Whats a zuff? I
said to Mum.
No such thing, she answered. She took the letter from my hand and read it.
I hope you like the Spitting Rat. Take it to the zough and it will bring you good luck. But whatever you doo, dont tutch it. Love and Happy Birthday.
Mum looked at the work zough
and frowned. "Bill cant spell for nuts, she said. I think he meant tough
or maybe rough.
That doesnt make sense, I said.
Bill never makes sense, said Mum. Fancy giving you a dead rat for your birthday.
The rat stood there stiff and still inside a little glass dome. Its mouth was open in a sort of a snarl.
Its cute, I said. Uncle Bill always gives me great presents.
Mum gave a snort. Bills up in Darwin getting into all sorts of foolishness. He knows were dead broke. And what does he give you? Shoes? Books? A new school uniform? Something useful? Not on your Nelly. He gives you a stuffed rat, for heavens sake.
I like him, I said
I like him too, said Mum, But Im glad hes in Darwin and were down here in Melbourne. Fancy giving you a dead rat. He probably got it for nothing.
I could understand why Mum wanted me to have clothes for my birthday. Life was tough for her. She had been working hard. Too hard. She needed a holiday and I was trying to arrange it. All I had to do was get three thousand dollars for the two of us to go to Surfers Paradise. I had been saving for two weeks and already had one dollar fifty. Only two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-eight dollars fifty to go.
When Uncle Bill made it big he was going to send us money. But at the moment he was broke too. Mum sometimes called her brother Silly Billy. But I liked him. He was always having adventures.
I read the letter again. The Spitting Rat brings good luck if you take it to a zough, I said.
"I wouldnt get your hopes up, dear, said Mum.
Ill test it out, I said. Maybe the luck works without a zough whatever that is. I went over to the cupboard and fetched two dice from a game of Ludo. Then I shook them up and threw them on the table.
Two sixes, I yelled.
A fluke, said Mum with a laugh. She walked out of the kitchen, shaking her head and not even waiting to see what happened.
I threw the dice again and stared. I couldnt believe it. Another two sixes.
The stuffed rat glared out from its glass cage. Was it bringing me luck? I threw the dice once more. They both rolled off the edge of the table and under the sideboard that Uncle Bill gave me last year. I couldnt see if they had thrown up sixes or not. I lay down on my stomach and peered into the dusty space where the dice had stopped. There was something there. A piece of paper sticking out of my cupboard.
I reached under and pulled the dice and the paper out. It wasnt just any old piece of paper. It was a fifty dollar note.
Wow, I screamed. Bonus. What luck..
Just for fun I thew the dice again. Two sixes. Yes, yes yes. That rat was a lucky rat, that was for sure.
I showed Mum the money. If the Spitting Rat had not arrived we would never have found this fifty dollars, I said. It brings luck. Now we only have to find another $2,948.50 and we can have that holiday up north in the sun.
Mum gave me a kindly smile. Its a lovely thing you are doing, Anthony, she said. But three thousand dollars is too much for a boy to save all on his own. Id be just as happy if you did the washing-up now and then.
Poor Mum. Fancy thinking that me doing the washing-up was going to make her happy. No I had to get the three thousand dollars. Then she could relax next to a pool in Surfers Paradise. And neither of us would have to do the washing-up.
I sat down and wrote a letter back to Uncle Bill.
Dear Uncle Bill.
Thanks for the Spitting Rat. It is grate. Bye the way, whats a zough?
I am going in a speling compatition today. The prize is a free trip to Surfers Paradice. If I win I am goint to take Mum.. She needs a rest.
Lots of love,
The spelling competition was on
that very day. At five oclock in the town hall.
Im pretty good at spelling, I said to Mum. I might win the competition.
Mum read my letter and smiled. Youre so much like Bill, she said with a smile.
I could see she didnt think much of my chances. I dont know why. I was a good speller. Still I had to have a fall-back plan. An idea started to form in my mind. Yes. It was a good idea. I would use money to make money. Invest it wisely.
I put the fifty dollars and the two dice into my pocket and picked up the rats dome. Im going out for a while, I told Mum. Ill be back soon.
We lived on the top floor of the
high-rise commission flats. I made my way to the lift and pressed the button for the
ground floor. The lift was covered in graffiti and the wall was covered in spit. I hated
the look of spit. Yuck.
I stepped out of the lift and made my way to the nearest newsagency. I tucked the rat under my arm and held the glass cage tightly. I wanted to give the rat every chance of passing the good luck on to me.
One five dollar scratchy, please, Mrs Filby, I said.
Mrs Filby shook her head. You have to be over fifteen to buy Lotto tickets, Anthony, she said.
Its for Mum, I said
It wasnt really a lie. It was for Mums holiday up north. Thats what I told myself anyway.
Mrs Filby wasnt sure but she took the five dollars and gave me the scratch lottery ticket.
I walked over to the little-kids playground and sat inside a painted drainpipe with the Spitting Rat and my scratch ticket.
You had to get three numbers the same to win that amount of money. There were four different panels to scratch away and reveal the amounts of money.
I uncovered the first panel. $10,000, $25, $15, $10,000 and wait for it, wait for it, stay calm. Oh, rats $10. Jeez, that was close. I almost won ten thousand dollars.
I tried the next group. $100,000, $250,000, $250,000, and, and, and $250,000. Yahoo. I had won. Three lots of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Awesome. Magic. My heart was pumping like crazy.
Hang on, hang on. Oh no. One of them was twenty-five thousand not two hundred and fifty thousand. I felt like someone who was on the end of the queue just as McDonalds closed for the day. No hamburger. Nothing.
I quickly uncovered the third panel. No luck. Rats.
One last window to go. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I did them all quickly without really looking. And then I saw it. Oh, yes. Three lots of three thousand dollars. There was no mistake. I blinked and blinked and pinched myself. I had won three thousand dollars.
The Spitting Rat was the lucky rat. That was for sure. I jumped up and banged my head on the top of the concrete pipe.
Ow, wow, arghoo. It hurt like crazy. I fell down backwards and smashed into the glass dome of the Spitting Rat. And broke it. It just smashed to pieces leaving the rat standing in the not so fresh air.
What had I done? Would the rat still bring luck? Would it get mad at me?
Sorry, Ratty, I said. Im really sorry.
I patted the still, stuffed rat on its head. As if to make it feel better.
Thats when it happened.
Right when I touched the rat. Thats when all my troubles started. I still cant
believe that it actually happened, but it did.
The rat took a quick, sharp breath. I heard it quite clearly.
My mouth fell open in surprise.
And the rat spat.
Yes, the dead rat spat. Right into my mouth.
Oh, yucko. Gross. Foul. Disgusting. I could feel the rats spit on my tongue. Hot, sizzling, terrible.
I tried to spit it out but I couldnt. Something took hold of my mouth muscles and I swallowed the rat spit right down into my stomach.
The rat just stood there as if nothing had happened. Silent, stiff and dead as a stone. Its beady eyes stared ahead as if they were made of glass. What am I talking about? They were made of glass.
I shook my head in disbelief. Maybe it was a dream. A day-dream. Maybe I had just imagined that the rat spat.
Anyway, it didnt really matter. I still had my Lotto ticket. A three thousand dollar payout was heading my way. And Mum and I were heading for the sunshine. I was stoked. Now it wouldnt matter if I won or lost the spelling competition. I had my three thousand dollars and the forty-five dollars change from the fifty.
I picked up the rat and headed back to collect my prize.
As I crossed the street a kid came whizzing past me on a bike. It was Michael Smeds, a boy I knew from school. Suddenly I drew a breath. A sharp little intake of air. My mouth just seemed to have a mind of its own. I didnt want to take that breath I had no choice.
And I had no choice in what happened next.
A little blue bit of spit (yes, blue and hot) went shooting through the air and hit the front tyre of the bike. Smeds lost control. Started to wobble and crashed into a lamp-post. I went over and helped him up. He wasnt hurt but his front wheel was buckled. And it had a flat tyre.
You spat at me, he yelled. It made me fall. What did you do that for? Ill get you for that. Just you wait. He started to wheel his bike along the footpath, heading angrily for home.
Im sorry, I called out. I didnt mean to slag at you.
The whole thing was crazy. Hot, blue spit. I must have caught some terrible disease from the rat. I needed help. But not before I collected my three thousand smackeroos.
I walked onto the Yarra River footbridge and looked down into the brown water. It was so peaceful. A bloke and his girlfriend were just passing under me in a small rowing boat.
Suddenly I took a quick breath. I tried to keep my mouth closed. I gritted my teeth. I breathed in through my nose. But it was no good. I lost the struggle. Phshst A hot, blue gob of spit dropped down towards the boat. Splot. It landed right in the middle near the girls feet.
In a flash a little stream of
water began to squirt up inside the boat. It grew stronger and bigger. After a few seconds
it was like a broken fire hydrant flooding up into the sky. And then, before I could
blink, the boat was gone. Sunk. Sent to the bottom of the Yarra.
The two rowers started to swim for the bank. The man looked up angrily at me and yelled out something. They were good swimmers. They looked fit and strong. They looked as if they could tear a thirteen-year-old kid into pieces without much trouble.
I turned and ran for it. I just belted along without knowing where I was going. Finally I fell panting and exhausted under a bush in the Fitzroy Gardens.
I dumped the Spitting Rat down and tried to gather my thoughts.
This was dangerous. I had spat at a bike and punctured it. I had spat at a boat and sunk it. I never knew when I was going to spit next. It was out of my control.
I had to get away from the rat. Maybe if I put some distance between me and it I would be cured. Maybe its powers wouldnt work at a distance. I shoved the rat under a bush and headed for home.
I was really worried. Even the thought of the winning lottery ticket didnt make any difference. I had to spit when I didnt want to. It was hot and blue and yucky and burned holes into things.
As I walked I started to imagine things. The spit was powerful. Maybe if the Australian Army found out about it they could use the spit as a weapon. They could bottle it and throw it like hand grenades at the enemy. But the spit was powerful stuff. It would probably eat through the bottles.
Maybe the army would put me in the front line. I would have to spit at the enemy tanks as they came along the road. No thanks. No way.
I hurried back to the commission flats and jumped into the lift. I pressed the button for the twentieth floor. The doors banged shut and I started to go up. I was alone in the lift.
The floors whizzed by. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. Suddenly I took a quick breath. Dont spit. Dont, dont. I put one hand on top of my head and the other under my jaw. I pushed as hard as I could, trying, trying, trying to keep my mouth shut.
My mouth suddenly exploded. I just couldnt stop it. Kersplot. A bright-blue bit of spittle sizzled on the floor. Like an egg in a frying-pan it spat and cracked. Suddenly a small hole opened in the lift floor and the spit disappeared.
I could see right down to the bottom of the lift-well. Long cables clanked and clanged. My head started to swim and I felt sick. What if my spit had landed on a cable and eaten through it? I could have fallen to my death.
I was a long way from the Spitting Rat. It didnt seem to make any difference. I was still cursed with its spiteful, spitting spell.
I hurried out of the lift and ran
to our flat. Mum wasnt home but I wasnt taking any chances. I banged my
bedroom door shut and locked it. I needed time to think. A terrible thought was growing
somewhere deep inside and I didnt want to let it out.
I tried to figure it out. The blue spit could eat through anything. And I didnt know when it was going to happen. I couldnt stop spitting no matter how hard I tried.
But. And it was a big but. Would the spit have its terrible powers if I tried it on purpose? I looked around for something I didnt need. A piece of rock that I used to keep the door open. I placed it on the floor. Then I worked up a bit of spit in my mouth and let fly.
Yes. It settled on the rock and began to fizz, bright and blue. In no time at all the rock had gone altogether. There was just a little blue smear left on the floor.
Suddenly I started to suck in kersploosh. Another small blue bomb landed on my spelling book. It started to fizz and disappeared.
I was taken with a spitting frenzy. I spat on everything. My skateboard vanished in a fizzing blue mess. And my photo of Mum. Everything was a target. My bed was riddled with bubbling holes. My desk was drilled right through. The light-shade vanished. My football collapsed with a bang.
Breathe, spit. Breathe, spit. Breathe, spit. I couldnt stop myself. I was out of control.
Finally I fell to the floor exhausted. The spitting spasm had finished.
I heard the front door slam. Mum was home.
Now the terrible thought managed to surface. I had to face it. What if I spat at Mum? Oh, horrible thought. No, no, no.
I was dangerous. I was a menace to society. Everything I spat at was destroyed. I could kill people.
There was only one thing to do. I had to go away from human beings. Hide deep in the forest. Or find a deserted island. I would never see a person again. I couldnt even have a dog because I might be seized with a spitting fit and accidentally kill it.
Such was the power of the terrible Spitting Rat. A sad and lonely future stretched before me and I was only a kid.
And what about Mum? What would she do without me? She wouldnt have anyone to cook for. No ones bed to make. No one to eat her cakes.
The door-handle suddenly rattled. Are you there Anthony? said Mums voice. What are you doing? Playing with that rat, I suppose.
I threw it out, I yelled at the door.
There was a long silence. Sometimes I could murder Bill, said Mum. What was he thinking of? Giving you a dead rat for your birthday.
Her voice trailed off and I could hear her banging around in the kitchen. She always did the washing-up when she was angry. It made her feel better. She was a good mother. I had to get away before I hurt her.
I took out a pencil and started to write a note. My last message to my Mum.
I love you very much. For the safety of the world I have to go away and be on my own. Do not try to find me or your life will be in danjer. Here is a winning lotery ticket. I want you to have that hollerday up north in the sun.
Your loving son,
I folded up my letter and took
out the lottery ticket.
I could feel it coming. Sort of building up inside me. Dont let it. Dont, dont, dont. Too late. I snatched a breath and spat. Right on the Lotto ticket. It fizzled for a second and was gone. Disappeared. Totally destroyed.
I hung my head on the drilled-out desk and let a tear run down my nose.
Now Mum would never get to Queensland. Why had Uncle Bill given me that rat? He had let us down. Put my life in danger. Still and all he did tell me not to touch the rat. It wasnt really his fault.
Anger started to boil inside me. My life was ruined. My money was gone. All because of Not Uncle Bill no, not him. I wasnt made at him. It was all the Spitting Rats fault.
The rage inside me made me think. There was a way I could pay it back. There was a way I could get even. I would get my revenge on the rat.
I ran out of my room and out of the flat before Mum could say a word. Along the corridor to the lift. No. way. Down the fire escape the lift was too risky.
Across the playground. Over the bridge. Up to the bush in the Fitzroy Gardens.
It was time for the rat to get a bit of its own medicine.
I found two sticks and lifted the
Spitting Rat out of the bushes by holding one on each side of its neck. I was careful not
to touch it.
Now, I yelled. Youve ruined my life. But youre not getting off free.
I snatched a breath. And spat. Straight at the face of the Spitting Rat. A little blue gob of spit sped at its victim like a bullet. But the rat was too quick. Without warning it opened its mouth. Fast like a dog snapping at a fly. Slurp. Swallow. The spit was gone. The rat had taken it back.
Straight away the rat went back to normal. It stood there. Stuffed, still and slightly silly. Just as if nothing had happened.
And I went back to normal too. My mouth felt different. I worked up a bit of moisture and spat on the ground. Normal, clear spit. No spitting and fizzing.
Okay, Mr Ratty, I said. So Im cured. But what about my luck? Are you still lucky for me?
I took out the two dice and rolled them. A five and a two.
The luck was gone. No more blue spit and no more money.
I pushed the rat back under the bushes with the sticks and walked sadly home. Now my only hope was to win the spelling competition. Two free tickets to Queensland for the winner. I looked at my watch. I just had time to make it to the town hall.
There were hundreds of kids in
the town hall. We were all sitting at desks that had big spaces between them so that no
one could cheat.
Pick up your pens, said the Spelling Master.
The hall was filled with the sound of two hundred pens being lifted at the same time.
I crossed my fingers and hoped for luck. I hoped the words would not be too hard.
The gangster fired a bullet. Spell bullet, said the Spelling Master.
Easy, I liked to myself. I wrote each letter carefully. B-u-l-l-i-t.
I went through the door. Spell through, said the Spelling Master.
Oh no. This was a tough one. How did you spell through? T-h-r-e-w? Nah.
T-h-r-o-o? No way. I couldnt get it. I just couldnt work it out. My head was spinning. Everything was going wrong. I had another try. I slowly wrote down the letters and stared at them. T-h-r-o-u-g-h. That was it Yes, ough says oo. Like in zoo. I scratched my head and wondered.
Aghh, I suddenly screamed at the top of my voice. I flung my pencil on the floor and ran out of the door. Everyone stared. They thought I was crazy.
Last call for Qantas Flight
QF 628 to Brisbane, said the announcers voice at the airport. This
flight closes at 3.50 p.m.
Come on, I said to Mum. Lets go.
We hurried onto the plane. Outside the Melbourne rain was falling softly on the runway. Sunshine, here we come, I said.
Mum headed down towards the back of the plane.
Not that way, I said. These are First Class tickets.
We sat down among the business people wearing suits and balancing computer note-books on their knees. The flight attendant brought us fresh orange juice.
Mum was really curious. Come on, Anthony, she said with a smile. I know you couldnt have won the spelling competition. Youre no better at spelling than Uncle Bill. So where did you get the money?
I grinned. Spitting Rats are extinct, I said. There are none left alive. A man from the zoo gave me three thousand dollars for it. Just the right amount.
The zoo? said Mum. Why the zoo?
I took out the little notepad that they give you in First Class and wrote a word.
Zough rhymes with zoo, I said. Like through. Uncle Bill wanted me to take the rat to the zoo. He knew it would bring us luck.
Mum gave the biggest smile ever. She was so happy to be going on a holiday.
I like Bill, she said. But hes a bit nutty. Im glad he lives over two thousand ks away.
The plane started to speed along the runway.
Yahoo, I yelled.
Where are we going anyway? Mum said. You cant keep it secret any longer.
The plane lifted into the air.
Brisbane first, I said. Then on to Darwin to see Uncle Bill.
Mum started to laugh like crazy. It was good to see.