On that day Melchior was wearing his utmost formal attire. A piece of plaid kitchen cloth and a shiny helmet made from a thimble he found in a sewing kit. He carried a black trident stolen from a box of pick-up sticks. Melchior was walking down a dark corridor through the attic full of old boxes and old books. Somehow this was his home now.
“Never forget the kitchen,” he murmured to himself. “It was nice and warm in the kitchen.”
It was on that day he would declare the problems of his community were to be resolved once and for all. To accomplish that, it would require a few deaths, that’s certain. A sacrifice was needed. A just sacrifice. Made of an enemy. Blood for blood. Whisker for whisker.
It was dark in the attic, but glimmers of pale moonlight found their way inside through cracks in the walls and roof. One plum of light fell straight at the rats’ altar. It was a spool of rolled up wire on top of a box from an old alarm clock. Here Melchior spoke to the rats. The alarm clock was placed behind him and it’s bell called them all to hear his speeches.
Melchior waited until his friend Rubin arrived. A simple rat. A useful rat. With not much ambition of his own. His foremost quality was loyalty. He followed those greater than him with bravery and Melchior valued that. Besides, Rubin knew how to set the alarm on the clock. Melchior did not.
The ticking was faint. Tick. Tack. Tick.
Midnight struck and the rusty clockwork mechanism came to life. The bell sounded off. After a while tiny paws started scratching the wooden floor. More and more of them. From the darkest corners of the attic they came and formed a circle around the altar. Melchior waited a while for them to become silent.
“My brothers,” he said. “My sisters. The day has come to stop hiding in the shadows. Today, we learn the answer to the great question. Are we rats or are we mice? Why do we live in fear? Since when aren’t we the ones to dictate the rules? Weren’t we the first to take the cellar from the humans? Who did that? Tell me, who did that, brothers and sister?”
“We did it, Melchior!”, the rats all growled and squealed in a chorus. “We, the rats, did it! We did it, Melchior!”
“So, I ask you, why has not one of us been down in the cellar for at least three months now?”
They all went silent. Their eyes were fixed on the floor or each other. A thunder way far in the fields rolled with a roar and raced with the whistling wind.
“Old potatoes? Flour? Beans and corn?”, Melchior went on. “The cellar is stocked with jars and boxes of food. Why aren’t we allowed there? Isn’t the cellar our rightful place?”
“The cats, Melchior!”, Rubin shouted. “Bloody wild beasts!”
Angry whispers echoed among the rats and rose louder and louder just like the storm outside.
“Bloody beasts!”, the rats chanted. “Stinking cats!”
“They think they are the masters of our house!”, yelled Old Limpy. He lost his hind leg in a mouse trap. And his paw was blasted off by a firecracker on some New Year’s Eve. Yet he hated cats way more than anything that befell him by human hands.
“Tear them apart!”, some rat shouted. “Take back what’s ours!”
“Tear them apart!”, Rubin started to chant.
“Tear them apart! Thear them apart!”, the other rats joined in.
He waited for them to calm down. Under those whiskers he had the grin of a champion.
“Fools! Fools!”, yelled someone amongst them. “Fools! You all are fools!”
The other voices went quiet.
“Fools!”, the squeaky female voice remained. “Fools!”
Rubin watched carefully as a small rat was climbing the stacks of books to reach a spot of light on top of it.
“You tell your name, if you want to speak,” Melchior said. His weary eyes had trouble recognizing the rat.
“How stupid are you? Tear them apart? How exactly? How would you fight them? What’s your plan? Do you really want to share the fate of the mice?”
It was Abigail. She wasn’t afraid to speak aloud what was on everybody’s mind. Even Melchior’s, though he wouldn’t admit it.
“Wasn’t there enough blood spilled?”, she had tears in her eyes. “Do you really want to see ours drop like rain?”
She almost broke down.
“Our blood was spilled already,” Old Limpy said. “Have you forgotten about your Bartlo, Abigail?”, he asked looking her straight in the eye and pokin at the air with his crutch.
“Bartlo is dead…,” Abigail said.
“Right! Killed by a cat! Shouldn’t we avenge him?”, Old Limpy pressed her.
“Bartlo tried to reason with them… Bartlo tried to take a stand against them… Bartlo was the bravest. He was the smartest… And Bartlo is dead… So if even he failed, what chance against the cats do we have?” Abigail’s voice trembled but slowly regained momentum. “The cats have sharp claws. They have sharp teeth made for tearing things apart. What do we have? Needles? Nails? Tridents made of plastic?”
She was looking at Melchior. He was silent.
“Even if I had to do it with my rotten teeth!”, Old Limpy said. “They are as sharp as theirs, my young lass. Just let me at one of them and you will see!”
“Everyone, listen to me. We have to find another house. This one has served us well but it won’t sustain us,” Abigail went on. “The mice are gone for a reason. The cats ate them, cause they refused to leave! We should be wise to not share their mistake!”
“You said your words. May I speak now?”, Melchior said. “I know there is fear in your hearts. We are small. We are starving. But we are fierce. And we are many!”
He pointed his trident at the crowd.
“And we are cunning! We are not defensless! We do have something to arm ourselves with, dear Abigail. We have a weapon we will use against the cats, that is deadlier than the sharpest tooth or claw,” Melchior said.
“What weapon?’, Abigail asked.
“Rubin. Show the non-believer. Show them all, what we found lately,” Melchior said and turned to his friend.
Rubin asked a rat nearby to help him put up a polaroid photograph for every rat to see.
“I found a camera in one of the boxes. It wasn’t hard to operate. Of course only when we learned how the batteries are replaced. No matter. You just push one button. And a picture comes out. So we took it with us to explore the house…”
“Get to the point, Rubin,” Melchior said.
“Well, some days ago, I was using a rope to get down this drain and got in the pipes… And I’ve found something. There was a large metal object lodged in the drain. So I went back for the camera and took some pictures. As you can see for yourselves. If you look closely you’ll see that this here… is something that resembles this…”
He put up another picture. It was a page ripped from some history book.
“This is what the humans call a cannon. Now there were many cannons. Some where really, really enourmous and had wheels. But then they had new cannons. Smaller ones that they could fit in their hands. These cannons use what the humans call bullets. The basic point is that the cannon has a barrel. And a piece of metal is shot from that barrel. Basically, what we can use this for is to point it at a cat and kill it with a bullet.”
“Yes! Behold! That is our weapon, my brothers and sisters!” said Melchior. “This is how we will get rid of the bloody cats!”
“Well, I’ll be…” Old Limpy said. “About time, I say”.
“So what? Do you know how to use it?”, Abigail said. “Or are you just bluffing, Melchior?”
“I know how to use it,” Rubin said. “I’ve witnessed one of these used by the humans. I know how they hold it. I know how they load it. We will retrieve the cannon, clean it up and…”
“Brothers, sisters, settle down,” Melchior said. “Yes, Abigail, you hear that? We know how to use it. We do have a plan. You just have to wait, trust us and see.”
“May I?” Rubin climbed up the stage and in the excitement pushed Melchior’s aside. “Listen. There are six cats down there. And there are exactly as many bullets in the cannon. So this is almost and unbelievable coincidence!”
“That’s right, my dear friend Rubin.” Melchior said once he regained his speaking spot. “This is clearly a sign! We won’t share the fate of the mice downstairs! We will hunt the cats down. Or we will force them to leave. It will be them, not us, that will leave! We are smarter than cats!”
“Damn straight,” Old Limpy said. “We will avenge Bartlo! We will avenge our fallen brothers who gave their life to protect ours! Hunt them down or force them out! Hunt them down or force them out!”
“Hunt them down!” the rats chanted. “Force them out!”
“Hunt them down!”, Melchior shouted. “Force them out!”
The crowd of rats waved and cheered, their eyes locked on Melchior.
“Blood for blood,” Rubin said. He alone was looking at Abigail.
“Whisker for whisker…”, she whispered.