And so they named him Rat“Get back here, Rat!”
“The police again?” I said to myself, “They’d really hate for me to finish my meal in peace, wouldn’t they?” I had been sitting against a wall in what us from the Tunnels call Dinner Alley. It’s where we generally don’t get caught so we can eat, but today it didn’t work so well. They’d found me…again. Maybe one day they’ll actually catch me. Won’t that be exciting?
I got up from the ground, still holding my dinner, which was of course some stolen bread. It’s not like I could pay for anything. I was pretty sure that was what they were after me for, but maybe it was something else. In any case, I took off running, because I’ve got a brain. Granted, sometimes it doesn’t work that great, but hey, it’s better than nothing.
“Stop!” they yelled after me. Sometimes I wondered if they really expected that to work. You’d think they could come up with something better than that.
“No thanks,” I called back to them. It sounded like two officers today, both slow. ‘What an easy escape,’ I thought, but then just as I was about to lift the grate and slip underground, an all too familiar face appeared under it.
“What do you think you’re doing here, Rat?” he said.
“I think I’m going to rip open this grate if you don’t let me in right now, Green,” I told him.
“Cops on your tail, eh Rat?” he asked, giggling at his own joke.
“You really love to waste time, don’t you? Let me in,” I demanded.
“Yeah, no,” he said, “You ain’t wanted down here.”
“And you are?” I replied, lifting an eyebrow.
“If I could fit my hand through this grate, I’d punch you,” he growled.
“Yes, I know, but you’re much too fat for that, aren’t you?” I said, “Now let me in.”
He spat at me and said, “No can do, Rat.”
“I see, you’ve got orders not to. I suppose it was Grand?”
“There he is” an officer shouted behind me. I looked back at them to determine how much time I had to play mind games with Green.
“Yup, he really hates your guts,” he said back.
“Yeah, since I didn’t already know that. Thanks for nothing, Green,” I said as I took off running again.
‘Now where to?’ I thought as I sped down the street. A few women screamed as I shot past them and a couple men tried to stop me, but I dodged their grasp with ease. I ran into a dark alley and did my best to blend in with the shadows, hoping they wouldn’t see me. The two officers walked up and down the alley a few times, before one of them said, “Gone again.” Then they exited the alley, taking one last look to be sure they had not missed me, which of course, they had.
I stayed there for a couple of minutes to give them more than enough time to be on their way before I left my hiding spot and sat in a little, lighted spot that must have been part of a yard. I sat by a garbage can and continued eating, figuring that I was actually with my own kind now.
I look up at the sky while chewing some of the bread. Still that nasty grey color and still clouded with smog and pollution. “Lots of airships out today,” I said, my mouth half full, “Wonder what’s up.” One of the airships let out an awful ringing noise that seemed to echo in my mind even after it stopped. “Those ships sure make attractive noises.” I took another bite of bread but stopped when I heard a rattling within the garbage can next to me. The can fell over, the lid came off, and a little boy came out. He was wearing rags and was basically just skin. I’m not even sure if bones were in there. He froze abruptly when he saw me, clearly fearing I’d hurt him.
“It’s alright,” I said, “I won’t hurt you.”
He relaxed a little bit and began looking through the alley. Occasionally he’d stop and pick something up, putting it in his mouth without even knowing what it was. Watching him made me feel awful, so I sighed and said, “Here.”
He looked at me real strange like I was speaking another language, but then he smiled and rushed toward me, eagerly taking the bread and biting into it. I decided to sit there with him until he was done eating.
“When was the last time you had bread, kid?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said between mouthfuls, “Been a while.”
“You should be careful, if you eat quickly, you’ll gain more carbs,” then I looked at him, “On second thought, eat faster.”
He nodded and did so. Soon the bread was gone and he said, “Thanks a lot, mister.”
“Don’t worry about. Looks like you’ve got enough to worry about as is,” I replied, “Got a home?”
“Nope. Got a name though,” he said.
“Oh yeah, what’s that?” I asked.
“A name? It’s what people call you, I guess,” he replied.
“Not what I meant, kid. I meant what is your name?” I said.
“It’s Wick,” he answered, “Or at least that’s what they call me in the Tunnels.”
“What’s a kid your age doing in the Tunnels?” I asked, quite surprised.
“Tunnels are all I’ve got,” he answered, hanging his head.
“I see,” I murmured.
“Where do you live, uh-” Wick began.
“Name’s Rat. I live in the Tunnels too,” I finished.
“Who’s gang do you belong to?” he asked me.
“No one’s. You?” I said.
“You don’t belong to a gang? How come?” he asked me.
“Don’t want to.”
“Oh, okay. Well, I’m part of Hearth’s gang,” he said.
“Hearth, eh?” I said, “Not bad. One of the better one’s I’d say.”
“Yeah,” he said, “She took me in when I was dying and gave me food. So I’m very thankful for her and I’ll do anything for the gang.”
“That’s good, just don’t get yourself hurt, okay?” I told him.
“I hope I do get hurt. Hearth told me that if I get hurt, it makes me stronger,” he responded.
“Well, I’d say you’re plenty strong already. Maybe not physically, but that’s not what matters to me,” I said.
“I don’t get it,” he said, looking at me vacantly.
“Yeah, I’m not sure I do either,” I laughed, “Well, Wick, I probably ought to go. Take care of yourself.”
“You too Rat,” he replied.
At that, I got up and walked off to find something to occupy my time. ‘What a kid,’ I thought, ‘At least he’s in good hands. Hearth is a good leader.’
After a while, I came across another grate. This time, a younger face appeared. I looked down at a teenage boy and asked, “Now just how many kids are they letting into the Tunnels?”
“As many that need a home, Rat,” he said.
“You know my name?” I asked, questioningly.
“Yes, and I know that you are a thief and that you refuse to join any gangs, but you still live in the Tunnels,” he said.
“Who are you?” I asked, feeling slightly bothered by this kid.
“They call me Ary. Short for Dictionary,” he said.
“Fitting,” I said, “Now, are you authorized to let me in?”
“Is that Rat you’re talking to, Ary?” came a voice from a little ways away under the grate.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, quickly and almost nervously.
“Well, let him in,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, pushing up the grate. I slipped inside and looked to where the voice came from. It was Hearth.
“Hello, Rat,” she said, “Get any dinner today?”
“Actually, I didn’t. I ended up handing my bread over to one of your men, er, boys, I suppose. His name was Wick,” I told her.
“Well, that was awful kind of you,” she replied.
“Don’t you think that you should feed him? The boy is starved. Said he didn’t remember the last time he ate bread. If that isn’t malnutrition, I don’t know what is,” I said.
“Wick needs to fend for himself until he is strong enough to steal,” Hearth replied, “Besides, he’s doing better than the men of other gangs.”
“Have you seen him lately? He’s skin and bones, if that! He needs some food,” I told her.
“If you think he needs food so badly, why don’t you get it for him, or better yet, teach him to steal?” she asked, sounding slightly annoyed now.
“He’s not part of my gang. Not my responsibility,” I answered.
“See, Rat, you always tell people what needs to be done, but are never willing to do it yourself. No wonder everybody down here hates you,” she said.
I simply turned to leave at that point. I had no interest in getting into an argument with Hearth over something she’ll probably take care of anyway. She didn’t stop me, so I walked to my private part of the Tunnel. Nobody besides me knew where it was, so I got to be completely alone there, which was both good and bad. Sometimes I loved to be alone, but other times, I really desired some sort of companion. I felt like, at one point, I had somebody that was always with me, but I can’t remember. ‘I’m probably just making things up,’ I thought to myself, before I arrived at my room as I called it. It wasn’t anything special; just a circular cavern I’d dug out and hid. I kept everything I’d stolen here, often wondering what the heck these things were used for, such as the collection of lots of papers with random symbols on them. I had no idea what they meant and I figured I’d never find out. I also had a little blue box that could flip open and the inside would light up with a picture of two dogs. Every once in a while, the blue box would vibrate and light up and those random symbols appeared instead of the dogs. I liked the dogs a lot better. Then my favorite thing was actually a gift from some crazy old lady. I wore it around my neck on a string. It was a golden key. I didn’t know what it went to, but the old lady said that I was the one the hold the key, so I took it and now I always have it. It’s kind of odd, though, it gives me abilities that nobody else has. ‘The rat holds the key,’ I thought.
Then I thought back to when I got my name. It was a rainy day and I had taken a sandwich from this lady who was sitting outside. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to take it, so I didn’t understand when a man in a black uniform ran after me, shouting, “Rat!” over and over again. After a while, I got away from him and sat down in a dry alley. Another man walked into the alley too and he sat down across from me.
“Howdy, stranger,” he said, “Where’d you get that sandwich?”
“A lady,” I told him while I ate.
“So you stole it?” he asked.
“I guess,” I said, “This mean man chased me, but I lost him.”
“I see. So what’s your name, buddy?” he asked, “I’m Tooth.” He smiled and I saw why. One of his front teeth was absolutely enormous.
“What’s a name?” I asked.
“Well, it’s what people call you. Don’t you have one?” he said.
“What people call me?” I repeated, “Then I guess, my name is Rat.”
“Nice to meet you Rat.”