“The Ratcatcher”

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Plot Description

This is one of the “Claud’s Dog” series of stories from Someone Like You and it features many of the same characters from the other tales.

Spoiler warning! The narrator is at the filling station one day with Claud when the ratcatcher sidles up and announces that he has been sent by the Health Officer to take care of the rat problem. He begins to expound on the difficulty of outsmarting rats and the different approaches you would take to killing them. Claud tells him that the rats he needs to kill are living in a hayrick across the road. The ratcatcher, who looks a lot like a large rat, formulates a cunning plan: he will leave oats around the rick for a few days to gain the rats’ trust, and then he’ll spread poisoned oats that will kill them. When he comes back to pick up the dead rats though, he discovers that they haven’t touched the poison. He claims that they must have another food supply from somewhere (there’s a gruesome connection here with “Rummins”) and they’re too full to eat the oats. Disappointed by his failure, he tries to make amends with the men by showing them some rat tricks. He pulls a rat out of his pockets (“Always got a rat or two about me somewhere.”) and drops it down the neck of his shirt. Then he drops in a ferret he pulled out of another pocket. A frantic chase and fight ensue in the shirt, and eventually the ratcatcher pulls out the dead rat and the bloody ferret. After that performance, he claims he can do something even more amazing: he can kill a rat himself without using his hands or arms or legs or feet. He gets Claud to bet him a shilling that he can’t. He produces another live rat and they tie it to a car antenna. The ratcatcher begins to stare at the rat, moving closer and closer, until finally he strikes like a snake with his mouth open and his yellow teeth biting. The narrator closes his eyes, and when he opens them the ratcatcher is collecting his money and spitting out blood. “Penny sticks and licorish bootlaces is all made from rat’s blood,” he claims. When he notices that his audience is no longer interested in him, he walks off in his particular rat-like way, “making almost no noise with his footsteps even on the gravel of the driveway.”