by Bob'n Around
Invisible matters of the mind turned real into the written word.
|Daily SCREAMS!!! win
Sweeney Pith let forth a tonsil busting scream, “I hate rats.” The New York City, sewer worker swung his lantern in a seizure of uncontrolled fury. It shattered against wet, slimy stone. flared at a missed rat, making the creature’s shadow grow huge before the light went out.
“Be gnawing on me for dinner, next.” The ribbon of evil, smelly brown water he stood in chuckled at Sweeney’s bad joke.
Sweeney smeared a gloved hand covered with who-knew-what across his sweaty forehead. “Where there’s one there’s more.” It was time to depart this subterranean netherworld. The clog he’d been working on had broken free. His broken lantern lay in the gloom. Sludge bubbled merrily, popping odious bubbles in what was left of the air.
Sweeney clawed at his charcoal filtered face mask, wrestling it back in place over his swelling, throbbing nose. Hives, dark liver spots and eczema sprouted when he didn’t wear that kind of body armor. “Damn. Dropped my key.”
The long piece of iron used to dislodge manhole covers dodged his questing foot. Pushed into the center of the growing stream, it rolled, adding its own sound of metallic echoes bouncing off Sweeney’s ears and the chamber walls. “Rats, the least of my problems.”
Rain stormed thunder joined the melee from up above. “If I’m stuck down here, I’ll stay forever, drowned, bloated and ready bobbing fare bumping into a rats nest.” Sweeney could hear the chuckling stream begin to take on more force.
“Go ahead, laugh, just don’t groan. That would mean one of these old decaying walls is giving in to the rush of water and ready to fall in.”
It was as if Sweeney commanded the heavens. Bricks tumbled, no longer wedged in place. A deluge of rats, floating on the remains of their nest rode the big wave carrying him off his feet. Their sharp teeth and claws which had burrowed and weakened the far wall had done its damage.
When he rose gasping, face mask torn and dangling, a furry wet long nosed rat had attached itself and hung in place. The intimate acquaintance was more than Sweeney could stand. “Got to get out of here, and pronto.”
Emboldened by a moment of herculean strength, he tore the mask and attached squeaking varmint into frothing water. “Have a good swim.” Sweeney’s back was pressed to the iron bars of a ladder leading up to freedom.
His cold numbed hands twisted themselves around a lower rung only to find the rat had jumped and made it a precarious resting place. “Got more lives than a cat.”
Sweeney’s feet swept out from under him. The rat’s slashing incisors tore out a chunk a flesh from a swatting palm. Only a few fingers on his right hand held purchase. “All right. Have it your way. This is no time to stop and fight.”
Blood made the rungs more slippery, greased by Sweeney’s fumbling reach. Always, the feel of the rat’s claws were met along the way as he pulled himself higher. The water was rising at a slower rate. Sweeney urged himself faster, hands and arms entirely numb, used the new bleeding scratches caused by the carnivorous beast to detect where the next rung lay. “Made it.”
No more rings rose above him. His head, neck and shoulders braced against the heavy resisting weight of the sewer cover. “Now, what?”
Stay and wait it out? Hope the water wouldn’t rise this high? Memories of old tales spoken of by long ago sewage workers rose in Sweeney’s mind. “All the storm drains in the city end up here. Like as not the holes in the man cover will turn into a fountain.”
If he could wedge himself in place and hold out, the force of the underground river would push the heavy iron out of place. Sweeney would be forced out the next moment and would tumble free. “Come on then, slice my shirt to ribbons.”
The rat forced into a corner, obliged. Sweeney used the ribbons, his dead fingers and his teeth to tie himself into a knot attached to the highest rung. He hung limply, exhausted, head lolling, waiting the rising tide out. “All can be done.”
Within minutes a series of waves began knocking and swallowing Sweeney before letting him go. The rat no longer clung to the iron bar. It had transferred its grasp to the back of Sweeney’s shoulder. It rode him as Sweeney rode the waves. “Damn it, my clothing got caught.”
Timing the waves washing over him, Sweeney managed to wrestle air in his lungs while fighting to loosen his bounds. The rats sharp teeth slashed at the remains of his shirt leaving ribbons of blood where Sweeney’s fingers had been.
Tattered and useless, he bludgeoned the rat with his fists. “Taking you with me. I’ll not die alone.” Sweeney floated a moment before sinking into the next thrusting wave. He sensed the manhole cover rolling free, ejected along with his bruised and worthless attempt to protect himself. He curled into a fetal position, shot up like a cannon ball and rolled up out into traffic.
Tires hissed and spun. The nearest car that would have crushed him, stuck its front tire in the sewer hole. Windshield glass shattered. A severed head appeared. The car horn wailing as Sweeney rolled to the gutter, rat still attached, both free.
It took a force of will, Sweeney didn’t know he possessed to reach up and pat his wild pet. “You did good.” A tickle of a wet nose and whiskers made their way up against Sweeney’s face.
“You can go now. We’re both survivors left to share this tale with our kin.” Sweeney hoped he hadn’t caught the plague from the squirming near cat sized beast. He crawled onto the sidewalk. A store awning dripped on him until he fashioned dry space beneath it against the warmth of a wall.
“Homeless. Poor beggar. Hope I never end up like that. Got a damn rat for a pet.” A voice of a passing hurrying stranger dropped a flurry of greenbacks into Sweeney’s lap.
His hands wouldn’t work well enough to gather the treasure safely in. Sweeney watched, snorting laughter. The rat began tearing the money apart to make a hasty dry nest to nestle against. The gray light revealed a wet pink tongue cleaning pearls of water from the thing’s fur.
Beady black intelligent eyes met Sweeney’s. He spoke. “Make as much sitting here doing nothing as I did down in that rat hole.”
“Move along, bud. No loitering.” A policeman’s nightstick prodded at Sweeney’s neck. “Got a call. This shop’s been robbed once too often.” A foot nudged Sweeney’s side.
“Jesus. What a guard dog.” The rat dangled from the cop’s gloved hand, teeth firmly set in place. “Get it off me. I hate rats.”
The nightstick seemed to grow on its own into Sweeney’s grip. “Sure thing, officer. Stop dancing.”
It connected with the cop’s skull either by accident or on purpose would be difficult to judge. “Coming? We got ourselves a ride.”
Sweeney pulled the unconscious cop along by his feet, the rat in tow on one hand. The back of the cop car became a bed for the officer and guest. Sweeney dropped himself behind the wheel. It felt good being in the swish of traffic, windshield wipers in play. “Home, James. Don’t mind if I do.”
The rat detached itself, nose a quiver, hunted in the police car’s rear view mirror for the officer’s lunch sack. “Help yourself.” Talking to himself helped keep Sweeney awake. His eyes kept trying to stay stuck shut.
It was habit more than any conscious decision that brought Sweeney to end up in the parking lot outside his apartments. “I’ll leave you two here.”
It was the cop knocking on the door. "You see how I got here? Neighbors didn't. I can't remember."
His harrowing experience turned him into an unlikely urban legend among his fellow sewer folk. It had taken his photographed injuries and rat feces found in his clothing remains to make his story accepted as real.
“Take all the time that you need,” his supervisor suggested. “Whatever happened down there flushed every rat in the city out of sight. You’re a lucky talisman.” Of course, all that praise ended up with no raise.
“Well, hello.” Sweeney rested on his bed with a cup of hot Java steaming up his glasses. His public low cost housing had a new guest.
The rat looked familiar, with a white streak across its back. The critter raised on its haunches, regarding Sweeney as it munched on a crust of leftover pizza left on the floor.
“I hate rats,” but Sweeney’s tone just wasn’t in it. Making acquaintance with one on a personal level had flattened his racial prejudice.
That’s how Sweeney became manager of the pet shop he’d taken shelter next to. The rat enjoyed breeding new pets trained for future homes.