Will Gracie’s Rat Eradicator Machine Work?
The climactic question is answered in this week’s newsletter!
Above is a possible illustration for The Dictionary of Curious Words. It features a significant word in the life of any hen and gives a clues about how the language of chickens works. We previously learned that palindromes are very important to chickens because of their symmetry. Interjections are also important because they allow chickens to say a great deal with only a few words. Too many words wastes time that could better be spent hunting for earthworms!
Special Note: Both palindromes and interjections are used in the English language, and finding those might prove to be a worthwhile study. Having been a teacher at one time in my life, I can’t help but see opportunities to bring stories to life through real experiences. For example, the construction of The Sewer Rat Eradicator makes a nice connection to Rube Goldberg drawings and the science of simple machines!
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Results from Last Week’s Newsletter Poll: The majority of our readers responded “Yes! I’m eager to find out if Gracie’s plan works.” So, I believe a “Spoiler Alert” is necessary at this time. Both of these chapters are told from the perspective of Nate and appear as written in his journal.
If you need to catch up, here is a link to the previous edition of our newsletter:
In the previous chapter, Gracie had learned from The Raven With Blue Eyes that the what happened next would determine whether Bessie’s heart would be healed so she could return to being herself. There was a great deal depending on the success of Gracie’s Invention called The Sewer Rat Eradicator.
Throughout the next day, the chickens did an excellent job of acting normal. Even Pearl remembered to do something not-so-normal so that she would appear to be her own normal self to any of the stray cats that might be watching.
That part was confusing to me, but it made perfectly good sense to everyone else.
They all took turns watching the storm drain. They had to make sure The Sewer Rat was still on his regular schedule of creeping in and out and up and down the street before his afternoon nap. If anything was different, they would cancel the plan immediately.
None of the chickens, not even Gracie, realized there were dozens and dozens of crows and a single raven high up in the elm and pine trees bordering our garden. They were ready to swoop in and protect the chickens if anything went wrong.
I noticed them as I left home. They were like the ones that had followed me back out to the main road when I had taken Rudy to Lefty’s farm. We were certain The Sewer Rat would not venture into Gracie’s trap if he realized I was home, so I was glad to see that my chickens were being protected without knowing it.
What neither the chickens nor I noticed was how the wind from the cold front during the night had tangled the top cord of The Chicken Puppet among the branches.
At just the right time, Gracie gave a low call. Bessie quickly hid in The Deep Hollow with only her eyes and her floppy comb showing. Blanche and Pearl yawned as if they were sleepy and went up to the coop. Then they looked out through the cracks in the boards. If they spotted anything from up there that Gracie could not see from below, they would signal an alarm.
Gracie looked around and lifted the latch on the first door, The Swing-Out Door. She stepped outside.
So far, so good, she thought.
She took a deep breath and suddenly began to feel the annoying stomach pain like the night before. She hid behind The Record Player and motioned for Bessie to pull the string marked “P” to lift The Chicken Puppet.
Gracie waited, but The Chicken Puppet remained limp and still. She traced the path of the cord upward with her eyes and saw the tangled mess. No matter how firmly Bessie pulled, the only things that moved were the tree branches as the cord became more tightly tangled.
Gracie had to think quickly.
Bessie peered over the edge of The Deep Hollow and motioned frantically for Gracie to abandon the plan.
“BwÖwK!” she whispered as loudly as she dared. “Please, come back. BwÖwK!”
But Gracie would not give up so easily on getting Bessie’s heart fixed.
“Just say ‘PeeP! CheeP!’ when it’s time to leap onto the yardstick,” Gracie whispered back. “We can do this together. I know we can.”
She turned on The Record Player and moved the arm onto the record. After the song began, she hopped up on top of The Record Player’s open lid and began to dance in place of The Chicken Puppet.
“La-Dee-Dah. La-Dee-Dee. Look at me! Look at me!” she sang and motioned for Bessie to pull the cord with the tag marked “M” to pour milk into the saucer.
Before the first waltz had ended, Gracie could see The Sewer Rat creeping slowly out of the storm drain. She continued to dance, never looking in his direction.
In the middle of the second waltz, she caught a glimpse of The Sewer Rat creeping into our yard. She could also hear a stray cat lapping up milk from the saucer.
“La-Dee-Dah. La-Dee-Dee. Keep your eyes set on me!” She sang even louder.
By the end of the third waltz, the lapping had stopped, but there was no sound of the bowl being rattled around like there would normally be while the cat licked up the last drops. Gracie knew the stray cat had spotted The Sewer Rat and had abandoned the milk.
Bessie would wait until the very last second before giving the signal for Gracie to jump down from The Record Player and onto her mark. From there it was a simple matter of leaping inside to safety and landing on the yardstick.
What bothered Gracie was jumping down from the top of The Record Player’s open lid. She had never practiced that part. She had only practiced jumping from behind The Record Player, and the lid was wobbly. If she twisted her foot when she landed, she would be helpless and unable to recover.
“A jump down, and then a leap.” she told herself softly. “Just like that. One. Two. I can do it.”
She turned in slow pirouettes with her eyes half-closed to make sure the right time was getting close while she waited for Bessie’s call.
“Make me your cordon bleu!” She sang. “Let me know your heart is true!”
As the stray cat crept out from the shadows, Bessie realized it wasn’t just any stray cat. It was The Tuxedo Cat, the one who had scratched her with its claws.
Bessie felt her whole body begin to freeze from fear. What if she would not be able to call out? What if she tried to call, but no sound came out? It would be like when she had tried to crow the way Lefty did. Gracie would not know it was time to jump down and leap for safety, and then the worst thing imaginable would happen.
For a moment, Bessie felt as if she was choking in a dark gray cloud of smoke, but then she heard Gracie singing, “Make me your kiev, and I will never lee-ev.”
Remember the shortest Promise Of Love, Bessie reminded herself.
“Give me some romaine, and I will be your lo mein!”
Love chases away fear, Bessie told herself. It is short so that you can remember it when you need it the most. That was what she had told Gracie. That was what she told herself.
“I will be your cordon bleu because I’ve chosen you-oo.”
Gracie was quickly running out of silly things to sing, but she kept dancing and waiting for the code words that meant it was time to jump and then leap.
“PeeP! CheeP!” called Bessie at last, but then she added, “It’s The Tuxedo Cat!” She had to let Gracie know even if The Sewer Rat heard her too.
Gracie jumped down from The Record Player and landed directly on her mark. “One,” she said.
Then with one great leap, a grand jeté, the leap she had practiced so many times, she leapt towards the yardstick and into safety.
“Two!” she said triumphantly.
She hurried towards The Deep Hollow where Bessie would be waiting for her.
But as she was running for The Deep Hollow, she passed Bessie, running directly towards The Tuxedo Cat and The Sewer Rat.
Gracie slid into The Deep Hollow and looked back. The Drop-Down Door was still open.
She had missed the yardstick. How could that be? It was a ballet leap she had practiced hundreds of times, but she had missed it.
Suddenly, the pain she had been feeling returned, only much sharper than ever before. Gracie could do nothing except watch as Bessie headed straight into fear and danger.
But Bessie didn’t look at it that way. She was headed straight into love and rescue.
And so, Bessie took her own leap of faith.
As Bessie leapt into the air, The Sewer Rat began running faster. Behind the Sewer Rat, The Tuxedo Cat began running even faster. They were both running straight towards the open door.
Above them, dozens of black wings stretched upward in unison, as if a vast blanket was being snapped and spread over the chickens below. Dozens of talons tightened as dozens of knees bent, preparing to hurl The Raven and The Crows downward.
Bessie landed firmly on the yardstick. She felt it bending under her feet. She heard it softly release the metal loop just as it was supposed to do and then heard the cord with its metal loop zipping upward. She heard The Drop-Down Door banging against the sides of its track on its way down to the ground, giving them safety.
She closed her eyes and waited. She heard The Drop-Down Door slam hard in front of her. She heard a crash and then a much larger crash and a whimpering crunch. She did not feel any rat teeth. She did not feel any cat teeth.
And so, she cautiously opened her eyes.
She was staring directly into the waffled face of The Tuxedo Cat. His body was pressed tightly against the wire mesh of The Drop-Down Door. Then she looked down and saw The Sewer Rat. He was crumpled into an awkward mess between the door and The Tuxedo Cat.
“CluckŸ-BuckŸ!” called out Bessie, and then she began to laugh. She wasn’t sure why she was laughing. She just knew she had defied her fear of The Tuxedo Cat because she loved Gracie so much.
The Raven ruffled out her feathers and relaxed them as she settled back to her resting position, and then The Crows did the same.
The Tuxedo Cat shook his head as if awakening from an awful dream. The Sewer Rat tried to wriggle his way out from under The Tuxedo Cat, but he had slammed into the door with such force that some of his twisted fingernails had gotten caught in the wires.
Hearing Bessie’s laughter, Gracie began to laugh along with her. The more she laughed, the stranger the pain in her stomach began to feel. Even though there was no longer a reason to be afraid, whatever was happening inside Gracie hadn’t gone away.
The Sewer Rat finally scrambled and scrunched his way down and out from under The Tuxedo Cat. He headed as fast as he could towards the safety of his storm drain, and the Tuxedo Cat took off after him.
Suddenly, Gracie let out a long, loud cry. “BücK-a-bwawk-BôcK!”
It was an alarming cry, but at least her stomach didn’t feel funny any longer. If anything, she felt hungry, and so maybe that was why she had called out, “BücK-a-bwawk-BôcK!” like it was time to feed the chickens. She felt a little embarrassed since it was much closer to bedtime than breakfast time.
Bessie hurried over to her and peered down into The Big Hollow.
“Look at that!” Bessie said and pointed with her wing.
“What is there to look at?” asked Gracie.
“Stand up and see for yourself!”
Gracie did, and there it was—her first egg. It was as clean and warm and beautiful as any egg had ever been. She was now officially a hen.
“Don’t forget to say ‘Kô-qÅq-ôK!’ like you should,” said Bessie because that is what hens have been saying since the first hen laid her first egg.
“It does not matter that you didn’t know what you were doing when you were doing it. Only you would say ‘Bock-a-bwawk-BôcK!’ instead of ‘Kô-qÅq-ôK!’ like all hens do.”
“Kô-qÅq-ôK!” said Gracie, and they both cheered.
“That’s why your leap missed the yardstick,” said Bessie. “You were off-balance because you were getting ready to lay an egg!”
Blanche and Pearl scrambled down the chicken ladder to examine Gracie’s first egg.
“CluckŸ-BuckŸ!” said Pearl, and of course, everyone agreed.
The treetops above them had been silent, but suddenly, they heard the rustling of hundreds and hundreds of feathers as the squadron of twenty-four crows prepared for their next command.
The Raven With The Blue Eyes gave a low call to The Crows, and then in one swift movement, they all launched themselves upward from the limbs where they had been perching. They seemed to hang motionless in midair, and then by flights of four, The Squadron Of Crows plunged downward in perfect precision, a glorious mass of triumphant black, swooping down and banking around to form a perfect circle.
Faster and faster they flew. As the circle grew tighter, the rush of air from the flapping of their wings swept up the day’s fresh straw and fallen leaves like confetti as they cawed their congratulations. It was the most amazing feat of aerial mastery the chickens had ever seen.
Then The Raven With The Blue Eyes gave another low call and led them back in the direction from which they had come, to the south and the west. It was towards the farmlands, towards where Lefty and Rudy lived.
The chickens suddenly realized they had been there all along, ready to swoop in if anything had gone wrong. But Gracie and Bessie had worked it out together. That’s just what friends do.
When I got home, it was almost dark. The Swing-Out Door was open, but The Chicken Puppet was not on top of The Record Player lid like it should have been. The Drop-Down Door was down and shut tight, and I hurried over to see if the chickens were safe.
“Is anybody in there?”
“Nobody here but us chickens!” they clucked happily.
When I got around to the door of the coop, there was a burst of excitement and calls of “Surprise!”
I flipped on my flashlight.
“One, two, three, four,” I counted.
But even counting was not enough. I had to pick up each of them in turn and hold them close.
Then everyone started telling me what had happened all at the same time so that everything was jumbled up in bits and pieces. The story would be told and retold until it would eventually be sorted out, and I could record it in my journal. Surrounded by happy clucking, I was simply relieved that everyone was fine.
Bessie’s courageous heart was restored. Gracie’s first egg was laid. The Sewer Rat’s fate was still uncertain, however we all felt it would be quite some time before The Tuxedo Cat ever thought about coming anywhere close to another chicken.
“Do we have any Waldorfs?” asked Bessie.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“I’ve been thinking about what to make for our celebrate tomorrow, and the songbirds told me there is a famous salad made from Waldorfs that people like. They call it Waldorf Salad, but if we have no Waldorfs, we can call it Celebration Salad instead.”
“Have any of the songbirds ever seen a Waldorf?”
“Only what it looks like in a salad at picnics in the park, but they are checking The Living Library.”
“To be honest with you, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Waldorf either. But I think we will be able to find several good substitutes in the refrigerator.”
“Maybe we can hunt for some Waldorfs early in the morning,” suggested Blanche. “I like hunting for new and different things to taste.”
“That’s a great idea, but you girls had better get some sleep if you are going Waldorf hunting in the morning. Since no one seems to have ever seen one, it’s likely they can be very elusive.”
“Elusive?” asked Pearl.
“More difficult to find than the right color for your ballet costumes,” I explained.
Pearl smiled and blushed. “Maybe tomorrow we can decide,” she chirruped happily.
A question for our readers
What would you say? Did Gracie’s Rat Eradicator Machine work? Did her plan succeed or not? I think these questions would make a great discussion. It is something that Gracie will ponder in the conclusion to Volume One: Into the Garden.
We will share what Gracie learned next week with no “spoiler alert” necessary. In the meantime, how was your reading experience? Was there a good “payoff” for the time you invested?
Until next week…
As always, we appreciate your comments and feedback because we want to make the best books possible for our readers. You can leave feedback in the online comment section or email us directly at John.Spiers@yahoo.com.
Thank you for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
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