A Halo for Dexter

It was Helen who first heard the plaintive squeaks emanating from the garden. She awakened me from my nap and insisted that I come to the window so I too, could hear the sobs. They were not the meows of a hungry cat, nor were they the squeals of a lost puppy. It sounded more rodent in resonance and pitch. "A mouse, do you think, Henri?" meowed Helen.

"I don't think so," I answered. "I think the squeaks are coming from an animal much larger than a mouse. It sounds more like the voice of a young rat, not that I am that familiar with young rats."

"Oh, dear!" hissed Helen. "We must be careful! If it is wild, it could be dangerous.

I nodded. "Still, we must investigate. It could be a poor creature who has been injured or has strayed far from home. I think I can get into the garden from the basement window. Our persons do seem to be busy today. They probably wouldn't notice my absence for awhile."

"I don't think they notice your absence or presence very much at anytime," snickered Helen, that sly grin on her face. "Except when you dash out to the kitchen every morning to get your share of Pounce, they hardly ever see you....."

"I dash out to the kitchen every morning to greet them and wish them well!" I growled. "The nuggets of Pounce are just a minor consideration....."

"Yeah, right," Helen meowed, licking her paws. "Whatever you say, Henri...You'd better get out there and see what's going on in the garden."

Smarting a bit from Helen's remarks, I slipped into the basement, pried the window open and stepped out into the garden. There beneath the big pussy willow tree I discovered the source of those anguished squeals. It was a small rat, its shoulders hunched against the cold breeze, its white fur glistening against the frozen brown earth. It looked up at me, the look of horror flashing from its pink eyes. "Please!" it begged. "Don't eat me! Please don't eat me! I'll do anything for you if you promise not to eat me!"

"Oh, be quiet!" I hissed. "I don't eat rodents! I'm an educated cat!" The creature cowered as I approached it. "Who are you?" I meowed. "Where do you live? And what are you doing in the garden?"

The rat sniffed, whipping its nose on its paw. "My name is Dexter. I don't know where I live. I used to live in a cage but yesterday, the boy left the door open and I climbed out. The window was open a bit and I climbed through the opening onto a tree. Then I climbed down the tree. Then I got scared. There was so much noise and things I had never seen before. I saw a rat with a big bushy tale and it smacked me on the head. I ran away from it and ran and ran and ran and then I found myself in this garden." The rat began to sob, its small frame shaking with fear and remorse. "I don't know how to get home....." he lamented. "Of course the cage was pretty dirty and smelled something fierce and the boy would often forget to fill the water bottle and the food tray, but most everything else was pretty good....."

"Sounds like a delightful existence," I purred. "You had better come inside and get warm. I suppose you must be hungry after your terrible ordeal."

"You can say that again!" squeaked Dexter. "I haven't eaten for days or maybe weeks. I don't remember......What do outdoor rats eat anyway?"

"That would depend on the rat, I suppose," I meowed. "I'm sure we'll find something

that will satisfy your tummy."

"I have to go in there?" asked Dexter, pointing to the house. "Is it safe? Are there other cats in there?"

"Yes," I purred. "There are three other cats in the house, but they too, are educated. We've all taken and passed courses in compassion, acceptance and tolerance for creatures unlike ourselves. No harm will come to you, except maybe from the two humans who do not have a strong affinity for rodents, other than for the squirrels, which raid the bird feeders. They find them quite adorable because of their bushy tails....."

"It sounds good on paper..." mused the rat, smoothing his fur and whiskers. "I'll stay out of the way of the human element. And I'll say nice things to the kitties....." He followed me into the house, carefully observing every corner, every shadow within the basement. He was suspicious....I introduced him to Sidney, who was the first cat in the household curious enough to meet the newcomer.

"Sidney, this is Dexter. He is a rat. At the moment, he seems to be homeless and we will put him up until we can remedy that situation," I meowed.

Sidney sniffed the air. "He's a rat alright. Dexter is a strange name for a rodent." Helen came down the stairs and stood next to Sidney. I introduced her to our guest.

"He doesn't look at all like Raymond Hazelwitz, the rodent activist. Why is his fur white?

Did he get dropped into the washing machine with the laundry?"

"No! I did not get mixed up with the laundry!" squealed Dexter. "I am a special breed of rodent....I was bred to be a pet."

"A pet?" growled Helen. "You are someone's pet? I never heard of someone having a pet rat! A human has a pet d*g or a pet cat, but not a pet rat!" She began to giggle and put her paw against her mouth. "I'm sorry," she purred, "that was rude of me to laugh."

"It's okay,' squeaked Dexter. "I'd rather someone laugh at me instead of pretending I don't exist."

"Bad home life," I meowed. "Dexter suffered from total neglect. That's why he ran away from home."

"Golly," purred Sidney. "That reminds me of my youth, when I got kicked out of my home by an indifferent person. Fortunately, my handsome face and beautiful black fur coat won the hearts of my present persons. They are not quite what I had hoped for but they will suffice until something better comes along." Helen glared at Sidney, then before I could stop her, she raised a paw and smacked him in the whiskers. He howled once and leapt up the staircase to the safety of kitchen.

Oh, that cat annoys me, Henri!" hissed Helen. "To cool off, I am going to walk down to Penelope's house and see if Raymond has been along lately. I haven't seem him for about four days and he usually stops by the computer room window for a chat. I think he can help us here."

"Good idea, Helen. Penelope always has the hot line open for gossip. That is one cat who keeps on top of the goings-on in the neighborhood." I then escorted Dexter up the stairs and into the living room. Erika was sitting on top of the couch. She blinked, stretched then lay down again. I introduced her to Dexter.

"Hmmm," she meowed. "Dexter, did you meow? Dexter is a strange name for a rat."

She went back to sleep. I took the homeless rat back to the basement, showed him the litter box, brought him an assortment of bread, muffins, bird seed and cat treats. I let him decide what he wanted to eat.

I returned to the living room and waited for Helen to return. It was late in the afternoon when she finally arrived, slipping through the opened basement window. I met her at the top of the stairs. "Well," I purred. "What did you find out?"

Helen hissed softly. She was out of breath and could not meow until she had regained her composure. "Oh, Henri, I'm afraid we are in for big trouble. Raymond Horowitz is in Peoria, visiting family. Penelope said he had left a few days ago and wouldn't be back until after the New Year's Day celebrations." Still somewhat breathless, she paused a moment, making small attempts at smoothing her wind blown fur. "And I forget the most important thing. Our persons took off this afternoon to get their friends. Our persons are entertaining this evening. What are we going to do, Henri?"

"Don't get your fur in a spike, Helen. We'll think of something...Things can't be that bad..." Helen tried to smile through her doubts and went into the living room to rest. Frankly I hadn't the slightest idea what to do. I somehow had to persuade our houseguest to remain in the basement for the entire evening although I suspected that the little rat was afraid of the dark. After all, he had lived in a house for his entire life and the cage he inhabited was probably in the boy's bedroom....As I pondered our dilemma, a terrible scream of rage and frustration came from the vicinity of the living room. It was loud enough to bring our houseguest scurrying up from the basement.

"What's the matter," he chattered loudly. "Are we all going to be killed?"

"No of course not!," I hissed, patting the terrified rodent on the head. From the living room, I could hear Helen scolding Erika.

"I told you not to climb the tree, Erika! What in the cat's world were you thinking of? Now look what you've done! You've broken the Christmas tree angel! Oh, we will all be punished for this! And it's all your fault, you silly cat!" Helen's fur was standing on end, her tail twice its natural size. Erika was very quiet, pretending not to be upset by Helen's tirade.

"It was crooked and I tried to fix it," she meowed, washing her paw, carefully avoiding my gaze. "It looked funny so I was going to straighten it."

"Do you really think it looks better broken into a zillion pieces!" growled Helen.

Sidney was standing in the doorway, a smug look smeared across his whiskers. "At least you can't blame me. I had nothing to do with the broken angel."

I looked at the shattered ornament, prodding the pieces with my paw. Even with the best of glue, we cats could not have put it back together. "We have to think of something..... soon as they come home and light the Christmas tree, they'll notice the angel is gone, not to mention the broken pieces on the rug." I began to scoop the fragments into a heap. It would take more than a few pawfulls to remove the evidence of Erika's folly. Helen, Sidney and I all helped to move the broken pieces to the wastepaper basket in the computer room. Hopefully, our persons would not peer too closely at the contents when the trash is thrown out with the rest of the garbage. We were still sweeping up the remains when Helen heard our person's automobile pull into the driveway.

"Oh, no!" she wailed. "They are here already!"

"I had better hide," squealed Dexter. "It would be terrible if they found me here. They might want to fry me up for an appetizer!"

"Not likely," sneered Sidney, washing behind his ears. "I don't think they's find you very tasty. I wouldn't find you very tasty..."

While Sidney was making his case with Dexter, I was eyeing the top of the Christmas tree. The ornamental angel was not all that big. While my mind contemplated the size of the tree top figurine, my eyes were measuring the height and width of our houseguest, Dexter. I inhaled deeply, then meowed in my most commanding voice, "Dexter, I think you would make a wonderful Christmas tree angel."

"Who me?" squeaked Dexter. "You want me to climb up that tree and stand on the top of it? I'm afraid of heights. Didn't I mention I was afraid of heights?"

"Did I mention that I have very sharp claws and sharper teeth?" I growled. "At this moment, we need someone to pretend to be the Christmas tree angel. That someone is you, Dexter. Now move!!"

"Okay, okay. I get the message," chattered Dexter as he scampered up the tree. "Now what?" His hind feet were clasped tightly around the tree top.

"Spread your paws and hold them up toward the ceiling. Pretend you are gazing at the heavens above. Think good thoughts......" instructed Helen, striking a pose as if she were standing at the top of the tree. "Make a graceful arc of you front legs."

"How's this?" chattered Dexter. "Do I look good or what!"

"Wonderful" exclaimed Helen.

"Not bad," meowed Sidney. Erika refrained from comment and I could only hope that our persons and their guests would not notice that a white rat had replaced the traditional Christmas tree angel.

I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at the comments of the humans. "What a lovely angel! Wherever did you get it? I bet it was expensive...Look it moves! Isn't it amazing at today's technology? A few years ago, they couldn't animate an ornament that small."

Fortunately for us all, Dexter was not required to stand at the top of the tree for more than thirty minutes. In that time span, he managed to change poses at least ten times. Each new pose elicited a positive response from our persons and their guests, but more than once, our male person glanced at me with a quizzical eye as if he were aware of the deception but would keep his council. I was happy, more than happy, when my persons and their company left to have dinner at a restaurant. I waited for the slam of the automobile's doors and the hum of the motor as the vehicle pulled out of the driveway. I breathed a sigh of relief. "Alright Dexter, you can come down from the tree now."

Dexter stood at the foot of the tree, grinning from whisker to whisker. "They liked me! They really liked me! This could be the beginning of a career in show business!"

"Don't let it go to your head, Dexter," meowed Helen, yawning. "We are grateful to you. And we thank you for your services, but I really don't think a life in the theater is in your future."

Dexter ignored her remarks. "I will probably get a movie contract worth millions of dollars! I will replace that sniveling computer generated rat which took the public by storm! In me, Dexter the Great, they will experience the beauty of seeing the talents of a real, live rat!"

"What horror have we unleashed?" muttered Sidney beneath his whiskers. "And it all started because of a broken Christmas tree ornament..."

"I am truly sorry," meowed Erika. "If only I had known the consequences of my actions..."

I pondered the future, both mine and our rodent houseguest. Would I and my housemates be forced to leave our happy home? Would our persons, in time be all forgiving? Actually, I began to think they were rather amused by the rodent substitution. A few days later, the male person began to pat me on the head and stroke my back as I napped on the green, leather sofa in the living room. "Henri, I really never liked that silly Christmas tree angel. It was too big for the tree and had gotten dusty over the years. I'm not sorry it got broken.. Yes, I found the pieces in the wastepaper basket.. Good kitty."

A few days later, Raymond Hazelwitz returned from Peoria, a planet somewhere beyond our solar system and rushed over to meet with us soon after he had chatted with Penelope. He sat outside the computer room window, preening himself. "I'm sure Brenda, my mate, will come up with a solution, Pussycat. She knows a lot of rodent organizations and her person is very understanding about helping out her friends in need." He gave me a strange look. "Dexter? His name is Dexter? That's a strange name for a rat... I'll get back to you tomorrow."

Raymond was true to his word, as usual, and one night, just before midnight, he escorted Dexter to his new home with Brenda. He would stay there until a proper abode was found for him. In the meantime, he would be enrolled in classes at the Goodrat Theater School for Rodents in the town of Meriden

The End.

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