Fetal Rats

In the four hours since our capture on a wooded mountain in Vermont,I had seen my friends variously shot clean through with a crossbow,dismembered by a flying double-bladed ax, sawed in half by duelingchainsaws, impaled and roasted over the fire, and crushed under acoffin-size boulder. Yet we were all still alive.

The latest torture was of my best friend Antonio, who suffereda series of skin grafts and organ replacements from wild animalsincluding bears, wolves, buffaloes, one tortoise, a puma, and an owl,making him into a mottle of a little humanity and a lot of beast. Hewas then sewn into a canvas stretcher and strapped into a framework ofboughs broken from nearby trees. The whole thing was then placed onthe armature of a gigantic catapult. The catapult was cockedand ready to fling him out over the valley.

The robed figure who had captured us held a hatchet in onehand and a whip in the other. By waving his hands and enunciating aseries of spells, he had made the catapult assemble itself fromthe self-splitting, self-stripping trunks of nearby trees. Antonio didnot cry out in pain or plead for mercy when the evil one whippedhim, but snarled back in anger, bearing his newly inserted wolf'sfangs, extending and retracting his claws -- he had a bear's pawfor one hand, and a big cat's paw for the other.

Our tormenter grew weary of his animal-man toy and cut thesingle rope holding back the arm of the catapult. Antonio sailedover the cliff, rising ever higher andflapping his hairy limbs like a ragdoll as the canvas-and-woodtruss broke apart in the blue sky above the valley. Hewas still ascending when the the figure addressedme as if continuing a familiar academic discussion.

``The percentage of your bodyweight comprised of parasiticalfetal rats is greater than you might think, even though inyour case it is still slightly below average.''

``Just tell me!''

``You weigh approximately 210 pounds, correct?''

``You weighed me yourself! How much?!'' It was true;he had hanged me from a tree while all my friends watched as bestas they could, and then, as I looked down with my broken neck anddead but still seeing eyes, he had taken advantage of my rapidlysetting rigor mortis to lift a spring scale up under my feet.By winding up the rope and spinning me like a top, he mademe balance on that scale. I do not know how I managed to readthe dial myself, butwhen he saw me looking, he complained that I was not dead yet and choppedoff the branch from which I was hanging. That's when the verbaltorture began. No matter what he told me about myself, I could notresist believing it, even if it meant I was full of fetal rats.

The noose was still making it difficult to talk, butI blurted out again: ``Tell me how much of me is rats!''

He tilted his hooded head to compensate for my broken neck andflatly declared, ``Forty-nine pounds.''

I wanted to kill myself right then and there, lest knowingthe truth about the rats infiltrating my body make them palpable.But what if he were lying? No, I had seen him dissect one of myfriends, a body builder, and then put him back together again --the rats were everywhere inside him, and apparently had not interferedin any noticable way with his ability to do things. I took a fewsideways stepstoward the precipice and studied the robed one's face to see if hehad guessed my intention. He can probably read my mind,I thought. I started to make a run for the edgebut the gnarled roots of the hanging-tree reached up to trip meand then ensnarl my legs. As I writhed and squirmed in the dust,I felt the flesh beginning to crawl under my skin, and then I sawfor the first time that my skin was no longer a light tan but pink andcovered with fine grey hair.

Just as I was about to scream, the wizard, if thatis what he was, stopped me with his loud, steady voice: ``You areright, I have deceived you. You are not a man full of rats, but arat yourself, a mutant rat escaped from an oncology lab, and thepotential to become human is spreading throughout your bodyand soul and devastating everything in you that you callyou like a lymphoma.''

``No. No! Take me back! Back! Back away from here!'' I yelled,or rather squeaked, and as he raised his hand to cast another spell,I woke up.

Dreamed by: Spraxlo