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Raymond could never have foreseen what would happen when his pet rat Billy escaped from his cage.

It had been a simple mistake. Raymond’s mother had called him to tea just as he was changing Billy’s water bottle, and in his hurry he had simply failed to clip the door closed properly. When he came back afterwards, carrying the usual little pot of leftover peas and carrots for Billy, the cage door was hanging open and there was no sign of his beloved white rat.

“Don’t worry,” his mother told him, “Billy knows where his food and water come from. He’ll come back when he’s tired of exploring”

Raymond filled up the food bowl, placed a few treats inside the cage, tied a string to the cage door and waited patiently for Billy to return. He sat watching for hours and hours, until his eyelids grew heavy and he fell asleep with the string in his hand.

He slept for only a short while, but when he awoke the food bowl in the cage was empty. The treats were gone. Billy was still nowhere to be seen.

This carried on for several days. Raymond would watch for Billy as long as he could, but he would eventually fall asleep, and when he awoke the food he had left out was gone. His sister told him to give up; that Billy wasn’t going to come back and it was probably wild rats stealing the food, but Raymond had hope, so he kept putting out the same food and treats that he would give Billy if he were still there. And the food and treats kept disappearing as soon as Raymond fell asleep.

Eventually, Raymond came up with a new plan. He lay down in front of the cage, so that the only way Billy could reach the door would be to walk right over him. That would surely wake him up.

The new plan worked. Raymond had barely dozed off when little paws climbed up onto his belly, a familiar tickling sensation that roused him from sleep.

“Billy,” he whispered, catching his beloved pet in one hand, “I’ve missed you! ”

The rat wriggled.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Raymond said, sitting up. “Here, I’ve been saving some treats for you!”

It was at that moment that he noticed the other rats.

There were dozens of them, all throughout the room. They were lined up along the bookshelves, crowded underneath his dresser, climbing up his bed.

“I hope you don’t mind, master,” Billy said in a small snuffly voice, “But I brought some friends with me.”

Raymond put Billy safely on his shoulder and looked around the room. “Well,” he said. “I think I have enough treats for you all. But you’ll have to swear loyalty to me first!”

The rats looked at each other, and there was a soft murmuring between them.

“I have sworn loyalty to Raymond,” said Billy. “He is a good master and provides many varied treats.”

From the bed, a white and grey rat with dumbo ears spoke up. “So why did you leave?”

Billy stood up on his hind legs to reply. “I left to spread the word! Why should I enjoy such bounty when you, my brethren, go without?”

The rats murmured amongst themselves again. Raymond looked around, wondering what might happen.

A big black rat ran out from underneath the dresser, stopping right in front of Raymond’s feet.

“I swear loyalty to King Raymond,” she said, “Master and commander of rats!”

At this, there was a sudden motion from all the rats, as they fell into the closest to a bow that a rat could manage, and they all spoke as one.

“We swear loyalty to King Raymond!”

© Kari Fay