Septimus Dingle was a man with a large old house and a family he loved dearly. But one day, his youngest daughter came to him and said that she was sure she'd seen a rat near her bedroom at the top of the stairs. Or it might have been a mouse. She didn't know. but it was always exciting to tell tales and see what her father would do next. And it certainly worked this time.
'What? A rat?' he exclaimed, instantly agitated at the thought of this trespassing creature, loose in his precious house.'We've got to get rid of it!'
Immediately, he went out and purchased a large number of expensive traps – but over the next few days, caught nothing. His other children began saying (with a few prompts from the youngest) that they'd seen the rat too as well. Then just for fun, they would sometimes 'spring' the traps just to see the way Dad's face got redder and redder.
'I can't stand it!' he wailed. 'Those trespassers are coming in and stealing all our food and making our lives a misery! We're being swamped!'
So he decided on drastic measures. High metal fences were put up all around the house to stop anything getting in- and then Septimus resolved on hunting down this alien outsider. To begin with, all the family belongings were taken out of the house and left on the lawn in the front garden, and then Septimus started pulling up all the fl oorboards to look for the Enemy Within. He began in the attic, discovered various 'signs' (planted by his daughter)that it had been there, and then continued the search, room by room, floor by floor. (Outside in the garden, several magpies had noticed all the family goods on the garden lawn, and were helping themselves to the best shiny and glittery things whilst no-one was looking.)
The hunt for the rat had now reached the first floor. The children were getting quite excited amidst all this mayhem, quite forgetting that they'd cooked up the whole story in the first place. 'I can see it Daddy!' the youngest screamed when seeing a passing bird pecking on the outside window. 'No!' said another child. 'It's over here!' As more floorboards were lifted and more 'signs' of the interloper revealed, the search continued to even greater squeaks of delight from the children, and more howls of rage from Septimus.
Outside, dark storm-clouds were gathering, but nobody noticed. Once the search reached the ground floor, they were so busy, they didn’t notice the beginning of a heavy downpour. Finally, on levering up the last floorboard, Septimus became sure he'd heard a scuttling sound. The rat was inside the walls, behind the plaster! That settled it!
‘We’re nearly there!’ he cried. 'It's running out of places to hide!' ! Using hammers and crowbars, the whole family began tearing out any pieces of wood or plaster that might conceal a hiding place. Soon, they were down to bare walls of brick. And then the lights went out. Perhaps the rat had chewed through a wire? Septimus handed out candles and torches, and so the family continued their hunt around the house, late into the night. The 'rat' somehow kept escaping them, although sometimes, someone said they saw a twitching whisker here or the hint of a tail there just before it disappeared around another dark corner. Then disaster struck. The youngest daughter left a large candle by a window, forgot all about it, and then the wind blew, sending a curtain wafting near the flame..., and soon everything was ablaze.
‘Everybody outside, now!’ cried Septimus in panic. Terrified, the family all dashed out into the garden, emerging in the middle of a pelting thunderstorm that was ruining all the possessions not already taken by thieving magpies. Suddenly, behind them came the sound of a terrific crash! They turned in horror, to see the roof of their own house collapsing in a mass of sparks and thick dense smoke.
But in a strange way, Septimus felt proud. ‘At least we finally got rid of the rat!’ he said as they all huddled under an umbrella. The children weren't so sure. But the youngest daughter was feeling extremely pleased, and was now thinking very hard. With a little help from her father, She had stumbled on a universal truth- that there's nothing quite so destructive and powerful in human life as an unsubstantiated Fear- and she was pondering what to do next with this discovery.