The little boy walked down the street from the school bus stop, looking both ways – twice – just as his mother had instructed. She usually met him at the bus stop, but she was sick today; she had tried to walk him to the bus this morning, but she was dizzy and nearly fell over, so he had assured her that he could do it himself – he was eight, now, after all, not a baby. And it was only three blocks.
But this afternoon was different from this morning. Some older boys – and some men, too – were gathered on the corner in front of one of the little shops on the main street. The little boy didn’t like the look of them – they looked like the sort of people that “stranger danger” was talking about. They glared at him as he approached, and part of him wanted to run away to the other side of the street. But he thought maybe that would be silly, and rude, and might make them angry at him, which he didn’t want. So he just walked as confidently as he could, knowing that his own house was only a block and a half away.
When he crossed the alley that lay on one side of the little shop, the group of men and older boys broke apart, spreading across the sidewalk and forming a half-circle in front of him. He stopped, not understanding what was going on, but feeling pretty sure that it wasn’t anything good.
“I have to get home,” he said in a small voice, that shook even though he was trying hard not to be scared. Some of the older boys laughed.
“We just want to show you something,” one of them said, grinning in a decidedly unkind way. “Come on.” He held his hands out for the little boy, who immediately tried to bolt to the side. Two other boys grabbed him, and the group surrounded him, putting hands over his mouth so that his cries were inaudible to the few people walking further down the street. The group pulled him into the alley, and the little boy began to panic, kicking and flailing against the strong arms wrapped tightly around him. He managed to twist his face away from the clutching hands long enough to shout: “Help! Help me!” The hands quickly clamped down across his mouth again.
“Don’t worry,” one of the boys whispered in his ear. “We just want to play.” The others laughed at this, and the little boy started to cry. Help me, he thought. Somebody help me.
In the distance, he heard a dog bark. It sounded like his neighbour’s dog. The barking grew louder as the dog came closer, and it was soon joined by other barks, from other dogs. The men stopped walking down the alley and looked behind them, out to the street. Sure enough, the little boy’s neighbour-dog was running across the street, and three other dogs of varying sizes were with him. Some of the older boys separated from the group, backing away nervously as the pack of dogs rushed at them.
From above came more sounds – the sounds of crows and pigeons, and the little birds that chirped outside the little boy’s window in the mornings. As the men looked up, dozens of birds flew down onto them, slashing at their heads and hands and faces, and squawking loudly. The men cried out in pain and alarm, and ducked down with their arms over their heads. The birds kept swooping down, clawing and pecking at the arms until they were covered with blood.
By now the dogs had reached the alley, and without hesitation they charged the men. Their teeth tore into the flesh of arms and legs.
Then the rats came.
They crawled out from wherever they had been hiding, and swarmed over the men, swarmed over their legs and up to their heads. Since the men had ducked down to avoid the birds, the rats didn’t have far to go, and for every one of them that the men grabbed and flung away, another quickly took its place.
The little boy scooted to the side of the alley, and sat panting with his back against the wall of the little shop. He watched with wide eyes as the dogs and the birds and the rats drove the men down to the pavement. And – was that? – yes, now there were roaches too, and spiders, surging out from the shadows to add their efforts to the fray. In a very few moments, all of the men – even the really big ones – were lying on the ground, and struggling just to crawl away. Some of the men were screaming, but others had clamped their mouths and eyes shut tight against the creatures’ attack, and were forced to make their slow, blind way in any direction that might be “away”.
The neighbour-dog let go of the boy whose leg he had been twisting in his jaws. He came to the little boy’s side, and licked his face, and sniffed him carefully as though making sure he was okay.
“I’m okay,” the little boy managed to say, and staggered to his feet. He stared at the spectacle in the alley for a second. “Thank you,” he whispered, to the animals, to the spiders, to whatever had heard his silent cries and sent these soldiers to his aid. “Thank you.” He turned then and ran from the alley, picking up his book-bag from the sidewalk in front of the little shop, and jogging home with the neighbour-dog by his side. He didn’t stop until he was in his own yard, and then, overcome with what had just happened to him, he sank down into the grass and held the dog while his tears fell onto the dog’s fur.
He didn’t tell his mother what had happened – he didn’t want her to worry, and he didn’t think she’d believe the whole story anyway – but the next day, as he and his mother made their way to the bus stop, he peeked into the alley by the little shop, wondering if he would see a pile of bodies.
There was blood on the pavement, patches of it stretching from one end of the alley to the other, but no particular sign that anything strange had happened the day before. The little boy smiled. Thanks! he thought again. He squeezed his mother’s hand and smiled up at her.
She smiled back, and asked, “Were you okay yesterday? To go by yourself?”
“Oh, yeah!” the little boy said proudly. He leaned his head against his mother. “I walked home with some friends.”