From The Night Shift 1978 short story collection comes another one of the dark kind. A young drifter named Hall has been working at a decrepit textile mill in a small town in Maine when the cruel foreman, Warwick, recruits him and others to assist with a massive cleaning effort. The basement of the old mill has been abandoned for decades, and over the years, a monumental infestation of rats has taken hold.
Hall went to work. And after a while the rats came out and
sat atop the bags at the back of the long room watching him with their unblinking black eyes. They
looked like a jury.
This rat empire, cut off from the rest of nature, has allowed the animals to evolve into a strange and varied combination of creatures; complete with its own bizarre, self-sustaining ecosystem. There are large, armoured rats, albino, weasel-like rats that can climb up walls or burrow through the ground; and bat-like rats that have evolved to pterodactyl-like sizes. The men eventually come across a sub-basement, locked from the inside. Warwick then enlists Hall to go down and investigate the sub-basement and that he may take who ever he likes. Hall chooses Warwick who, despite trying to prevent them from entering, is forced to press on.
Rats ran everywhere, bigger than any Hall had ever seen. He could hear men crying out in disgust and horror as they fled, things with huge eyes and sleek, plump bodies. He caught a glimpse of one that looked as big as a healthy six-week puppy
As they make their way through the sub-basement, Hall and Warwick discover that it harbors something more terrifying and hideous than any of them could have dreamed—a cow-sized queen rat with no eyes or legs, whose only purpose is to endlessly breed more rats.
Hall saw. Something had happened to the rats back here, some hideous mutation that never could have survived under the eye of the sun; nature would have forbidden it. But down here, nature had taken on another ghastly face.
The rats were gigantic, some as high as three feet. But their rear legs were gone and they were blind as moles, like their flying cousins. They dragged themselves forward with hideous eagerness.
Hall sprays Warwick towards the queen with a hose they were using to attack the rats. As the queen devours Warwick, Hall makes his way towards the exit while spraying the rats. However, he is overwhelmed and eaten alive by the hordes of mutated rats. Meanwhile, the other team of workers on the surface wonders what has happened to them and, with no idea what kind of horror awaits them, prepares to descend into the basement.