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Every old house is bound to have a few rats, right?
I bought the old house the year I graduated from college. It was startlingly cheap for such a big house – two stories, multiple bedrooms, three bathrooms; conveniences that seemed luxuries after my tiny college dorm.
It was a very nice house, despite being located in the middle of nowhere. Because I had lived in a fairly large city for the majority of my life, the silence at the house was, by far, the worst thing about it.
I was used to the hum of the city, the constant drone of cars outside my window. Here, the nights were torture. The silence was louder than anything I had ever heard before. In my first week at the house, I threw away my old wall clock because its ticking – in the absence of any other noise – was so loud it was apt to drive me crazy.
This turned out to be a bad decision. The ticking was annoying, but it was at least a distraction from the other noises. I convinced myself every time the noises could be attributed to rustle of the wallpaper, a branch against a window, or the standard hums and bumps of an old house.
I wouldn’t admit even to myself that the noises did freak me out. That’s probably while the rats were, at least at first, a convenient excuse.
It was unreasonable to expect a vermin-free home in the middle of a forest, of course. But there were a lot of rats. I first noticed them when I opened a cupboard after my first trip to the store in the nearby town. I tried to put a loaf of bread in the cupboard and I was greeted by three huge rats, staring blankly at me with beady eyes. After that, I found more rats around – several in the basement, a few scuttling around the porch steps, the patter of their tiny paws in the attic, even a big, grey one in my bedroom.
Naturally, I purchased a few rattraps, which seemed to help the problem quite a bit. A few days after, I got a cat, too; a small, scraggly creature I bought for ten dollars in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Soon, my new cat became so efficient at catching the rats that I no longer felt the need to purchase rattraps every few trips to the store. Though I never really liked animals, I began to grow close to that cat. I even started calling him Tom, which I believed to be a suitable name for a cat.
It would have been perfectly easy to feel content at that point. I was settling into my new home nicely, Tom was a good cat, and the vermin problem was under control. The only problem was that the noises hadn’t stopped.
They did quiet down for a while, just enough to explain them away. When I heard scratching, I would pat Tom between the ears and tell him he must have missed a rat or two. When I was sure something scraped against the window, it was probably just a limb on the tree outside. Once I thought I heard something moving in the basement – I asked myself what Tom could have been doing down there. Never mind that I had just seen Tom walk into the kitchen. There was always an excuse – usually, I blamed it on the rats.
After a few weeks, Tom wasn’t bringing dead rats to the doorstep anymore. I always patted him on the head and told him he’d just had bad luck. I didn’t let myself think that the cat had killed all of them – oh, no, then it would be harder to explain the noises.
Looking back, I suppose what started it was Tom pawing at the door, wanting out. It was late, and that cat had never wanted out at night before. I assumed he had seen a rat or some other small creature outside, so I let him out and went back to bed.
Not long after, I heard a relentless scratching noise outside my window. It was a harsh, scraping noise – not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard. I turned over and tried to get back to sleep, but the noise continued. Finally, I got up and went to look outside and see what the problem was.
Something had its face pressed against the glass.
It stayed there for just a second, but the fleeting image was enough. That sight will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
Its face was long and as white as bone. It had no eyes, but a red light seemed to burn deep within the pits in its skull. Black veins ran over its head, crisscrossing and bulging. The rest of its body was covered in a thick black fur. Then it was gone.
Once I had time to think on it, the creature was made even more horrifying by the fact that my room – and, of course, my window – were on the house’s second floor.
After it left, the sheer reek of it finally hit me. The whole night was filled with the smell of the thing, despite the fact it never entered my home – to my knowledge. The smell was sour and rotting, making me want to vomit.
I staggered back from the window, petrified by both the sight and the stench. I cupped my hands to my nose, my eyes watering and my legs shaking so hard I could barely stand.
I spent the rest of the night locked in my bathroom, a knife clutched in my hand, doubting what I had seen.
When morning came, the light gave me the courage to go outside. I remembered that I had let my cat outside, and I went around the house, calling for him.
It didn’t take me long to find him.
I won’t go into detail, but poor Tom didn’t even look like a cat anymore. I wanted to bury him, but the smell of the creature was all around him and, to be honest, I didn’t think I could get very close.
I was scared, and I was angry. This thing had killed my cat and taken away any hope of a quiet, safe life here.
Not knowing what else to do, I went to the police. I wasn’t hopeful they would do anything, but I knew I had to try. I was angry with their reactions – though I knew I would have reacted the same way. They didn’t offer any help with my problem, and only told me that if I didn’t like it, I should sell the house.
I drove home in a rage, intent on doing just that. I planned to put the house up for sale that very night. Let some other guy deal with that…thing.
I never got to my house. The thing was in my driveway.
In the light of day, I could see its clawed hands – huge, long paws with claws the size of my entire hand. It crouched on all fours, and though I was still a fair way from it, I could make out the expression on its face. I watched as it tilted its head to the side and…I could have sworn it grinned at me.
Naturally, I put my car in reverse with the intentions of never returning to that house again. As I drove away, I could hear it scream. Loud, almost scarily inhuman.
I got a new house and tried my hardest to forget. I didn’t tell anyone – who would believe me? All I said was that I found a good deal on a house in the city – not untrue – and that the house in the woods was just too quiet for my liking.
My new home is close to the city. It’s not as quiet here, but it’s undeniably more peaceful. I won’t deny that I still see that thing in my dreams, but I’m happy here. I got a new cat, one that seems even more friendly than Tom was. I even found a job so I can work nights, so that I never have to fear that thing staring at me in the darkness.
I won’t deny that sometimes I do hear noises. A scuffle in the basement. A rustle outside the window. Once or twice, even what seemed like scratching outside.
But, after all, every old home is bound to have a few rats.