Bobby and his book were perched in the rocking chair on the porch with Horatio curled up on the rug by his feet. The reading lamp was on, but otherwise the porch was mostly dark. Dad and Grandpa had finished closing the porch-window shutters over an hour earlier. Thunder rumbled eerily somewhere out in the dark of the early evening.
“It sure is spooky out there,” said Shane from his seat in the darkness around the porch sofa.
“It’s just a summer thunderstorm,” said Bobby, turning a page.
“Oh? What’s the story called?”
“The Final Problem.”
“Is that a good one?”
“No. Sherlock fights Professor Moriarty at a waterfall in Switzerland called Reichenbach Falls. They both go over the edge and fall to their deaths.”
“Sherlock dies?” Shane sounded genuinely alarmed.
“Yeah. But he’s not real. And he comes back to life. The Hound of the Baskervilles happens after this story.”
“Oh.” Shane sounded relieved.
Then the place was briefly white with light from outside, and the thunderstrike that followed almost instantly meant that lightning had hit something nearby. ProbaHbly the lightning rod on the barn’s cupola.
But Bobby and Shane both jumped as the electricity went out, leaving them in inky blackness. A few seconds later, the lights were on again.
“What was that!?” Shane practically screeched.
“From the ozone smell in the air, I surmise that lightning struck nearby. Close enough to cause a brief power outage via electromagnetic pulse.” Horatio looked calm and unconcerned as he said it.
“Horatio says that the lightning struck the barn and caused the electricity to go out for a moment.”
“I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but I smell rats out and about,” said Horatio.
“Professor Rattiarty?” asked Bobby.
“What?” said Shane.
“Yes, but not alone. He has the corpse of a poisoned rat with him. Possibly Darktail Ralph. He probably wants to tempt me to poison myself.”
“You won’t eat the dead rat, will you?”
“No! Yuck! I don’t want to eat any dead rats!” remarked Shane loudly and with disgust.
“I concur with your brother. I will not be eating any rats tonight either. Rattiarty is himself filled with rat poison.”
“What? Rattiarty is poisoned but not dead?”
“What… what?” gasped Shane. “Are you talking to Horatio again?”
“Rats often ingest poison slowly enough that, instead of slaying them, they become immune to it.”
“What are we gonna do if the rats are now immune to poison?”
“They are? Bobby? What is Horatio telling you?”
“What are you telling me, Horatio?”
“Professor Rattiarty is out there now in the storm. He’s out of evil minions and wants to challenge me to a final battle.”
“Horatio says Professor Rattiarty wants a final showdown now.”
“The evil rat is out there in the storm?”
“Bobby, if you open the porch door for me, I must answer the rat’s challenge.”
“Now? In the storm?”
“Yes. If not now, then never. My aged body is soon to give out, and I would not let that evil rat continue to threaten the Niland family that I have loved for so long, and who loves me in return.”
Bobby put Sherlock Holmes aside and rose from the rocking chair.
“Bobby, why are you crying? What did the dog say?”
“Not now, Shane.”
Bobby moved to the porch door. He opened the screen door inward and the storm door outward against the wind and the driving rain.
“Bobby! What are you doing?”
Horatio leaped up and bolted out of door as a lightning strike illuminated everything with a burning blue-white light.
Bobby thought he saw the rat scampering across the farmyard as the light faded to blackness.
Shane, terrified, jumped out into the downpour.
“Horatio! Come back, doggie!”
Bobby, too, went out in the rain. Straining his eyes to try to find Horatio and the rat he was chasing. He could see nothing. A car out on the gravel country road had its brights on as it barrelled along towards Highway 69 going much faster than it should in the rain.
“Horatio! Come back, it’s not safe!” Shane screamed, crying as he shouted it.
Grandpa Butch was suddenly directly behind Bobby.
“What’s going on? Why are you boys out in the storm?”
“It’s Horatio and the rat.”
“Shane! Come back to the house!”
“Grandpa, Horatio is out here in the rain somewhere! Bobby let him out the front door!”
A car horn blared. Brakes screeched. Bobby thought he heard a sickening thump out there on the gravel road. And the car skidded to a stop in the dark and the rain.
“Oh, god, no! Shane!”
Grandpa ran toward the car. Bobby followed right behind. As they drew near the stopped car, they heard Shane crying as if he were heartbroken.
“Shane! Are you all right?”
“Grandpa, it’s Horatio.”
“Butch, I am sorry,” said Mr. Beetle Jones, out of the car and kneeling by the lump of soaked fur on the gravel road, illuminated by the headlights.
Bobby’s stomach quivered, leading to an uncontrolled string of chest-constricting sobs.
“Ah, Horatio. You have been a good and faithful friend,” said Butch Niland wearily as he kneeled down and petted the badly damaged body.
“Is he…? Is he dead?”
“I’m sorry, boys. He was an old dog. It is a blessing that it was over quickly. It means his life won’t end in prolonged suffering.”
“Bobby, how could you?” cried Shane. “It’s your fault! You and your dumb old imagination. You shoulda never let him out of that door.” Bobby could take no more. He lit out for the house as fast as he could run. The lightning and thunder lent drama and illuminated his path.