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Rat’s Paw

by Bill West

Yesterday morning, when Jed came downstairs for his breakfast, he found a hole in the skirting board. It was in the hallway, not far from the front door. The hole was bigger than his fist.

“Just phone the Council,” June had complained. “Why must you always make a fuss? Sort it out before I get back from my Assertiveness Training weekend. Get a professional!”

Jed nodded as if in agreement but already his neural circuits were committed to sorting this problem himself. He didn’t need one of those fools from the Council. What did they know about anything? They probably didn’t work weekends anyway.

He went to the front room, switched on his computer and Googled “rat holes.” There were lots of hits and he didn’t like what he read. Rats were bad news, carried diseases like leptospirosis, salmonellosis and campylobacter. He didn’t know what they were but they sounded bad. He read that they left clues of their presence, droppings, a musty smell, and he should look for gnaw marks on woodwork and a greasy line along the wall. Rats run along beside walls and their fur leaves a trail of grease. He saw some pictures of large brown rats with long tails.

Jed examined the hallway for clues. Nothing. The edge of the hole looked smooth and there were no teeth marks anywhere. He lay on the tiled floor and pushed his nose into the hole. He sniffed. It smelt clean and dry with a faint smell of oil. He moved slowly along the wall examining every bit. The paintwork was unblemished white.

He rigged up a webcam, complete with motion sensor, high on the opposite wall and trained on the hole. In front of the hole he placed an old tin lid, filled with rat poison.

That night he slept badly. He dreamt of rats wearing silver suits and glass helmets. They made chittering sounds as they climbed the stairs, waving their little torches.

Next morning Jed pulled on yesterday’s clothes and rushed down the stairs. He hoped to find a dead rat, curled in death agony with a small pool of blood next to its gaping mouth. He would go to the computer and rerun the video to watch the vermin’s destruction.

The first thing he noticed was a little red eye looking at him. The webcam had been moved. Now it was fixed on the ceiling, trained on the stairs. He descended the last few stairs, feeling a little queasy. He clutched at the banister for support. Then he saw that the hole had gone. His jaw dropped. He wondered if he were going mad.

In its place was a small blue door. It had shiny brass door accessories: a handle, a letter-box, and a knocker in the shape of a rat’s paw.

Copyright © 2006 by Bill West

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