The Rat King - The Beginning
Mortimer watched on in horror as Samuel dangled the classroom pet’s food just out of its reach. This made day four that Mortimer had counted. Four days without food or water for Checkers, the class rat, because Samuel enjoyed being cruel to small things. Mortimer should know. He’d spent the greater part of his life being pushed around by Samuel and now he was seeing just how awful it could get.
The rat squeaked and cried while Samuel laughed. Its tiny hands groped the air, managing to scrape a few crumbs out of Samuel’s meaty hand.
“You little jerk,” mumbled Samuel.
Mortimer snickered under his breath. He was glad to see that the little rat was getting the better of that troll.
“Why won’t you just feed him?” asked Emmy from the front row. All the students were turned in their seat watching Samuel play his mean games. Most of them, like Mortimer, were too afraid to say anything to him. The others didn’t usually care what he did or said. But finally, someone was speaking up. Someone that Samuel wouldn’t dare hurt because he knew that the teacher would believe her.
Samuel’s head spun toward her. “Why don’t you mind your own business?”
In the short span when Samuel looked away, Checkers clamped his long teeth down hard into one of Samuel’s fingers and began to chew. Samuel screamed and waved his hand around hoping to throw the animal off but Checkers held on tight. And Mortimer’s seat was so close that he could see that Checkers wasn’t just biting Samuel. No. He was eating him. Those sharp yellowed teeth were pulling chunks of skin away from the knuckle while all fours limbs were wrapped around his wrist. It wasn’t until Samuel flung his hand and Checkers against the glass tank that Checkers was forced to live in, smashing it into large, jagged shards, that the rat let go and plopped to the floor.
Blood was dripping from Samuel’s hand but the dumb troll wasn’t smart enough to stop the bleeding. Instead, he let the red drops fly as he chased Checkers around the room, trying to stomp on him. Samuel was furious and Mortimer couldn’t hold back any longer – he let out a laugh that was so loud it drowned out Samuel’s tirade.
Samuel stopped on a dime and glared at Mortimer. But Mortimer didn’t care. And soon, he wasn’t the only one laughing. The rest of the class was now pointing and laughing at Samuel. Like Mortimer, they had waited a long time to be able to single him out just as he had done to them. So many kids had been pantsed or tripped or beaten and had been unable to stop the abuse but this rat, this little furry creature, had been his downfall.
When the teacher returned from wherever she disappeared to during pop quizzes, she hollered for the class to quiet. “Samuel! What on earth are you doing? And what happened to the rat’s aquarium?”
“He bit me!” roared Samuel. He held his hand up for Miss Johnson to see and she screamed. She ran to him and started wrapping his hand with paper towels and it was the fastest Mortimer has ever seen her move.
He didn’t care about Samuel and his half-eaten finger though. He wanted to know where Checkers had gone. Probably out one of the windows, he thought. If Miss Johnson had just let Mortimer take care of Checkers like he had been doing then this wouldn’t have happened.
“Oh, well.” He sighed. The one thing he truly enjoyed about school was now gone and, of course, Samuel had been the one to take it away.
Mortimer waited out the last five minutes of the school day and when the bell rang, he was happy to be going home. But when he bent down to zip up his backpack he spotted a trembling ball of fur hunched down by his math book. Mortimer didn’t make a noise or a quick movement. He didn’t want to scare Checkers. He also didn’t want to leave Checkers there because he knew that after devouring a student’s finger, the school would most likely put him down. So Mortimer slowly zipped up his bag, carefully placed it on his shoulders, and left for home.
It took little time to earn Checkers’ trust because Mortimer had been the main one that had taken care of him at the school. He felt for the rat, being locked up in a glass cage all day and having to be dependent upon kids like Samuel for food and water.
“Miss Johnson and those other kids don’t deserve you,” he said as he poured Checkers some fresh water. The rat pounced on the water and the pellets Mortimer had gotten for him. The poor thing was starving. Mortimer was so angry that he wished Samuel had lost more than one digit.
Mortimer’s fingers itched to pet him but he was wary after what he’d seen the rat do to Samuel. So he patiently waited while Checkers ate and drank to his heart’s content. And after he was done he did the darnedest thing – he crawled up onto Mortimer’s knee and let Mortimer pet him. Then he curled up in Mortimer’s lap and fell asleep.
Mortimer didn’t tell anyone at the school that he had Checkers. He didn’t tell his parents either. The rat had happily made its home in an old pillow that sat under Mortimer’s bed along with his food and water and the few trinkets he’d taken from various parts of the house. Checkers didn’t just live with Mortimer. They were best friends. Checkers went everywhere with Mortimer; to the mall, out to eat, the movies, even back to school.
Weeks passed in blissful peace for Mortimer and Checkers. Samuel had been suspended for breaking the cage and losing Checkers – then he spent even more time away because of what Checkers had done to his hand. And nobody was complaining. In fact, everything at school went smoother while Samuel was gone.
But it couldn’t last forever, Mortimer knew.
“Hey, loser,” Samuel sneered as he shoved Mortimer hard. He had hidden by the bathrooms and waited for the hall to clear before pouncing on Mortimer. Though he had been taken by complete surprise, Mortimer still counted the three moves it took before Samuel had him completely squished into his own locker. He also noticed that, unfortunately, it wasn’t such a bad fit for his thin frame until he found the coat hook with the back of his neatly coiffed head. He yelled out from the shock of pain.
Once Samuel had Mortimer in the short locker, hollering and crying like Samuel seemed to prefer, he began kicking him – hitting him in the sides, the legs, wherever he could aim. “You think you can laugh at me? Huh?”
Something warm was dripping down Mortimer’s neck and every time he tried to wipe it away, Samuel kicked him again. He did his best to block the blows from Samuel but it was near impossible with his arms and legs tucked into the steel box.
“No… one,” said Samuel, punctuating every word with a swing of his leg, “ever… ever… laughs at me.”
“Samuel, what are you doing?” Mortimer heard the Principal ask.
He was saved. Finally someone was there that could stop Samuel from beating Mortimer to a bloody pulp. Mortimer batted at Samuel’s feet, trying to push his way out of the cramped space even harder. It only made Samuel angrier. The look on his face changed from his normal bully sneer to one of pure rage and for a moment, Mortimer was stunned in horror. He had never seen that look before and it caused a chill to run up his spine. He knew that Samuel was an asshole but he had never considered that Samuel could be dangerous. Until now.
Mortimer watched as Samuel brought his heel high, his body shaking. This was going to hurt; Samuel’s look promised that. He kicked Mortimer in the jaw forcing his head to smack into the back of the locker again and Mortimer saw stars. Samuel was screaming again but Mortimer couldn’t hear him over the ringing in his ears.
Then, two things happened. One was that the Principal had finally decided to see who Samuel was beating on, and the second was that Checkers had freed himself from Mortimer’s backpack. Samuel reared back to kick again and barely missed as the Principal, a petite and older woman, hugged him from behind. As Samuel’s shoe brushed past Mortimer’s cheek, Checkers leapt from the bag and scurried up Samuel’s pant leg.
He screamed as the lump named Checkers raced up his leg, biting every bit of smooth flesh that he could. Samuel fell back onto the Principal, wiggling and batting at the rat. He couldn’t unbuckle his jeans since his one hand was bound in gauze and tiny spots of blood began to soak through the thick material.
Students and teachers began to pour out of their classrooms to see what the screaming was about and no one was able to help him because no one knew what was attacking him. No one but Mortimer.
As Checkers worked his way farther and farther up Samuel’s leg, nearing a very important and sensitive area, Mortimer knew that he needed to stop Checkers. Rescuing Mortimer was one thing – disfiguring Samuel was another. This time, at least.
“Checkers, stop!” he yelled as he fell out of the locker.
Samuel was still screaming and rolling around the hallway and Mortimer was terrified that Checkers wasn’t going to listen or hear him. But the rat had heard Mortimer. Checkers tiptoed out of the other side of Samuel’s jeans and scampered up Mortimer’s arm, resting on his shoulder like a parrot.
No one – not any teacher or student, not even Samuel who was sobbing on the floor – said a thing to Mortimer. They simply stared at him and his furry companion, both of whom were covered in blood. It was a strange feeling for Mortimer because they weren’t looking at him with pity but with fear. Everyone in that hall was afraid of him. It was a delightfully heady feeling. Mortimer’s vision wavered as he stood, unsure of whether that was because he had been kicked in the head or because the power he held had already clouded his mind. Either way, he felt good.
Mortimer slipped his backpack on, careful not to let Checkers fall off of his shoulder, and he looked down at Samuel and the Principal. Then, he smiled, and Samuel’s eyes dulled as they darted between Mortimer’s grin and Checkers beady gaze.
Oh yeah, he thought, this feels really good.
And Mortimer left, gliding down the hallway and past all the onlookers. One boy, another outcast that Mortimer had seen around, was leaning against the lockers by the exit. He nodded to Mortimer and sent him a knowing grin. Mortimer ignored him as he walked past. If that kid wanted to challenge him – if anyone wanted to challenge him – he was ready. He wasn’t going to be the whipping boy any more, he thought as he scratched Checkers behind the ear and walked out into the sunlight.