WsIP 1 – Anthology – Rat Tales

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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, 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 pure hate-filled 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 ‘or otherwise.’ Being brought up in a town she still had many of the townspeople’s more gentle and sentimental attitudes towards animals and nature. 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, her objections had been irrelevant given that nothing had worked; either the rats were getting smarter or they were becoming immune to the common over the counter remedies, much like bacteria had become resistant to the over-use of antibiotics. 

Jack’s own efforts trying to kill them in large numbers had so far proved useless. It was time to try something different; he recalled reading 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 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. 

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 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. 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 and confusion. They were angry at their mistreatment, and relying mostly on their tails for balance, being strung up like that panicked and disorientated them further.

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 in this case – ‘rat eat rat.

Rats had often eaten one another in the past to survive but only as nature’s way of combating famine or over-crowding. This was very different.

Three days later just four of the original twelve remained alive. The strongest and most vicious had 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. 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 ones still out there?

Jack wanted – no – had to be rid of them if his farm was to survive, he decided. First He had to close his eyes, long enough to break the rats’ hold on his gaze 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.

They 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. 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 – his attention was focused on Jack, practically standing on its hind legs, 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 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.

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Within a few weeks there were definitely fewer rats about the farm as evidenced by the visible reduction in rat droppings. To Jack and Sarah, it was becoming a case of out of sight, out of mind. Jack felt quietly pleased with himself, believing the fear he’d experienced had been brought on by the surreal sight of the rats tearing and feeding on the torn flesh of their dead companions.

But it was a sight he’d be reminded of time and time again over the coming months … 

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The county had enjoyed quite a respite from their rat problem, but for Jack and his neighbours, their were signs of its return. Rat droppings around the farm were even higher than 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 complaining of seeing even more of them scurrying about now – but not like before, they were no longer running for the nearest bolt hole at the sight of a human or one of the dogs. Their numbers increased until they were confident enough not to scurry away at all, instead slowing their agile stealth to more of an arrogant stroll. Most disturbing was the sheer variety of rats, all mixing together, the larger brown rats and the smaller black variety, and every shade of colour in-between roaming together in huge packs.

Jack tried to rationalise it as some unexplained spike in the rats’ breeding cycle – that’s what his neighbours thought, why shouldn’t they? Jack on the other hand, he could easily have answered that last question, he just didn’t want to admit to himself or his neighbours that he was probably responsible, not only for the ‘spike’ but for something worse to come … much worse.

The situation continued to worsen and Jack was at his wits’ end. His fear of the worst case scenario being Sarah or one of the kids suffering a single rat bite had escalated to fearing for their very lives; several neighbouring farms were reporting seeing large number of rats swarming across their land, and more recently, garbled stories of attacks on livestock. Initially, Jack had tried to dismiss them as nothing more than the cider fuelled 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 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 closely to Old Pete’s gory ramblings, still hoping things weren’t as bad as the old boy was making out. He chose not to add his own thoughts to the discussion, knowing if he admitted his fears and told them all about Dark Eyes it would put him right at the centre of the problem.

Jack didn’t have to wait long before he was again reminded of the urgency and very real danger of the situation. The next day, Jack was just finishing his midday meal back at the farmhouse when Sarah answered a knock at the door from their postman, Bill:

 

“Come on in, Jack’s in the kitchen having a bite to eat so go straight 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. The flesh and innards had been ripped out and stripped to the bone. Little else was left of the Bull-Terrier cross’s body apart from some skin and fur hanging off the skeleton.  

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.

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 like that it would have been easy to put it down to some escaped wild animal from a zoo. But Jack already knew exactly what it was.

It had not been his intention to tell Sarah about Rufus at all, but to quietly bury the dog away from the farm somewhere. Instead, he brought him back, and once their two young children 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, Jack hoped.

 

“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 …

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Many of the locals were seriously considering selling up. More and more ‘For Sale’ signs springing up every day, and Jack decided he’d be adding his own farm to the list just as soon as the estate agents opened again on the Monday after the weekend.

 

That Monday never came for Jack. In his anger and frustration, amplified by the half bottle of Scotch he’d downed, Jack had started blasting away at any and every rat he saw.

A shotgun was 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. A random shot had shattered a window frame of one of the outbuildings in which Dark Eyes and many other 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 many more.

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 while the rats were still confused and panicked from being shot at. Instead, he chose to lock himself inside to sleep off his drunken stupor.

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Jack awoke with the hangover from hell. He vaguely remembered having blasted away at some of the outbuildings where he knew more of the rats had settled.

He tried to call a neighbour but found 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.

With nothing about the rats being reported on the TV he wondered if 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 was. 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.

He fiddled with the tuner to position the radio station slider to one of the local radio stations … and to his surprise and horror, there was news …

 

“… 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 …”

 

For the rats to have the numbers and confidence to be openly crossing major roads was bad. Such was the swiftness of their spread across the local area no one had spotted the attacks had originated and seemed to radiate out from Jack’s farm; having mostly kept quiet, reporting just enough to be consistent with the experiences of the immediate neighbours, Jack had managed to keep a low profile. But all that was irrelevant now. The battle for his farm had been lost, it was just a question of if he could win the battle for his life.

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. The metal rims of the wheels supporting the three tonne vehicle were already firmly dug into the soft ground.

Seeing his only possible means of escape completely sabotaged he knew he wasn’t going anywhere any time 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. 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 just outside for all Jack knew, unable not to imagine now every worst-case scenario his mind could conjure.

Jack could hear the sound of the rats in the basement and foundations getting louder and louder. He thought 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 thunderstorm 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 cozy 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. In the meantime, even more were climbing into the attic and roof spaces with each passing minute.

The slightly larger brown rats, of which Dark Eyes was a particularly vile and gruesome prime specimen, were natural burrowers. They easily dug 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 broken through the weaker parts of the farmhouse defenses and barricades

The electric lights flickered and then went out. It was still early evening but being February the daylight was already fading. With the thick storm clouds overhead, Jack knew he’d soon be in near darkness. All he could do was wait for the inevitable now …

 Jack’s and the neighbouring farms and villages would be just the beginning …

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No sooner had the first one managed to gnaw through one of the small areas of floorboard and the heavy wooden planks Jack had nailed down over them he knew it was over. Soon they would be swarming through every little opening they could find.

Within minutes hundreds more swarmed the room, dragging him to the floor. He made a token effort to fight them off but he knew he couldn’t. Surprisingly though once he was down they paused in their biting and attack. He lay there motionless, that is 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 remembered what the two-legs had done to them in the barn, forcing them to tear the flesh from each other in order to live. He looked again into the two-legs’ eyes. Jack looked back. 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.  

With a twitch of his tail it was the sign to Dark Eyes’ rat soldier army to resume their feast of the two-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 have been able to forget.

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A month later, Dark Eyes’ attention caught by the sight and smell of the bare skin of all the new two-legs going about their business. Many had turned up at the abandoned farmhouse in their moving metal boxes 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 … scavenging among the discarded left-overs of the human two-legs for food was a thing of the past … they were the food now.

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 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 old 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. 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 that 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 ‘man’s best friend.’

It was inevitable that some of Tom Selby’s cruelty would rub off on him despite 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. In its place stood a wretched hate-filled creature from hell. Instead of being cute and adorable he had a look to 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.

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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.

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 before joyfully bathing in his Master’s blood like a playful puppy splashing and jumping in a mud-filled puddle. Old Max had no such happy puppy memories.

Still half dazed from his sleep, this was a rare unguarded moment for Old Max. He could feel something small and warm beside him. Fur and little whiskers were 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 satisfy his own hunger. It was a 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. 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.

The little rat had stirred a protective instinct in Old Max; he shifted his position to cosset the rat’s body in a thicker longer part of his fur.

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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. He had been free of 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.’ Each new opponent in the pits seemed just a little younger and stronger while Old Max was equally just a little older and not so strong with each additional fight.

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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. No one was that keen to risk their own dogs against them; that might be to his advantage though, Tom Selby thought, he could demand a bigger share of the purse. 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.

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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 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 the old mutt 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 at seeing so many rats about his 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 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 though, 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. 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. He towered 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 his only ever real friend had been set upon by the human. Old Max strained 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 wasn’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 were 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 up at 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 assaulted Old Max’s acute canine hearing. They were the last sounds Tom Selby would ever make …

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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 as he looked about the farm. When he came to the barn, Jim Franklin first 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 had been Old Max’s larger teeth and nails that had inflicted the injuries that led to Tom Selby quickly bleeding to death 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. Had it not been for the rat droppings he would have thought the vultures had been at it for several days.

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 surreal sight, this huge brute of a dog with this tiny rat nestled alongside one of its front legs. The little rat was totally unafraid under the protective wing of its 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. Old Max was 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 too. 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. The two-legs who had fed them seemed like such a Master. What he didn’t know was his own place. Rats and the two-legs 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. Jim could see warmth and gentleness in Old Max. They were qualities Old Max had hidden almost all the time he had been with the now very much deceased Tom Selby. He could also see loyalty in Old Max, a loyalty to the little creature that had obviously befriended him in some way Jim Franklin would probably never know or understand. 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 to never have a single problem with rats on his farm.   

 

 

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The Rat Pits …

That noble era of Queen Victoria, the age of glory and empire and the march of industry and social reform, or so the more romantic and rose-tinted accounts would have one believe.  

It was also the time of our green and pleasant land reaching its most ignoble peaks of cruelty. The early and mid nineteenth century was an era when those who enjoyed and partook of the most bestial varieties of bloodsport had any number to choose from; in the slums of London and across the industrial cities of England, posters were often to be found advertising every cruel and violent vice the mind could imagine – bare-knuckle boxing bouts lasting till one man or the other was beaten to a bloody pulp, pitched battles between all manner of wild animals, and even fights between rabid dogs and men whose wits had long since deserted them – and never was there any shortage of paying spectators. But one spectacle above all others that excited the Victorian baser instincts was to be found in the infamous Rat Pits, the rat baiting contest …

 

 

*

 

No one actually liked the Squire but there was no shortage of sycophants willing to join the entourage of assorted low life who followed his every word and step.

Squire Saxon hadn’t just been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth but more the whole silver service – land, money, and the Saxon name and title – he had them all following his succession to the landed estate he’d so impatiently waited on his father to die for.

The Squire’s cruelty had started at an early age, burning and pulling the wings and legs off flies and spiders, the sort of odious little child a modern psychologist would have ear-marked as a budding serial killer in the years to come. And they wouldn’t have been far wrong, developing as he did a taste for ever crueller and sadistic forms of entertainment.

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Jack Black was looking forward to meeting Squire Saxon again. His proposal for a Rat Baiting tournament was way more ambitious than any Jack Black seen among the seedier backstreet London Taverns or the ones he and the Squire had organised for the country hunting sets.

 

“How we doing Jack, you reckon you’ll have enough for my little show next week?” Asked the Squire.

“For sure I will. I’ve trapped loads of the little bastards from round these ‘ere very streets,” replied the self-appointed King of the Victorian rat catchers, or Jack Black as he was much better known.

“So how be London these days, Jack?” The Squire asked, “my first visit to London, you know.”

“Still the same filthy streets for most people, and the houses ‘n’ palaces just as grand for those born t’better things. Rats’ve never been too fussed where they infest be it the Whitechapel sewers or the halls ‘n’ corridors of Parliament or the Palace, all the same to a rat.”

“And not a man alive who knows that better than you, eh Jack?”

“Right enough there, Squire.” Jack Black heartily agreed: “I do know my rats if I do say it myself. I got us hundreds of th’nastiest little black as coal dust brutes you ever saw. They’re a mite smaller than the browns but these are the most vicious I’ve bred and I’m sure they’ll infect the others wiv the same hunger. But wiv the browns I got too, we’ve got several hundred over a thousand rats total for the night. A nice mix O’ th’two makes for a scrappier and bloody battle for the dogs, it does.”

“I sure hope so, Jack. I’ve lined me up a couple of the best dogs money can buy just like you said, and they’re just itching to go at them.”

“I’m sure ya have. It’ll be a fine ferocious battle, no mistake I’m just as sure.” Jack Black declared, puffing out his chest in the belief it gave what he said added authority, just like his outrageous clothing.

In all fairness, Jack Black did cut an impressive figure in his flamboyant outfits, usually consisting of a lush green top coat contrasted with a vibrant scarlet waistcoat. Then there’d be the bright u breeches with a leather sash inset with cast-iron rats for a buckle – and last but not least, as tall a top hat as you ever saw.

It was a sight that ensured the Rat Catcher King was instantly recognised wherever he went.

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The upcoming spectacle was to be the best the city had ever seen if Jack Black and the Squire were to have their way. The vile sport of competitive rat killing or rat baiting has it come to be known, had been mainly restricted to the seedier backstreet pubs. It was a gambling sport in which dog owners would set their dogs in a pit and bet on their dog’s ability to catch a set number of rats, sometimes by the dozen, in a matter of minutes.

Often the spectators would lay bets on the speed of a dog’s rat killing prowess. It was as barbaric and bloody a contest to rival the gladiatorial battles of ancient Rome, with a body count, albeit not human but on a par with many a famous battlefield. But what Jack Black and the Squire had in mind would take the sport to a new level of gore. The dogs certainly wouldn’t be having it all their own way on the night, with a few cruel twists to the usual rat baiting format.

 

Squire Saxon was inspecting the pits to be used for the night’s tournament.

He’d decided on bigger circular ones. This was to ensure the rats couldn’t huddle or congregate as they had a tendency to do in the rectangular wire mesh ones to be found in the yards of most of the smaller pubs. With circular pits no one place was any safer for a rat than another – there was simply nowhere to hide.

Another of his modifications was to have sharp spikes attached to the inner walls of the rat pits, again making it harder for the rats to scurry round the edges at the far reaches of the walls, forcing them to keep venturing further within range of the dog’s swooping jaws and swiping claws.

The last of his custom alterations to the standard rat pit construction was the height of the rat pit walls; rats had been known to leap as high as two and a half feet so Jack Black had recommended they stick with the customary three feet walls or barriers for the rat pits. The Squire instead insisted they be lowered to just two feet to allow maximum close-up views of the action for those paying a premium for seats looking right into the pits themselves.

Yes indeed, the Squire was looking forward to his night of bloody cruelty.

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It was time for the main bout of the night. Squire Saxon, at great expense he let it be known, had procured the services of not only the infamous Royal Rat Catcher Jack Black but also none other than the two most celebrated rat baiting dogs in all London and indeed the whole of Victorian England.

Squire Saxon stepped aside to allow Jack Black to further earn his fee making  announcements for rest of the night’s entertainments:

 

“Gentlemen please, let me introduce the stars of our tournament,” Jack began: “First we have, ‘Billy,’ the most ferocious ‘Bull and Terrier’ ever to grace a rat-baiting pit anywhere in the country – 26 lbs of prime pedigree rat baiting sinew and muscle, famous for once having sent over a hundred rats to their deaths inside a shade under 12 minutes. And even more infamous, we have Jacko, a Black and Tan Bull Terrier that even though he’s only half the weight at 13 lbs, still holds the incredible all-time world record for rat killing – 100 rats killed in 5 minutes 28 seconds, the equivalent of 1 rat every 3.3 seconds.”

 

Both dogs though slightly different had been bred for their stronger heads and sturdier builds. Both too had a ferocious will to fight bigger and stronger opponents or in the case of rats, far greater numbers. Either way, these dogs would fight to their last breath if they had to.

Having introduced the dogs, Jack beckoned the two dogs’ owners up onto the makeshift stage that had been erected beside the one of two specially made for the night’s rat-baiting pits.

Being two such valuable and famous dogs, their owners were never going to allow them to be sacrificed in the Squire’s tournament no matter how much money he offered. But enough rats were to be supplied for both dogs to set new and bloodier rat killing records.

As expected the two celebrity killing dogs didn’t fail to entertain, killing over a thousand rats between them to satisfy the sick appetites of a crowd that a combination of alcohol and urging by the tournament organizers had been primed into a blood thirsty frenzy. By the end of the night new rat killing records had been set, enough to ensure theirs and the Squire’s names another shameful footnote in history.

But the Squire and Jack Black had promised more and bloodier contests too follow.

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The Staffordshire Bull Terrier was a tough old dog and had done well to dispatch so many of the wee black rats so quickly, nearly fifty in the first five minutes but still they kept coming, each wave of the relentless black shadow with its innumerable teeth and claws inflicting equally innumerable tiny but painful wounds on the paws and legs of their larger opponent.

They were slightly smaller than their brown cousins and not quite so strong, but what they lacked in size and strength they more than made up for in speed and aggression. Their smaller size made it difficult for the terrier to sweep down quite so effectively at the rats, with more of them finding space to run beneath his belly and in-between his legs nipping away at them almost at will. Their teeth were too small and ground down for any one individual bite to have a decisive effect but cumulatively they were sapping the dog’s strength and will. It was experience, a will to survive and an instinctive attacking nature that had ensured the contest had lasted so long. The baying crowd of spectators smelt blood though just as surely as the wee rats did. The dog had taken part in many such battles before but this time the rats just kept coming, their onslaught seemingly relentless, not understanding that’s how it was meant to be. This time the outcome was intended to be different …

Despite the contest starting to turn in favour of the rats, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier still had plenty of fight in him; it may have been a sizeable part Bulldog to give it its immensely strong jaws and short sturdy build but it was still most part terrier, a feisty stamina filled breed especially bred for killing vermin. With its hunter origins and aggressive prey-like nature, it continued the fight, fearless of the rats’ greater numbers.

The crowd knew the dog’s plight was hopeless; most of the spectators had seen enough badger baiting contests to know that despite the dog’s bigger size, if you kept supplying more an more rats into the pits there could only be one outcome; the accumulation of tiny bites, the rats’ increasing daring in their attacks as they sensed their opponent gradually tiring, the noble animal knew it was fighting its last battle.

The baying crowd roared and cheered their approval, everyone from the rough and dirty hard drinking brutish men to a fair few number of fine gentlemen and their ladies, the esteemed Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington among the more distinguished ‘guests.’

 

The final contest had been the most vicious of them all. The brave Staffordshire had fought ferociously before succumbing to the onslaught of greater and greater numbers of rats. Wave after wave had been released in the pit. The wretched dog lay dying in the centre, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of dead and wounded rats.

The referee, an experienced man at such events was preparing to usher the remaining live rats back through the exit doors from the pit. Most were too tired to scurry from his presence. All except for one that was. A lone rat, one of the small black vicious ones Jack Black had referred to was scurrying around the pit like some hamster on a wheel. It was almost a comical site, attracting a few cheers and laughs from the many spectators. And then it stopped, right in front of where the Squire was perched in his seat in his very own VIP enclosure overlooking the pit itself. For just a second Squire Saxon and the rat were each looking directly into the other’s eyes.

Squire Saxon was to regret not taking Jack Black’s advice and sticking to three feet walls for the rat pits.

The lone rat starring back at the Squire leapt from the pit, probably further and higher than any man or women there had ever seen a rat jump.

Landing directly in the Squire’s lap, the rat was within reach of sinking it’s teeth into the back of one of one of his hands, which is exactly what it did in one sweeping lunge.

The Squire jumped to his feet, almost as fast as the rat’s lightening strike at his hand, instinctively hurling the loathsome creature back into the pits. He was happy to see it land directly at the referee’s feet where he had immediately slammed it with a heavy pitchfork. One of the pitchfork spikes speared the wee rat’s neck, eliciting a huge roar from the crowd in the process. No one heard the squealing cry from the wee rat. But other rats did, and not just the remaining survivors in the pits …

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“It’s been as a grand a night as I ever had, and I’ve as much you ta thank as any, Jack.” The Squire was saying, remarkably well too given the amount of ale he’d downed, “and next time I’ll be sure ta take yer advice with the pit walls, making ‘em higher, like.” The Squire added, nursing his sore hand, noticing it was now starting to swell. Had Jack black been more sober he would have recognised the symptoms and advised Jack to seek out a doctor straight away, but it was all he could do not to fall into the gutters, where no doubt any rats would have tried to ensure sure he stayed.

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A small number of rats, no more than a dozen or so watched Squire Saxon leaving the Bull and Huntsman Tavern where the night’s festivities had come to an end. The largest of them, we’ll simply call him Long Teeth for that’s name that best describes the grotesque creature that was taking such an interest of all the two-legs falling and stumbling out into the night.

Long Teeth and its companions were unlike any other rats in the world. Nature hadn’t dictated that their front teeth should be become totally ground down by constant grinding on wood or other natural wild materials; indeed, Long teeth’s front incisors where the best part of four inches long, giving it the most grotesque and deformed look you could imagine in a rat, absolute monsters of teeth by rat standards.

Now because rats are mainly alike regardless of colour and other minor differences like size there’s no such thing as different breeds of rat as you get with dogs so what you get with rats is simply different varieties.

But these long teethed rats were as close to being a whole new breed as existed anywhere in the world, and Jack Black would have given a year’s ill-gotten earnings from his rat baiting and hunting for a breeding pair of these new long toothed rats; they would make superb opponents for the likes of Billy and Jacko, challenging them in the pits, maybe even bringing them down with a single bite from those longer and deeper wounding teeth if Jack Black could get hold of a few.

And almost as if to compensate for the added grotesqueness of their appearance, these new rats were a whole lot smarter too; it had been the new breed’s intention to attack the Squire En Masse but already the rats could sense and smell the odour of madness about him, the infection from that lone rat bite already taking hold in the man’s blood.

And since they had no desire to either eat or drink from the body of a two-legs so diseased they agreed on a longer more enduring form of revenge.

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Hunting and being hunted was the natural order of things. Long Teeth didn’t blame the dogs for the deaths of so many of their number. With greater intelligence than the other varieties of rat, it knew the terriers had been bred by humans over generations to hunt them, that it was as much an instinct in them now as for rats to continually breed scavenge. The Squire though, he was a different matter, he was a two-legs and a particularly hated one at that. They knew he was the one responsible for so many of their captured brethren being sacrificed that night.

 

They knew Jack black to be too experienced with their kind to be taken down with so many other two-legs about but no matter, his time would come. This new secret breed of London rats would sooner or later have their day with him.

But the Squire, he was different, he was soon to suffer something approaching the fate he deserved. It might not be the same suffering as the sight of an angry animal many times your own size plunging its drool dripping teeth into your neck and back, or perhaps having to endure the slow agonizing death of bleeding to death from a thousand tiny bites and scratches, your life trickling away one tiny drop at a time, not knowing if it’ll be blood loss or exhaustion that finally kills you.

A few smiling rats sat perched atop one of the rafters that crossed the Squire’s bedroom, keeping vigil on his deteriorating condition. It was to be a slow and very painful death, and not one the rats had a mind to mercifully too soon.

Every so often though when the Squire wasn’t being attended by one of the hospital staff, one of the rats would venture down and crawl across the Squire’ body, gently scratching at his bared chest – not enough to draw blood or add much to his suffering, at least not physically, but simply to add to the Squire’s fear at seeing the sight of a grotesque long-teethed rat staring back at him.

 

The Squire never did die from the rat bite infection but made a full physical recovery. His mind though, that was something else. The Squire had laid in his sickbed for the best part of six months. Each night the rats would descend from the rafters or out from under the floorboards they’d gnawed through beneath his bed. Some would climb up and sit on his chest and just stare into his eyes while the Squire just lay there, fear robbing him of all ability to move. Others would poke their noses under the sweat-soaked sheets before shuffling alongside him in his bed, licking and nibbling away at tiny bits of skin and at the scabs that had formed over the many little cuts and bites.

The rats were always careful not leave their faeces or urine anywhere near him or any sign that might alert the Squire’s two-leg carers to their presence.

By the time the Squire’s body had fought off the fever his mind had descended into the pits of madness, pits filled with the memory of rats being torn to shreds by dogs, but always ending with the last memory of watching that one lone rat leaping from behind the pit walls … up and onto his hand … and biting it!

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Such was the sudden onset of madness there had been no choice but to commit Squire Saxon to the Bethlam Royal Hospital, the one that would become better known as the Bedlam asylum for the insane.

He was a big strong healthy man so there was no reason to expect his death anytime soon. For the next thirty-seven years, the Squire would daily scream himself hoarse from the memories of that evening attending the rat pits. Several times a night the gentle gnawing at his extremities would raise him from his nightmare-filled sleep, only to be faced with something worse, the image each night of those grotesquely long rat teeth scratching away at his chest or little tiny claws scraping at those same teeth to clean them. Either way, each night the Squire had to lie there, paralysed to resist their nightly torments for the rest of his very long life. There came a time though when finally tired of the nightly spectacle one rat decided it was bored of tormenting the now very old two-legs. With a single bite, it’s four-inch long teeth were able to scoop one eye and then the other right from out of their sockets before a dozen more joined in a final feeding frenzy of the Squire’s body … It was a well-deserved end.

 In memory of the many thousands of innocent creatures that died in the Victorian Rat Pits and all the victims of the barbaric blood sports of the time…

 

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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. It had been a long time ago though, 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 bad, 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 it 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 the little boy’s 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. It kept its 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 it 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 its 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 its 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 ‘visited’ 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 it scurried up and nestled beside him, allowing the little two-legs to stroke the back of its 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 new 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 last time so knew better than to make a fuss or protest at what he knew was going to happen. There was nothing he could to stop the man and so just cowered at 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 its 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 inside 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 young two-legs’ room – it was a thick heavy oak door and it was doubtful if the rats could have gnawed a hole tall or big 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 he was worried for them; he knew there was nothing he could for do for himself and he was more worried for their safety and so 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; the rats had lots of plans for the older bigger two-legs …

The man was now at the door. Terry stood frozen, listening to the 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. Dozen 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 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 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 Terry’s 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.  On and on he ran, through side alleys and streets, 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 him.

 

Naturally, the boy was taken into the care of the authorities 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 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 smaller two-legs but they would make it seem tame in comparison to what they would do to him …  

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Three days later …

 

Whiskers decided to move onto the man’s testicles; they looked soft and succulent, something the rat confirmed as it 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, still 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 themselves 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, not that thousands of tiny front incisors couldn’t easily have coped with tearing a body apart long after rigor mortis had set in. But live meat and warm fresh flowing blood were so much nicer, the flesh so much softer,

The man was now drifting in and out of consciousness. Every so often he would be awakened by more tiny bites and scratches eliciting a response from those nerve endings that were still active. Many of them had already died from over stimulation. The man’s vocal chords too had long given up the battle of producing any kind of sound. He now endured 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. He had screamed almost continuously at the limits of his vocal capacity for nearly seven hours when they first 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. Even the congealed stuff after rigor mortis had been devoured too, but that still left a delicious taste and smell, an after-taste residue that clung to the bones. It was 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. It was of no concern to Whiskers or any of the rats – the man hadn’t worried or stopped when Terry Stuart had screamed.   

Ratty1

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 those six years, he’d witnessed his fair share of shootings and stabbings. He’d also seen 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 neighbours, so he was 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 when 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.

 

 

 

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