As I looked out the library window of the Twitch mansion over the main stretch of Ratford Street, I noticed something was different. Along with the normal bustle of rat travellers, there seemed to be a new and unusual kind of energy. Groups were pausing and taking more pictures of themselves than usual.
Apparently, a new trend in whisker-shaping had taken hold of the Underunderground. Travelling whisker-wax salesman, Victor Vermin, had set up a stand in the merchant's row of Ratsford Square. His whisker-sculpting wax had become wildly popular, especially with the men and boy rats who used it to fashion curling moustaches, pointy beards and sideburns flaring skyward. Rats of every age strutted around town showing off their new and wild stylings.
Even I, Mr. Pinkerton Barnes, purchased my own tube of Victor Vermin’s Whiskerwonder™.
I stood at the mirror and examined the grinning rat on the tube’s golden label. I then squeezed a dollop of the creamy wax into my palm, right as our hero Reginald “Posh Rat” Twitch stepped into the room.
“Oh no, dear Barnes. Don't tell me whisker-mania has gotten to you as well?”
“Oh. Heh. Hey, Poshy. No, I was just...”
“People should be themselves,” interrupted Posh, “rather than jumping on fads that go as quickly as they come.”
“Of course, Poshy, you’re right.”
I wiped the paste from my palm into my handkerchief. We looked out the window together at busy Ratford Street. A group of teenaged rats had sculpted their eye-whiskers into big perfect circles and were taking a group-selfie.
Even after Victor Vermin, the wax salesman, had packed his cart and moved on to the next village, joyful whisker-shaping contests were held and folks were really enjoying themselves...until they weren’t.
The next day, I was watching the drawing-room telly. The news-rat came on with a special bulletin:
“UuNN, Underunderground News Network - Breaking News. Rats are claiming their whiskers are falling out at alarming rates. Experts believe it is related to the recent Whisker-sculpting craze sweeping the Underunderground.”
Poshy walked in.
“You hear that, Poshy?” I asked over my shoulder. “They’re reporting that the Whiskerwonder™ wax is now making everyone’s whiskers fall ou—”
I turned toward him and stopped. Reginald “Posh Rat” Twitch stood before me...with NO whiskers. He was totally bald of his classic rat-feelers, oh yes!
“You needn’t say anything, Mister Barnes. I got what I deserved. But you shouldn’t have left your tube of that stuff lying around!”
I tried not to smile. He actually still looked quite handsome with his whiskerless face.
“Well, never mind all this,” said Poshy. “We’ve got a bigger problem. Seems as though there are bad foot-traffic pile-ups along the walkways.”
So, I need to tell you in case you didn't know: a rat losing its whiskers is a big deal. We use them for navigating passages; to gauge widths, sizes and distances. Without them, we’d go rather dizzy.
“The neighbourhood is in chaos, Barnes! But as you can see, I’m in no shape to go running about myself.”
Just then, there was a commotion on the street. It took a moment to realise what I was seeing. Several rats were wearing ball-shaped, coloured helmets with several skinny antennae sticking out of each side.
I called out the window. “What’s that you’re wearing, mate?”
“A robotic whisker helmet!” the chap yelled back to me. “Some genius inventor guy is selling them in the marketplace. They’re brilliant - OOF! Excuse ME, sir.”
The rat had bonked helmets with another rat who was wearing similar headgear and walking the opposite direction. I leaned further out the window and gazed down Ratford Street. Dozens and dozens of rats were wearing the same headgear in different colours.
Now, as an inventor myself, I had to admit it was an intriguing device. But...I noticed that those wearing them were clacking into each other, thumping into buildings, falling down holes. These robotic whisker helmets were certainly not working!
Poshy donned his top hat and held my arm for steadiness as we headed down to the marketplace to find the rat who was selling these helmets. As we approached the display of colourful, metal headgear, the salesman pushed his glasses up his long nose and extended his paw.
“Helmüt Wilhelm at your service. Hey bald-face, looks like you need a Wilhelm Whiskerhelmet™! Choose your colour. Only 100 Cheesenotes. Great price!”
“Excuse us one moment, please,” I said and then pulled Poshy out of the queue. I took the tube of Whiskerwonder™ wax from my vest pocket.
“Look at the label of this tube.”
“Yes? What about it?” Poshy squinted at the rat on the label. If Posh still had his whiskers, this is when they would have flattened. Poshy looked at the helmet-seller, who was stuffing another wad of Cheesenotes into his money sack, then back at the rat on the Whiskerwonder™ wax label.
“That’s him! Without the glasses!” Poshy straightened and pointed toward the salesman. “Stop right there! Nobody buy another helmet! This rat is the same rat who sold us the wax that made our whiskers fall out! He’s a crook. That’s right...Helmüt Wilhelm is Victor Vermin!”
The helmet salesman took off running.
“Get him!” yelled Poshy.
Victor Vermin sprinted up Ratford Street. In a fateful moment, a helmet-wearing rat tripped and fell in front of him, which caused the crook to fall and spill his sack of money. Hundreds of paper Cheesenotes flew into the air and onto the pavement right at the feet of a rat policeman.
“All right, Victor Vermin. The game is up.”
The crook squinted his angry eyes and growled directly at Poshy as the police rat led him away in handcuffs.
Thankfully, the Rat Court made Victor Vermin give everyone their money back - before they banished him from town.
Life in the Underunderground grew steadily less wobbly over the next few weeks. Thank goodness some trends don't last ...and - whiskers grow back.