Death Rat
A parable honoring the importance of death

In a faraway land, in the middle of the Great Ocean, there existed a large island. Upon this island, there could be found a forest and a city. It was a happy place; the people of the kingdom had plenty enough food and were pleasantly comfortable. The animals, too, lived a good life, those in the forest, as well as those who lived behind the walls in the city. And when animals and humans met, in this land, they could talk to one another.

One such group of city animals were the rats. While the people were clean, there was still always plenty of scraps left over to feed the rats. And the cats of the people were not extraordinarily quick, so only the sickest of the rats would never come back from an alley foray, which kept the rat population strong and not overly numerous.

One day there was a rat who was particularly sensitive to the plight of those rats who became sick and who would eventually disappear. But what could he do about it? Nothing. It was the way it was and always has been, and, of course, always will be. This rat was exploring the dungeons of the castle (okay, the island was not a perfect place) when he came to a cell with a new inhabitant. It was awhile since he had seen anyone in this cold place, so he was curious to see who the new visitor may be. He was an old man with a long beard and a pointy hat. His eyes looked kind, although they were filled with sadness.

“Excuse me,” said the rat, “I do not mean to be rude, but why are you locked up down here in this place?”

“You are not rude, little one,” said the man, smiling. “There is just some misunderstanding, that’s all.”

“But what don’t they understand?”

“The King is afraid of wizards, and I, dear friend, am a wizard. I came to this land to offer my services, but the king thought differently, and so I have been thrown in here.”

That is not very hospitable,” said the rat. “We rats would never do such a thing. But being a wizard, don’t you have any powers?”

The wizard began to pace back and forth. “I do. However, I need my wand. I was drugged at the dinner table, and my wand was taken from me. If I had it, I would literally disappear, make my way to my balloon and leave this wizard-hating island.”

“I have an idea. Let me find it and bring it back to you. We rats are very clever, you know.”

“So I have heard.”

Thus, the rat made its way through the corridors of the castle, staying in the shadows as much as possible, checking this room and that, until finally, he found it alone in a locked room. As you know, rats are good at squeezing under doors, and there was just enough room to get in and get out with the wand. When he returned to the wizard, the face of the old man brightened.

“Well done, well done, noble rat. I feel alive once more. And for freeing me, I will grant you two wishes (no, they cannot be for more wishes!) for you to use at any time. Choose them well. And now, with a thousand thanks, I will bid you and this island farewell.

”After the vanishing of the wizard, the rat thought little of these two wishes, for he was just happy enough to do a good deed.

Then one day, he had just returned home from foraging and had a nice chunk of smelly cheese with him when he stopped dead in his tracks. There was his mother lying asleep on her straw bed, panting, and to the side of her was a faint shimmer of a shadow of a rat with wings. “No,” said the rat to the shadow, “I know who you are, and you can’t have her!”

The shadow grew into a solid form. “Her time has come. The Death Rat cannot be denied.”

“I hate you, and I will deny you. I wish that you did not exist!”

And with those words, the Death Rat disappeared. The rat ran to the side of his mother and shook her awake. However, she could barely open her eyes, and no matter how many days he waited for her return to health, she could not leave her bed. He had to feed her little pieces of food each day.

Then after a few weeks of tending his mother and searching for food to sustain the two of them, he noticed that there were a lot more rats — a lot more. In fact, there were rats everywhere! The alleyways had become a river of rats. No more mice could be found anywhere, and cats would not dare to venture into an alley for fear of being overrun.

Pretty soon, since all the food in the alleys were picked over, the rats invaded the castle and all the homes, and there was much panic in the city. And when the people found that the rats were impervious to anything they could do to them, the people fled the city and made their way to the forest.

But the rats followed, and no animal was safe from the hordes of rats, whether a small beast or large, all fell under the teeth of the rats. Hawks and other such predators would not attack any rat, even at the point of starvation. And when all the animals had become food, and all the humans had fled in their ships, the rats had nothing but the vegetation, and soon even all that was gone. And the island had become nothing more than a denuded landscape that throbbed with a mass of rats.

On one barren branch of a tree, the rat looked out upon his home and wept, watching the rats bite and scratch one another with their emaciated bodies. “What have I done? I have destroyed my people and my land. I wish I had never made my last wish.”

All of a sudden, he was at his mother’s side. The room was back to the way it was; it was not filled with a multitude of rats. And there stood the Death Rat.

“I am sorry for not accepting you,” said the rat with tears in his eyes. “Please, take my mother and end her suffering. And thank you for all that you do.”

The Death Rat bowed to the rat and said, “It is not every day that I receive thanks for my work. And for that, I grant you that when I come for you, you will have a most pleasant passing.” The Death Rat vanished. And the rat watched his mother breathe her last.

— Janaka Stagnaro

Thank you for reading this excerpt from my book, Silent Ripples: Parables for the Soul. Follow this link to purchase my book from Amazon.

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