The rodent things you do


This is an older piece of fiction. I'm posting it here to save it from G+ageddon. I don't write fiction anymore. Dunno why.

May 1st

I had a dream last night. I was in this labyrinth. When I say labyrinth, you might imagine an intentional structure, like a hedge maze. That wasn't it, exactly. The labyrinth in my dream was something that seemed to have come together by happenstance. 
One wall may have been made by dead shrubs, which tore my hands when I tried to force my way through it. Another was made of crumbling brickwork, another again of corrugated iron. At one point I had to worm my way through an old culvert, which stank of stale water and mildew. Now that I think about it, I can't remember noticing smells in a dream before.
I was in a hurry in my dream. I am not sure if I was running from something or towards something. There was a sound in my dream though. A sound and a presence, really. It was a rattling sound. Or maybe scratching it better. Scratching and tearing, like fabric and wood being clawed and torn. The sound would stop now and then, but never for very long. It would be behind me, no matter where the labyrinth lead me. 
The presence was the thing that made the sound. I never fully saw it. It was there as a feeling of motion at my back. A warmth of something living and breathing. Frantically moving shadows on a wall. I can't say that I'm at all sure what it looked like, or even if it was chasing me, or just going my way.

When I woke up it was at the sound of the alarm clock you gave me. I still think it is a bit tacky to be woken by a plastic mosque with a tinny call to prayer. I've kept it though. As it was calling out, I reached out to your side of the bed. You weren't there, of course, and not only did it bother me, it surprised me. I don't know why it should, but it did. I don't remember turning off the mosque, but I must have.
I spent time looking at your picture. I can't say how much. I can't even say that I thought about you. In those long moments when I stand like that, the world feels flat. I am not aware of anything, not really aware of anything except an ache in my bones. It is dull and distant, and too hopeless to be at the forefront of my awareness. I only notice you. The you in the picture anyway. The slightly crooked front tooth. Your eyes. 
After I shake myself out of that feeling, I feel embarrassed and weak. Like it takes a special effort that I'm just about able to make to get the world back into focus. To react to it like a normal person would.

I missed the bus and was late for work.

May 4th 

I had the dream again. Same labyrinth seemingly made from industril refuse and dead plants. The same presence and the same sound. This time it ended differently though. I woke up. I'm pretty sure about that. I could see the slanted wooden ceiling and the shadow of my lamp falling across it. Yet I still heard the scratching and tearing. 
I don't know how long I lay there, afraid to move. I know that the light changed on the slanted               ceiling.The murk turned a dusty pale as I listened to the scratching and scuttling. 
Finally I moved, I can't say if it was voluntary or just a nervous jerk. The sound immediately seemed to hesitate. That's the best way I can describe it. I sat up in bed, and the noise stopped entirely.

There is a bit of my carpet, right in the corner by the kitchen door. It's torn as if by tiny hands. I felt less out of it than I might have expected. I even remembered to get breakfast before rushing out the door. 

Work is a bit slow these days, and there are rumors of layoffs. Isn't there always.

May 5th

I saw it tonight. Briefly, but definitely there. I was having another dream. Another instalment in the Continuing Saga of the Maze. This time the labyrinth was made of old vine-coated brick walls and wrought iron grates that wouldn't open. Trash cans too. The metal kind we don't even have here. Then there was a  driveway, barely wide enough for a car. Dogs had been using it as a toilet. Yeah, I was dreaming about our driveway. My driveway now, I guess. I think I prefer those anonymous alleys and ruins.

The scratching was there, thanks for asking. It followed me closely, like footsteps or my shadow. I feel like I know that sound intimately now. It is the sound of something being destroyed. Small teeth and claws tearing at everything until it's all rags and garbage. I feel as though I should be offended, but I'm not.

Then I woke up, and the first thing I was conscious of was motion. Something moved right by my head. I reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on. Something scurried into the corner at the foot of the bed. The one with the stack of boxes. Yeah, they're still there, and why not? I can find whatever I need when I need it. You're not here to complain about it.

Igot the impression of something larger than a mouse. Certainly larger than I think is common for mice. It was gray and it was fast. I moved some of the boxes, but I was too tired to do much about it. The result of my half-hearted attempt occupies half the floor. Suffice to say, I did not find the animal. 
No scratching the rest of the night either, but I still didn't sleep much.

I must have slept a little, because I woke up as the sun rose. I got into the shower like a zombie, and got  dressed like a marginally cleaner zombie. Breakfast was a few handfuls of raisins. I don't think that zombies have any appreciation of dried fruit. Heh. 

I do miss you, but it is a bit liberating not having to be interesting.

I met the super as I was rushing down the stairs. The mp3-player and keeping a determined gaze on the door behind him did nothing. He said something I couldn't hear over the music. Of course he can be a bit hard to understand at the best of times.

I turned off the music. “What's that?”

“I said: have you seen something?”

I tried for the funny approach. “I can say unreservedly that I've seen something”. His strong fragrance of cigarette smoke almost hid a piquant whiff of vodka.

“A... fuck, a vermin or something?”

“No, nothing like that”

“You'd tell me though?” For some reason he looked suspicious.

“'course. I really gotta go...”

“Take care”

I gave him a smile. The kind that feels tight on your face. “You too”.

I don't know why I lied to protect my rat. I've decided that it must be a rat. And I certainly don't know why he suspected me.

May 5th (evening)

I'm sitting here at the laptop, trying to type as softly as possible. He was here when I got home.

I walked up the stairs, fumbled with my keys and let myself in. Had my jacket half off when I saw him. When we saw each other. It seemed as though we were locked in each others gaze. He was sitting on the stove.

I feel as though I should describe him. He's a large rat with a rich fur. It's somewhere between brown and gray. I'm sure that nuance has a name, but I don't know it. The most arresting part of him is the face.
I think I've said in the past that animals don't have faces, just heads. I've been wrong. He certainly has a face. It is surprisingly human with a slightly protruding lower lip and a pensive frown above the eyes. Those eyes make me shudder when I think about them. Don't rats normally have black pinhead eyes? He sure doesn't. They're blue and deep. There is real emotion and thought behind eyes like that.

I took a step towards the stove, and that broke the feeling of understanding between us. Quicker that I'd thought possible he disappeared. Behind the stove, I think but I'm not at all sure. 

Now I'll save the document and wait for him to return.

May 6th

I did not see him again all evening. I really ought to give him a name, but I can't think of one that fits. That look of intelligence and sensitivity almost suggests to me that he'd be capable of naming himself. Yeah, you'd no doubt call me stupid if you were here. You're not though, and besides you didn't see him. You didn't look into those eyes.

I did look up what labyrinth dreams mean:

If you dream of a labyrinth, you will find yourself entangled in intricate and perplexing business conditions, and your wife will make the home environment intolerable; children and sweethearts will prove ill-tempered and unattractive.
If you are in a labyrinth of night or darkness, it foretells passing, but agonizing sickness and trouble.
A labyrinth of green vines and timbers, denotes unexpected happiness from what was seemingly a cause for loss and despair.
In a network, or labyrinth of railroads, assures you of long and tedious journeys. Interesting people will be met, but no financial success will aid you on these journeys.

Ill-tempered and unattractive. It all but mentions you by name. No, I don't think that was particularly funny either. If I'm being honest it makes me feel a little guilty. As if being meaninglessly snide in my fucking diary was an obstacle to us getting back together.

I did dream about a labyrinth. This time it was made from the houses I pass on my way to the bus. Yellow and red brick, white ornaments and a palpable apathy. Lichen grew on everything. I kept moving, and the scratching, gnawing sound seemed to resonate inside me, as much a part of me as my heartbeat.

I woke up because it had started to rain. Remember that drumming sound? Sometimes it is soothing, sometimes it feels too close, like there's barely anything between me and the weather. Behind the tapping of raindrops, the scratching sound continued. The sound doesn't bother me anymore. It's the sound of continuous work. I fell asleep again. This time the labyrinth was containers and railroad tracks under harsh but spotty neon light. Pretty much like the Central Station trainyard by your block.
Sometimes a train would roar past, but most of the time it was so quiet that I could hear the soft tread of my own feet.

I awoke refreshed and in a good mood. Even the weather is cooperating.

May 8th

More labyrinth dreams. I'm getting tired of writing them down, but I do enjoy having them. I feel like I'm getting somewhere. I stayed home from work yesterday, trying to sleep and dream more. They only seem to come out at night. I hear the scratching even while I'm awake though. 

When I came home from work today, I met the super again. He seemed surprisingly sober.  I don't think I've seen him like that before, all pale and serious. More pale.

“Henry's dead” he said.

I did not like to ask, but I'm guessing that it's one of his cronies. Do you remember a Henry?

“I am sorry” I said.

“Well, you don't have to be fuckin' sorry. I'm getting exterminators in”. 

“Oh?” I felt my heart sink, but didn't really understand what one thing had to do with the other.

“Yes”. It looked as though my indifference ticked him off. “Don't you get it?”

“I'm sorry” I said again. It was all I could think of.

“They had been at him. Fuckin' rats. Tore his throat out”.

“That's awful” I said with as much empathy as I could muster. “My condolences”.

He started bawling, and it took a good ten minutes before I could get away. He's crazy. All that alcohol must have done something to his head. I'm discounting the possibility that he killed his buddy himself.

I let myself in and he was sitting on the kitchen table. Right by the sink. He's big for a rat, and that face is incredible. It speaks volumes. That's a tired cliché, I guess. It's true nonetheless.

He let me feed him with a bit of ham and bread. He let me know that he had something to show me. He could help. I can't explain how I know, but I'm sure of it. He did not speak with words, and it wasn't something like telepathy either (believe me, I can hear you scoff as clearly as anything!). It was a conviction which grew slowly and surely. 
I knew a guy at uni who had a painkiller habit. He said that the initial rush was 'like being tucked into bed by God Himself”. I kinda think I know what he meant now. A warmth that spreads through body and mind. 

I turned around to get some more food. Maybe some hazelnuts from the musli tin. When I turned back around he was gone. I did not worry,nor do I now. He'll come when it is time.

May 9th

When I came home from work I ran into the super. He came from the store with a merrily jingle-jangling plastic bag. He had his old ruddy complexion back. Well lit and seemingly feeling good about himself.

“Tomorrow” he shouted when he saw me.

I must have looked surprised. “The exterminator's comin' tomorrow” he said.

I nodded and rushed up the stairs.

I don't feel so good.

May 10th

I haven't slept at all, but I feel wonderful. We'll see each other soon. I'll try and explain.

After having written yesterday's weepy little entry, I felt genuinely bad. Like I had eaten something spoiled. I went to lie down and  almost doubled over before I got there. For some time I just lay there, listening to my ragged breathing and the scratching which seemed to come from everywhere at once. Red blotches seemed to form in front of my eyes. They became labyrinthine yet organic shapes, knotted and intertwined. I pushed at them. 

It is difficult to write about what happened next. I felt displaced. Two places at once. I was only dimly aware of my surroundings there on the bed. The white wooden ceiling which I've stared into on so many afternoons seemed to disappear in favor of my claustrophobic prison among the snaking shapes. I clawed at them, and they yielded slowly. Too slowly. Every time I clawed my body was wracked with pains. Then he was there. 
He jumped up on the bed and made it to my chest by way of my pants-leg. Once there he started to claw through my t-shirt, through the outer layer of skin, and pretty soon his snout and head were red with blood. 

The organic shapes gave way, and a domed ceiling reared itself above me, A cavern roof of red-lit bone. Then light shone through. I jumped and clung fast to the ceiling. I tore at the pinprick hole of pale light with teeth and paws. Someone was tearing from the other side and I loved him for it.
Soon the hole was wide enough, and I pushed my head through. 

Sitting on the chest of my shell, we rubbed snouts. We spent some time cleaning each other of blood. Then he showed me the secret passages from my apartment into the world. 

We passed through culverts and rotted wooden boards. Climbed on vines and hid in bushes. I have never felt so ecstatic in my life. There is a great world out there, full of death and hiding places. Secrets in every Safeway dumpster and friends singing under every floorboard.

The night waned, and I felt an urge to return. Back to my cramped old home. That's where I am now. I have spent some time cleaning up blood. Some had spattered up on that white ceiling. Now I'm sitting here finishing up. I suppose you'd call it precious.

Tomorrow I'm making my way across the trainyard, across the street and up your stairs. I'm coming to set you free.

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