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rattraps.jpg
Art by Jeff Karnick 2009

RAT TRAPS

 

Ryan Bradford

 

 

          A rat trap went off in the basement.

 

          Harry Stanton didn’t have rats.

 

          Outside, the snow piled high, almost to the windowsills. The temperature read 15 degrees. Yes, it was too cold for rats.

 

          Rats are resilient creatures, indeed, Harry thought. Like cockroaches, they’ve persevered throughout history. Seen us through our worst.

 

          Pests will always outlast humans.

 

          These were Harry’s thoughts.

 

          Another trap snapped.

 

          But— said the small part of his mind that remained rational. Sane.  

 

          But given their years of experience, they’re not going to hang in the cold. Rats are pests, but they’ve earned their comfort.

 

          He looked at the thermometer and it was cold. Too cold for rats.

 

          The cold also made it hard to cut through meat.

 

 

 

          The vacation was supposed to reignite the passion in Harry and Loretta’s relationship.

 

          They had hit a cold patch, physically, after many years of trying to conceive. They were no less in love than the day they married, but being childless for so long tended to put both of them on edge with each other. And sex became a why bother.

 

          The idea of a getaway came as a whim, a mid-life crisis that came ten years too late. Harry inquired at theme hotels, but ditched that idea quickly. He wanted to get laid, that was true, but his motives weren’t that desperate. Nobody really wants to fuck a caveman.

 

          It was a simple ad that attracted him; on some forum, on some Web site he couldn’t remember. Quaint enough, but more importantly, frightening enough. Harry had read that threat of danger was known to spark a woman’s arousal. Some Web site had probably told him that, but again, Harry couldn’t remember.

 

          He dialed the number from the ad. A heavy breather answered.

 

          “Yes?”

 

          “I saw your ad for the cabin. Can I rent it?”

 

          The voice hesitated. “It’s snowy. No one goes up there this time of year.”

 

          “Yes I know. That’s sorta why I want it. The isolation.”

 

          The voice mulled this over. More heavy breathing. Harry realized that the phone began to get slippery in his sweaty hands.

 

          “Okay, but—”the voice stopped.

 

          Harry waited for it to finish.

 

          “Never mind.” And they made the arrangements. The price was killer.

 

 

 

          Loretta had a tendency to get carsick. She wore her pajamas in the car, just in case. She didn’t want to ruin nice clothes.

 

          The road up the mountain was incredibly windy and slick. Even at a steady 15 miles per hour, Harry’s knuckles were white around the steering wheel. He looked over at his wife, who had turned an unhealthy plaster color, splayed in her seat.

 

          Sexy way to start the weekend. The pajamas were the icing on the cake.

 

          Two hours later, they reached the cabin. It began to snow very lightly.

 

          Perhaps if Loretta had lived a couple more days, the magic might have returned to their relationship. The lovemaking was sweet, exactly what you’d come to expect from ten years of marriage. There was no central heating, but every room had a furnace or fireplace—which was a nice romantic touch, but it relegated their sex to under blankets and in bed. Not too much excitement there.

 

          Afterwards, Loretta kissed Harry sweetly on the lips. “I love you,” she said and rolled over.

 

          Things will get better, Harry thought.

 

          They didn’t.

 

 

 

          The morning after, Harry awoke to Loretta too close to his face, breathing hard in it. During the night, she had placed her hands, prayer-like, between his legs to keep them warm, which left him with an unwelcome morning erection. Loretta was an adamant hater of morning sex, so it was a useless boner.

 

          Annoyed with her morning breath, he got up to unload some food out of the car. They had been too tired to bring in any of their supplies, and the falling snow was becoming heavier by the moment. Besides, with the temperature flirting near zero, there was no way that any of the food would go bad.

 

          Outside was a gray, snow-covered masterpiece. Snow crunched nicely under his boots as he made his way through the untracked powder. The snow still fell softly—but not violently. Big flakes silently made a thin layer on his parka.

 

          As he approached his car, a small creature ran out from under it, giving Harry a jump. It gave off a yelp as it disappeared into the white.

 

          Jesus, thought Harry. I thought all the animals were hibernating this time of year.

 

          Then he smelled the gasoline.

 

          He rushed over and saw a pool of brown-tinged liquid forming under the back tire. He tried to cup the fluid, anything to stop the leaking. Harry pulled his hand back, realizing how stupid it was drenching his hand in gasoline like that. He stood back and watched as all the gasoline drained from his car. Despair overwhelmed him.

 

          Fucking animal fucking with my car.

 

          On his way back through the snow, a more unsettling thought began to emerge from the initial dismay of being trapped in a snow-locked location: the yelp of the animal sounded more human than beast.

 

          It sounded like a giggle.

 

 

 

          Loretta did not take the news of the gas-leak well. Contrary to Harry’s beliefs, the danger that he hoped would spark her arousal did nothing of the sort. The weekend was shot, and if Harry wanted any sort of relationship when they got back, he was going to have to trek out and find help, which meant leaving Loretta alone in the cabin. He would’ve had trouble with this decision normally, but the sound he had heard made it almost unthinkable. Still, what was he going to tell Loretta? I heard a giggle and I want you to come with me?

 

          He left at three that afternoon. When the cabin was just out of sight, he turned and looked at the smoke from the chimney for a very long time. The wind blew ice in his face and he trudged forward. There was no way he would make it back before darkness fell.

 

 

 

          Harry walked the road they came in on; his heart was not focused on the task at hand. They had food back at the cabin, so he didn’t feel an impending desire to survive. The more he thought about the car, the more it seemed like an inconvenience instead of something more serious.

 

          Really, his mind was on Loretta. He couldn’t believe he left her alone.

 

          The sky turned ashen and then it was dark. Cold and hungry, Harry turned around. He would go out tomorrow morning, probably bring Loretta with him. Force her to come.

 

          He quickened his steps, backtracking, using his footprints as guidance; they were already blurred from being windblown.

 

          When the faint light from the cabin came into view, Harry began to sprint. He missed his footing several times and fell face-first into powder. It didn’t slow him down.

 

          The warmth of the cabin hit him hard, stung his face and melted the ice that had formed on his stubble.

 

          “Loretta?” he called. No answer. There was shuffling upstairs in their bedroom. Scurrying.

 

          He yelled her name again and trumped up the stairs, removing his parka and hat without finding a proper hanger. The door to the master bedroom was cracked and he nearly kicked it open.

 

          “Baby?” She was motionless on the bed. He hadn’t called her “Baby” in seven years; it was the first time she miscarried and he said I’m so sorry, baby. She was distraught at the loss of the child, but he could only focus on the blood. So much blood, baby.

 

          This was kind of similar.

 

          There was so much blood.

 

          Loretta lay motionless.

 

          The sheets that they had made sweet love on not more than twenty-four hours ago were now drenched in his wife’s blood. For a moment, Harry thought he could control the scream building up in his chest. But when he saw the half of Loretta’s face that was missing and the tiny bite marks, all that self-control went out the window. 

 

 

 

          For a whole day, Harry didn’t enter the room with his dead wife. Instead, he sat downstairs and looked out the window. He could barely make out his car in the blurry weather. He tried to count snowflakes; he didn’t really feel like solving mysteries.

 

          Sometimes he heard scurrying upstairs. This was before he was certain there were no rats.

 

 

 

          The day when they were supposed to come home from their romantic weekend, Harry decided to claim the body of his wife from the upstairs bedroom. He put his boots on— the thought of something running across his foot terrified him more than looking at his decomposing wife.

 

          He opened the door and the room scattered like ants away from a torch: little gray bodies jumped off the bed and ran toward cracks in the walls and between furniture.

 

          With newfound fury, Harry leaped toward one of the slower creatures, smashing half of its body between his fist and the ground. The thing screamed.

 

          The last of the beings disappeared within the walls, leaving behind tiny, bloody footprints—little inkblots supplied by his wife’s corpse.

 

          Footprints, not animal tracks.

 

          Slowly, he lifted his fist from the creature he’d pinned to the ground. It looked like a child, naked without any distinguishing sex organs—an action figure or doll. The creature’s eyes were two black pin-points and his mouth was wide and lined with sharp, triangle teeth that lined the entire blood-stained orifice. There was a tiny tuft of blonde hair on his head, which was cowlicked.

 

          The little screams began to sound like laughter. Harry ended the child’s life with one more blow. Small bones broke under his heavy knuckles.

 

          The children had taken the rest of Loretta’s face, and wide eyeballs sunken in bare sockets stared at Harry. A skeleton’s grin. For the first time, he wept over his wife’s body— the gore didn’t stop him from cradling her.

 

          “I’m so sorry, baby. Dear God, your face.”

          What was so obvious finally made it through to him: they eat human flesh. Just then, emerging from every nook and cranny, the children swarmed him with a ferocity that could only be taken as revenge.

 

 

 

          The temperature had dropped two degrees since the last time Harry looked at the thermometer, probably five prior. It was only going to get colder and Harry had not failed to get the precut firewood from outside. He didn’t want to leave his wife alone for any longer than he had to.

 

          Even during the time it took him to retrieve the big box of rat traps from the kitchen, the children had taken his wife’s eyes. Of course, he hadn’t been necessarily quick: it’s hard to move without a left foot. It was a casualty in the battle with the children. That and one of his ears.

 

          No, he couldn’t leave her alone for very long; he needed as much of her as he could get and he didn’t want to risk losing his bait.

 

          Downstairs, another rat trap went off.

 

          The combination of rigor mortis and cold had made cutting very difficult. Pieces surrounded him, but he finally settled on an arm. He picked it up and removed the wedding ring before cutting the fingers off, which could set five traps. They weren’t very hearty, but he suspected the children would go for them nonetheless.

 

          Mom is feeding the children. 

 

     This thought and the sound of another rat trap going off made Harry laugh and laugh.

 

“Rat Traps.” Originally appeared in The Horror Biz

<http://horrorbizcomic.blogspot.com/ >on October 29, 2008.

 

 

Ryan Bradford contributes regularly to the Salt Lake City Weekly (Utah's largest alt-weekly), where he pretends to be an authority on hoity-toity indie music. His fiction has appeared in Enormous Rooms, Quarterly West, Yellow Mama and Vice. He also writes/edits the site www.fridayfiction.com.

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