Dale saw the rat in his bathroom sink drain. It was trying to get out. As he stared, its teeth gnashed, all scissor flash.
Dale turned on the water hoping to drown it.
The water gurgled and splashed. The rat squeaked, cursing. Dale waited for the water to back up, figuring the animal was blocking the pipe, but it didn’t. The water descended. It wasn’t working. Dale turned it off. The squeaking continued.
Now the rat was wet. It challenged him with black eyes, then opened its mouth and screamed. Its tongue was a pink bubble. It wiggled, scrabbling at the metal to get up. To get at Dale.
He thought of getting a knife and stabling it, but he didn’t think he could kill the rat through such a tiny hole. It would only get angrier, and it was so mad already.
It was closer now. Its whiskers scraped the porcelain, obscenely dark against the white. The cone of its nose rose above the silver ring, a wiggling pink button.
Dale ran into the living room and grabbed a dictionary. It was heavy and red, a hardback book from the time such things were prizes to be admired. When he returned, the rat’s teeth were clicking and clacking out of the hole. One pale foot was gaining purchase on the rim.
Dale dropped the book on it. The rat made a sound of furious anger.
Dale was sweating.
The book began to move.
The fit wasn’t perfect. The sink was curved, so of course the rat would have room to wiggle out. If the thing could squeeze up a drain, then it could surely squeeze from under the Oxford Dictionary. As Dale watched, the book lifted, then dropped. Lifted, dropped. He heard little ratty paws skittering. Dale backed up.
As he stared at the book bucking in the sink, Dale thought of his father. Memory showed him the old man wasting away in a pale blue gown on pale green sheets, grizzled face contorted in agony. Rat teeth had chewed him as well, the rat teeth of cancer eating his innards.
“It hurts. God how it hurts,” he had said at the end. “I hope you never feel this pain, son. But I don’t want to let go. I want to see you. I want to hear about your day. Every day. I’ll pay that pain to see my son again, even for just one more visit.”
Finally, Dale had put his forehead to the old man’s and cried and hugged and told him to let go.
“It’s okay, Pop.”
The old man had shaken his head and bore the pain and said he couldn’t. He wanted more time, more of his son.
The rat made the book jump. It thumped back, but it had moved away from the hole. The rat wanted more life, too.
In the end Dale had taken a pillow and covered his father’s face. He hadn’t been able to stand watching him hurt. His father who held him, loved him, who had been there even after Mom left. His father deserved more dignity, he deserved to be free and when his father had pushed and begged and scrabbled, Dale forced the pillow harder. The cancer had weakened the arms that held him, that carried him, that kept him safe. Dale had sobbed into the same pillow he was smothering his father with. His father tried to hang on, but Dale kept the pillow constant until the hospital machines announced he was dead. When he pulled away, Dale screamed because his father’s eyes were black. The doctor said it was because of burst blood vessels but Dale saw reproach and anger in his father’s face.
He was never caught.
The rat was out. It pulled itself onto the sink’s lip. Water dripped from its hide. Its nose twitched. It was sleek and loathsome. It smelled. It’s tail was a thick umbilical cord wrapped around its feet. Dale swallowed. He began to plead to it.
“He took me to baseball games. Every season at the local field. I’d always fall asleep, and he would carry me back to the truck, holding me, patting my back, telling me he loved me. He never failed me. Not once.”
The rat crouched.
“Did I fail him—”
The rat didn’t answer. The rat didn’t care. The rat launched itself at Dale’s face. When Dale screamed, the invader found its way inside a new drain. Perhaps that was answer enough.
Paul Wilson has been published by Black Rose Writing for his fantasy western novel Cassidy Smith Book One in September 2021. He has also been published in three Writer’s Unite anthologies (Dimensions of Paranormal Volume 1 and 2 and Dimensions of the Wild West Volume 2), as well as Theme of Absence, Electric Spec, Dream of Shadow, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. He also had a story appearing in October 2021 in the Input/Output Press “And the Dead Shall Sleep No More” Anthology.
His short story collection Tricks and Treats and novel Hostage were published by Asylett Press. Wilson also won the Aiken Community Playhouse’s first playwright contest which produced and performed his two-act play (You're Invited to) Uncle Fangenstein's Last Show.
Find Paul on Twitter: @Storydweller102