Squeaks in the Night

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Prior Research: The Rats Are Closing In

I’ve never liked the city at night. I blame television—the crime shows are always in cities, and the crimes are almost always at night. So when you walk in those precious bits of not absolutely brightly lit street, your hair stands on end. Is that a leaf billowing in the wind or foot step. Is someone following you or just walking the same way? What about the shapes in front of you, that you can’t quite make out? Are they people, or is it just a shadow from a passing car? Was that little bit of motion a cat on the prowl?

Of course it was. Of course it almost always is. My heart stays in my chest these days, along well worn paths. Sure, every now and then I eye someone with undue suspicion. But that’s all it ever is. And sure, I make a point of walking places where there’s more bright lights when I can—it helps to be safe, and i’ve never had that particular strain of paranoia that thinks everyone on a street might be scheming against me. Not frequently. The odd squeak or sound of a horn was easy enough to ignore.

Squeak? Hm. That was new. I fumbled with the keys at the front door, trying to brush it off. Rats were uncommon along 53rd, but they weren’t impossible. And it probably was a bicycle tire or something similar.

But then I heard another. And another. I turned my head as the lock finally clicked open. There, lurking beneath a bush, were eight eyes that seemed to faintly glow, packed ontop of each other. Staring at me.

I went inside quickly, making sure the door closed behind me. Flying up the flights of stairs, panting at the top. I barely noticed the small shreds of a spider web in the corner—I’d get rid of that later with a broom. Spider season was coming late it seemed.

Rat Dance.png

I woke up when my room mate slammed my window shut, my air conditioning crashing down three stories onto the back alleyway.

What the hell?” I said, jumping up from my bed as I saw Rob hammering nails into the window sill. He held up his hand to shush.

Your hammer away and telling me to sush what’s gotten–” I started before he put his hand on my mouth.

Shush means shush.” Rob said, glancing at the window. “We…we have a bit of a problem right now.”

I batted aside his hand and looked out the window. And I nearly vomitted. Down in the alley, I saw the broken remains of my AC—and a pool of blood coming from it, hundreds of small eyes staring up in a mass of fur and tails.

Rats. Hundreds of rats, filling the alley.

Jesus Rob, what the hell are they–”

I have no idea.” Rob said, walking out of the room. “I’ve nailed up most of the windows—a couple got in the kitchen door, but–”
I followed, still in light pajamas, and saw the remains of a few rats on the floor, little blood stains and broken skulls.

–There seem to be more. News says there’s a surge of them across town. Gotta imagine that there’s no pest control reaching us for a bit.”

The kitchen door was sealed with duct tap layers, and rubber cement. We’d lose the security deposit for sure with stuff like this. I mean the cleaning bill will cost a fortune, and a rat infestation—well, I mean it was the whole city so…my train of thought stopped when I looked out again. There was a dozen rats on the tree branch, crouched and baring their teeth. A number of small dents on the window indicated a few had jumped across already, trying to get in. One of the rats was nibbling on some shoelace.

Rat Council.png

Wait, they’ve shut down the whole city? Why not just run cars over them or something?” I asked, gesturing outside. “Or the trains?”

Did they scatter from the AC?” Rob asked, not looking up as checked the kitchen windows.

No.” I said, frowning.”

Then I don’t think their going to scatter from cars. Who knows, maybe they would, but do you want to take that risk? You run over a few—who knows how many, and then what? You park, and get jumped by hundreds of them on the sidewalk.” Rob said, shrugging. “Don’t know if they can stack high enough to get up the walls, but they can bite ankles pretty badly.”

At least we’ve got food.” I said, popping over the fridge and trying to keep the impending freak out down. “I mean…we’ve got some.”

A carton of eggs, some brocolli and onions, some carrots. Three pounds of ground chicken, because Rob refused to buy quality meat. And rice and pasta in the cupboards. More than enough food to last us a week…okay, five days. But still. That was a good amount. The rats wouldn’t last that long.

The lights flickered in the kitchen.

Shit.” Rob muttered, and ran out to the stairs. “Hey, Ashley, your lights acting up?”

Y-yeah.” Ashley’s voice came up from the second floor. “AC’s down too.”

Alright, I’ll test the pipes.” Rob said. “Tim, you check the place across the hall—don’t worry, I already nailed it shut. If the lights there work, then half the place has power. If not, the rats got the main line.”

I nodded, and ran over to the empty apartment across the hall—the door was unlocked, in case Mike found a buyer who wanted to see it that day. It was almost identical to ours—three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen. But utterly barren, not even scarps on the wood floors.

It didn’t get any brighter flicking the switch back and forth. I went into the kitchen, and tried the same. Nothing. As I went to check the fridge there was a thud. Looking up, I saw a pair of paws gripping to the windowsill. The rat puffed itself up as it emerged, hissing. I slowly backed out of the room, not breaking eye contact, as another rat thudded on the window. And another.

They were hissing and clawing at the window as I scampered out.

RatBig

Lights down. And a couple got on the window.” I said as I heard the faucet turn off and a few stray drops fall. “Hows the plumbing?”

Well, we got water.” Rob said. Rounding the corner I saw the rust brown stain on the steel of the sink. “But don’t drink it. I don’t know if they’re rubbing in the water, or if the actually messed up the pipes.”

No power, almost no food, no water…” I said slowly, as Rob turned at another thump at our window. “We’re fucked, aren’t we.”

Not yet.” Rob said, thinking. “Down stairs I’m sure someone has water bottles. I mean, these rats are smart, sure, but it’s not like we’re in any trouble as long as we can–”

There was another ding on the window. Not the dull thud of a rat’s skull smacking on the glass, but rather a small tick of a stone striking glass. And then another. We both stared at the rats on the tree, sitting up on their hindquarters—tossing stones at us from the tree.

Yeah. Yeah we’re fucked.” Rob said, as the window started to crack.


This story is a bit rushed, and a bit silly. I went with an isolated and human level case, and wrote it with B-Movie notions in mind. If I had the time, I would have probably watched the classic movie The Birds for some inspiration regarding a massive of animals taking over and menacing a small town. As it stands, this story got interrupted by my own moving plans and a general problem of energy this week.

Next week, a story of revenge!

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

The Rats Are Closing In

This Week’s Prompt:73. Rats multiply and exterminate first a single city and then all mankind. Increased size and intelligence.

The Resulting Story: Squeaks in the Night

Rats. Famine and plague, gnawing away at the world. Rats. Rats are such terrible, and perhaps awful creatures—they appear in horror and folklore in many places and many ways, gruesome and terrible. And still in fantasy and modern writing—we’ll get to those in a moment, but rats are rather vicious creatures frequently. And this trait of rats is not new.

RatKing.png

One of the most gruesome forms of rats in folklore is the rat king. No, not a fantasy creature. Rather, the rat king is a terrible phenomenon. A number of rat corpses, with tails knotted together. The result is a strange selection of bodies, tied into a ring and sometimes difficult to distinguish. Such discoveries are ill omens, markers of plagues, particularly common in Germany.

Germany has two other rat stories of note, regarding wide spread destruction and social unrest. The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the more famous of the two. The story says that the town of Hamelin had a problem with rats—so great that it was willing to offer the gold to have them removed. A piper, in many colors (pied), offered to do the feat. The song brought the rats after him, and all but one drowned in the river.

Pied Piper of Hamelin.png

The piper returned to receive his pay. But the mayor refused to pay him the agreed upon amount—either refused to pay at all or refused to pay the full fee. Enraged, the piper promised his revenge. And soon got it—he played his song again. This time, he lured the children away. The entire towns children walked away—except sometimes for three: a blind one, a deaf one, and a lame one. Sometimes, the piper leads them to a happy kingdom. Sometimes to Transylvania. Sometimes he returns them for ransom. Sometimes they are drowned.

The other, grim story with rats is the Mouse Tower. Hatto the Second, cruel archbishop of Maiz built a tower on an island. He demanded tribute from passing ships, having archers destroy those who would not comply. In 974, a famine struck and the wicked archbishop sold his stock of granaries at exorbitant prices to the peasants. As they grew irritably, and almost came to revolt, the bishop hatched a new plan. A terrible plan.

ArchbishopDevouredbyRats.png

The archbishop announced that for one day, he would throw the granary doors open. The peasants were delighted, and on the day, the rushed into the barn. The archbishop closed the door behind them, barring it with wood and posting guards around. And then he burnt it down, declaring “listen to the mice squeal!”

Returning home, the Archbishop did hear them squeak. For an army of mice besieged him and his, threatening to overwhelm his castle. In fear, the Archbishop fled to his island tower, assuming the mice could not swim. And he was right—the mice died in droves chasing him. However, some reached the island. Enough arrived to eat down the door, and reach the top floor. There, they devoured Hatto the Second alive. A near identical story is told in Poland.

Rats are also known for predicting disasters: Pliny, for instance, ascribes them the ability to detect and predict coming wars and disasters. The mice and rats reveal this by eating various items of clothing and army equipment. A similar incident resulted in the founding of Hamaxitus—a wandering band of warriors were told to settle wherever the ‘earth born’ attacked them. Reaching a field, the band was attacked at night by an army of mice who chewed their leather straps away. As home to the plague and predictor god Apollo—his sun element came later—the city fused the two into a worship of Apollo of Mice.

Compare as well to the mice of Karni Mata Temple, who are believed to be the re-incarnation of Karni Mata and all her male children. In particular, the white rats are believed to be these incarnations, and eating the food they’ve nibbled is considered one of the highest honors.

KarniMata.png

In Japan, Daikokuten the god of wealth and abundance is associated with rats. In fact, rats often come around his rice bowl as a sign of abundance. The god of the kitchen, known for his great grin, is an amazing god of the household.

The Ainu, who are natives to those islands, have a more interesting and mixed story of the origins of rats that, in fact, resembles our prompt in the broad strokes. The creator deity—my Ainu folklore documents are from a missionary, and thus have a rather distinct Christian edge—was fond of all he created. The evil one, the devil, came and mocked the creator still. In response, the Creator made a rat on the evil one’s back and set it to bite off his tongue. The evil one in turn retaliated by compelling rats to multiply until they became a nuisance and threatened all humanity. The Ainu gathered and prayed for relief from the rats—and this resulted in the creation of cats by the Creator to aid them.

Another Ainu tale tells of how mice or rats were created at the village Erum kotan. Folklore says the people of Erum kotan, or ‘rat place’ worship rats and make offerings to the family of rats—and the chief of rats is the mouse. If the tribe of rats is not appeased, they destroy gardens and inflict famine, and it is in honor of these rats that no cat is allowed to be carried by the shore, let alone let onto the island.

More monstrous rats come from Chile and the Mapuche—the Colo Colo. A rat like creature that lurks in rafters, the Colo Colo hatches from a snake egg that has been nurtured by a rooster. It feeds on the saliva of the houses inhabitants. Like a vampire, this draining of liquid leaves the victim exhausted or even kills them. Removing the monster requires a shaman.

Count Orlok.png

These stories of rats are more mixed then I expected, although that might be popular cultures influence. Rats associations with plague have been played up more recently as of late. And by late, I mean perhaps as far as the turn of the century. Count Orlok, the second most famous vampire in the world, is modeled on a rat in order to distinguish him from the more seductive and charismatic Dracula. Star Vs The Forces of Evil highlights rats as a group of corn devouring forces of evil. Large rats lurk in the fire swamps of Princess Bride. Redwall apparently features a number of rats—I admit, I never read the series.

Our story is something more akin to myth then most of these. The rats grow in size and number and intellect after ravaging a city—in a way, they resemble a comic by Zach Wienersmith (yes, that’s his name):

Our story is an apocalyptic even, where by humanity’s epoch ends and a new age begins under a different creatures rule. Comparable stories have been told on this premise, typically with apes more than rats but still present. And that..brings me to one more note before discussing our story. The choice of animal here may be coincidence, but I feel like the choice by Howard of ‘rats’ indicates a rather specific anxiety. Mr. Lovecraft’s antisemitism and racism are a matter of the public record, and the associations of the Jewish people with rats is equally a matter of public record—particularly in the 1930s and 40s, under the Nazi regime in Germany. The undercurrent, then, of humanity being replaced by rats from a city is…troubling. I don’t mean to say that such a story will have such undercurrents, but to avoid them they must be addressed. It might do well in our story to examine the fullness of the rats mythical and folkloric nature—as an arbiter often of divine will and justice it seems—then to go with mere plague and famine.

Mr. Lovecraft himself featured rats in a story about degeneracy—titled “The Rats in the Walls”, the story has come up before, and deals with cannibalism, cruelty, and the decay of aristocratic bloodlines. I am…not planning on such a story being the center piece of our own work.

The trick then is determining the narrative for this story as an apocalypse. We have to cover a large amount of time—the annihilation of one city, the collapse of civilization as a whole, and the increasingly intelligent rats. One way around this, to keep a single character running through the story as a whole, is to make the story post-rat. This would make the world something what we did with Gil’s Gone—a human characters or character who survived the initial rise of rodents, now in alien warrens and cities. The last gasp of humanity, before being devoured. The story would need more than “last man standing” as a plot, however. And we would need more than one character. There’s some work still needed for this concept. A friend of mine, who is rather fond of rats—she keeps a few as pets—has discussed rat social structures with me. According to here, and a brief examination of Wikipedia, rat social structures do exist and often contain power struggles by means of play fighting and what she termed ‘power grooming’. In cramped spaces, they become aggressive and fight differently than when they play. Their behaviors can be expanded to some social behaviors, seen from the outside.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.