“HOLY FUCKIN’ FUCK!”
“Funny, almost everyone says that when they see ‘em.”
“I… knew they were called… but I didn’t actually think that…”
“That the Hoodrats from Tuam were actual rats?”
They stood over the corpse of a rat, its guts spilling out over the tarmac. A rat wearing a red hooded cloak. A very big, human sized, rat.
“Christ, man. Didja not read the handbook?”
“That was mandatory?”
“Christs alive, Karl! Ya ever hear of “Workplace Safety”? Fucking fuck, like. Have ya even yer certificate?”
“…Not on me.”
“Well a feckin’ certificate won’t do much good to ya when you’ve a hoodrat trying to chew it’s way through yer helmet to get at yer hairless gowl of a face. You DID pass the exam though?”
“Oh yeah, flying colours. I got 100% like.”
Herman sighed. He knew Karl was lying through his teeth. Not that he had teeth to lie through, he noticed.
“If ya were any greener you’d be a courgette.”
“What’s a courgette?”
“Before yer time. ’Mon.”
Galway used to be nice. Green. Like a courgette, but with the odd rock in it. Herman laughed to himself. Oliver Cromwell told people they could either go to hell or to Connaught. Now they were one and the same.
As their cart rattled down the ex-motorway, Herman looked from the shattered homes to the shattered castles from centuries before. They looked like they belonged in the same era. Fuck it, they might as well do.
“Here, Herman, can we pull over? My legs are fucked. This peddlin’, like. It’s a fuckin’ stones.”
“Christ no, lad. We’re on a schedule.”
Karl huffed. They kept peddling. And peddling. And peddling.
“Here, what’s with all the trees? There’s no… what’s the word, no…”
“Yeah, there’s no bark.”
“They like to keep their teeth sharp. We’re close. Here, grab yer brake pedal there. Right, on three – one, two, three”
The cart skidded, stopped.
“Karl, get yer ratstick and throw on your headlights.”
“Won’t that… attract the rats?”
“That’s what we want, ya dope. You shoulda read the fuckin’ handbook. Christ. Right, that field there.”
They hopped a barrier and slid down the embankment at the side of the road. The dim light of the nest’s entrance came into sight. Karl lost his balance, fell on his face in the mud. Herman laughed quietly. The little things.
“Sush, ya old prick.”
Too loud. A squeak.
Herman dropped next to Karl. A hoodrat. A young’un – standing at four feet. Eyes glowing in the dusk. Teeth. Mangy, matted fur. To think it was once a lad from Tuam… it didn’t bear thinking about, so Herman didn’t do it.
“C’mon. Up. Up.”
Karl was beyond words, terror-locked and covered in shit.
“Ah yer fuckin’ useless you are.”
It hadn’t seen them. Herman was up, running. Karl saw him swing his ratstick at the rat’s head, the glow extinguished. Herman marched back, thick as butter.
“You little fucking shit. First live hoodrat we see and you piss yerself on the ground.”
“You are a fuckin’ liability is what you are.”
A squeak. This time from Karl. Herman turned. His quarry lived yet, and aimed something… gun-ish to the air. A bolt of fire shot into the sky. Squeaks, in the distance. Many, many squeaks. From the nest.
“Oh for fuck… right, we’re off. This is a bust. Get up.”
“I… I can’t – my ankle.”
“Yer ankle me arse.”
Herman tried to hoist Karl onto his feet. Dead weight.
“Will ya at least try to walk on it?”
“It’s not gonna work… yer gonna have to carry me.”
The squeaks were getting louder.
“Fuck that, lad.”
Herman dropped Karl. Went into his pockets. Came back with a small brick… of something… with what looked like a digital clock on it. Tapped a button or two. Left it on Karl’s chest.
“You can’t just leave me here!”
“Jesus lad, you really should have read the handbook.”
Herman held his ratsick up.
“You want the coup de grace?”
“Is that like a courgette?”
Herman sighed. Lowered the ratstick.
“G’luck, Karl. Sorry ya had to be such a shite”
Herman bolted up the embankment. Karl started screaming. The Hoodrats from Tuam had begun pouring out from the nest.
Arse in his saddle, Herman began to pedal. It was hard going – the cart was heavy, designed for two pedlars. Karl’s distant screams grew more guttural, gradually drowned out by the sound of the Hoodratpack clawing at his helmet to get at his hairless gowl of a face.
Herman huffed, glanced at his watch-
“Four, three, two…”
Fire lit up the night. Herman kept peddling. And peddling. And peddling.