My eyes adjusted to the Midnight hour. I was alone, with nothing to write about, but my nightmare.
Then my door broke the darkness, like the dawn of a different world, and something jumped into bed with me.
“Leave him alone, Scotty.”
“Ahhh, Rats!” I yelled.
It barked. It was only a dog.
“Wear this,” Bill said. He threw me a gas mask. “The air down there, still has bits of flesh floating in it—killed cells. You don’t want to breathe it in. Your organs will deteriorate. Here—have a slice of pizza!”
“Where’s your crossbow?” I asked.
“I don’t use one.”
I breathed a sigh of relief—it was only a dream.
Then he pulled-out a .357 Magnum, and twirled it in the air. “Let’s go kill some rats!”
I felt compelled to follow him—the way one follows a good story. Bill led me down to the basement. He had a fishing net strapped to his back, along with a shotgun. He was whistling Dixie, and excited, like a boy, on the last day of school before summer.
The stairs were chipped and broken, eaten away by mildew. They were green.
“Put your mask on!” Bill said. “This leads into an old bomb shelter.”
We were walking through rat droppings, three inches thick.
“Bill, where are the rats?”
“Just be patient. It’s like fishing. You have to let the rats nibble a bit on the bait.”
“Uh-Hugh,” I said. Then I started thinking…
What’s the bait?
“Bill, how do the rats stay alive down here?”
“Oh—they’ll eat anything. Just be sure that you don’t fall. A wave of rodents, is a lot like Brazilian fire ants, but their mouths are sharper, and larger. Their assholes are bigger too.”
The thought of being chewed on, like a slice of pepperoni pizza did not sit well with my stomach.
“We’re close to the furnace and the river gate,” Bill said. “They always come into the cold, to defend where it’s warm. I think it’s where they build their nests.”
I began to hear little feet—then I noticed, it was only Scotty. He was trailing behind us, several yards—too afraid to be where we were, and too afraid to be alone.
“Is he okay?” I asked.
“He can kill rats better than a Doberman,” Bill laughed. “Scotty always hangs back, until the rats come.”
But no rats came, and we walked farther in.
The poop probably carried more disease than the threat of cyanide gas. It was difficult to slog through. You had to walk where the rats walked, in little trails.
Finally, there was the furnace room, draped in a brick dome, with a chimney, reaching into the ceiling. It looked like a glowing gas chamber.
There were nests in the vents—strange artifacts—pieces of clothing, buttons… wait. Was that an eye, looking at me? I heard far off squealing, and the metallic CLICK of the shotgun. I turned around. Bill was pointing two barrels at me.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“What does it look like?” Bill said.
“It looks like you’re pointing a gun at me.”
Then I saw fingers, braided into one of the nests. “My rats need to eat,” Bill said. “Without their regular hunt, they would never get fed.”
“And the cyanide gas?”
“Just a story, I made up. You can appreciate that. Aren’t you trying to be a writer? You’re a little slow on the uptake. What’s it they say? Curiosity killed the cat? Now… my rats will get some payback.”
Bill’s face was yellow. His teeth were protruding, menacingly, dripping with saliva. A piece of pepperoni stuck between his incisors, like human flesh. I backed up.
My left knee gave out. My bones splintered against the wall.
“You shot me!” I cried.
He turned his second barrel on my right knee, and fired! Cackling.
“The rats are coming,” Bill whispered. “My shotgun is their dinner bell.”
A flood of fur, and teeth, flowed like a river towards me.
“You don’t die, immediately. They nibble on your toes first,” Bill said. “Too bad—you might’ve been a good writer.”
He turned to go, and Scotty looked at me, mournfully.
“What are you looking at!” Bill shouted, and he kicked him in the face. Scotty bit Bill’s pant leg, growling.
“Dumb dog! Let me go!”
I saw the .357 Magnum sticking out of his holster, and I grabbed the opportunity.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
I filled Bill’s legs full of lead, and I crawled passed his groans.
“You’ll never get out of here alive!” He shouted.
Bill was probably right. I couldn’t feel my pain, anymore—just a numbing blackness, creeping into my skull. The will to survive? Or just the will not to get eaten?
“They’re on me! They’re all over me! Damn you, Andy!”
Rats are a lot like people who go to MacDonalds. They eat their French fries first, and then, focus on their hamburger. We were like a smorgasbord. They started with Bill. I only hoped I could crawl to the river fast enough.
There it was. I turned the handle, and saw the light. I passed out.
I’m writing this story, long-hand, with a pen, thankful for all of my fingers. The full-body-cast, itches, occasionally, like rats nibbling on my toes. The nurse just walked in, dressed in white, like a virgin who sees men’s penises all day, but only for medical reasons.
“I’ll need to insert your catheter Mr. Johnson, and then, would you like a piece of pepperoni pizza?”
“I’ll stick with my chocolate pudding,” I said.