It was closing time. As always, the last stragglers were taking their time to drain their drinks, reluctant to leave, to face the night, to go to their homes and whatever awaited them there. That was not Reg’s concern. All he wanted was to get them all out of the pub, bolt the door and crawl upstairs to bed.
“Night, Reg,” old Mr Price saluted as he shuffled over the doorstep.
“Night,” said Reg with more than a hint of impatience.
At last, the old buffer was off the premises – invariably the last to go – and Reg was able to shut the door. Well, he would, were it not for the foot that appeared there, a shiny black shoe forcing itself between the door and the frame.
“We’re closed!” Reg grunted, pushing against the door. The foot stayed where it was. In order for it to withdraw, Reg would have to relent and pull back the door a little. It was just the moment the foot’s owner needed. He took advantage of the let-up in pressure to shoulder his way in, forcing the landlord to stumble backwards and against a table. Empty glasses rattled. One fell to the floor, tinkling into splinters.
“Here, you can’t do this! Coming in here! We’re closed!” Reg tried to mask the fear in his voice. “This is my pub. Go on, get out of it.”
Instead, the figure, tall and hunched, closed the door behind him. Reg saw he was wearing a long, black coat, black gloves and an old-fashioned hat that cast the wearer’s face into shadow.
Reg steadied himself against the table as the man pulled off his gloves.
“What is this?” said Reg. “What do you want?”
“You,” said the man. His voice was high-pitched, a screech like a nail dragged across the blackboard that advertised the pub’s lunchtime specials.
“What for? What do you want me for? A drink, is that it? A shot of whisky to warm you on a night like this and then you’ll be on your way?”
“No,” said the man, stalking toward Reg, towering over the cowering landlord.
“What then? A sandwich? I could rustle one up for you in two shakes.”
“Ha!” said the man. Beneath the brim of his hat, his eyes flashed, red. Hungry.
“Please!” said Reg. “What’s this all about? If it’s Environmental Health, I’ve been given the all-clear. Those rats won’t be back.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” said the man, removing his hat to reveal thick, black hair, sleeked back. Like wet fur, Reg thought. And his face! Those beady eyes! Those high, cheekbones, that nose…
The man shed his clothes. His body was covered in the same, slick fur. His hands were long and thin and pink, his fingers like claws. Reg recoiled in horror.
“You put down poison,” said the man-rat, through large, yellow slabs of teeth. “We don’t like poison. But we adapt, we survive. We mutate.”
Reg let out a whimper and scurried around the table as though he was the rodent.
“What do you want?” His voice was little more than a squeak.
The man-rat loomed large, his whiskers twitching.
“You mentioned a sandwich. Cheese and pickle should do it”