MARCH OF THE MONSTERS: "RAT KING"


Last Saturday I was coming home from a concert, and I was a little drunk. Case in point: I got off the subway three stops early and didn't even notice until I was back on the street. It was the stop near where I work; maybe I thought I was going to work. For about a month I had been putting off getting another transit card, and I didn't have any change so it looked like I was stumbling home that night.

Eventually I spotted my building looming up over lifeless, snow-dusted construction sites and fenced-in, yellow-lit urban fields. I stopped to look ahead, and exhaled through my nose in annoyance. I couldn't get through there. There was probably a path somewhere that had been designated for pedestrian use, but this grassy expanse was off limits, that was clear enough to me. It was also terribly inconvenient. I decided to cut through the enclosure, a decision made easier by the long lengths of toppled chain link fence. I could just walk over it.

The ground was covered in frozen mud puddles, with the occasional hard, grass-covered hillock to clamber over. I was marching up one of these small bumps when my foot broke straight through the surface. I fell forward and my entire left leg was swallowed up by the hill, and I was stuck.

It took me a while to figure out what had happened. At first, it just didn't make sense. Leg in ground? That shouldn't be possible, right? I started to pull myself out, placing my hands on either side of the hole. My leg had just begun to slide out when I heard a brisk snapping sound, and my hands both plunged into the hill as well. There was a shifting of earth, and then a cloud of dust billowed up and the ground beneath me gave way completely.



That was last weekend. Being very confused, tired, and a little unhappy about being covered in dirt, I had gone home and decided to come back to the hole later. It had turned out to be a room, secretly buried and forgotten beneath the field. I had been walking over it unknowingly and put my foot right through the ceiling, and while trying to free myself I'd broken a rafter loose and fallen in. There was a wood floor and a couple pieces of furniture, and a very thick layer of dust coated everything. I had climbed out, made a mental note of where I was, and continued home.

I didn't have much trouble finding the place again, the next week. I just lined myself up between the hole in the fence and my apartment building, and explored the area. When I found the hole I threw my backpack in, and then slid in feet-first.

It was only a four foot drop to the floor inside. The ceiling was slanted, and the hole I had fallen in was right near one of the walls, forcing me to stoop. Just by glancing around I guessed that the entire hill was covering this single room. It was pretty big, and the workmanship of the carpentry was... amazing, actually. Professional. A lot of work had gone into this place.

I paced from one end of the room to the other, listening to the dull echoes of my boots on the dusty hardwood. This place seemed familiar. The peaked ceiling and the thick supporting pillars... it was a little like being in an attic. No, it was exactly like being an attic! Could I be in an actual house? An entire house, buried to the roof, in the middle of the city?

Further exploration proved my theory correct. Inching my flashlight along the floor, I discovered a trapdoor, and lifted it up carefully. For a second I hesitated, staring at the black square in the floor. It didn't look good to me. Curiosity overcame fear though, and soon I was stepping down the ladder, descending into the rest of this abandoned subterranean house.

In the cavernous hallway below, I spotted a light switch and flicked it half-jokingly. The lights turned on, dim but operational. "No way," I said to myself. As if in response, I heard a digging or grinding sound behind me, like an animal's claws on wood. There was nothing there.

The light bulb was covered in thick cobwebs, which was probably the reason for the dim light. It just looked like a glowing ball of wispy cotton. The wallpaper was nearly impossible to discern beneath the dust, but I could make out thick vertical stripes.

I started my urban exploration. The first room I came to was a bedroom. The light didn't work in that one, so I switched the flashlight back on. It was a huge room, nearly as big as my apartment. This house must be a mansion, I thought. There wasn't much furniture, just an old armchair and a crumbling fireplace mantle. In the very center of the room was a massive pile of twisted grey cables, all knotted together. The top of the bundle reached just above my head, and the dozen or so cables (each about ten inches thick) ran off in all directions: out through the doorway, into the fireplace, and dangling through holes in the floorboards. It had a presence to it, as if it was breathing.

"What is this?" I wondered aloud, and peered at it through the dark. Maybe somebody had been doing some electrical work here, years ago, before the place was buried.

I went back out into the hallway and opened the next door, which was a closet. There was nothing in it, except one of the huge cables traveling from one wall to another up near the ceiling. I stared at it for a bit, and then shut the closet door.

Continuing along the main hallway, I saw a massive carpeted staircase up ahead. I stood at the balcony and looked down, being careful not to put any weight on the ancient railing. There was a glittering shape in the middle of the room below, like a pyramid of broken glass, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs I realized it was a giant fallen chandelier. This must have been some house, back when people lived here.

I was in the front of the house now. The front door was lying on the floor, and the doorway was filled in with a solid wall of dirt. Some thick roots had grown into the room through the windows and door, and buried themselves in the floor. The light from the hallway above barely made a difference down here, so I switched the flashlight back on and walked across the foyer to the nearest room.

It was a kitchen, judging by the stove and sink. I shone the light along the walls, illuminating the hanging pots and pans. Then the beam hit the far wall, and I stiffened up. There was a black shape, gigantic, leaning against the wall. The corner of the room was completely filled with the shape, and it was tall too, reaching from the tiled floor to the sagging plaster ceiling. My stomach turned, and hairs stood up on my arm. I felt like it knew I was there, intruding.

I squinted at it, but didn't dare take a step forward. What was it? A hive or nest of some kind? I couldn't even bear to throw something at it, for fear that it would move. React. I backed out of the kitchen into the room opposite the wall, my flashlight trained on the sinister black shape that filled the corner. It just hung there against the wall.

Once I was away from the mound I began to feel better. It was probably just a pile of dirt. Maybe some moles had built a molehill. I put it out of my mind and swung the beam of light around the new room. Judging by the long table dominating it, I guessed that this was the dining room. That made sense, it being adjacent to the kitchen. I thought about the family who had lived here last. Wealthy, obviously. Admiring the ornate silver candlesticks and peeling, shredded wallpaper, I regretted leaving my camera at home. And then I regretted leaving home myself.

There was another one in this room.

An enormous cocoon-shape hung from the ceiling above the table. This one was about the size of a cow, and looked a lot more alive than the first one had. I was ten feet way from it, and I could make out its fuzzy surface. My palms felt sweaty as I considered the possibility that I was looking at an animal. I aimed the flashlight higher to see what it was growing out of, and could make out a few inches of that grey cable, from the bundle in the bedroom that was probably directly above me. The cable snaked through a hole in the ceiling, and ended somewhere inside this unidentified mass.

It was like some vile chandelier. While a chandelier would cast elegant swaths of light and warmth, this hanging abomination exuded a feeling of pure dread, made worse by the fact that I couldn't figure out just what it was.

"What is this thing?" I said, and instantly wished I hadn't. The thing wobbled, and the bottom of it bent upwards and turned to me with a very rodent-like face. Oh my God, a rat. A rat the size of a cow, hanging by its tail in the middle of the room. I felt like I was suffocating in the blanket of horror that wrapped around me, but I managed to urge myself into action. I ran, and the monster rat squealed after me like a pig being slaughtered. Its claws scrambled at the table trying to gain purchase, but its tail was holding it back. Its long grey tail, swinging up into the room above.

I ran back into the kitchen, enjoying the brief feeling of slight safety before it was snatched away from me as I remembered there was one of them in here too. It had been shaken awake by the activity of the other one, its tail pulling on the tails of... oh Jesus, at least ten others. All awake now. And its brilliant vermilion eyes glistened as it watched me.

I kept moving, but this one had a longer tail, and it chased me into the front hall. I felt like throwing up but I ran instead, and in another second the massive rat was jerked to a stop by its tail. It thrashed wildly, tangling itself in the carpet. I heard a frantic scratching all around me, and suddenly there was that awful screech from every direction. Dangling from the high ceiling were two of the things, writhing directly above me, and to my left was a high arch that another of the giant rats was rushing through. I ran up the long staircase, hoping the monstrosity would run out of tail, but it kept coming. It wasn't until I made it to the top that the thing reached its limit and resorted to biting at the air. Coming up behind it was another one.

Terrified, I bolted down the hallway towards the trapdoor and the ladder. As I passed the bedroom that I had looked at earlier, I stole a glance, and saw what I now knew was a knot of giant rat tails. It was animated now, rocking violently in all directions, being tugged one way and then the other as the rats pulled at it. The entire house was crawling with them; I could feel them around me clawing at the walls. I was one step away from the trapdoor when a black, fur-covered head burst forth from the hole and snapped at me. Its sharp teeth clipped my elbow, and I fell back, feeling utterly defeated. There was no way out.

The rat in the attic strained at the hole, its bulbous eyes never leaving me, but it couldn't manage to force itself through. It must have been larger than most cars, judging by the head.

I wanted to cry. I looked around weakly for another way into the attic, but there was nothing. I ran to the other end of the hall and tugged at the door there, noticing too late the flurry of activity behind it.

The door swung towards me with the extra force of something pushing on the other side, and I registered this with an icy feeling of disappointment. In my ear was a guttural screech, and I felt an immense weight fall on me, and then the agony of long, gnawing teeth on my head and neck.

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