Valkyrie: Rat in the Dumpster, page 1part #1 of Valkyrie Series
Rat in the Dumpster
Copyright © 2015 Tony Bowman
All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities between the characters in this book and real individuals alive or dead is purely coincidental.
Rat wasn’t sure when she had lost hope. The dumpster was rocking, and she could hear the heavy breathing outside. Over the last few days, she’d eaten everything consumable in the garbage, and a few things that weren’t. But, it was water she needed. Things were getting fuzzy in her head, and she had taken to talking to things that weren’t there, or at least things that couldn’t answer her.
There were bugs crawling on her. They were in her hair. She didn’t like to think about it. She knew the creepy crawlies wouldn’t eat her while she was alive. They’d wait, and then there would be Rat for everybody – a regular smorgasbord.
“The worms go in, the worms go out, Ratty for breakfast, punk girl take out,” she said and laughed.
Something slammed hard against the dumpster and she whined.
The thing outside was bad. It was very bad. It was hungry, and it didn’t want to wait for her to die.
Be patient, she thought. A few more hours and I won’t even put up a fight. I’ll just slide right down your gullet like an oyster.
The world had gone insane, and she wasn’t far behind.
A couple of weeks before there had been sunshine.
She was sharing a joint with a skateboarder under the Broadway Street Bridge in Little Rock when people started running and screaming. The teenager ran off, leaving her with the weed. The sun had been out a few minutes before, but thick clouds had rolled in, and it had gotten very, very dark.
She was stoned, but not so stoned she didn’t realize there must be a tornado rolling in. People screaming, dark in the middle of the morning – a tornado was the first thing that came to mind.
Rat squeezed tighter into the niche between the bridge and the concrete support. She was small, so it wasn’t hard to cram herself into the tiny gap that smelled of diesel exhaust, beer, piss, and reefer. She didn’t mind small spaces, they were comforting as long as there were no spiders. Or snakes – Arkansas was full of snakes and she’d be happy to put Little Rock behind her.
She’d started out three months earlier at an orphanage in Alexandria, Virginia. She was almost seventeen, and the rules at the orphanage were starting to get on her nerves.
So, she’d split, left them in the dust. Alexandria to Richmond, Richmond to Raleigh, Raleigh to Nashville, Nashville to Memphis, Memphis to Little Rock.
And, now there was a very good chance she was going to die in a tornado.
The wind picked up. She watched a plastic grocery bag float by on the street below. It skimmed the guard rail and fell onto the surface of the lake. The wind blew it along the water like a plastic jellyfish.
She caught movement out of the corner of her eye.
The thing was standing in the middle of the street, breathing heavy like a marathon runner. It was hunched over, about five feet tall. The creature was covered in shiny black scales. It had a long reptilian face with yellow eyes that darted left and right. The hands and feet had long black claws.
Bat wings sprouted from its shoulders. It beat the air with them, and then sniffed.
Not a tornado, she thought.
It peered toward her, turning its head from side to side to get a better look.
She focused on making herself as small as she could. Rat wanted to close her eyes. She didn’t want to see the reptilian lips part showing the small sharp teeth, the black forked tongue that whipped out and tasted the air.
But, she kept her eyes open. She didn’t blink. Rat worried about her most recent fashion choice: pink dye in her shoulder length hair. Neon pink, and she imagined it almost glowed, framing her face.
Please be nearsighted, she thought.
There was a shriek from above the bridge and the creature turned its long head toward it. It hissed a reply and the leathery wings pushed against the air. The creature rose and soared away.
Rat breathed. She had been holding her breath the entire time, and she gulped in air, no longer caring about the stench of her hiding place.
What are they? She thought. She watched the patch of sky visible beyond the bridge. More of the creatures soared overhead, riding thermals across the lake. They had paused at the bridge only in passing.
Now that her heart had stopped pounding in her ears, she became aware of the sirens. Police, fire, ambulance – all sounded behind her from the direction the creatures had come from. And, as the monsters crossed the lake, fresh sirens sounded from the other side and mixed with the sound of gunshots and screams.
How long do you wait before sticking your head up when the world was ending? She thought. If this had been a tornado, there would have been a siren announcing all clear. But, in this strange twilight world, she found herself huddled in the dark hearing only the dying sirens of police cars and ambulances. They slowly went silent. One by one, they stopped.
She could see smoke and flames on the other side of the lake. Tendrils of smoke floated across the lake when the breeze shifted, bringing the acrid smell of what she imagined was burning flesh. More likely, it was only the remains of burning buildings, but Rat knew from the screams there was some human component to the smoke.
Rat slid out of the cramped space and crouched. She stared at the street. Movement brought with it a simultaneous thirst and urge to pee. She had no water, and the latter was out of the question. If she was going to die, it wouldn’t be squatting under an overpass with her jeans around her ankles.
She climbed the concrete embankment and looked at the street above. The lanes were clogged with cars. Many of them were on fire. Nothing moved but the dancing flames reflected in the broken glass.
Not one vehicle was intact: windshields were shattered, doors had been ripped open.
Bodies were strewn across the lanes, lying on the asphalt, many hanging out the shattered windows of their vehicles.
And, like their cars, none of the people were intact.
Rat looked up at the sky. The grey impenetrable cloud seemed to hang just above her head, but she knew this was an illusion. There were no birds in the air, and, more importantly, the winged creatures were gone.
The skateboarder she had shared the weed with earlier was lying on his back across the guardrail, his head and feet touching the ground on opposite sides. He stared glassy eyed at the sky above.
She stared at his jeans pockets, wondering if he had any more weed stashed. Rat shook her head, “Stop it, Rat, you moron. End of the world and all you’re thinking about is weed. Get it together, Ratty.”
She shook. Her voice sounded like thunder in the silence around her.
Something moved down the street.
Rat dove behind the bumper of a car and peered around the tire.
A body moved on the road less than a hundred feet away. It was a man, dressed in a gray business suit. He was lying face down and his arms and legs were working as if he were crawling, but he made no progress – his body stayed in the same place.
Rat bit her lower lip and looked at the sky. Nothing. No winged monsters.
She crept forward slowly.
There was an ambulance near the man, and Rat made a mental note to check it for supplies.
She was close enough to see the man wore only one shoe. His right foot was bare and hi
No. Not blood. This was darker. It was black like ink.
She could hear his labored breathing as he struggled.
“Hey, mister,” Rat whispered. “Are you all right?”
He stopped trying to crawl. He was facing away from her, and he turned his neck trying to look at her.
More of the black ink poured from his mouth and he hissed at her through black stained teeth.
Rat took a tentative step toward him.
“Don’t go near it, kid,” a man’s voice said.
Rat almost screamed. She staggered backward, her butt colliding with a red Camaro.
A man was sitting in the open rear doors of the ambulance. He nodded toward the man on the ground, “You get close enough, he’ll bite you.” The man in the ambulance wore the blue overalls of a paramedic. ‘Carter’ was stitched above his left breast.
“Did he bite you?” Rat asked.
“No. I ran over him. He bit my partner when he tried to help the guy,” Carter said.
“Where’s your partner?” Rat asked.
Carter pointed to a body lying on the road shoulder, “He went crazy. I had to cave his skull in with a fire extinguisher. If they bite you, you go crazy. Like instant rabies or something.”
“Like zombies?” Rat asked as she stared at the crawling man in the gray suit.
“No. Zombies are dead. Pretend zombies, I mean. These people are alive,” Carter moved and winced. Rat could see blood dripping down his leg from a tear in his overalls.
Rat slid across the Camaro and edged toward the guardrail. “I thought you said it didn’t bite you.”
“It didn’t. One of the winged things clawed me,” Carter said. He smiled, “Relax, sweetie, I’ll be okay if I don’t bleed to death. I’m Jack Carter, what’s your name?”
Carter laughed, “Rat?”
She nodded. “Rat.”
Carter shook his head, “It’s okay. I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Rat. Very pleased, actually. I’m going to need your help.”
“The claw’s still in my leg.”
Rat stared at the locking needle nose pliers in her hand, “Why don’t we wait until we find somebody qualified to do this?”
Carter smiled, “Look, Rat. We can’t stay here. It’s going to be dark soon… well, darker, anyway. We have to walk out of here. This claw is like a razor. If I try to walk on it, it could cut into an artery. You have to pull it out.” He used a pair of scissors and cut the hole in the thigh of his overalls wider. The black stub of the claw protruded about an inch from the dark skin of his thigh.
“Gross. Is there going to be a lot of blood?”
“I don’t know. I hope not,” he said as he took the pliers from her hand. Carter poured alcohol over the pliers, and then held them next to the end of the claw. He turned a screw in the handle and adjusted the plier jaws so they were a little smaller than the end of the claw.
“You’ll have to push down on the handles hard until the jaws lock,” Carter said as he put the pliers back in her hand. “Pull straight out, try not to let it move around. One steady motion, okay?”
Rat’s eyes were wide, but she nodded.
“Listen, now. There’s a possibility it already cut my artery. The pressure from the claw might be holding the wound closed…”
“That would be bad, right?” Rat whispered.
He nodded, “Yeah, that would be really bad.”
“Shouldn’t you have a tourniquet or something?”
Carter shook his head, “Look around. Everything’s burning. We’re not going to find a surgeon to help me, sweetie. If I start spraying blood, just walk away. There won’t be anything you can do for me. Okay?”
“I wouldn’t leave you.”
Carter smiled, “I’ll be the one leaving, Rat. Trust me. It’ll be over really fast.” Carter lay back on the ambulance deck. “Okay, lock the pliers.”
Rat gritted her teeth and put the pliers on either side of the claw. She pressed the handles together, tentatively at first.
Rat released the pressure, “Did that hurt?”
“Hell yes, it hurts. Press harder and lock them in place.”
Rat wrapped both hands around the pliers and squeezed. The jaws popped as they locked around the claw.
Carter clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a scream. He was breathing hard. He lowered his hand and perspiration showed on his upper lip. “Good, kid. That was really good. Now, give me a second, okay?”
“Tell me when,” Rat said. She was concentrating on not letting her hands shake. It wasn’t easy.
“Okay, okay. I’ll count to three, and you pull it out. Don’t stop, no matter what I say. Just pull it out.”
“I’m ready,” Rat said.
Rat yanked the claw free. Six inches of onyx claw slid out of his leg in one smooth motion.
“Jesus, kid! I said on three!” Carter screamed.
“I know,” Rat said as she stared at the claw. “Always hurts less if you’re not expecting it.”
“No. It didn’t,” Carter said and they both started laughing. “How much blood?”
Rat leaned down and looked at his leg. “Not a lot. It’s not spraying out or anything.”
“Thank God for small favors. Hand me my backpack behind you.”
Rat pulled the navy blue backpack around and unzipped it.
“Look for some little pink plastic tubes. The tops twist off.”
Rat held up a rectangular pink plastic bottle, “This?”
“Perfect,” he said as he took the bottle from her hand and twisted off the top. He held the bottle near the wound and squeezed clear liquid out in a stream. “This is saline. It’ll clean the wound. I hope. Now, get me some gauze. Little square pack.”
Rat found it and Carter winced as he wiped away the blood and saline from the wound. “I need stitches, but we don’t have time. Look for a bottle in there called Derma Flex.”
She held up the bottle, “What is this stuff?”
“Basically, it’s super glue.”
Twenty minutes later, Carter and Rat were walking down the sidewalk into downtown Little Rock. Carter pushed a stretcher piled high with all the medical supplies he could salvage from his ambulance.
Rat watched the wheels clatter across the joints in the concrete, “Did we have to bring all this?”
“Sweetie, I’d have brought everything in the ambulance if I could.”
Several buildings were burning downtown. They’d seen no one moving – human or monster.
Rat frowned at him, “Don’t call me sweetie. I’m not a kid.”
“When you get to my age, everybody looks like a kid. You’ll understand one day.”
Rat looked at him in the meager light. His temples were going grey, but his age was impossible to tell from his face.
“How old are you anyway?” Carter asked. “Thirteen, fourteen?”
Rat’s mouth dropped open, “I’m almost seventeen, you jerk.”
Carter laughed, “I’m sorry, sweetie. Be happy you don’t look your age.”
Rat rolled her eyes.
Carter sighed, “I said it again, didn’t I? I’ll only call you Rat from now on, I promise. What the hell kind of name is that, anyway?”
“Better than the original, take my word for it.”
“You’ve been living on the street, haven’t you?” Carter asked.
Rat nodded, “I was just passing through.”
“Yeah, you got that look.”
Rat frowned, “What look?”
“That ‘I’m going somewhere but I don’t know where’ look.”
She ran ahead and leaned into the open door of a police cruiser, “Jackpot!”
Rat stood up holding a gun belt, “It’s a Glock 17. I know Glocks.” She wrapped the belt around her waist.
Carter stared at her, “What could you possibly know…”
“Glock 17. Nine millimeter,” she dropped the clip into her hand. “Seventeen shot standard magazine. Three safeties: trigger, firing pin, and drop. All deactivated by the trigger safety.”
Carter shook his head.
“Sister Mathilda at the orphanage was a gun nut. She used to take me to Manassas to the gun range on Saturdays. Man, she would have been in deep shit if they’d known,” she popped the magazine back in place and put the Glock in its holster. She leaned back in, “There’s a pump action Mossberg in here if you want it.”
“I don’t know anything about guns,” Carter said. He leaned over her shoulder. The inside of the cruiser was a charnel house. The officer had not gone quietly, but he had gone. His dismembered body was lying across the front seats. “Oh, my God.”
“Sorry, should have warned you,” Rat said as she handed him the shotgun. She picked up a box of shells from the floorboard and handed them to him.
Carter looked into her eyes, “The man’s dead, doesn’t that…”
“Bother me? Yeah. It does. He was probably a decent guy. But, he’s dead now. He’s moved on. We haven’t,” she didn’t mean it to sound cold. It was the way things were, nothing more.
Carter looked around at the growing shadows, “We need to get off the street.”
“It’s your city, where are we going?”
“Safest place I can think of – hopefully, it isn’t burning.”
“Cats? Seriously?” Rat asked. They were standing in front of an enormous theater with massive Greek columns in front. A banner waved in the breeze off the lake: The Robinson Center presents its Grand Reopening Performance of Cats.
“The walls are thick concrete,” Carter said as he maneuvered the stretcher onto a handicapped ramp.
Rat threw her hands up, “The entry is made of glass.”