Short Story
                      The Way Out
                                             By Michael B Fletcher

     A soft rustle in the quiet of the room became a patter.  The patter grew in
volume, in daring, as if emboldened by its success.  It changed direction
quite suddenly, its sound reflecting off the stone, initially confusing the
listener.  The sound grew, nearer now.

     Just the one, but bigger, maybe fatter than the last, he thought and then
froze, stilling the tremble that threatened revealing movement, concentrating
on forcing his wasted muscles to obey.

     The touch was a shock; slight but there.  He stopped his reflex jerk just in
time; waiting.

     The noise receded, sound echoing up the stone walls and off the granite
slabs over his head.  But he knew where it was, after all he’d had the time to
learn.  He eased a lock of dirty hair behind an ear and cocked his head
towards the creature investigating his space.

     The sound ceased.  Intimate knowledge of the four walls of that space
reassured him that his prey was still within, even though sight was denied by
the impenetrable dark, his sense of smell rendered useless by the noisome

     His buttocks were numb with the winter cold that was making itself felt
through the filth covered floor–his body threatened to cramp in sympathy.

     Ah! The soft pattering had resumed.  

     A drool of saliva spilling over a cracked lip and dripping into his matted
beard didn’t interrupt his focus.  He followed the sound as it meandered
across the floor.  His heart fluttered in panic as he heard it pause at its entry
point into his cell, the narrow cesspit that served his wastes.  Then the patter
continued, feet with a wetter sound, coming closer.
     His hands clenched into claws, the ragged nails making little sound in the
detritus he sat in.  His mouth dried, suddenly depriving him of welcome
moisture.  His leathery tongue rattled across hard lips.

     The touch came again.  He stilled in all but thought.  Fine whiskers tickled
the bare scabbed ankle.  Tiny claws scrabbled over his shins, then paused
allowing the warm weight, plump and soft, to mould across the bone.

     His saliva returned.  A finger twitched.

     The creature turned and inched up his leg, whiskers tickling where
degarded cloth opened to skin.  It paused halfway up his thigh.  He imagined
the little eyes peering at him, the tiny brain wondering why this much meat
was available.

     He waited no longer, snatching at the morsel on his leg.

     It leapt high at the sudden moment, almost avoiding him in its instinctive
reation, but his fingers caught the long naked tail.  He staggered to his feet
holding the unfortunate rat at arm’s length.  It bucked and squealed so
frantically that he shuffled sideways to cover the creature’s only bolt hole.  He
relaxed marginally as his foot closed off the cesspit while imagining feasting
on the succulent, blood-filled body of his capture.

     The rat reacted by twisting vigorously against its own tail and slicing razor-
sharp incisors into the hand that held it.

     “Shit!” he screamed.

     The rat dropped to the floor and barged into the stone wall with a thud
and then skittered along the ground seeking escape.  He could hear it
circling him for the sewer and the only way out.

     He shivered in the chill air, ignoring the pain and focussing on the
trapped animal as it darted across the floor.  The sounds changed to a
scrabble on stone walls and the slip of the creature’s claws as it clung to the
roughly hewn rock.  He smiled at its foolishness.

     A spattering of gravel falling to the floor was curious.  It increased in
volume, so much so that he was tempted to investigate, but he had to keep
the hole blocked.  Soon even larger chunks began to hit the ground as if the
wall itself was crumbling away under the rat’s attack.

     A blinding light crashed into his head, shattering the dark into a
kaleidoscope of colours.  He reeled away from the agony in his mind and
staggered into unyielding stone, covering his eyes with a raised arm.  Even in
his pain he heard the crash of stone together with the scrabble of the rat as it
sought to escape through the wall.

     With screwed up eyes he saw the creature’s bunched hindquarters
pushing into the newly made hole.  He snatched at its long tail, jerked it out
and cracked its head against the stone.

     He shuffled to the centre of the dimly lit room, knelt and tenderly laid the
rat on the floor.  As he stroked the soft fur and admired the size of his meal
he didn’t notice the waft of crisp air penetrating the room, nor the light
beckoning through the hole in the crumbling stone wall.  
To read other short stories,
click one of the titles below.