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The Ratcatcher

She screamed as soon she realized what it was. It started as a blur of movement in her peripheral vision. Something scuttling around in a dark corner of the basement next to the washing machine. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and focus and then the shape became clear. It was a rat. A big nasty brown brute, 10 inches from pink tail tip to quivering nose. She froze completely, except for her vocal chords, and unleashed a sobbing cry of horror at the black eyed rodent. The rat stopped too and stared back at her. In the next instant, Emily was bounding up the stairs and slamming the light wood-grained basement door behind her.rat

She grabbed the cordless telephone from its cradle and continued at a running pace up the stairs to the bathroom. Once safely inside, as far away as she could be from the evil gnawing creature in the basement, she locked the door. Emily’s hands were shaking as she dialed her husband’s cell phone number.

“Hello Darling!” Jim answered in a sweet voice that showed he had looked at the caller ID before opening his phone.

“”My God Jim!” screamed Emily, “It’s terrible…” and before she could get anymore of the story out she was interrupted by her own emotions. A gurgling sound started in her chest and crawled up her throat before escaping as a long sobbing wail.

After a few minutes, Jim managed to calm his hysterical young wife and coax the story out of her.

“Don’t worry sweetheart,” he said reassuringly, “I’ll call up an exterminator and have someone come around and take care of it. Why don’t you go to Starbucks and have a latte, and I’ll meet you at home when I’m finished here.”

Emily thought that was a brilliant idea and loved her thoughtful new husband a little more than she had before.

Emily pulled into the driveway at a quarter to six. She pulled up behind Jim’s Silver Honda Accord and was surprised to find him sitting behind the wheel reading a quarterly sales report. He looked startled as she knocked on the window.

“Hello Baby,” Jim cooed. “I thought I would wait out here for you and we could go inside together.” Truth be told, Jim was a little un-nerved by the thought of the rat too and had decided he didn’t want to face it alone.

“I called an exterminator and someone ought to be here any minute,” Jim explained as they walked up the driveway hand in hand. Right on cue, a filthy dilapitated pickup truck rolled to a stop in front of the home. The truck looked as though it had recently been driven through a war zone at top speed. The front bumper was missing, the passenger side mirror was attached with a liberal amount of duct tape, and what appeared to Jim to be bullet holes riddled the side of the box. It wasn’t exactly what he had expected from the ad in the yellow pages.

The small advertisement had been overshadowed by much larger and flashier ones, displaying pictures of dying cartoon vermin and efficiently uniformed professionals. The thing that had drawn Jim’s attention was the simplicity of the small square box at the end of the alphabetical listings. The simple black font proclaimed “Ye Olde RatCatcher. Traditional Extermination”. Something about the “Ye olde” appealed to Jim’s romantic notion of things past and the title “ratcatcher” seemed direct and to the point. He had called the attached number and arranged for someone to arrive at his home later that evening.

Now Jim and Emily stood in the driveway of their suburban home as the driver’s door of the old truck squeaked open on its hinges. Upon seeing the driver Jim felt slightly more re-assured that he had chosen the correct “Ye Olde” vendor of death.

The man was tall and gaunt, propelled forward at a lean by long spindly legs. He didn’t wear a sterile looking corporate exterminator’s jumpsuit, but rather a slightly shabby brown tweed suit and a matching flatcap. In his hand he carried a large worn leather case, not unlike the ones carried by old fashioned doctors on house calls.

“Allo,” said the man in a sharp nasally accent, “Hamilcar Shipley Esquire, professional ratcatcher, at your service.”

They led him into the house and Emily pointed at the door to the basement.

“It’s down there, she said, with a quiver in her voice and a look of mild disgust on her pretty young face.

“Worry not madam,” pronounced Shipley, “I shall dispatch the brute in a wink.”

“What type of traps do use,” inquired Jim.

“Ah, no traps here,” responded the ratcatcher, ”I use only the true traditional methods of the profession.” With that he set his large beaten leather satchel on the kitchen floor linoleum and opened the small brass clasp at its top. As he rooted around in the mysterious contents of the bag, Jim squeezed his young wife’s slender shoulder reassuringly and gave her a wink.

Mister Shipley fiddled about in the bag for a few moments, pulled something from inside, and straightened his bent back. He turned towards them revealing a crooked smile of yellow teeth and a clear bottle of unknown liquid in his hand. He removed a cork stopper from the bottle’s mouth and dug through his pocket, removing a filthy handerkerchief. He inserted the soiled bit of linen into the bottle leaving half of the handkerchief hanging down the side. He had already fished a small silver cigarette lighter from his inside jacket pocket before Jim and his wife simultaneously registered that the gaunt fellow in their kitchen was holding a Molotov cocktail in his hands.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” demanded Jim.

“Sir, you did ask me here to rid your home of vermin, did you not? I am merely dealing with the situation in the most expeditious and traditional manner I know,” explained Shipley, “Everyone knows where there’s one leather-tailed rodent there are others nearby. Gotta burn them out sir, get the whole nest!”

“Jim!” implored Emily, “Do something!”

“Put that thing down,” Jim begged the ratcatcher, “You’ll burn our bloody house down. Surely there must be another way.”

“Suit yourself,” said the exterminator, “I’ve other methods at my disposal.” With that he set the homemade firebomb on the kitchen table and began to scratch the thinning strands of hair on his head. “Well,” he said, “I do have a slightly less invasive method.”

Jim nodded, and the ratcatcher let out an audible sigh as he turned back toward the leather bag. Emily looked coldly into her husband’s eyes and all he could do was shrug his shoulders and attempt to give her a smile. The air in the small kitchen was thick and quiet except for the mutterings of Shipley and the sound of arcane instruments clinking together as he rooted through the tools of his profession.

“Ah, here it is,” Shipley exclaimed, as he drew something heavy from the bag. “Don’t worry folks,” he explained, “this is the second best way I know to rid one’s self of filthy nibbling beasts.”

As he turned to face the couple they heard a loud metallic click. In his hands was a crude nightmarish gun. It was a remarkably large antique looking pistol with a handle of dark wood, a tarnished black iron barrel, and a large insidious looking mechanism.

“Oh my God,” Emily screeched in shock at the sight of the ancient weapon, “You can’t use that thing in here.”

“Are you sure?” asked the ratcatcher as he stroked the barrel of his hand cannon and fingered the elaborate match-lock, “This is the traditional method. I’ll stalk the little bastard and splatter his verminous guts all over the paving stones with this beauty.”

The exterminator looked dejectedly at Jim who nodded sternly in agreement with his wife.

“I’m just trying to do my job folks. These are the methods I learned during my apprenticeship and I can assure you that they have served me well these many years. But, if you insist.”

“No more guns,” said Jim.

“And no more bombs,” added Emily, “We just signed the mortgage papers two weeks ago.”

Shipley produced a small book from his back pocket and flipped it open. It was bound in black leather that was cracking and splitting with age. He thumbed through a few pages, reviewing the time-honoured methods of his craft.

Jim and Emily squeezed each other’s hands and looked nervously at each other.

“MMhmm,” Hamilcar Shipley pronounced, “I have found it, a method that will do no harm to your charming abode. It is a particularly ancient technique and, while it may be a tad unorthodox, it is guaranteed to work.”

“No guns or firebombs?” asked Jim.

“No sir,” answered Shipley, “This time I need nothing but the tools God gave me.”

Emily gave her husband a questioning look but said nothing.

Ye olde ratcatcher then opened the basement door and headed down the stairs to the lair of the scurrying beast, the laundry room. Jim and Emily, temporarily forgetting their fear of the rat, followed Shipley down the stairs.

As they watched, Shipley stopped dead in his tracks in the gloom of the basement and began to murmur. “Aghumazurahnutan…”

He appeared to be chanting some ancient incantation. His pitch and tempo increased. He was still standing stock still but his right hand was moving slowly downward across his body. His mumbling was now a sonorous chant delivered at full voice. “Aghumazurahnutanijahkitan…” The couple heard something else too, a sudden ZZZZZIP. Then to their shock and surprise, Shipley’s pants fell to the floor exposing his manhood to the air. From the waist down he wore nothing but slouching black socks and a tarnished old pair of black shoes. He continued his strange song and he began to sway slightly, causing his naughty bits to swing in time. “Aghumazurahnutanijahkitanmugaraminagitah…”

Jim and Emily gaped at him in awe. They were equally hypnotized by his repetitious tune and his shockingly large testicles.

The sack in question was enormous and pendulous, and covered in wiry gray hairs. It was wrinkled even more than such pieces of anatomy generally are, and seemed to be fissured with hundreds of small scars. Next to the enormous bag, Shipley’s penis looked unimpressive and tired.

The song continued and so did the swing of the dangling scrotum.

Emily recoiled in horror and reached for her husband at the site of quick blurs of movement along the laundry room floor. Jim looked from his terrified young bride to the floor and saw what was emerging from beneath piles of dirty socks and from behind newly purchased washing appliances. There were rats, at least a half dozen of them, charging at the chanting and swaying man in the brown tweed jacket who’s testicles swung before him like the weight of some antique grandfather clock. All at once the beasts leapt through the air, their pink tails twitching behind them. In a moment they had all attached themselves to Shipley’s swinging nuts and sunk their sharp rodent teeth and claws into the wrinkled and battered flesh. Emily screamed… Shipley did not. He simply stopped his ancient song and stood very still. The only sounds to be heard were Emily’s sobbing and the gnawing noise of the filthy vermin as the chewed desperately.

Shipley pulled his trousers up around his waist and managed, with some difficulty, to zip them shut over the mass of wriggling and biting rodents attached to his genitals.

He removed a small invoice book and pen from his breast pocket and scratched out a bill which he tore from the book and handed to Jim. To shocked to speak, Jim rooted in his pocket, pulled out a folded $20 bill and handed it to the ratcathcer.

“Thank you sir,” said Hamilcar Shipley Esquire, “It has been a pleasure to serve you.” And, with that, he stepped past the mortified young lover’s and up the stairs.

They held each other and said nothing until they heard the front door close and the sound of the old beaten truck driving off.

“Oh Jim,” Emily cried as she pounded her small fists against his chest, “How could you let him do that? How could you bring that man into our home.”

Jim was quiet for a moment and then he answered, “I had no choice… he was the cheapest one I could find.”