Authors: James Norcliffe
Shortly after David’s great uncle Felix comes to visit, everything seems to be turning red – rats, cats, hair, people!
Has Uncle Felix caused this mayhem? Or does it have more to do with the strange land of Axillaris, the setting of Uncle Felix’s fantasy stories?
Felix and the Red Rats
is where fantasy and reality collide, a story filled with mystery, magic and riddles.
For Jules Macsen Wendelken Norcliffe
‘But why?’ demanded Martha.
‘He’s such a weirdo,’ said Gray.
‘He’s such a fake,’ said Martha.
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t upset that Mum’s uncle was coming to stay. I was younger and I’d only met him once before and, to tell the truth, I’d kind of liked him. He was different, sure, but there’s nothing wrong with different really.
Gray and Martha might have known him better, but I doubted it. Once they got their teeth into something, they wouldn’t let it alone. They were like puppies. Selfish, whiny puppies.
‘Anyway, Felix is such a stupid name,’ said Martha.
‘More like the name you’d give a cat,’ said Gray.
‘Or a can of cat food,’ added Martha. ‘How’d he get a name like Felix, anyway?’
‘My grandmother gave it to him, I suppose,’ said our mother, mildly. ‘Would you like to have a go at her, too?’
‘Why would I? I never knew her. She died years ago.’
‘And you don’t really know Uncle Felix, either,’ said our mother. ‘If you did, you wouldn’t be going on and on like …’
I wanted to say
, but knew that wouldn’t have been a smart move. Especially because I knew the problem wasn’t Great Uncle Felix: the problem was really me. Because of Uncle Felix’s visit, Gray was going to have to move out of his bedroom and sleep on a mattress on the floor of my room. He was not happy about this and, of course, blamed me.
‘It’ll just be for a few days,’ said my mother. ‘He’s only coming because of the book festival. He’ll only be here to sleep and have the odd meal and breakfast and things.’
‘And my room,’ said Gray.
‘And your room,’ said Mum. ‘And really, Gray, this is all getting a little tiresome. Do you think you could get over it, please?’
Gray didn’t reply to her. Instead, he wheeled around at me and said, ‘What are you laughing at, wimp?’
There wasn’t much point in saying I wasn’t laughing, even though I wasn’t laughing. So I just shrugged and mumbled, ‘Nothing …’
I shouldn’t have worried anyway, for Mum said ‘Gray!’, in a way that really meant
I am getting seriously fed up with you, young man, and any more of this and you’ll be grounded for approximately thirteen unlucky years.
Mum can fit a lot of meaning into a single word when she feels like it.
Great Uncle Felix was the most famous member of our family. Actually, it would be fairer to say he was the only famous member of our family, and even then he wasn’t that famous. Years ago he’d written a number of books for kids. They were all about a strange world called Axillaris where this boy and girl had bizarre adventures. Interestingly enough, the boy in the books was named Felix too. That had been enough to put the twins off both the books and their author.
‘What a bighead to name your hero after yourself! Talk about starring in your own movie!’ Gray had scoffed.
‘Egomaniac!’ added Martha.
‘What’s an egomaniac?’ I asked.
‘A bighead, little head!’ said Gray.
I didn’t care. I liked the books and I liked the Felix in the books. He wasn’t a bighead or an egomaniac or whatever. He was just an ordinary kid having crazy adventures in a really weird place with really weird people and creatures
all about him. He was a bit old-fashioned, I suppose, because Uncle Felix had written the books when he was just a young man and now he was really old with white hair and liver spots and fat veins on his hands.
I don’t think the twins had ever read the books, anyway. They didn’t like reading. Gray liked to hang out with his loser mates and Martha spent most of her time on her lap top and phone.
Great Uncle Felix had stayed with us once before when the twins were about my age — that is, about four years ago. I couldn’t remember ever meeting him before that. If I had, I’m sure I would have remembered.
He was tall and a bit stooped and he had a droopy white moustache. He was a little deaf, I think, because he sometimes didn’t hear you or seemed not to. It could have been because he often had a faraway expression on his face as if he were somewhere else. I know Mum liked him. I think she was pretty proud of the connection. I think Dad liked him, although you couldn’t always tell with Dad. I never heard him say anything mean about Uncle Felix, though, so he probably did. Like him, that is.
So why did Gray call him a weirdo, and why did Martha think he was a fake?
I suppose it was because Uncle Felix was different. He dressed differently, for one thing. He was the only person I knew outside of comic books and cartoons who wore a bow tie. It wasn’t even a decent bow tie; it was a floppy kind of bow tie that drooped like his moustache.
And he wore a coloured waistcoat under his jacket. To me, all of this made him a bit like a storybook character, which was perfectly okay because he was a storybook writer. But to Gray it just meant he was a weirdo. Gray was like that.
Gray was mean, too.
He shifted into my bedroom on the Thursday night. Uncle Felix hadn’t arrived as he was flying in on a late plane and Dad would go to the airport to bring him home. Finally realising he wouldn’t be able to resist Mum’s increasingly irritated reminders of the need to make the move, Gray dragged a spare mattress from the garage up the passage and dumped it grumpily in the middle of the floor of my small bedroom.
‘Just thought I’d remind you, pencil-bum, that you’ve got the mattress and I’ve got the bed,’ he announced, puffing a little with the exertion.
‘But, Mum said …’ I protested.
‘So?’ he said, and left.
There wasn’t much I could do about it. An appeal to Mum might have won me my bed back, but would also guarantee me a month or so of horse-bites and
, so I bit back what I would have really liked to say and wandered off to the heating cupboard to find some
spare sheets and blankets. The chances of Gray actually making up a bed for me were as good as him winning a gold medal at the Nice Guy Olympics.
On my way down the passage I had to stand to one side to let him pass as he made his way back to my room, carefully carrying his old birdcage with Simon and Garfunkel crouched nervously inside. S & G were the two white rats he’d been asked to take home from a lab at his school because of the school holidays. They were the only creatures I’d ever known Gray to show any real affection for. I wanted to ask him where he thought he was taking them, but (a) it was obvious and (b) it wouldn’t have been smart, especially in Gray’s present mood, which was even more toxic than usual.
It was best to leave him to it. It was far too soon for bed. I thought the best thing to do in the circumstances would be to find somewhere out of the way with a book, and what better book than one of Uncle Felix’s.
When she was a girl, Mum had been given every one of Great Uncle Felix’s books as they’d come out. I loved them. They were the sort of books you could read over and over, and, as Great Uncle Felix himself was arriving later, I figured it would be fun to read one again.
Better still, the books were kept on a shelf in Mum and Dad’s bedroom and I was sure she wouldn’t mind my reading one on the settee in there.
‘Which one?’ she asked.
,’ I said.
Mum grinned. ‘I’m so glad you like that one, David. It’s one of my favourites, too.’
was the first in Uncle Felix’s Axillaris series. I really liked weird stories and this one was deliciously weird.
‘Can I use your room?’
‘Of course. We’ll be eating late tonight because of your uncle. You can stay here until he arrives if you like.’
I grinned then. ‘Might do that,’ I said. ‘Thanks, Mum.’