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       The Daring Rooftop Rescue, p.1

           Brian Bakos
 
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The Daring Rooftop Rescue
THE DARING ROOFTOP RESCUE

  Coming up in the world can be dangerous

  by Brian Bakos

  art work: Othoniel Ortiz

  Copyright 2013 Brian Bakos / revised 09-2016

  Table of Contents

  Part 1: Coming Up in the World

  Part 2: Struggle for Acceptance

  Part 3: Disaster

  Part 4: Coming Down

  Connect with the Author

  Brian’s Other Books

  Part 1: Coming up in the World

  Curmudgeon = someone who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn. A killjoy, a wet blanket

  1: Up on the Rooftop Oh, Oh, Oh!

  CRACK!

  The wooden ladder broke apart with a horrible noise as loud as a thunderclap. Johnny Badger leaped off, grabbed the drain pipe, and held on for dear life with all four paws. Beneath him, the ladder tumbled away in pieces.

  “Whew!” he gasped.

  He looked at the ground below. It seemed to be miles away.

  “What should I do now?” he wondered desperately.

  The drain pipe decided this for him as it started bending away from the gutter. The nails holding it to the wall groaned as they pulled free. Soon, Johnny would be on an express trip to the ground without a parachute.

  He gathered all his strength and, with a frantic heave, flung himself up onto the roof. He sprawled there like a cracked egg waiting to get fried. Every claw dug into the shingles as if his life depended on it.

  Well, his life certainly did depend on it.

  Johnny was way too scared to move. Not only that, but he felt desperately sorry for himself, too – as only those who create their own problems can feel.

  “I’m not Santa Claus,” he whined. “I don’t belong on roof tops!”

  A couple of minutes dragged past before he got up enough nerve to stand. The roof was slanty but not too steep, thank heaven. If he walked along the shingles slowly and carefully, he shouldn’t have to worry about taking a long nose dive.

  He crept to the edge and peered over. Below him yawned a thirty foot drop, straight down to the hard packed dirt of the front yard.

  The horrid sight made him dizzy, and he sat down quick. A high-climbing squirrel or chipmunk might not be bothered by this situation, but for a badger used to living on the ground, it was maximo scary.

  Worst of all, he knew the disaster was entirely his own fault. He simply weighed too much to be climbing on such a flimsy old ladder. He smacked a fist into an open paw.

  “Oh ... I’d feel so much better if I could blame somebody else!”

  Nobody else was around, though.

  “He-elp!” Johnny cried, “Helllppp!”

  The emptiness smothered his voice like a wet blanket. Never had he felt so utterly alone. Dark forest pressed in all around him, and thunder rumbled in the darkening sky.

  The air became hot and tense, as if it was getting ready to explode. The hairs on Johnny’s coat stood on end. The atmosphere seemed damp enough to swim through.

  Thunder boomed again, closer now, and scattered raindrops appeared. They thudded against the wood shingles like a hammer driving nails into a coffin lid.

  Earlier today, Johnny had been doing great. Now he was in this awful situation. How could everything have turned out so wrong?

  2: Mr. Hank Vanishes

  Things started to unravel for Johnny Badger the previous week, on the day Mr. Hank disappeared. But Johnny didn’t know that his life was coming apart; he actually thought he was doing rather well.

  Mr. Hank (also known as the “Old Curmudgeon”) was an ornery, unpleasant, dislikable man. Nobody ever tried to get on his good side because he didn’t have one. Rumor had it that he’d once been a forest ranger and had worked many years alone in the wilderness. Then he’d quit that job and moved into the old house near Forest Towne.

  “I live out here because I don’t like people!” Mr. Hank used to growl, and everyone believed him.

  He was the only human being for miles around. His long, tangled hair, bristling beard, and wild eyes were enough to scare away any others – not to mention the big shotgun he always kept loaded and handy.

  “I ain’t much for socializing,” he’d say, patting his trusty old firearm. “And when there’s something to be said, my shotgun does the talking for me.”

  He’d caused many problems for the Forest Towne residents, but eventually everyone sort of got used to the Old Curmudgeon. His heavy, crunching footsteps and his mumbly grumbling voice became part of the background noise, like the wind in the tree tops.

  There was one very good thing about him, though – Punch Fabuloso. Now and then Mr. Hank would brew up a batch from a secret recipe to trade for food and other provisions. Everyone loved this wonderful drink. Humans might feel the same about Coca Cola, hot chocolate, or cod liver oil.

  “The Old Curmudgeon isn’t fabulous,” everyone agreed, “but his punch certainly is.”

  Then, last week, Mr. Hank suddenly vanished, leaving a note tacked to the Message Tree on the town square:

  Dear Neighbors,

  I’m sure that you will all miss me as much as I’m going to miss you, which is zilch, zero, zippity doo dah. Johnny Badger can have my old house – if he can handle it, that is.

  Good riddance! Have a nice day.

  Sincerely,

  Henry J. Akright (that’s Mr. Hank to you!)

  The Forest Towne residents stood around the Message Tree scratching their heads. Johnny was as surprised as everyone else. Why this sudden gift, from the Old Curmudgeon no less?

  “My, my.” He fanned himself with his paws. “I feel like I’m going to faint.”

  “Go ahead,” Rufus Possum mumbled. “Don’t let us stop you.”

  “This whole deal seems fishy, if you ask me,” Chester Squirrel grumbled, just loud enough for Johnny to hear.

  3: Desperate Appeal to the Mob

  Johnny turned to the crowd and shrugged helplessly.

  “I can’t imagine why Mr. Hank did this,” he said. “Honest I can’t.”

  “Yeah, right,” somebody said.

  A wall of stony faces confronted Johnny, daggers of jealousy glittered in every eye. He shrank back from them.

  They look like a lynch mob, he thought, all they need is a rope!

  “Yes, it is quite a mystery,” Rufus said. “I’d have thought Mr. Hank would burn the place down rather than give it away.”

  “Right,” everyone agreed.

  A tense silence fell over the crowd members. Feet shuffled in place, paws curled into fists just aching to slug somebody. Not a one of them didn’t wish that he, himself, had gotten the house – however useless it might prove to be. Why, anybody would have been better than Johnny Badger!

  Johnny was just an outcast, totally unacceptable to the upper layer of Forest Towne society. He never got invitations to the better parties; hardly anybody even noticed him most of the time. And if they did notice, they simply wrote him off as a crude and clumsy oaf, as you’d expect a lowly badger to be.

  Had Mr. Hank felt sorry for him, then?

  No that couldn’t be the reason. Nobody ever felt sorry for Johnny Badger, it wouldn’t be fashionable.

  Rufus picked up a rock and studied it carefully, Chester did the same. Maybe they wouldn’t have done this on their own, but with the crowd all around egging them on, they were starting to get some violent ideas.

  Johnny gulped and took a step back, holding up his paws. “Uh, gee guys, I-I ...”

  “Good morning, all!” came a cheery voice from the back of the mob.

  Everyone turned to see Mayor Raccoon. He was standing in his usual pose – upright on his hind legs, his gorgeous tail draped over his
left wrist.

  “Hello Mayor,” Rufus said.

  He jerked a paw, the one not holding the rock, toward the Message Tree.

  “What do you make of this announcement?”

  “There’s an announcement, eh?” Mayor Raccoon said. “How interesting.”

  “Yeah,” Rufus said. “It looks like the Old Curmudgeon has left town.”

  “Really?” Mayor Raccoon said.

  The mayor walked through the crowd, slow and dignified as was his style. Everyone made way for him with great respect.

  Of course, he already knew of Mr. Hank’s departure since little escaped his notice in Forest Towne. The door of the old house had been left open, and the fancy lace window curtains were missing. Mr. Hank loved those curtains almost as much as his shotgun, and if they were gone, then surely he was gone, too.

  Only one thorny question remained: what about the house?

  Mayor Raccoon had been raking his brains all morning trying to figure out some way that he could get the place for himself. How could he take it over as his “official residence” while making it seem like everybody else’s idea? He hadn’t come up with a satisfactory plan yet, but he was determined to keep trying.

  He paused before the Message Tree and put on his dark wraparound sunglasses. A harsh ray of sunshine was bouncing off the note, making him squint. Besides, he always enjoyed an extra bit of drama and the sunglasses made him look decidedly more dramatic.

  Is the crowd seeing my best profile? He wondered as he read the note.

  Then his eyes bulged with amazement when he came to the part about Johnny getting the house. He was grateful that the sunglasses hid them from the onlookers. His mind whirled like a dust devil, and he fought to keep himself from crying out.

  Finally, he managed to paste on his best politician’s smile. He turned toward the crowd.

  “Isn’t this wonderful?” he said. “Congratulations, Johnny!”

  He clapped Johnny Badger on the back.

  “Th-thank you, Mayor,” Johnny said.

  “Well, I really must be going,” Mayor Raccoon said, “important business, you know.”

  He made his way back through the crowd, hoping that nobody would sense his extreme confusion. He did not dare to remove his sunglasses, fearing that everyone would see the shock in his eyes. He stumbled, but pretended that he had only tripped on a tree root poking out of the ground.

  The whole political situation in Forest Towne had just been flipped over like a pancake on a hot grill, and Mayor Raccoon needed time to think it over – very carefully. He vanished into the woods.

  The members of the crowd all looked at each other, dumbfounded. Rufus dropped his rock, Chester did the same. Mayor Raccoon was the acknowledged superior mind of Forest Towne, and if he approved of this situation, then it must be okay – somehow, sort of.

  “Well ... uh ... congratulations, Johnny,” Rufus said.

  “Thanks, Rufus,” Johnny said.

  He felt the knot in his belly start to loosen a bit. Maybe he wouldn’t get slaughtered today after all. The other residents congratulated him now, too, but green envy shone just below the surface of every smiling face.

  4: Mystery Envelope

  Another startling turn of fortune happened to Johnny Badger later that day. As he prowled around his new home checking things out, he discovered a crinkled, yellowish envelope. It was lying on the dining room table right beneath a gruesome chandelier made out of deer antlers.

  A piece of clear tape sealed this mystery envelope, and a strand of thick, black hair was trapped between it and the paper. The hair looked like it might have come from a buffalo, or maybe from the beard of the Old Curmudgeon.

  Some words were written on the front of the envelope in big, jagged, red letters:

  TO BE OPENED ONLY BY J.B.

  Johnny took the envelope in his paws. It was quite thin and surely contained no more than one or two sheets of paper – but it felt heavier than it should have, somehow. Johnny turned it over and studied it from various angles.

  J. B. must mean Johnny Badger, he thought, so ... I’d probably better open it.

  Still, he hesitated. What if ‘J. B.’ referred to somebody else? Maybe it meant Junior Bear or James Beaver. Johnny didn’t know of anybody by those names, but that didn’t mean they didn’t exist somewhere.

  What if somebody was lurking in the house to make sure that the wrong person did not open the envelope? Then, if Johnny opened it when he wasn’t supposed to, this guard would suddenly leap out and attack!

  Johnny checked all closets. He opened the trap door in the pantry floor and glanced about the crawlspace under the house. Nobody was hiding anywhere – as far as he could tell.

  He returned to the dining room and hefted the envelope again. No, it didn’t really weigh much, but it felt very important. The importance was what made it feel so heavy. Johnny slipped a claw under the tape ... and paused.

  What if he was making a mistake? Those violent red letters had been written by somebody dangerous, somebody who shouldn’t be trifled with. It must be Mr. Hank, of course, but who needed a worse enemy than that?

  Still, if Johnny was to inherit the house, he’d better read the former owner’s message, shouldn’t he?

  Well ... here goes nothing.

  Johnny popped up the tape with a single quick motion. The buffalo hair drifted to the floor. Johnny withdrew a single piece of crinkly, yellowish paper, unfolded it, and raised it close to his eyes in trembling paws. Then, slowly, his frown brightened into a joyous smile.

  In his paws he held the secret recipe for Punch Fabuloso!

  “Yippee!”

  Johnny leaped straight into the air, tangling himself in the chandelier. He scarcely noticed the deer antlers jabbing into him as he studied the paper with wide-eyed glee. Here it was in full detail – ingredients, mixing directions, processing times, everything! A note at the bottom of the sheet read:

  Look under the sink, nitwit.

  Johnny untangled himself from the light fixture and plopped back down to the floor. He dashed to the kitchen and yanked open the cupboard under the sink.

  There, in neatly labeled containers, were the ingredients for Punch Fabuloso. Everything was here except for the grapes which grew on the trellis alongside the house. No problem there, Johnny had already seen that a fresh crop of grapes was nearly ready for picking.

  A golden vision flashed before his eyes. With his new-found wealth, he could become the big honcho of Forest Towne – greater even than Mayor Raccoon! He would stroll through the town with his head up high as he came and went to his mansion. No longer would he have to keep his eyes cast down as he scurried to his miserable little den hollowed out of the ground.

  Nobody would ever snub him again! And if they tried, they would never taste Punch Fabuloso as long as they lived.

  Johnny had an excellent memory. He studied and re-studied the recipe until he had absorbed every detail. Then he tore the paper into tiny bits and swallowed them with a dash of water from the kitchen pump.

  “I am the Punch Fabuloso, now,” he proclaimed, “and the Punch Fabuloso is me!”

  He’d scarcely paid attention to a final note that the Old Curmudgeon had scrawled on the very bottom of the sheet. It read:

  MAKE ENOUGH TO DROWN EVERYBODY!

  5: Creaky Floors and a Leaky Roof

  Johnny’s delight at his good fortune lessened a great deal when he realized how much work needed to be done. From the outside, his home didn’t look too bad, but inside it was frightful. The Old Curmudgeon had left, but his presence lived on in the spooky old house.

  The roof leaked, and every room needed painting. The whole place smelled musty, as if nobody had aired it out for years. The fireplace overflowed with ashes. Just exactly what was in those ashes, Johnny did not care to know.

  Worst of all, the wooden floor boards creaked and groaned loud enough to scare Johnny out of his wits. This was especially so at night when he was alone,
and the dark forest pressed in on all sides with the sound of screech owls and mysterious breezes.

  He got to thinking that somebody was following him as he crept about the drafty old house.

  “No,” he said, “It’s just my imagination.”

  Then, the floor creaked again, making Johnny flinch. He was certain that something horrible was lurking in the shadows, right behind him, just waiting for a chance to pounce! But he didn’t really know for sure, because he was afraid to glance over his shoulder. And, when he finally did get up the nerve to look ...

  Nothing was there!

  But wasn’t that proof that something really was in the house with him? It was just hiding cleverly, dodging out of sight whenever he tried to look for it.

  Finally, trembling and afraid, he’d slip into bed. But, from the floor under the bed, came another terrible groan. Every time he turned over, the floor creaked again, giving him so many nightmares that he could hardly sleep at all.

  Johnny missed his old, comfortable den with its solid dirt floor. He’d never once felt that he was sharing the place with ghosts. When he went to sleep in his old bed, not a single nightmare bothered him, ever.

  But it was too late for regrets. He’d come up in the world now. Once he’d repaired his mansion, everyone would recognize him as Forest Towne’s leading citizen. They’d think he was even more clever than Mayor Raccoon. Why, he just might run for mayor himself in the next election.

  But it would take a long time to get the house into shape.
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