I had Crabtree drop me three blocks away from the plastic wrapped white elephant that was once my home. The bright yellow warning signs in our yard were visible from a mile away. Parking close seemed like a bad idea. Crabtree might ask questions. Questions I couldn’t, and didn’t really want to, answer. So I picked out a nice green two story and told him that was where I lived.
I was out of his car the second it stopped rolling, waving good bye and thanking him for the lift. My heart beat a constant prayer that he wouldn’t ask to come in. What would I do if he did? Even if it was my home and Margaret was there the last thing I wanted was to explain how I’d ditched my car and jumped in a car with a guy I hardly knew. It wouldn’t go well for either of us.
Happily Crabtree seemed just as anxious to be gone as I was to have him that way. He waved, pulled a u-turn and zipped on back to wherever. The old guy was on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite teachers.
The neighborhood was quiet, but our neighborhood had always been that way. There were no kids. It was full of power couples who worked all day, single business people who traveled a lot and retirees who kept to themselves. The introverted, childless demographic. Sometimes I think Margaret chose this house just for that reason.
I walked up the road to my house and, after a quick look to make sure there was no one inside or out to catch me, slipped around to the privacy of our back yard. Every window and door was tapped up with plastic. There were scary chemical signs all over promising death to anyone crossing the line. I had no idea getting rid of a rat colony was such a production.
No idea. In fact what I’d read about it online made me pretty sure it wasn’t.
What was the deal with our house then? Had the pest guys found a worse bug hiding in there?
The back door was missing still. I peeked through the plastic and cardboard Margaret and I put up and could see flecks of glass in the carpet here and there. We hadn’t cleaned up all that great and apparently no one bothered to do it over for us. Hopefully they would clean up the dead rats, and whatever else they found living with us. That better be part of the package.
I looked over the rest of the room. Margaret’s plants were on the table, grouped together like a mini mobile forest. She must have collected them to move out then forgotten but that seemed unlikely. She was pretty fond of those plants. Plus Margaret never forgot anything.
They seemed to be doing well in the toxic bubble, which also seemed unlikely. You’d think what would kill a rat and be bad for a human wouldn’t be the best for potted foliage either.
Unless the chemicals hadn’t been pumped in yet?
I stepped to the side and, holding my nose, peeled back a corner of plastic from the door frame. My eyes didn’t burn or water up. I sniffed the air. It smelled just like it always did, like a decade of Margaret and I sharing space.
I tugged on the tape again and it gave way easily. The cardboard “door” pulled open. I stood for a second wondering how far to go.
“Hey!” I yelled into the empty room. “Anyone here? The door is open!” Except for a clock ticking in the kitchen all was silent. I thought about the rats again. Where were they? After so many days wouldn’t they be invading the rest of the house by now?
I stepped in.
I hung close to the cardboard exit at first and checked behind the chairs and tables for signs of rodents. There was none. The floor was clean, not counting the glass that is. So, even though no one was cleaning up there was no rat dung accumulation. Weird. I got brave and checked Margaret’s plants. The soil was damp. Had someone watered them?
I walked further into the room, keeping an ear open for little furry creatures, as well as big ones in fumigation suits. The house was completely quiet. It seemed empty. The only noise was that clocks constant tic, tic tic…
We don’t have a clock.
The realization hit me like a brick. We don’t have a clock in the kitchen. Not the ticking kind anyway. The only timepiece in the kitchen was on the microwave and it worked in silence. I cut across the room to the kitchen door and listened. Yep, something was definitely ticking. I opened the door slowly. The room was clear. No rats, no people. I went in.
It was clean, the dishes put away and the counters wiped down. It was just the way we’d left it that night. I didn’t have to stop to hear the tic now. It was loud and clear and coming from the oven. I touched the door to see if it was on. The metal was cool so I pulled on the handle. Inside the dark oven a red light was blinking. Next to it was a small digital clock.
00:00:35 It read. I stared, wondering who would put a clock in an oven and why. It wasn’t even close to the right time but something else was weird about the numbers. I watched them tick away.
00:00:30, 00:00:29, 00:00:28
Suddenly my heart was in my throat. I scrambled backwards, away from the oven and out of the room. I moved faster than I’ve ever moved before. Then I ran.
I didn’t stop running until I was outside but by then it wasn’t me in control anymore. The second my feet hit the back deck the timer hit zero. A force behind me shattered the remaining windows and sent me sailing through the air.