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by Marko Laine

<lurk mode off>

Belinda dared me to submit a story to the story writing competition in an attempt to redress the balance in favour of a much-maligned species, so here is my poor effort.  Thanks for your time.

One small half-imagined insult was all it took.  I was a low-ranking courtier trading repartee with other minor nobles when a comment, not meant to be taken the way it so inevitably was, made its way to the ears of the king, probably through the silken tongue of one of my enemies. I was dragged before the king to show cause in the closest thing this kingdom had to natural justice.  In the face of such royal anger, my wit deserted me, my tongue fell mute such that it was no more use to me than those of poor dumb creatures.  Henceforth, I was to spend my days at his majesty's pleasure in a part of the castle I had not previously been familiar with -- the dungeons.

As the days passed into weeks, I did what I could to reconcile myself to my new home. The walls and the very air itself were damp with condensation and the smell of my own urine and that of the stream of poor unfortunates who had shared my fate before me. My once sleek body was wasting away, becoming slighter and more ragged until I had more in common with my only companions, the rats who shared my cell, than with the nobility  dancing upstairs.  The only difference -- and it was an important one -- was that the rats came and went as they pleased.  They snatched what scraps of food they could from me, the scraps that even the royal dogs disdained.  In time they became bolder, as if accepting me as one of them and on equal footing in the competition for food, or else waiting in anticipation for the day when I would breathe my last and they would have a bigger meal to feast upon.

I ended each day as I did the one before; whimpering to myself on my "bed" of hay, wondering if I would ever see the dawn of a new day again.

As consciousness reluctantly filtered back to my mind, I was aware that my limbs had become even more stiff and leaden than usual over the night.  Chittering (chittering?) to myself in annoyance, I experimentally stretched my spine -- and my eyes snapped open in shock. My spine was impossibly supple, and twisting nearly in two to look at myself, I discovered the reason why.  My body, which was already growing thinner every day, had taken on the furry aspect of a rat.  My tail stretched behind by another body-length and I gave it -- a totally new appendage -- an experimental flick.  It responded beautifully.

I wasted no time in the whys and wherefores of this miraculous transformation and instead occupied myself with the ratty concerns of the day -- keeping myself clean in the midst of the human debris that has served me so well.  My ablutions over, I joyfully concerned myself with exploring my soon-to-be former prison with the whole new range of senses I found myself equipped with.  The perpetual dim half-light of the cell no longer proved an obstacle to me; what information my eyes failed to provide was more than made up for by the subtle scents my nose detected lying underneath the stench of human urine and the even more subtle changes in air currents picked up by my whiskers. Would I see the dawn of a new day again?  Now that I had the blood of rats pumping through my veins, there could never be any doubt in the matter.  With a last celebratory passing of water on the cold stone floor, I scampered up the wall, finding clawhold after impossible clawhold.  With unerring sense and following the scent of rats that came before me, I found a flaw in this prison.  It was barely half the apparent size of myself.  I hardly paused before squeezing directly into it, thinking narrow thoughts.  I didn't even have to dislocate a shoulder to get through.

The narrow passageway before me was plunged in darkness, but I could sense it as clearly as if it was bathed in the light of day.  I followed it confidently until it dropped away sharply to an underground stream. I dove in with barely a "plop" to mark my passage and joyfully swam in the currents of freedom.

 ()()  lainem@powerup.com.au    [Marko Laine]
 (..)  http://student.uq.edu.au/~s160289/SouthFurLands/
 /\/\  "We shall be like two rats fighting in a hole -- and the pluckier
c\db/o one will win!"  - General Chao She, circa 270 B.C.

* * *
Copyright 1997: Marko Laine <lainem@powerup.com.au> . If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first.       Thank you

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