroouw!
” snarled Muffy.

“Don't antagonize her!” begged the Rat. “Run and hide, that's the rodent's way!”

“Not when a friend is about to be eaten, it's not,” hollered Joe, and another tiny handful of gravel pattered down.

Shakily, Emmy worked her way out of the sweatshirt. Her heart was thundering in her ears, but she
couldn't let Joe fight the cat all alone. She emerged from the sleeve and yelled, but all Muffy's attention was on the small creature who was pelting her with stinging bits of rock. The cat leaped lightly onto the brick stairs.

“Joe!” Emmy shouted, aghast. “Run!”

Joe whipped his head around. On either side of him was a drop of five steps. Behind him was the closed door to the art gallery—and before him, advancing with what looked like murderous intent, was Muffy.

“Remember the rodent's creed!” the Rat called, peering out from the backpack with quivering whiskers. “Find a hole and
hide
!”

Joe hesitated, then leaped straight for the cat.

The Rat squealed. “And
through
the front paws and
under
the belly, Joe Benson makes a diving roll—and he's
down
one step, what a leap that was, ladies and gentlemen … and now he's hanging by his fingers, he's—yes—no—
yes
, he does a drop and bounce to the next step down, this is simply amazing, what form, what style—and he throws in a foot fake! The cat looks confused—no mouse has ever scampered quite like this before—”

“Go! Go!” whispered Emmy, clenching her fists so tightly that her nails dug into her palms. “You can do it, Joe!
Go on!

She was yelling now, cheering as Joe scrambled from step to step, dodging and cutting back as if he were in a soccer game with no ball. Muffy, behind him, bobbed her head from side to side in an attempt to follow his erratic progress.

Emmy clapped her hands together with relief as Joe disappeared into the crumbling hole under the brick steps, momentarily blocking the thin gleam of light that still shone from within.

“He makes it!” cried the Rat in triumph. “And the score stands at 1–0 with the Muffster pouncing just one second too late!”

“Shut
up,
Ratty!” Emmy whispered hoarsely. But it was too late. Muffy, abandoning the hole in the brick, made one bound and whipped out a paw just as the Rat turned to run.

“Help!” the Rat squeaked. “She's got my tail!”

“No!” Emmy shouted. “
Bad
Muffy!”

Muffy turned, yellow cat eyes gleaming. But just then there came a small clatter from the hole in the steps, and a subdued sound of voices.

Emmy stared. Emerging from the hole was a miniature wooden tower on wheels with a pole sticking out the back. The pole had a leather basket on one end and a twisted rubber band on the other, and pushing the whole contraption were two rodents.

They were fuzzier than the Rat, and their fur looked reddish in the streetlight's glow. As they stood on their haunches to adjust the levers on their machine, Emmy could see two slender stripes of dark fur all down their backs and tails. They were chipmunks, and they were wearing work gloves.

“Steady there, Chippy,” said the larger one. “Turn 'er one more notch. What's the trajectory?”

“Lessee,” mumbled the smaller chipmunk. “Distance to feline one point seven meters, height of ears twenty centimeters, gravitational pull constant …”

Emmy glanced at the cat, who appeared fascinated.

“… cat at zero velocity. Initial cocklebur speed four point three meters per second …”

“Hey,” interrupted the larger chipmunk, “that cat isn't going to stay at zero velocity forever. How about my method? Aim, then fling?”

“But, Buck!” Chippy's voice was anguished. “I haven't even calculated the coefficient of drag on the
cocklebur! It's got an uneven surface! It's going to spin!”

“Do your best, Chippy. Now—ready, aim—”

“Fire catapult!”

With a
fwing!
the catapult whizzed forward, pitching a prickly-looking ball in a perfect arc. Muffy, unable to decide between attacking the Rat or the chipmunks, held still one moment too long—and got the cocklebur squarely in the ear.

“Mrrreeeeoowww!”

“Slam-bang on target. Reload, Chippy, we'll go for another shot!”

“She's turning, Buck—bump her over another ten degrees—”

Fwingggg!

“YOW Yow yow yow yow yow yow!”
Muffy's cries, piercing at first, grew faint as she disappeared into the distance.

Buck and Chippy fell over each other, laughing.

“Now
that's
what I call a sensitive spot!”

“I didn't calculate for
that
target, Buck, but if she's going to run with her tail in the air …”

“Yep, that cat's going to have a little coefficient of drag on her behind for a while—”

Chippy hooted, holding his stomach. “Oooh—stop, I can't breathe—”

Buck chuckled, tied back the catapult, and wheeled it around.

“Can I help?” Joe hovered nearby.

“Well, you can introduce us to your friends. Mother wants everyone to come in for refreshments.”

 

“All right, boys, cocoa's almost ready. Go on and watch the kettle so it doesn't boil.”

The voice was kind but firm. A no-nonsense sort of voice, Emmy decided as she watched a round, furry rodent emerge from the hole beneath the steps and march straight toward Emmy's gigantic sweatshirt.

“Child?” The chipmunk peered around a sleeve. “Don't be afraid, dear, it's just Mrs. Bunjee. Come along and we'll have a nice cup of hot chocolate and get you to bed. Humans are daytime animals, I know, and it's far too late for a child like you to be out, what with cats on the prowl and who knows what else … why, what's the matter?”

“I can't go to bed,” Emmy explained wearily. “It's going to be a long walk to Brian's now that my legs are so short. Then I have to find out how to stop
Miss Barmy, and get my parents back, and unshrink Joe, and free Sissy—”

“Why, you poor thing!” Mrs. Bunjee's stubby arm was around Emmy's shoulders. “You're all worn out, and no wonder! The first thing to do,” she went on in a decided tone, “is come have a little something. And then we'll talk. Because we're all going to help you, of course. You're too young to carry these worries all alone.”

Something inside Emmy welled up and spilled over at the kindly words, and she buried her face in Mrs. Bunjee's soft, furry shoulder.

“There, there,” soothed Mrs. Bunjee, patting her on the back. “Go ahead and cry, it won't hurt you a bit.”

“I'm all right now,” gulped Emmy, rubbing a sleeve across her eyes. She had gotten a bit of fur up her nose and she wanted to sneeze.

“Of course you are. Now, come along with me and you'll feel better in no time.” Mrs. Bunjee scrambled over the sweatshirt sleeve and trotted on ahead.

The sidewalk was not nearly so smooth as it looked from several feet up, and Emmy stumbled as she hurried after Mrs. Bunjee. But she hesitated as she came to the crumbling hole.

Mrs. Bunjee popped her head out again and grasped Emmy's hand with a firm paw. “Come along, dear. Step
around
the crack, watch your head through the passageway, and—here we are!”

Emmy emerged from the dimly lit tunnel, blinking. Over her head the ceiling was low and rough, but beneath her feet was a smooth wooden walkway, neatly joined, and just ahead was an opening where Joe stood in front of a polished railing, his back to her. Beyond him was light, and movement, and a sense of space.

Emmy wedged herself in beside Joe and gasped. She didn't know exactly what she had expected—something cramped and earthy, perhaps—but she had never imagined
this
.

She was in a city, an underground city, with walls of warm red brick and rough wooden beams. Festoons of clear Christmas lights twinkled along every brace, joist, and beam, and swooped in bright curves down to the floor far below. Twiggy ladders led to platforms of all sizes, lofts that stuck out from supporting posts like perches in a complicated sort of tree. And peering out from every loft, and leaping from ladder to ladder, and swinging across vast
spaces on thick knotted ropes were rodents of every kind. Chipmunks and rats, gophers and mice, tiny brown voles and big gray squirrels, and they all seemed to be chattering at once.

“Can you
believe
this?” Joe leaned over the railing. “They must have tapped into the electricity.”

“They've dug out so much space,” Emmy said, dazed. “How did they ever do it? And how did they build all these lofts and things, and”—she leaned over the railing—“are those actually railroad tracks down there?”

“This must be the crawl space,” Joe said, calculating on his fingers. “Yeah—probably only about four feet deep or so.”

“But it feels so high up! There must be six levels beneath us!”

“That's about right. We're only a few inches high, you know. Four feet, to us, is going to seem like being on top of a six-story building. Hey, Ratty, see any cousins?”

Emmy looked at the Rat. He was standing a little ways off, his eyes glazed. “Finally,” he murmured, pressing a paw to his heart. “
These
rodents will appreciate an educated Rat. They'll elect me mayor, no
doubt. I shall have to prepare my acceptance speech. ‘My dear little friends …' No, too patronizing. ‘My fellow rodents …' Yes, yes, much better.”

The Rat wandered along the walkway that encircled the city, muttering to himself. Emmy looked at Joe, dismayed, but Mrs. Bunjee's firm paws urged them forward. “Come, my dears. Trot along, that's right, third loft on your left.”

They hurried along the walkway to a twiggy-looking loft tastefully adorned with fresh spring leaves and violets, and through the garlanded door to a comfortable-looking kitchen with big cushiony chairs, a kettle on the hearth, and a table set out with steaming mugs.

“There, now!” Mrs. Bunjee clapped her paws together. “Sit down and help yourself. Buckram, Chipster, will one of you run out and ask Professor Capybara if he would stop by? Try to keep him calm. We'll need his help, I think.”

Emmy glanced at Mrs. Bunjee over the top of her mug. Professor Capybara—now why did that name sound familiar?

“I'll get him,” said Buck, heaving himself upright. “Chippy's working on the pawball roster. We're playing on the gophers' home field tonight, and if they
beat us again, I won't be able to show my face aboveground for a week.”

“What's pawball?” asked Joe.

“It is a rodent sport,” said an authoritative voice from the doorway. The Rat entered the chipmunks' loft and surveyed them grandly, in the manner of a teacher about to explain a difficult subject. “I have watched it often through my schoolroom window. Played with a small leather ball—”

There was a sudden clatter as Mrs. Bunjee dropped her mug. “Oh my!” She stepped closer to the Rat and sniffed deeply. “Raston? Raston, is it really you?”

“R
ASTON? WHO'S RASTON?”
The Rat looked over his shoulder.

“I think she means you, Ratty,” whispered Emmy.

The Rat drew himself up to his full height. “You must have mistaken me for someone else, madam. I know no chipmunks.”

“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Bunjee. “You used to tumble about with chipmunks all the time. Don't you remember?”


I?
” said the Rat, frostily. “Tumble about? With
chipmunks
?”

“I know you by your smell, you see,” said Mrs. Bunjee, smiling.

“Smell?” The Rat drew back, offended. “I do not smell, madam. I washed, I brushed, and I even used Summer Breeze hair gel!”

“Hair gel,” muttered Chippy, shaking his head over the pawball roster. “That explains it.”

“I could not possibly be mistaken,” said Mrs. Bunjee firmly. “Still, to be absolutely sure …”

She put a paw on his shoulder and bent back the Rat's left ear. The small, triangular patch of white showed up clearly in the lamplight.

“Dear, dear Raston,” she said, grasping his paws between her own. “I knew your mother when you were just a little ratling in the nest. And I saw when you were taken—you and dear Cecilia—and then, a moment later, the big hand grabbed me, too.”

The Rat collapsed into a vacant chair. “Mommy,” he whimpered. “What happened to Mommy?”

“She came back to the nest to find you gone, and it broke her heart, I imagine,” Mrs. Bunjee said briskly. “Sit up, Raston; show some backbone. Drink your cocoa, it'll put heart into you.”

Emmy set down her mug, licked the foam from her lips, and leaned her head back against the chair cushions. If Buck didn't get back soon with this professor person, she'd go find him herself. It was long after midnight, and they had to get going … she had to talk to Brian right away. She had to stop Miss Barmy. She would just … close her eyes … for one minute more ….

Voices filtered into Emmy's consciousness like sounds dimly heard underwater. She stirred, stretched, and poked her head out from beneath the blanket someone had tucked around her. It was a soft tan, with two white stripes edged with black. She looked at it for a moment, dazed, as she tried to remember where she was. Across the table, Joe was talking.

“So that's pretty much the story, sir. Brian was going to try to find some directions for unshrinking us. We were on our way to his place. He lives on the second floor of the Antique Rat with his uncle.”

“Ah.” There was a pause, and the sound of a match striking, then a scent of something burning, more fragrant than tobacco. “This uncle. What does he look like?”

“Skinny,” said Joe immediately, “with a beaky nose. Clothes too big for him. Going bald.”

There was a sound of steady puffing. “By any chance, do you remember his name?”

Joe hesitated. “Charles? Chester?”

“Cheswick,” said Emmy, suddenly awake. “Professor Cheswick Vole.”

She stared at the gentleman sitting across from
Joe—a man about as big as a well-fed squirrel, with half-glasses on his nose, a white beard, and a pipe in his mouth.


Professor
Vole!” snorted the gentleman. “
He
was never a professor. He was just a lab assistant. He stole my rodents, and he stole my research! All my notes … endless years of work—”

“Steady, Professor, dear,” said Mrs. Bunjee worriedly, patting his shoulder. “Don't get excited, now.”

The professor shut his eyes and took a series of deep breaths. The red in his neck began to fade.

“But where did you get the rodents in the first place?” asked Joe.

“I found them all over the world.” Professor Capybara opened his eyes and placed his fingertips together, looking almost calm again. “They were rodents whose ancestors had been captured long ago, when certain tribes had noticed some special power the rats had, and over time had learned how to use it. I merely took them from cages in the jungle, or desert, or savanna, and put them in cages in the laboratory. I assure you, they were well fed and treated with the utmost care.”

“But of course,” said Mrs. Bunjee gently, “we were still
caged.
Emmy, dear, now that you're awake, I'd like you to meet our own Professor Maxwell Capybara.”

“Delighted,” said the professor, smiling from under his bushy eyebrows.

Emmy took in a breath. “Now I remember! They said your name on the news, when they arrested Prof—I mean, Cheswick Vole! You were his teacher! The professor of rodentia from New York!”

Emmy shook the professor's hand warmly. Everything would be all right now. The professor would find his notes and research at the Antique Rat. He would unshrink everyone first, of course, and then he would explain about all the rat powers. There had to be at least one rodent in the back room that could stop Miss Barmy once and for all.

“But if you bought the rodents already caged, who captured Ratty, then?” Joe persisted.

“The big hand!” cried the Rat, starting awake. “Mommy! Sissy!”

Professor Capybara knelt beside the Rat. “My dear Raston,” he said quietly. “Cheswick Vole took you from your nest without my knowledge. But it was I
who taught him how to recognize rodents of power, and so I share in the blame.”

The Rat blinked.

“I have paid for it since,” the professor went on humbly. “I was asleep in the lab—I sometimes take rather sudden naps, you see—when Cheswick Vole made sure you bit me twice. When I shrank, he caged me along with the rodents and drove us far away.”

The Rat shivered. “I remember that trip,” he said plaintively. “It was dark, inside a big box. And I got sick to my stomach.”

Professor Capybara nodded. “When he stopped for the night, I unlocked my cage. I tried to open all the others, too, but he came back too soon. Only about half the rodents escaped. Unfortunately, your sister was not among them.”

“Sissy!” moaned Raston, his eyes moist.

“Those of us who were free scattered, hiding miserably under bushes and in holes and cracks in the walls, cold and wet and frightened.”

“I remember! I remember shivering on the playground, all alone!”

The professor looked sorrowful. “I never saw you, Raston. The next morning, you must have been picked up by Emmy's teacher.”

“And put in a cage, and given disgusting food in little pellets, and forced to listen to a bunch of slow learners for
years
!”

Professor Capybara looked at the Rat sternly. “At least you were warm and dry and safe. We had a terrible first year, trying to survive. But little by little, we worked together to create a community. The rats had their powers, and I, in turn, taught them everything I knew of science and philosophy and engineering.”

“That explains the electricity,” said Joe under his breath. “And the city.”

“But now that I know,” the professor went on, his neck getting pinker, “now that I know Cheswick Vole did not drive away from this place, as I had thought …” He got up and began to pace. “Now that I know he lives just a block away, in this very town—”

“Remember, Professor!” cried Mrs. Bunjee. “Breathe—go to your happy place—”

“What will you do? WHAT WILL YOU DO?” screamed the Rat, jumping up and down.

“DO?” shouted Professor Capybara. “I'm going to—” He stopped, swayed, and put a hand to his eyes. “I believe I'm going to take a little nap,” he said faintly, went limp, and hit the floor.

BOOK: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
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