by Florence Roberts
(Dahlonega, GA, USA)

Fourteen-year-old Sarah knew something was wrong as soon as she waved goodby to her mom and stepped into the barn. The horses were moving in their stalls: Stomping their feet, shaking their heads, whinnying. In the early morning dark, she saw only shadows. Her eyes accommodated. Tom, the orange and white barn car, had cornered a rat nearly as big as he was. Her heart pounded; she felt nauseated; she wanted to run away. But no one else would be at the barn for hours. The rat could kill Tom. It might hurt the horses. She had to get it out of the barn, but how?

She needed something to push it away from Tom, first. Then, maybe it would run out the barn door. She looked in the store room; nothing. She scanned the feed room; nothing there either. In the utility room, she found a heavy rake and a wire cutter with a long handle.

When she returned to the hall, everything was the same. Tom was standing with his back up and his hair raised, focused on the rat. The rat was crouched on the floor, facing Tom and snarling.

Sarah shoved the rake toward the rat. It backed away and bared its teeth. Tom moved closer to the rat; it attacked in a rush. Sarah could hardly distinguish between Tom and the rat, so bound together were they in their fight. Cautiously, she pushed the rake toward them, again. She didn't want to hurt Tom. When she was able to work the rake between Tom and the rat, she pushed Tom away from the battle.

The rat turned toward her. Sarah was shaking. She pushed the rat with the rake again; the rat backed into a corner. It snapped at the rake. It lunged toward the rake, jumped on top of it, and began creeping up the handle toward her.

Sarah screamed. She threw down the rake and picked up the wire cutter, as she ran toward the feed room to get away from the rat. The rat ran toward the barn door. Sarah threw the wire cutter in the direction of the rat, hoping to encourage it further to run out the door. The wire cutter landed behind the rat with a loud clatter. The rat escaped into the pasture.

Sarah collapsed on the floor and wept. She had never been so scared in her life. With tears running down her cheeks, she called Tom to her and examined his wounds. His leg was torn and he needed veterinary attention. She laid him gently in a box and called the owner of the barn.

Then she started her regular job, feeding the horses. The process of talking to the horses and rubbing their noses, as she gave them their grain, did much to calm her shattered nerves and theirs. The emergency was over. Sarah was still shaken. She had never before been faced with any kind of emergency, but now, somehow, she felt older and more confident.

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