This is part of an entry I wrote a few months back for The Joust of Horror, a contest on writing.com by Nomar Knight. I love this contest and am so glad it has begun again. The fact that I am the reigning champion makes it that much sweeter. This is not one of my winning stories. In fact, I flubbed it after the final lines that will be posted here, but I am pulling it back out, polishing it and will be adding a better ending than the one I had before. Until then, enjoy this horrific tale of The Rat King. Let me know what you think.
The Rat King
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
December 31st, 1999, I was sixteen years old. Prince was on the radio when the ball went down. My mother was screwing a john in the next room, screaming her head off. She was really giving the creep his money's worth. In the room next to mine, my sister, seven months old, was screaming her head off as well. She was giving it all she was worth, making my mother really have to work at not hearing her. But she never was one to allow her children to interfere with her 'professional' career.
I was standing at the door, my coat in my hand. I hated my life. I hated my mother for keeping us in this dive and for doing any man that paid her to spread her legs. I knew if I left, Faye would most likely be in there screaming until she either gave up or passed out.
It had been like this ever since I could remember. Before Faye was born I took care of myself while my mother either bounced around in bed with other men or passed out in bed from the alcohol and drugs. Who took care of me before I was able to I don't know. Then Faye was born and it quickly became apparent that if she was going to survive I would have to be the one to care for her. It wasn't fair. I was only sixteen after all and smart enough not to let the boys at school do to me what strangers did to my mom. And yet I was taking care of a baby on New Year’s Eve instead of out having fun with my friends. Well, what few friends I did have. Most of them didn't want to have anything to do with a skinny girl whose mother had the reputation mine did. And the ones that did only stuck around until they found out I wasn't willing to earn the same reputation. Still I did have some friends...and I wanted to be out there with them. Instead I threw my coat back on the floor and went to see what was wrong with Faye.
"Faye sweetie," I said, coming into her room and turning on the light, "calm down. It's just our skanky mom earning the rent so we can stay in this dive another month."
There was a smell in the room I couldn't identify at first, but then as the lights came on and I saw the rats in her crib I realized what it was; Blood covering Faye's sheets as well as the vermin that plagued our neighborhood. And Faye. The rats were chewing on Faye as though she were a smorgasboard. Her screams filled the room and somehow seemed to be encouraging the rats to feast even faster.
I froze for a moment, trying to comprehend what I was seeing. Rats had always occupied our neighborhood. When I was younger I had thrown shoes at the ones that had dared to try and enter my room. As I got older the rat population had increased as well as their size. Some of them were as big as dogs. I slept at night with a baseball bat because of them. But I had never imagined any of them eating my baby sister. As what was happening sunk into my head my paralysis wore off and I went into motion, quickly reaching into the crib and scooping Faye out. I spoke to her as I pulled her into my arms.
"It's okay Faye. Sophie has you now." I tried to keep my voice calm. I was trying real hard not to panic. "It's okay," I murmured to Faye, lying through my teeth even as the rats scurried over the side of her crib, slipping through the rails and pouring onto the floor in pursuit of their meal. They swarmed around my feet trying to nip at my ankles and I was glad I had elected to wear jeans and boots instead of a dress and heels.
"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM US!" I screamed, stomping my feet as they tried to claw their way up my pants. Some of them were trying to chew their way through my jeans while others were keeping their eye on the prize and working their way up my clothes towards my sister.
Hanging onto Faye I reached down and grabbed one off of me and flung it across the room. It made a satisfactory sound as it hit the wall. But there were too many of them to fight off and I was beginning to feel the pain in my leg and arms as their teeth found their way to my flesh. I had to get help.
I tried to flee the room but found the door blocked by the biggest sewer rat I had ever seen. This thing was man sized. I know you are going to say that is impossible and that rats that big don't exist, except for in movies. But I'm telling you they do. For a moment I was reminded of the R.O.U.S's from Princess Bride, but I quickly came to the conclusion that this creature was nothing like the rodents Wessely and Buttercup had encountered in the Fire Swamp.
"What the hell are you?" I asked, backing away from the rat like creature as he advanced towards me. Now that he was getting closer I could see that he appeared to be half rat, half human, like some sort of horror creature coming out of the television screen.
He continued towards me. I found myself wishing for my baseball bat, even though I knew that wouldn't do any damage to this creature. I wasn't so sure a gun could even kill this thing. I clung to Faye though, her blood spilling out of what was left of her body. I knew she was going to die. No one could survive the kind of damage that was done to her body. He nose was gone and so was one of her eyes. There was a hole in her cheek. But I couldn't put her down, even if it meant saving myself. I couldn't leave her.
"I won't let you have her,” I said as I bumped up against the window. "She's my sister. You can't have her."
The rat continued towards me, saliva dripping from his teeth. I kicked at him, screaming again that he couldn't have Faye. Just before his mouth clamped down on my leg I heard him hiss, "You'll do." Then his teeth dug into my leg and I lost my balance. Falling backwards my head hit the window and I heard glass breaking all around me. Next thing I knew I was flying through the air. I hit the ground, Faye still in my arms. I heard screaming, and then everything went black.
I woke in the hospital a few days later. The police had arrested my mother for neglect and child endangerment. Faye was dead. I went to live with my grandmother in Minnesota.
I told everyone about the rat king, as I had begun to think of him as such, but the doctors said I was traumatized and my brain was trying to make sense of what had happened. Post traumatic stress disorder they called it. Eventually the dreams slowed down and then stopped. I thought it was over. Then two months later the change began.
I know you are going to say this is impossible. You may even be ready to call the hospital and have me committed. But I need you to understand. I may not make it back in the morning. When the change first happened I was terrified. I knew what was happening to me. I'd been afraid of it ever since I'd first been bitten by that creature. But as weeks went by and I didn't change I began to think maybe the doctors were right and I had imagined the whole thing.
And then...well the blood lust was horrible. But I was still Sophie inside. I could still think. It was difficult, but I didn't need to become what that creature had become. Livestock disappeared around the neighboring farms. Everyone blamed it on wolves. And the rat population increased. It seemed that rats naturally gravitated towards me. My grandmother got a cat. Her name was Bessie. She didn't like me. Grandma could never figure out why. But I knew.
I moved back to New York when I turned eighteen. My grandmother couldn't talk me out of it.
"Why Sophie? Why would you want to move back there, where there are so many bad memories?"
"I have to Grams. I'll never be able to move past this if I don't face it head on."
She didn't know what I meant. I could tell that by the puzzled look on her face. But I couldn't explain to her that I had to go back and find him. I had to find the were rat that had killed Faye and turned me into what he was. I had to. Because I knew he didn't have to do it. He could have fought the blood lust the way I did. He could have survived on animals. But instead he had built an army of rats and fed on human flesh. And for that I would kill him.
I moved back to the very same neighborhood my mother had forced us to live in. Many of the neighbors remembered me. They welcomed me back with open arms and told the story over and over again of how I had fought off rats and survived a fall from three stories high. I was a hero to them. But I couldn't find the Rat King.
I searched the sewers every chance I got. And I fed on the rats that lived down there. As far as I knew they were the same ones that had killed my sister. But I didn't find him. I didn't find any beast that resembled any kind of a were creature, which should have been reassuring. Instead I found it lonely, realizing I may be the only creature of my kind in all of New York City.
copyright© 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar. All rights reserved.