On my days off, I like to visit Costa in Broadstairs to grab a small cappuccino and a roasted cheddar and tomato sandwich. Once I’m loaded up with my little takeaway bag, I head to the seafront and consume it on one of the benches just along from the bandstand. I don’t usually draw much attention with this regular routine but today, however, I feel like I’m being watched.
Once I’ve eliminated the only other human suspect (the old guy on the next bench who gives me a wink but thankfully doesn’t actually ask me out), I quickly turn my attention to the ground.
I find myself looking at three rats.
Three really cute rats.
Just sitting there in the middle of the path, surrounded by pigeons.
I think: ‘Ah….rats.’
Then an alarm goes off somewhere in my hindbrain and my mind screams: ‘Shit! RATS.’
I straighten up and stare them out but when they refuse to look away and don’t seem inclined to move, I begin to look around to see if anyone else is bothered by them: they don’t seem to be.
I try to rationalise the sudden alarm: rats are just overstuffed mice who once attracted some negative publicity just because they were blamed for spreading a plague that wiped out a quarter of London’s population (but, interestingly, originated in China). Admittedly, a worldwide death toll of 200,000,000 is hard to look past – but rats weren’t to blame for all of that.
Besides, I think, as I glance down at the trio, I once made my fortune writing a book about rats: I should get down on the ground and thank them.
All the people on the benches are smiling at these little critters, as if they’re squirrels.
Don’t get me wrong; nobody is actually feeding them or cooing over them but there’s certainly not the aura of quiet discomfort you’d feel if, say, a bunch of rowdy teenagers showed up.
It’s at this point that I start to wonder if they’re actually alive, as none of them are moving….at all.
I’ve never realized just how much rats look like stuffed toys: they have cute, furry little faces, a set of Bugs Bunny teeth and long tails.
I lean forward and smile at them. ‘Hello, little guys,’ I say.
When they shoot forward and scurry under the bench, I practically achieve flight.
That’s when the noise starts: a sort of crunching, screeching, scurrying furball chaos in the bushes behind me. I’ve never eaten a sandwich so fast. I keep picturing a Rat King, all knotted tails and mutated teeth, exploding from the foliage behind me and taking a chunk out of the bench. Terry Pratchett once wrote about Rat Kings in his book ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ – they’re basically an entire bunch of rats joined together at the tail and they move as one creature, controlled by something called the Hivemind.
I’ve never eaten a sandwich so fast in my life: I practically ate the takeaway bag that came with it (which tasted marginally better).
When I get up to move, I glance back at the bench: now there are SIX rats running around it in a circle, all following each other. I haven’t dropped anything, so they’re literally circling the bench in a sort of whirlwind dance celebrating the fact that they’ve driven me away.
Round and round and round they go….until they realise that I’m no longer there.
Then the biggest one, who looks a bit like a furry Bruce Fosyth, starts to scurry towards me.
The others follow.
I move off quickly, picking up the pace as I head out of the seating area and back towards the town. When I peer over my shoulder, they’re still coming.
Worse: people are noticing.
When I stand still, they stand still.
I feel like The Pied Piper of Broadstairs. When I pass an elderly couple on the last bench, I’m convinced they can see a trail of rats behind. I grin at them and say ‘Don’t worry; I’m not coming back for the children.’
They smile awkwardly but don’t seem to get the joke.
When I glance behind me, the rats are gone.
The Pied Piper of Broadstairs was written by Davey Stone on 30th April, 2021. If you enjoyed reading it, please sign up to the blog to get every post delivered to your email.