Willard's Favorite Snack
There were rats in the souffle again. Sophie hadn't skimped, although she hadn't served them the way he liked them best: alive. She knew they were Captain Willard's favorite snack, and she used them to get the eggs down him. He knew it too, and ate around the eggs. All her bribes carried a price; this was one he chose not to pay.
Captain Willard smeared enough souffle on his whiskers to satisfy Sophie that he had actually eaten some egg. Why on Earth she thought he needed them, he couldn't guess. She'd explained it to him more than once, but her meaning lost something (or so it seemed to him) in the translation. The gut-level concern for his health got through loud and clear; unfortunately he couldn't make his superior knowledge of his own needs comprehensible to her.
But the rats were more than a simple egg bribe. She didn't want him to eat any more children. She was foolish if she thought so paltry a snack would satisfy his hunger.
He went out and satisfied it the only way possible.
The child was about five. Willard found her in a back alley. When she saw his yellow-and-black tiger shape lumbering toward her she turned to face him, knowing there was no escape. She did not cry out. The young of this planet adjusted to change much easier than the adults, Willard reflected. Perhaps she had even considered his selection of her an honor.
Willard didn't pause to read her. He took the life from her quickly, savoring the essence of it within him. How could he make Sophie understand that his victim was not really murdered, only absorbed and combined with him? The answer was that he couldn't except by demonstration.
Sophie knew immediately what had happened, even though Willard took care to clean the blood from his muzzle and altered his breath so as not to blow the stench of death in her face. But she knew as soon as she looked into his eyes. He made a mental note to alter them as well next time, then discarded it. Deception was not his way; his half-hearted attempts at it were largely for her psychological benefit. He gave her what she expected, what she demanded.
Sophie looked into Willard's eyes, turned away and cried. After a time she said in a small, sad voice, "You'll run out of children eventually, you know. What happens then?"
He wanted to tell her of the child, how willing and unafraid the little human had been, how cognizant and accepting of what was really happening to her. He wanted to explain to her that falling victim to Willard or another of his kind was not death but a form of evolution.
He wanted to tell her that yes, when the children were gone, the rest of humanity would follow; that the witch hunts and resistance sure to precede that eventuality would save no one; that all that would happen was to the good, for both their species.
And he wanted to tell her that, as much out of respect as kindness, he would save her for last.
But she had not really asked him a question.
She knew already. All of it.
The Moscow (Idaho) Moffia was a group of writers who shared effort, triumph and disappointment in the early 80s. This story resulted from a classic writing exercise that Moffia member Jon Gustafson tried on us: everyone in the group wrote a story beginning with the same off-the-wall opening sentence. The sentence was, of course: "There were rats in the souffle again." It was a wonderful exercise, it became a wonderful book and so popular that Jon had to create a second one, which is why this story of mine appeared in Rat Tales #2.
Here's the introduction that Jon gave me in the book:
Steve Schlich started down the road toward being a professional writer a few years before the Moscow Moffia came into existence. He did it without help, by writing a story, sending it to an editor, and then writing another. And so on and so on. After a few hundred stories, they started selling to such places as TWILIGHT ZONE and MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. He is a full SFWA member.
Now Steve writes computer programs for a living and resides in the San Francisco area. Over the last few years, Steve's fiction output has dropped due to his job, but every so often we can bribe a story out of him. This is one of those times. We won't tell you what we gave him.