Short Story
                    Night Comes to the City
                                                          By Rose Titus


  Kirstie gazed around at the rest of the crowd waiting for the city bus, and
then she realized that she was the only one to notice it, though she had never
realized it before.  It was that no one on the street corner looked at each
other, spoke to each other, or even noticed the person next to them.   They
were all locked into their own world, oblivious to the world around them.  
Oblivious.  That was the right word.   And she had been too.  Only today, it
suddenly dawned on her that she had been riding the same bus for years with
the same people and never spoke to them, noticed them, or knew their
names.  Like her, they worked at their dull repetitive little jobs, collected their
low pay, and went home to their TV sets and tasteless microwave dinners.  
That was the world that everyone lived in.  It was deadly boring, but there was
nothing anyone could do about it...  Nothing!

  The bus pulled up to the corner, she rose up from the bench she sat on, got
in line.  As usual, she sat by the window, looked out at the buildings, watched
the homeless people push their baskets as they made their way down the
streets, and she looked down into the dark alleyways cluttered with typical city
garbage...

  Something moved down there.  She tried to look again, but it was gone.

  It was only a brief moment as the bus went by, but she saw it:  As large as a
dog, yet not a dog.  It was gray, with a leathery tail, short fur, red eyes, a
pointed snout, and small rounded ears.  She almost laughed, but remained
quiet.  If she didn't know better, she would have thought it was a giant rat.  But
that wasn't possible.  There was no such thing.

  A giant rat.  Yeah, right.  Her life was getting to her.  The bus arrived at her
stop.

  As usual dinner consisted of something tasteless.  At least the nightly news
was interesting.  Brenda, her roommate, finally stopped yapping about being
stood up again by her useless boyfriend Dirk.  Kirstie went to the fridge and
got a beer and they sat and vegetated in front of the TV...  Police
apprehended a self-declared animal liberation activist after he allegedly
released a number of laboratory animals from a research facility.  The video
switched to the clip of the suspect being hauled away by police.  A large
overweight man with long gray hair shouted madly —  “Free!  Free!  They all
have a right to be free!  All life has its purpose on Mother Earth!  They all
have a right to be free!  FREE!”  The camera followed him as he was
dragged, kicking and screaming, to the squad car.  The bland face of the
announcer returned on screen.  “A spokesperson for the research facility
denies allegations that any of the animals released may have been
dangerous.  In other local news today, a family searches for their missing
cat.”  The television showed a middle-aged woman crying wildly as her family
stood soberly by her side.  “I just hope deep in my broken sad heart and I
pray to God Almighty that He will send His angels to speak to whoever has my
dear precious and beloved Fluffy so they will send her back to her loving
home!”

  “Now, why is that news?”

  "Hey!"  Brenda suddenly sat up and looked alert, "Isn't that the lady who
lives downstairs on the first floor, right below this dump?"

  "Yeah, and she takes the bus every day and sits behind me too.  I never
knew her name until tonight."  The television revealed her name to be Mrs.
Kleagle.

  "Cool.  Our crappy neighborhood is on TV!"

  "I'll tell yah what's even more cool, Bren," Kirstie remembered what she saw
lurking down the alley, "I think there's a giant rat loose in this neighborhood."

  "What?  You're nuts."

  "Nope!  I am like totally serious," Kirstie explained everything in detail, "...
and yah know what?  I think it escaped from that lab!"

  "What if it ate that lady's cat?"

  "What if it eats some little kid?"

  "What if it might eat us?"

  "What if that nut let lose thousands of them?"

  "Oh my God, like now I am so scared!"

  They sat alone together in the darkness, their only light the glare of the TV.  
Night had come to the city.  Chaos had now entered into their monotonous
lives.  From deep down in the alley below their window rose a high-pitched
shriek followed by a low wail.

  Brenda giggled.  Kirstie got up and looked out the window, "Cool!"

  The loud blast of the clock radio woke her up, not with the usual rock music,
but this time with reports of local sightings of an alleged giant rat.

  Residents have reported seeing a strange rodent-like creature the size of a
large dog roaming city streets and frightening family pets...  Police call these
claims ridiculous and have declined to investigate the issue further...  The
stock market rebounded today as Wall Street once again breathed a sigh of
relief, the Dow Jones closing at...  
  
  Kirstie went to look out the window and down into the alley again.  Her
curling iron was hanging out of her dark blonde hair.  Half of her makeup was
on.  She wore the oversized T-shirt she had slept in.  She was trying to get
ready for the job she hated and investigate the rat at the same time, "Look at
this.  The trashcans are spilled out all over the alley.  There is garbage
everywhere."
  
"It was the rat!"  They both knew that they should have felt terrified, but
instead they laughed uncontrollably.  There was nothing else they could do
about it.

  Kirstie looked behind where she sat on the bus.  There she was.  It was Mrs.
Kleagle, looking composed and unexcited now that the news camera wasn't
nearby.  "Oh, Mrs. Kleagle, I am so sorry to hear about your cat!"

  The middle-aged woman suddenly snapped back into alertness, "Oh.  
Thank you, dear.  You're the nice girl who lives upstairs from us.  I can't
remember your name?"  Mrs. Kleagle had never really met her.  She had
merely lived in the same building and had ridden the same bus for several
years, but the two never spoke to each other.

  "Kirstie.  Kirstie Fletcher.  Yeah.  I hope you find your little kitty."

  Suddenly, for the first time ever, the bus came alive with conversation.

  The dark haired man with the Spanish accent declared that his wife's poodle
was also missing, "And I am glad that smelly thing is gone!"

  "Yeah?" said the man who looked like an aging hippie, "A lot of strange
things happening around here lately.  Missing animals.  Missing kids.  Missing
socks.  It could be a conspiracy.  I blame the government myself."

  "Did anyone else hear that awful scream last night?" said the blonde woman
with the short skirt and bad dye job, "It was like so bizarre."

  "The radio says there's a giant rat!" yelped the kid with purple hair.  He
always wore the same leather clothes every day and carried his electric guitar.

  "I think I saw it," Kirstie whispered cautiously.

  "It got loose from a lab!"  said the man who dressed like a stockbroker, "It's
those darned liberals.  They set loose all the animals.  They all got big on the
radiation experiments.  And now they're loose on this society!"  He spoke
loudly, then he immediately went back to reading the financial section of his
paper.

  "I still say it's the damn government."  said the old hippie, "It's a conspiracy."

  "Oh no, my poor precious Fluffy!"  Mrs. Kleagle reached into her purse for a
handkerchief and sobbed wildly.  People went to sit by her side and comfort
her.  Kirstie reached out to hold her hand.

  The bus driver looked up and watched the action from the rearview mirror,
"Hey, then again, you know, it could be the aliens."

  The data entry and paperwork she processed was dull as usual, but on this
day people in the office had something outside of their cheating boyfriends
and trouble with their screwed up families to talk about...  At lunch she walked
to the corner store to get a sandwich and while she stood in line people at the
counter joked about a monster rat high on steroids being on the loose.  When
she left the sandwich shop a group of teenagers hanging out on the street
corner called out, "Hey, lady.  Look out for the big rat!"  She looked in their
direction and laughed.  They laughed along with her.  Back at work the
supervisor who almost never spoke except to criticize drifted by her desk, "So,
what do you think about this giant rat nonsense?"  Kirstie did not want to admit
that she had seen the monster, so she pretended to be absolutely fascinated
by her work, which she wasn't.

  Back on the bus the conversation continued and became more involved.  
This time the young mother who rode the bus each afternoon with her three
spoiled runny nose brats expressed her concern to the graying hippie that
she previously had never spoken to or even looked at.  He listened, and he
appeared to be tremendously interested in everything she had to say, "I really
feel that this thing that is loose out there is a threat to my children.  I mean, I
am really very concerned.  In fact, I am outraged that something like this would
be permitted to escape from their facility.  This is a real threat to our society
and our society's children.  People who are this irresponsible have no concern
for our children's well-being, and — "

  "Mommy!  I gotta go to the — "

  "You just shut the hell up when Mommy is talking damn it!"

  Kirstie looked around and noticed that the lady with the bright blonde hair
who always wore a mini-skirt was showing Mrs. Kleagle wallet sized photos of
her Persian cat, her Chihuahua, her ferret, and her blue macaw, "... and this
is my little Killer eating out of her favorite dish!"

  The kid with the purple hair sat behind them and looked over the photos as
well, "I always wanted a python myself.  When I get my recording deal, I'm
getting a snake."

  The Spanish man, the stockbroker, and the hippie now sat up front together
with the bus driver speaking quietly, "Okay, so you say it's a government
conspiracy, and you say it's because of the damned liberals, and you say it's
because the CIA is letting drugs flow into the lower income neighborhoods.  
But maybe you're all looking at the wrong things.  Because They all want us to
look at all the wrong things.  If we all look at the wrong things, then we'll all be
fighting amongst ourselves when They land and take over!  Don't yah get it?  
It's the aliens!  They're behind the giant rat, and big foot, inflation, and the
hole in the ozone layer.  They caused the oil crisis in '73.  We, the human
race, have got to wake up in time to resist!"

  The bus came to a halt, the door swung open.  People exited quietly, but
their minds were all very disturbed.

  When she came home to the small, cramped, dimly lit and messy apartment,
Brenda was arguing over the phone with Dirk.  "What?  You're making fun of
me?  Are you laughing at me, Dirk?  Because it's true.  I heard it howling down
in the alley outside our place.  Kirstie saw it running through the street the
other day.  It's as big as a for God's sake dinosaur!  I am like totally serious!  
Dirk?  Dirk!  That's it, Dirk.  If you keep on making fun of me, we are through!"  
She slammed down the phone and turned to look at Kirstie, "We are through!  
I'd rather date a rat!"  They laughed together.

  "Maybe your boyfriend is the rat we're all looking for!"

  "Yeah, right."

  That night dinner consisted of the pizza and beer Brenda had intended to
bring to Dirk's place.  They watched the rented video that was also intended
for Dirk.  The Beast From Beyond Time and Space!  It was black and white
and made in 1956, and it truly stunk.  The girls were bored until they heard
the terrifying shriek that came once more from below their windows.

  "Oh my God.  Oh my God!  I am so scared.  I am gonna call Dirk!"

  "No!  Don't you dare go back to that useless idiot!  We'll deal with it
ourselves."

  "How?  Kirstie?  What are you gonna do — "

  Kirstie got up from the cheap, worn out, second hand couch with a large
cold slice of pizza in her hand, "I want to see this monster up close and
personal."

  "No!  Don't!  You'll get killed — "

  But she did not hesitate.  She went out the door, down the stairs and
towards the exit that led into the dark alley.  With the dim glow of the
streetlight she saw it.  It was as gray as a wolf, with red eyes, a tail like pale
leather, naked paws ending in sharp talons that resembled those on a wild
bird of prey.  It looked up at her, sniffed the air, and made a chattering sound.

  Kirstie tossed the slice of pizza.

  It grabbed it up in its front paws, sat up on its hind legs, and began to nibble
the pizza.  Kirstie almost laughed and asked it if it wanted a cold beer to go
with that, but she felt foolish and remained silent.  The rat finished the pizza
and squeaked quietly.  It's whiskers twitched, and its pink nose had a piece of
cheese stuck to it.

  Now at the same height, they looked at each other, eye to eye.

  "Don't ever let them catch you!  That man was right.  You should be free."  
She turned and went back inside.

  Brenda had watched everything from the window above.

  "Brenda, that monster has done more for all the people in this neighborhood
than all the stupid social programs that the useless government can think up."

  "Huh?"

  "As long as that rat stays running free, people talk to each other.  The have
something to be interested in.  They get to know each other, they start to look
out for each other and each other's kids.  They have an escape from their
boredom.  Because of that mutant rat, we all now have a reason to live,
whereas before we all just went to work and came home to stare at four walls."

  "What the hell are you talking about?"

  "Don't you get it?  People need monsters!  We all do."

  "Huh?"

  "They come into our lives to stir things up, they frighten us and force us to
relate to each other.  They make us wonder about the universe, so they make
us actually begin to think.  We need monsters, no matter what kind of
monsters they are.  We need aliens, big foot, UFO's, whatever crap you want
to believe in.  We need government conspiracies, we need to worry about lab
experiments gone wrong, and we need giant rats to run loose in this city.  The
man was right.  All things have a purpose here on earth.

  That's the meaning of it all.  The monster rat got free from the lab where it
was caged up, and when it did, it set us all free along with it.  Free from the
meaningless routine of our useless lives."
  
  The phone rang, making them both suddenly jump.
  
  Brenda picked it up, "Hello?  Oh.  It's you.  I told you it's over!  Now get lost!"

                
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