King Rat

Brooke Smith

Featured In Print Edition

Cigarette smoke billowed up and hung against the ceiling of the small, creaky building as it did most nights. Hidden in the commotion of yammering, hooting and hollering and general bullshitting, Charlie leaned his lanky, soiled body against the bar as he watched over his patrons with a rather monotonous expression. Most of his customers tonight were regulars and were walking smoke stacks. Even when a cig wasn't pressed between their cracked lips, you could probably catch a whiff of their charcoal lungs from forty feet away. The disgusting habit managed to elude the young man, but instead the bottle had taken its place.

Not thinking much of it, his long, dirtied nails clicked against the bottle of jack in his right hand to the loud rock music blaring out through the cramped interior of the whittled-down building more suited to be called a shack by this point. Its wooden floors were dark, musty and uneven from the countless bloody brawls and spilled alcohol to which the dirt and dust were a welcome cover. The windows were even shabbier and crusted over with cracks and hadn't been cleaned in years, as Charlie had discovered the attempt wasn't worth the slicing of his hands.

Inner-city life was difficult. The concrete jungle was crumbling down as the money bled out into the veins of politicians and mobs. Charlie was just one mouse in the nest of low lives and thieves, yet he couldn't wander far, as the leash was firmly imbedded into his neck. To wander would mean death or even worse, as he had a debt to return to the Podunk bar owner known as Sindy. He rarely showed up besides only to collect from the till, or deduct from his paycheck for “fees.” It seemed to be an inescapable situation. Over the years, Charlie had learned that worrying did nothing and hoping created further disappointment.

Glancing to the side, he mused at the holes along the wall, tracing the battered mop board all the way behind the bar, and the holes even continued up beside the counter top. About to loop around the room once more, some scuffling caught Charlie's eye. Tilting his head to the side, he waited. Soft glistening whiskers and black beaded eyes curiously blinked to him before the small grey creature inched out of its home and looked over the sea of drunkards. Biting the inside of his cheek, the boy began to think he wasn't so different from these things, he saw them all the time, and they didn't bother him much. He was something so small in a sea of smoke and large men. Without thinking, he twisted the cap off of the Jack Daniels in his hand and splashed a small amount of the amber liquid into the cap, setting it down by the creature. The action sent it fleeing, yet Charlie's fingers pushed it closer to the hole.

He will come back out , he mused, taking a swig of the whiskey himself.

Indeed, the mouse peered back out soon enough, and upon seeing the offering, it gently stalked forward, sniffing into the cap, which dampened its whiskers. Licking its pink lips, the mouse soon went for more and finished off its serving quite loyally. Charlie pushed his elbows down into the counter top and rested his weight on one leg.

You little bastard, you haven't paid your tab in five months... The small rodent sat back on its haunches and began licking its paws and grazing them back over its face leisurely.

I guess I can let it slide; you're a pretty good guy. A smirk crossed his lips.

I say that and yet I don't even know your nam—

A sudden shout pulled his attention over to a burly older gentleman with plenty of meat sloshing beneath an old-looking tuxedo. He was leaning back in his chair to the point the poor thing bowed under its burden. The man had a rather square head for such a round body; even the fingers that gripped the man’s beer looked like freshly greased sausages lavished with pre-owned rings of all colors. The man wasn't alone, and two similar looking individuals sat with him, all huddled around a small worn out round table off to the side. Another crack from the plump man sent his buddies into rounds of laughter which only grew louder as sausage hands burrowed into his bearded eyebrows and waved a pork finger at him. Charlie internally sighed and shoved off from the bar, abandoning the opened booze and troubled friend to bring another round of watered beer to the table. This jack-off enjoyed tormenting Charlie almost on a nightly basis.

Slamming the bottle down onto the table, Charlie kept his head from bowing at the group, “Shirley,” he acknowledged.

“Ah! My Charlie-Boy! I love what you've done with the place!”

The terrible sarcasm sent chuckles through his buzzed buddies, Lee and Desmond, who were relatively harmless like children but were just as cruel verbally. Unconsciously, Charlie wiped his hands off on his pit-stained off-white t-shirt before tucking them away in his pockets.

“We see you've made a new friend! Why don't you get that fucker to buy a round for us?!” Shirley jabbed his elbow into Lee's arm, who was chuckling through gritted teeth.

“Hey jus' a sec Shirl, I didn't see no cash; he prolly runnin' a tab!” Desmond exclaimed and shook his bottle to his friends.

“Ah, shit—the hell am I paying for this for!?”

“You don't pay, Shirley,” Charlie scoffed.

“I do my duty to this community! Sindy recognizes my efforts, and so what if I get a bit of a reward?” Shirley leaned forward over the table, lacing his fingers together. Charlie could practically hear the buttons on his suit straining under the effort to keep back his gut.

Charlie clenched his jaw.

“Awe, hey now, I bet he is helping out a buddy!” Lee jested.

“Shiet ya man, we got'a fellow mouse befo' us gents! Sir Mouse!”

“More like, Lord Mouse!”

“King mouse! He been doin' his subjects good with free booze!”

“Well he certainly is small enough—scrawny, too!” Charlie was used to the laughing, but felt an odd stirring deep within his chest.

Shirley chugged the rest of his beer then flipped the bottle in his fingers, holding the neck like a pencil and nodded towards the grey little creature still blissfully grooming itself on the counter.

“Bet I can't hit it?”

“Pfft—fuck, Shirl, I bet ya’ twenty ya’ can't hit the far wall, let alone a furry cockroach.”

“Don’t.” Charlie's eyes narrowed.

“It's gonna be a close call!”

“If you hit that fucker, I'll shit my pants, Shirl!”

Most of the bar had noticed the commotion and turned towards the table, chortling and swigging at their booze in anticipation. Before the boy could utter another word, the brown bottle was airborne, flipping end over end in a high arch. Time seemed to stand still to Charlie, his blue eyes wide and fingers curling into fists.

The bottle picked up momentum as it fell at just the right angle and crashed into the tiny animal, sending it flying off the counter with a loud shriek that was followed by the shattering of glass. The entire floor went into hysterics, hollering and cheering. Lee slapped his palm down hard onto Shirley's shoulder as tears rolled down his face from laughter. Charlie didn't hear any of it; he could feel his heart beating in his ears while he pulled his fists from his pockets and shot his right arm forward. Shirley looked up just in time to widen his own shit-brown eyes before the blow made contact right in the side of his face, which sent the fat man flying back out of his chair—and with a loud crash, the raucous swiftly died.

“ARGH! FUCK! My goddamn face—what the HELL!” Shirley covered his face with his hands as he rolled on the filthy floor. The room held its breath as Lee and Desmond went to help him back onto his feet, yet the fat man shooed them away with more cursing. Once on his feet, the man jabbed a hand towards Charlie.

“You INGRATE! Sindy will hear of this and so will the mob, you'll owe this shit hole your cock before they'll ever let you leave the city!” He wiped his sniffling face before shaking his hand back to Charlie's face.

“You like rodents so much because you ARE one! Well, be my fucking guest, King Rat!” Shirley then spit onto the floor and turned his back on the dazed boy. As the man waddled out of the bar, the patrons cleared a path then slowly followed suit with murmuring, yet Charlie only ran back over to the bar and grabbed the edge of the counter as he looked down at the small body surrounded in glass and coated with blood.

King rat...? He bent down to the creature, unable to take his eyes off of its form. His fingers carefully picked away the glass.

I'm just an ordinary mouse…