The boat didn’t launch until 10PM. Allia and the three Swedish men she found herself with settled into the hold of the 25-foot cargo vessel ferrying supplies between Indonesian islands. They must have hit rough seas, because Allia woke in the dark to find the boat tipping right then left, as if God were running big fingers up and down the keys of a piano. There was rain and there were rats. When the boat tipped right, the travelers and the rats rolled to the right; when the boat tipped left, they rolled left. Without an ounce of condescension, the Swedes formed their long bodies into a triangle around Allia, so that most of the rats flew over rather than rolling into her. A few slammed into her, bounced off, scuttled away. As soon as the sun broke, the winds calmed and the rain cleared. The crew invited the white people onto the deck, where each declined the breakfast stew of indefinable meat over rice.
The first rat appeared about what must have been eight o’clock. Allia spotted it on a railing, sitting up like a puppy, its little paws held its lightly moving chest. Allia traveled with a set of nunchucks. She came up quietly behind the rat to flatten its skull. With a second strike, she sent the carcass into the sea.
The second rat was almost squirrel-like, with perky ears and a rounded back. The third and fourth seemed regularly gross in the way of city rats. When she sent the fourth, bloody, into the sea, one of the Indonesian crewmen said, “Don’t. Sharks.”
Allia could not stop now. They were coming. The next was bigger and mean, the way Allia imagined the rat from 1984 would be. He put up a good fight, dodging Allia’s sticks and taking whacks to his solid sides without flinching. It took more than three minutes of battle to crack its skull. Even then, the old bastard didn’t die. His skull was not completely broken when Allia’s last swoop sent him overboard. Sure enough, he met in the water a shark.
“Mako,” said the crewman. The big rat’s screams evidenced the short, furious fight he gave before a shriek choked off half-way through.
More rats were coming. They were wearing her out. Allia climbed to the crow’s nest. Slowly, steadily, rats followed her, strung out as evenly as Christmas lights. They appeared to have all the time there was. The Swedes and Indonesians retreated to the hold. In a gathering rush, the rodents pulled at Allia with their scratchy paws and threw her into the sea. They tossed her nunchucks after her, to make it more of a fair fight.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower