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Written by Ashly Damon

Edited by Bradley Bell

Rats have a romance with me. They follow me wherever I go. Some even carrying the weight under my toe. They must stay with me while I keep on trudging on, ever so much their queen.

Yes, I am their queen.

As such, being my little jesters, they often entertained me, dancing.

“Oh yes! So delightful!”

My steps intertwined with their own as we danced together in forward steps.

This stretch of path seemed to go on forever. Along this path on either side of myself and my companions were the fading lamplights of Marionette, the remnants of a previous time.

Ah, what a brilliant time it was, so beautiful and now foregone in memory.

I was promised an end to this path, quite some time ago; at the end would be a place that redeemed the old Marionette anew with even greater lights and people.

Oh for such a safe place to be, a home that would embrace my princes and their queen with love and joy. I liked to believe it was waiting for me as much as I did it.

We made the best of this ongoing journey, and dancing was perhaps all we had other than each other.

Yet even as we were linked together in such an ecstatic manner, I noticed something – something amiss.

I looked to my princes; their dancing was now different, somehow sad and slow. Not at all like my happy princes. And in the blink of an eye they disappeared.

I gasped.

Where could they have been taken away from me?

My blood ran cold as icy rivers and my eyes sullen by realisation.

“Where are you my princes?” I swam from one side of the path to the other, searching for them.

The blues struck me harshly in that moment.

They were gone!

I looked to all directions for some kind of hope.

The night sky!

Our once pretty sky had drawn on eyes now, slotted into the place of stars, ugly red stars. They did not help me look for my lost ones.

Perhaps the sky had entranced them and let them fall back into the arms of darkness.

One could almost catch sight of what lay behind me if they tarried long enough to be ensnared in it. Every step along the cobblestone soon fell to black, as the lamps behind me would dim and die quickly.

It was always coming for me, the darkness.

The darkness had ended my rat romance, it seemed, and it caught them.

A figure emerged in the distance, tumbling and stumbling out of the side of the path.

My eyes deceived me, no, no it couldn’t be – another on this path?

I cried out a “Hello!” yet I received no reply, only a vacant standstill. I called out again, my words echoing ahead of me.

It was one of my princes.

“Oh darling!”

I scooped up my prince in my hands, holding them to my cheek.

I kissed him.

Only after did I realise this was not one of my princes, but something from the darkness. His tail stuck out sharply and teeth bit into my cheek.

I screamed and tried to throw him off yet he set on me.

My knees cracked, all the pressures and fatigue hitting me finally, I fell to my hands and knees. I whimpered, “No…Get off me. Please, my princes, come back to me.”

More pseudo-princes emerged from outside the path. They began to tug on my fingers and feet, dragging me outside.

And, for a terrible moment, I saw them. I saw all of them, the eyes, the same ones as the stars had. They had been waiting for me all this time.

I tried to crawl back, away from them to little avail, there were simply too many of them, too much force.

Such little time before the lights went out! My cries rung out for my princes, for saving. Little pitter-pattering steps rushed towards me in a welcome chorus of feet! A marvellous sound! They had come to save me – it was my rat princes!

My true princes soon became entangled with the with the pseudo princes, fighting and biting on one another. The monsters began screeching and wailing terribly.

The princes finished eating away at them quite fast.

And then it was over, and they made no more terrible sounds, having been returned to darkness.

I scrambled to my feet and held a prince in my hand, petting it lovingly.

“My babies, my sweet little princes, thank you so much for coming back to me, your queen is all better now.”

And so, with a light ahead of me, I continued on my journey down the path that would end sometime, but not quite soon.