Ratz

Ratz

A Story by
"

It’s just like having faith in an after-life. You have to believe that you’ll still be alive in five minutes time. So we fought on...

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1.

     There were only eight of us left out of the entire force that had tried to hold a line at Redmond Street. At first we cursed the regular army for abandoning us until we realized that even though the gunfire was more intense it was also receding. The Ratz were herding the panicking civilians back into the ranks of the soldiers, creating chaos and restricting their ability to return fire, then coming out of the surrounding underground stations. They were parcelling them up, taking them out one chunk at a time. And, unlike the soldiers, they had no qualms about who they killed. If it could be eaten, it was fair game. Humans were edible. It was a massacre on an unimaginable scale.
     How they managed to get down there in the first place is anybody’s guess. Where they came from originally, and why, is just science fiction. They simply spilled out of the long abandoned train complex, the abortive Victorian attempts at an underground rail system, and then came through the London sewers. Hence the nick-name. Ratz. There were so many of them that they must have been extending the system for years, perhaps decades. With one aim. And at dusk on that Saturday, when the city was jam-packed with people, all relaxing, unsuspecting, the attack came. Perfect timing.
     We were all part-timers, Territorial Army, but we knew basic tactics. That’s why we were holed up on the gantry inside the library. The back entrance led into a tight alley while the book racks narrowed the attack channels, stopping any type of mass onslaught. It had worked so far; the pools of blood and lumps of shadow were proof of that. We guessed that there were probably other small pockets of resistance just as pointless as ours. Deep down we knew that it was only a matter of time until the mopping up began. But it’s just like having faith in an after-life. You have to believe that you’ll still be alive in five minutes time and the basic instinct for survival won’t let you act in any other way. So we fought on. One of the women, a Corporal named Johnson and two of the privates, Case and Willis, were injured. Nothing critical, just lots of blood.
     Late on Sunday afternoon, the dull thwump of mortar fire started, swiftly followed by the first artillery bursts, slowly travelling East to West.
“At last,” I thought. “They’ve finally pulled their fingers out.”
“They’re making a firebreak,” whispered someone. “Flattening the land to create an empty zone between them and the Ratz. A killing field. Trying to slow the advance.” 
“Which side of the break are we on?”
Sound swept away any answer. Two nearby office tower blocks crumpled under direct hits. It felt as if the pillars of heaven were collapsing. It sounded like hell. We weren’t on either side. We were in the middle and had no choice. Run for it.
     They weren’t aliens in the sense that we’d all come to expect through films, books and scientific theories. They were more like humans but with flat, crushed faces. Until they opened their mouths. They were able to dislocate their jaws, like snakes, to swallow large amounts whole. Human limbs, for example. That’s when you could see what you truly didn’t want to see: those sickening teeth. Two concentric rings of them, glittering in the flickering light like metal spikes.
     As we moved roughly North along paths newly created by twisted and fallen buildings, it felt as if London had enclosed us like a skull and we were trapped in its fiery eyes. The London Eye, such a proud symbol, hung against the smoking sky like a giant’s toy or a Catherine wheel, the cabins ablaze, the metal struts beginning to glow in the heat. Finally it gave way and, swinging slowly to one side, fell with a curious tortured scream. Bodies, or just their remains, littered this gloomy world. Private Jameson was sobbing unashamedly. He was only seventeen, a skinny fair haired rookie. As much as we all felt for him it didn’t stop us from being brutal in the way we hushed him. All of our lives hung in the balance. His noise could make the difference between surviving and being supper. Soon, however, it made no difference. Some survivors joined us. Others just sat, staring through the bars of shock. We left them. Callous, yes, but we knew we only had this one chance. Although we moved as stealthily as possible, covering each other all the time just as we had been taught, the growing line of survivors just stumbled along like sheep as if following the person ahead of them was all that their minds could allow them to do. My whispered curses for them to be quiet mixed with the pity inside me. I had had some training. All they had was shock.
     Sergeant Edwards was a long-serving Scotsman. Despite me outranking him, we followed his advice and stuck to the sides of the streets as best we could. Not only was there more danger from falling masonry inside the buildings but there were basements. It was possible that the Ratz had also penetrated them on their way up. Every other part of their assault had been so meticulously planned.
At one point helicopters passed above us. We knew they were heavy craft, gunships, by the way their engines made our bones thrum. There were flashes in the sky, tiny lightning streaks. They never came back. Fighters did little better. They made three sorties. We watch the dance of missiles, so many missiles... The planes turned into stars.
     The journey was tortuous, snaking as it did through a city that hadn’t existed before the bombardment. Even when there were no fires nearby the very air was a filthy mix of smoke and dust. We struggled through the night down streets and passages where buildings had been only hours before. Steel and concrete blocks swamped the world, monstrous leavings. All the time, thoughts of turning a corner and coming face to face with the murderous Ratz swung violently across my mind, from fear to rage. And back.
     We didn’t reach the edge of the fire break until the early hours of Monday morning. There were no Ratz. We didn’t come across a single one throughout the entire journey. Plenty of bodies, but not one still breathing. It was eerie. Twelve hours before the world was swarming with them. Either they had paused, readying themselves for a second wave or the bombardment had worked, driving them back underground until the firestorm was over. Near the QE2 bridge, we could see the silhouettes of tanks on the far side of a small park. One hundred yards to go. The sound of the city burning behind us had subsided into a dull monotonous beat, a heart pumping blood across the eardrums. The park was a bubble of silence. Russian roulette doesn’t require Russians or a roulette wheel. Try explaining that to someone with no sense of humour and aliens on his trail. We just took a deep breath and ran into the welcoming arms of safety, of relief. 
There were no soldiers, no humans. The Ratz had not retreated underground. They had long since passed the firebreak. The now silent artillery told us exactly how far past. That momentary confusion proved fatal.

II.

     There were only about ten of them but surprise was the difference. We hardly managed to get a shot off between us. The Sergeant, Corporal Johnson and myself were the only ones who made it out of there. It still sickens me, remembering the way some of the Ratz were ripping at the corpses and swallowing what they could, even before most of our group had gone down. The civilians died easily. The Ratz shot those who tried to run first and then worked their fire back into the core. If there is a god of some kind then only he knows how we got away.
Shortly afterwards the QE2 bridge erupted in flames. Along the river Thames, flashes and cracks of thunder told us that the bridges and tunnels had been mined. In desperation they had been blown, trying to split the Ratz between those who were in London and those who had made it across into Essex. When we realized this we turned South and then East, following the line of the river, hoping to reach Kent. To find anything that floated to get us away from the land. We just wanted to be anywhere as long as it was outside London.
     On Monday evening the artillery started shelling the city again. This time it came from the sea. We guessed that at least one of our battleships had arrived. It was too far out for missiles although the Ratz made a few half-hearted attempts. Then came the storm. It sounded like a thousand generators all straining at once. A slow blue light spiralled up from all over the city to form a ball. Suddenly, it streaked away, over the coastline leaving a rainbow comet trail in its wake. The sky lit up just below the horizon. The sound of the ship’s destruction took a few seconds longer to reach us.
     When we were occasionally forced inland we had to tell the story again and again. There was no radio, no TV, no phones, no communications of any kind. Most people didn’t believe us. They wanted to believe that it was a major disaster caused by terrorists of some kind. As bad as it was, they could at least understand that. But not aliens.
     Just East of Rochester, Johnson hot-wired a car. Underneath her bandaged head, she was a pretty girl who had to fend off the occasional advance. After all, most soldiers were men. Beside her excellent soldiering skills, however, it seemed that she had other talents.
     At 11a.m on the Tuesday, all electricity failed. An hour later the world shuddered around our hearts. Luckily, none of us were looking when the flash came out of the North. The mushroom cloud rose slowly, majestically.
“Birmingham,” said Edwards. “By Christ, it isn’t just London. The b******s are everywhere.”
We guessed that the next two clouds were Cardiff and either Liverpool or Manchester. They rose like the fingers of a drowning man making one last grasp for air. England was collapsing.

III.

     A flood of refugees told us that there was fighting in Canterbury. The Ratz were keeping to the cities but they were spreading rapidly. A plague. We pulled off into a small marina and when a portly gent, masquerading as a captain, tried to physically stop us from taking a cabin cruiser, Sergeant Edwards just shot him.
We made it across the English Channel with no problems, thankfully, only to find smoke rising over Calais and the terrible mushroom further inland. Paris. The full extent of the horror began to dawn on us. France was under attack as well. We carried on South, only stopping at isolated towns for more diesel and to stock up the larder. Once, but only once, we saw a scattered band of Ratz. A small group of them creeping through the outskirts of a fishing village. I wanted to fire on them, if only to warn the villagers but the Sergeant stayed my hand.
“There’ll be others around.”
He was right. Just in time, we pulled away from the coast, out of rifle range.
The weather got worse and worse as we continued South, skipping most of Portugal. We knew that the atomic explosions were mostly to blame. We refuelled for one last time and carried on South past Gibraltar. The island stood like an Olympic torch, a single flame.
     Our plan was simple. The further South we travelled, the more it crystallized and the better it seemed. It was logical. The cities were always the starting points. Then the Ratz spread out. Behind the coastal region of North West Africa lay desert. We figured why would they bother with it? There was nothing there for them. Johnson had shrugged her shoulders then and sighed.
"Who knows what they want? All we've seen so far is destruction."
We were right. There was nothing for them there. There was nothing at all. The desert had reached there before any of us. It had come racing in, fantastic sand storms running before the atomic winds. The city of Tangier had all but disappeared. There were no signs of life. Worse still, no bodies. Nothing to show that humans had been there apart from the roofs of a few isolated buildings peeping above the sand and a single piece of shallow twisted humour. A red car lay wrecked next to one of these roofs, its back broken, its front grill a sour grin. A testament to a new legend. The failed history of Mankind.

I was the first to break down.

© 2011



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Added on August 8, 2011
Last Updated on August 8, 2011
Tags: science fiction, invasion, horror

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