There were three dudes in the hunting party. They left the common room with itís smoke and murmur, descended the ladder into the next level down, walked the upright causeway past the big green metal door that never opened, and then turned left down into a descending crawlway with a gutter running down the middle of it carrying what appeared to be good water down into the further depths.
This crawlway brought them out into a large, damp cavern with old, crumbling brick walls. What purpose it had served in days gone by no one knew. The sound of dripping water and the scurrying of the rats echoed from the huge dank walls. Fred was in the lead, a worn and blackened baseball bat of yore in one hand and a torch in the other. He had the knack for crawling with a torch, so he was the torchbearer and lead hound. Behind him was andy with a club made of an old axe handle with a chunk of metal on the end lashed on with rounds and rounds of wire. Andy was the one who did most of the harvesting. Then came Leonard with the bag. The bag had a certain stench and was stiff with dried blood. But it was a stout bag and true, and it had been carried, dragged and lifted through crawlways, passageways, caverns, and up and down ladders. The bag had carried great bountiful harvests of the hunt to the common room. It was a beloved bag. Leonard was the gatherer. He had a smaller club made of a two by four wrapped on the end with stout wire to give it a good heft, and carved into a handle on the other end. It was a fine machine. It was a machine with which to bash in the gameís head to be sure it was dead. It was a machine to ensure that the gatherer didnít get bit by the nasty creatures as he collected them and put them in the bloody bag.
The rats of this cavern were bold. Why they never learned to cower and flee in the face of the men was a mystery. There were so many of them; fat brown rats mostly, with thick healthy coats and nice long bare tails for gathering in. the trick was to take them in the open. If you backed one against a wall it was likely to charge at you, and those sharp nasty teeth could rend your ankles and calves and cause you to flee screaming. There was also the constant menace of the rats attacking all at once, taking down the three of them and eating them where they lay, their steaming blood seeping into the loose soil of the cavern floor as the rats tore them and ate them greedily, a mass of writhing devouring rodents; miniature helldogs.
Andy began to club rats which were lazily loping along the dirt floor, boldly ignoring the three humans. The rats screeched with horrible cries when andy hit them. Mostly they died very quickly, but sometimes they lay screaming or tried to flee, and andy or Leonard would finish them with a sure and swift blow, crushing their craniums with a horrible sound. When the bag was plenty heavy the three hunters returned the way they came, their stomachs growling and the saliva glands in their mouths oozing spit juices in anticipation of their meal.
Back in the common room the children were playing mumbly peg. The adults were gathered round the fire, except for those whose job it was to dress out the game. They sat ready at their table, which was a door laid across two stacks of cinder blocks. They were ready for the quarry. They had an old aluminum flat pan and a plastic cafeteria tray. Brenda used a worn wet stone to sharpen the old filet knife which she had used for these many years to rend the rats and peel their hides and open them up and scoop out their guts with her hand, the warmth inside their bodies and the dank smell of the innards were welcome sensations, causing her to work briskly in anticipation of a good meal.
When the three dudes came loping into the common room with the bag sagging heavy a cheer went up among the people. The children stopped their game and went to the rending table to watch the rats being gutted. They were always fascinated by the process of turning the big brown bodies into nice chunks of meat, then the meat being passed to the cooks who fried the wonderful meat over the fire.
In a room off the main room, a room lit by precious candles made of the ear wax of dead rats and the tallow of their bones, a group of people were lounging and listening to the musicians as they played the old songs. There were five of them playing. morgan, who had an array of wood blocks and empty water jugs and old cook pots and so forth, all suspended around her by wire hangers and such where she sat with an ancient pair of store-bought drum sticks, keeping a very interesting and mellifluous beat, an old con Edison coffee cup half full of water underneath the elbow of a water pipe that dripped steadily into the cup from a pinhole leak. while she was playing she claimed the water as hers, but the rest of the time it was one of the supplies of water that kept them all alive. she occasionally kept time with one hand while she lifted the cup and drank. Across the room was henry, who had an old acoustic guitar with three strings on it. Two of the strings were the lowermost; he was the bass player. Then there were sam and carol, who had guitars strung with rat-gut, and they played the songs, the old songs, and they sang. Crusty Theodore had appeared out of his little lair and was playing his harmonica, too. They were playing a rowdy number, anticipating the return of the hunting dudes and the meal that would follow.
Letís all don our hats, and our concert t-shirts from beloved days gone by, and letís join in song!0 join me now and sing with uplifted voice:
COPYRIGHT 2004 DOUGLAS CLOUD ALL RIGHTS RESERVED