Another addition to my little ‘Mischief’ of tales, but one that draws on some of the more traditional elements of the horror genre, even if I have used a slight degree of poetic license with them … Hopefully the purists will appreciate a few of the liberties I’ve taken with such an iconic theme.
If you enjoy this story, please keep an eye out for my collection of Rat Tales later in the year …
It was fascinating to watch so many of you gripped by your own fear and panic, not knowing if or when you or any of your litter might be next. That was nearly 700 years ago, back when even I was young, barely a century past my time as a Ritten. Since then I’ve killed and turned more of your kind than you will ever know, but then, of course, I’ve had time on my side.
You see, I am immortal – an immortal rat to be precise. My mortal kin rarely live more than two or three of your years so imagine if you will how truly old that makes me.
Most humans find it difficult to believe me, most of you so unimaginative to have honestly believed the beasts and demons you fear were exclusively two-legged. Let me tell you, dear humans, we immortal monsters exist in every size, shape, and form.
I sometimes wonder if the ‘Old One’ of your kind that made me the way I am ever considered what being immortal would mean to a rat? I say ‘your’ kind, but that’s not strictly true, for indeed, he’s more akin to mine now – you may share the same number of legs, but we share the thirst, a thirst for the blood of all your kind.
The Master, the one the turned me, he lived across the great river and then way south across the land to Transylvania. I was little more than a Ritten the first time I saw him, with but the finest covering of wispy black hair and only the tiniest sight of teeth or claw to me. But having few of the weapons I would need to hunt and scavenge for food didn’t mean I didn’t have the hunger for it.
The Master’s manservant was skilled in the training of creatures in the art of hunting and killing my kind. He had more than a dozen ferrets for invading our tunnels and secret spaces or for digging and burrowing into the soft ground where we birthed our Rittens in the lowest reaches of the castle. They would pursue us into whatever recesses in the earth we could find before forcing us out for the dogs to rend us limb from limb.
And both had been doing their job well of late then. It had been by chance alone I had escaped their latest campaign to rid the castle of us, as if they ever could, but it had left me the only survivor of my litter and without food.
The whereabouts of the manservant’s or the Master’s food stores were unknown to me; I wasn’t to know the Master of the castle didn’t eat in the way mortal creatures do. I was still unskilled in the ways of scavenging with only my primordial hunting instinct to rely on. Over the coming weeks, I did as good a job as any of the ferrets at ridding the castle of its remaining population of mice and was soon as skilled a hunter as any of my older kin had been before the dogs got them. And that was to determine my fate – having hunted my little mammalian food source cousins to extinction I was facing starvation again. I still had to stay away from the manservant for fear of his dogs and ferrets nearby, just leaving the living quarters of the Master himself.
It was as well we were both nocturnal creatures for I never saw him during daylight hours when he would disappear for over twelve hours at a time, though he was almost as rare a sight even after the setting of the light from the sky.
I never saw his manservant bring him food nor the Master visit the kitchens so I assumed he must have food in his room. I looked about it as best I could, not having the means or intellect to open locked cabinets or pull open drawers. When I found nothing I gnawed holes in them, such was my hunger, but still I found nothing. I knew he must eat sometime so I decided I would follow him where he went that night before the light of the sky came back.
I was surprised when I found myself following him deep into the cold, damp bowels of the castle, deeper even than I had ventured for I had never thought there might be food there. Again I followed, more out of curiosity than hunger now as I could still not see or smell any food. The Master came to a door at the bottom of some stone steps, each one ground down into a hollow from what I now know to be the weight of his nightly pacing down them over the past thousand years, from long before the castle above had ever been built.
He had closed the door before I could follow him into that room. I searched for and found another entrance, a small narrow tunnel some way along the wall, no doubt dug by others of my kind. I entered it, wondering what I would find on the other side. There was no sign of the Master, just a large box. It was a grand box, thick solid oak, ornately decorated but still just a box, the sort you humans like to use to bury your dead.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had no concept that that must be where the Master was. Perhaps there was food in the box though? There didn’t appear to be any opening or way of looking inside. It was good the box lay directly on the ground, meaning I could gnaw a hole in it. There was no food in the box, just the Master lying in it – The Master’s body was as cold as the stone floor on which his box lay.
Young though I was I knew the difference between a live and a dead body. My instincts told me this one had not had the warmth of life in it in a long time even though it was but an hour before I had seen the Master walk into the room.
All this was too much for my instinct-driven rat mind to understand fully and once again my hunger for food became my main focus. The other two-legs had held the Master in awe, and even the dogs and ferrets seemed to recoil in terror in his presence as did I for reasons I didn’t yet understand. Now though he was just a lifeless body, but one that hadn’t rotted and returned to the earth yet, one that could still sustain me for many days and nights. With no other food in sight, I resolved to eat of the Master’s dead body.
I opened my jaws the widest I could and plunged my teeth through the material of his clothing, my teeth sinking deep into his flesh beneath. The softness of the flesh surprised me given it was dead. And even though it was icy cold, blood flowed from it like it would from a live body.
Still being an ordinary mortal rat, I had neither intellect nor understanding, but my primitive instincts were screaming at me just how wrong this was, how wrong it all was. I suddenly became very afraid, again for reasons I still had no understanding. It was only my burning hunger that stopped me from scurrying away faster than if I were being chased by every last one of the manservant’s dogs and ferrets. Without warning the strangest feeling ran through my body as I swallowed that first morsel of cold dead flesh, the icy cold but still flowing blood wetting the sides of my throat. My stomach seemed to explode from the insides, making me completely forget my hunger.
The dead body I had just started to feast on leapt to its feet, sending the lid of the box hurtling upwards and across the stone dungeon-like room. I would have run, but an indescribable pain was coursing through every part of my body, totally paralysing me.
The Master reached down and grabbed me, his fingers and thumb firmly gripped about the entire girth of my body, his grip breaking my ribs, crushing my insides. It was not just his strength squeezing the breath from me, but his shortly trimmed nails had grown into claws, easily piercing deep beneath my fur and skin. He held me up at almost at arm’s length. It was impossible to believe, but the Master’s teeth were as long and sharp as any of my own kind, or any of the creatures of the woods. How this was made no sense to me; I knew the humans had neither teeth nor claws of the kind to defend or attack, or so I had been taught – but I was wrong – all my kind were wrong.
The Master fully bared his teeth to me.I could see the angry fire in his eyes blazing brighter than the burning logs in the log filled grates that warmed many of the castle rooms.
I knew at that moment my time had come, that I would surely die as the Master brought me towards his face before biting into my body. I was still in pain from the dead flesh and blood I had already swallowed from the Master’s body but the pain that followed, even after near on 700 years, the memory haunts me, my fur and whiskers bristling whenever I think of it.
The wailing squeal my crushed lungs produced grew in intensity till it turned into a roaring scream; were I human, its equivalent would have been that of an exploding volcano.
The Master tossed my limp and almost lifeless body to the stone ground. I felt the dark and nothingness of sleep overwhelming me, probably for the last time, I believed.
“Hello, little rat.” I heard a voice saying to me. It was the Master voice I heard. I was still alive, how could that be?
“You’ll be hungry I imagine. There’s food in the bowl for you.” I heard him add. I didn’t understand, or rather, I did understand.
We had heard the humans speak, of course, understood the tones and loudness of the sounds they made, even recognised a sort of meaning in a few of them. This was different – I truly understood the meaning of the Master’s words; he knew I was hungry and was telling me there was food immediately to hand in the wooden bowl that lay a few feet away to my side. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew.
And he was right. I was hungry, hungrier than I had ever been in my life. It was a different sort of hunger though – not the empty stomach kind but more like a cross between an insatiable thirst and a desperate need to breathe.
I turned towards the bowl, descending on it with a speed that surprised me. The smell of the food was overpowering, the unmistakable scent of fresh blood. I plunged my face into it, lapping it up as like it was last to be my last. I continued drinking the red nectar till it was gone, and even when there was no more to be had I licked at the rough wooden bowl, determined to devour every minuscule drop clinging in the grain of the wood.
“Feel better now?” The Master asked. Again I understood. But how to answer?
“You can’t speak, not as I do, little rat,” the Master answered, knowingly:
“But you don’t need words, not with me, not with anyone. Without human vocal chords to make proper sounds, the turning and the thirst has given you the gift of speaking with your mind, what the humans call telepathy, a gift they lost long before even I was first born.”
A whole new world of understanding had opened up to me. 700 hundred years later and I still have no words to describe what it was like awakening that night – not just being blind and waking up sighted but as one never having ever known that others could see.
I understood words, language, meaning. I could look about me and know what things were – a table, a door, a bookcase – things that had been obstacles or just something to scurry and hide behind till now. But I still had questions, many questions …
“What’s happened to me? How did this happen, what does it all mean?”
As the Master had said, I couldn’t make the sounds of language like he and the humans could, but I could articulate words in my mind, and I knew he understood. I had already deduced that the Master was not a normal human:
“I don’t know, not exactly. It was when you bit into me and swallowed some of my blood. It did something to you. Not enough to turn you, not completely, but something half-way between.”
“I still don’t understand? Turned? The thirst? Half-way?”
“By drinking of my blood you acquired my immortality and the thirst for fresh living blood to live but without the strength and speed or the telepathy that allows you to communicate. I sensed it in you when I picked you up. I was so angry with you; I was tempted to leave you as were. It would have been a miserable life, possessing the desperate thirst for blood but not the intelligence to understand it, not having the strength to overcome your natural enemies, having to feed off the smallest and vilest of creatures without knowing why.”
“But you did something to me? I do understand. And I feel strong, and … so much more,”
“Yes, I did. I would have been wrong to leave as you were. You weren’t to know what I was; you were just a hungry animal acting on instinct. Instead of biting you it would have been a mercy to have devoured you whole when I grabbed you up from the ground.”
“But you didn’t. Something when you bit me, it made me stronger, made me more – like you?”
“Yes. When I bit you, I only took a small amount of blood while allowing my saliva to enter your bloodstream. That’s what completed the turning, making you what you are now.”
We spoke for many hours after that, through the night almost to the rising of the sun, an event he explained I would never see again. But what did I care about sunlight? We rats possess poor eyesight, but since the ‘turning’ my eyesight was now as sharp as my teeth, ideal for a life lived only at night.
In the several years that followed, I would accompany the Master on his nightly jaunts to the surrounding towns and villages to feed. Many times I dined on the same human he had chosen, both of us taking only enough to satisfy our thirst. But I was a rat – a predator used to doing my own hunting and feeding, not some tame pet leeching off its owner. The Master understood, this and when he felt I was ready, left me to hunt my own food.
I had no wish to feed off other rats, though I would if I had to, but feeding with the Master had now given me a taste and thirst for human blood.
It was not to be as easy as I imagined; I had thought with my new awareness, and speed and strength far exceeding that of my mortal brethren, hunting would be easy.
My minuscule size made it impossible to approach and strike directly at the neck of a human the way the Master did. The human preference for wearing shoes or boots and thick clothing on their legs made it equally difficult to strike at ground level most of the time
The females of your kind were easier to feed on, leaving their lower legs and calves more exposed beneath their skirts. It was a pity not more of them were to be found or choose from in the late hunting hours. Fortunately, there was rarely any shortage of males after dark, many falling to the ground after a night in the taverns and alehouses. It was easy for me to sidle up beside one to take my fill from an exposed hand or about the neck. My smaller size made it easy for me to fully satisfy my thirst with a relatively small amount of blood. I had to be careful though – sink my teeth too deep and I would pass on the thirst, a mistake I made several times in those early years. It was not until over a century later I was to discover one of the abominations I had created during one of those early feeding hunts.
With the passing years, I became aware of another thirst, one every bit as strong as the one for blood. I yearned to see more of the world than the tiny one that existed within the walls of the castle and the surrounding countryside. The time was coming for us to go our separate ways …
I remember that first day in England when we docked into Plymouth Harbour. I had never dreamed such a place could exist.
It had also been my first time aboard a ship; my Master had brought me aboard to accompany him in his cabin. It was a strange and luxurious way for a rat to travel you might think while most of my kin were scurrying about in the bowls and darkest hidden recesses of the tall sail ship. He claimed it was partly from his guilt for having condemned me to an eternity of bloodthirst as the price of my immortality.
I didn’t understand his guilt and regret at the time. The greater intelligence that came with my transformation hadn’t yet fully manifested itself. I still had no real comprehension what it would mean to live much beyond my natural lifespan let alone the hundreds or possibly thousands of years to follow.
The journey to England was most exciting, exploring the ship and mixing with other albeit mortal rats. I was immediately aware of their deference. They sensed that I was something more and quite different …
We finally alighted from the ship later that night after his current manservant released us from the travelling casket aboard the ship.
I had protested the unnecessary cruelty of the previous one in his hunting of my kind. The Master agreed. We both enjoyed several days of fresh warm blood.
The Master bade me farewell, though not before saying we would meet again someday, and how he looked forward to hearing of my travels. He also warned me never to underestimate the humans’ capacity for cruelty and cunning. It was not a warning I needed. I still remembered all too well the dismembering and bloody deaths of my fellow Rittens
The Master was right; we were to meet again, each time exchanging tales no human could imagine of our lives down through the centuries, even though I was still yet to experience my first real adventure.
The master gently placed me upon the stone cobbled streets of Plymouth to begin that first adventure.
The presence of so many humans was already making me thirsty. But I had another thirst that needed satisfying too.
My sibling Rittens had all been bloodily rent by the claws and fangs of the human trained dogs and ferrets. The gift of self-awareness that came with the thirst had made me aware of another concept – revenge …
It was the year 1347, the year and time your kind refers to as the Plague and the Black Death
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)
It’s been quite awhile since I last posted a short story here. This particular one is likely to be the opening story of a ‘Rat’ themed collection of such stories I’m planning to publish later in the year; only a first draft so still lots of tweaks to do before publication.
Now I must say, horror wouldn’t normally be my first port of call when it comes to writing. Why then a collection of blood and gore filled rodent horror stories? Well, though not normally a fan of the horror genre I still remember just how impressed and fascinated I was when I first read James Herbert’s Rats trilogy; for me that was horror in its purest form – no demons or recanting spells on some altar in the woods at midnight, but real flesh and blood creatures.
I would say 99% of the population have an irrational but inbuilt revulsion of rats despite most of us rarely being more than a few a hundred feet or so from the nearest one no matter how out of sight we think they might be so what better theme for the budding horror writer?
Now to write a full length rat themed novel, I just don’t think it’s possible to improve on James Herbert’s original format and nor would I want to try, but short stories, that’s a different matter – the short story genre allows the writer to explore any number of ideas while still sticking to a central theme if they want, which is precisely what I’m planning to do in my upcoming collection … I hope you enjoy this initial ‘taster’ …
Dark Eyes …
“Bloody rats!” Jack roared, partly in anger but mostly from a mixture of fear and loathing of the vile vermin, mesmerised almost as one the size of a small cat scurried across his path. Several more darted about in all directions, almost tripping him up in the process before making their escape through the half-open barn door. But the sheer number of them though, perhaps he should be the one making his escape, Jack thought, watching one lone rat turn and just for a moment, stop and look up at him before turning again to run and join his many brothers and sisters. Jack would later swear he could see hate-filled pure evil in those darkened eyes, but for now, his only concern was for his family and the farm.
He’d tried all the usual rodent poisons, legal or otherwise. Sarah, Jack’s wife hadn’t been too happy with the ‘otherwise.’ Being brought up in a town she still had many of the townsfolk views towards animals and nature, that they and it were all just lovely – David Attenborough and the BBC had a lot to answer for!
Jack loved her to bits but had to bite his tongue knowing she still held the belief that those tasty eggs and rashers of bacon they wolfed down most mornings were made and packaged in a supermarket warehouse with not a single animal playing their part in the process.
It was no surprise to Jack when she insisted there must be more humane ways of dealing with their local rat problem, ones that didn’t include poisoning, gas, or any other solution she saw as the farmer’s equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. In the end of course, Sarah’s objections had been irrelevant given that nothing had worked; either the rats were getting smarter or they were becoming immune to the common over-used over the counter remedies, much like bacteria had become resistant to the over-use of antibiotics. Media reports of mutant strains of giant super rats had been around for years, but the more sensible explanations for such reports didn’t sell newspapers anywhere near as effectively, hence the former becoming the more firmly fixed in the public’s mind.
Jack’s own efforts trying to kill them in sufficiently large numbers had so far proved useless. It was time to try something different; he remembered having read somewhere that rats were cannibals, or at least prone to it sometimes for reasons he didn’t remember. It was that single memory that had given him the idea: what if he could use that otherwise repugnant trait to reduce the excess number of rats with a few really ravenous cannibalistic ones? Letting the little bastards reduce their own numbers held a certain appeal to him. First though he would have to capture a few, well, about a dozen or so in fact.
Like before when he had tried laying poisoned bait for them, ineffectively as it turned out, he left more of the same only this time instead laced with ground-up sleeping pills … Nothing poisonous or fatal or owt that Sarah could reasonably object to, just something he hoped would knock them out long enough to carry out the next phase of his plan. Sure enough the following morning, that part of Jack’s plan had worked – there lying scattered about the barn were about twenty sleeping rats, eight of which he immediately finished off with a pitchfork. The remaining twelve he strung up upside down by their tails from one of the rafters, carefully spaced so that each rat was just within swinging distance of the next. After a few hours they started to regain consciousness. At first they just frantically jerked and swung from side to side, probably due to a combination of fear, confusion, and indeed anger at their mistreatment, and with rats relying mostly on their tails for their sense of balance, being strung up like that would certainly have led to panic and disorientation.
As the hours and then days passed, that anger and panic became something quite different, an almost frenzied need for food and water. With no other source of nourishment to hand it soon became a matter of dog eat dog, or rather ‘rat eat rat’ in this case – they had no choice but to feed in the only way fate had left them.
Feeding off one’s own kind was nothing unique either in history or to the poor creatures Jack had hanging from the rafters. Rats had often eaten one another to survive but when it occurred naturally it would usually be the old and weak after dying a natural death, and even then only as nature’s way of combating famine or over-crowding.
Three days later just four of the original twelve remained alive, only the strongest and most vicious having survived by swinging and clawing away at the living and then lifeless mutilated bodies of the weaker adjacent ones …
Despite their now thinner and wretched state, Jack was more than a little afraid as he approached them. It was a sight he hoped never to see again yet felt powerless to turn away from, watching the four remaining live ones hiss and spit the closer he got. One was bigger than the other three by quite a margin, and judging from the way it was still thrashing about, much stronger too … then he realised … It was the same one that had looked up at him, the one with the dark hate-filled eyes. Jack shuddered. They knew he was the one responsible for what had been done to them and it was his blood and flesh they could now smell, had a taste for … if fear really did have an odour Jack knew he must have absolutely reeked of it.
He thought for a moment. His gut feeling was it might be best to abandon the scheme, to put the wretched creatures out of their misery there and then … a few whacks with a shovel at their weakened bodies and that would be it. But apart from removing the hissing hate-filled ones in front of him what would that solve? He’d still be left with the original problem, of what to do about the others, the ones still out there?
Jack wanted – no – had to be rid of them if his farm was to survive, he decided, resolving to stick to the original plan. He had to close his eyes first, long enough to break the rats’ hold on his gaze, enabling him to look away before shuffling through the hay to open the barn door in readiness for their escape. On the way back he grabbed hold of a field-scythe.
Standing several feet back from their still hanging bodies he took a lunging swing at the thin wires hanging from the rafters and from which all the rats were still suspended, four of them still hissing and spitting their hatred for their human tormentor – to the rats or anyone who might have been watching, Jack would have cut an impressive image as the grim reaper at that moment.
Each of them fell to the floor with a thud the instant the razor sharp edge of the scythe sliced the space between the rafters and the ends from which the rats’ tails were tied, their impacts cushioned by the hay strewn about the barn. Jack edged back a little, watching them from a dozen or so feet away. He’d expected the live ones to immediately make a lightning dash for the open barn door. They didn’t. Instead, they turned their attention to the bodies of their lifeless companions, immediately embarking on a further feeding frenzy – all except Dark Eyes that was – his attention was clearly focused on Jack, practically standing on its hind legs, watching, defiantly daring him to approach. Jack instinctively strengthened his grip on the wooden length of the scythe, not taking his gaze from Dark Eyes’ direction for fear of attack.
Yes, Jack was afraid. He didn’t know why but he absolutely knew in that one single moment his plan had gone horribly wrong … having had to claw, bite, and slash at the living moving flesh of their siblings, having to watch and listen to their pitiful cries and struggles … it had changed them, turned them into something horribly different.
Jack knew he’d unleashed something in their nature of which nothing good could come out of.
Within a few weeks there were definitely a lot fewer rats about the farm as evidenced by the noticeably visible reduction in rat droppings and simply not seeing or hearing much of them. To Jack and Sarah it was becoming a case of out of sight, out of mind, and so Jack had largely forgotten the momentary horror he’d felt when allowing Dark Eyes and his companions to run from the barn. In fact he felt quietly pleased with himself, pleased that his original plan was obviously working, honestly believing the overwhelming fear he’d experienced was a brief irrational moment brought on by the surreal sight of the rats tearing and feeding on the torn flesh of their dead companions.
For most people, such a sight would have been etched in the mind forever. Not for Jack though, he was a farmer and well used to witnessing nature’s brutal cruelty, undeceived by the picture postcard image of tranquillity nature usually showed the town-dwelling tourists.
It was just as well Jack was used to such things for it was a sight he’d be reminded of time and time again over the coming months …
Much of the county had enjoyed quite a respite from their rat problem, best part of three months now but for Jack and his immediate neighbours there were signs of its return. Rat droppings around the farm were back to and even higher than their previous levels before the barn incident. The occasional sight of a lone rat darting across a yard had increased to several sightings a day of three or four at a time.
Sarah was again complaining of seeing even more of them scurrying about now – but not like before, they were no longer immediately running for the nearest bolt hole at the sight of a human or one of the dogs. In the coming weeks their numbers continued to increase to the point where they were confident enough in their greater numbers not to run or scurry away at all, slowing their agile stealth to more of an arrogant stroll. Most disturbing though was the sheer variety of rats, all mixing and seemingly friendly, the larger brown rats and the smaller black variety, and every shade of colour in-between roaming together in huge packs, only separating when their respective skills and different instincts made it an advantage to do so.
More of the livestock were being attacked and exhibiting rat bites to their extremities, and worse, their attackers were showing less and less fear of their human predators.
At first Jack tried to rationalise it as blip, some unexplained spike in the rats’ breeding cycle and activities – that’s what his neighbours thought, though in their case they truly believed that, why shouldn’t they? Jack on the other hand, he could easily have answered that last question, he just didn’t want to, didn’t want to admit to himself and especially not to his neighbours that he was probably responsible, not only for the ‘blip’ but for something worse to come … much worse.
With his wife and two young children still on the farm despite his urging them to go and stay with relatives in the city, Jack was at his wits’ end. Not even various industrial strength poisons had had the slightest success in stemming the growing rat problem – he’d long since abandoned any pretence of trying to deal with them humanely as his wife had wanted – it was no longer his fear of the worst case scenario being Sarah or one of the kids suffering a single rat bite, the sort of minor incident that were it a nip from an urban fox on the streets of London, would be making headline news, his worries had escalated to fearing for their very lives; already his worst fears from that morning in the barn were coming true – several neighbouring farms were reporting seeing large packs of the vile rodents swarming across their land, and more recently, garbled stories of large-scale attacks on livestock just like the ones on his own animals. Initially, Jack had tried to dismiss them as nothing more than the cider-fuelled wild ramblings of a lot of old codgers …
“I tell ya’s all again,” the grizzled old farmer Pete Myers was saying from his usual place at the bar in the village pub, “they’re getting out of control and sommat’s got t’be done I tell ya.”
A few of the other local farmers were listening intently, rolling their eyes and nodding their agreement while Old Pete retold the story of his mutilated half-eaten sheep:
“Was like nothing I ever saw I tell ya, torn t’shreds it was but not like how you’d expect it t’look if some dog’d done it. No, it was bloodied all over, like a thousand little claws and teeth had been scratching and biting away at it over a long time … and then there were all them rat droppings around it. What more proof d’yer need than that I ask ya?”
Jack had listened as closely as the others to Old Pete’s gory ramblings, still hoping things weren’t as bad as the old boy was making out. He was far from convinced though so chose not to add his own thoughts to the discussion. Jack knew that if he admitted his own secret fears and told them about Dark Eyes and what he’d done it would put him right at the centre of the problem, no doubt making him the scapegoat for every subsequent attack – and since the majority of the nearby farmers owned at least one variety of shotgun the last thing he needed was having to deal with his neighbours’ hostility.
Jack didn’t have to wait long before he was again reminded of the urgency and very real danger he’d put his family in. The very next day, Jack was just finishing his midday meal back at the farmhouse when he heard a knock at the door:
“Come on in, Jack’s in the kitchen having a bite to eat.” Sarah told Bill, their postman, “go right through.”
“Hello Jack. Is there somewhere we can speak … privately like? Bill asked, lowering his voice so’s not to be overheard by Sarah who was pottering about outside.
“Sure. Come through to the sitting room.”
“I found your dog, Rufus, just off the roadside on my way back to the village, just beyond that far-side field of yours the other side of the stream.”
“Found him? What do you mean, is he hurt or … ?”
“He’s dead, Jack. I can’t describe it but it’s another attack, like the one Old Pete was raving on about in the pub last night … I didn’t have anything I could carry him in, and really, you need to come and see for yourself.”
Bill hadn’t exaggerated, Rufus had been attacked aright. Viciously. Little was left of the Bull-Terrier cross’s body apart from some skin and fur hanging off the skeleton. Other than that most of the flesh and innards had been ripped out and stripped to the bone.
It did look as if Rufus had put up one hell of a fight though, Jack thought judging from the twenty or so bodies of torn and battered dead rats scattered within a few feet of where Bill had found Rufus, not that that surprised him, terriers of all sorts had been specially bred as vermin hunters the past couple of hundred years.
Were it not for everything that was going on and the usual rat droppings near what little was left of Rufus’s body Jack would have wondered what could have done such a thing, to have literally torn a strong healthy dog to shreds and either eaten or carried away most of the carcass. But Jack knew already, knew exactly what it was, what had done this.
It had been his intention to quietly bury the dog away from the farm somewhere, and not tell Sarah about Rufus at all. Instead, he brought him back, and once the kids were safely tucked up in bed, threw the mutilated remains across the kitchen table for her to see – perhaps now she would also see sense and take herself and the kids to her sisters as he’d pleaded weeks ago.
In the brief time Sarah was able to stand the sight of the remains of Rufus’s body, she emptied the contents of her stomach onto the kitchen floor.
“Do you see now, Sarah? That’s what I’m talking about. You have to take the kids away -before something worse happens!” Jack screamed at her …
“Or would you prefer to wait until it’s John or Lizzie lying there instead of Rufus?” He added just to emphasise the point.
She packed the things they’d need that very night …
Many of the local farmers were seriously considering selling up to any of the multi-national commercial farms, a couple already had, and more ‘For Sale’ signs were springing up every day. Jack had already decided he’d be adding his own farm to the list no matter how much of a loss he had to swallow in the process just as soon as the estate agents opened again on the Monday after the weekend.
That Monday never came for Jack. Despite his decision to sell up, in his anger and frustration, no doubt amplified by the half bottle of Scotch he’d downed, Jack had started blasting away at any and every rat he saw.
A shotgun is hardly the most practical weapon for killing rats but the ones he hit were blown into a thousand bits, sending their flesh and blood in as many directions.
Dark Eyes himself had nearly fallen victim to the drunken Jack’s alcohol-fuelled rage when one random shot shattered a window frame of one of the out-buildings in which many rats had taken refuge from the harsh weather.
Large splinters of shattered glass and wood had been sent flying, several of which had lodged in many of the rat’s bodies, killing some and injuring several more.
Dark Eyes and all the rats reverted to their natural behaviours, running to whatever hiding places they could find, anywhere away from the blast range of Jack’s shotgun. If Jack had been thinking clearly at the time he would have realised it was his one opportunity to escape the farm while the rats were still in a state of shock and panic from being shot at. Instead, he chose to lock himself inside to sleep off his drunken stupor.
Jack awoke with the hangover from hell. He vaguely remembered having blasted away at some of the out-buildings where he knew more of the rats had taken up residence. He was aware the neighbouring farms were having problems of their own but he was anxious to know if any of them had suffered quite the same levels of attack. Perhaps they needed to pool their resources to fight them, even if it meant admitting his own role in creating the current situation? Yes, time to come clean he decided …
It looked as though Jack’s new-found honesty had come too late – the land-line had gone dead and with that the internet too. He tried his mobile, desperate to contact someone, anyone who might help, but the bad weather was still interfering with reception.
There had been no TV bulletins of farms being attacked but he guessed such reports would take time to filter through to the local news networks; perhaps the radio might have received some calls, maybe from someone whose land-line or mobile was still working. He hurried to the kitchen where the Roberts Rambler radio had pride of place on one of the worktops. He was grateful now he’d not given in to Sarah’s urging to replace it with a newer DAB model with all the internet radio channels on it, a fat lot of use they’d be now he thought.
He fiddled with the tuner to position the radio station slider to a frequency where he knew one of the local radio stations broadcast from … and to his surprise, and horror, they had received calls, lots of them …
“… drivers on the B237 have reported having to slow down or even swerve to avoid large swarms of rats … yes, that’s right, that’s the word people are using to describe their numbers… so far there’s been no reports of any accidents as such but the Highways Authority have said they’ll despatch patrols to the area to look into it …”
Swarming across fields was enough of a worry but for the rats to have the numbers and confidence to be openly crossing major roads, that was bad. So far their spread and hence the number of attacks had partly been contained within the boundaries of a few major roads and fast flowing streams though that still provided a damned large area and number of potential targets for their attacks. Such was the swiftness of their spread across the local area no one had yet spotted the attacks had originated and seemed to radiate out from Jack’s farm, partly due to Jack having kept mostly quiet about his own troubles, reporting just enough to be consistent with the experiences of the immediate neighbours. All that was irrelevant though, the battle for his farm had been lost, it was just a question if he could win the battle for his life now.
Jack gazed out of one of the living room windows, assessing whether he could make a run for it. Not a chance, he realised, hundreds, maybe thousands of the little bastards had swamped the farm, like a guerilla army abandoning its hit and run tactics to attack openly
Ideally it would have been best for Jack to jump in his Land Rover and drive as quickly and far away as possible. It was a tempting idea and he would have done too – it was in clear sight, tantalisingly close not more than twenty yards away out in the yard – perhaps if he donned his wellington boots, put on several thick layers of clothing, and ran to the car at full pelt he might just have been able to get to it and drive off without being dragged to the ground or too many of the little buggers entering the car with him. But no, he could see they had already used their razor-like teeth and claws to shred the heavy duty off road tyres into so many scraps of rubber, leaving the metal rims of the wheels supporting the three-tonne vehicle digging firmly into the soft ground.
Seeing his only possible means of escape completely sabotaged he knew he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
They were all around now, biting, scratching, clawing at every barricade designed to keep them out, and not just from the outside … He could hear them under the floorboards in those few parts of the house where wood and other more modern building methods and materials had been used instead of the more traditional stone for the area.
Jack was sure they were following his every move and footstep, inside the partitioned walls of the interior of the stone built farmhouse, and the cellars too had already fallen to their onslaught, now filled with dozens, if not hundreds of them – perhaps thousands more were waiting in reserve in the surrounding countryside for all Jack knew, unable not to imagine every worst case scenario his mind could conjure.
Listening to the sound of the rats in the basement and foundations getting louder and louder, it would have been natural for Jack to take refuge upstairs in a desperate attempt to put some distance between himself and the noise of the onslaught below but those same scratching noises that filled the air downstairs could also be heard above; a violent thunder storm had been raging for the past hour, pelting the farmhouse with heavy rain, driving ever more rats to seek refuge inside the farm buildings, including the farmhouse in which Jack was now trapped, a prisoner in his own home.
The sound of the rain hitting the roof had effectively masked the noise of their activities but the smaller black rats, or roof rats as they were often called, had returned and made themselves a cosy home in the roof and attic area immediately above. Most of them had disappeared from the main living areas following their temporary reduction in numbers a few months back. That had been a real bonus, especially for Sarah who despite a more tolerant attitude was still loath to sharing a home with them. But now they were back, having multiplied at least ten-fold since the beginning of the storm, way more than had ever lived there before Jack’s unfortunate idea to try setting the rats against each other, with more and more climbing into the attic and roof spaces with each passing minute now.
The slightly larger brown rats, of which Dark Eyes was a particularly vile and gruesome prime specimen, were natural burrowers, easily digging their way beneath and into the foundations of most buildings, particularly rural farms like Jack’s, and were making frightening progress. Had it not been for most of the main body of the farmhouse being built of stone, the rats would almost certainly have broken through the weaker parts of the farmhouse defenses and barricades
He was thankful that at least Sarah and the kids were now far away in the city. It was ironic thinking that they were safer there amid all the inner city crime and violence that drove most people to leave the cities in favour of the perceived safety and tranquillity of the countryside. Right now he would gladly have swapped his current situation for something as relatively normal and mundane as the drugs and gun swamped streets of a London or Los Angeles.
The electric lights flickered and then went out. It was still early evening but being February the daylight was already fading, and with the thick storm clouds overhead, Jack knew he’d soon be in near darkness. He hoped, prayed even that it was nothing more than some domestic miniature circuit breaker tripping despite knowing how unlikely that was having had the family quarters of the farm completely rewired recently. It was an irrelevancy though, the fuse box was located in the basement, deep in the heart of what was very much enemy territory now. All he could do was wait for the inevitable …
From those first initial litters, the new Dark Eyed strain quickly dominated their less aggressive cousins, feeding off the flesh of the weaker ones while infecting the rest with their own flesh cravings. Any sign of inter-species rivalry and fighting among the many different types of rat had gone; they were almost hive-like in their unity, and it would only be a matter of months before every new littler would have a preference for flesh – alive or dead – rather than scavenging among the discarded left-overs of the human two-legs.
That would have suited Jack just fine had it only been rat flesh they craved like the ones in the barn but he had miscalculated – this new strain was different. It wasn’t each other’s flesh these rats craved, it was the flesh of completely different species altogether, particularly the soft succulent type to be found on the two-legs, the ones reeking of fear with neither claws, teeth or talons to defend themselves.
The Dark Eyed ones would only feed on other rats that didn’t share their same appetites for human and other species’ flesh, and with each new litter, the dominance of the flesh-hungry Dark Eyes was spreading exponentially … Jack’s and the neighbouring farms and villages would be just the beginning …
No sooner had the first one managed to gnaw through one of the small areas of floorboards and the heavy wooden planks Jack had nailed down over them he knew it was over, that they’d soon be swarming through whatever little opening they could find.
Already some were coming through the toilet bowl upstairs having swum through the sewers, and even as he watched those first few appearing up through the floor, more were now literally dropping down through holes they had gnawed through the upstairs flooring and soft plasterboard ceilings. Within minutes hundreds more were dragging him to the floor. He made a token effort to fight them off but he knew it to be in vain. Surprisingly though once he was down they paused in their biting and attack. He lay there motionless, that his until he saw Dark Eyes crawl up onto his chest. Not so surprisingly it was then that he lost control of his bowels and bladder. The rats barely seemed to notice.
Dark Eyes wasn’t inclined to showing the two-legs mercy, remembering what it had done to them in the barn, forcing him and his siblings to tear the flesh from each other in order to eat and live – he wasn’t to know they had Jack to thank for their newly developed hunger and success, that without Jack’s cruel and nasty little plan for decimating their numbers the new aggressive strain of flesh-eaters might never have risen to ascendency, not that it would made a difference; the two-legs were as repulsive and alien to Dark Eyes as he and all his kind were to all the two-legged hairless ones, creatures that apart from their larger size looked like the pink and wrinkly hairless newborns of his kind, weak and helpless till the emergence of their first infant teeth and claws. He looked again into the two-legs’ eyes. Jack looked back only this time he was the one having to look up. Dark Eyes was again standing on its hind legs from his position on Jack’s bloodied chest. There was a time when Dark Eyes’ instinct would have compelled him to strike immediately at his now helpless prey but Dark Eyes was intelligent, more so than most others of his kind. He took a moment to savour his imminent revenge on the human tormentor, knowing this was to be the first of many such victories over the hated two-legs. With a twitch of his tail, it was the sign to Dark Eyes’ rat soldier army to resume their feast of the-legs flesh. It was fortunate Jack was the only human on the farm, the scream that briefly escaped his mouth before a thousand rat bites tore the flesh from his throat was a sound no human being would ever be able to forget
A month later, Dark Eyes looked up from his position in the drain beside the abandoned farmhouse, his attention caught by the sight and smell of the bare skin of all the new humans going about their business. Many two-legs in their moving metal boxes had turned up for reasons beyond the rat’s understanding.
A local state of emergency had been declared and the army called in. But Dark Eyes welcomed their arrival. The warm blood and soft tender flesh of the many new two-legs would nourish all the new and future little ones in the days, months, and indeed years to come …