And yours shall be the kingdom of the rat
by Doug Jensen
The end came with the bread. I had lived in the flat for three years, and I had grown accustomed to its various threats against my person. The ever shifting ink blot of black mould that resisted even the harshest chemicals. The cold air that blew through the widening cracks in the plaster. The soft buzz of the fusebox, audible as soon as I stepped into the bedroom from the street.
All of this was just background. Instead of the damp, I looked at the clean lines of the film posters that flapped uneasily in the draught. Instead of the rotting skirting boards, the books piled up in lieu of shelves, fresh and unread. My home was what I chose to see.
All that changed with the rat.
At first I only heard the scrape of his claws against the pipes. Then it was the clatter of the blind as he hauled his bulk up from behind the kitchen sink. I lay in bed, swallowing down a cough and tried not to think about what I was hearing.
In the morning I came through from the bedroom to the tiny living area and saw the footprints in the dust along the counter. I jumped at a white shape on the floor, then saw that it was only a packet of biscuits, savaged and discarded.
From then on everything in the flat felt different. Things that had hidden in my peripheral vision suddenly became horribly clear. The dishes in the sink, the holes in the ceiling, the shrinking carpet. All these now appeared to me as signs of some deeper moral failing.
I took to cleaning, scrubbing the walls until the rooms felt at least two inches wider. I poured nail polish remover down the back of the sink and sealed the cupboards with parcel tape. I remembered reading that rats disliked the taste of metal, so I stuffed the gaps in the walls with bundles of tin foil.
None of it did any good. Each night the rat came, and I lay trembling at the violence of his passage.
I began to spend more and more time away from home. The library was too busy in the winter months, so the local cafe became my haven. I would stir my coffee with a disposable spoon and smell the bleach on my fingers.
Eventually I broke down and called the landlord. A day later a woman from pest control was standing in my bathroom, asking what the foil was about. I tried to explain and after she had finished laughing, she told me it was nonsense.
“Might stop the government spying on you though” she said laughing, as she raised the tin foil to her head like a hat.
I felt good about the poison. There was something clean and pure about the little pellets hidden away around the flat. After a day or so of silence I began to move freely again, unconscious of the squalor. This happy ignorance came to a sudden end when I came in from the pristine snowy streets and noticed that the mould spots on the walls were moving.
I called the woman from pest control. “Flies is it? Body must be in the walls.” Her voice was small and tinny at the end of the phone. “Don't worry, they'll all die eventually.”
I spend the rest of the week clearing them out. Dragging a black bag to the wheelie bin in the garden I heard a rustling in the bushes. Something long and dark squirmed away under the neat line of the hedge.
That night I pushed a rolled up towel against the bottom of the door.
Two days later I came home and found the bread. I opened the door and saw at once the half finished loaf lying in the middle of the bed. There was something obscene about the pale white slices exposed to the air.
My eyes took in the trail of crumbs across the covers, leading back into the kitchen. The clear plastic packaging was shredded at the edges and I could see that the crusts had been left untouched.
As I watched, a mass of sickly grey fur appeared from the other side of the loaf. A pair of black eyes met mine and I felt myself briefly scrutinised. Then, with an almost graceful slowness, the blunt nose dipped again to continue eating.
I left the flat without a word. The sound of chewing stayed with me.
Outside the snow was melting and the streets were a mess of brown slush. I began to walk towards the cafe at the end of the street then stopped with a sudden rush of horror, as the bin outside the door began to shake.
Doug Jensen is a Sheffield based writer, originally from Scotland. He has had prose and poetry published by TSS, Three Drops from a Cauldron and on the Weird Christmas podcast. He can be found on twitter @thatdougjensen