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The Rats' Story

by Ian Maxton


          Imagine: some town or other, once, in some distant district, dull spires thumbing the sky, outer walls looming over crumbling foundations, dented cobble-streets lined with locked doors unpassable but for the holes left by rot, and inside: darkness, dirt floors tamped-down and dampened by filthy feet – the smell, the smell you would not believe. When first we arrived – gesticulating, expanding, sprawling into every nook and corner, finding warmth in beds, gorging ourselves endlessly – how the women and girls would screech at us – us: afraid of no stray broom, of only – here and there – a cleaver, a flame (but tails are no matter, we could lose even a thousand tails). Our eyes were luminous in the night: all blood red and searing yellow; how we filled the town; how we devoured it; how it submitted to our every whim and will from the lowest shitpit to the bell-tower of the moldering cathedral: all was ours – a paradise of rotgut, pestilence, and death – and so, they had to be rid of us.

          Then again, they had invited us: from a forest, to a field, to a village, to a town, and then a city – refuse piling up all along the way; cemeteries flooding out the bodies in the rainy months; moss and mushrooms; piss and sweat; and always more carts coming and going, going and coming along the road, filled with good green things that would drop between the stones.  Only a few of us, at first, ventured down from the hills – from our nests and caves – sending later for some more, and, still later, even more, until we filled every cart.

          But it was not for this, our invasion, that they could not brook our presence, it was for what we saw: merchants thumbing the newmade scales; usurers coming to collect with clubs; fathers standing over wives, daughters, sons, hands held aloft; what we saw when lurking in the dark alcoves where priests prayed to a new god, shod in gold and jewels; what we saw, skulking along the edges of the walls: the indigent, the maimed, the aged, were thrown out the gates of the city, where wolves had their way; we saw backbiters, cheaters, and thieves knifed in the night. We ate them, sometimes, still squirming; always, everywhere, red and yellow eyes in the corners and the cracks – that is why they called the piper, that is why he came – from where, no one can know – in a mesmeric whirl of color, with his slow and droning tune at which, in the beginning, we scattered, screeched, tore into the earth in search of escape, losing ourselves to madness at the melody, until our eyes went black – then a calm; then a silence; then we marched along his trail.

          You may think you know the rest, think you know how the Piper’s work was met ungratefully, greedily, how he exacted his payment in the children of the town – but we were there, we saw, and it is not quite what you have been told; we saw how it was arranged beforehand, the payment: children for rats we were there at the hushed meeting of the townsfolk, creaking in their pews; we were there when the cries of dissent were extinguished, and then we were led away so that by the time the big ones had shut themselves up again in their church while the little ones were led silent – like us – to the river, we were gone, and could not see the big faces as they cowered behind the church doors, or the little faces as they dropped, one-by-one, into the rushing river that pulled them under, the same river that had borne us out –swimming – to a distant harbor, to ships filled with soldiers which we rode outward to other towns and cities, to farther shores where we watched the pillage, where we watched as the ships were loaded with spices and fruit and wood and iron and oil and people, only to ride again the waves, even further, to shores with forests that became fields that became villages that became towns – and all the while, more ships, more plunder – and, at last, cities with new spires of their own, fresh foundations laid over bone, streets poured out in concrete across continents, and more doors and passages and crevices and holes where we scurried under newly-shod feet. The whole sprawl at first odorless, absolutely sterile, until succumbing to the same chasing rot, inviting us in, again, like before – where we do as we have always done: fill the concrete towers in the night; devour the wires; where we, too, submit to every whim and will of the new, devouring, god on whose wings we have been carried aloft to cover the globe and from whom all our spoils come.

          From the sewers where we sleep by day, up to the glass and concrete cathedrals we haunt by night – a new paradise of rotgut, pestilence, and death – we watch, and if you listen, you may hear above you – behind you, within your walls – a faint scratching, and you may see, at the edge of your vision – disappearing always when you turn – the gleam of red and yellow eyes.

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