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Creative Nonfiction Drama Fantasy

My name is Ricarad and I am a rat. I know what you're thinking; what would a rodent of my lowly character have to say about anything of importance or the least bit relevant. Would I happen to know a good exterminator? Perhaps my favorite hiding places? Well, you might be surprised. Correction: You will be surprised if you keep reading. For this is my story.


My life began under the floorboards of The Bull's Eye Tavern. The Bull's Eye is situated in South London, England. I know this because the tavern keeper had a map of the world behind the bar above a row of wine bottles and casks of cider. And I believe, if memory serves, the year I was born was 1373. I remember hearing that number time and again during my first half-year of life.


So, how is it I can communicate so effectively, you may ask. From what I am able to glean from my pup days, those first weeks of life, and getting to know my seven siblings and my surroundings, I believe I was born with a larger brain than they. We rats have the ability to communicate ultrasonically. That is one of the reasons we are able to stay in one nest for so long. If we are careful around the humans, keep to ourselves and, like our family, settle near well-stocked pantries and plenty of discarded scraps the humans leave behind, we are gold!


Not only that, I had a friend, a human friend. Her name was Margery and she was the youngest of the tavern owner's daughters. One day, before I was fully mature, I committed the colossal blunder of running out of patience, ignoring all convention and sneaking out of the nest for a snack before the lights above us had been blown out. Of course, I knew better, but there was, not far from my best peep-hole, a crumble of cheddar the size of my head. So, I threw caution to the wind and made a dash for it.


I grabbed the chunk in my mouth and turned to head back and, before I could move an inch, I was enveloped in darkness and could feel myself being transported up, up, up. I had never been so disoriented and, yes, I did experience some fear, but I was not so traumatized that I could resist taking a nibble of my prize. And it was heavenly bliss.


Then, as I continued to munch, holding the creamy, tangy goodness between my front paws, I could feel the soft ceiling over my head start to rise and, although it was only candlelight illuminating the room, I saw before me the freckled face of a girl, a human girl. She was watching me with a mix of delight and curiosity.


"Thee wouldn't bitae they savior, woulede thee?"


Why would I bite a human when I was already enjoying the best flavor I had ever tasted? Nothing could surpass this, silly girl.


"Thee art perexcellenti hungry. Ich happi thee di not ieten min finger!"


She's happy I don't eat fingers? So, a human with humor!


"Di thee have ain namae? Min namae Margeri. Ich like namae thee Ricarad."


And that was how I got my name. Ricarad. It means "powerful leader," which caused me to think Margery had mistaken stupidity for bravery. No matter. From that moment forward, we were friends.


* * * * * *


I didn't return to the nest until the lights were all put out and it was quiet. Margery had made a bed for me in a chest at the foot of her bed. She had gathered straw from her mattress that was stuffed with it. She prepared for me a saucer of water and bits of bread, meat and cheese. Meat! I was being treated like a king!


I knew I couldn't stay in that chest. My family had most likely already left the nest and were busy foraging, and that is where I belonged. Besides, nighttime is a rat's day. I began to explore. Hmm. Margery was certainly the trusting sort. The bounty of woolen fabric I had access to was astounding, a far cry from the filthy assortment of nesting material we'd had to settle for under the floorboards. This was high class living!


After sniffing around a bit, I discovered the back of the chest was not made of the solid wood as comprised the front and sides, but was actually a kind of cardboard. A little gnawing and I'd be able to produce a hole that I could squeeze through but that couldn't be discovered without a search behind the pile of fabric. Progress.


Now, where exactly am I? My eyes adjust fairly immediately to night vision, so I looked for cracks that implied an opening. There! I scampered to a large square cutout that I recognized as a door and sniffed. Found them!


My siblings were out and about looking for food. I had stuffed my cheeks with what was left of Margery's offerings and quickly made my way to the nest where I promptly deposited the treats at my mother's feet.


"Where were you? I looked everywhere!"


My mother's frequency was higher than usual, meaning she was not happy.


I chirped back ultrasonically in a lighthearted way in hopes I could avoid a confrontation. Mother could never match me intellectually or verbally and so was known to attack physically, and I had the scars and one slightly torn ear to show for it.


"Look what I found! I wanted you to have the first bite . . . er, taste!"


Mother's attention shifted to the lovely pile of meat and cheese scraps I had laid before her.


"All right then."


Hunger will almost certainly conquer all; at least that had been my experience.


* * * * * *


My family members were clumped together in a satisfied pile, all eyes closed, breathing peacefully. I looked at them one by one. You don't have to be on the same intellectual scale to genuinely and instinctively care for your kin. I had always wished for greater exchange of thoughts and insight from those who shared my history but, knowing how differently I viewed the world than they, I was left with the realization that I was on my own. Besides, how could I ever explain Margery? No, this was an opportunity that I alone had to, and wanted to, see through.


Shortly after, when I sensed everyone remained sound asleep and the sun was about to rise, I snuck away and found the chest in Margery's room, entered and soon fell fast asleep. Something told me I wouldn't be able to sleep the day away today. Adventure lay ahead and I wouldn't miss it for the world!


When daylight hit my eyes, I squinted and bobbled my head around, trying to remember where I was and how I'd gotten there.


"O, morning, litelmel Ricarad. Sleep well?"


I yawned. My gaping gob must have been a spectacle because Margery giggled like human girls like to do.


"Such ain o, appetitae thee have. Thy feasP hath disappeared! Stai h're. Ich like brende morae."


How could I ever explain to the child that I was stuffed? I'd eaten my fill earlier and just wanted to sleep. We rats have a schedule we like to keep. Instinct plays such a strong role in the lives we lead. Ah, well. I'd asked for this, hadn't I?


I snuffled up at her, eyes closed, and slumped back into my makeshift straw bed.


Margery giggled again, and then it went dark.


When next I awoke, it was the distinct and enticing aroma of roasted grain that brought me around.


"H're thou art! BreakfasP for min Ricarad!"


I simply could never have turned my back on the deliciousness that was placed next to me. Warm grains cooked with milk and a sweet spice. Just how fortunate could a random rodent, though a gifted one, be?


I was about to find out.


* * * * * *


I do not know exactly how many days I spent with Margery visiting me when she was able, and how many nights I rejoined the nest and helped provide for the family. For me, it was the perfect existence. I had the intellectual and emotional stimulation of a innocent child who read to me daily and spoiled me with delicacies I never would have known existed.


This elevation of my existence allowed me to appreciate my siblings for their innate ability to survive, to work together and bond as a functioning unit. It was beautiful to observe and I was proud to be one of these most efficient and able creatures.


One evening, we had a distant relative come to visit. It had been mentioned at some point prior but I had not retained the information, so when I saw that cousin Marcus from Sicily had joined us, I was a little taken aback but recovered quickly.


We exchanged the usual rodent greetings, though I could tell that Marcus didn't comprehend all that I tried to convey. No matter. This is something I was used to. And it was foraging time, so we quickly parted ways.


I did not have the same excess provisions that I'd had previously, so I searched the same grounds as my siblings, though opted not to resort to the outdoor mounds of rancid trash that the others seemed almost to prefer. I was meandering under table after table when I came upon Marcus once more.


"Have you the news?"


Marcus nosed his way across the floor, yet aimed this missive towards me alone.


"What news, cousin?"


I had tried to keep my response brief and simple so that it might more easily be understood, and now, so did Marcus.


"Sickness. Death. Disease."


I continued my search, though my earnestness in the endeavor had waned. Just what news was this?


"And how so?"


"The biting pests. Those that would feast on our blood, they are the transporters. All around then will die because of it. And it will spread far beyond, as it has already begun."


I remained still for a moment, digesting the somber meaning of the news Marcus had shared, though not nearly as eloquently or precisely as expressed in my translation here.


I have to warn Margery! There must be a way she can be spared this menacing threat of impending doom.


Marcus was once again immersed with the all-encompassing task of gathering food. Survival was the goal. I realized my goals had always been loftier ones, but now I understood the gravity of what Marcus had communicated. The world had shifted and survival had to now be my primary focus, and not only for myself.


* * * * * *


The next morning I lay prone, pretending to be asleep when the chest lid was opened, allowing the day's first light to shine on me.


"Good morrow, min peP. Ich aim happi behofpe greeP thee hinder new adai. Ich like brende thee new fooede. Ich shalt return."


The chest lid was then carefully lowered and darkness returned.


This human greets me as a beloved, I thought. This is a gentle kindness such as I have never known. I must somehow become powerful enough to save this precious soul. I know of no god or saint for mice or rodents, and so knew I alone must face this daunting task. What to do.


When the lid again was raised, the light upon me, I once again heard the sweet sound that was Margery.


"H're thee art! Ain breakfasP ich broughP from min sister'F plate. Ich hopae thee like meaP. She fearF th' faP."


Margery giggled as she presented me with, once again, grains soaked in dairy and spice, this time with small specks of meat. This fuel would surely empower me, though not so much as her words.


And then, suddenly, I knew what I must do. I gobbled the food, to give me the strength I knew I would need.


* * * * * *


This was a day I remained awake and intently listened. What did the humans know of what was to come. I only knew what Marcus had foretold. I knew not what I sought. I somehow knew that I would recognize it only once it was revealed to me. And I was diligent. All that my Margery knew was she was surprised, and happily so, when she saw that I was alert and greeted her with eyes bright when she came to check on my wellbeing.


"Min sweeP pety, ich am perexcellenti happi thee art h're. Thee art min precious, min loveship. Pleasae cometh."


In that moment, as this beautiful innocent offered her open hand to me, I knew this was the time. I dared not touch her outstretched fingers that beckoned me, lest I be afflicted without knowing. I instead ran to my outlet and scurried, as fast as my feet would allow, out the door and into the main room of the tavern. I exposed myself to the throng of patronage I knew would be present.


"Ach! Disgustende vermin!"


"Ah, pestilencae! Havae thee non heard ophe th' bubo?!"


"H're cometh Satan, to takae our soulF!"


"Savae thou-self! Maeke haste!"


"Di non touch intransicion! Stai far awai!"


"Gog, preservae us!"


Soon, all the patrons had dispersed. I had found a round-about way

back to the nest where my family lay sleeping. I listened for what would happen next.


"Father, hou shalt we do? Ich fear how shalt happen if we stai!"


"Fetch Margeri. We like leavae th' citi!"


There then came a flurry of activity to follow those words. As my family peacefully slept, I heard trunks packed, wagons loaded, provisions gathered. And, then, what I had been waiting for. Margery appeared. She had something she was holding behind her back.


"Papa, mai ich stai ain momenP? A'd then ich mai join thee hastily."


Then, following an exchange of words I could not make out, I watched from my perch below as Margery knelt and laid under one of the nearby tables the bed she had crafted for me. Next to the bed, she placed a napkin that she loosely unfolded to reveal a pile of food, enough to sustain my family for days. Next, she placed a bowl filled with fresh water near the food.


And then, after inspecting what she had done, she closed her eyes and whispered devoutly, "Dear aqueinte, thanketh thee. Ich know how thee hath sacrificed. Thanketh thee, min savior. Ich like loveship thee f'rever."


I watched a tear escape her eye as she blinked. In that moment, I wished my brain was smaller so that I would not know what it meant. And then she was gone.


And so, dear reader, that is my story. A rat that, I hope, made a difference to at least one lovely life. I never knew what became of Margery and if she and her family survived what would come to be known as one of the most deadly and devastating events ever to befall humanity. It is referred to today and shall be evermore as the Plague, or the Black Death.


As for my world, once I was able to focus my attention, once again, to the nest that embedded my immediate family, my eyes turned to Marcus. And I could see that he was dead.



THE END



Susan Erickson Catucci

September 10, 2022




September 11, 2022 16:15

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4 comments

Zatoichi Mifune
08:16 Jul 08, 2023

Interesting... Great story! Surprised really that it wasn't even shortlisted. You entered? I can see why this is one of your favourites. Any other recommended stories?

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Delbert Griffith
16:16 Mar 08, 2023

Wow! This was a spectacular tale, Susan. I have to admit that I have just now gone to your Reedsy bio and saw this story as one of your favorites. I can certainly understand why. A rat's perspective on an apocalyptic event, and his/her subsequent heroism, is so creative. Viewpoint is everything, and you drove that home so well. Your talent is undeniable, my friend. I'm so happy that I know you and that we're friends. I learn so much from you. Cheers!

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Wendy Kaminski
16:07 Dec 10, 2022

I really loved this story, Susan! The point of view is so unique, and I love the historical setting. Maybe this one could be brushed off for the current contest "animal's point of view"? It definitely deserves a chance at more love than it got the first time around! :)

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Tommy Goround
13:33 Nov 19, 2022

Odd. It doesn't link? Very odd. Did you delete this story?

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