THE RAT • by Zac Hestand

Wayne Reynolds sits on the floor of his apartment. He is in front of his coffee table, rubbing the smallest of dust particles from the surface. He knocks over a stack of student essays on the floor. Wayne Reynolds is an Associate Professor of Anthropology for the Department of Social Sciences at Romero University. He teaches the popular course, American Urban Legends. Wayne also happens to be, as his students call him behind his back, a “neat freak”.

“Mess. Mess, got to clean this up,” he said to himself.

His apartment is immaculately organized. He avoids shoes to prevent outside dirt from contaminating his floors. Next to his front door is a bag of hand sanitizer he requires for students upon arrival to his classroom. He sits back on the floor and goes through essays on urban legends he covered in his lectures: alligators in sewers, the man with the hook hand, the “Mexican pet” (small dog that turns out to be a giant rat), and he just wrote a giant F across one paper that reads like the Wikipedia entry for the movie Urban Legend.

The door bell rings. It scares him. Unexpected visitors irritate him. He grunts as he stands up to open the door. It’s Andy, the landlord.

“What do you want, Andy?” Wayne said. He stares through the peephole. Andy needs a shower.

“You called about a problem with your kitchen sink. Got my tools,” Andy said. Wayne’s been waiting a week for Andy to stop by. He opens the door.

Andy walks in. He is obese, mustard stains are on his shirt, and he picks his teeth with a toothpick. Wayne observes the specks of food that fly out of Andy’s molars. He’ll need to mop later. As Andy approaches the sink, a small dog runs in. A breed of dog Wayne has never seen. He freezes.

“Andy, get that damn dog out of here!” Wayne said.

“That’s Killer, got him from the shelter. Some rare breed apparently,” Andy said.

The dog runs into Andy’s bedroom, and stays for a minute. Wayne hates dogs, doesn’t even want to touch them. The dog runs out of the room and out the front door. Paw prints on the floor. Wayne wants to vomit at its sight. He looks closer at the paws. They look more like fingers.

“All done, professor. Don’t party too hard,” Andy said. Wayne ignores Andy as he leaves. He gets some spray to clean up the paw prints.

Wayne finishes cleaning the prints, and goes over to the sink to clean up where Andy worked. He decides to buy him deodorant for Christmas. As he finishes, he hears a noise from his bedroom. He gingerly walks to the bedroom.

Once inside, he sees nothing. As he turns, the sound appears again. It stops. He goes deeper into his bedroom. Looks around, and stands pleased with the orderliness of this area. The sound comes back. He pinpoints it to his closet. He opens it, nothing. Just clothes, boxes, and a busted can of pesticide. A green substance is on the floor. He groans.

Wayne turns to leave the bedroom. He is about to approach the door when feels a large bite on the back of his calf. Screams bellow from his core as he drops to the floor. Blood cascades from his sock. A piece of flesh missing. He looks up. It’s the same dog from earlier.

“How did you get in? I saw you leave,” he said. The dog is a little bigger than a chihuahua, but upon closer inspection, this is no chihuahua. It is a rat. Wayne’s blood drips from its mouth.

“No, you’re not real. You don’t exist,” he said.

The rat bites down on his big toe. He shakes and shakes. The rat flies off, tearing more flesh and pieces of toenail off.

Wayne limps to the kitchen, complaining each time about the trail of blood smeared across his carpet. He finds a can of pesticide. He looks up, the rat runs down the hall. He sprays directly in its face. The rat vomits up a green slime. The rat appears unharmed.

He runs out of the kitchen to the living room. He doesn’t see the rat. He remembers the gun he keeps in a box by the front door. He tiptoes to the front door. Looks left, looks right.

As he opens the box, the rat bites him again from behind. Ripping more flesh off of his other foot. He grabs onto the doorknob. Wayne turns to fire. He misses. The sound scares the rat. It moves off his foot, running away. He fires again. The bullet hits the rat in its shoulder. He fires three more times. The rat is in a pool of blood. Wayne drops his gun, and lays against the wall. His feet are in horrible condition, calling 911 is in order.

“Guess I’ll finish grading tomorrow,” he said. The apartment looks like a bomb hit it. An evening of cleaning in the cards.

Wayne looks over at the green slime. It begins to bubble. Within the bubbles, four large bubbles form. They grow to the size of baseballs. The goo slides off to reveal shells. The shells begin to crack, finger-like paws emerge scratching through the shell. Four similar looking rats crawl out of these shells.

“These are mammals. This can’t be…” Wayne said.

As he aims his gun, he recalls Andy’s “dog” walking into his bedroom. The inside of his closet contains several cans of pesticide he bought from the store last week. The spray! He pulls the trigger, nothing but a click click sound. He scrambles through his pockets for keys, the rats move closer to him. He puts the key in the lock. It snaps off. The rats are by his feet.

Zac Hestand has been previously published in Film Inquiry, The Scarlet Leaf Review, Entropy Magazine, and Film Criticism Journal. He is currently an English instructor in South Korea.

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