Chapter 12 1954 - Henry

So much had happened in December that it was all a blur to Henry and Juliette. By the time the New Year rolled around, things were finally returning to a bit more of normal.

Henry returned to work, and continued to tinker with his inventions. He liked to make little adjustments to the Rat Deflector to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, and little by little, he would add just a bit more current to make sure that the rats would never return. What he didn’t count on was the King Rat, who thought he could outsmart the device.

One night, about three in the morning, while Henry and Juliette were sound asleep, King Rat entered the henhouse. King Rat was huge, a good sixteen inches from the tip of his tail to the tip of his pink nose. His whiskers spread a span of six inches, and his deep black color belied the fact that he was merely a rat.

King Rat had watched his brothers die, felt their shrieks as they succumbed to the Rat Deflector. Sniffed the air to detect the smoky presence as their hair singed as currents of electricity scoured the life from their bodies. He even mourned for his cousins the field mice, as they wandered into parts unknown and never returned.

But King Rat was clever, he watched the others as they died, but knew that there were ways to get around this killing machine. While the other rats merely stumbled onto the circuitry, King Rat noticed that the source of the danger was the transformer that connected all of the wires into the deadly grid. He reasoned that attacking that source would be an end of the device, and a return to the reign of the rats in the henhouse.

King Rat began to gnaw at the wire that exited the transformer, and before long had worn away the insulation, revealing the bare wire. But the wire proved too strong, and King Rat could not chew through it. King Rat moved on to the next wire, and once again, the insulation gave way. That was King Rat’s fatal mistake, for when his body came into contact with the two bare wires, the effect was immediate. King Rat’s body surged with electricity, and burst into flames.

But King Rat was a fighter, and he still had a bit of life in him as he streaked away from the transformer and into the chicken coop. Loose straw was everywhere, and as he moved through it, it too sparked into flame.

The fire spread quickly though the chicken coop, and soon the entire building was up in flames. Chickens were screeching, and as the fire snuffed out their lives, an eerie quiet began to pervade the area. The only sound was the crackling of timber and finally the huge explosion of the roof collapse that finally stirred the residents of the home next door, Henry and Juliette.

As they rushed outside, Greta passed them and ran into what remained of the burning building. Henry frantically called for Greta to return, but she was on a mission, to rescue her chicken friends, should they still be alive. Greta bit into one of the cages that had fallen to the ground and had somehow escaped the flames. She dragged the cage, braving the heat, and succeeded in bringing it out. But not without cost: her leg was badly burned, and she collapsed onto the ground, as she could not support her weight on it.

Henry rushed to Greta’s side and lifted her, the heat licking at his own face as she valiantly licked it as well, to cool it off for him. She was weak, but she made it, with Henry’s help.

When the fire department finally arrived, the complete structure was a total loss, but the firemen kept the flames from reaching the Mall’s house.

“You folks are lucky to be alive,” the fire chief offered.

“We are,” Juliette responded, still shaking and clutching onto Henry, “but Greta is not doing so well,” as she indicated the heroic dog lying at their feet.

The chief noted the burns, and retrieved his first aid kit from the truck. He cleaned the wound, and wrapped it with gauze tape.

“You’d better get her over to the vet first thing in the morning. He may be able to save that leg.”

“We will,” Henry replied. “She’s one special lady.”

Greta’s injury had distracted Henry from the fire for a bit, but the hard reality was this: Henry was out of a job. The focus of the egg industry was moving elsewhere, and the owners were unlikely to attempt to rebuild and restart the business.

Henry still had a small income from his inventions, but it wasn’t enough to make a living, it was more of a successful hobby. As the sun began to rise on this disastrous day, Henry began thinking of his options.

At 9 A.M., Henry entered the grocery store and asked for the manager. Because Juliette was a former employee, Henry felt that he might have a chance at getting a job. Unfortunately, all positions were filled, and although the manager was sympathetic, it just wasn’t possible at this time to give Henry a job.

Henry went back home, his head hung, and Greta whimpered when he entered the door. Looking up at the clock, Henry saw that it was nearly 10 o’clock, and the veterinarian would be opening his office soon. He picked up Greta and put her in the bed of his pickup and headed back into town.

Dr. Jonas greeted Henry and looked with concern at Greta and her bandaged leg. Word had reached him about the fire, but he wasn’t aware that there had been injuries beyond the death of several hundred chickens.

He was impressed by the professional wrapping of the wound and commended Henry on it.

“Oh, no, I didn’t do that!” Henry was flustered. “The fire chief cleaned and dressed it himself.”

“Then it’s a good thing he was there, because she’s going to be just fine,” Dr. Jonas replied. “I’ll apply some medicine to make sure it doesn’t get infected and you can be sure to keep her leg clean for a few weeks.”

“Well, I’m sure I‘ll have plenty of time to do that. My job is gone.”

The vet agreed and suggested “Perhaps something new will come up.”

“Perhaps so, but I’m worried,” Henry mulled. “With a new baby and all, I really need a job. I know chickens, and that is going nowhere right now. What’ll I do?”

When the vet was finished with Greta, Henry let her walk out on her own, and though she favored her leg a bit, her tail was wagging and her eyes were bright as she looked up at Henry. It lifted his spirits, and he wore a hint of a smile on his lips.

As he left the vet’s office, Henry saw Sam Martin coming out of the hardware store next door. Sam was recently a new father as well, and they had shared some camaraderie during their wives’ pregnancies. Sam’s son, Osgood, was born premature, and had been lucky to survive. Even though he was a couple of months older than I, I had grown much faster and appeared to be the older one.

“Hi, Henry! What’s new?” offered Sam, making some small talk.

“You haven’t heard? The hatchery burned down last night,” Henry stated.

“Oh, that’s rough,” Sam sympathized. “I heard sirens but didn’t know.

“I’m out of a job, and I don’t know what to do,” Henry confessed.

“I heard the Scuffling Scrappers were looking for some help, perhaps that’s something that could tide you over until something else comes along,” offered Sam.

“Oh, I don’t play anymore since the accident,” as he held up his hand. “There’s not much I can do for them.”

“They’re not looking for a musician, though I’ll bet they would take you back if they were. They’re looking for someone to handle their business affairs. They’re about to record an album, and may even go on tour soon,” Sam revealed.

Henry thought a minute then said, “That sounds like something I’d like to do. I’ll stop by the Stomping Grounds this evening.”

Henry thanked Sam and let Greta jump into the cab. His mood was significantly happier as he made the short drive back home.