“I think I saw a rat, can you come out and check
“Sure, I can put you on the schedule for. . .” Jason reached for
his appointment book.
“No, I need you to come out now!”
“Um, sure.” Jason shrugged. It’s not like he was busy at the
moment. “What’s the address?” With a sigh of regret, he turned
off his favorite soap opera and went out to the garage to load extermination
gear into his truck.
Abruptly, the city gave way to rolling countryside. Jason had never been out
this way before, but he’d read about the area in the local news. Here were
prime development sites for the encroaching city. The town council spent many
long hours planning how to develop the land when it became available. When, not
if. Development was blocked by the owner, crazy old Rosa Murphy. Her daughter,
and presumed heir, was Amelia Murphy, the Mayor. So, development was imminent.
Jason was glad he had the chance to drive through the area before it became tract
He checked the directions to the house several times, until he finally found
the old washboard dirt road that led out to the derelict Victorian mansion. He
knocked at the door. For a woman in such a hurry to get him out here, she sure
was taking her own sweet time answering the door. Finally, he heard scuffling
footsteps. The door opened with a high squeal of protesting hinges and he found
himself staring down the business end of a shotgun.
“Whaddya want?” The old woman growled.
“You called and said you’d seen a rat. I came out right away.”
“Ain’t no rats.” The woman growled. “If’n so, Cat
over there would take care of’em.” She motioned the barrel of the
shotgun toward a huge gray tabby cat perched on a rusted iron rocking chair. “So,
scoot yourself on back to your truck. Go on now.”
Jason didn’t have to be told twice. He backed away, not turning his back
until the old woman had closed the door. He’d seen the piles of paper and
trash strewn in the room behind her, she’d be lucky if she didn’t
have hundreds of rats living in the house with her. “Crazy old woman.” And,
he’d missed his show, to boot.
Rosa locked the door behind her. Rats, indeed. She glanced around her. She didn’t
see too well these days. Her eyes, once snapping black orbs, now had a whitish
film of old age and cataracts. She’d think about buying a pair of glasses
at the drug store when she went into town. But, there was nothing wrong with
her hearing. She stood still, listening to the noise of the truck receding in
the background. Nope, nothing. Then, she paused. Had that been a scuttling shuffle?
She listened harder until all she could hear was the blood pounding in her own
She shuffled off toward the kitchen, shaking her head at her own foolishness.
She’d lived in this house her whole life, had outlived everyone in her
family except her traitorous daughter, and had fought tooth and nail to keep
the house and its land from the greedy town that perched with bared teeth waiting
for her to sell or to die.
She wished that man had never shown up on her doorstep with his talk of rats.
Now, it was all she could think about. She hadn’t called him. Probably
someone from town, spying, making sure she hadn’t up and died. Well, she
was still here and still ready to fight for what was hers. She wasn’t afraid
of anything, except maybe rats. Stifling a scream at the sound of scratching,
she tried to laugh when she realized it was just Cat out on the porch, wanting
As darkness fell, Rosa lit a small lantern and made her way to her bedroom. Since
she’d be up with the dawn, tending to this, that, and the other, she went
to bed with the sun. Sleep usually came readily, but not tonight.
Rosa lay listening to the sounds of the house. The wind chimes jangled on the
back porch, Cat whistle-snored in the chair by her bed, paper scuffled and rattled
in the living room. She sat up in bed, sure she’d heard a squeak. She listened
harder and all she heard was quiet. Just her imagination, had to be. Then, she
heard scuffling and what sounded like a squeak. She looked over at the sleeping
cat. She didn’t feed him much and he was awfully fat these days; fat, and
content, and old. What was he eating? She wanted to think it was just birds,
those nasty starlings that invaded the yard and made such a raucous racket. If
there were rats in the house, why wasn’t Cat up hunting them? Maybe he
was hard of hearing? She tried to remember how many years ago it had been when
the scrawny, gray kitten had come mewling around the yard. Four, seven, it was
so hard to remember. Rosa choked back a sob. Then, she heard scratching and a
squeak. Was it in the wall by the bed? Rosa stared at the wall, as if she were
trying to see through it. Nothing. She finally relaxed and lay back in bed only
to sit upright in terror at a slithering scuffling sound near the head of the
“Cat.” Rosa reached over and prodded the sleeping cat. When it didn’t
move, she panicked herself into thinking it was dead. Then, she realized it wasn’t
a cat, after all. It was only a pile of shirts that she hadn’t bothered
to put away. “Cat?”
She lay down, heart pounding, listening to the sounds of the night. Come morning,
she’d start cleaning up the house. Rats left evidence, if she didn’t
find any evidence she’d know all the noises had just been her imagination.
She closed her eyes, but they flew open again as she listened for, and heard,
what sounded like rats playing in the walls.
She’d never been so grateful to see daylight.
She started off cleaning out the papers in the front hall and built a roaring
fire in the fireplace to burn them. As she pitched each pile into the flickering
flames, she flinched, expecting to feel skittering claws of a rat running up
her arms. The front hall was cleared out and she started on the kitchen next,
throwing out rotten, moldy foodstuffs thinking that when she got done, there’d
be nothing for even the smallest rodent to eat. Course, there’d be nothing
for her either, but she didn’t feel much like eating anything. The thought
of rats made her skin crawl and her appetite die.
She worked far into the night, but finally, the house was clean. She sat on the
couch, listening. Only silence, sweet silence. She closed her eyes and the smile
on her lips died when she heard it. A shuffle and a squeak. She listened closer.
Where was it coming from? In the walls? She stood up and followed the sound.
As she stood in the front hall, the house was silent around her. Rosa was almost
convinced that it was just her imagination when a shadow flitted along the floorboard,
scuttled more like it, heading toward the kitchen. . .and the basement.
The basement she thought with a shudder. Going into the kitchen, she stood and
stared at the old forgotten door. The last time she’d even opened the door
was when she’d thrown Amelia’s belongings down the stairs. She couldn’t
remember what all was down there now.
But she could hear rustling, shuffling, and squeaking. The basement was where
the noise had to be coming from.
She turned the knob and the door creaked open. Hadn’t she locked it all
those years ago?
Oh, Amelia, Miss Fancy Pants Mayor. Thoughts of her daughter still made her seething
mad. And now Rosa remembered what they had argued about. Rats. Amelia had wanted
a pet. She hadn’t been happy with the cats and dogs that lived around the
property. No, she’d gone to the pet store after something exotic and had
come home with a large white rat, the type with bulging red eyes. Rosa remembered
throwing the horrible thing against the wall. She’d then kicked it down
the stairs, followed by its cage. After Amelia ran away from home, Rosa threw
all of her belongings down those self-same steps and locked the door. Yes, now
she was sure she had locked the door.
But, it was open now. And that rat. Maybe it didn’t die. Maybe it was still
down there. No, of course not, it would be dead by now. But, maybe it was pregnant
when Amelia brought it home. Oh, lord, there’d be plenty of baby rats in
Rosa was trembling as she pushed the door open further. She stood, trying to
catch her breath. She should just stop, lock the door, and forget it. But the
thought of rats frolicking in her basement made her angry enough to overcome
her fear. Gathering up her courage, she stepped onto the staircase and lifted
the lantern high. Hundreds of beady red eyes stared at her and she could almost
hear them licking their chops. At that moment, something warm and furry twined
itself around her ankles. With a bloodcurdling scream, she lost her balance and
tumbled down the stairs, landing at the bottom with a sickening crack and thud.
Jason read of Rosa’s death in the paper and, thinking to offer his services
and satisfy his curiosity, he drove up to the old house again. The property looked
much the same, except for yellow police tape fluttering in the breeze.
A lone sheriff’s car sat empty in front of the house, so Jason walked up
to the front door and knocked. No wizened old woman with a shotgun greeted him
today. Jason knocked louder and then hollered into the dim interior as he entered.
“What’cha be needing?” The pudgy bald sheriff hitched his belt
and tried to look official.
“I read in the paper that there had been a rodent problem out here. I came
to offer my services. Jason, Jason Fellowes of Fellowes exterminators.”
“We had you out when we first moved into Wyandotte estates. Terrible rat
problem we had then. You took care of it real good.” The sheriff drawled. “But,
I can’t say you’re needed out here.”
“The paper said. . .” Jason began.
“Can’t believe everything you read. It may have looked like rat bites
on her body, but it couldn’t have been. There’s not a rodent out
here, no evidence that there ever was. Thanks for offering your help though.”
The sheriff led the way to the front porch and closed and locked the door behind
him. “I was just out closing up the house for Rosa’s daughter, Amelia.
She wanted me to come out, check for vandals, and put up some condemned signs.
She’s having the place torn down, sight unseen, on Monday. Nothing much
in there but trash, anyway.”
“You’d think she’d want to go through her mother’s stuff
in case there’s anything valuable.”
“You don’t know much about the Murphys then. Amelia and Rosa had
a big falling out years ago. Amelia moved on with her life and she’s not
been back to this house in years. Even if it was valuable, Amelia wouldn’t
want it if’n it was her mother’s.”
“That’s too bad. But odd.”
“Well, I got a call a few weeks back. The woman said she’d seen a
rat. Well, when I got out here, Mrs. Murphy said she hadn’t called and
that there weren’t any rats out here. After I read her obituary, I got
to thinking that maybe it was the daughter who had called me.”
“It sure couldn’t have been Rosa. There’s no phone or electricity
in this old place. And I can’t think that Amelia would care anything about
it, being Mayor takes up all her time.” The sheriff shrugged. “Anyway,
thanks for taking care of us in the estates. If I hear of any business, I’ll
send it your way.”
“Thanks.” Jason drove off, still puzzling. He glanced at the clock.
Too bad the sheriff was right behind him, if he could drive a little faster,
he’d be able to catch the tail end of his show at home.
He’d forgotten all about Rosa Murphy, her house, and the puzzle of the
rats until he got a call one afternoon about a year later.
“Oh, please. I need your help. It’s large and furry.” The woman
shrieked. “Please hurry!” With some trouble, Jason was able to extract
the address from the hysterical woman and promised to get there as soon as he
With amazement, he drove through Murphy Estates. It sure had changed. There was
now a whole neighborhood of new tract houses nestled in the rolling hills of
Rosa Murphy’s old land. He pulled up in front of a mansion that sat, as
close as he could estimate, in the exact same location as the old Victorian.
He pulled equipment out of his truck and trudged up the front steps.
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” A woman scurried out the front door,
leaving it ajar. The house had changed, but the piles of paper and trash hadn’t.
Jason stared into the dim interior of the house with a feeling of déjà vu. “It’s
around here, somewhere. I saw it earlier today.” She suddenly screamed,
making Jason jump.
A huge gray cat yawned and stared at him from its perch on an old rusted lawn
“Where?” Jason looked around the area.
“Are you blind? That, that thing. There, take it away.” The woman
pointed directly at the cat.
“Oh, I don’t usually handle. . .”
“I don’t care. You’re an exterminator, get rid of it. I hate
cats.” With that, the woman threw a check at him and dashed back into the
house, her long dirty robe whisking the dust off the porch behind her and looking
all the world like the trail a rat’s tail would make.
Jason looked down at the check. It more than covered his fee. He stared at the
imprint on the check, Amelia Murphy. What an odd coincidence that Rosa’s
daughter lived in a house smack dab on the site of her childhood home. Or was
“Hey buddy.” As Jason petted the cat, he recognized it as Rosa’s
old cat. It had survived the razing of its home. Jason supposed it was just trying
scrape up acquaintance with the new occupants in hope of scrounging a meal or
three. Cat purred and arched into his hand. “What say you come live with
me? You might be able to give me a few pointers, seeing as we’re both in
the same line of business.”
He picked up the cat and out of the corner of his eye, he saw a quick movement
that reminded him of a rat, running across the windowsill. But when he turned
to get a closer look, the curtain flicked shut. Must have only been the lady
of the house making sure he did his job. He carried the unresisting cat to the
car and settled it on the front passenger seat. As he drove off, Jason looked
back in the rearview mirror. He could have sworn he saw a pair of glowing red
eyes watching him depart. He took a closer look and realized it was only Amelia
Murphy, watching him through the front window. Man, that woman must really hate
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pam Skochinski, and previously writing as Pamela Karavolos, has had
short stories published in Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, Futures
Mysterious Anthology, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Flash Fantastic,
Sorcery and Science, Mysterical-E, Flashshot, and A Flasher’s
Dozen. Her short story, The Truth Is Out There, appears in Twisted
Cat Tales, an anthology edited by Esther Schrader. Recently married,
she's on sabbatical from technical writing to spend more time with
her children, living in "Pam"demonium in Southern California.
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