In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Us
  • Karen Joy Fowler (bio)

We’re not the record keepers you are. When we find your records, we eat them.

Some of us think you carry a grudge about that, but you’ve made good use of our hunger over the years. On our side, there’s no ill will. We’re in this together, always have been.

Many believe you once admired us; some say there was even a time you liked us best of all. You thought we brought you luck, called us clever, resourceful, and resilient. Friendly and popular, you said. Inquisitive, industrious.

But also selfish, which is so like you. No one else so often mistakes a mirror for a window.


In those dim and distant days, when famine came, it was a shared privation. If it settled in, meant to stay, then we took off together, boarded your ships and sailed in all directions. Our DNA is a map of your migrations.

And even you, who so like numbers, couldn’t say how many of us were lost at sea, ending up in the belly of some unblinking fish who’d never imagined such a creature before swallowing one. Someone dies and someone eats. It’s the way of the world. (Though you’re working on that. We’re helping.)

Those of us who survived had children and they had children and so on and so on. The ship was all we knew until we dropped anchor on a green shore or white sand or wet rocks. The unexpected gift of fixed earth, of trees and grasses, fruits and grains. A rain of insects. A roof of leaves.

It takes our breath away to imagine it. We ourselves have never seen, never eaten these things. Many among us are waiting for a world like that, a world beyond the world.

Sometimes, in these new lands, we found others of our kind. This might mean war. Or sex. Or both.

You understand. [End Page 481]


You hosted us on your ships, mostly uninvited, though sometimes you planned to eat us. We hosted even smaller uninvited creatures, and these carried a sickness from one place to another, delivering it into your new worlds like mail from home. Generation after generation of intermittent and incomprehensible torment followed.

We all suffered. Death insatiable, bodies collecting faster than they could decay, some of them yours, more of them ours. You’d have to have been crazy not to go crazy. We all went crazy then.

Any admiration you’d ever felt for us vanished. You spoke of infestations. Swarms. Eradications. You killed us in your stories, danced us to our deaths with songs.

That time has passed. There is no reason to say more about it.

You and Your Records

Some of your records are not to our taste.

In 1823, a terrier named Billy set a record by killing one hundred of us in five minutes at the Paris Dog Show, an average of one death every 3.3 seconds. The coliseum had been fitted with mirrored walls so the view was never blocked and there was no traction, no chance of escape. Still, we did our best. An earlier match had left Billy blind in one eye. The hero who achieved that had no name.

Your papers referred to this Parisian event as a feast of delight for the raticide enthusiast. Billy was awarded a silver collar. His record stood for almost forty years until Jacko, a black-and-tan bull terrier, finally bested it by two seconds. Decade after decade of necks snapped by your dachshunds, your airedales, your west highland whites.

But in the end, it all worked out for the best. We saw you with your dogs; we saw the advantages. You found it easier to breed the numbers needed for the ring than to catch them. Domesticity works both ways.

The century turned. Rat matches were illegal and dog shows became beauty contests. By then, we, too, came in many pleasing colors—white, which you’ve always liked, and piebald. Champagne, amber, cinnamon, and Russian blue. Fancies, you called us and petted us, brought in veterinarians when we didn’t eat...