"Exist Without Permission"
[Sunday, November 29, 2015]
"I thought you meant pigeons!"
Boss Blaster exclaimed, waving
his hands at Rosalyn, who was
confused by his sudden agitation.
"What about pigeons, dear?" she said.
"You teased me about feeding
'the flying rats' and I thought you
meant nuisance birds, not actual rats
with feathered wings," said Boss Blaster.
"Oh right, you moved in from out of town,"
Rosalyn said. "Lincoln has sky rats,
and they've been around for years."
"Whyyyyy?" said Boss Blaster.
"Nobody knows," Rosalyn said.
"They just showed up suddenly.
The first ones to appear were
white, like lab rats, but now most
of them are more grayish, like pigeons."
"I guess that makes sense," said Boss Blaster.
"Hawks would eat up all the white ones."
"Hawks don't hunt in the air, and we don't
have many falcons here," said Rosalyn.
"Then what happened to the white ones?"
Boss Blaster wondered. "It's weird."
"Possibly cats, possibly something else,"
Rosalyn said. "The hooded ones seem to do
okay, though. We even have crayon rats."
"Crayon ... rats," Boss Blaster said slowly.
Rosalyn nodded. "Most of them have genes
from pigeons, but a few have parrot wings,
so we think the bright colors came from there."
"If you don't know where they came from,
how do you know what genes they
have?" Boss Blaster wondered.
"Somebody captured a few sky rats
for testing," Rosalyn explained. "I think
they hoped to find the culprit who had
created them, but so far no luck with that."
"It sounds like some mad science gig,"
Boss Blaster said, shaking his head.
"That's the leading theory on how
we got flying rats," Rosalyn said.
"So just to clarify, this city has
rats with wings?" Boss Blaster said.
"And you don't know exactly where
they came from, but everyone just
acts like this is somehow normal?"
"Yes," Rosalyn said. "You get used to them."
"Oh for Pete's sake," Boss Blaster said,
throwing up his hands and walking away.
But he didn't stop feeding the pigeons in
the park, and sometimes sky rats came too.
Once he stopped feeling so freaked out,
he had to admit they were kind of cute,
the way they would hop into the air when
startled and then glide back down.
As he watched, he saw that they
had quite similar coloring to pigeons,
mostly shades of bluish or pinkish gray,
occasionally black, some mottled with white.
What he didn't see was anything close to
the dark brownish-black of sewer rats,
which was interesting. He didn't know
whether they refused to breed together,
or if the sky genes were just that dominant.
And then Boss Blaster spotted the crayon rat.
It was beautiful, with soft lavender fur and
wings of brighter purple and teal tipped
with black. He called it Jewel.
From then on, he went to the park
regularly to feed the pigeons and
the sky rats if they were there.
Sometimes the other Broken Angels
joined him, especially Cas and Hali,
who liked walking around the park.
Jewel got to know all of them,
and Boss Blaster enjoyed seeing
the bright colors of the underwings
whenever it startled into the air.
[Sunday, December 13, 2015]
Then one day a garbage truck
went by and Jewel didn't flutter up.
"What's wrong with Jewel?"
Boss Blaster said, frowning.
"Well, sometimes they get
too fat to fly," Cas said with
a shrug. "It happens fairly often."
Boss Blaster looked at Jewel.
The rat was getting fatter, but he
wasn't satisfied with that explanation.
Looking around for inspiration, he saw
that someone had left a reusable cloth bag
hanging on the park's bulletin board.
Catching a wild rat was a dicey trick, but
Boss Blaster had super-speed on his side.
He scooped up the sky rat and then
quickly fastened the bag before Jewel
even knew what was happening.
"Let's go home," said Boss Blaster.
"We'll ask Heron when he comes over."
When they got back to the lair,
Boss Blaster found an old fish tank
and put Jewel in there with a towel.
The winged rat sniffed around, then
curled up in a corner and went to sleep.
Boss Blaster draped another towel
over the top, and then called Heron.
"I know that you weren't planning
to come over until supper time, but
I've got a sick pet," said Boss Blaster.
"Would you mind taking a look?"
"No problem," Heron said. "I've been
practicing on animals. If I can't fix
whatever's wrong, I can at least
give you some details for the vet."
Boss Blaster didn't exactly have
a vet for a brand-new pet, but he
did know a veterinarian, and
Dr. Brown was familiar with
the gang, so that was all right.
"Thanks," he said. "See you soon."
When Heron arrived, Boss Blaster
explained the situation as he lifted
the towel off the top of the fish tank.
Jewel squeaked and fluttered.
Heron jumped back a pace.
"You didn't say it was a rat!"
he exclaimed. "Wait, why is
your pet rat purple with wings?"
"Apparently Lincoln has flying rats,"
said Boss Blaster. "This one is special,
so when she looked sick, I picked her up."
"I ... see," Heron said, not coming
any closer to the fish tank.
Boss Blaster sighed.
"You don't have to help."
"No, no, I already said I would
and I'm here," Heron muttered,
reluctantly approaching the tank.
Even more reluctantly, he reached in.
Curious, Jewel sniffed his hand
and even let him take hold.
Poor Heron looked queasy.
Boss Blaster silently resolved
to find something generous
as a thank-you gift for him.
Heron grimaced and let go of
Jewel, who went back to the corner
and began digging at the towel.
"Good news for me," Heron declared,
dumping a tablespoon of hand sanitizer
into his palm. "It's not injured or sick."
He raised an eyebrow as he faced
Boss Blaster. "Bad news for you,
though. She's pregnant."
"How is this bad news?"
Boss Blaster asked, baffled.
"She's beautiful, I like her,
and you just told me that
there's nothing wrong with her."
"What on Earth are you going to do
with ten parrot-winged rat pups?"
Heron said as he backed away.
Boss Blaster could feel
a ridiculous goofy grin
spreading over his face.
"Start building a Rat Park
in the unfinished part of
the basement?" he said.
He would need a bigger cage
for the meantime, though -- maybe
something like people used
for cockatiels or ferrets.
With enough room for
Jewel to fly and preen,
she could be a role model
for Hali later on, too.
"Better you than me,"
Heron muttered. "I really
do not like rodents."
"That's okay, I don't
mind," said Boss Blaster.
"I mean, I know some people
keep them as pets, I've had
friends who did," said Heron.
"I just ... don't get the appeal."
"Rats exist without permission,"
Boss Blaster said quietly. "They are
hated, hunted, and persecuted. They live
in quiet desperation amongst the filth.
And yet they are capable of bringing
entire civilizations to their knees. If you
are dirty, insignificant, and unloved
then rats are the ultimate role model."
"Oh," Heron said quietly. "I guess
that makes a bit more sense.
May I be excused now?"
"Of course," said Boss Blaster.
"Cas can throw in some of
that new focaccia bread
with all the toppings."
Heron perked right up.
"Yeah, I think Dante
taught him that recipe,"
said Boss Blaster. "It's good."
"I love focaccia," said Heron.
"Do you think Cas would mind
an extra pair of hands in the kitchen?"
"Cas loves extra help," Boss Blaster said
as he ushered Heron up the stairs.
Besides, if they made enough that
they actually had leftovers, maybe
he could sneak a crust to Jewel.
* * *
"On Painting Rats, and the Glorification of Them. They exist without permission. They are hated, hunted and persecuted. They live in quiet desperation amongst the filth. And yet they are capable of bringing entire civilizations to their knees. If you are dirty, insignificant, and unloved then rats are the ultimate role model."
"Flying rats" and similar terms are slang for pigeons.
Some people enjoy feeding pigeons.
Lincoln is the kind of place where it's easy to hide things you don't want to get caught doing. Years ago, somebody made flying rats, and they got loose. The original ones were albino lab rats with white pigeon wings, which remains the most common form. Since then, people have caught them for pets and bred them with fancy rats to produce several variations. Interestingly, they don't show the same colors as wild Norway rats -- either the wild rats won't mate with the winged ones, or the winged genes are so dominant that the wild traits don't show. The flying rats have become part of the city, like some towns have white squirrels. Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't get rid of 'em, because in the end they're rats with pigeon genes.
Rats come in many colors of fur and eyes.
This is similar to the original white version. The avian feet are uncommon but do appear occasionally.
This rat is dark except for a white belly, a style that works very well in the wild because it doesn't show up as much as the albino ones do.
The cinnamon color appears in dark-eyed rats, and here you can see the mottled pigeon wings that are becoming more common.
This is a hooded rat, and they come in various colors. It has gray-brown wings that are probably too small to fly well, but it could glide.
And then there are the crayon rats. Nobody knows where they came from, but there have been several over the years. This one is lavender with parrot wings that are mostly purple and turquoise edged with black.
Rats typically have 6 to 12 pups per litter.
Rat Park was a famous experiment about addiction, which demonstrated that it's far less about drugs and far more about misery. Rat colonies in a large, luxurious enclosure had little to no interest in drugs whereas isolated rats in tiny cages took as much as they could.
Consider cage sizes for birds, rats, and sugar gliders. Bigger is definitely better. A sky rat needs space for both flying and climbing. A good approach is to provide platforms, branches, ropes, and other fixtures along one or two sides sides of the cage while leaving the middle open. Cages for large pets are often modular so you can remove unwanted dividers inside them to give more airspace.
Enjoy a focaccia recipe with many topping ideas.