My God given directive in life is to inflict a strong feeling of apprehension in you. Millions of years of evolution, the steady trickle of DNA through the generations, countless incidents of casual rat intercourse — it has all led to this moment where I’m scampering around the crawlspace in your ceiling. We are mammalian brothers who genetically splintered apart long ago. My species chose the evolutionary route of scurrying through sewers, eating garbage, and breeding indiscriminately. Yours chose driving cars, typing on computers, and eating grocery store sushi. It all comes down to a matter of lifestyle choices, but for whatever reason, mine is the “bad” species. Often, while darting into the bushes next to your front porch, I think, ‘If I was ten feet tall, I would tear you in half like a fortune cookie and pop your torso into my mouth.’
‘Why is he scurrying around?’ you wonder. ‘Why won’t he let me go to sleep?’ These questions don’t concern me because I’m a wild animal with a tiny brain, and most of my behavior is based on operant conditioning principles. Mostly, I just think, ‘HATE HATE HATE SCURRY HATE EAT EAT EAT SCURRY HATE.’
Did you know a pack of rats is also known as a mischief?
Rats have a social hierarchy based on size and strength, and we often play fight to see who is dominant. This social hierarchy isn’t such a big deal until difficult times hit — winter, hunger, starvation — and then those in the lower social order are the first to die. I watched my father tear open my brother’s belly and dig into his guts while his legs clawed the air furiously. Those feet kicking, his panicked squeaking, intestines hanging from my father’s jaws — the memory haunts me to this day. Fortunately, my father died two months later after eating three pushpins; a rat’s life is cruel and brief, three years at the most. It gave me some satisfaction, but not enough, never enough.
As I continue scurrying around, I hear you toss and turn below me, and it causes the reward synapses of my brain to fire. We’ve been listening to each other’s movements for several hours now, developing this unspoken relationship of grudging coexistence. The ceiling is so thin, though, I could easily chew through it or simply crash through a weak section, and then you know what would happen? Because your room is so tiny, I would have no other recourse but to scamper all over your body in a mad panic. Scamper across your chest, your arms, your legs, your face. Across your face. Your face.
I want to lick the moisture from your eyeballs.
My blood can contain a huge multitude of pathogens, and, in conjunction with my birthrate of 7 pups 5 times per year, it enables me to spread diseases with astonishing speed. I hate you, and I want to kill you with my plague saturated flesh. I’m a biological weapon, launched by God at the dawn of creation to wipe you off the face of the planet in the distant future. The apocalyptic supervirus, it’s in me for sure, marinating in my blood. And if your imminent death concerns you, consider my existential despair: my lifespan is three years at the most. I barely have enough time to learn how to groom myself properly much less to know what it means to feel love. Three years of quiet desperation, three years in the shadow of a thriving species of egoists, all of whom actively yearn for my death. No, I won’t miss you when you’re all dead.
You rap your fingers against the ceiling to mimic the sound of my paws, hoping to scare me away—it won’t work. I’m not going anywhere. I hate you too much to leave. Instead, I start sprinting in circles, making even more noise, banging against pipes for no reason, squeaking madly. Fun fact: You can’t smell it yet, but I’ve been pooping and peeing up here for weeks now. It’s only a matter of time before the cumulative stench of my nest penetrates your bedroom.
I’m going to scurry over to this side of the crawlspace. Now, I’m going to scurry to the other side. What should I do now? I think I’ll scurry back to the other side of the crawlspace. I make a lot of noise because I’m fat. Very fat. I’m one of the fattest rats in Chicago because your uncovered dumpster’s filled with rotten deli meat from when your refrigerator stopped working for two days. I may not even be a rat. I might be a bear cub. From the volume of noise I produce, the thump of my paws on the ceiling, you’re becoming increasingly certain I’m a bear cub who somehow became trapped in this crawlspace.
My mother was a bear in the Lincoln Park Zoo. When I was born, zoo administrators mounted a modest publicity campaign inviting Chicagoans to come see the adorable new baby bear. However, the zookeeper wasn’t accustomed to having to look down by his legs for sneaky bears, so as he entered for feeding time, I quietly crept past him and out of the enclosure. The Lincoln Park Zoo is a free zoo, so there were no gates to hinder my escape. I hid in a bush until nightfall. Then, once I stopped seeing people and cars, I wandered a couple blocks and squeezed into a hole in the side of a nearby rooming house. The next morning, a contractor sealed up the hole, trapping me inside.
You wish that were true. No, I’m definitely an enormous rat who lives just over your head, separated only by a thin sheet of drywall. I listen to your breathing while you sleep. I chew on your electrical wires. I warm myself under pipes running from the boiler room. With me here, you’re never alone. And one night, while you’re fast asleep, I’ll gnaw my way out of this crawlspace, and I’ll put my face inside your mouth.