(II) The Rat Lady

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The kids centred in the playground, passing the ball to one another. Ed threw higher every time, coaching his little brother how to catch properly. Don wasn't happy, he knew Ed only did this because Emma sat nearby watching. The sun had begun to sink in, leaving residual threads of gold when Don started whining.

"I hate this game!" he announced, "let's go home."

Ed passed the ball once more, more forcefully this time, and when it hit Don's face, he burst out crying.

"Come on, don't be such a baby!" nagged Ed.

"Stop calling me a baby! I just wanna go home."

"Baby! Baby!" teased Ed. Don threw the ball in rage, intending to hit his brother's face, but it missed and flew behind him to land in the yard of a nearby house.


"You idiot!" cried Ed, "go get it, or I'll tell mom."

Don had wiped his tears, and dragged his heels toward the house when Emma shouted "wait!"

He froze.

"That house," she whispered "is the rat lady's!"

"Whose?" Asked Don.

"Don't be a fool, Emma," said Ed, "it's just a house."

"No, it's not!" her voice was barely audible, and her eyes widened in panic. "Haven't you heard the stories?"

"I did and they're silly!" He replied, his eyes rolling to the house for a second before flying back to Emma. "It can't be true, you know."

"What stories?" Asked Don.

"You're too young." Replied Ed.

"Don't tell him," said Emma.

"I'm eight!" Don protested, "I'm not a baby!"

"Alright, it's not my fault if you wet your bed because of this," Ed turned to his brother. "They say the woman in there is insane and..." he stopped to make sure Don was listening, "she has these cages where she keeps children and... and then she makes pies out of their flesh!"

Don gasped.

"I'm not going in there!"

"I knew it! I'll go, you coward!" but he didn't move. Darkness had settled in, and the sky had turned grey. His eyes darted between Don and Emma, expecting them to stop him, but they both went mute.

"But I can wait until the morning, you know, to have some light?"

***

Don barely slept that night. His dreams were filled with rats and cages and insane laughter. He couldn't take the house off his mind, he needed to find out for himself. If Ed realized he had the guts to step in there, despite the darkness, and safely restore the ball, he would stop calling him a baby.

Dawn was creeping. Ed snored in the bed next to his, and their parents bedroom's door was probably shut; nobody would notice. He slipped out, soundless, and headed downstairs. The rat lady's house was a block far, just in front of the park gates , it shouldn't take long. It was a weekend and all the neighbours would be sleeping in their cozy beds; no one could see him.


Off he prowled, the twilight illuminating his steps and the early morning breeze fiddling with his hair. His heart drummed as he approached the house, he almost turned back running. Almost.

I'm not a baby any more.

He stopped at the gate, a part of him was disappointed at seeing it unlocked. Darkness lurked behind the windows, but the yard caught the morning glint. He paced forward.

Just get the ball.

There it lay, underneath a window, waiting for a rescue. He bolted, and had almost scooped the ball, when a light came on. Then he heard someone's voice. A lady was singing. He hunkered underneath the window, blinds had concealed the room behind it, but he made out the woman's shadow. Now he could do nothing but wait.

"You naughty little boy!" She called. Don's heart almost stopped.

"Get back to your cage!"

She's talking to someone else. Another kid?

"It's pie time! And it's gonna be messy!" Her voice boomed in excitement.

The stories are true! He could barely suppress the scream.

Chopping noises followed, 'chunk chink clink', then more singing.

Don stood up, turning to the gate, when his eyes fell on an animal. A big rat.

And finally it was time to scream.

***

The babies assembled in the cage around their breakfast bowl. Mrs. Brown towered over her pets watching over, and smiling while the rats munched and nibbled. She was cleaning the red splotches over the bench, while a scrumptious pie settled on the table, an artwork.

"Better now?" She asked the kid. He nodded, a glass of water between his hands.

"See? They don't bite!" She told him. "Those little pretties!"

Her red-stained knife sliced a big square, she put it on a plate and handed it to the kid.

"I hope you love raspberries!" He did.

"My... my ball." He stuttered.

"Don't you worry, man!" She patted his shoulder. "It's safe and sound."

Man. Don loved the word.

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Dedicated to Emily (@Godhand) and her 9 rats.

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