This one was written for a competition which set the opening line, and had a 750 word limit. I actually wrote an entirely different entry for the competition.
I like this version, though an early draft had R.O.U.S.es which were vetoed. Unfortunately it feels too much like the intro to a story to be a proper piece of flash fiction on it’s own. I may come back to it and finish the story…
By Jason Gibbs
“Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”
Father had always been a well of great advice. I’m not sure that was the best for my first day at boarding school, but his heart was in the right place. Brain too, probably.
Another favourite was, “Penguins don’t need frying pans.” If I’m honest I still don’t know what he meant, probably something jolly healthy like: eat raw fish. Or possibly: technology isn’t always required. Though he probably just liked how it scanned.
Of course the advice I should have given him was, “If you’ve just shot a large cat, don’t put your head in its mouth for a triumphal shot until you’re absolutely certain it’s properly dead.” Not snappy I realise, but might have meant he’d have seen me graduate.
The years since hadn’t been kind. But that piece of advice, while unhelpful at boarding school, had become surprisingly useful in the last few years.
“Jenkins! Are you day dreaming again?”
“No sir, sorry sir. Just remembering advice from my father.”
“Jolly good chap, pity about that whole lion thing.”
“Yes yes. Get to work boy. Sewers don’t clean themselves. Take Jones with you.”
I nearly groaned. Jones was such a despicable lick-spittle. If I wanted to stop for a toke or two he’d be off tattling before I’d taken the first draw. Also, more seriously, he didn’t understand the job.
Like my father I was a hunter. Admittedly I was hunting in the sewers of our great capital, and not out in one of the colonies.
Jones arrived, cockily throwing his hat on the peg.
I nodded to him. We were rarely on speaking terms. He went to get his orders, and came back with his grin quite removed. It would have been satisfying if I didn’t have to spend the next few days with him.
“Now Jones, we’re going out to the far reaches first. Rumours of rat activity.”
“Spencer, we work in the sewers, there are rats everywhere.”
“Dammit man, this is the kind of activity we investigate!”
He rolled his eyes.
We were well kitted out. Leather armour, including steel toecaps and heavy gloves. Jones had the flame thrower, and I had the flechette gun. It fired lots of tiny ice needles, which meant it was much less likely to cause damage to the walls, and the needles rarely penetrated leather. They’d pass through skin and fur easily though.
We set out, and I tried to be civil to Jones.
“How long have you been here Jones?”
“Four extremely boring weeks. Look, love to chat, but my brother sent me this great podcast which I need to listen too.”
With that he plugged in, and the only sound in the tunnels was our footsteps.
After hours of walking, and a couple of silent rest stops, we started to approach the area where the rat activity had been seen. I looked around for any clues. Jones carried on regardless, even after I tapped him and indicated we were approaching the danger area. He’d never seen real rats.
I noticed slash marks on the wall. Often the bigger rats would mark the walls of their territory. We’d had a scientist studying them, he thought there might be a rudimentary language contained within them. I hadn’t seen him for a while.
A screech made me stop. The worrying thing was that it was from behind. I tapped Jones again, and tried to indicate that he needed to get the flamethrower ready. He ignored me and kept walking.
A few steps on he stopped and then started to scrabble back. Clearly he’d seen the rats. It’s always a shock the first time.
He backed towards me and started the flamethrower up.
I aimed up the tunnel as the creatures came round the corner. There were hundreds of them, their eyes sparkling in our torchlight. We must have found one of the bigger nests.
Jones opened up with the flamethrower, and the smell of burned rat filled the tunnel. My job was more technical; I picked off rats which escaped around the edge of the flame. I liked to think I’d inherited my father’s marksmanship as I killed them. Each rat was stupid, but the swarm had intelligence and if enough got round they’d be all over us, so I made sure to focus on the task. My father would have been proud of me.