Wednesday, April 4, 2018


A Short Story

Last night I dreamed of rats. They were in the basement of a house that was mine, but wasn’t mine at the same time. They were large and grey and fluffy, except for their tails. Their tails were rat tails, all slick and menacing. Otherwise, they were the texture of my cat. I know, because one scurried up my leg to bite my face and I had to fight it off.
            The house was really an apartment building, see, and someone had left their garbage in the basement, rather than taking it out. The bags were torn open and festering with maggots.
            The exterminator came and told me we should stomp on them. That didn’t seem right, even in the dream. When I tried, I could never generate enough force in my leg. It was like I was stomping in slow motion. The puffy little things just slipped away and kept at the garbage. The exterminator guy had much better luck. When he was finished with them, their bodies were little more than sticky garnet starbursts on the cement.
            It didn’t matter, though. The rats just kept coming.
            Eventually, he told me that we had to burn them out. I nodded. He was the professional, after all. I couldn’t even stomp them properly.
            Anyway, that’s how we lost the house.
            My wife turned to me from the bed in our hotel and asked if I had managed to salvage the shower curtain.
            “We lost our house, and the first thing you think to ask about is the shower curtain?” I said.
            “Well,” she said, “did you?”
            “Of course.” I rattled the bedsheets to show her that we were, in fact, sleeping under the shower curtain at that very moment.
            That immediately put her mind at rest. For my part, I couldn’t erase the glow of the flames as they licked at the basement window. I felt terrible for having trusted the exterminator. In retrospect, he didn’t even wear a uniform. What kind of exterminator doesn’t wear a uniform? He looked like the Marlboro Man, minus the Stetson. Ruggedly handsome, chiseled good looks. He would not have been out of place on the cover of a romance novel.
            When I told my wife about the dream, she just said, “Huh.” But I’m not sure that she was paying attention. She was on her phone. Facebook, maybe. Her face was pale blue phosphorescence in the half-light of the morning.  We both go to work early. I sipped my coffee.
Anyway, I’ve done a lot of poking around on the Internet since I woke up. I have a desk job and I’m into self-diagnosis. Cut out the middle man, I say.
What I found is that dreams about rats are rather complex. It makes a difference, for example, if you are chasing the rat, or if the rat tries to bite you. Your emotional state in the dream is also important. An analyst would want to know if you felt afraid of the rat. Then they might want to know how you feel about rats in the real world.
Chewing and gnawing appear to be significant, as well.
Some of the stuff I read just seemed obvious, like the bits about sickness and disease. Who hasn’t heard about the Bubonic Plague, right? Or the stuff about dirt and filth. A few of the articles weren’t even trying.
But there was a website that talked about betrayal and people eating away at you. That one got me thinking. It also mentioned that killing a rat meant that you were victorious over your enemies. But, of course, I couldn’t kill the rats in my dream. And I really tried. I lined them up time and again, but the tricky bastards just slipped away.
You might be surprised, but there was nothing about shower curtains anywhere. Fire, sure. But not shower curtains. I don’t know what to make of that.
Anyway, I can’t even look at my cat this evening. And like I say, that one article has really got me thinking about betrayal. I tried to raise the topic with my wife again, but she was watching something YouTube. She’s really into social media.
It’s just that I feel like I should know the exterminator from somewhere. It’s on the tip of my tongue. And what’s worse, is that I can hear them now. I mean right now. The rats. They’re in the walls as we speak.  I can hear them chewing and slinking. Slinking and chewing.
I keep looking at my wife, but if she hears them, she does not let on.
That one in the dream came really close to biting my face, you know. I think it goes without mentioning that I am feeling more than a little anxious right now. I mean what if I can’t stomp them? Like in the dream.
What choice will I have? I should really prepare the shower curtain.

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