Teabox Tales - The Rat About Town and His Pact with Master Stripes
Updated: Nov 23, 2022
Just something simple to get myself out of writer's block. It's partially based on this Reddit prompt from user U/Sayeewen, but I decided to take it in my own direction. The writing isn't the best here, and I guess it's a children's story, but it's still good enough to post.
I did not want to be the rat about town, you know. Do you have any idea how tiring it was to gather food for the entire colony? It was almost more than one rat could bear! But I had no choice, not after the dark day he arrived in our house. I was the fastest of us, and I could outrun the terrible claws of Little Stripes whenever he came. He was an awful cat, with a coat as red as fire and cruel eyes of a sulphurous yellow. He was the end of many a fine rat, let me tell you. Though he was called little, he could still swallow one of us whole.
I once had a widowed sister, and she gave me twelve little nieces and nephews. The more they ate, the more they grew. And the more they grew, the more they needed to eat! The weight of the bag of food on my back grew heavier each day, and it slowed me down. There were some near misses with the dreadful cat beast, I tell you! But I always evaded him with little more than a scratch. I do not call them scars; they are my racing stripes.
But we are rid of him now, thanks to my pact with Master Stripes, the king of all cats. Let me tell you how it happened.
I went down to the bakery one warm summer evening, to talk to the bakery rats. There is plenty of food to be found there, and the bakery rats are generous.
“Here.” The lead bakery rat said to me. “Here is a pile of crusts for your family, and three-quarters of an iced currant bun for the journey.”
“Thank you.” I said, but I made my eyes sad. The bakery rats are kind, but they are foolish. If you muss your fur and look pitiful, they will give you more than you need.
“You are sad, my friend. What ails you?”
“There are so many hungry mouths in my colony.” I replied, holding my paws together like a poor beggar mouse. “And our need grows every day. Can’t you spare just a little more? A chocolatey éclair, perhaps?”
“Our need is great, too. I cannot spare even one crumb more. But you can go to the fishmongers, as I heard news of fish heads and oily skins there. They are good eating for the hungry rat.”
So, I went down to the fishmongers, to talk to the fishmonger rats. The fishmonger rats are smelly and crass, but if you impress them with feats of strength, they will give you a prize.
“Hurrah!” Said the lead fishmonger rat. “You have lifted the metal can of tuna fish, so the prize is yours! A big juicy fish head and a rough scaly skin for your hungry family.”
“I am not done! I will wrestle any one of you for some pink smoky salmon!”
The lead fishmonger rat shook his head. “I would like to wrestle, but we have no more to give. Why not try the butcher rats? I have heard that they have rubbery fat and marrowbones.”
I went all the way down to the butcher’s shop, but it was empty. The counters were stark and white, and the shelves were bare.
“Hello?” I called out. “Is there anyone here at all?”
A skinny little rat came out from the shadows to greet me.
“There is nothing left.” He said sadly.
“Not even fat and marrowbones?”
“Not even fat and marrowbones.” He replied. “The butcher has sold it all, and there is none left for us.”
I looked at him with steely eyes. That was not a good rat’s attitude. Where was his tenacity?
“Who bought it?” I asked. “Go and get it back. Be a real rat!”
He shook his head. “If it were anyone else but him, we would steal it all back in two shakes of my tail. But alas, it has been sold to the zoo to feed the hungry Master Stripes. He is the king of all cats, and he could eat us all.”
I laid my ears back in shock. “The cats have a king? Oh, this is grave news indeed.”
“Not so. They say he is large, but they keep him in a cage. But still, I would not mess with him.”
“A cage! Oh! The king of all cats lives in a cage! That is funny.”
With that, I returned home with my bag of food. I scaled the front door, climbed into the mail slot, and landed with a thunk on the hallway floor. But that’s when I saw him, the fearsome Little Stripes on the hallway mat.
He looked at me, eyes blazing. But he didn’t move. There was something in his mouth.
I squinted at it.
It was the hindquarters of a rat! The tail stuck out of his mouth like a strand of spaghetti!
I ran. He gave chase. My bag was heavy, but I did not falter. I dove into the mouse hole and he bumped his nose trying to follow me.
There, I found my twelve little nieces and nephews crying.
“Little Stripes has eaten our mother!” They cried. “Whatever will we do now?”
I put my bag down and started handing out breadcrumbs and fish scales. A plan was forming in my head.
“Do not fret, my little ones. I know what to do.”
That night, once every rat in the house was tucked up in bed, I left to wander once more. I walked past the bakers, past the fishmongers, and even past the butcher’s shop. I walked all the way to the zoo; the domain of Master Stripes himself.
Let me tell you, little rat pups, the zoo is an evil place indeed. There are unnatural beasts galore, with teeth and claws and piercing eyes bigger than even the largest rat. Yet they are caged by the hubris of man, and they long to be free
It was not hard to find Master Stripes. He languished in his metal cage, his eyes glistening with sorrow. He was everything Little Stripes was and more. Several times larger, with dark stripes blacker than the midnight sky. Just as Little Stripes could eat a rat in one bite, Master Stripes could do to him.
“What do you want, little rat thing?” He sighed. “Why are you here in my sad domain?”
“My lord.” I said, bowing to him and flattening my ears in respect.
“Spare me the pretences, my child. I am a lord of nobody here.”
“Not so, my lord.” I told him. “I bring news of one of your subjects. He is troublesome, and he must be bought to account. If we could just…”
He swished his tail in frustration.“Pah! There is nothing I can do! Leave!”
I looked up at the lock on his cage. It was a big metal box, with an opening for a key not dissimilar to a mouse hole in size and shape. It would not be too hard to shimmy up the cage bars, stick my paws into the lock, and fiddle until the door was open wide.
I told the great cat as much, and then he was interested.
“You can really set me free? Oh, my dear rat! What can I do for you to make this happen?”
“Easy.” I said. “Come with me to my house and eat the terrible Little Stripes.”
“Consider it a deal.” He said, smiling toothily. “Though I get far more out of this pact than you. Freedom at last, and meat fresher than I have eaten in months.”
It did not take long for me to free him. The world may say what it likes about us rats, but it cannot be denied that we have cunning and nimble paws.
The door of the cage swung open, and he jumped to his paws in delight. There was joy in him in that moment. So much joy. He held his head up proudly, his ears perky and his whiskers bristling.
“Thank you, dear rat friend! I am free! Now, climb on my back and lead me to this troublesome cat.”
We rode through the night. The stars were shining, the moon was full like a great white eye, and he was magnificent. I felt like I was flying, sat there on his back. His strides were so long that his paws barely touched the ground.
Finally, we arrived at the house. Master Stripes would not fit through the letter box, or even through the cat flap, and we did not want to wake up the humans in the house. Little Stripes would have to be led outside to die.
I crawled in through my normal mode of entry and waited on the hallway mat for him to spot me. It didn’t take long.
He greeted me with a hungry chitter as he gave chase, running as fast as his red paws could carry him. There is sport in running away, so I relished in it this one last time. I allowed myself a victory lap around the sitting room as I led him out of the kitchen cat flap one last time.
Master Stripes made quick work of him. The very last I saw of him was his tail hanging out of the tiger’s mouth like a strand of spaghetti.
“That was delicious.” He said. His work was done. Our pact was finished.
“Where will you go now, Master Stripes?”
He gave a contemplative purr. “Oh, I’ll be around. I will roam free, just as I was born to do, but I will return to you when I am needed. Whenever a cat causes trouble to you, my little rat friend, I will come back and fight on your behalf.”
“Thank you, Master Stripes.”
“No, thank you, little rat about town. Thank you for setting me free.”