There was that noise again. That scritchy, scratchy, scampery sound. Jerry was already snoring in the bedroom. Of course I only hear it after he goes to sleep. She closed her book and listened. Something was in the attic. And she was going to find out what.
Jerry had inherited the old farmhouse and its contents from his grandmother eight months ago. The few rooms that Gran had occupied before her stroke were clean and furnished, and the rest of the house only needed airing, scrubbing, and a few minor carpentry jobs before the old house had become their new home.
They had opened the attic door and peeked around, but had put off poking through the years of accumulated miscellanea. Sheila had procrastinated even longer after she’d begun hearing intruders.
The steps creaked as she tiptoed up the ancient staircase armed with her trusty broom. She pressed her ear against the door at the top of the stairs, but her foe was silent. With trembling fingers she flicked on the light switch hoping to hear something. Only silence. She took a deep breath, raised her broom high, and cautiously cracked open the door. When she still heard no scampering, she opened the door wide and scanned the crowded expanse.
She peered around and over a plethora of dusty boxes stacked in jagged rows. No squirrels, no bats, no mice, and especially reassuring, no rats that she could see. Feeling a bit braver, she ventured a few steps across the rough wood floor. Suddenly, a brown monstrosity, surely the size of a raccoon, darted out from behind a box and came to a halt three feet from her. She gaped, the broom over her head forgotten, as the animal stared her down. Then both it and Sheila turned tail and scampered away – the varmint back to its nest somewhere in bowls of the attic, and Sheila back down the stairs (after ensuring the attic door was tightly shut.)
“Oh, yah, you’ve got rats up here. Plenty too, judging by the amount of droppings. See – look here.”
Sheila had no desire to observe rat droppings and backed away, but Roger leaned in close to the exterminator and nodded, saying, “Mm hmm. Yep. I can see that,” like he knew what he was talking about.
“So can you get rid of them for us?” Roger moved to Sheila’s side by the attic door.
“Oh, yah. I’ll put bait packets over here where I can see they’ve been chewing, and...”
“Chewing? Chewing what?” Sheila spoke up, fearing the unknown.
“Oh, well, they’ve been gnawing on a bunch of these boxes. Can see where they’ve been inside some too. No worries, though. I’ll take care of ‘em for you. Give it a week or so, then come up and check around. When you see dead rats, give me a call. I’ll come back and dispose of ‘em for you.”
Sheila turned to Jerry. “That will be your job.”
“Tell me how you came across this phenomenal find.” Chris Carver gingerly leafed through the book Sheila and Roger had brought to his establishment. Mr. Carver had come highly recommended by several of the used bookstores they’d contacted looking for information on their discovery.
“Well…” Roger looked at Sheila and grinned.
Sheila answered for them. “It all started with the rats in Gran’s house. Our house, I mean. They gave us the motivation to go through all of the boxes that had accumulated in the attic. Gran was a voracious reader and had quite a collection of books. Being a booklover myself, not to mention a raging “Gone With the Wind” fan, I was thrilled to find this old copy. When I opened it and saw the signature, well, I’m glad I didn’t destroy the thing doing cartwheels.”
“Cartwheels, hon?” Jerry raised his eyebrows.
“You know what I mean.” She laughed. “So, Mr. Carver, you think it’s worth something, huh?”
“What you have is a first edition, first printing, of one of America’s most famous novels, signed by its author. I’ve seen Margaret Mitchell’s signature, and I’m sure this one’s original.”
“What? No way.” Roger was on the edge of his seat now, and Sheila grabbed his hand and clenched.
“Yes, sir, I’d say you should get at least six, maybe seven grand for this treasure.” Mr. Carver carefully closed the cover and looked up at them, his eyes twinkling. “And you have rats to thank for this, you say?”
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