The Rat King

nosferatu_DThe man stopped reading. The girl looked at him: “Did you honestly think, daddy that this story would scare me? Don’t you know how old I am? Do you know anything about me? I read the last Harry Potter book when I was seven,” she said. “Well,” said her father, “truth be told your mother read it to you. And she gave the old Rowling a sanitizing makeover so that you wouldn’t be traumatized for the rest of your life.” He smiled one of those smiles that he had smiled for the first thirteen years of her life, but lately, as now, his smile had only embarrassed his daughter, as if he was pretending an intimacy that she had begun to shed like dry snakeskin.

On a balcony outside of the small apartment, The Lord of Demon Flies stood listening and glistening in the rain. All along the street the rats had emerged from the sewers. Paws raised, they looked up at their Lord as large, cold drops fell on them and soaked the hairs that had been so carefully braided in preparation for Halloween and the Great Demon Flight. What was their master doing up there with the humans? Why wasn’t he preaching to them?

The father left the room and closed the door behind him. He took his story with. Perhaps it was time to stop reading to the child. Perhaps it was time to stop thinking of her as a child. As he stood in the corridor, he had a sudden bad feeling like a draft from some unclosed window of the soul. He stopped and wondered if he should go back and check up on the girl, but he hesitated: he’d been too cautious since his wife had died. It was clear that his daughter needed space above all. He scuffled to his desk, back to his work and put on headphones to listen to music. The house fell still.

The girl opened her laptop. Behind her, Beelzebub changed into a fat, iridescent green horsefly, buzzed around her head and landed on top of the web cam. The girl had joined a hangout. A dozen teenagers from around the world were logged in and chatting all at the same time. The girl was jiggling around like Beyonce,  so that Beelzebub in his insect self felt competitive with the human and joined her in mid air for a little dance. The girl tolerated the buzzing body for a bit, but when she felt too bothered she grabbed the fly with a quick left hand and squished it, so that the Prince of Darkness had difficulty escaping and, as there was no time to find another small body, he entered the computer.

But the electrical impulses hit him with unexpected force and his spirit was drawn further into the machine. Like a drowning man he was pulled out to the open sea. Deep currents of communication, stronger than anything he had experienced throughout millennia, held him there. Millions of man-made tiny silvery switches and golden gateways were processing him like freshly caught fish in a can factory. Only fractions of a second later – he himself didn’t know how it had happened – the Dark One was spread out over the entire net. His great evil was distributed too thinly now across the planet to do any harm to anyone for a long time except through flame wars, hate mail and small furious comments on Facebook.

Down on the street, as the clock was eating away at Halloween, the rat mob gave up on their king and the rodents slowly disappeared into the night.

From: “A Rat Story“, collaborative “Halloween Garage Sale” motivated and coordinated by Jules Archer (posted Oct 27, 2012). This was my part—the complete story including the parts written by Jules Archer, Meg Tuite, Julie Innis and Susan Tepper is here. Enjoy!

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