“...You’re too smart.”
“Huh?” He looked up from the mysterious colorful tube that smelled like food. He had been the only pup left in the cage who still showed interest in it. They had all gathered around it curiously, poking their little noses into the holes and smelling the promise of food but quickly giving up when it was discovered that the food was stuck behind some form of “impossible” puzzle. He took one look and thought “That doesn’t seem so impossible”.
Actually, after a few minutes of playing with it, he was able to figure out he just had to use his paws to twist the tube’s segmented parts and the food will just fall out when they’re lined up correctly. He had just been enjoying his reward before one of the larger pups had interrupted him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked between nibbles of his sweet reward.
“It means what it means. You’re too smart. If you start going around solving impossible puzzles, the humans may start expecting us to be just as smart. I don’t want to solve puzzles though, I just want to play. So stop being smart, runt.” The other rat spoke in a casual tone as if he were commenting on the weather.
Rat scowled at the other. He hated how everybody called him that. Yeah, he was tiny, but that was just because they always hogged all the food and he was never strong enough to muscle his way through the crowd of pups to get at the freshly changed bowl. He was always just left with the scraps.
“How about you shut up, stupid? You’re just jealous that I got the treat!” He snapped, turning his back to the other rat and stuffing the whole thing in his mouth. He didn’t care if he almost choked on it, he just wanted to down it as fast as possible before anybody got any ideas of stealing it from him. Wouldn’t be the first time.
“I’m just saying. The humans already give you special attention, are you sure you want more?”
“If it means getting more treats, then yes!” They at least gave him milk when Mother refused in favor of his larger and stronger siblings. They at least gave him treats instead of stealing them from him. They at least gave him fun challenges to complete that was way better than the boring wheel the other pups always fought to run on (he had tried before but for some reason running on that thing always made his chest hurt a lot). So yeah, maybe he wanted special treatment from the humans!
Ironically enough, not too long after that exchange, he got his wish.
One dull morning, a gloved hand entered the cage and gently scooped him up. The human’s face was hard to see, all of the humans in the lab wore strange coverings. He almost forgot that they even had faces some days. He wondered what they really looked like.
The human, male judging by the build and deep voice, carried him away from the cage with the other pups. Took him away from the same boring room he had seen for most of his young life, and instead into a completely different room. There was a lone rat cage on a table that overlooked a window. A window! The old cage didn’t have a view like that!
He grew even more ecstatic when he was placed in the cage and realized he was the only one there. No obnoxious pups calling him a runt or pushing him around! He didn’t have to worry about those losers taking his food either.
“This is great!” He thought as he explored his new surroundings with vigor, “Finally the human realizes that I don’t need those dolts! Good riddance!”
His opinion on this new living arrangement would quickly change though. Rats were, by nature, very social creatures. With no rats to speak to and little to no interaction from the human who brought him here, it got lonely very quickly. No toys were also a major problem. He developed a habit of nibbling on the metal bars just to fill the time. Hell, he even would have taken a stupid wheel to run on if it would help combat the boredom.
The human would occasionally take him out of his cage, but not for any tests or puzzles. He’d get injections or fed strange dust that left a chalky aftertaste. He had no idea what any of it was for. Was this some sort of punishment? Was he being targetted for some reason?
This sort of life went on for five months. Five. Entire. Months.
He had grown larger, having matured into young adulthood. However, despite growing bigger, he had not grown any stronger. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
His body felt heavier, his movement sluggish, his head fuzzy at times. He wondered if this was a result of the constant experiments or if it was just a condition he had the whole time and was unaware of. Either way, he could tell that whatever was causing this condition was going to kill him. He wouldn’t even make it to becoming a year old at this rate.
He lived most of his young life bullied as a runt by other rats, and just when he thought things were going to look up they only got worse. Rotting in isolation and getting his bloodstream pumped with God knows what. Now he was going to die because of something wrong in his chest. The human probably would just toss his corpse in the garbage to rot and be forgotten… What a meaningless existence he had been forced to lead.
Had he been forced? Could there have been anything he could have done to change this fate of his? Was there truly no way for him to leave his mark on the world? Was he truly destined to die, hopeless and alone?
… He really didn’t want that.
But what could he do? He found himself pondering that question the most as the days dragged on and his body grew weaker. What could a little rat like him do?
One morning, while he was idly reading the labels on the various pill bottles scattered about just to have something to do, he had what some might call an epiphany.
Most, if not all of the problems in his life, were because of the human. His isolation, his miserable boredom, his eventual death. It was all because of that masked bastard, wasn’t it? What about all the other rats that were in the lab? Would the cruel human even stop at him? When he dies what other poor rats will be subject to this horrible empty life?
Or was this treatment specifically and exclusively targeted at him somehow? Was this a personal punishment? He certainly had never heard of any other rats undergoing similar treatment… Was this, perhaps, a personal attack?! Did the human realize he was “too smart” and subjected him to these experiments for fun? Was he just a toy to this man? A toy to torture and eventually break and throw away?
No. He refused to accept that.
His malfunctioning heart - filled with boiling hatred that felt as if it had been building up for months - fluttered in his chest as a particularly gruesome thought whispered in his mind.
“You should kill him. It’s what he deserves for treating you this way.”
Should he? Could he? How was he, a being so much smaller and weaker, supposed to do that? He lacked the physical strength to do most things. How could he commit murder when he could barely even walk some days?
The plan practically presented itself when the human walked in with a steaming cup. He wasn’t familiar with the liquid inside, but he had seen the human drink from a similar cup fairly often. The man usually left it on his desk, far away from any work tables or chemicals, but today it seemed like some sort of God or Cosmic Power was smiling down on the little rat, because the human left it right next to his cage.
Was this a trick or had the human simply let his guard down? He didn’t know, but his bad heart started beating faster against his ribcage when he realized that this could be his one chance at revenge before he died.
He made sure the human wasn’t looking before he attempted something he had never really thought to try before. He tried to open his cage door. He was briefly reminded of the so-called “impossible” puzzle back when he was a pup. He had thought the door was impossible for a rat like him to open, but he almost laughed when he was able to read the label under the lock saying simply: “Lift to open”. It was that easy?! This whole time it was that simple?! Granted, he’d only learned how to read human recently, but still! He felt like he wasted so much time when the answer to his freedom was just a simple action away.
He opened the door just a crack and took his first step outside of a cage. The hardwood of the table felt foreign to his paws, but he had no time to marvel at the overwhelming freedom to go wherever he wanted.
He had a human to murder, after all.
He skittered over to the cup, keeping an eye on the man in the corner of this eye as he popped the plastic lid off. His nose wrinkled at the smell of the hot liquid. Whatever this stuff was, it was black as night. Probably the same color as a human soul. He looked around, his eyes landed on the various bottles filled with pills and capsules.
Carefully, quietly, he ran over to the bottles and forced them open as best he could with his paws and teeth. He only targeted the bottles with, particularly large warning labels. He had no idea what most of the jargon meant, but most of it sounded uncomfortable and painful. Good. He took as many of the capsules as his little arms could carry before running back over to the cup. He dumped the colorful assortment into the brew and spat in it just to be petty.
His ears twitched when he heard the human’s footsteps and he scrambled to put the plastic covering back the way he found it. His heart was burning as he forced himself to run back into his cage and lock the door as if nothing had happened.
He lay curled up in the soft bedding, pretending to sleep and trying not to scream at the pain in his chest, as the human walked back over and grabbed up the cup.
The man vanished into the maze of shelves, pulling down his mask briefly to take a sip as he left.
Instead of doing his usual thing and staring out at the window longingly, he instead focused purely inward toward the mess of shelves. He tried his best to follow the human’s movements, watching the man and eagerly waiting for him to drop dead. With every sip the human took, the little rat’s heart practically lept for joy. It hurt a lot, but it was worth it.
After what felt like an eternity of waiting, he finally started to see signs that something was happening. The human’s breathing started to struggle. He began coughing and pounding his chest as he stumbled, seemingly dizzy. The man rushed over to a trash can and vomited into it, for a moment he was nervous that he just threw up the medicinal cocktail, but the man’s condition didn’t seem to be getting any better. In fact, the human collapsed onto the floor not too long after.
He gripped the bars of his cage tightly, watching the human for any movements. He didn’t think any of the other humans were in the building yet, and if there were he hoped none of them heard all of that commotion.
He watched eagerly as the human’s breathing slowed and eventually stopped.
He did it. A maniacal grin graced his features as pure euphoria flooded his system. The human was dead! He killed a human! A small part of his mind was slightly concerned about how happy he was with taking the life of another living thing, but that was quickly silenced by the thought of leaving his cage and escaping the lab. It was a bold thought, and a dangerous one at that, but he knew he was dying anyway. Why not take the risk to go die freely in the open world instead of cooped up in this horrible lab?
The little rat threw the door to his cage open proudly. Despite his heavy body, his joy put a slight pep in his step as he struggled to climb down off the table. His claws clicked against the hard-tiled floor. The room looked so much bigger from this new perspective and he longed to know how big the world really was.
He slowly wandered over to the human’s corpse, giving the man’s hand as hard a kick as his heavy body could muster.
“Good fuckin’ riddance.” He muttered between struggling breaths. Maybe he should sit down and take a break? He hasn’t been this active in a long time. The siren call of freedom, however, was too sweet and he continued on.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if his luck had run out.
The door to the room opened, and in walked a human he’d never seen before. The stranger called out something and started walking through the maze of shelves towards the body and the rat. The little rat tried his best to run off to hide under a shelf, only for his heart to decide to take a break and become a stone in his chest. The constricting pain forced him to the floor and he writhed desperately.
There was a horribly loud scream and the floor underneath him shook as the human discovered the corpse. The rat’s vision was blurring and darkening. Fuck, was he dying already? Did he push himself too hard?
Something soft and warm was pushed up against his side, fingers with a strange scent began curling around him, he bit it out of instinct and as a last act of spite. He never wanted to be touched by a human ever again. The hand hadn’t been protected by a glove and there was a sharp yelp as blood met his tongue. Then next thing he knew, he was flying across the room.
Oh. The stranger just threw him… Or maybe it was an accident? Either way, he was sailing toward the wall at a dangerously fast speed-
His world went black.
Where was he?
What happened? He didn’t remember much.
He had been in horrible pain before, but that seemed to be absent now. In fact, he felt pretty okay despite having just been thrown at a wall- Oh wait.
“Am I dead?”
“HEY, LAB RAT-! Oh, you’re conscious.”
He tried to turn his head to look at the source of the other voice. He couldn’t move.
“Don’t bother. You’re too fresh a spirit to start moving. Anyway-” There was a burst of confetti as a figure appeared above him. A White rat with clothes and wings hovered in the void with a smile on her face. “Congratulations! You died! Cause of death: Neck snapping on impact with a wall! Not the most original death I’ve seen, but it definitely is unique in its own ways…”
“Who… Who the hell are you?” His voice was raspy and strained.
“Who am I? Well,” She took her top hat off and bowed with a flourish, “I am the Rat Goddess! It’s my duty to shepherd the souls of all rats to their proper afterlife.”
She waved her hand and a book appeared in a puff of smoke. She flipped open the book to a certain page before beginning to read aloud.
“You had no name in life despite being owned by a human. You were a lab rat, born and raised, in a facility studying medical science. You were born with a fatal heart condition that would have been your natural cause of death had you not gone and gotten your neck snapped. You never experienced the outside world, cheese, or any of the other joys of being a rat. How am I doing so far?” She looked up from the book. He didn’t respond. The so-called Goddess decided to keep reading, “By remaining in the lab and being subject to various experiments, you developed a higher level of understanding and gained the ability to read the human language- Oooh! Good job!”
She continued reading. Everything about him was seemingly in that book. His good deeds, his sins, his vices, everything. However, his passage was apparently incredibly short (not surprising since most of his life consisted of nothing ), it almost felt as if she was reading a brief summary of his life. It felt like there should have been more. In actuality, that was all there ever was to his story. How pathetic.
“... And your last achievement before you died was--” The Goddess paused. She seemed confused about what she was reading. “You… You murdered a human?”
“ Your human?!” She flipped through a few pages.
“He wasn’t anything to me except my jailor. He did nothing but make me miserable. He got what he deserved-”
“AN OVERDOSE?! ” She cut him off with a horrified shriek. “You poured a bunch of pills into his coffee?!”
“Is that what that black stuff is called?”
“How can you be so casual about this?! You killed someone!”
“So? Cats kill rats, or so I’ve heard. Say, is there a Cat God?”
“Killing for the sake of survival is a totally different thing!" She stomped her foot down like a child having an argument, "This was a malicious act! One of the vilest of sins! How are you so nonchalant about taking the life of another? Even the person you hate the most is someone else’s beloved child! The man had a family! A wife! Children! And you took away their loved one because, what, you were tired of sitting in a cage?”
“He got what he deserved!”
“You figured out how to escape your cage! You could have simply left without killing him!”
“How could I possibly die peacefully without taking revenge on the bastard who ruined my life?!”
“Revenge is never the answer! In fact, if you hadn’t taken your so-called revenge and just left, you would have lived for a little while longer! But you didn’t, and you got your neck snapped like a twig.” She put her hands on her hips. He wished he could move so he could really give this supposed “God” a piece of his mind. He supposed he would just have to settle for a verbal smack-down.
“Listen you bitch-” He spat, “- I don’t care about whatever you feel like I missed out on. None of that shit was ever in my life since day fucking one, so why should I miss it?! I don’t care about his family either! What about my chances at a family?! I was cooped up in isolation! BECAUSE OF HIM! He took away everything from me! Every possible way I could have left my mark on this world was robbed from me!” He could practically feel his fur bristling at the thought of it, “All I wanted, my one wish before death, was revenge! Are you really going to condemn me for that?!”
“...” The Goddess fell silent. Her expression held nothing but pure disappointment and pity. It disgusted him so he tried to look away. “Your heart is filled with hatred. Have you, then, become truly heartless? You hated your fellow rats for their looking down on you, you hated humanity for your life in a cage, do you hate all life beyond them as well? Do you hate the world you were born into?”
“ Yes. ” He hissed.
“I see…” She sighed, seemingly sorrowful with his answer. “Then I suppose I have no choice.” She spread her wings out wide and held her hands out, the book that contained his life vanished back into the void.
“As a Goddess, it is my duty to cast heartless and vile beings such as you into the deepest pits of Hell! For the mortal sins of Wrath, Sloth, and Envy, I must strike you down-!”
He mentally cringed and prepared to feel the firey burn of Hell’s eternal torment.
“However…” The Goddess lowered her hands, “It is also my duty as a Goddess to try to redeem lost souls such as yours.”
“I believe there is still hope for you.” She turned her back to him, locking her fingers behind her back, “You were wronged in life I will not deny you that, however, I still do not agree with the actions you decided to take. You are right in saying you had no opportunity to live a real life. The human’s responsibility was to take care of your needs and make sure you were happy. He failed you in that regard.”
With a bit of a flourish, she turned back around, a tiny smirk on her face.
“So, let us make a deal, Little Rat.”
“Yes. One that, should things go smoothly, shall end in both of us being happy.”
He hesitated for a moment. Burn in hell or take the Goddess’ deal?
“... I’m listening.” She smiled at him.
“I am going to turn back time and undo what you have done-” She held up her hand to keep him from cutting her off, “- Please wait until I’m done. I am going to reset the day. When you awake, you will see the world from a new perspective. I want you to experience the world beyond the lab. I want you to understand how it truly feels to live. I want you to learn to love the world you were born into. Above all, I want you to learn to appreciate at least one human. I want you, a heartless being, to find a heart of your own! If you can accomplish this before the day ends, I will give you renewed life with a strong heart. If you fail, however, I will not hesitate to cast you into Hell. Do we have a deal?”
“... You’re joking, right?” He scoffed, “Learn all that in only 24 hours? That’s impossible!”
“Hmm I’ve seen worse,” She smirked, “A lot can happen in a day. People’s entire lives can change in such short a time. I believe you’ll be able to pull it off.”
“Thanks for the faith, but you should already know I’m a lost cause,” He growled, “But fine. Whatever. I’ll take the stupid deal. I’ll just make the best of it and kill the asshole again. No big deal.” The Goddess continued to smirk as if she were thinking about some kind of inside joke.
“Oh, I think you’ll find that task to be a bit trickier now.” She snapped her fingers, glitter sparking off them. The void around them began to fade. “But since you’ve agreed to take my deal, then I guess we’re done here. You need to go back to sleep and I have a lot of work to do! Good luck! And have fun out there!”
The Goddess vanished and he sunk back into the darkness.
Breath slammed back into his chest and he desperately gulped it down. It felt as if he had been holding his breath for centuries when in reality it was probably only a minute or two.
His hearing was overwhelmed by the sound of honking and roaring machines. They always sounded distant and muffled through the window, but now they sounded much louder. He could smell something foul and rotten nearby. It reminded him of the time the dipshit human forgot to clean his cage for two weeks. It made him want to gag.
His eyes fluttered open and the first thing he realized was that the ceiling looked a lot higher and a lot more orange than usual.
Oh. Wait. That was the sky above him.
The sun was rising.
The Goddess really had reset the day, huh?
Groggy and with an ache in all of his muscles, he attempted to sit up. His body felt heavy, as usual, but he couldn’t help but feel like something was off. Maybe it was the new strange location he had found himself in but- no there was definitely something wrong.
He tried to twitch his tail in irritation only to find he couldn’t feel it at all.
Concerned by this he reached behind- Where was his tail?
He turned his head and to his horror, he realized his tail was completely gone. Out of habit, he brought his hands up to grab at his head, only to find that his tail wasn’t the only thing that had changed. His ears had also been shrunken significantly. What the fuck kind of freak did the Rat God turn him into?
Panicking now, he looked around for any kind of reflective surface. He noticed a discarded glass bottle on the ground and lifted it up-
Wait. Hang on. These things were usually huge! How could there be one small enough for a rat to pick up?
His eyes caught a reflection in the smooth surface of the glass. It was slightly distorted but the reflection and what it implied were clear.
“WhaT THE FUUUUUUUU-” The rat-turned-human’s resulting horrified screech caused several pedestrians passing by the alleyway to hurry along.
This was going to be a long day.