By Molly <MPSL27@aol.com>
Submitted: December, 2006
Summary: When a 10-year-old boy finds some Atomic Space Rats in his grandmother's attic, he's not content to leave them in their factory-sealed packaging, and he soon sets off a chain of crazy events.
Josh Weber liked Christmas, perhaps a little too much. This year he had made a list of 234 items that he desired and had submitted his list to Santa via snail mail *and* email — in October. At ten years old, Josh was almost convinced Santa did not exist… but, he figured, it couldn't hurt to send a list anyway, just in case. By mid-December, Josh had seen so many commercials depicting toys and video games that he'd neglected to include on his list that he was beginning to head into the early stages of a miniature nervous breakdown. And so, one week prior to Christmas, his frazzled parents shipped him off to his grandmother's condo in Metropolis.
"But WHY?" Josh had cried when he came home from school on that last day before Christmas Vacation to discover two suitcases sitting by the front door with tags bearing his name and phone number.
Josh's parents explained to their son that they thought he was becoming too obsessed with the material aspects of the holiday season, and they hoped that by spending Christmas with his grandmother, he might start to appreciate the simpler things in life. Josh did not understand half the words they used in their tirade, but he did get the gist of the message: they were taking away Christmas.
Edna Weber had not seen her grandson in three years, but she kept five photos of the boy on her mantle and three in her wallet and seventeen on her refrigerator. When her son had phoned her in early December to discuss the holiday plans, she had been surprised. How could two loving parents send their son away during the holidays, of all times? But she would sooner have died than complain, for she was quite lonely for her family and was thrilled at the prospect of spending time with her only grandson.
Edna had gotten special permission to meet Josh as he got off the plane, and as she waited patiently for him to disembark, she imagined a lovely scene in which Josh would step through the door, spot her, run to her awaiting arms, embrace her, and sprinkle her with kisses.
This did not happen.
Though the boy did, in fact, disembark, he did not run to her and did not hug her. What he did do was ignore her. He allowed her to take him to the baggage claim, out of the airport, back to the condo in the car, and into the condo itself. He even allowed her to show him the guest room before he turned to her and screamed, "I hate you!" and slammed the door. And as he cried himself to sleep that night, he thought of the Christmas tree in his grandmother's living room and the gingerbread men that lined the shelves and the holly and wreaths that adorned the place, and then he turned his mind to the fact that there were no presents under the Christmas tree and no fireplace for Santa to enter through (assuming Santa was real), and — since there was no fireplace — there were no stockings.
This, Josh decided, was going to be the worst Christmas ever.
Over breakfast the next morning (during which Josh lamented the absence of Cocoa Puffs, spilled his milk on purpose, and slipped his bacon to Edna's schnauzer), Edna tried to coax her grandson into telling her what he would like to do during his stay in Metropolis.
"Do you guys got a Six Flags?" Josh wanted to know.
"I'm afraid not," replied Edna.
"How about a big toy store?"
"That we do have. Would you like to go to one?"
This idea was met with sheer enthusiasm.
"All right," said Edna. "We can go this afternoon. But we won't be buying anything, do you understand? We'll just look."
"Look?" cried Josh. "What do you mean, 'just look'?"
In the end, they stayed home.
By the third day of his visit, Josh had taken to staying in his room almost constantly, playing his Gameboy, and eventually Edna got tired of trying to coax him out. She sought the advice of her girlfriends, who persuaded her to just leave the boy at home and come and play poker with them that afternoon. Josh was certainly old enough to stay by himself, and Edna decided that she wouldn't be missed. So she announced she was leaving, told her grandson where the emergency phone numbers were, and left.
She had no sooner departed when Josh's Gameboy batteries died their untimely death and Josh was left with nothing to do. He searched through every drawer and cupboard in the dwelling, looking for fresh batteries, but couldn't find the right kind. The last place he opted to look was a closet whose door was on the second floor, near the bathroom. "Last chance," he said to himself, exhausted from his search. Boy, if there weren't batteries in here, he'd be doomed to just watch television, and he knew his grandma only got the basic channels.
Upon opening this final door, however, Josh discovered that this was not, in fact, a closet, but a doorway leading somewhere. He was pleased to find steep stairs leading up to a third floor which Josh had not realized existed. Though he did like to explore, he did not like the dark, and might not have climbed the stairs at all, except that a switch at the bottom of the stairs lit not only the stairs but the room at the top as well. And so he began to climb.
The third floor turned out to be a storage area, with boxes upon boxes of things Josh could only imagine were treasures of some sort, all of them coated by a thin layer of dust. He began to open them.
*Boring*, he thought as the first box he opened turned out to contain wool sweaters. The next half-dozen boxes were filled with dishes and household supplies. But, having nothing better to do with himself at the moment, Josh continued to go through boxes, working his way from one end of the room to the other.
The thirty-seventh box he came to was labeled: *Rats*. For a brief moment, Josh imagined the box to contain live rats, but he dismissed this notion almost immediately. You don't keep live rats in cardboard boxes in the attic. Suppose it was dead rats, then? This intrigued him. He had thought his grandmother to be a bit lame, but this could prove she was okay after all.
As if to lengthen the suspense, Josh slowly opened the box. He was a bit disappointed to find not rat carcasses, but two toy rats, still in their packaging.
*Atomic Space Rats*, their boxes boasted.
Well, that sounded like it could be a bit interesting.
Josh lifted one of the packages from the box in which it rested and studied it. After reading the toy's description, he was delighted to learn that the rat, if squeezed just so, would spray some sort of yellow liquidy stuff on an unsuspecting person.
He ripped the rat out of its packaging.
It didn't take him long to figure out *where* to squeeze, but unfortunately, the rat did not spray anything, yellow or otherwise. Josh tried shaking the rat, as he had often done with aerosol cans when they were being difficult, but still the rat would not shoot. After giving it a few more tries, Josh finally gave up on doing things the old-fashioned way and unscrewed the rat's head in order to view the toy's inner-workings.
Inside was a yellow substance, hard to the touch. He poked at it a bit with a silver spoon he'd found in one of the other boxes, but the substance reacted like tough Jell-O. *How old IS this stupid thing?* Josh wondered, and checked the bottom of the toy. Raised plastic lettering spelled out: TM 1994.
1994! That was almost ancient! In fact, Josh *would* have considered it ancient, had that not been the year he'd been born. Ten years old. No wonder the goo stuff had solidified.
Josh was not about to give up on this new toy, however. He carried the headless rat downstairs, poured some water into the rat's neck, and, with the spoon, stirred vigorously. The goo stubbornly broke apart, but didn't mix with the water very well. Still, after some serious stirring, Josh felt that he'd made some headway. He replaced the rat's head and made another attempt at spraying something.
A jet of yellowish-looking water squirted halfheartedly from the rat and landed in the sink. *Oh well*, thought Josh, *better than nothing*. He took the rat to the living room and crouched behind an arm chair, laying in wait for his grandmother to return.
If anything, Edna had expected to come home and find Josh still in his room. So when she came through the door and saw her grandson standing there as if to greet her, she was thrilled — for all of two seconds — before she was acutely aware of an obnoxious smell … and something wet trickling down her face.
Josh had wholly expected his grandmother to be furious with him, maybe even go into a good raging fit over this incident. Josh had hoped for this, because it would be, if nothing else, exciting. But his grandmother didn't get angry at all. Instead, she shrieked with laughter.
This was scary.
The next thing Josh knew, Edna was snatching the rat away from him, screeching, "Mine!"
"I know it's yours," said Josh. "But since you weren't using it, can I play with it?"
"No!" said Edna. "It's mine, all mine, you hear me? Mine!" And with that, she bounded through the living room, down the hall, and into Josh's room.
"Oh wow, a Gameboy!" Josh heard his grandmother squeal. "I want this!"
"Hey!" Josh cried, following her into the room. "You can't have that! That's a Gameboy Advance and it cost a lot of money." He tried to grab it from her, but she pushed him aside.
"Finders keepers, losers weepers, sucker!"
"What else d'ya got? Got any money? Got any candy?"
"Um …" Josh did have some money, but he didn't think telling his grandmother where he was keeping it would be such a good idea.
"Let's go shopping!" Edna said. "Onward to Toys R Us!"
Josh liked this plan. They put on their coats. Just as they were about to leave, Josh noticed that his grandmother was still holding the Space Rat. "Shouldn't we leave the rat at home?" he asked.
"And risk someone stealing it? No way!" Edna cried. "Come on, last one to the car is a rotten egg!"
On the way to Toys R Us, Edna kept the rat next to her, between her hip and the car door. It went with them into the store as well.
"Now," said Edna, surveying the scene once they were inside the store. "If we each take a shopping cart, we can get more toys than if we just have one cart. But remember, anything you put in your cart is not for you, it's for me."
Josh, who believed it was one thing for his grandma to act like a kook at home, but quite another to act that way in public, put out his hand to stop her. "Grandma — wait."
"Don't hold me back, kid."
"Grandma, you can stop. I get what this is about." Josh had spent the car ride to Toys R Us analyzing the situation, and had concluded that his grandmother must be trying to teach him a lesson. It made sense. Josh knew his parents were tired of his greedy ways, and they had probably shipped him to his grandma's so he could learn a lesson. And now here was Grandma, acting like a selfish brat in order to show Josh the error of his ways.
"Yes, this is about SHOPPING!" said Edna, and she began to wheel the cart down the Barbie aisle.
"No, really, I get it," cried Josh, trying to keep up with her. "I really do care a lot about toys and stuff, and I guess that's why my parents were mad at me, but I'm sor— Grandma, watch out!"
Edna had been steering her shopping cart quite recklessly and had come within inches of taking out My Size Barbie. "Whoops," said Edna. She stopped the cart and took a look around. Then she smiled devilishly. "Quick, boy, put as many of these dolls into your cart as you can."
*Maybe she's just trying to embarrass me, as punishment* thought Josh. For a boy, being ordered to put Barbie dolls in his shopping cart was probably the worst thing that could possibly happen to him. But Josh preferred to quietly follow the orders rather than make a scene and attract the attention of possible taunting children, so he did what she asked and piled the cart high with Barbies and Kens and Midges and football-headed Kellys and Skippers and even a few collector's edition Christmas Barbies.
"Man, Grandma," Josh remarked as they pushed their carts toward the cash registers, "They're gonna have to spend *forever* scanning all these toys! And the line's really long, too … maybe we should just put th—"
"You're absolutely right," interrupted Edna. "Wasting time in line means less time to go other places, and we need, and I mean *need*, to go to the mall." And with that, she wheeled the cart back the way they'd come in and, just as another customer was entering the store (thereby setting off the automatic doors), she peeled out of the store.
The last thing Josh heard her say before the doors came to a close was, "Mine! Allllll miiiine!"
And here is what happened next:
There had been a security guard watching Edna via a camera. The guard chased Edna out to the parking lot. Edna sprayed him with the rat. He grabbed an armful of Barbies out of Edna's cart and ran down the street. Edna gave him chase. The police were called. Josh could only hear the sirens, but if he had been outside to witness the scene, he would have seen Edna spraying the rat goo left and right at anyone who might be possibly trying to lay claim to any of her remaining dolls.
Clark Kent had trouble believing what he was hearing as he tuned his superhearing into the police report:
A madwoman on a rampage? With a cartful of stolen Barbies? Spraying people with rats?
Rats, rats … why did that sound so familiar?
*Well, this is gonna be one un-merry Christmas,* thought Josh as he sat on a bench at the police station. *Grandma's probably gonna go to jail now … and it's all my fault.* Why hadn't Grandma just given up the act? Why had she driven that cartful of dolls out of the store? Why, why, why?
He was in the midst of contemplating a good swearing fit when he was suddenly aware of someone standing in front of him. Someone with red boots. He looked up.
"Superman?" he questioned. This *could* be a trick, like the time he'd gone to see Santa at the mall when he was four and had found, in Santa's place, an overworked thirtysomething with a fake beard, masquerading as Santa. "He's one of Santa's *helpers*," his parents had told him, but Josh had never forgotten the sting of that experience.
The guy in the Superman suit nodded and smiled. "Mind if I sit down?"
"Are you really Superman, or are you a fake?" asked Josh bluntly.
"I'm really Superman, I promise. I helped sort out the, uh, situation with the police and your grandma. That woman with the rats … she *is* your grandma, am I right?"
Josh sighed. "Yeah, that's her. She was just trying to teach me a lesson about being too greedy or something, I guess, and she went a little nuts. It's really *my* fault, so if you could do something to get her out of jail, that'd be great. I'll do anything you want. Anything. I mean, I don't want anyone to have to spend Christmas in the slammer cuz of *me*."
"It wasn't your fault, though," Superman assured the boy. "It was those rats, actually. They were taken off the market a *long* time ago because they're dangerous. Do you know how your grandmother got ahold of one?"
"She got it from me. Well, I mean, she just grabbed it out of my hands!"
"How did *you* get it?"
"I found it in her attic. There were two of 'em. The goo stuff inside was all hard, so I mixed it with water. And then I sprayed her with it. I probably shouldn't have done that, huh."
"Oh, so you diluted it. That explains why it's already worn off."
"Your grandmother is back to normal now. She's going to be fine."
"So she's not going to jail?"
"No, don't worry. And no one's pressing charges. That substance inside those rats makes people go a little crazy, that's all. I've explained the situation to everyone involved, and the police seem to understand, and so does the toy store's manager. Your grandmother should be out here in a few minutes to take you home."
Superman was true to his word. Within ten minutes, Edna was putting her arm around her grandson, leading him out to a taxi. They rode to the Toys R Us parking lot, then took Edna's car home.
As they stopped at a red light at 9th & Carter, Josh turned to his grandmother and said, "Grandma, what'd you have those rats in your attic for, anyway?"
Edna sighed. "The rats," she said, "were for you." She explained that she purchased them during the Great Space Rat Craze of '94, and had put them up in the attic, hoping that — if they remained sealed — they might be a good investment down the road for her then-baby grandson's future. "I figured I'd be able to sell them … in eighteen, twenty years … for a good price. Then when it came out that the rats contained a mild-altering substance, I fully meant to throw them out. But I just have the hardest time parting with things…"
"Yeah, I kind of noticed."
Even though it hadn't seemed likely a few days before, Josh and Edna had a wonderful Christmas. Superman even stopped by that week to confiscate the remaining rat. Edna and Josh swore they would never tell Josh's parents about the Toys R Us incident, and Josh went back to Los Angeles a changed boy.
Superman, however, never did dispose of that second rat. He honestly meant to, but then he got distracted by various and constant cries for help, and he accidentally left it on the Kent Family kitchen table … and then his six-year-old daughter got ahold of it.
But that, my friends, is a story for another time.
(Notes: I don't know how likely it is that the rat goo would have remained potent after ten years, but you're just going to have to suspend your belief on that little point in order to make this story work.
I've always had it nagging in the back of my mind — what happened to all the Space Rats in Metropolis? Sure, they were taken off the toy shelves that Christmas, but what about the people who'd already purchased them? What if they didn't take them back to the store for a refund? What if someone had one in their attic, and years later…? :)
This story was originally posted on the L&C Fanfic Message Boards. Thank you to everyone who commented on it.)