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by CR Smith

Alfred leapt from the train and weaved his way through the cobbled streets until he reached the King’s Head. After purchasing a book of matches from the waif outside, he pushed his way to the bar and ordered a pint of ale. As he lifted the drink to his mouth the landlord called out, beckoning for him to follow. Downing it in one, he rounded the bar, winked at the barmaid and headed for the stairs.

Boots tapped loudly against the treads, the stench of stale beer and tobacco stirring memories for Alfred as they descended. Recognising the circular pit in the centre of the room, he felt the lurch of excitement in his belly and gave the large leather bag in his hand a shake. Nodding towards it, the landlord enquired how many he had. Ever the chancer, Alfred added extra to the tally hoping to increase his earnings. Besides, once he opened the clasps and upturned the bag no one was going to count the tumbling rats.

Alfred reacted quickly, capturing an escaped rat, snapping its neck before the landlord uttered a word. He threw it into the pit. Silently, they watched the other rats tear away at its flesh. Afterwards, they agreed a price and money changed hands. Alfred tucked half into the top of his boot knowing full well it would all be gone by evening’s end.

While the landlord went about his business, Alfred returned to the bar upstairs and regaled customers with tales of his rat-catching, showing off his scars to whoever was interested. Each one came with its own tale, tales that grew more horrific in line with his consumption of ale. The long jagged ones on his hand and head were visible to all. The others he revealed only to the women in the alley running alongside the pub. They kept him amused while he waited for the evening’s activities to begin.

The dreary cellar came to life for the evening when lamps were lit and the punters arrived. The atmosphere changed as quickly as money and ale flowed. Bets were made, excitement mounting as barking heralded the dog’s appearance. Snarling terriers strained at the leash in the knowledge of what was to come. Alfred pushed his way forwards to lean over the pit’s wooden edge, enjoying the sight of frantically circling rats, relishing their fear.

Alfred knew the dog’s reputation of old and wagered a large chunk of his earnings on how quickly the rats could be killed. The first terrier wasted no time in attacking, shaking his prey until blood and entrails splattered the pit walls, not to mention several onlookers. Emotions ran high, fuelled by loss of money and intake of ale. Before long an argument broke into a fight. The barking, the screeching, the cries of horror, the blood and guts, Alfred loved it all. Pulling a knife from his boot, he joined in, striking out at whatever got in his way. This was what he lived for.

CR Smith is a student of Fine Art. She splits her time between art and writing and is aiming to combine the two at some stage. Her work has appeared both online and in print. You can find examples here crsmith2016.wordpress.com and instagram.com/smith.cr. Twitter @carolrosalind.