Flash Fiction short story no:7 (only 93 more to go). This will probably be the last one for a week or so while I catch up on some long overdue book reviews. Happy reading, writing, reviewing, and blogging. Whatever your passion, enjoy …
If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:
Anna Dawson listened to the reading of the verdict. The words not guilty would ring in her ears for the rest of her life.
The man who had raped and killed her daughter was about to walk free from court. She didn’t blame the jury, the police, or prosecution for that matter; it had been slim enough evidence to start with. And with such a convincing alibi they weren’t left with much choice but to let the monster walk. It was hard to argue with the sworn testimony of over thirty people, each one of whom was willing to testify that Harry Tilsley was hundreds of miles away drinking with friends when her daughter, Jackie, met her death.
Harry Tilsley flashed a smile at her before showing a thumbs-up gesture to the jury, almost like a mock ‘thanks.’ He knew Anna was in court. The wry smile and gesturing were all directed at her, a reminder that his money made him virtually untouchable.
“Hello. Mr Jacobs, it’s Anna Dawson here,” Anna said.
“Write down the following directions. Do exactly as I tell you, and I will meet with you in three days,” the voice at the other end of the phone answered. There were no polite formalities, not so much as a hello or goodbye from the voice, just the lengthy instructions followed by the crackle of the line going dead.
She followed the directions and instructions to the letter. It was an odd place to meet, she thought. Still, it was better that than the cliché flash of headlights in a deserted underground carpark.
Mr Jacobs was not at all like she expected. Actually, she hadn’t known quite what to expect, except that with his gangster fedora and cigar, and the whole seedy smoke-filled nightclub in a less than respectable part of the city, this wasn’t it. The entire place, the people, it was like a jaunt back in time to a Sam Spade movie – she wouldn’t have been surprised to see Humphry Bogart walk through the door with his trademark raincoat turned up at the collar. The man that did join her though wasn’t that far off the mark.
“You’re the man who arranged Harry Tilsley’s alibi,” were the first words out of Anna’s mouth when Mr Jacobs approached to join her at the table she had been instructed to sit.
Mr Jacobs nodded his agreement with her statement. If Anna had been expecting denials, excuses, or justification, she was going to be disappointed.
“But I understand you’re not here to recriminate with me, so, to business then,” Mr Jacobs continued.
“No, I’m not. I want to employ your services. I don’t have the same money as Harry Tilsley, but I’ve raised a sizeable amount, and I’m willing to work for you to make up any shortfall,” Anna replied, handing him a note with the figure she had raised. He looked at it and mouthed a barely perceptible smile. Mr Jacobs passed it back to her, nodding his agreement of its acceptability.
Anna no longer hated Mr Jacobs and his organisation for what they had done. Had Harry Tilsley not employed their services, yes, he would have gone to prison. But would he have got the punishment he deserved, that was another matter. With his money, he would probably have got the charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Any actual prison time would have been in some cushy minimum security place, and likely for no more than a few months.
This was better, she thought, much better indeed!
Anna made Harry suffer. Surprisingly, she opted not to kill him. Leaving him as ‘half a man’ was much more satisfying. It wasn’t all bad for Harry though; with modern medicine and advanced surgery, there was every likelihood of being able to reconstruct some sort of artificial penile tube for urination. And perhaps those little rubber implants to at least give Harry the illusion of him still possessing his balls might be a comfort too. Looks wise though, he was left with a face not even his own mother could ever love again despite all the reconstructive surgery his money could buy.
Anna now owed Mr Jacobs her lifelong loyalty should he decide to act on her offer to work for him. It was a small price to pay, she thought.
Naturally, as the mother of the girl Harry Tilsley had been accused of raping and murdering, Anna was the authorities’ first port of call in their investigations. They quickly dismissed her as a suspect though; she was still too distraught from Harry Tilsley having been proved innocent at his trial to barely think straight, in their opinion. And when they checked her alibi, Anna Dawson was found to be hundreds of miles away drinking in a seedy smoke-filled bar, drowning her sorrows with friends – over thirty people were willing to testify to that.
Flash Fiction story no:5. This one comes in at a shade over the 900-word mark. Just another 95 more stories to go till I reach the magic 100 figure for publication.
House Sitting Surprise
Henry Abbot had grown tired of the local louts shouting abuse at him, throwing rubbish in his garden, even trying to break in a couple of times. Mostly it didn’t bother him. He was a sturdy old boy, but he wasn’t getting any younger. He needed a holiday, just to get away for awhile, he thought.
Dutch and Jonesy were two of Henry’s training recruits from his time as a Colour Sergeant in the army. That was a long time ago, and they had long since matured into two of the toughest squaddies ever to grace a drill square. In Henry’s eyes though, they were still his lads, and he was looking forward to seeing them again.
In ‘his lads’ eyes, he was still the NCO they would walk over hot coals for to hell and back.
Mick and Gazza were always on the lookout for a night’s grafting, though not an honest night’s one like driving a taxi or manning the local 24-hr gas station. Their idea of a night’s work was to go out and rob someone. A ‘good’ night’s work was not getting caught. Their usual victims were the frail and elderly, those who wouldn’t be able or likely to put up much of a fight should the two robbing scumbags be discovered mid thieving.
“Hey, Mick, that house on the corner opposite the post box, I just been past it, and it looks like they’ve left one of the downstairs back windows open.”
“That’s that old boy from Rozzerman street’s house, the old git with his polished shoes and the regimental blazer.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I remember a few years back him telling me to quieten down when I was yelling at some old girl. I’ll give the old bastard ‘quieten down,’ see if I don’t.”
“So, what’s this about an open window?”
“Yeah, back kitchen window by the looks of it. There’s no lights on, and his car’s not there. He might have fucked off somewhere for the weekend.
“And left an empty house and an open window … nice!”
“I think we might have company,” Dutch silently mouthed the words to his mate.
Jonesy nodded his agreement. They both silently sidled up either side of the connecting door between the dining room and the kitchen, waiting for the two intruders to come through.
A moment later, the door opened. Mick and Gazza crept quietly into the dining room; they may have possessed the practised stealth of seasoned burglars, but they were rank amateurs compared to Dutch and Jonesy.
It was the last ‘creeping’ either of them would ever do again. The only sound they might have heard in those last few moments of life was their own or each other’s muffled screams through constricted airways. Both Dutch and Jonesy had big powerful hands, easily strong enough to squeeze the life out of the two robbing scrotes in Henry’s house.
Dutch and Jonesy would have preferred the quick and immediate method of a knife thrust just below the heart or for a few extra minutes of painful gasping for breath drowning in their own blood, a strike to the lungs. But they had Henry’s recently cleaned carpets and new sofa to think of, it just wouldn’t do to go messing up Henry’s front room when they’d promised faithfully to look after his house while he visited family abroad.
Between them, they soon had the two intruders sliced and diced and ready for disposal, and all without a trace of DNA evidence to show the two scumbag burglars had ever been near the house.
“They might be a couple of thieving bastards, but they’re young and healthy; all them mineral-rich nutrients in them would have done wonders for the Sarge’s garden,” Jonesy remarked.
When he wasn’t soldiering, Jonesy was quite the environmentalist – and yes, he was also the camp comedian among his comrades, and no, being dead now, the two intrusive burglars could hardly still be called healthy.
“Can we save the jokes, till later, eh?” Dutch replied, a slight tone of reprimand in his voice given the seriousness of the matter, “and no, we’re not burying them in Henry’s garden. We’ll stick to the woods we reccied earlier.”
“How was yer holiday, Sarge?” Jonesy asked, greeting Henry on his return.
“And the family, hope they were good?” Dutch added.
“Had a smashing time thanks, lads. And yep, the family were all good too. Them grandkids of mine are shooting up fast, I tell you,” Henry replied, adding: “And thanks too for stopping over and looking after my place. I know it meant giving up some of your leave so anytime there’s anything I can do for you, you’ve just to ask.”
“Was a pleasure, Sarge, “ Dutch said.
“What he said,” Jonesy agreed, waving a thumb at his mate.
“And those two louts I told you about, you had no grief from them, did you? I was sure they’d break in if they saw my car was gone and the lights out,” Henry said.
“No trouble at all. We kept the downstairs lights on most of the time, so they knew there were people in,” Dutch lied.
“I heard that they’d had some grief of their own with some rival scumbags elsewhere. Maybe you won’t have any more trouble with them if that’s the case,” Jonesy lied too.
“But you can always give us both a call if anyone else bothers you,” Dutch said.
“Cheers lads. Now let’s all go inside and have us a few beers.”
Another taster story from my upcoming anthology of ‘rat’ themed stories … comments/suggestions most welcome.
My Little Friends …
Little Terry Stuart couldn’t remember when the man had put him in the room. He was still too young to have any real concept of time the way an adult has. But it had been long ago, long enough for his mum and dad to be really worried about him. He wondered if they still worried, or if they even remembered him now?
Terry could hear a scratching noise coming from somewhere under his bed. His older brother used to tease him about monsters under the bed, in the closet, and anywhere else they might jump out at you from. He wished his brother was there now; even teasing would be better than what the man … no … he tried not to think about that, what the man did to him, made him do, the man who had locked him in the room and did bad things … no, it was best not to think about that …
The little tan coloured rat didn’t understand what the two-legs did either, but he knew the smaller, younger two-legs didn’t like it, that it hurt him, and that it was wrong. It was hard to understand why the two-legs would do things like that to their young. There were lots of things the little tan rat didn’t understand or like about the older two-legs.
The little tan rat continued to gnaw at the hole in the floorboards beneath Terry’s bed to make it easier to squeeze himself through.
The sound of his own sobs when thinking about his family had drowned the scratching sounds the rat’s gnawing made so Terry didn’t notice when they stopped. Hungry and tired though, Terry curled up in a foetal position under the single thin blanket the man had left him, and fell asleep.
The rat climbed up the bed frame at the end of the little boy’s bed. He kept his distance at the far end of the mattress for fear of startling the little two-legs. It was warm and soft so the rat decided to lay in a more comfortable position himself as he looked up at the sleeping two-legs, the moonlight casting a striped shadow across the little boy’s face through the barred window.
It was morning and the light and warmth of the sun on his face woke young Terry. The little rat, on the other hand, was still blissfully asleep, also curled up in the rat equivalent of his own foetal position.
Instead of being surprised or shocked at the sight of the little sleeping rat at the end of his bed, Terry smiled. It was the first time he had smiled in a long time.
He needed to pee, and not wanting to disturb the little animal he gently swung his legs over the side of the bed to get up. There was no toilet in the room, just a wash basin on the opposite wall. For number ‘twos’ the man had left him a bucket that was kept in a cupboard over at the far side of the room which he would take away to be emptied whenever he visited the boy to bring him more food and … other things.
When he had finished peeing and washed his hands, Terry looked back round at the rat. It was sitting up, looking back at him, scratching at his nose and whiskers the same way you or I might rub our eyes upon first waking up.
Neither Terry nor the rat felt any fear or revulsion at the sight of the other, just innocent curiosity. Terry reached into the drawer of his bedside table. There were still a couple of biscuits in it from the packet the man had left the last time he came. Terry broke off half a biscuit and held it out to the rat.
“Hello.” Terry thought, still holding out half a broken biscuit. The little rat scurried forward on the mattress and started to nibble at the biscuit the little two-legs had placed down for him.
Seeing how much the rat was enjoying his unexpected treat, Terry placed the other half of the biscuit there for him too while he ate the last one himself.
Terry wondered what he should call his new friend, now that he’d decided the rat was a friend, and all friends had to have a name. He was unlikely to say the name out loud, not having uttered a word since the man had used him that first time, but he could still ‘think’ the name.
He was going to call it Bill, but not knowing much about rats he didn’t know if it was a boy rat or a girl rat so he decided it should be a name for a boy or a girl. He called it Whiskers.
With just his underpants to wear and a sheet he used to wrap himself in for clothes, Terry climbed back on the bed and pulled the blanket back over him.
Now that Whiskers knew the little two-legs was friendly he scurried up and nestled beside him, allowing the little two-legs to stroke the back of his head.
Over the next few days, Whiskers came to visit the little two-legs every day, and each day Terry would share what little food he had left from what the man had left him, just crackers, some slices of bread and even a few bits of fruit. Terry never knew exactly when the man would visit again so he ate sparingly but Whiskers was only little so he was happy to share what he had, even when Whiskers started to take some of what he gave him back through the hole in the floorboards under the bed.
Several other rats had also taken to visiting the little two-legs. He would smile and even laugh a little while watching the comic antics of his little friends scurrying back and forth before disappearing in and out of the several new holes they had gnawed in the skirting board behind the cupboard.
Terry had long run out of biscuits to give the rats but he offered to share the last of his other food. Surprising to him, the rats stopped accepting it after the first few days. He worried maybe it was because he had upset them in some way and would repeatedly hold out bits of bread or fruit to them. He didn’t know the rats knew he had very little food left to feed himself and were busy exploring the rest of the derelict building for other sources of food that they might bring to their little two-legged friend.
Terry had lost all track of time over the past few months so he was never sure exactly how long it was between seeing the man but it was probably about a week after meeting Whiskers for the first time when the man made another visit.
Terry could hear the slow thud thud thud of the heavy lumbering bulk of the man climbing the outside stairs leading to his room. He still had the welts and was sore from the man taking his belt him so knew better than to make a fuss or protest at what he knew was going to happen and simply made his way to the far-side of the room, furthest from the door. He knew, of course, the man would just drag him back onto the bed, it was more an instinctive reaction trying to put as much distance between them for however brief a time.
Whiskers and several dozens more of his kind had also been aware of the man’s approach, somewhat before the noise of him climbing the stairs from when he first entered through a disguised side entrance. It had been their plan to attack the man as soon as stepped in the building but not enough of them had amassed in sufficient numbers yet; it also made sense for them to allow the man to first unlock the door to the little two-legs’ room – it was a thick heavy oak door and it was doubtful if the rats could have gnawed a hole tall enough for the boy to escape through.
Terry became a little panicked at seeing so many rats suddenly coming out from the many extra holes they had gnawed in the skirting board and around the room and through the floorboards beneath his bed. It wasn’t the rats he was scared off though, they were all his friends, but despite knowing what the man was likely to do to him he was more worried for their safety and desperately tried to shoo them back. They darted to and fro, totally ignoring their two-legged friend’s attempts to make them return to their hidey-holes; Terry had no way of knowing his fears for them were unfounded, that the only creature to be in danger was now the man, to the rats, the older and bigger two-legs.
Terry stood frozen, listening to sound of the man unlocking the door. It was an old rusty lock so it seemed to take an age for the key to turn, making a grinding noise like the gears of a car crunching before the unlock mechanism finally did its work.
The man entered the room and looked directly at the boy, oblivious to the dozens of rats moving about the floor. His oblivion only lasted a moment. He was about to close the door behind him when Whiskers leapt at him from the bed just two feet away. The rat easily reached him, using its claws to grip the back of the man’s left thigh before stabbing its razor-sharp front incisors through the thin cotton material of his trousers, firmly embedding them in the soft sweaty flesh underneath. The man let out a piercing scream, a combination of intense pain and unexpected shock, no doubt exasperated by the sight and realisation of the black moving carpet of rats about and under his feet.
The man barely had time to catch his breath from the first scream when another rat also leapt at him, this time from the floor but reaching high enough to bite into one of the man’s calves. Again the man screamed, and with pain searing through both legs now, fell to his knees. Dozens more rats swarmed around him, scratching and clawing at his clothing while others leapt at him from all directions and angles – upwards from the floor, down at him from the bed and bedside table, some even headlong off the top of the wardrobe, each finding their target on some part of the man’s increasingly exposed flesh with so many claws and teeth ripping away at the two-legs’ clothing.
Terry still stood frozen in the corner of the room, overwhelmed by what was happening but calmly unafraid, relieved that he was being spared from further pain from the man.
Several of the rats were using their strength and weight of their bodies to push the room door further open. Others were nudging at his feet as if urging him towards it. Terry was still terrified of trying to escape but despite his fear, it was clear the man was in no position to block his escape. More nudging and even nibbling at his toes by the rats convinced Terry it was time to run, and run he did. He ran as fast as he could, down the stairs, and out the side entrance from the derelict building, through side alleys and streets, on and on not knowing or caring where, just anywhere to be as far away from the man as he could get. Eventually he ran headlong into a policeman who stopped the boy.
Naturally, the boy was taken into the care of the police to ascertain who he was. They tried to question him but Terry was too traumatised to talk, his young mind finally shutting down for the time it would need to either heal or put up the barriers needed to come to terms with the past few months and the horrific acts he’d been subjected to.
It was several weeks before Terry was able or willing to start to speak. He didn’t know where he’d been held and since he hadn’t said a word the authorities had no idea if he’d been held locally or dropped off in the area.
With no information to go on, for now, the police had no reason to search any of the deserted derelict buildings in the area. It seemed it was now the man’s turn to spend some time in the room he’d held young Terry, subjecting the little boy to such pain and degradation. But he would learn – the rats couldn’t undo the damage the tall two-legs had done to the little two-legs but they would make it seem tame in comparison to what they would do to him …
Three days later …
Whiskers decided to move onto the man’s testicles; they looked soft and succulent, something the rat confirmed as he bit into one of them, enjoying the texture of the soft flesh and the sweet trickle of blood that accompanied it.
The man screamed the sort of scream no other human should ever have to hear. Even Whiskers was momentarily distracted by it, looking up into the man’s eyes. The two-legs was clearly afraid now, maybe even more so than the little two-legged one he’d kept imprisoned in that same room for all those months. It was only a momentary distraction though, and Whiskers returned to nibbling at the testicle … Again the man screamed. This time the little rat paid no attention, more intrigued by the way the little soft balls of flesh were hanging loosely away from the rest of the two-legs’ body. He thought about gnawing through the flesh that attached them and taking one to the newborn beneath the floorboards. They would provide good nourishment for Whiskers’ own young Rittens suckling at their mother’s teats in the space in the walls. Soon though their own tiny teeth and claws would emerge and they would be able to feed off the man too, so best perhaps to leave their food in one piece and in one place – Whiskers was a good father and would be sure to leave the other testicle for them.
There was still a lot of meat left on the man, enough to feed Whiskers and his companions for a long time, enough even for the next litter of newborn Rittens till they were old enough to hunt and scavenge for themselves. But they wouldn’t be greedy or rush their meal.
The little two-legs had been kind to them despite his own hunger and treatment at the hands of the larger two-legs. No, they would keep the man alive for a long time, long enough to feel a lot of pain, long enough to pay for all the suffering he had inflicted. It was good the little two-legs had run, his own kind would take care of him – it would have been too much for his young mind to cope with the screams of the older larger two-legs.
They were careful not to gnaw into any of the major arteries, it wouldn’t have done for the man to bleed to death too quickly. And besides, live flesh and warm fresh flowing blood were so much nicer, the flesh so much softer, not that thousands of tiny front incisors couldn’t have coped with tearing a body apart long after rigor mortis had set in.
The man was now drifting in and out of consciousness, awakened every so often by more tiny bites and scratches eliciting a response from those nerve endings that were still active, so many of them now having already died from over stimulation. The man’s vocal chords too had long given up the battle of producing any kind of sound, the man was now enduring his pain in near silence bar the chattering and gnawing sounds of several dozen rats grinding their teeth, much like having to listen to the excruciating sound of nails being scratched on a blackboard, though one can be sure that would have been a welcome exchange for what was actually happening to him.
Whiskers was pleased that the two-legs had lasted as long as he had. It had screamed almost continuously at the limits of its vocal capacity for nearly seven hours while they gnawed away at his toe and fingernails, exposing the ultra-sensitive areas beneath.
All the two-legs’ blood had long since disappeared along with most of the flesh, and even the congealed stuff after rigor mortis had been devoured too, but that still left a delicious taste and smell residue, an after-taste that clung to the bones, something to be savoured the same way the aroma of a fine wine might be enjoyed by a sommelier or connoisseur.
There was no doubt the two legs had been terrified beyond human or demonic comprehension but that was of no concern to Whiskers or any of the rats – the man hadn’t worried or stopped when Terry Stuart had screamed.
The first police officer on the scene was twenty-four-year-old Lee Palmer, a young man who had been a policeman from eighteen and a half years old. In his six years he’d seen his fair share of shootings, stabbings, and indeed the weeks and months long-dead bodies of those who’d died in their homes only to be discovered when the putrid smell of their rotting remains had alerted the neighbours, so he was certainly no rookie. But nothing in his experience to date had prepared him for the sight that confronted him when he first entered that room, or proved sufficient to enable him not to add to the already unimaginably foul smell by depositing the entire contents of his stomach onto the floor – a man of lesser self-control would probably have added the contents of his bowels and bladder too.
Lying strewn across the bed were the flesh stripped bones of what was once a human being. Many newborn litters of Rittens had feasted on its flesh and bones since the two-legs’ death.
Another short story from my upcoming ‘Rat’ themed collection later in the year. This time our little furry rodent shares star billing with one of our canine friends …
Still early days yet editing wise, so again, just a first draft here … let me know what you think? Thanks …
Old Max …
Old Max was as strong and vicious a brute of a dog as no one would ever want to come across; Tom Selby had made sure of that, conditioning the mutt through a sadistic regime of punishment and reward, only in poor Old Max’s case the only reward was whatever the punishment being inflicted at the time coming to a temporary stop. Tom Selby was the meanest and most miserable farmer in the county, and as far as he was concerned, Old Max was a working farm dog, a piece of property to be used in any way he saw fit, and if that included earning a few extra coins on the dog fighting circuit so much the better.
As a pup Old Max had growled and bared his teeth at any and every provocation but there was only so many times a body, and a small young one at that could take the full force of a leather whip cutting through its fur and skin, or a hard leather boot being kicked into its side. Old Max was too smart not to realise strength and ferocity alone wouldn’t ever put an end to his suffering and had long since learned to heel at his Master’s command, to at least play the part of the obedient ‘mans best friend.’
It was inevitable that some of Tom Selby’s cruelty would rub off on Old Max despite him once being the gentlest most adorable looking little pup there ever was, the sort that could melt a stone heart quicker than the morning sun melting a snowflake. But that cute little bundle of furry joy was gone, replaced by a wretched hate-filled creature from hell, the look of which might rival that of Cerberus, the mythical three-headed crazed canine Hound of Hades guarding the gates to the underworld. And just as any man or creature alike approaching his mythical counterpart, anything that still breathed coming near Old Max would be greeted with a snarl, a growl, and flash of rabid drool dripping teeth. Bitter experience had taught Old Max never to show his back to a stranger for fear of what might land across it and to face whatever potential threat head-on, ready to lunge as though his life depended on it as very often it did.
Old Max was having a long and lazy snooze in the sun, a rare pleasure he’d been lucky enough to enjoy on account of his Master suffering a bout of influenza; there was no loyal vigil by his Master’s door or bedside, waiting for a yearned or prayed for recovery.
Far from pining for Tom Selby’s return to health, Old Max would gleefully have torn into the man’s throat, ripping fat and muscle from bone and then joyfully bathed in his Master’s blood like a playful puppy splashing and jumping in a mud-filled puddle, not that Old Max had such a happy time to remember.
Still half dazed from his sleep, this was a rare unguarded moment for Old Max. He could feel something small and warm beside him, its fur and little whiskers gently tickling his skin, not that it was unpleasant in any way, quite the opposite. But it was equally rare if ever for Old Max to allow another living creature such close proximity except when forced, like when his Master needed extra coin and would pit him against some new opponent in the dog fighting pits.
Looking down he could see a small furry ball-shaped mass clearly asleep and blissfully nestled into his tummy. Old Max’s natural instinct was to spring to his feet and rend the little creature limb from limb to help satisfy his own constant hunger that came from a lack of food other than the few meagre scraps his Master saw fit to throw him from time to time. For whatever reason though, Old Max didn’t stir, content to allow the little furry mass to continue its equally contented slumber.
A little later he was again awoken by the small bundle of hair beside his tummy only this time it wasn’t the gentle tickling of fur and whiskers that had stirred Old Max from his sleep. The small warm mass, clearly now an infant rat to a fully awake Old Max, was shivering and half starved, obviously trying to snuggle the old dog’s body for extra warmth. Despite his own hunger, Old Max reached for one of the tiny meat scraps lying in his feeding bowl and dropped it near the infant rat’s mouth before starting to lick at its body. The warmth of his tongue and the copious amount of drool soon warmed the little rodent body, even more so when Old Max shifted his position to cosset the rat’s body in a thicker longer part of his fur.
They say all good things come to an end, and so it was for Old Max when his Master recovered from his influenza. Those three short weeks had been the happiest time of Old Max’s life, free from the catalogue of abuses or fear of being dragged to the hated dog fighting pits; Old Max knew he wouldn’t survive many more fights – he was still as brave and ferocious as he ever was but the daily beatings and accumulated battle injuries were taking their toll, as was the passage of time, Old Max was indeed becoming ‘Old’ while each new opponent in the pit seemed just a little younger and stronger while Old Max was equally just a little older and not so strong with each additional fight.
Tom Selby had debts that needed paying. He looked towards Old Max. It had been three months since their last visit to the dog fighting pits, more than long enough for the old mutt to have recovered. He’d heard that a newcomer in one of the neighbouring villages had a couple of angry young Rotties he was desperate to arrange some matches for. He’d also heard they were the most vicious dogs anyone had seen in years with no one that keen to risk their own dogs against them; that might be to his advantage though, he could demand a bigger share of the purse and if Old Max should manage to win one last time it’d make him an even more valuable asset for a few more fights in the future.
Little Whiskers hissed and spat his anger at the huge two-legged creature that was dragging Old Max by some cord around his friend’s neck. Old Max was clearly reluctant to accompany his Master to wherever it was they were going. The tiny rat had never seen a human up close until now. He wasn’t impressed – they smelt and looked funny, and they didn’t appear to have any proper teeth or claws. He wondered why Old Max didn’t simply turn and sink his fangs into the soft exposed flesh of the two-legged creature’s neck, surely it couldn’t be a match for Old Max’s strength and teeth or be able to resist a swipe from one of Old Max’s massive paws with his claw-like nails outstretched. But just as Little Whiskers had never seen a human up close, nor had he yet witnessed the great cruelty and cowardice they were capable of.
Without warning, Tom struck Old Max across the back and side with a riding crop. Little whiskers was startled by the whining yelp that practically exploded from Old Max’s mouth. The force of the blow drained Old Max of his strength, almost causing him to buckle under his own weight.
Again Little whiskers hissed at Tom Selby, and this time several more of his friends emerged from various hidey-holes to dart in and out of Tom Selby’s path. The shock of seeing so many rats at is feet startled him, causing him to drop the leash he was holding Old Max by and stumble back. Seeing the separation between Tom and Old Max, Little Whiskers ran between them, urging Old Max to follow in the direction of the adjacent barn.
Together they made their escape from Tom Selby’s sight, disappearing deep inside the barn. It felt good to Old Max being able to slump into the soft warm hay to soothe the still smarting lash of the riding crop. He wondered if he’d done the right thing, following his little friend into the barn. This was the first of his Master’s real cruelty Little Whiskers had yet seen, or that of any human for that matter. He knew his Master wouldn’t let a few rats prevent him from dragging him back on their journey to the dog fighting pits, and upset by the delay would surely take out his anger with further cruelty along the way.
Sure enough, Tom Selby appeared in the doorway to the barn, towering over both Little whiskers and Old Max, and all the other rats darting back and forth at his feet. He gave an angry kick with his foot that sent a few of them tumbling away in a rolling motion to the side. He then grabbed hold of Old Max’s leash and tied it to one of the support beams before grabbing the nearest implement, an old heavy manure shovel.
Little Whiskers leapt at Tom Selby’s feet, trying to bite at the ankle area but his leather boots were too high and thick for the little rat’s teeth to penetrate. Tom Selby took a step back and swung out at the creature.
The force of the shovel sent the little rat flying several feet into the air before landing in some loose hay at the far end of the barn. Old Max barked and growled his anger at the way Little Whiskers, his only friend had been set upon by the human, straining at the rope around his neck, the hated leash keeping him from springing to the little rat’s defence. He would gladly have endured any amount of pain to tear free from whatever it was he was tied but even Old Max’s great strength and determination weren’t up to breaking the grain of a two-foot thick solid oak support beam. But where brute strength was insufficient, stealth and guile and a thousand little razor sharp teeth were sure to do better, the latter busily gnawing away at the individual threads of the rope leash until in its half chewed and weakened state, it gave way to one last determined tug from Old Max, almost catapulting the Old dog towards his hated Master. Tom Selby instinctively raised his arms and hands to protect himself but the sheer weight of Old Max hitting him head on sent Tom crashing to the ground. He tried desperately to shield his face from Old Max’s snapping jaws only to be rewarded with long sharpened fangs lodging themselves firmly in his soft flesh. Old Max was revelling in an inexplicable frenzied joy, at last having the opportunity to indeed tear flesh and muscle from bone, happy indeed for his fur to be soaked in his Master’s blood. It would be no easy task though – Tom Selby was a big man, and a strong one too, strong enough to put up quite a fight against a dog in the twilight of its years. But Old Max wasn’t fighting alone. Little Whiskers and a hundred or so of his kind had amassed round Tom Selby’s body on the ground, each nipping away at the clothing and underlying flesh. Hundreds of vicious bites and scratches stabbed at the farmer’s body from what seemed a thousand different angles and directions, Tom’s high-pitched screams practically assaulting Old Max’s acute canine hearing.
Living and working alone as he did, no one found what little was left of Tom Selby’s body for the best part of a week. It might have been longer but for a neighbour stopping by to collect some monies owed him. Being a farmer himself, Jim Franklin recognised a farm that had been neglected of its daily tasks for several days at least. At first glance, Jim Franklin thought Tom must have been injured and had discarded some torn clothing among the blood-soaked hay, such was how much was actually left of the body once the rats had had their fill of it. It was true that it was Old Max that had inflicted the injuries that led to Tom Selby bleeding to death more quickly but Little Whiskers and his kind had been just as content feeding on Tom Selby’s dead body as they were feeding on his live one.
Like most farmers and other country folks, Jim Franklin was no stranger to seeing the devoured remains of a dead body, just not one almost picked to the bone and even less so a human one. He could see from all the rat droppings nearby that it had been rats that had done this, not that he would have needed such a clue, there was little else that could have stripped a body of every last bit of flesh so effectively.
His attention was distracted by the sight of Old Max appearing in the doorway to the barn but what held his attention was the sight of Little Whiskers by his side. It was a quite a surreal sight, this huge brute of a dog with this tiny rat nestled alongside one of Old Max’s front legs, totally unafraid under the protective wing of his canine friend. Jim smiled. He had a soft spot of Old Max and had always resented Tom Selby’s treatment of him.
Old Max slowly approached him, his teeth discreetly hidden from sight as were Little whiskers’ who was trotting alongside. Both creatures were acutely sensitive to the nature of any given human and decided this particular specimen to be friendly. Jim fell to one knee and held out the remains of a half-eaten sandwich to Old Max before dropping a small part of the offering to the ground for the wee rat. Both accepted the gesture and fed on their unexpected meal.
“Well Old fella, you fancy a new home with me?” Jim asked while gently stroking the back of the ageing dog’s neck. Neither Old Max nor Little whiskers understood the words but the soft kindly tone of his voice was enough to entice Old Max into following Jim to his horse and cart, and to a new home and life in the twilight of his years.
Just before jumping into the back of the cart, Old Max stopped and looked back to where his little rodent friend was still standing. Little whiskers stood on his hind legs and looked back at them. He knew Old Max’s proper place was with a human Master, one that would love and care for him, someone like the man who had just fed them. What he didn’t know was his own place. Rats and humans weren’t exactly natural friends – Would the two legs want him tagging along?
Old Max looked up at Jim with a tearful glint in those huge brown wide eyes before turning to look back at his little friend, like he was being torn between the two. As well as seeing the warmth and gentleness in Old Max, the first time anyone had seen those qualities since all the time he had been with the now very much deceased Tom Selby, he could see Old Max was loyal too, loyal to the little creature that had obviously befriended him in some way Jim Franklin would probably would never know. Again he fell to one knee and patted the front of his thigh, beckoning the little rat to come and join them.
In the years that followed, Jim Franklin was oddly enough the only farmer for miles around who never had a single problem with rats on his farm.
If you enjoyed this story you may also enjoy a story I posted a while back, Dark Eyes, another short story to be featured in my upcoming collection later in the year …
Click the picture below for the link to it …
Dark Eyes …
Keep an eye out too for my upcoming ‘Rat Tales’ collection later in the year – (possible covers)