Behind the Curtain – The King of Rats
Written for Anna Meade’s Behind the Curtain flash fiction challenge…
The King of Rats
Madame Zora was eight months dead.
“And you still got us hauling that goddamned trailer!”
Slight, ashen Malachi was the foreman of Jasper’s Traveling Show and the only member of the company who talked to the boss that way.
He voiced his complaint five nights in a row, stale nights preceded by long days of travel without any prospect of work.
Jasper, a burly man of indeterminate middle-age with a withered paunch and a swarthy Rom countenance, answered on the fifth night.
“She’s still using it,” he said.
He shook his head as Malachi stormed out in disgust.
The boy does not understand.
He heard the voices outside his trailer without listening to them.
Their route across the upper south was his decision, made against the heated advice of his fortune teller, and its failure weighed on him the heaviest.
He waited until the voices faded and then walked to his old adversary’s trailer.
Madam Zora’s trailer was older than those occupied by the other members of the troupe. Its opulence persisted beneath weather-warped boards and peeling paint.
The king of rats held court there, so called because he grew fattest on the meager leavings of his friend, Madame Zora.
Jasper unlocked the padlock he’d placed on the door and deposed the king with a swift kick of his boot. He closed the door while the big rat struggled to regain its dignity down in the mud.
The trailer was empty. Everything salable was removed the day after the company– by tradition– buried Madam Zora at a crossroads. All that remained was the small cot the fortune teller died on.
“You were right,” he said. “And I’m sorry. It was an accident. You know it.”
His voice didn’t quaver, though it should have.
Another voice, disembodied, with a thick Slavic accent, said, “Your apology is not enough.”
White light flashed inside the trailer.
Jasper didn’t have time to scream.
In the morning, Malachi couldn’t find the boss.
The company fanned out to search but they didn’t find him until three days later, when a foul odor emanating from Madame Zora’s trailer gave him away.
They broke the padlock on the door and Malachi went in and found Jasper lying dead on the old fortune teller’s cot.
The king of rats, grown fatter still, rested in triumph on the dead man’s chest.
400 words, including title.