The ground shifted.

That in itself was unremarkable. This was, after all, California. Butthis was different, as it was more intense. The problem with earthquakesis that you never knew when they had peaked, or if they were going to getworse, until they stopped.

Benny Carter was down in the basement of the old Lazy Daze Hotel, doinghis rounds as a security guard in the old landmark that had been builtshortly after the turn of the 20th century. He'd been in California allhis life, so the quake didn't mean jack shit to him. He'd been in dozensof them, and he thought of them more as a distraction; something to talkabout at the Night Owl, the bar he went to at the end of his shift. "Goon, shake the shit out of me!!" he laughed. He should have kept his mouthshut.

The first indication he had that this was no ordinary tremor was whenthe section of floor he was standing on buckled, almost sending him sprawling.The timbers in the ancient building creaked and made a sort of moaningsound as they were twisted in ways they were not designed to go. Bennywas in the middle of trying to get the fuck out of there, when there wasa sharp cracking noise above his head. He could see the floor above gettingready to give way, and decided that it was move now or be trapped. He bracedhimself to jump, but he was a split second too late; the roof came downon top of him so fast, he didn't even have time to cry out.

A while later, (he wasn't sure how long, as it was dark down there)he awoke, and realized he was pinned underneath a large beam that had fallenacross his back. He attempted to extract himself from beneath it, and washorrified to discover that he couldn't move. The problem was, he couldfeel nothing from the neck down, and the horror that he was paralyzed fromthe waist down came to him. Water was dripping from a ruptured pipe abovehim and spattering on the floor a foot or so from his head. He could feeltiny droplets splash him as they made a small puddle directly in frontof him. He was aware of this because a small light glinted on the puddle.

He was frightened badly, but his common sense told him that he neededto start weighing his options. His first priority was to see how badlyhe was damaged. He started by trying to move his legs; no luck. They weremerely dead appendages. His arms were in the same state. Panic began toovertake him, as he realized there would be no one looking for him forquite a while. He was the only one on duty, as the manager was off forthe day, and the desk clerk wouldn't be there until 9 in the morning. Theonly part of his body that seemed to perform on command was his neck; hewas able to turn it from side to side.

He was also able to shout, which he did with the vigor of the hopelessor the insane, which he would surely become if he didn't get the fuck outof here soon and get his mangled body fixed.

Benny remembered when he was younger, in his pseudo-hippie days, whensensory deprivation tanks were all the rage. The premise was that, by deprivingyour senses of any outward stimulation, you forced yourself to look insideyour mind. After extended periods of such deprivation, the mind tendedto play tricks on you, such as auditory and visual hallu-cinations. Hehad been down here for a good hour and a half, plus the time he had beenknocked unconscious, and he began to hear a sound that he vaguely recognized,but couldn't quite identify. He tried to ignore it, chalking it up to hisprevious experiences. And he was doing a pretty good job of it, until oneof the hallucinations brushed up against his nose. Then it all came backto him in a torrent; it was a fucking rat!! The smell of it sent recognition,via his olfactory senses, straight to his brain, and the fright jangledhis nerves like mainlining a spoon of good methamphetamine. Ever sincehe was a small child, he had had an intense fear of rats, since his babysister Cheryl had had a chunk of her cheek torn out of it by one of themwhen they were growing up in the projects in St. Louis. He had a hard timereconciling himself to the fact that he was afraid of an animal that weighedless than a pound, but still, the chunk of flesh that rat had taken outof his baby sister's cheek, as she lay helpless in her crib, had sent thefear of God through Benny for as long as he continued to draw breath. Andhere he was, paralyzed from the neck down, trapped with the nemesis ofhis childhood.

The rat was close enough that Benny could smell it; its rancid breathfrom whatever garbage it had been eating that day, the unwashed smell ofan inhabitant of the denizens of decay, its slick tail twitching, backand forth, under his nose. Benny only knew one thing; he wanted that thingas far away from him as possible. The next time he felt that slick tailbrush his nose, he did the only thing he could think of. He spit at it.Having spit, he tasted for the first time the blood that was filling hismouth from the internal injuries caused by the beam shattering his spine.The rat squealed, and Benny heard him skitter away. Benny turned his headfor the first of many times that he would before the end of this story,and realized that as he was turned to one side, the entire other side hadfilled up with blood. His blood. Oozing from his innards. He began to realizethat he was in deep shit. Real Deep!!

The rat reacted in an unexpected way. He bit Benny. Bit him right onthe fucking cheek. Benny screamed, more in anger than pain. He screamedin justifiable indignation at the treatment he was receiving from his mostungracious host, and the rat reacted from pure animal instinct from thispoint on. He realized that he had this huge fucking piece of meat exactlywhere he wanted it; helpless, with its hands pinned underneath it. He madeanother pass towards Benny's face, and before Benny could react, the rathad bitten him right above his left eye. The helpless Benny could onlyscream in anger and, in the words of the Bible, turn the other cheek. Unfortunately,turning the other cheek had caused him to scrape his chin in a most painfulway. I don't think Jesus had considered this when he gave that lame pieceof advice. The spot where the precocious rodent had bitten him had causedthe blood to flow into his eye. Although the blood didn't affect his visionin this dark little chamber of fun, it did cause his eye to itch and sting.His inability to scratch or rub the area made it almost maddening. Andnow, he could feel the blood from the fresh wound on his chin beginningto seep into a puddle beneath his left cheek.

After about an hour of trying to keep the rat out of his face, Bennybecame aware of two things; one, that there was a slight change in thelight. It was becoming a little brighter. But before he could waste anytime in being hopeful about this turn of events, he became aware of thesecond change; he and the rat were no longer alone. Several of the rat'sbrothers and sisters had come to join in the festivities. This caused Bennya great deal of internal discomfort, and when he tried to scream his displeasure,he found that he had lost his voice when he had screamed the first time.He was also very thirsty, but more than that, he desperately wanted towash the blood out of his mouth.

As the rats became aware of the fact that Benny couldn't move, theybecame emboldened. Although he couldn't feel it, Benny could hear the legsof his pants tear, and he could sense, more than feel, his leg being movedslightly as the rats opened up for lunch hour on his lower half. He didn'thave much time to dwell on it, though, because the largest rat, the onehe felt had been in there all along , made a dash toward Benny, and tookanother bite out of the area around his eye. Only this time, it was different.The lights out halfway, and Benny knew that the rat had penetrated thesoft eyeball. The sensation of blood running down his face was replacedby a much more vis-cous fluid, as the juices of his eye ran down his cheek.Benny was so angry and scared that he didn't know how to react. He justpromised himself he was gonna get that rat if it was the last thing hedid. From the looks of the situation, it appeared that it may well be thelast thing. But it was just an idle thought; how could he kill the filthyvermin when he was just a pile of damaged goods? But the thought of killingthat bastard gave him at least something to think about besides his predicament.

The puncturing of the eyeball had excited the rat, and he kept comingback for more, only to be pushed back when Benny spit at him. The rat was,after all, a rat. And he was coming to the realization that spitting wasall that Benny could do. So he kept getting closer, and backing off lessand less each time that Benny spit more blood at him. Benny was aware thathe was losing a large amount of blood, even if his mouth was the only placehe was losing it from. He doubted this, as he listened to the rat familymunching on his abdomen and legs. The game was over, he knew. He acceptedthat fact. Now he spent the last of his energy in the only thing left worthpursuing. He wanted to kill the rat that had taken his eye.

After playing thrust and parry with the big rat, during which the rodenthad torn a couple of more chunks of flesh from his face, Benny came upwith a plan. He would draw the fucker close as possible without being bittenagain. The rat was beginning to get careless, as Benny hadn't really givenhim any reason to feel afraid. Benny tightened the muscles of his neckinward, much as a turtle would. He stayed in this position until the ratcame for a bite of supper. Benny knew he'd only get one chance, and heprayed silently that he would be successful on his first try.

The rat scurried up to within a couple of inches of Benny's face withthe intention of taking another bite of what he had come to think of ashis own personal meal. Its forward momentum was met by Benny, who thrusthis clenched neck outward, mouth open. The rat was surprised and attemptedto jump back-wards, but he was a split second too late. Benny's jaws clenchedshut on the lower half of the fucker's body. The rat shrieked in angerand surprise as Benny bit down, and jerked his head around and bit Bennyseveral times in an attempt to get Benny to release his hold, but Bennywas not to be denied. He felt his teeth go through the small furry body,and Benny's mouth was filled with the blood of the rat, mingled with hisown. Also, Benny could taste the bitter taste of urine and bile, as histeeth broke membranes and severed organs. The other rats seemed to be awarethat their leader was in some trouble. The large rat twitched and shivereda couple of more times, then went still. With a feeling of triumph, Bennyspit out the remains of the dead rat. The others reacted in a most unsympatheticfashion. Three or four of them dragged the remains over to a corner andchowed down, spitting and fighting over the largest parts. Benny absentlythought that they were choosing a new leader, and he laughed at the absurdityof the thought.

And then everything went dark.