The Rats

We first noticed the rat two weeks ago.

These days it’s believ­able that winter is upon us. Grass and rooves stay covered in hoar­frost all day long, and we stay inside in front of the hot fire­place. The liv­ing room has got the last single-pane win­dow in the house, a large pan­or­amic one into the garden, but with all the heat radi­at­ing from the fire­place the cold from there is barely notice­able. You might stand right in front of the fire (or, just after it’s lit, sit on top of the stove and see how long you can hold out there) and let your view wander through the garden – there, what was that? A brown­ish rodent, per­haps a squir­rel or some bun … no. A rat. A rat the size of Roald Dahl’s Grand High Witch (i. e., after her acci­dent). It quickly zoomed along the gar­age and dis­ap­peared in the hol­low beneath the six-step stair­case lead­ing up to the kitchen.

Often you’d return home, in the sea­son­al dark­ness, and hear some rust­ling in the leaves. These last days, the rat grew ever more auda­cious. It may wait for you in the large bird feed­er on top of the stair­case rail­ing … once it sat right on the ter­race table, just next to the kit­chen door, star­ing at me for a long second until it hur­ried off side­ways into the darkness.

If only it’s always the same, Claudia would think aloud in a somber tone, and not be an entire pack already. Tonight, Bernd returned home with three traps of a rat-worthy cal­ibre. Nutella is rumoured to make excel­lent bait. Within fif­teen or twenty minutes, a smallish – ≈15 cm? –, young rat is push­ing up the dais­ies (quite lit­er­ally. If you die on this prop­erty, you are human or you end up fer­til­ising the rhodo­den­dron. Possibly both, though for sure I don’t know of an example).

Soon, Bernd is leav­ing for a non-rat-related excur­sion. I’m get­ting the instruc­tions, and the emer­gency bludgeon, in case a trap snaps but does­n’t fin­ish the job. We are against unne­ces­sary agony. Rumour has it that someone here even voted green in the last gen­er­al elec­tion. Said emer­gency arises imme­di­ately: The second trap snaps while we’re still chat­ting out­side. This blow isn’t final, we need the bludgeon.

The Grand High Witch still has­n’t been seen, but a third of the young ones had been run­ning across the ter­race while I was get­ting back inside. Definitely we’re not just enjoy­ing a single anim­al. Inside, Claudia and I exchange our latest tales of sur­prise sight­ings. We real­ise those beasts are damn able climbers and won­der wheth­er to shut the always-opened toi­let win­dow for once. As the fire­place roars at Dantesque tem­per­at­ures, we agree that at least an inva­sion through the chim­ney is out of the ques­tion currently.

It’s get­ting cosi­er and cosi­er inside here as the ther­mo­met­er slides fur­ther below zero and the brown faces line up out­side the pan­or­amic single pane, flat­ten­ing their tiny brown noses on the glass while peek­ing inside. I’m re-read­ing Camus“ «La Peste». As the scratchy noises from the toi­let next to the front door increase I’m savour­ing the know­ledge that there are three more at our dis­pos­al. No, four —, no, that fourth one is the rot­ten bowl in the lower attic that nobody has sat on in twenty or thirty years. Not that it would­n’t work, but cer­tainly that attic with its flimsy isol­a­tion is already starkly infes­ted with scram­bling rodents … I should soon resolve in which room to bar­ri­cade myself; move­ment through the house will be dif­fi­cult once the hall­way has fallen. Perhaps this whole fight was a blun­der, per­haps we should have domest­ic­ated them instead of set­ting up the traps (the three of them went clack clack clack some time ago and now no-one’d dare to go out, dive through the mass of soft white bel­lies and brown backs and reset them) — then again if it’s indeed us against the Grand High Witch, then nego­ti­ations would be for nought anyway.

All is silent, yet. Soon they will des­cend upon our walls, our win­dows, our doors and floors and ceil­ings. Is that a faint scratch I’m hearing?

They’re com­ing. They’re com­ing for us.

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