A Rat Called Fester
One night in Lancaster, there was a little twitching nose and the darkness.
To the left of the nose, was the mulchy rotten homely smell of the gap beneath a bush. To the right, was feathers and bread and pondweed and duck. Behind, was the cool barren emptiness of canal water. And above… above were the stars and the gaps between the stars which twinkle into ever more stars in the never-ending splendour of a clear night sky. But stars don’t smell. So up was nothing at all.
Directly ahead of the nose, a smell flickered on the wind. The nose sniffed. The air ahead hummed with the scent of something rotting and warm and delicious. It was a compost bin. And it was open.
The nose didn’t stop to think. Nor did the rat which followed the nose in pursuit of the smell.
Neither the nose nor the rat had a name. Rats don’t usually bother with that sort of labelling. One squeak in the dark is much like any other. Anyway, a rat has something much better than a name. It has a smell. The rat’s smell was a festering cocktail of urine and sweat and fur and mud and fear which was as unique as your fingerprints… as precious as your soul.
The smell that was a rat that followed a nose scampered. The smell that was a rat swarmed and scurried and burrowed and buried until the scent of the compost bin was almost too loud and hot and bright to bare. Without thinking, the nose dove in to the bin.
Something runny and rich dribbled down the fur on the rat’s back. It might have been egg. Or gravy. Or just the slime off a particularly juicy fungus. Whatever it was, this smell mixed with a thousand other smells which, if carefully lined up in order, could tell the whole life story of this little rat from the moment of its birth with 9 other rat-lings in a dark hole in the damp ground right up until this exact second. You see, a rat’s smell is the sum total of every meal it’s ever eaten, every hole it’s ever dug. In many ways, a rat is more smell than it is rat.
But all these smells are too intricate and too many for our pathetic human noses to follow. Wouldn’t it be much simpler if we just gave him a name and be done with it?
The rat was called Fester. And Fester lay down in the warm dark pit of the compost bin and he slept.