The Rink Rats

By Mary Alice Downie

They weren’t rats at all. They were grey mice with bright eyes and quick feet. They lived up North in Manitoba where it was very cold, and they didn’t much like winter, so it was a hard life. Most of the time when they weren’t out hunting for seeds and berries for their families, they hid in their holes in the schoolhouse and shivered.

 

“This is no good at all,” said Raymond, staggering in from a blizzard with a big spray of partridge-berries.

 

His whiskers were frozen stiff and stuck straight out like knitting needles. His paws had turned white with the cold, his nose red. His fur sparkled with snow.

           

No one answered. Everyone was asleep. They were curled up together in a woollen sock that had fallen out of a skate hanging from a hook in the cloakroom.         

 

“Wake up!” he said. “I’ve had an idea.”

 

He was answered by a chorus of snores.

 

There was only one solution. Raymond puckered his lips and gave the Mouse Family Whistle. It meant “Watch out! Here comes the cat!”

 

The grey mice with bright eyes and quick feet scuttled from the sock back into their hole. Raymond followed, dragging his partridge-berries.

 

“Now that I have your attention,” he said.

 

They waggled their whiskers and yawned.

 

“We all hate winter, don’t we?”

 

“YES!” they said. “Everyone knows that. “

 

“But it’s here to stay,” Raymond continued, “so let’s use it.”

 

“Let’s ban it,” shouted Byron.

 

“No, we’ll play hockey, the way the boys do.”

 

“We don’t have skates or uniforms,” objected Stanley, who liked to look on the dark side.

 

“That’s easy,” said Raymond. “We’ll make skates and uniforms.”

 

Then he told them how to do it

 

“That’s all very well,” grumbled Stanley. He wasn’t used to wearing a helmet and his skates pinched. “What about a rink? We’ll be slashed to death if we try to play at the same time as the boys. One goal and it will be game over.”

 

“That’s easy too,” said Raymond, and he told them how to do it.

 

“That’s all well and good,” grumbled Stanley. (His skates still pinched.) “But who do we play with? Had you thought about that?”

           

“No problem,” said Raymond. “We’ll play against the squirrels.”

           

But the squirrels turned them down.

           

“We’ve decided to take up curling,” they said, flicking the remains of a nut picnic into a snow bank. “We won’t need brooms because we can use our tails.”

           

They whisked snow into Raymond’s face and ran off, chattering, to find a stone.

           

“Who needs squirrels?” he said bravely as he brushed the snow from his ears. “We’ll play against the moles.”

           

“You’ll have to wake them up first,” Stanley reminded him.

           

The moles listened sleepily and then they said no too.

           

“The shiny ice hurts our eyes,” they explained. “Now if you happen to feel like a nice quiet game of Tunnel Tag next spring, we’re your moles.”

           

“Not to worry,” Raymond said. He wasn’t the kind of mouse who gave up easily. “The birds will be glad to play against us.”

           

The birds were flattered to be asked and formed a team on the spot. They called themselves the Bantams. A large grey snowy owl wanted to be goalie, but he kept trying to swallow the puck, so they chose one of the ravens instead.

           

The game wasn’t a success. The birds’ hockey sticks dropped out from under their wings. The snow buntings were so light that they slid off the ice and got their beaks stuck in the snow bank.

           

The ravens couldn’t keep their balance on skates. They kept crashing into each other and falling over. Then they got into squawky fights.

           

“What did I tell you?” sneered Stanley. He had discovered that his skates didn’t pinch if he wore nylon socks, but now his feet were cold.

           

“We’ll play the…the…the…cats,” Raymond said in desperation.

           

“They’ll eat us alive,” squeaked Kenny, who was a coward and not afraid to let people know it.

           

Raymond couldn’t think what to do.

           

The rest of his team were huddled together at one end of the bench. It tipped over and they all fell on the ice in a heap of skates and tails.

           

Just then, Raymond’s twin sister Shirley came wandering along. (He also had fourteen older ones and ten younger ones.)

           

Shirley had taken up sledding and was pulling a bright red bobsled.

           

“What’s the trouble?”

           

Raymond explained.

           

“Eat us alive,” Kenny squeaked from the centre of the snowy tangle.

           

“If you call yourselves the Rink Mice, they will,” Shirley agreed, with a stern glance at Kenny that made him wriggle out from the tangle and put on his mask.

           

“She thought for a moment. “Call yourselves the Rink Rats instead. Then you’ll sound so ferocious that they’ll be afraid of you and you’ll win.”

           

“They’ll know we’re mice.” Raymond was feeling discouraged. His whiskers drooped.

           

“Not in your helmets and face-masks, they won’t.” Shirley whizzed off down the hill on her bobsled.

           

“Say you’re small rats,” she advised from a snowdrift at the bottom.

           

“Let’s try,” said Stanley unexpectedly. He had been surprised to discover that he enjoyed skating. He was also pleased with himself because he had managed to get the puck into the net, even if it had been with his tail instead of his stick.

           

So they pulled Shirley out of her snowdrift and got her to write the challenge because she had the steadiest paw.

           

“To the CATS” it said in what looked like dried blood but was really cranberry sauce that Raymond had brought home last Thanksgiving.

           

We, the RINK RATS

Challenge you to a game of HOCKEY

By moonlight

Tonight. 

 

                                   

Signed Raymond

Kenny

Stanley

Byron

Etc.

 

           

They decided to hold the game by moonlight because they didn’t want any curious humans getting in the way.

           

The cats accepted. They didn’t want to be called the Scaredy Cats.

           

Everyone came to watch except the moles, who had gone back to sleep for the winter. The squirrels sat in a row, chattering noisily and tossing nutshells on the rink. They were being very careful with their bruised and ice-bitten tails. The curling match had not been as much fun as they expected.

           

Shirley was there with her fourteen big sisters and nine of the little ones. Isla, the baby, was home in bed. The foxes had turned up too, but they had to be seated on the far side of the rink because they made the smaller birds nervous

           

The grey snowy owl wanted to be referee, but the mice wouldn’t let him. They were afraid that this time he really would eat the puck. They asked Foster Mewitt, the caribou, instead, because he had a calm nature. Ron Berry, a particularly yappy husky, insisted on being the commentator. “I have the loudest voice!” he shouted.

 

           

The other team padded onto the ice. They called themselves the Catlouettes and they had trained all afternoon, chasing paper balls up and down stairs in the community centre.

 

Their whiskers twitched. Their green and golden eyes gleamed through their masks. They looked hungrily at all the tasty fans in the audience. The birds decided that they’d rather go snowshoeing, and left quietly by the back door.

 

The captain of the Catlouettes was called Ernie. He was known as the meanest cat in town. The goaltender was a lean black great-great-grandmother called Emily. She could bring down a bird of the wing and would have no trouble at all with pucks.

 

Foster Mewitt raised his hoof and the game began.

 

At the end of the first period, the Catlouettes were ahead 2-0.  Ernie brought the puck all the way down the ice for the first goal. The second was a fluke shot from the red line that shouldn't have gone in, but did, because it missed all the Rink Rats.  

 

At the start of the second period, Raymond was in the other end. He hit the puck to Stanley, the only one on defence. (A big striped tomcat had Kenny trapped in a corner.) 
The puck hit a post and bounced in. It was another goal for the Catlouettes! All twenty-four of Raymond's sisters, even Shirley, burst into tears.  

 

Third period: the Catlouettes scored again by an intercepted pass that led to a breakaway goal.

 

"We're doomed!! Stanley said.  Raymond's 24 sisters cried even louder.

 

We still have a chance," said Raymond, trying to keep up his team's spirits, although he felt very low himself.

 

Suddenly Ernie noticed a bird and ran off after it. Foster Mewitt blew his whistle. “Penalty.”

 

Then Stanley’s helmet fell off and Emily meowed and tried to catch him.

 

“The Catlouettes are disqualified,” bellowed Foster Mewitt. “The Rink Rats have won.”

 

Shirley and her twenty-three sisters had a surprise for the winning team. They had worked all day building a huge cup out of ice. They presented it to the winners, filled with chilled Muskeg Water. They had also gnawed small cups out of pine-cones as a souvenir for each member of the team.

 

As the captain of the victorious Rink Rats, Raymond accepted. He held the glittering trophy aloft. “I vote we name it the Stanley Cup in honour of the hero of the game,” he cried.

Even the defeated Catlouettes joined in the cheers and so it was known ever after.           

About the Author

Mary Alive Downie has written and edited twenty-eight books for children and adults: picture-books, historical novels, folktales and anthologies.

She lives in Kingston with her family in a 125-year-old house near Queens campus, surrounded by students, and in a 139-year-old cottage, most bits,  on an island on the Rideau Locks system, surrounded by trees.

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Common Deer Press. Uncommon Books for All Ages.  © 2019 

Toronto, Ontario

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