A Penchant for Rat Meat

Leonard stumbled stiffly down La Cienega Blvd. as if on stilts, yellow sandals clapping against the soles of his dry calloused feet. A nylon rope held his greasy jeans up, and the ends bounced around  his knees. He held a cigarette the way a child would hold onto a pencil, and inhaled deeply on the cheap tobacco.

It smelled rank, like a garbage can or an ashtray that hadn’t been emptied for a week. Yet, he didn’t gag or choke or cough. He blew a small white thin plume of smoke into the air that dissolved like vapor. The concrete was discolored, the asphalt warm, and the sky as black as the inside of a plastic trash bag. The bottom of his sandal caught the edge of the curb and dumped him onto the cement.

The gas station was empty, the flickering halogen lights playing ruefully across the graffiti covered block wall as Leonard rolled himself back into the fire hydrant, confused. He heard the hollow clanging of brass and iron and looked across to the other side of the station. In the shadows sat a gasoline truck. He peeled himself off the fire hydrant and walked over.

“I like the flag on your shirt,” Leonard said.

The truck driver looked at him, puzzled, then turned away.

“You from Louisiana?” he said, stumbling closer.

The driver looked up and rolled his eyes back into his head. He pulled a flashlight out of the back of his faded pants and pushed himself off the cold metal tank.   He shone it in Leonard's face.
“Do you really think I’m out here looking for someone to bullshit with right now?” He paused. “I need you to leave… go away… that way.” He raised an arm as Leonard teetered back and forth. “Go now.”

Leonard stumbled back. He raised a long bony arm and fidgeted with the broken nubs lining the inside of his pulpy mouth.
“I like trucks,” he said.

The driver threw his light down, walked over and beat on the overnight window. The plexi-glass shuddered under the heavy blows.
“You need to do something with this guy,” he said.

Leonard turned and walked towards the freeway, blackened windows staring out at him under shades of blue, red, and orange neon signs. He paused. An empty bag of potato chips lay on the ground. Steadying himself on a empty newspaper machine, he bent over and picked it up. He peered into the little foil pouch gleefully before shuffling on.

It was cool and still early. Morning rush was always a concern, but he was almost home now. He crossed under the freeway and turned left, hobbling up the onramp until he came to a break in the hedgerow. Sitting down on the asphalt, he wiggled his legs into the opening, and slid down the dirt embankment. The chalky earth crumbled like grease as he went, filling his pockets with oily soil and leaving a wet, shallow impression behind him. He pushed himself halfway down and leaned up against a wall of dry brush.

“Hey guys,” he said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his ulcerated mouth. “I got something for you.”

He reached out and dumped the broken potato chips onto the dirt. “Come on guys, it’s time to eat.” He could see little sparkles of light in the hedge on the other side of the clearing. He paused and stirred the crumbs up again.

It started with rustling in the dense brush. The bare branches shuddered, followed by shadows and fleeting movement in the dark. Then, close to the ground, a tiny black snout appeared sifting through the dirt followed by two shiny, black ball-bearing eyes twinkling in the dark.“I hope you didn’t have to wait too long.”

Two more eyes appeared and another two after that. One by one, they followed each other to the chips, step by jerky step, darting forward, wary eyes never moving from Leonard’s gaunt form.
Leonard smiled with a child’s joy and wonder at seeing the four adorable little balls of fur coming towards him in the moonlight. He sat up, legs and feet straight out, both hands resting on his lumpy knees as the four squirrels fed on the chips. Grabbing them with their hands, they would rock back on their haunches and chew the thin potato slivers, cheeks quivering. Reaching over and picking up a piece off of the ground, Leonard offered it to the closest and laughed ecstatically as it took the chip out of his hand.

“Where’s mom and dad guys?” he said. “Are they coming?”

They kept feeding in a semi-circle in front of him, indifferent to his voice. The largest of the four scampered over to his swollen toe.

He had sliced it open on a broken bottle a few days before. It bled profusely at first; but now, after being pulled through dirt and debris for two days, it was encased in a mortar of blood and various grades of silt. To this, the hungry rodent placed his twitching nose, and got a whiff of the protein under all that hardened paste.

“Hey Stripe, come back over here,” said Leonard, making feeble clicking noises with his tongue. “That hurts. Look… here’s momma.”

Out of the dry brush, two shiny black marbles appeared above a twitching nose. They stared directly at Leonard. Matted and sinewy, the much bigger squirrel stopped halfway between the edge of the clearing and her litter. She took her greasy arms and raked them forward over her head, pausing to lick her paws, and then did it again. The younger squirrel continued to lap at the hardened scab on Leonard’s foot.

His toe had become a perfect, squirrel-sized, lollypop as it hung off the edge of his sandal. Holding it between its little paws, the rodent licked the clotted dust and dirt away, then chewed the dried blood off underneath.

“Stop Stripe, that hurts,” Leonard said, batting an arm in the air and wiggling his foot.

The squirrel held on, continuing to chew. Tilting its head sideways, it took a chunk of meat out of the now bleeding wound. Leonard yelled and rolled over in agony, kicking out at the squirrel and knocking it into the dense brush. It scampered away.  The larger sinewy one ran at the back of Leonard’s foot and bit into the thin, rubbery skin of his Achilles tendon. It tore and Leonard let out a groan. The sinewy squirrel leapt again. Leonard beat the air in front of him like a frustrated child while the wide open mouth of the rodent sank both rows of teeth into one thin, translucent, wax-paper eyelid. It ripped into the tissue, tearing off the lid and shredding the soft organ underneath. The hole looked like the bottom end of a rotten tomato.

Groaning, Leonard scrambled to his feet and fell down the hillside, dry bush swallowing him up. Sharp thorns and weathered branches pierced his thin flesh. They would break the fall and then collapse under his weight, sending him on. With a soft crushing whoosh, he tumbled down the steep embankment and cascaded headlong into the tangled thicket of dry vines and skeletal tumbleweeds at the bottom. He smashed through and landed in a three by three foot concrete channel, upside down with his legs flayed out above him on the edge.

“Help…he…help me,” wounded and bleeding. “Heeeeeeelp,” he whimpered.

His voice came feebly and garbled, a whistling lisp enmeshed in the rotting underbrush. His cracked lips and wounded face bleeding, he strained at the murky darkness. Stagnant water pooled around the back of his head and an acrid smell like rotten cabbage assaulted his nostrils. Shapes began to form in the dark, dim and grainy. He heard small splashes of water. The rusty pipe five feet away was feeding the channel and Leonard saw the shadows darting back and forth in the darkness at its mouth.

His eye bled, a scarlet flow running down over his temple and into the fetid pool as the black shiny creatures scampered up the sides of the channel.   They put their dark wet twitching noses into the air before dropping their narrow heads  and scampering forward.

“Noooo…shooo…go away,” he said, watching the beady black eyes coming towards him.

Convulsing, he tried to free his legs from the tangled thicket and overgrown bank above the ditch he was in.  But he ended up smashing his head into the concrete, submerging his bleeding orifice again. A rat the size of a small cat clamped down on his thumb and he thrashed out at the monster, sending it across to the other side of the channel. His thin T-shirt fell to his chest. His sunken abdomen dangled just over the dead water.

More rats, black and oily, inbred, all with same distorted overbite,  poured out of the pipe, scampering over sandbars, broken branches, and busted up concrete blocks-flowing over the filth and sediment while Leonard thrashed in the dark. Rows of jagged fence-posts, gnarled and falling over, tore into Leonard’s cellophane skin. Everything around him was pooling with red as the stagnant water turned thick and heavy. He groaned, his spongy lips shredded and bleeding in the web of the fluorescent light that fell through the brush. He arched his back, His face was pale. Each breath was a constriction whistling in his windpipe as his body convulsed in the black water. An undulating mat of bloody fur slithered over him, his mouth ajar.

 A black paw, like a chicken's foot,  wrapped around his bleeding lip, stretching it out, pulling it down. His mouth gaped wide. A black twitching nose drew out of the shiny mass and twitched, excitedly, at his fetid breath. The rat emerged. It sat  on black haunches, crouched on the quivering stream, ready to leap. It jumped.

Leonard gagged at it, The swaying tail smeared his chin with oil, It stretched his mouth open. Leonard's eyes rolled back as the rat disappeared into it and blood started running out of the side, foamy and red.  
Written by crystalcolumz (-Shannon-)
Author's Note
A piece of mine from years ago; originally appearing in “Under the Bed,” an online rag, years defunct. Enjoy
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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