Updated: Feb 6
by Greg Chidley
The Rat King snarled as he stared at the flickering lights in the wall. Like embers, they would glow for a bit and then vanish completely before returning and then burning brighter yet again. The Rat King thought about how this was probably some kind of symbol for life, and how history repeats itself, but he had no time for such paranoid thoughts at this very moment. His valiant battle against the mice had begun. The Rat King took one last look at the flickering lights and turned to Hugo, his only friend. “Your Highness,” said Hugo, “what do you think it was?”
“Something important to mice, I suppose.” said The Rat King. And they continued forward through the storm drain.
The Rat King hated mice. He had seen them crawling about near the Kingdom of Sewage below and had trouble comprehending what exactly they even were. Sure, they looked like he did, and they even ate some of the same foods, but they struck him as insultingly filthy creatures. First of all, their language?? When he had originally engaged them in conversation, they simply stared at him and squeaked (which the Rat King found extremely rude), but the longer he tried to communicate, he realized they just could not understand him. His dialect must have been too patrician for them to comprehend, or they spoke an entirely unique Mouse language. Secondly, He didn’t like their small, inefficient bodies. They moved on four legs like rats, but had longer, skinnier tails than he had and their bodies were much, much smaller and shorter in size. They were so closely identical to Rats, you’d think they were brothers or cousins in some evolutionary chain, but at the end of the day, the bottom line was they were not Rats, and therefore threatened the very existence of Rats. The Rat King had little to no understanding of evolution or what the concept of an evolutionary cousin was, anyway. He and his friend had journeyed closer to the surface than either of them had ever gone before, and yet the Rat King noted that it felt vaguely familiar to the Kingdom of Sewage below. Sewage could only look so presentable, thought Hugo.
“Those revolting Mice were here, they must have crept through this passage, with their shit-covered feet and dirt-covered fur and petulant attitudes.” The Rat King murmured loudly. He always seemed to be talking to himself, but at a volume just loud enough to be heard, thought Hugo. “How could they continue in such filth? Are they better than I am? Absolutely not. The mice must be stopped. They must be killed and punished and their existence must be erased, Hugo. Do you understand? Their very culture sickens me... like a plague.” The irony of any Rat citing the plague was lost on both Hugo and The Rat King, so they carried on without saying anything else.
The walls of the cave were damp, and slowly bits of steel and rock began replacing cylinder walls of metal piping. Hugo had grown tired and thought about persuading the Rat King to turn back and head home, but he knew what would happen. They’d just continue forward but with a series of very passive-aggressive conversations about “not believing in the cause” or something, and then the entire walk back would feature a very grouchy Rat King. So Hugo crawled forward, keeping his eyes peeled for any mice. You see, this was literally the entire plan: Wake up early one morning and head to the surface of the sewage system, eliminating any and all mice along the way. Hugo hadn’t really thought about why they were doing it, he just knew if the King asked for help, it was his civic duty to comply.
“What are we punishing them for, exactly?” Hugo asked abruptly.
“What do you mean?” responded the Rat King.
“Earlier, you said they need to be punished. What happened?? What did they do to you?”
“Well, I suppose nothing. Nothing directly to me, Hugo, but to us. They must be punished for their inadequacy. They’re insulting our species by choosing to be different than us, even when we are so obviously superior in culture, in language, in appearance,” said the Rat King. Hugo thought about how stupid that sounded but blindly followed anyway. Suddenly a sound. High-pitched squeals from up ahead. “But today,” he finished, “mice shall never walk in these corridors again. Today, we thwart the impending doom that is the mice.”
Excitedly, the Rat King took to all fours and ran up ahead. Hugo melodramatically waddled behind, trying to keep up until they had entered the top portion of the sewage pipes, the highest any Rat had ever crawled before. At the top of the ceiling, the Rat King noticed those familiar glowing lights from down the drain, the ones he thought might’ve represented something bigger. And now they were here, in this room. It had all come full circle. The lights, in fact, did represent something bigger, but it was something The Rat King had yet to understand. Regardless, This time the lights stayed bright and never ceased to glow, showering the room in a white light neither Rat had ever seen before. If the King had known what Heaven was, he just might’ve thought this to be it. Anyway, Four greyish brown piles of fluff scurried around the room in terror as the two Rats cornered them. These were the mice, the villainous, evil mice that the King wanted dead so desperately, and they were cowering in a corner.
The mice squealed, and tears formed in their eyes as they backed into the last remaining space in the small, circular platform atop the massive sewage system. Hugo wondered if maybe he had mindlessly followed his ruler too closely, choosing political status over legitimate and sincere morality. He wondered if possibly it was wrong to be threatening these animals' entire way of life just because they were a little different than he was, yet genetically the same, and he wondered if maybe he had spoken sooner, things could’ve ended a bit differently. Finally, he wondered if anyone reading this was having some self-realizations about the kind of people they were choosing to be right about now. But nevermind all that, Hugo thought. Silly moments of traitorous thinking was all it was, and he had been taught by his King that there was no time for those kinds of ideas.
The Rat King jumped forward, landing atop one of the shrieking mice and biting down hard behind its neck. In a commotion the other three mice ran towards the way they had come from in hopes to escape, but were quickly cut off by Hugo’s massive body blocking their route. The two rats hissed at their prey. Suddenly, another noise. This one was very deep and shook the entire room. The glowing lights above slowly began to spin as the circular ceiling was lifted off of the room, and then heavenly white lights flooded everything around them. A large, pale limb reached down into the sewer from a large white room above. But it wasn’t white. As the Rat King’s eyes adjusted he could see colors he’d never seen before. The ceiling was a bright vivid color, like water but floating above everything else. We know it as the blue sky, but the Rat King had never seen the outside world before. So all of the colors, the trees, the sky and even the light that entered the sewer below shook him to his very core.
The mice, who were much smaller in size, were able to escape the tunnel with ease, sliding beneath the stone and granite openings that the rats couldn’t fit inside. Noticing the dilemma, Hugo and The Rat King quickly leapt onto the pale limb that reached into the sewers. It was attached to a creature completely foreign to anything they had ever seen, but basically, it was a plumber who needed access to some leaking pipes below (Apparently, some mice had chewed holes through them). The Plumber jolted and shook the rats off his arm, dropping the manhole cover with a loud CLANK.
The rats went frantically across the street and into a small alleyway, and the entire time the Rat King, with his eyes wide, was shrieking and scrambling to find somewhere he could hide. That was when one last animal appeared before them that they had never seen. It was covered in fur, like they were, and had large green eyes that glowed in the darkness it crept out of. We know this animal as a Cat.
“Woah, woah, woah! What's the hurry fellas?” The Cat moved quickly into their path. The Rat King hyperventilated, and looked over to Hugo, who at some point had become wounded. He sat next to the Rat King, unable to lift his hind legs. The Cat purred. “What are a couple of mmmmice like you doing in an alleyway like this?”
The Rat King paused his heavy breathes, staring at the ground. He became enraged with the feline and stood tall as he yelled!
“Excuse me!? A mouse?? Do I look like a mouse to you...you….whatever you are??” The King exclaimed.
“Well, yes, actually you do.” said the Cat. “You’ve got the same small body, and same thin tail, and same petulant attitude as any mouse I’ve ever encountered. Let me ask you, what about you makes you so different from a mouse?”
“I am a RAT. The KING of Rats. We inhabit the sewers below this land and we feed on the tastiest garbage in the world and drink the slimiest, yet freshest tasting water and we thrive off of our superior way of life. We’ve not let any cockroach, termite, or salamander take refuge in our home and change the way we live, and we were not about to let mice just because fools like you think they look the same! Mice are...are-”
The Rat King stopped talking, terrified in his tracks, as the Cat moved slyly past him and towards Hugo. The Cat grabbed Hugo by the tail and lifted him above his mouth. He then ate Hugo. The Rat King panicked and began to run the other direction through any nook and cranny he could find. But he wasn’t faster than the Cat. A strong paw wrapped around the Rat King's tail and dragged him backward.
As the Rat King screamed and pleaded, he thought of how he proved absolutely nothing in his mission to eradicate the mice in his sewer. He thought about how there must’ve been even more mice and even more animals he’d never heard of in this larger, outside world. He thought about how little he knew, and as the Cat severed his limbs from his body, he thought about his Kingdom and the other Rats who would never see him again. Maybe they would reach the surface someday as he did? What would his legacy become to them? Tarnished by hate? By greed? He thought about so many things that it was simply too late to think about there in his final moments, at the end of a life chasing power, lacking education or compassion. These would be the Rat King's final, horrifying, twisted thoughts...
And afterward, the Cat simply went hunting for another mouse to eat.
I came too clean, and I came as a rat It takes a long time, but God dies too But not before he'll stick it to you
- I Came As A Rat, Modest Mouse