“Listen,” said Kurt, “we're on the right track and we've already come this far. We must have just missed some small offshoot or marking somewhere. Let's go around one more time and if we don't find anything, we can call it quits. Deal?”
“You're sick, but I'll do it.”
We kept wading through the sludge in semi-darkness. Our flashlights cut the rank atmosphere with large sweeping swathes of light, I felt like a bald, bipedal rodent in an oversized set of concrete hamster tubes. Only fitting for the domain of the Big Rat.
“Haven't we been here before?” I called out to Kurt, who had gone around the corner. “We're just walking in circles!”
“Of course we are,” his voice echoed back, “you agreed to retrace our steps one last time.”
“Well we've done that and then some. Look at that rusty pipe.” It was sticking out of the concave cement wall at just below waist level, and was leaking a lugubrious green sludge. “We've walked past it four times now. Just admit it, we're lost.”
“There's no way! On our first time through we only made right turns until we looked back around. This time we kept to our left and went the opposite direction. It's fool proof!”
“Well, foolproof or not--” I started.
“Wait a second. Has that graffiti always been there?” He pointed to a small black silhouette of a rat wearing a golden crown.
“So is it worse if it just showed up now? Or if we've walked around here four times and we've never seen it?”
“Either way, I was right. That makes this whole afternoon worth it!” Kurt declared with his hands on his hips.
“Alright, alright, you win,” I conceded. “But tell me, mighty Columbus of the sewer system, where do we go from here?”
“I don't know, look for like a hidden lever or something.” He wrapped both hands around the pipe and yanked it downward.
“There's no way--”
The tunnel began to rumble and the grating sounds of metal on concrete could be heard from below our feet. A four foot square of concrete had recessed back into the wall to reveal a new tunnel.
“After you.” he gestured toward the opening.
We crawled on our hands and knees through the opening and emerged on the other side in a tunnel system that looked identical to the one we had just left. The only difference was that the sewage was absent and in its place was a constant stream of rats.
“Oh Jesus” Kurt whispered. Then he grinned “Shall we go with the flow?”
At first we proceeded slowly, making sure that we weren't trampling on any of the rats, but we quickly realized that the rats were adept at avoiding being caught underfoot and we were able to move at a good pace.
“Yeah, what's up?”
“How are we going to get out of here?” At this point we had probably walked at least half a mile away from the secret entrance into the Big Rat's domain.
“There's gotta be a back entrance or something, you can't expect me to believe that the Big Rat uses the same entrance we went through. To be honest I don't even think he would fit.”
The river of rats began to grow thicker and their scurrying was more frenzied. We were swept along by the tide of furry bodies into a large circular room completely covered with rats. In the center of the room was an enormous rat. It sat on its haunches on a raised dais. The rat had to be at least five feet tall and it was almost as wide.
“There's our guy,” said Kurt.
“Alright, great, now what?” I whispered back.
“We deliver our message.” He started to move forward through the throng of rats “excuse me... pardon me fellows...”
As he waded through the sea of normal sized rats I took a look around the room. The rats seemed to be trying to get as close to the Big Rat as possible, but were kept at bay by a ring of slightly larger rats at the dais's edge.
“Oh your corpulent majesty,” Kurt started. “I am here with a humble request from the surface dwellers.” The Big Rat's large black eyes turned to face the intruder.
“I am the Big Rat, so I make the rules.” He spoke with a deep squeak.
“Yes, yes, your mighty largeness. I understand how things work down here. But up above we play by a different set of rules. And I was sent to request that you please stop stealing coffins from our graveyards.”
A hush fell over the furry masses. Something was wrong, the Big Rat looked confused. I thought back to our initial instructions. Why would the Big Rat care about stealing human dead? He only cared about being the biggest rat—none of this made sense. Had we been set up? What exactly was the nature of our message?
The rats began to squeak. They started quietly, but slowly grew in volume.
“Kurt! We have to get out of here!” The rat's cacophony was almost deafening. The noise was echoing and reverberating throughout the concrete room. I could hardly think, I grabbed Kurt by the collar and ran for the exit.