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Rated: ASR · Short Story · Animal · #1238427
Grandpa Ed explains why all creatures deserve respect . . . and some even medals!
A four foot blur of freckles flew out the screen door. "Grandpa! Grandpa! There's a rat! Inside! In the tool shed!" Dalton's head jerked to the still swinging door then around the lawn as if the beast were upon him.

Grandpa Ed never lost a beat as he swung to and fro on a glider nearly as old as he. Dalton stared at him, his brows furrowed. Almost whining, but not quite, he asked, "Grandpa Ed ain't ya gonna go kill it?"

"Now why would I go and do a thing like that?" asked Ed, settling deeper in the glider.

"It's a rat." Dalton explained, placing his hands on his hips and jutting out his chin just a bit. "It's diseased. It'll bite you and give you rabies . . . You could die." Dalton stomped his right foot down for added measure. Grandpa Ed nodded, closed his eyes and continued to rock.

Dalton stared at him a moment before a beetle, scuttling along the sand-covered porch, caught his attention. He placed his hand in front of it trying to block its escape between boards. The beetle pushed under his hand and disappeared. Dalton recalled his grandmother saying just last week, "There's nothing more stubborn than an old man nor a young boy." Dalton supposed Grandma hadn't played with many beetles. Focused again on the crisis at hand, Dalton tried again. Narrowing his eyes, he pursed his lips and returned his tiny balled fists to his hips, "It could bite me, Grandpa. It could kill me!"

"Huh?" Grandpa Ed yawned and sat up, resigned now to the fact his nap would have to wait. "What was that?"

"The rat could bite me Grandpa. It'll give me rabies."

Ed patted the dusty cushion beside him, motioning the boy to sit. "Why do you hate rats so much? You ever been bit?"


"You ever see a rabid one? Eyes rolled back an' slingin' spit?"


"Then why are you so sure that one in the shed's gonna kill us all?"

Dalton stared between his dangling legs at the boards below, "Mom says they're vermin. That they should be eraca . . . eradicaded . . . killed."

"Hmm." Ed scratched his chin stubble, "that so?"

"Yeah." Dalton answered sheepishly, glancing at Ed before staring back at the porch floor.

"Well now," Ed pulled Dalton onto his lap and leaned back, "Did she tell you rats saved my life?"

Dalton stared up at him suspiciously, "Uh-uh."

"It was before her time I reckon. I was a young man, a boy really. Just turned seventeen that summer. I took a job at the Blackstrap Butte Mine."

"Why'd they call it called a boot?"

Smiling, Ed tousled the chipmunk's hair. "Because if ya weren't strong enough, nor mean enough, it'd kick your butt back topside in a hurry!" Ed glanced around. Then, with one brow lifted he eyed the boy. "Don't tell your Momma I said that." A snaggle-toothed grin assured him their secret was safe.

"Now I'd worked a mine or two before; but nothing like this old booger. She musta cut clean through to the other side of the world. I felt like an ant down in them tunnels.'

"Did you find gold?"

"Nah, not me. I'm sure there was some, but mostly just Balmstone, scrin and scrubbing. I did a bit of it all. I was a draw boy, changer and gatherer and all around hewer. We'd take lunch about five hours before kenner . . ." Ed noticed the child's frown. "That's knock-off time in miner-speak." Dalton looked satisfied.

"No matter how many headlamps and Tin Can Davies we had it was always dark. When you're in a dark tunnel with food, rats are as sure as taxes. Those little beggers would come and sit on their hind feet taking handouts everyday. Darn near like pets, they were. Friendly and fun to watch.

"One day I noticed an Ol' Momma rat bookin' it up the shaft with her litter in tow. Several of 'em were scurrying that way. I told Rusty Knuckles about it, an old keeker that kinda took me under his wing. Ol' Rusty started ushering us out there pronto. We were told to drop our gear and head up. So we did. Higher we went, thicker the rats got. Hundreds maybe thousands.

"See, rats have great hearing. They can sense water behind stone walls and shifting earth. They were warning us. As I loaded the bucket to get out, one of 'em climbed up my pant leg. He wasn't cheeky . . . just wanted a lift. Cute Lil' guy actually. He was missing most of his tail and half his whiskers, one of his ears was purt' near chewed off." Grandpa Ed nodded to nothing particular, lost in thoughts that had little to do with rats; he thumbed at a tear in his eye. With a grin he looked down, "I named him Lucky."

"Truth is, most of us were lucky that day. About eight hours later, the flooding began. We lost four levels that night. Seems we were digging beside a buried lake. The water's pressure busted through a wall. I'd still be swimming if it weren't for them rats." Ed hugged his grandson closer and squeezed back his tears. Maybe someday he'd tell the whole story of Backstrap Butte, maybe not.

Dalton nodded with six year old understanding. "Can I keep him then?"

"Who?" Ed tilted his head back in puzzlement.

"The rat . . . in the shed. Can I keep him? I got a gerbil cage at home." Dalton leapt off Ed's lap, eager to catch a critter.

Ed shook his head. "Now, Boy, what kind of treatment would that be for a hero? Locking him up in cage would be like prison. Let's just give him his space and salute him . . . from a distance. Give him the respect he deserves."

"Okay" Dalton sighed, kicking at the sand, his hands tucked into his pockets.

"Want a grilled cheese sandwich?"

"Yeah . . . I guess."

After they ate, they walked to the wood shed. On the table they left a Hero's sandwich of peanut-butter and cheese. Dalton also left a gold star, a sticker freshly peeled from a spelling test. Every hero deserves a medal.

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