Tuesday Terror! The Burial of the Rats by Bram Stoker

Oh, rats!!

 

Not a supernatural story this week – sometimes man, or in this case woman, can be a scarier proposition than any ghoul. Especially when they have found a way to make use of rats…

the burial of the rats

So join me in the Paris of 1850, for this week’s excursion into…

Tuesday Terror

The Burial of the Rats

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by Bram Stoker

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Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

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Leaving Paris by the Orleans road, cross the Enceinte, and, turning to the right, you find yourself in a somewhat wild and not at all savoury district. Right and left, before and behind, on every side rise great heaps of dust and waste accumulated by the process of time.

Our narrator is a young Englishman, who has been asked by the parents of the young girl he loves to stay away for a period of a year. He is spending his time in Paris and, having seen all the usual sights, has widened his walks into some of the parts of the city not usually seen by tourists. One day, his wanderings take him to an area close to Montrouge, a place where the chiffoniers of the city live and work – the rag-pickers, who go through the waste of the city looking for any discarded items of value. It is a poor place, a shanty town, and the accumulated waste is piled in heaps on the streets.

Musard_Chiffonniers_de_Paris

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In the midst of these huts was one of the strangest adaptations – I cannot say habitations – I had ever seen. An immense old wardrobe, the colossal remnant of some boudoir of Charles VII or Henry II, had been converted into a dwelling-house. The double doors lay open, so that the entire ménage was open to public view. In the open half of the wardrobe was a common sitting-room of some four feet by six, in which sat, smoking their pipes round a charcoal brazier, no fewer than six old soldiers of the First Republic, with their uniforms torn and worn threadbare.

The old men look at him curiously and then put their head together in a whispered conference. He feels a little uneasy but sees no real cause for fear. However as he continues on his walk, he occasionally comes across an old soldier and each time wonders if it is one of these old men. The men seem to be watching him.

As it is getting late in the afternoon, our narrator decides to turn back, but finds he has lost his way. He continues on hoping to find someone from whom he can ask directions, and eventually comes upon an old woman in a shanty with three walls and open at the front. At first the old woman seems friendly and, in answer to his questions, regales him with tales of her life. She had been alive at the time of the French Revolution and had been one of those who sat daily at the Guillotine. But as they talk, he first notices the rats…

Rats 1

In one corner was a heap of rags which seemed to move from the number of vermin it contained, and in the other a heap of bones whose odour was something shocking. Every now and then, glancing at the heaps, I could see the gleaming eyes of some of the rats which infested the place. These loathsome objects were bad enough, but what looked even more dreadful was an old butcher’s axe with an iron handle stained with clots of blood leaning up against the wall on the right hand side.

Now darkness is falling. The old woman has noticed the golden and bejewelled rings on his fingers, and an avaricious gleam has come into her eyes. He is not yet afraid, for he is young and strong and she is old and frail-looking. But in the darkness he sees the gleam of the eyes of the rats, and then through the rickety walls of the shanty, he sees other eyes gleaming too… human eyes. It is then that he suspects the old men have surrounded the shanty waiting only for the woman’s signal to attack. But meantime the old woman continues with her stories… she tells him of a time she had gone down into the city’s sewers to look for a lost ring and while there had come upon the corpse of a dead man…

Rats 2

There was but little water, and the bottom of the drain was raised with brick, rubbish, and much matter of the kind. He had made a fight for it, even when his torch had gone out. But they were too many for him! They had not been long about it! The bones were still warm; but they were picked clean. They had even eaten their own dead ones and there were bones of rats as well as of the man.

Our narrator realises that she is telling him of his own future – once they have murdered and robbed him, the rats will perform the task of disposing of his body, so that he will vanish without trace. His only hope is to flee…

Rat 4

 

* * * * *

This is an awfully jolly little story, full of filth and sucking mud, silent pursuers and, above all, the ever-present threat of the rats. The old woman is beautifully evil and the relentlessness of the pursuit is excellently done. The descriptive writing is great, in that old-fashioned style that works so well for gothic horror, and Stoker creates a wonderful feeling of tension. There are tiny touches of humour, mainly around the idea of the pride of the Englishman abroad, but mostly this is just a straight tale of a terrifying adventure. Though the porpentine and I didn’t have to worry about ghostly apparitions for once, we checked carefully under the bed for rats before we went to sleep…

It’s slightly longer than I usually pick for this slot at about 10,000 words, but if you’d like to read it, here’s a link. You may want to set some traps first though…

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Fretful Porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:          😀 😀 😀 😀

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Sleep well!
Sleep well!

44 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Burial of the Rats by Bram Stoker

  1. I love this tale, it is quite menacing whilst at the same time being rather beautiful in it’s own way. Also – that last picture is adorable – even Terry wouldn’t eat that lovely little creature!

  2. There is definitely something about rats that just makes people’s skin crawl, FictionFan! And Stoker could certainly tell a creepy tale, so I’m not surprised that you thought this one was eerie. Interesting, too, how Stoker pulled this one off with no paranormal or other not-as-credible elements.

  3. Probably a good tale for Halloween week, FF. I’ve killed my share of snakes, but thankfully, no rats. This story would probably scare the heck out of me — I have a vivid imagination, and the thought of all those rats scurrying about, waiting for dinner, makes my skin crawl. Thanks for concluding with that darling white one hugging his teddy, though (much safer image, you know!)

    • The rats scare me considerably more than ghosts and ghouls, to be honest. Mind you, even the little mice the cats bring in can have me running shrieking from the room! Fortunately the current cats aren’t hunters, but my last two regularly brought me gifts… usually live!

      • Once I saw a cat in my neighborhood carrying a baby bunny in its mouth, and I nearly freaked! I suppose it’s all about the hunt for the cats, but how I wanted to snatch that bunny from its mouth!! Dallas never brings me critters, thank goodness.

        • Soxy and Trix were nightmare cats – the vet reckoned they were only a couple of generations from wild and they were mega-hunters. I had just about everything dragged through the cat-flap – birds and mice galore, frogs, half a budgerigar (never wanted to enquire too closely into that one), goldfish from the neighbour’s pond, dead pigeon under the bed, and on one glorious occasion a live rat which Soxy released in the bedroom. One day, I may tell you the story of when Soxy dropped a live mouse on my head… *shudders and phones therapist*

  4. Stoker was really good at horror and I remember the frisson I got from this one when I read it.If you haven’t already, you might want to give The White Wyrm a go sometime.

  5. Rats make good companions. They are intelligent. I never had a rat, but I did have a couple of mice for awhile. But these rats may be trained or something.

  6. I’ve been terrified of Rats ever since the James Herbert book of that name was furtively passed round the third years! This is a great tale by Stoker and I’m very grateful for the lovely picture at the bottom after all those horrid ones.

  7. Bram S looks like that? A wonder. He’s so…gentlemanly looking.

    *shudders* What a gory picture of a poor fellow getting eaten by rats. I’d like to own a rat or two or three, too. Hmm. Maybe I should reconsider. Imagine how cool it would be to have a band of rats fighting for you!

    • For years I thought he was a woman – not sure why! He looks awfully bad-tempered though…

      Isn’t it? I think that’s probably the most gruesome pic I’ve put on the blog… so far. I’m sure you’ll be safe so long as you feed them regularly… *nervous* I’d rather have a band of mice led by Reepicheep…

        • Yes, but I hadn’t seen a picture of him at the time… *defensive face*

          OK! I’ve sent Tuppence out to catch a mummy and daddy rat and once they’ve had thirty or forty little ratkins, I’ll mail them all to you in a box!

            • Well… but is it a man’s name either? In fact, is it a name at all?? Well, I always get Dracula and Frankenstein mixed up – the authors that is, not the stories – so that’s my excuse.

              Not till you’ve trained them!!! Meantime, I’ll knit them all little uniforms, with a Professorial P on the back…

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