The night the rats ate my brother Yuri, I slept so soundly his screams didn’t wake me. They tore him apart an arm’s reach away, and I didn’t stir. I’d never slept like that before; without hunger, without pain, without fear. I’ll never sleep like that again.
The day before, we’d helped the Ferals steal medicine from a humanitarian aid station. The Ferals usually kept to themselves, but for bigger jobs they’d gather as many of us from the street as they could. Humanitarians were best, because they were mostly foreigners, and the locals they used for security were unlikely to shoot children in front of them.
We gathered near the back of the building, and one of the Ferals cut a child-sized hole in the fence. Then we all rushed in, ran around to the front, and straight through the doors. The guards snagged a few, but most poured past them. We grabbed everything we could. There wasn’t time to pick and choose. What didn’t fit easily into our dirty little hands we threw down or knocked over. Medicine cases clattered to the floor. Gurneys, some filled with patients, were sent tumbling. Shouting. Glass shattering. Cries of pain and panic. We scrambled over everything, like rats up from the gutters in a rain storm.
Poor Yuri, he only managed to grab some bandages. I spotted a tall foreign man with a large black satchel slung over his shoulder and charged straight for him. I tucked my chin against my chest and drove the top of my head straight into his gut. With a heavy gasp he folded over and collapsed to the ground. I fell with him, grabbing for the strap as I went down. The moment we hit the floor I shot back to my feet, ripping the satchel from him. Feebly, he tried to grab it back, but I kicked him as hard as I could. He cringed away, clutching his face. I ran, ignoring everything else. Everything but Yuri. He was standing in the middle of the room, his bandages clutched awkwardly to him, eyes wide, frozen in fear. My brother was always too gentle for this life.
I snatched him by the shirt as I ran by, dragging him towards the back of the building. We ducked down a hallway, spotted a small window, and crawled through. Then, we scurried back through the fence and ran as fast as we could through the streets until we were once again in the safety of our own neighborhood.
When the Ferals returned, we opened the satchel. It was full of small, important looking glass vials. None of us could read the labels, but they paid us a thick handful of crumpled paper money anyway. They seemed excited and confident. Apparently, the raid had gone well.
I took Yuri and we spent it all on a fat summer sausage, the biggest we could find. We huddled together in the abandoned church where we slept and devoured our prize like ravenous beasts. We ate until our bellies bulged and the taste of sausage made us sick. The other boys who slept there watched us hungrily from a distance. They knew better than to ask us to share.
When it was gone, we lay back triumphantly, unable to move.
“I’m not hungry.” Yuri sounded surprised.
“When’s the last time you weren’t hungry?” I grinned. Instead of answering, he closed his eyes and rested his small hands on his stomach, contentedly. In moments his breathing drifted into a gentle rhythm. Lulled by the sound, I soon slipped into a deep sleep.
In the morning, the others told me the rats had come up from the sewers through a hole in the basement.
“There were… so many of them,” one said.
“All they wanted was Yuri,” said another. “They must’ve smelled the meat in his belly. You’re too big, so they ate him instead.”
“You should drag him into the street, before he starts to smell,” muttered the oldest. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and threw him to the ground. He cowered at my feet, whimpering.
“I’m going to kill them.” I clenched my fists so tight my fingernails cut into my palms. “I’m going to kill them all.”
Blind with rage, I whirled away and stormed down to the basement. I found where they had come in; a small opening in the floor where the foundation had begun to crumble, exposing the sewers below. Furiously, I tore at it, working the bricks loose until the hole was wide enough for me to claw my way through. I dropped down into a narrow channel of putrid water. The stench and darkness were almost overwhelming. I could hear a vicious chatter echoing through the gloom ahead of me. Frantically, I felt around at my feet for something I could use as a weapon. My fingers brushed across a loose brick. I snatched it up and lurched forward. In the dim light I saw them; a torrent of seething, matted hair and filth rippling towards me, covering the floors and walls.
“Monsters,” I hissed, raising the brick. They snarled and surged against me, a mass of teeth, claws, and wild eyes. I swung the brick as hard as I could, and everything descended into a blur of screaming and chaos, blood and pain. I lost my footing and the weight of their bodies crushed me down into the murky water. A great silence rushed in, and then there was nothing.
Slowly, the pain and fear returned. I became aware of voices, soft and distant, murmuring away from somewhere beyond a cloud of black that refused to lift.
“He was down in the sewers. Killing rats, of all things,” whispered one.
“What would possess him…” came another. “Will he make it?”
“Not likely. There’s a bad case of rabies in this town. And the bulk of our vaccine was stolen the other day. By children, no less.”
Moriah Geer-Hardwick is an illustrator and designer. His interests include cinema, sequential narrative art, and robots. Mostly robots. He writes things sometimes.