The rats moved in the shape of a mob, a herding mass, with rat trying feverishly to pass rat, some not passing, some falling back, some climbing past the others. Matt and Dave and I gathered close together, as if we were about to be burned at the stake, and we watched in panic-stricken amazement, deciding instinctively, I think, that it was better to stand very still than to run.
Fortunately, instead of heading straight for us, the rats suddenly veered off toward the wall of the alley, at a point a few feet before the alley wall ended and the vacant lot began. The lot…contained the remains of a demolished building; it was a vortex of rubble. The rats were racing…and yet as they turned and came to the wall, they formed a single-file line, seemingly meticulous, purely straight; I thought of commuters massing on the street and then filing single file down the narrow steps of a subway entrance…The rats turned the corner of the alley wall and headed down into the lot as if they were flowing out of a funnel or spout…From there, the rats dispersed, skittering into the rubble hole, turning from rat to moving patch of darkness to shadowy blur as they scrambled down and down and, one by one, disappeared into the hole.
After the rats were gone, my skin was tingling…I had a couple of out-of-body experiences, in which I communicated with my body asking it what in the hell it was doing there. We looked at Derrick, who was watching the rats as if he were a shepherd. One rat had stayed back, undeterred by Derrick’s calls and and commotion.
‘See that! See that one! I always get one. It must be an elder. I always get one who will stand there, and that’s what upsets me. ‘Cause if it doesn’t move, I’ll have to kill him, and they’re my babies. I call ’em my babies anyway.’
He was serious about this. He turned toward us. ‘Some of these rats are too smart for their own good,’ he said. He looked at me right in the eye. ‘You know what I mean?’
from Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan