“Rats!” said Ivan Ivanovich.
I looked at the floor of the dining room. “Rats,” I agreed.
They were crawling everywhere. Swimming in the plum pudding, dipping greasy tails in and out of the punch bowl, gnawing through the rotisserie. Three rats climbed over my right shoe in quick succession. The first two were skinny, the third was fat.
“I fucking hate rats,” Ivan said.
Lady Alexandra Dostovilli let out a squeal as a rat wormed through her hair. She plucked it from atop her mounted curls and flung it roughly to the ground. Its brethren parted to make way for the fallen.
“Alexandra!” I called across the room. “That is no way to treat a rat!”
Denis Estilovich was standing next to Alexandra, and he smirked at me. He was wearing a bowtie. Bowties were the latest fashion.
“It takes one to know one, Mikhail Isgladovich!” he said.
His voice was very snide and high-pitched. Ivan Ivanovich had remarked to me on more than one occasion that he did not like Denis’s voice. I always told Ivan (as I have told many others) that I hold my judgement on a man’s vocal qualities until he has spoken more than fifteen sentences and has utilized all letters of the alphabet.
“That’s fifteen, Mikhail!” Ivan said from the corner of the room.
He was trying to eat dates, but rats kept crawling up his arms and taking the dates from his hands before he could fit them into his wide, thin mouth.
“I don’t like it, Ivan!” I said. “I agree with you!”
Ivan nodded and swatted away two rats climbing up his legs. Denis Estilovich harrumphed at this exchange and went back to flirting with Alexandra. A waiter came by with a platter of champagne glasses.
“Champagne, sir?” he said to me.
A rat crawled up his shoulder and onto the top of his poofy hat (which reminded me of a deflated eggplant).
“I’ll take a champagne, thank you sir. Could you do something about the rats, though?”
I paused for a moment. I brushed a rat off of my waistcoat, kicked away a couple who were toying with my shoelaces. I didn’t want the waiter to think I was complaining. I pointed to Ivan Ivanovich, who was still struggling with the rats by the dates.
“My friend, you see, is old. He is bothered by them.”
The waiter nodded solemnly. “I understand, sir. Unfortunately, they came with the house. Master Nikolai exterminated forty-nine of them when he first moved his estate here, but the remaining nine hundred and fifty-one have remained, and have likely since multiplied…”
The waiter leaned in close to me, and I had to catch one of the champagne glasses on the tray lest it spilled.
“…by method of sex.”
I drank both glasses of champagne and smiled. The waiter’s face was a stone mask. He backed away with the remaining glasses of champagne, having imparted to me a great secret. Across the room, Ivan Ivanovich pulled a rat out of his hair.
“They replicate using sex!” I shouted to him.
The waiter turned and scowled at me. He made a motion across his neck with a finger.
“That’s how we’ll do it then!” Ivan Ivanovich shouted back to me. “That’s how we’ll repopulate! Just like the rats.”
We’ll come back from the brink yet, I thought to myself.
“Alexandra!” I called. “Will you come upstairs with me? It is a matter of some importance.”
“Saving the human race again, Mikhail?” she said over a glass of champagne. She was smiling slightly.
I started up the stairs. I didn’t turn to see if she was following me. I knew she was.