Not long after my first football match Merc woke me very early one Saturday morning, He kept walking over me and blowing on to my face. I looked at my Mickey Mouse alarm clock which was showing 5.00 am, too early for me to be awake. Merc was obviously very upset about something. He was dishevelled, out of breath and shaking right down to the tip of his tail. He was very distracted and kept scuffling around the room and checking that the door and window were securely closed. I wondered what had made him like that.
It took quite a long time to calm him down and for him to get his breath to tell me what was upsetting him.
What he told me was that he had gone out about his normal time to forage around the yards of the shops to see if there were any carrots and chocolate cake, or any other delicacy that he might enjoy when he suddenly noticed a strange smell. He stopped what he was doing and remained very still so as to give no clue as to where he was in the dark. He sensed that whatever it was, was getting closer to him and his blood froze. He was in the corner of the yard where two brick walls joined at right angles, there was no cover where he could hide and he was facing the wall so could not see exactly who or what it was that was behind him.
Merc closed his eyes, kept his whiskers very still and his tail tucked right up to his body so it could not be caught. The smell was getting stronger but he still did not recognise what it might be. He opened his eyes to see the shadow of a massive creature on the wall in front of him. The creature appeared enormous, fifty times bigger than Merc and it appeared to be just about to pounce on him. Merc swung round fully expecting to be caught either in a jaw with hundreds of very sharp teeth, or in huge paws with great long talons which would tear his flesh.
Instead he came face to face with a mangy black creature with a dirty patch of white on one of its front paws. Its fur was matted and there were bare patches all over its body. One ear was slightly torn but the other was half missing and gave it a very strange appearance. What struck Merc was that although it was not as big in real life as it had appeared in its shadow on the wall, the creature was still very large and appeared to be solid muscle. Merc knew that he would not be able to out-run it, neither would he be able to stand and fight, but that is what he had to do.
Rather than wait for the creature to attack him, Merc stood up, stretching his back legs to his full height, he pulled back his lips and showed his sharp pointed teeth. Unfortunately this did not deter the creature and it continued to approach Merc. Merc looked frantically around to see the best way to go to avoid being attacked. He remembered that there were normally some boxes stacked near the back door of the shop although he could not actually see them as the creature was blocking out the light to that area. Merc decided to move, he jumped as high as he could several times, then ran, but not in a straight line, towards the general area of where he thought the boxes might be. Merc passed alongside the creature, but it was not agile enough to turn sufficiently quickly to put a paw on Merc. He ran into the dark until his eyes became adjusted to the little light there was in that part of the shop yard.
As he approached the back door of the shop Merc was relieved to see that the pile of boxes was still there, all he had to do was to reach them before the creature and to get inside one of the boxes and hope that he couldn’t be caught. Merc was still scuttling as fast as his legs would carry him, but it was not fast enough, he felt a hard thud on his tail. He immediately turned a full circle, which pulled his tail out from under the paw that was holding it to the ground, fortunately none of the creature’s claws had caught onto the tail and he managed to pull it out without damage. Merc was not a fighting rat normally, but he was in fear of his life on this occasion and as he turned he opened his mouth wide and bit as hard as he could onto the solid paw that had been holding his tail. He heard the creature yelp and then growl and decided that he must now try to get to the boxes as quickly as possible.
Merc made it to the boxes, just. The creature was put off by Merc’s bite but not for long and nearly caught hold of him again just before he found a way into one of the boxes round the back. It had been a tight squeeze but Merc had managed to get inside. What Merc could not see in the dark was that this was not one of the boxes that stood there normally, but was one that was slatted, so Merc could see the creature and the creature could still see him. Merc was at a loss to know what to do. He moved as far back as he could but then realised that there was just enough space at the rear for the creature to get its paw round the back and give him a bad scratch so he made himself as small as possible in the middle of the space and just stayed still holding his breath and shaking with fear.
The creature prowled around the box, sniffing and pawing, trying to find a way to get into the box. It was fortunate that the boxes on top were heavy enough to stop the creature pawing the box further away from the wall.
Merc found the smell was overpowering and hoped that the creature would go away.
He could by then discern what it was he had smelt earlier. Not only did the creature need to wash but it had bad breath, its teeth, that Merc couldn’t take his eyes off, were all black and broken and must have been causing much pain to the creature. That was not Merc’s problem though, he was concerned for his life and did not have any idea how he was going to get out of that slatted box alive.
After a while Merc’s brain began to clear, the creature had now stopped prowling up and down and pawing the box, it was sitting watching Merc through the slats. It knew there was no way out and that it was only a matter of time before it would be able to catch Merc. Merc started to think, What was the time? What time did the milkman come round? What time did the baker start making the dough for the bread? Did he open the back door of the shop and would he move the boxes.? Merc did not have an answer to any of these questions but he knew that either the milkman or the baker were his only chance of escape. Because Merc was often around the alleyway early in the morning, both the milkman and the baker had got used to him being there and now completely ignored him, but he didn’t think that they would be able to ignore this mangy, smelly creature with one torn ear and one with a part missing. He hoped they would chase it away then he could get away.
Whilst Merc’s brain was thinking out a strategy for escape, the creature had moved and Merc had not noticed. Where had it gone? Merc looked all round the yard, he could not see the creature. He was not prepared to take any chances and so he stayed exactly where he was, not moving even a whisker.
The birds had woken up and were starting to sing, but they couldn’t help him he knew that, he kept hoping that the milkman would come round, as he was normally first in the alleyway delivering the milk both to the shops and to the houses. This would be the one morning that the milkman was late. Merc remained where he was for a while longer. He had sensed no movement and could not smell the creature so he had decided to put his nose out the same way he had come in. Merc uncurled his tail, stretched his legs one by one and arched his back, then he moved forward slowly to the space between the wall and the box. Merc poked out his nose and gave it a twitch.
Immediately and without warning, there was a loud growl, and the weight of the creature was thrown against the wall and the box, aimed directly at Merc’s nose. Merc squeaked loudly as he received a heavy thud on his snout, his whiskers were broken and crumpled the wrong way and he bit his tongue as his top jaw was punched down on to his bottom one. Merc backed away into the box, but the creature, who had been sitting on the top of the wall, had displaced the box and the gap was now big enough for it to get its head inside and where a head will go, Merc knew that a body will always follow. He knew he didn’t have much time left, but just didn’t know what to do to save himself.
The creature was breathing heavily and was looking forward to having Merc for breakfast, it was just wriggling its paw forward inside the box when suddenly the milkman strode into the yard carrying two pints of milk and at the same time the baker threw open the back door of the shop to find out what was causing all the noise.
Merc had pulled back as far as he could and his back was now squashed against the inside of the front of the box. The milkman picked up a handful of small stones from the alleyway which he threw at the creature and the baker banged a metal baking tin, making so much noise he must have woken everyone up in the neighbourhood.
The creature did not like the stones and neither did it like the noise so it turned tail and jumped up and over the wall and bound away in great haste.
Merc had been hit by one of the small stones through the slat in the box and he was quite bruised on his leg, but that was nothing to what might have happened. He was very grateful to the milkman and the baker, but still had to get out of the box and back home. He did not wish to show himself, not with a bruised leg and a sore tongue and snout, so he decided to stay put.
After a few minutes of chat the milkman got on his way delivering the milk and the baker kicked the boxes straight and closed the back door of his shop to continue baking the morning bread. Merc gave it a few minutes then squeezed his body out of the gap, which was now smaller than it had been, and scurried all the way home, not stopping to look to see if the creature was still around the alleyway.
Instead of going into his house, Merc had come straight up into my room and woken me up. He was very distressed and now very tired so I let him stay with me and he was still there when mum came to wake me up. I just moved the covers over him when I heard her coming up the stairs and let him sleep on whilst I got dressed and went downstairs for breakfast.
When I went back upstairs a little later Merc had gone.
He came back to see me later to tell me all the details of his traumatic experience, but while I was listening to him it gave me an idea. He had said that when the creature had been behind him between the light and the wall, it had appeared to be enormous, much bigger than it actually was.
I took my torch out into the yard that evening and as Merc and I sat there I shone it onto the wall making the light dance over the bricks. Then I set it up on the woodpile so that it shone onto the wall and Merc and I took turns at making shadows. Merc was pleased to see that he could be a very big rat, even fifty times bigger than he already was, and I was almost as big as my dad when I stood in the torch beam. I found I could make my hands and fingers look like rabbits and other animals by wrapping my hands round each other and putting my fingers in different positions. I even made Merc laugh by making them talk as I spoke in a funny voice.
I think Merc felt a little better after that and it made him realise that things are not always what they seem, although they might still be very dangerous, especially to small creatures like him.
Mum called me to get ready for bed and I told Merc to be extra careful tonight in case the big mangy creature was still lurking around. I don’t think Merc stayed out very long that night, but settled for some dried bananas coated in sugar that one of the children had dropped in the alleyway. Merc had not tasted them before and found them rather scrumptious.
To Chapter Nine
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