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The Trap – Piece 3

February 17, 2011

With a little hesitancy he turned and pushed his way through the leaves that were like long green tongues. His nose picked up his former path and he scampered back the same way he had come. The moon lit the thin bushland in its bright light, but once again Neesum found no trouble here. No trouble until he reached the den.

Fresh scat from the females marked the entrance to the den’s tunnels. There were three bitches in the pack, and they all left behind the pungent, sticky odour of female rats on heat. He ran his nose up and down the brickwork, almost wiped it, to take it in the scent. It was intoxicating, especially for Neesum, who, on arriving in the pack, had never experienced it. The urge to mount a female and pump away was what got him to where he now was. Inside the alpha would be doing just that and the thought made Neesum prickle up. The urge to fight was inside him; the primal urge to become the alpha and take the females.

However much he hated the alpha, fear was a great counterbalance. He feared the big brown. Memories of the big brown asserting his dominance were more than still vivid. Neesum could not fight and win with brawn. What separated Neesum was that he could find a way to fight using his other strengths. At that moment submission was the only survival. When the big brown wanted to remind Neesum who was boss, he would have to take it like a rat; on his back in the dirt.

He scrambled up the bricks and into the entrance to the den. As he entered the pack were all all dozing around. The big brown lay half asleep while two of the females intermittently groomed his coat. The other three males lay in a second pile, each taking turns to clean the hard to reach places or use one another as a pillow.

They all acknowledged Neesum, but none came to him and he didn’t attempt to join in the rituals. That night he was an outsider. He even looked different, the only rat mostly white and not brown or black. The next day he would assert himself back into the pack, let himself be dominated, and reaffirm his rank. Tonight, he didn’t want to be one of them and he was content. Happy to be alone, like no rat has ever felt.

He went to sleep with one eye open, with rat ambitions on his mind. With the image of his pups being eaten, a plan gathered in his head. Ideas slowly condensed. His new intellect may have been clunky, but he had the single-mindedness of a rat on his side. There would be success.

Scuffling sounds of the pack woke him. He had no time to think about how hungry he was before he had to defend himself. Most mornings were the same. Each rat reminded the other where they slotted into their little troupe. Straight to defence he bounced to his feet, put himself up against the wall and started avoiding the nips to his softer areas. Mostly it was playful, if you played well that was. If you fought back too much, then it would likely get you into real trouble. Knowing what to do, Neesum wrestled his way out through the tunnels and fled to the entrance, a black rat right on his tail.

Inside the den, play was fine, but at the exit these thoughts left both Neesum’s and the chasing rats’ minds. Every rat had to be careful outside of the den. Both rats squashed their heads out of the entrance and sniffed the air, their whiskers working furiously. Deciding that it was safe they scrambled down onto the dust. The other rats, lined up behind them, followed quickly. Soon the pack was running along one of their well-used paths in a ragged line of fur.

As he ran Neesum listened closely to everything around him. Underneath the building was always quiet, but from above them the occasional dull noises could be heard from the humans going about their own business. Neesum did not fear the humans, but he had been taught to be cautious of humans he didn’t know. The other rats would avoid the humans. Sure they would go up there, their hunger for human food was too great not to, but their fear of death outweighed their hunger. Barely.

And just like that Neesum figured out how he would get his revenge. A tingle of excitement ran up him. It was the feeling of success when he would solve a puzzle in the laboratory and knew a reward was imminent. He had solved his puzzle of how to trap the rats and it came to him easily, like he was programmed with the information and just needed to reach near enough to the answer to have it shine upon him. The pack’s greed would be their downfall. First he would overcome their fear to get them close enough to the humans and then he would let the humans do the rest.

The plan would have to wait, though. Hunger was the prominent thought on his mind and the alpha had just taken them to one of their richest hunting grounds: the garbage pick up behind the cafeteria. They crowded in a gap between the walls of the library and the dining hall. Their senses were overloaded by the smell of mixed foods becoming tangy in the midday heat. They tried to look past this and perceive any danger before they ran out to scavenge.

The alpha scurried out first, crossing the four meters of open ground and getting under the shadows of the large, steel dumpster. There was no way they could get inside the big steel box. But there was no need to. All of the human waste rarely made it into the big steel bins. From the safety under the bins the rats made little raids out into the open, grabbed a bone or a few wet morsels, and took them back under the bin to lunch on it. This continued until the rats fear overtook their hunger. Taking whatever they could carry, they went back through the gap in the wall and into the cool shade.

Now it was play time. The rats pattered their way back along their familiar routes, tagged each other, ran, wrestled and had fun. Their eventual destination was the den to indulge in another well-earned nap. Neesum joined in the fun for a bit, but he had business to attend to. He lagged behind the mischief of rats and then went his own way.

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