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The Rat Catcher

Small as a suckling pig and less fussy about hygiene; most folks mistook her for some unidentified species of vermin. They weren’t wrong. Born human but a stranger to any mother, the girl-child had been alone on the street since she could toddle.

Merchants unwise enough to shoo her away only did it once, in spite of her stink. Disposition of a rabid terrier, that one—held onto a grudge like a cur with a bit o’ stolen bacon. She’d stain your doorstep with all manner of filth for such a sin. Best pay her off with the leavings of someone’s meal, even if that meant shorting your own plate.

This particular shopkeeper was on his third go-round and refusing to fork over the ransom. Last week, he felt sorry for the little waif and tossed her a crust. This week, his act of charity had become a liability.

“Look. I know you’re on your own and all,” he said, “but you can’t stay here. ‘specially not in front of the shop. I gave you what I could last time. But I ain’t making a habit of it.”

She snickered and spat on his shoes. He high-stepped too late to keep his footwear dry.

“Blast! You ungrateful little piglet! Do that again and I’ll tan your hide!”

She harumphed and picked at a scab on her arm. “Hafta catch me first.”

He lunged, but she ducked and rolled, coming up just out of reach. She was faster—and fitter—then she looked.

She spit at him again, but a shock of her own dirt-caked hair flopped over her face just in time to shield him. Unphased, she flipped the errant locks back with a toss of her head, then swiped her mouth on her sleeve.

“You be lord of that shop, old man, but the cobbles ain’t yourn.”

The shopkeeper’s voice went up several octaves. “I will call the coppers!”

“Call ‘em. They’s got murders an’ real such crim’nals ta track. Guttersnnipes be gnats in a hornet’s nest.”

“You meddlesome little beggar! Get away from my door! You positively reek of garbage. Where have you been sleeping? Trash heaps?”

“You offerin’ better? Be happy ta grace your hearth.”

“How much do you want? How much to go away and never come back?”

She pulled herself up as tall as she could muster. “I ain’t no beggar. I be a rat catcher. Been payin’ for me keep.”

She reached into a pocket in her tatter woolen trousers and pulled out two dead rats, which she proudly displayed as if to say, ta-da!

He wretched and backed away, but the fist-full of deceased rodents just hung by their tails for a beat— wagging back and forth—while the shopkeeper gathered his wits.

 “I don’t want those! Why would I want those?”

“I knows ya don’t. I been killin’ ‘em fer ya. To pay for me keep.”

“You think I’m paying you to kill rats?”

“ ’corse ya are. People as don’t want rats in their kitchen ‘ill slop a ratcatcher. What else reason I got ta tidy up your stoop? I ain’t doin’ nothin’ for free.”

“I’d rather deal with the rats! Better than having you on my doorstep. When’s the last time you bathed? You look like you’ve been rolling in dung!”

“Oh, pard’n me gov’ner. Me ladie’s maid’s been feelin’ poorly. Behind on laundry and all.”

The little urchin reached into a small sack at her feet, pulled out two very live rats, and tossed them just inside the shop door.

“There," she said. "That’s yer refund. Look me up if ya change yer mind.”

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Jeff Shaw Writes
Jeff Shaw Writes
19. feb.

I love that Rat Catcher!

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