The Devil’s Gospel: Chapter 1.3 – The Rat
He’s crawling toward the phone—
Shut up! I bit at thin air with my tiny rat teeth. Mean it, I thought fiercely at Archelaeus – which was difficult, considering the eensy size of the rat’s brain. I no go back I know. I might want go back.
What for? The poor bastard doesn’t even dial 911 before— ah, you tricksy fuckhead.
Not listening, not listening, not listening! I hurled my sleek furry body off both sides of the cabinet, rattling some china plates.
Archelaeus settled into a teacup and grinned.
Always back-pocketing. Bit gauche for an immortal.
I stopped on the edge of a serving dish, my rat-ribs heaving, peering at him through my beady eyes. This morning. I at Theo’s, you Inside.
And? You expect a gossip report, what? St. Sebastian wears dresses.
I plan. I hard hard work plan gone. I pissed. Something somewho fuck I, Archelaeus. I want know something somewho.
What makes you think I’d tell you, even if I did know?
“You bound to I, Being!” I squeaked indignantly in rat language. Archelaeus didn’t like that at all, rolling over in the teacup to show me his broadside.
You! I went on anyway. You get news! Bring!
But before he could respond, we were engulfed by a bright white light.
Mrs. Shuman opened the cabinet and peered in at her mother’s china plates.
Don’t you break those, Priss, came her mother’s voice caroming off the ancient caverns of Mrs. Shuman’s memory. It was an extension of opening the cabinet, the same as the light going on in the refrigerator: Don’t you break those, Priss.
Mrs. Shuman’s mother’s good china had been in this same heavy oak cabinet for over eighty years. Mrs. Shuman had owned it outright for forty of those eighty, but still, the china felt like her mother’s.
Don’t you break those, Priss.
The only reason Mrs. Shuman didn’t see the medium-sized rat perched on her mother’s serving tray was that Mrs. Shuman wasn’t wearing her magnifying glasses at the moment. Mrs. Shuman needed her magnifying glasses to see anything smaller than a Honeybaked ham now, the macular degeneration had gotten so bad. Bad enough that Mrs. Shuman had been forced to give up reading entirely, even large print, which pained her no end, given her former occupation as a “lady journalist” – at least that was what they called her back in the day – though she had been more editor than anything else.
Reading had saved Mrs. Shuman’s tuches more than once (“How To Reduce The Amount of Injected Venom Immediately After Snake Bite,” by Drs. Philip Hawlsey and Jackson Kiebler, Journal of Nature, 1943; “10 Ways To Know If Your Lover Is Cheating,” by Shirley Gordon, Glamour of Hollywood, 1949; “Salk’s Polio Vaccine A Success!” by Edward Icharov, New York Times, 1957), but there was no chance of it saving her now. And though obviously Mrs. Shuman could still write, she could neither judge her own hand nor revise her words with any precision, which consumed her with such insecurity that she’d given up writing, as well.
Mrs. Shuman had tried listening to books-on-tape (or “books-on-CD”s she guessed they called them now), but after a while it began to confuse her, not being able to go back and reread certain passages.
In any case, it just wasn’t the same.
Wasn’t the same as deciphering the purposeful march of familiar symbols left to right on a clean white page.
That was active; that was doing something.
But thanks to her degenerating maculars, Mrs. Shuman was reduced to simply sitting there listening, like a mushroom stuck in the dirt.
Like mushrooms in the gravy, in the gravy boat.
Don’t you break those, Priss.
Another idea flitted, half-realized, along the subscript of Mrs. Shuman’s thought scroll – not for the first time, and certainly not the last – that she should immediately take her mother’s precious china plates out of the cabinet – carefully, one by one – and fling them across the room to smash against the brick fireplace.
This subscript was the violent part of Mrs. Shuman – the one that rebelled under repression – and the part that would necessitate her return in her next life as African dictator Ngabo Ogiwyunde, responsible for the murders of 100,000 of his rival tribesmen.
Clearly, Mrs. Shuman was terribly repressed.
Don’t you break those, Priss.
My whiskers twitched as Mrs. Shuman looked right at me.
Stay still and she won’t see you.
Not worry eyes, jerk.
And then it came – Mrs. Shuman’s hand into the cabinet, sweeping and probing over her mother’s good china. Knowing the movement would catch even her attention, I had to fight the rat’s instincts to flee – causing it to piss all over the serving tray. (Great. Here was hoping Mrs. Shuman’s nose maculars were degenerating, too.) But then her hand paused on the gravy boat, a scant two inches from my whiskers. If Mrs. Shuman had been trained as a Shaolin monk, she immediately would have sensed the heat of my rat-blood pulsing in the thin skin of my ears, and snatched me up and snapped my neck in an instant.
Fortunately for me, however, Mrs. Shuman hadn’t been trained as a Shaolin monk, so her fingers wrapped around the handle of the gravy boat instead.
Hoping she’d just take it and close the cabinet, I vibed her all the nostalgia I could muster with my limited rat-brainpower – which wasn’t much, as it turned out. Something on par with, “Oh, remember that girl who lived upstairs from our apartment fifty years ago? The one we never saw?”
Honestly. No shame.
Ornery, I sent a wave of shame at Mrs. Shuman, too. But again it was ratty and feeble, like, “The Christmas I lost my job, I didn’t donate to the Salvation Army.”
Remind me why I’m here?
To myself I thought, Because I’m developing a very nice viral infection that will pass into my droppings, and when they crumble to dust, Mrs. Shuman will inhale them, eventually causing her to drown in her own lung fluids, leading to her painful, lonely demise.
What actually came out of the rat’s brain was: I sick I shit she sick she die.
I think I prefer you this way.
You fuck off, jerk.
What was her name?
Mrs. Shuman paused, her hand still on the gravy boat – unbeknownst to her, mere inches away from the head of a medium-sized rat.
It was the little house on Waterman. Basement apartment. The one with the old newspapers stacked like damp kindling on the concrete inside the door. The unit with no heater, where on especially cold nights they’d leave the gas oven on with the door open, even though they knew it might kill them and they were always surprised and happy when they woke up in the morning.
What was her name?
Upstairs. Twenty, maybe. Long dark brunette.
Had a scar on her face.
Mrs. Shuman didn’t remember, then wondered why it was she didn’t remember, and decided to test herself.
Was it because Mrs. Shuman:
A) was too old, and it was long ago
B) had never known
C) had some form of creeping brain disease
D) had blocked it out for some reason?
With her mind’s eye’s thick red editing pencil, Mrs. Shuman tentatively circled C). They had never socialized much from the basement at Waterman, she and Pirate Tom. Too engaged in each other. A beat, then Mrs. Shuman’s mind’s red pencil struck through “
engaged” and ^’ed in wrapped up.
It gave her an old pang, like an arthritic knee.
No, she had never known the upstairs neighbor girl’s name.
And why was she picturing her in a Santa outfit, ringing a bell?
Mrs. Shuman lifted the china gravy boat with a delicate rattle, turned and set it down on the dining room table, then closed the cabinet door. Five minutes later, after walking out to check the mail for the dozenth time that morning, she would pass by the dining room, spot the gravy boat, and remember taking it out – but would have no earthly idea why she had done so.
Due to her creeping brain disease, she had already forgotten that she thought she’d heard a rat.
You know, considering her alternatives, giving this woman hanta virus could be seen as compassionate.
FUCK OFF DIE JERK JERK FUCK FUCK!
I had to get out of the rat’s body. This tiny brain was killing me.
oh HI-larious, assface, and so unexpected.
Problem was, tied as I was to the rat’s entity (it was “inside the cabinet,” therefore I was “inside the cabinet” – another of God’s quirky little OCD rituals rules), I couldn’t fully corporealize without destroying Mrs. Shuman’s mother’s good china: a thrill I’d specially saved for when Mrs. Shuman was on her deathbed in her room, feverish, gurgling, and alone. I’d shove the whole fucking hutch over and shatter every piece in it when she was too weak to come out and see what had happened, then drink like fine wine Mrs. Shuman’s heart-wringing regret that, in the end, she hadn’t done it herself.
You find. You bring. Who fuck I with Theo.
And then what?
I kill I bite I rip I tear I eat—
Got it. Fine. You’re Da Devil. Archelaeus paused. You see how I just did that? Where you’re still only “a” devil—
I crawled over to his teacup, arched my butt over the rim and pooped a fusillade of warm pellets as Archelaeus flickered out of the universe, smaller than a quark, smaller than a hundred angels dancing on the head of a pin – a ludicrous concept, as none of them would ever lift a foot.
Me, I had a little work to do here – which, okay, mostly consisted of finding new and productive places to poop – but after that, I was going to find Theo, and through him, whoever was fucking with me.
And then I was going to unleash Hell.