Once upon a time there was a very young sewer rat that was suffering from a nasty attack: a tic of the eyes, a lot of coughing and restlessness, fear and open mouth.

       He had already had this horrible muddle on him for a year, when they all started calling him Tic Rat.

      “It’s stress!” sentenced an old rat that knew a bit about rato-topical medicine. “It’s the stress! Stress is the cause of so many problems and illnesses and deaths from insanity. You Tic Rat, have this muddled up muddle all over you. Just yesterday I was studying a treatise called: “Rats are done for: Detergents, contraceptive plastic and supermarket bags.” It’s a very interesting book! Meanwhile Tic Rat was dribbling from the mouth.

       Uncle Rat went on talking in a learned way. “Doctor Big Rat, who is the author of the book says…wait…I’ll just get the book and read the introduction…wait… here it is…listen:

“Man’s well-being has had a disastrous effect on our system of life! Man’s transformation of things for his own temporary well-being has damaged and upset the balance of the ecosystem of all the other living creatures in this world which is round. This round world is flooded with all sorts of liquid and solid poisons. Contraceptive plastic is the most dangerous of all for our species, and because it is small, it’s often swallowed by guileless rats causing instant death from suffocation.

       This sort of problem didn’t exist in the beginning, when men and rats lived together in caves, pile dwellings or huts. I myself had a rat son that died from contraceptive plastic suffocation. It is from this sad experience that I wouldn’t even wish on the cats, that my treatise: “The rats are done for: Detergents,

contraceptive plastic and supermarket bags” was born.

       Detergents are especially dangerous and harmful for new-born rats, I would like to specify, and I will specify this very important point. It is my duty to specify this! If I didn’t specifically specify this, it would specifically mean the hasty end of a species in a specific context which I am specifically going to analyse with the specific precision that… “

       Uncle Rat shut the book and placed it in a hole in the sewer he used as a drawer. He then looked at Tic Rat, who was at that very moment being taken by convulsions, and went on: “It’s all quite clear! There is no doubt about it! The author of this text is a clever sewer-ratologist…but what’s wrong with you Tic Rat? Oh God, oh God! Yours is almost schizophrenia! It’s stress! The sewers aren’t what they used to be in my day, when all sorts of natural stuff used to flow past! Rats die every day and no one knows how or why! You see them all nice and strong in the evening, and the next day they are all horrible and dead! It really is sad! When rats struggle for a living it means that the world is about to die! My daughter-in-law gives birth to nine or ten little rats at a time…they are so tiny and beautiful, pink all over, and they touch their snouts that are so small that they almost don’t have one with their tiny little paws. Then when she is suckling them, along comes Death and carries them away! Then the poor thing just has more; it’s almost as if she wants to fight against Death with all these births…”

       The young rat kept on being nervy, coughing and jerking his mouth open and quickly ticking his eyes. He would dribble occasionally, and suddenly decided to say something neurotically: ” I don’t think I can heal this way when the other day I felt slightly better so I decided to have a swim in the sewer water and I slowly got in when I was hit head on by a lot of green foam and a big bag trapped me without me being able to breathe when luckily Peel Rat who was on the wall saw me and dived in and tore the big bag off me and massaged my chest and little paws and when I finally came round I don’t know how but he took me back to my den…today is the first day that I have put my little

whiskers outside the door.”

       “You are right. The water and everything else in here tastes of poison. Stress! It’s written all over you my son! Your eyes are spinning round so fast that you almost scare me.”

        “Uncle Rat” said Tic Rat with such great effort that his snout was soaked with sweat and his tiny little paws were shaking frantically, “I really do feel so terribly ill that at times I think I would be better off dead. I can’t sleep at night! I jump around in my bed and see myself trapped in big plastic nets, I struggle as hard as I can and gnaw away furiously, but I still can’t get out!…”

       While they were there talking, Postman Rat arrived with a nice yellow envelope between his paws; he started to mumble from afar: “Tic Rat, Tic Rat! There’s a letter for you from the country! From the country!”

       “Oh, thank you Postman Rat.” Tic Rat opened the envelope with his gnawed-down nails, fished out the letter and read it out aloud:” Radish Rat here. I’m writing to you from inside a potato. I’m so lonely, so very lonely that the only person lonelier than me is the number “one”. I would really love you to come and visit me. The other night I was sleeping in a pumpkin when you came to me in a dream. Come soon. I have many nice things and a few bad things to tell you. I await you. A little lick from your faithful friend Radish Rat. P.S: a little scratch with a little lick to all the rats in the sewer, and an extra one for Miss Always-in-trouble Rat.”

       “Yeeesss! Hurrah! Hurrah!” Tic Rat shouted, shaking all over. 

       “Uncle Rat! I’m going to the country; I’d surely die tomorrow if I stayed here!” He bid him farewell pinching him with his chewed- down nails, and dived into his den to pack his bags.

       No matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find his best cat-fur travel bag anywhere. Who knows where it had gone…

       He pulled a small bag made of transparent plastic out of a drawer in his den (that is from a hole), and filled it with a black

bird’s head, half a yellow chicken claw, some rabbit intestines and a red toy, which was a broken telephone receiver; this was his good-luck charm.

       He tied the bag with an elastic band, wound it round some barbed wire, and set off.

       He climbed up the cement sewer wall to the manhole, stuck his head out…and jerked it back in again just seconds before being squashed by a motorcycle!

       “Oh, what an ordeal! I wonder if I really should go.”

       His continued to twitch and cough as hard as he could.

       “I’m so scared that even…my tail is shaking!”

       He was just about to climb back down into the sewer, when his little brain said: “Radish Rat…the country-side… sun and flowers…the moon…” So he poked his head out of the manhole again, and quickly dived under a high wall which he brushed along so closely that it looked as if he was stuck to it with glue.

       The screeching of car tyres and the glare of their headlights…if Tic Rat hadn’t found so many cracks in the walls he would surely have died.

        From under the wall he could see a dead rat in the middle of the road, squashed on the asphalt. It was almost as if…as if they had spread red jam to draw the outline of a little rat. Tic Rat shuddered, coughed and dribbled.

        He stopped and stuck out his neck, almost as if he wanted to stretch out his eyes to see who the poor unfortunate on the ground was.

        On seeing the state it was in, he decided not to.

        A fleeting tear ran from his tiny little eyes, and he wiped it under his small sweaty trembling belly.

        He decided to make the countryside in good time, but it was dark before he knew it, so he pushed his little paws even faster. Finally he was there! He took good care in finding Radish Rat’s den.

        He put down the bag with the presents in it and began to shout out at the top of his voice: “Where are you Radish Rat!? I can’t see you! Come and get me, I’m over here in the red grass!”

       Radish Rat emerged from his den (an old tyre) and quickly said: “Shhh..hush! There are cats and dogs ready to gobble us up. Keep your voice down Tic Rat. Now get into my den.”

       Radish Rat and Tic Rat rubbed whiskers and licked each other affectionately.

       “Oh Tic Rat! At last you are here with me! But…but what’s wrong? You’re coughing with your mouth open?”

       “Well yes, just a bit. But I’m already feeling better out here in the country. I’ve brought you lots of nice things from the sewer, look, look at these.”

       “Oh thank you Tic Rat. Sewer products really are very nourishing!”

       “Yes they still are, even now that…there is still a lot of delicious stuff. Here: a bird’s black head. Go on taste it! Half a yellow chicken’s claw. Taste it, taste it! Some rabbit’s intestines…taste them!

       Radish Rat tasted some: “Delicious. This dead black bird’s head is great. How did it die?”

       “Dunno! I found it in the sewer. Who knows!”

       “We can get these other things here in the country as well…but…what’s this?”

       “My lucky charm. It’s a toy, a broken telephone receiver. What Man does with it, I really don’t know. There are so many of them and in all different colours: red like this one, or yellow, green and blue. Our baby rats love climbing up inside them… I hope you like it…”

       “Oh you really are a dear Tic Rat! To think that you even bring me toys! Did you know that even out here in the country we find a lot of them? Why, only yesterday I found…”

        Tic Rat had a sudden attack- the ticking of his eyes increased, he coughed so much and was restless and open- mouthed. He even dribbled a little.

         Radish Rat was frightened.

         After a bit Tic Rat calmed down. He slowly recovered. Then he finally became himself again.

         And he started to say: “It’s the stress! Life in the sewer

is driving me crazy…I can’t tell you…Doctor Big Rat has even written a book: ” Rats are done for: Detergents, contraceptive plastic and supermarket bags. One of Doctor Big Rat’s son rats died…he died after swallowing a thingey made of contraceptive plastic. That’s why Big Rat wrote the book.”

       Radish Rat immediately understood exactly what Tic Rat was talking about.

       He no longer wanted to live in what he had stopped calling countryside, but now called “Refuse-dump land.”

       He understood, yes he understood, but on seeing his friend in that state he didn’t say anything. He sighed, twitching his whiskers to hide his disappointment. He had invited his friend to the country with the intent of then being put up in the sewer, where he thought there was a better life. He began to sneeze and shoot out big drops of saliva like there was no tomorrow! Radish Rat himself was ill as well, allergic to the dust and chalk. He sometimes turned half-reddish… and who knows what the blood in that tiny body of his got up to.

       “What’s up Radish?”

       “Nothing, just a bit of cold from yesterday, when I was nibbling a nice big carrot this big, and a nice potato that big…I’ll go out and get you some straw so you can lie down and have a nice sleep. No sooner said than done, he was back with a whole lot of straw.

       “Your den really is nice and roomy,” said Tic Rat.

       “What’s it made out of?”

       “It’s made …it’s made out of…the bark of a tree. It’s very warm in winter and nice and cool in summer. I really am very happy living in here, you know?”

       The two rats bid each other goodnight and slept peacefully until morning.

       Tic Rat and Radish Rat woke up and were about to leave the den, when they were frightened by the sound of a siren followed by the horribly loud noise of a tractor; this frightened them again, and when this was followed by the sound of gunshots they almost fainted!

        Tic Rat started to twitch and foam at the mouth, when Radish Rat put his little paws around him to reassure him, telling him that the hunters had gone, and convinced him to go outside to get some fresh air.

       Out they went into the middle of the grass, but while they were tottering about they were overcome by the strong, strong stench of green poison, and were so terrified that they scuttled back to take refuge in the den.

       “God, the country is even more disgusting than the sewer!” Tic Rat cried out despairingly.

       Radish Rat sneezed, blushed and felt mortified.

       He thought: “My God, forgive me for what I have just done! What a muddled up muddle, bringing Tic Rat out here when he is already so ill.”

       Just as he had finished thinking…an even louder noise and a whole lot of rocks and cement, plaster, lime and old wood was dumped on the tyre, which was Radish Rat’s den.

       They were both choking and close to death!

       They somehow managed to get out and dived straight into the first thing they found: a drawer full of little white polystyrene balls. This was then picked up and put on a tricycle by a big man with a fat belly and a bushy moustache on his snout. He was with another man, small, old and thin with no hair on his head, who really was a bald dwarf only fit to be thrown out.

       “Come on, let’s get a move on,” said the bald dwarf only fit to be thrown out, for he was in charge.

       The tricycle set off.

       Tic Rat and Radish Rat ended up swallowing at least twenty-seven polystyrene balls; it was never discovered who ate the most! Radish Rat fainted and Tic Rat first slobbered and then fainted.

        The tricycle travelled a long way and the two unconscious rats were tossed about with the box and the polystyrene balls.

        The bald dwarf only fit to be thrown out braked suddenly, and ordered the fat man to take the box up to the attic. Then… the tricycle set off again.

        It was here that Attic Rat lived. He was a painfully thin rat, and very old as well. He had been living there alone for seven years, and had never worked out why he was there all- alone, and had been for seven years.

        He didn’t think there were any other rats in the world. He had never seen any (he didn’t even know what he looked like himself), and thought he was the only rat around- he didn’t even know he was a rat.

       He was skeleton-like as he only ever ate the odd spider, dry fly or piece of wood, and who knows what they got up to in his stomach. There was a lot of food in his attic: whole crates full in fact! Whole crates full of food in jars and tins. But how could Attic Rat ever get at this food? So Attic Rat never really got…anything… only flies and spiders and bits of wood, and who knows what they got up to in his stomach. Dunno! Dunno! Maybe his…insides knew…

       Radish Rat and Tic Rat both came round in the bottom of the crate, where they started to groan, sneeze and sweat. Their loud sneezing threw the polystyrene balls up in the air and scared Attic Rat to death.

       “Who can that be?” he asked himself.

       Tic Rat was first out of the crate, heaving himself up onto the edge where he balanced himself precariously, looking around stuttering and shaking from head to toe. Then it was Radish Rat’s turn to emerge from amongst the polystyrene balls with a sneeze, which blew about twenty of them up in the air. Exhausted the two of them stepped down onto the attic floor, where they looked around more dead than alive. Radish Rat was mortified and didn’t say a word to Tic Rat, and Tic Rat was mortified and…didn’t say a word to Radish Rat.              

       Attic Rat was so scared that he hid, and glancing sideways with his little eye he looked them up and down and thought: “They are so ugly! The only nice thing about them are their tails and whiskers, just like mine.”

       In order to see them better Attic Rat crept a bit further out…” Oh, look there Tic Rat- it’s a rat! And it’s…a scared rat!

It’s backing off…he’s wetting himself! What a fool! A rat that’s scared of other rats!”

       Tic Rat hardly knew what was going on any longer.

Radish Rat: “What are you up to? Are you scared? My god, he’s as thin as a rake. Are…you from here? Were you born here?”

       Attic Rat plucked up courage and spoke a bit: “I live here, was born here and…there’s never anything to eat here!”

       “You were born here and live here and…and there’s never anything to eat here? What are you saying? Oh, I understand; worn-out are you…you’re a bit ill as well, well we’re all suffering from either this or that. Yes, I get it, you’re worn out…muddled-up-muddle…It’s stress! Tell me, why were you so scared? We are rats, you’re a rat…just like us, same kind…we’re all rats here, and the whole world is inhabited by other rats.”

       A month went by in which they told each other all about themselves…became friends…but went hungry!

      One day Attic Rat shouted: “Come, come! Three dried flies and a long-dead spider…” But the attic door was suddenly brutally yanked open, and in came some men who angrily started to take everything that was there downstairs, as if they were savages. In no time at all the entire attic was empty.

       The three little rats had fled immediately and taken refuge on the back of a beam.

        From down below came the noise of a lot of machines all clanking away in the same place, the house began to shake and then the attic to creak.

        The shattering of glass and dust everywhere….

        In no time the house became a pile of rubble, stones and glass, wood and plastic with the poor rats inside. Seeing the situation they were in, the rats jumped into a tin can and were saved by the skin of their teeth! In a flash everything was dumped in a pit, a place that not long before had been full of trees.

       Days and days went by and since luck exists, Tic Rat, Radish Rat and Attic Rat found themselves curled up in a hole in a piece of tree-trunk and…

       Oh my dear rats! This fable is so very long! My fingers are all blistered from holding the pen, my eyes are stinging and my head can’t wait to hit the pillow…this is what I’ll do- I’ll finish it off in a flash, without even a comma or a full stop, dashes or semicolons: and you, children, please read this bit all in one go and then…and then you will burst and don’t complaaaiiin!

       It was a beautiful morning and a little boy with a rucksack full of bread and cheese was heading for a faraway wood to pick mushrooms strawberries and cyclamens when he saw all the trees that had been chopped down to make room for the pit so he stopped to look at the destruction and all that dead greenery and cried a bit and dropped his rucksack and decided to count the chopped down tree trunks of which he counted over one hundred so he decided to fix the space the dead trees all lined up on the floor like dead people took up in his mind then he counted the empty spaces and worked out that more than two thousand trees had been chopped down and while he grieved over the trees for a bit longer Tic Rat Radish Rat and Attic rat sniffed and realised that there could be something tasty in the rucksack and were so hungry that they dived in and ravenously ate so much bread and cheese and the little boy picked up the rucksack and walked off towards the woods when the three little rats popped their eyes out of the bag and Radish Rat cried out that they were in the woods and leaping down they quickly tottered off and chased each other and hid and decided to do exactly I don’t know what but maybe to live there and hope to be happy ever after goodnight I’m tired I’m tired and oh how nice it is to close your eyes and sink your head into the pillow and children give your teacher a kiss from me if she reads you this horrible fable       

       and that’s it

       Pasta and beans with it?

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