Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.


   Mark Gray's main pleasure in life was feeding rats to his pet python.
He kept the python in a blocked-off room in the  old  house  in  which  he
lived alone. Each mealtime, he would put the rat in a narrow tunnel he had
rigged, At the end of the tunel was an opening. The rat, going thiough the
narrow space into the bright room beyond,  automatically  spring-locked  a
gate across the opening.
    It would then find itself in the room with the python, with no way of
    Mark liked to listen to its squeaks as it became aware of its danger,
and then he would hear its mad scurring to escape the irresistible  enemy.
Sometimes he watched the exciting scene thiough a plate-glass window,  but
he actually preferred the sound to the fight, conjuring his own delectable
mental pictues, always from the viewpoint of the python.
    During World War Ill, the O.P.A. forgot to put  a  ceiling  price  on
rats. The catching of rats got no  special  priority.  Rat  catchers  were
drafted into the armed forces as readily as the other people.  The  supply
of rats grew less. Mark was soon reduced to catching his own rats; but  he
had to work for a living in the ever-leaner times of war,  so  that  there
were periods of time when the python was fed infrequently.
    Then one day Mark, ever searching, glimpsed some white rats through a
window of an old commercial-style building.
    He peered in eagerly, and though the  room  was  dimly  lighted  with
wartime regulation bulbs, he was able to make out that it was a large room
with hnndreds of cages in it and that each of the cages contained rais.
    He made it to the front of the building at a dead run. In pausing  to
catch his breath, he noticed the words on the doors  CARRON  LABORATORIES,
    He found himself presently in a dim hallway  of  a  business  office.
Because everybody was clearly working twice as hard because of the war, it
took a little  while  to  attract  the  attention  of  one  of  the  women
employees; and there were other delays such as just  sitting  and  waiting
while it seemed as if he was  the  forgotten  man.  But  after  all  those
minutes he was finally led into the office of a  small,  tight-faced  man,
who was introduced as Erie Plode and who listened to his request  and  the
reason for it.
    When Mark described his poor, starvng python, the small man laughed a
sudden, explosive laughter, But his eyes remained cold. Moments  later  he
curtly rejected the request.
    Whereupon he made a personal thing out of  it.  "And  don't  get  any
ideas," he snarled. "Stay away from our rats. If  we  catch  you  filching
around here, we'll have the law on you."
    Until those words were  spoken,  Mark  hadn't  really  thought  about
becoming a rat-stealing criminal. Except for his  peculiar  love  for  his
python, he was a law-abiding, tax-paying nobody.
    As Mark was leaving, Plode hastily sent a man to  follow  him.  Then,
smiling grimly, he walked into an office that had  printed  on  the  door:
    "Well, Hank," he said gaily. "I think we've got our subject."
    Carron said, "This had  better  be  good  since  we  can't  even  get
prisoners of war assigned us for the job."
    The remark made Plode frown a little. He had a tendency toward ironic
thoughts, and he had often thought recently, "Good God  they're  going  to
use the process on millions of the unsuspecting  enemy  after  we  get  it
tested, but they won't give us a G.D. so-and-so to try it out  on  because
of some kind of prisoner of war convention."
    Aloud, he said smugly, "I suppose by a stretch of the imagination you
could call him human.'
    "That bad?"
    Plode described Mark and his  hobby,  finished,  "I  suppose  it'a  a
matter of point of view, But I won't feel any guilt,  particularly  if  he
sneaks over tonight and with criminal intent tries to steal  some  of  our
rats." He grinned mirthlessly, "Can you think of anything lower than a rat
    Henry Carron hesitated but only for moments. Millons of  people  were
dead and dying, and a test absolutely had to be made  on  a  human  being.
Because if something went wrong on the battlefield, the effect of surprise
might be lost with who knew what repercussions.
    "One thing sure," he nodded "there'll be no evidence against  us.  So
go ahead."
    It seemed to Mark, as he came stealthily back that night, that  these
people with their thousands of rats would never miss the equivalent of one
rat a week or so, He was especially pleased when he  discovered  that  the
window was unlocked and that the menagerie was  unguarded.  No  doubt,  he
thought good-humoredly, babysitters for rats were in scarce supply because
of the wartime worker shortage.
    The next day he thrilled  again  to  the  familiar  sound  of  a  rat
squeaking in fear of the python. Toward evening his  phone  rang.  It  was
Erie Plode.
    "I warned you," said the small man in a vicious tone. "Now  you  must
pay the penalty."
    Plode felt better for having issued the warning. "Be it  on  his  own
soul," he said sanctimoniously, "if he's there."
    Mark hung up, contemptuous. Let them try to prove anything.
    In his sleep that night he seemed to be suffocating. He woke up,  and
he was not lying on his bed but instead was on a hard floor. He groped for
the light switch but could not find it. Them was  a  bright  rectangle  of
light about twenty feet away. He headed for it.
    Crash! A gate slammed shut behind him as he emerged.
    He was in a vast room, larger than anything he had ever seen. Yet  it
was vaguely familiar. Except for its size it resembled the room  in  which
he kept his python.
    On the floor in front of him, an  object  that  he  had  noticed  and
regarded as some sort of a leathery rug, thicker than he was tall, stirred
and moved toward him.
    Realization came suddenly, horrendously.
    He was the size of a rat. This was the python slithering  across  the
floor with distended jaws.
    Mad squealing as Mark Gray experienced the  ultimate  thrill  of  the
strange method by which  he  had  enjoyed  life  for  so  many  years  ...
Experienced it this one and only time from the viewpoint of the rat.

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