Barney went to the park at the end of his estate to try to trap a buff-tailed bumble bee in a jam-jar. The bumbler buzzed away from him giving him the finger every time he got near, no matter how hard he chased or wielded his jam-jar.
He felt hungry and said aloud to no-one in particular, ‘I wonder what time it is? My dinner will be ready soon, I think.’
He heard strange rustling from a nearby bush and a brown rat popped its head out the top and said, ‘It’s a quarter to four.’
It then ducked back into the bush again and continued with all that rustling.
Barney rushed over to the talking rat.
‘How did you do that?’
The rat popped its head out and said, ‘Oh, it’s you. I used to live with a priest with red trousers. He taught me how to tell time with my nose. All I have to do is sniff the air and I know the exact time down to the split second. I’m the rat who can smell time. I should be famous really, and have my own talk show. But I’m not.’
Bad Barney said, ‘Where’s the priest now?’
The rat replied, ‘Oh I left him this morning because he never went anywhere. All he did was just hang around the house all day and say his prayers. He didn’t even fart. A holy Joe. He never wanted to know the time. Bloody boring. I’m off now to be with people who really really really need to know the time. Ordinary decent people. Are there any left in Ireland though?’
Barney scratched his head and said, ‘Hey, I’m always late for things like my dinner or school. Can I strap you to my wrist and use you as a watch in order to get me to all my appointments on time? What do you say?’
The rat folded his arms and scrunched his red lips together. ‘Do you think I’ve gone stark raving stupid in that my dream job is to be tied around your sweaty wrist all day, just so I can sniff you the time? You must think I’ve got a bowl of nuts for a brain.’
Barney shook his head three times and said, ‘Alright it was only a suggestion. No need to get sarky. I’m off home now for my dinner. Goodbye nuts-head, it’s been good to know ya. If I’m late it’s your fault.’
The rat then interrupted his progress by lifting his eyebrows, ‘Hold on there, Tonto. If you really want me to be your wristwatch, you’ll have to do me a favour first.’
Barney took a breath and had to stop mucus-bubbles from coming down his nostrils by pinching his nose. ‘What favour?’
The rat said, ‘Fingers. I want fingers.’
Barney cocked his head sideways like a bamboozled Jack Russell, ‘But you’ve already got four legs and five fingers on each one. That’s twenty fingers I reckon. Isn’t that enough for any talking rat?’
The rat’s eyes turned an even deeper red. ‘I need a finger a week. I eat fingers and need them to be able to sniff time. Human fingers. If you can source me one human finger a week, then I’ll be your wristwatch, and we have a deal. Fetch me a finger now Barney, go on, be bad.’
Barney looked around to see where he’d source the rat a finger, when suddenly he saw Toasty Dickens jump up from out of a big dark hole in the ground she’d dug with her own shovel. She was in his class at school but he didn’t like her that much. She was always digging dark lunatic holes for herself.
She came running towards the two of them with her shovel in her hands and shouted, ‘Hey Barney, I want your money and your trousers in my hands right away! If you don’t give them to me now I’m going to whack you over the head with this shovel, and bury you alive in my nice deep dark hole over there. Do it now arse-breath. You know what I did to Seamus Brady last week, so look lively. Chop! Chop!’
Barney got flustered when he thought of Seamus Brady’s discomfort, so nearly fell into the thorny bush on top of the talking rat, but caught his balance just in the nick of time. He started to unbutton his trousers and tried to do as she ordered. She was going to laugh at his Batman underpants, he knew it.
An idea dazzled his head, and he looked at the rat. It seemed that the rat had thought the same thing. It was as if they were both reading the same sentence at the same time in his big book of zombie stories from his bedroom, page one, chapter one.
They winked at each other and sang, ‘Finger time!’
The rat jumped and landed on Toasty’s hand. She started to scream. She watched the rat opening his big mouth and baring his teeth to the sunshine of the day. He bit into her little finger and detached it easily with three gnawing motions. Left, right and left again. Like a ratty chainsaw. Blood went everywhere.
A big clicking sound was heard when the finger snapped right off her hand. The rat had it between his teeth and scurried off to the bush he was in earlier, and started all that rustling once again.
Toasty fainted in shock and fell back into the big hole she’d dug for herself earlier, where she went out for the count of Monte Cristo, all black and a little bit French.
Toasty woke up later in a hospital bed minus a finger saying, ‘Ooh la la Monsieur!,’ but couldn’t remember a damn thing about what had happened to her. All she could do was scratch her head and eat her hair.
‘Where’s my shovel?’ she said, ‘Where’s my fucking shovel?’
By this time, Barney and the rat were in his house relaxing and gobbing dinner.
‘Give me the finger Barney! Give me the finger!’
Barney was eating stew and the rat was under the table in a box, eating portion one of Toasty’s little finger. He would cut the finger up into seven deadly slices and eat one a day until the time came to find another. So he could continue to sniff the time.
Barney reckoned that there were enough evil victims in the world that could afford to lose a finger without any real harm being done. Well, he hoped. All he had to do was find evil people. It couldn’t be too hard these days. Surely.
‘I’m not bad, I’m just fighting injustice. Not bad at all.’
He thought about how his big brother would react. ‘That’s what Hitler would say Barney, Hitler!’ and gulped.
But his brother was an eejit.
After dinner the rat told Barney that his name was E. Coli O’Reilly. Barney was having none of it.
‘You must be joking – your name is Fingers. Yes, Fingers Fungleton, after the biggest and most infamous thief in Ireland, the criminal banker. You don’t have to wear the thuggish two-piece suit though. I’ll give you that.’
With that, using his prehensile tail for attaching himself around Barney’s wrist, Fingers said that it was time to wash the dishes and that this was probably the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
‘Don’t worry,’ said Fingers, ‘It’s only evil people we’re stealing fingers from. If these evil people repent and turn into good people doing good deeds, then the finger will grow back in no time. Put it out of your mind mate.’
He threw him the cloth and winked, ‘And you’re drying!’
Later, Barney noticed that Fingers had lifted his tail up into the air and was getting ready to do something strange. Barney shouted, ‘Fingers stop! What are you doing?’
Fingers said that when rats like each other, they urinate on each other to show their appreciation. He was just about to urinate into Barneys face.
Barney nearly screamed the house down, ‘Fingers! Humans don’t do that. That’s a rat thing. If you did that I could catch the bubonic plague or cholera or typhus or Weil’s disease or E. Coli or Crypto Sporidiosis or even foot and mouth disease!’
He continued, ‘Did the priest with red trousers who trained you not tell you about that? He must have when he wasn’t saying his prayers or looking holy?’
Fingers scratched his head and said –
‘The priest actually liked it when I urinated on his face. Practically encouraged it. But ok, go on out of that, I won’t do it ever again. And that’s a promise.’
The next day Barney walked into school with a rat for a wristwatch and instantly became famous.
Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin, Ireland. He has had work published in The Stinging Fly, RTÉ Ten, The Lonely Crowd and other such organs. He would also like to mention that Pats won the FAI cup in 2014 after 62 miserable years of not winning it. Twitter: @camillusjohn1. Blog: janeymackenstreet.wordpress.com