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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Where there are people there are rats

City of Human Remains – Chapter 6




The word stays in his ears.  It’s a mission, a calling.  Something Lucrecio shoulders as a holy quest.

The patrolman thinks at the exit of the police station, This line is nutso long.  The volunteers wrap around a corner and another corner and another, out of site.  As far as his feet can take him in that direction, Lucrecio walks the line saying, “Thank you, grazias, thank you for volunteering.”  No one seems impatient.  They’re all ready and willing to help.  Like blood donors during a drive.  Here, take it, it’s the least I can do. 

Twice, family members stop him.  They hold up images of their children.  Have they found anyone?  Tell me, please, tell me?  That sort of thing.

Nothing yet, he answers in a consoling, but optimistic voice.  Nothing yet.  Gonna break soon.  We’re searching underground now.  Subways and tunnels.  The sewers.  Underground lairs of villains known and yet discovered.  UNDERGROUND! he declares, more to himself than to anyone who might be paying attention.

Lucrecio hurries to his own duties.

His feet blister, but his brain doesn’t register the pain.  He could go another 10 kilometers.  His body may be 42, but his feet are those of a 21-year-old.  Years on the beat have conditioned them – they ripen like wine.

Lucrecio turns at the cotton lot.  The park and playground, where there are normally a dozen children scrambling, imitating, participating, fighting, spinning, is now empty and quiet.  The city’s children are locked inside their homes now.  With the early sunset over the buildings, the park grows dim.  This is bizarre for a mildly conditioned autumn evening.

City this large, apartments this small, the parents must be going ape-shit.

Lucrecio lights a U-shaped tobacco pipe in secret and smokes it under a Tomas Zigon swirly-slide, where no one can see him.  The hidden places are 1 of the controversial but ‘interesting’ elements Zigon included in the re-design of the parks.  Why are our children so protected?  Zigon, who, in his lifetime, had watched playgrounds become more and more safe and sterile until each may as well have been encased in foam.  Where is the danger?  Where is the responsibility?  Children hurtle to their doom, to be saved, but only in parks.  They jump off the couch and get a broken neck.  The reversal of the over-protectiveness was high on Zigon’s strategy.  Make children safer by making parks less so.  Give them places to reflect where their parents cannot see them and they will become safer, more appreciative of safety.  More responsible.  More independent.  And now Lucrecio appreciates these Zigon enclosures.  It allows him to smoke his pipe without looks from strangers.

When finished with his vice, he returns to his momentarily ignored mission.

6 blocks to the grate.  Under the Fyboad Building is the largest water drain he knows from his daily beat.  Covered with a worn metal barricade, the drain can only be breached if the barricade is raised, which would take great strength – strength he does not have.  Pedestrians wander past – as this is  a well-trafficked street – but they scarcely take note of Lucrecio as he kneels and listens for under-earth sounds.  Too close, he gets his ear wet with dew.  The Doll System calls for rain every 3 days lasting 1 hour.  It rained last night, hard.  He hadn’t felt rain that hard in a while.

System on the blink.  It was as if Doll had washed away the scent of the rotten garbage that had overtaken the city with the disappearances, the odor of corruption and lies.  City Hall should have thought of the weather and had Doll turn his unwelcome invention off for the night, for safekeeping.  Don’t want any evidence going down drains.  No telling the damage.

Lucrecio hears…

A trickle.

A ding.

A pipe, expanding.

The smell of leaves rotting in rainwater.

No children.

No cries.

But he’s patient.  He stays crouched for 4 whole minutes.

A rat.


Little feet, smaller than a child’s.  Definitely animal.


Rats, he says aloud.

City guts the rat population and the vermin always come back.


Where there are people there are rats.

Why, sir, we’re in fact a rat’s best friends.  Aren’t we?

Lucrecio draws his service revolver.  If he sights just 1 rat, he’ll blow its tail off.  Against the rules, but he’s discharged a full magazine over the last 6 or 7 weeks in pursuit of the heathen creatures.

Fucking rats.

Going hunting? Asks someone from all directions.

Lucrecio strains to peer into the dark and hear where the voice originates.  Show yourself!

Behind you.

Lucrecio feels a little foolish.  He turns and a man is there.

Immaculate.  He wears a 3-piece tweed suit with black tie – the fashionable monochrome that the business types wear.  The man’s hair is cut tight and sprinkled with gray.  He is late 30s, but clearly fights a family gene for premature aging.

Lucrecio pushes with his knee and raises himself up.  The patrolman looks embarrassed at his drawn revolver, which he quickly holsters.  Thought I heard something, he explains.  We’ve been told to check all options.  Even the grates.

I have a key.


A key?  To the grate?

Through the basement.  I’m a trustee.

The immaculate man gestures to the Fyboad Building.  I can lead you to the sub-basement, if you’re interested, Officer.

Lucrecio goes giddy.  But he’s frightened, too.  He’s been given no orders from Carlos to actually enter a building and explore.  Prove your theory.  That’s pretty vague.  But could be construed as permission, he rationalizes.  He’s spent a day above ground with no results.

A key?

My name’s Ted Appleton.  I’m a trustee.