May 22, 2010

A woman is Las Cruces, New Mexico has been charged with hoarding hundreds of albino, chihuahua-sized rats in her home. Authorities removed 176 of the red-eyed creatures (many of them sick or injured) from the house and believe there are at least that many left inside. The house was “wall to wall” with rat feces, completely covering the woman’s bed. She’d started with just two, but they bred out of control. Still, she’d been trying to feed them and care for them. The rats had killed and eaten two dogs, and two more starving and terrified dogs were also removed by authorities. I was surprised that the woman herself hadn’t been eaten by the rats. Maybe they sensed in some way that she loved them.


Much later, she still remembered their eyes. How they glowed like embers in the darkness of her room. Hundreds of them, surrounding her, the room filled with tiny orbs reflecting the moonlight from the window. Blinking, moving, flickering—a pale glow here then gone.

She remembered the sounds they made, the feel of their weight on the bed. The constant chittering, the scribbling of small feet on floorboards. Tails tickling her legs. She would lie still, afraid to move. If she rolled over, she feared she would crush the creatures snuggled against her body for warmth. It was the trait she liked best in them—that instinct to seek others for comfort, to wrap their bodies around each other while they slept. A trait rare in humans, who break from one another in the night and fall into solitary sleep. Her husband and son—one long dead, the other long gone—were both this way. She would hold them until they fell asleep, but soon they began to squirm out of her grip and turn away.

She remembered their smell. When the animal control workers entered her home, she heard them gagging and cursing the stench. But upstairs, lying in a bed blackened with feces, she hadn’t noticed the odor slowly saturating the air. What she did remember was the smell of the animals’ bodies close to her face. A soft, comforting scent. And she remembered how one had gently nibbled on the tip of her nose—kissed it almost—and she had smelled the small puff of its breath, the tinniest fraction of air, lost in a heartbeat but caught at the perfect moment. A smell from deep in the earth. The root of some long-extinct plant, or a fossilizing bone.

She remembered—though she tried to forget—the moaning of the dogs. Four chocolate labs. She found one carcass in the pantry, covered in a swarm of swishing pink tails. All the food in the house was gone. She’d even opened the canned vegetables and dumped them on the floor. She herself hadn’t eaten in days. The second carcass was downstairs, and she never saw it. Of the two remaining dogs, one stayed in her room. Polly, the oldest. She was terrified of the small creatures and backed into a corner, growling and whimpering, snapping feebly at the slowly advancing mass of white whiskers and twitching noses.

The last night before she made the call that ended it, she lay awake listening to Polly rasp and moan from the corner. Just eat her already, she thought. And immediately she hated herself for thinking it. But one lost life could sustain so many. She thought of her own body, already pocked with countless bites.  She pictured it as it would soon be, motionless on the bed as the animals burrowed into her flesh, their mouths smeared red. Let them take me tonight if they’ll have me, she thought. Three hundred beating hearts for one.

She remembered that moment clearest of all. How she took off her shirt, her pants, her underwear. Reached across the bed and gathered them to her, a great squirming armful. Pulled the soft wiggling mass against her chest, and waited.


2 Responses to “Rats”

  1. Travis said

    Things got a little crazy after the jump here, Robert.

    Have you watched Hoarding on TLC, or Hoarders on … A&E? Great/awful stuff.

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