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God’s own rats

Author’s note: I decided to participate in this weeks flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. The challenge was to write based on a randomly generated title and I drew “God’s own” + “Rats”. Enjoy!

 

The rats come at midnight. Why always at midnight? I wonder.

They come in the darkness, their claws skittering across wooden floorboards and the sound of their terrible squeaking chattering from the walls of my bedroom where I lie in bed and try very hard to sleep.

The sounds of the rats echo in the darkness and I can feel their presence in the room with me. I can feel the rats almost as if their wriggling bodies and wiry fur were pressed right up against me.

My skin crawls.

I feel for the first time in decades like a small child once again — afraid of the monster under the bed. Except the rats are real and my fear of their sharp claws and sharper teeth is not so unfounded. They’ve bitten me before. Ferocious little wounds that first festered and oozed and then scarred.

I’ve learned my lesson now — I’ve learned to cower in my bed, safe on my floating island, safe atop these tall wooden posts that no rat has yet managed to climb.

I tried everything possible to control the rat problem.

The war began gently with the sound of scurrying in the walls some nights, when I lay awake in bed and tried very hard not to listen.

I bought ultrasonic deterrents and catch and release traps. But still the rats rummaged in the walls, undeterred, and I caught not a single rat in my traps.

I tried all manner of bait: cheese, peanut butter, bacon.

I tried everything.

I switched the humane traps for snap traps and then for the sticky glue kind.

Still, I caught not a single rat.

Finally, in desperation following the night on which a rat had skittered across tops of my bare feet and then bit me —  finally, I found I was reduced to poison.

I poisoned my house nearly myself and for the first time thanked God for my lack of children.

And still the rats came at midnight — always they came at midnight.

I hired exterminators and when they too had failed to put an end to the vermin, I quit. I quit my house and packed up my things and walked out the front door.

I refused to look back.

I refused to look back at the home that had been mine for the better part of 10 years, the home in which I had first been alone and then married and then alone again when she passed so unexpectedly.

I quit the house and refused to look back because those were the memories I didn’t like to think about.

I moved to a small apartment on the other side of town. A nice, new building with a sleek, modern look.

I moved to an apartment whose aspect seemed itself to be a powerful rat deterrent. Surely nothing so uncouth as a rat would be found in a place like this.

I tried not think about how it was my wife’s life insurance money that was paying for the expensive new apartment. I shrugged the thoughts off brusquely: she was gone, life was sometimes unexpectedly short, and — in light of that — why not enjoy the finer things now?

And besides, any price was worth being rid of those damned rats.

The new apartment was a definite improvement — smaller and quieter and most importantly rat-free. The space felt better too, less cavernous and echoing.

I didn’t rattle in the new apartment the way I had in the old house — as though I was dancing about to the lingering tune of my dead wife’s ghost. Tiptoeing from room to room, sashaying about the obstruction of her chair, dodging trinkets and knick-knacks left to linger on shelves.

I left all that behind. The constant reminders of her aching absence — I left behind everything except a few mementos.

Our wedding picture. Her favorite necklace. The photo album I hadn’t dared to crack open.

I found the pieces of her — lying in tatters about the wreck of what had been our life together — and I assembled them, packed them up, brought them with me, and set them up anew.

No longer shattered and shambled but ordered — an incomprehensible tragedy made tidy.

A tortured memory made whole.

The rats didn’t come back after that. I never again heard them in the walls of my home.

The money from the life insurance ran out and I was forced to relocate once again to a more modest apartment in a different part of town.

Still, the rats didn’t come back.

And then one night, just when I thought I might never spy another rat again, a particularly large and lumbering one skitters out into the city street and clambers right across my shoes.

I froze — my skin crawling with revulsion, a kind of visceral shudder I found myself unable to repress.

The rat froze too and so we stood — the rat mere inches from my boot.

We stared — paralyzed in a shared moment.

A car starts farther down the block and the moment breaks — the sound sends the rat chattering down the storm drain and into the sewer.

Thrice-damned rats, I grumble to myself. But then I feel just the tiniest flutter of a chuckle on my lips, knowing how far I’ve come, how distant those tormented memories now lie.

God’s own thrice-damned rats.

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