The Rat King

Rat King.jpg

Edelseider, Rat king from Dellfeld, Germany

It’s 2am. We’re heading home. It’s me and Sam and Greg.
We’re full of beer. I’m very drunk. I stumble, bruise a leg.
Sam helps me up, then stops. “Hear that?” he asks. A scratching 

                                                                                     sound.
It’s coming from the bins behind the Balti, dodgy ground.

“Less go an’ see,” I slur. “Less not,” says Greg; “it’s just a mouse.”
“I wanna see the mouse,” I say. “The mouse inside ‘is ‘ouse.”
“Alright,” Greg sighs. We cross the tarmac, walk towards the bins.
“Yuck, smell,” says Sam. “Iss meat.” I sniff. “And onon, onion skins.”

The scratching starts again. “Oh, God,” says Greg. He’s looking 

                                                                                          pale.
“Wassup?” I ask. “The Rat King, Fran.” “In’t that a children’s tale?”
“No, urban myth. I’ve just remembered. Time for us to go.”
“Okay.” I’m scared. Sam wants to see. Greg tries to stop him: “NO!”

Too late. He’s seen. His eyes are wide. “A ring of rats!” he shouts.
“It’s got ten tails, all knotted at the centre... whiskers... snouts...
and eyes. They’re black. They’re watching me. But tails, they’re like a

                                                                                        brain!
My brain! The Rat King’s in my brain!” he shrieks and shrieks again.

“Wass happening to him, Greg?” I ask. Greg’s calling 999.
“Get out!” Sam screams. His eyes are bleeding. Greg shouts, “You’ll

                                                                                     be fine!”
The scratching stops. Sam collapses on the tarmac. Is he dead?
I rush towards him, grab his hand. And then I see his head.

It’s all caved in. I turn away and throw up pizza, beer.
I think I’ll faint. Just then Greg shouts, “The ambulance is here!”
“Too late,” I mutter. Men in green descend. I’m helped away.
I’m blanketed. They ask me things. “Rat King, Rat King,” I say.

“I tried to stop him,” Greg is saying. Greg sounds small and sad.
A man in green nods, pats his shoulder. “Yes, you did. Good lad.”
They’re lifting Sam. They’ve covered up his face, his head. He’s

                                                                                         gone.
Is this a trip? Why won’t it stop? My thoughts spin on and on.

Another ambulance arrives. This one’s for Greg and me.
They want to take us in. The shock. They say I’ve sprained my knee.
We’re off. I’m shaking, don’t feel right. There’s cold sweat on my

                                                                                         brow.
I didn’t see the Rat King, but– I think it knows me now.

- - -

Published on The HyperTexts, Spotlight, July 2021

- - -

I have a confession: I’m an X-Phile! That means I’m a fan of the popular US TV series The X-Files, which aired from 1993 to 2002. For those unaware, TXF was all about the paranormal and it gripped my imagination quite a lot. I particularly appreciated the ‘Monster of the Week’ episodes and my favourite is probably ‘Host’ (Season 2, Episode 2), featuring ‘Flukeman’, a hybrid man and flukeworm.

 

For some reason, the Rat King popped up in my head earlier this year (2021) and I thought I might enjoy writing a poem about it. I’d first come across it many years ago, during a copyediting project. I decided to compose a sort of ‘story poem’, situated in a town within my imagination where strange things occur. And these things happen to a character named ‘Fran’ (my middle name is Frances). Fran is just trying to live a normal life, really, but she seldom succeeds!

 

The Rat King is real – it happens when the tails of a number of rats get tangled up and the poor creatures are unable to untie them. However, the notion that looking at the knot of tails might tangle a person’s brain is mine. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaarrrgh!