Crumple teeth

Red Rock 
Ben could not see.

This was not because Ben was blind, or missing one or both of Ben's eyes.

Ben could not see because the snow was coming down very fast and very sideways. Clothing was not enough to stay warm, and so Ben had grabbed a large blue tarp spread over some rocks and weighed down by some other rocks. Its purpose was unclear, but now Ben wore it, and it whipped loudly in the wind as Ben ran.

Human legs were better than rat legs for this wind, and if something flew and hit him, it was better to hit Ben as a larger version of himself.

Staggering at a were-enhanced pace through an area that, like most areas, Ben was unfamiliar with, there was no goal in mind other than to hopefully stumble into shelter.

Eventually, that came into Ben's life in the form of several stairs he tripped up, landing with an immense, tarp-accented thud just outside the door of what Ben could only hope was an abandoned home.

@"Calvin Bates"


 The wind was howling like a well-tipped whore.

 "Motherfucker!" When he hit the radiator it clunked and sighed, too weary to work. The house, a lilac shack turned gray from years of battering wind, was practically condemned. The porch roof slanted at an angle, and boards were missing off of nearly every exterior wall. Inside the heavy stink of mildew permeated the one-bedroom space. But what had begun as a smart investment, an opportunity, was becoming a death trap with every falling flake.

 Figuring the THUNK outside was another part of his house giving itself over to the void, Calvin took a few minutes to investigate. Making a noise when he opened the door, he was awash with a wave of alarm. There was a body under that tarp, and it wasn't human. "Can ya roll yerself somewhere else? I didn't ask fer a delivery of freezer food."

Ben was on the ground and it was very stiff beneath Ben's body and the tarp wrinkled loudly in the wind and it was still snowing and Ben considered starting to cry.

Instead, someone came through the door, and Ben looked up from the blue plastic cocoon with a crinkle of sound.

Oh no. Oh no Ben was being told to go away and there hadn't even been words, and Ben's little heart squeezed desperately because Ben Could Not Go Away. It was dangerous cold, the kind that sent teeth gnashing in Ben's brain find a place find a place find a place.


This was Ben's detailed plea as he bent at the waist to start getting up.

 Blowing ice and snow disoriented him, making it hard to sense the stranger, even at this distance. When the young man stood, it all became clear. Amber seeped into his eyes. Rat.

 Calvin Bates wasn't above a little bigotry. Besides, in his mind this was earned. Not by the sad sack in front of him, but by his species. Three months after turning he'd stumbled into the wrong territory and paid for it dearly. What he hated most was the jolt of fear that ran up his spine, parallel with his disgust.

 But this little shit didn't look like he could harm anything. And the electricity would be out soon. He needed some goddamn entertainment. "Alright. I'll let ya inside fer a price." He didn't look like he had money, and to be honest, the cat didn't want a financial tribute. "You gotta agree ta three favors - any time, any place. I call, you come. Got it, Squeaker?" He was saving his life, after all.

Ben was going to be sent away. Ben was going to die of the cold. Ben would freeze like a block of sad blood. Ben was so sure of this that tears were beginning to form.

But then there was something else. A price and Ben didn't have any money.

But then there was something else. A favor and calls and Ben didn't have a phone and yet his head nodded as if it had come loose from his neck. Trembling legs strengthened by the promise of warmth sent Ben standing, and black-swallowed eyes stared ahead at the stranger.

"P-please. AnYthing!"

Ben had never done anything, but he could try.

 Anything. "Guess we'll see, ya little rat fuck." Calvin hadn't woken up today expecting to be gifted a rodent slave, but the world was a knee-slapping, punch-line of a place. This time the joke was on dear whiskers.

 "C'mon, I'd like ta get inside before mah nuts shrink up ta cum raisins."

 Turning around without any additional ceremony, Calvin pushed his way into the house, kicking the radiator again on the way back into the living room. "How'd a sorry lil shit like you end up out here?"

The words used for Ben were not good. They hurt Ben's listening heart, and one hand moved to paw at Ben's ears as if it would change what they heard.

Still, Ben wandered in, frowning intensely as the tarp trailed snow-covered behind. The kick was startling, enough that Ben jolted. Most people kicking things around Ben were kicking Ben, or kicking Ben's things.

"B- I ran," Ben answered, staring at a space that was sad like he was. Maybe that made it feel more like home. Or maybe that just made it more sad. He lingered just inside the doorway, uncertain as to where to put Ben's body.

 "Aw, that's just great. Thanks a lot, cat food." It was a testament to how cold it was inside the cabin when the snow the rat dragged in refused to melt. Scraping it off to the side, he pushed it up against the baseboards when it started to look like the dregs of a 7/11 slushie machine. With a growl, Calvin circled round and shut the door behind him, the howling muffled now, but present.

 "You ran, huh? That tells me fuck all. Where'dya run from? Anyone after ya? Am I gonna get my shit kicked by some other mangy disaster fer doin' my upmost an' bein a good samaritin? Cuz if that happens, just know that I'll come find ya an' it won't be pretty."

A lot of cat food? Ben had eaten cat food more than once, and it was not the best food that Ben had ever eaten, but it was also not the worst. Most food could be swallowed down in a hurry if the taste was not good.

It was not much warmer here, but it was not windy or snowing. Ben stood near the door still, feeling very uncertain and also very hungry. Ben would eat cat food if it were provided to him, but Ben did not have time to say that before more was being said.

There were threats that did not make sense, and it was all hard for Ben to follow even when he listened very closely. Letting the tarp slump off one shoulder, Ben frowned, mouth opening and closing twice before finding words.

"I run f-f-" a breath "fff-"

Ben's heart hurt in frustration, finding all of this hard to manage.

"I run- I ran- I was running to Etta and f- and she- I didn't know where she is but she loves me and everyone kicks B- kicks- everyone kicks me but not for any REASON!"

It all left very quickly and the gnashing in his ears was a roar so loud that Ben brought his hands to cover them.

 Calvin sighed. As much as he wanted to antagonize this sorry son of a bitch, the last thing he wanted was a giant rat tearing up his house. "Take a fuckin' chill pill, Ratty." He said, swallowing the automatic threat that started to come after it.

 "Dunno who the fuck 'Etta' is besides someone with a stupid fuckin' name." Settling over by the radiator, he knelt with his back to the pathetic creature, grabbing a wrench and going in for another attempted fix. Didn't know any Ettas, but the kicking made perfect sense to him. The little turd just seemed to be asking for it, every tremor another pluck to the nerves.

 Growling when the heater didn't respond, he sat down with a huff, resting his arms on both his knees. "You know anythin' about this shit?" He asked, gesturing to the radiator.

Ratty. Ben's name wasn't ratty and Ben wasn't a rat right now Ben wasn't. The man didn't know who Etta was and that was very bad news but also good news because it meant Ben wouldn't have to share.

The man grabbed a tool, and Ben was sure he would be beaten with it, feeling something in his brain press for pain in Ben's muscles.

But in the end, it was only to mess with a... robot. That was the best word Ben had for it. When the man sat, so did Ben, crinkling in some nest of tarp beneath Ben.

"I don't know v- I- I don't know very much about anything."

Ben knew he was hungry and sniffled wetly at the reminder and also because Ben's face was thawing.

"I know how to get into small places b- but- I- but those places are too small."

 "I'm fuckin' shocked."

 Getting up with a disgusted sigh, Calvin traipsed to a leather bound roller at the foot of his bed. Yanking out the only two blankets he had, he tossed the older, grosser one towards the rat. Resorting to desperate measures, he sidled to his stove and opened the oven door. Sure, gas was a thing, but at least they'd be warm.

 Pawing through his cupboards, he found some moldy cheese that definitely should have been refrigerated and a can of tuna fish. He chucked both at the boy, aiming for his head. "Get it, cheese for a rat? Good luck with the can, by the way."

Ben didn't understand why it was shocking or if maybe the man had been actually shocked from the machine. As the man got up, Ben wondered if he was going to be kicked or attacked.

But instead, unlucky Ben was met with generosity: a blanket, which he clung to immediately, squeezing it with such force that muscles in Ben's arms trembled. This left him woefully unprepared for more objects to come flying toward Ben. The cheese struck Ben squarely on the cheek and fell to Ben's lap, while the tuna met the blanket.

Pawing the cheese open with immense desperation, Ben shoved the foul-smelling dairy into an open mouth, some of the plastic slipping in along the way. Ben meant to say thank you, or maybe scream thank you, but food was a greater priority as Ben ate ravenously and tremblingly.

Occasionally, Ben's gaze would rise, just to make sure the man wasn't coming back to take the food.

 Cat thoroughly disgruntled with the proximity of a creature it deemed unworthy at best, Calvin whipped together a bologna and swiss sandwich for himself and settled well away from the troubled young man. They ate in silence, which suited him fine. He suspected any additional attempt at conversation would go as well as it had before, stutters and pleas and squeaks in response to harsh questions.

 When the Rat had finished with his cheese, Calvin shifted, leaning against the opposite wall so he could keep an eye on him. "You can stay here till the storm passes." The offer was quickly followed by a glare and a finger wag, squandering its generosity. "Don't touch anythin' a' mine cept that blanket an' the floor, got it? An' don't leave until I decide how yer gonna pay me back. Ya ain't gettin' off the hook, nah, not with me."

Ben almost forgot to listen the words as he grasped the sides of the tuna can in his hands and squeezed with supernatural strength until some pop alerted him that there was an opening somewhere. Bringing the can to his nose, Ben sniffed to find the opening, then bent and squeezed and tensed the can until it was wide enough to jam a finger into and start clawing fish from.

But then Ben was listening, told to stay until Ben was told not to stay. Confinement made the gnashing in Ben's ears very loud, usually, but right now as Ben sucked juice from a cracked can, it felt less threatening.

With a gulp, Ben nodded.

"I don't- I-"

Ben took a deep breath in, then let a deep breath out, letting the blanket in his lap soothe Ben a little.

"I'm not. I don't have many things."

 "Yeah, neither do I, Ratty. Didn't ever see much use fer stuff. Long as ya got what ya need ta get by." Which this sad sack clearly didn't, but that wasn't his problem. Finishing his sandwich in a series of rapid bites, he smacked his lips and sucked at the bread stuck to the roof of his mouth, dislodging it with his tongue.

 What the boy lacked in language he made up for in quiet determination and ingenuity, and the Cat watched as he fished flakes of tuna out of the meager can. "You know what a favor is?"

That was nice. They agreed on something. Ben clawed the last bits of tuna from the can, making very quick work of it. A little food made everything much better, much quieter, much softer. Ben could sleep right here on the floor with the blanket and maybe even the tarp over top.

One last jam of Ben's finger into the can was enough to catch the skin on a sharp edge, slicing the flesh in a clean cut. He nearly missed the question because of it, jamming the finger into Ben's mouth to suction out the leaking blood.

A favor. A favor. Ben knew what a favor was. What it meant. So, index finger tucked into his mouth all the way to the knuckle, Ben nodded with wide-eyed focus.

 Cat and man turned at the smell of blood, the corner of his mouth lifting in an inhuman sneer. Calvin had to think a little, because really, what could this sorry sack of shit give or do that would be of any help to him? But, he managed to find something.

 "Ya said you were good at bein' small. Bet yer good at listenin' too. I just want ya ta keep yer eyes an ears open fer anythin.....outta the ordinary. Anythin' noteworthy er' excitin'. Stuff fer us -- ya know? Stuff the news don't and can't know about. I want ya ta come back here once every couple weeks ta gimme the lowdown. In exchange, I'll give ya a better meal than what yer eatin' each time an' a nice place ta sleep."

Nice was his closet, but he supposed it was better than the trash heap the boy must call home. "We got a deal?"

Ben listened hard. It was true. Ben's ears worked very well. It was hard, sometimes, to understand the meaning, but maybe Ben only needed to remember the words.

Tuna can cleaned, finger sucked of immediate blood, the scene was left devoid of food but appropriate for paying attention.

The cat smelling man did not love Ben, but this felt close. It was not Etta, but this felt close. With a slow nod, Ben sniffled, feeling overwhelmed a little at the thought of Etta and wondering if she had anything that Ben could tell to the man.

A second nod.



 "Well alrighty then. Seems we got ourselves a nice lil system." Calvin rose, moved to the kitchen first and tossed another can of tuna the rat's way, gentler this time, before kicking off his shoes and falling onto his bed. It squeaked, as he imagined Ratty would if he stepped on him good and hard.

 "You can stay here till the storm clears if ya want. Just don't make a mess er get in the way."

Ben did want. Desperately.

The tuna was so good that Ben cried some but tried to keep it as quiet as possible. Ben knew that many people did not like for him to cry.

Every inch within the can would be lapped clean, and after some time searching clothing and the blanket for spare specks, Ben would curl into the fabric on the floor and sleep dreamlessly.

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