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Rat's Nest

By Ariel Lowe All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Horror

Rat's Nest

When you move to a new home, do you like the new home smell? Most people don't, but I do. I used to wander through my new surroundings as a kid, searching for it. I didn't mind that I was breathing in stale, musty air. No, I never minded. To me, it was an adventure, a new experience. It's not such a bad thing. I mean, we get used to it eventually. We learn to accept it, and the smell eventually fades away. There's no harm done. 

Well to be honest, it never really goes away. You can sometimes find it in unexpected places like beneath sinks or in the back of closets. It's a strange surprise when you stumble upon it - a reminder of what came before you. 

Do you ever wonder who else lived in your home? Unless you bought land and built your home, doesn't that mean someone lived in your home before you? What kind of people were they? Why did they move away? Financial problems? Loneliness? Death? Do you even know? Shouldn't you know? 

It's not something we pay attention to. When homes are sold, we examine them and their prices, fill out the necessary paperwork, and maybe ask about the neighbors. Sometimes, we don't have to worry about neighbors if the home is secluded. That's a good thing, right? What if the neighbors were loud? Or crazy?

Like most people, if you see an opportunity, you take it, right? That's what my father and I did. Most people would. We had to move within a few weeks, and my father found a real bargain, a beautiful two-story home. My father was the one that took the tour while I stayed home to pack our boxes. The house was in an acceptable state for its age. Beside a few fixer-uppers, it was what it was - a bargain. 

I was surprised myself when I saw it for the first time. It had a wide lawn, several ancient trees, and an immense porch with vines crawling up its sides. The grass could be trimmed, and a fresh coat of paint would do wonders for it. The inside was no different. It was simply a fixer-upper, and the realtor must have been desperate to sell. It was just perfect. Honestly, my father and I were appalled at how much space we would have. 

On my first night, I settled into a large drawing room on the first floor. It was relatively empty except for two of my boxes resting near the entrance. There were windows along one wall and decrepit wallpaper along the other. I had already shut the lights off and curled up on my air mattress. 

That's when I realized something. The new home smell hadn't been in the kitchen, hallway, or my room; I didn't remember smelling one at all. I could remember falling asleep and wondering how that could be possible. How could you move to a new home and be used to its scent?

It wasn't the sunlight that woke me in the morning. It was something...rotten. I shifted shakily off the mattress and covered my nose, struggling not to gag. It smelled like festered meat, sewage, and decay. I stumbled into the nearest bathroom and felt like I just left a contamination zone. Gasping for breath, I turned on the bathroom light and felt my skin crawl. I hurriedly closed the door and took a shower. I would have stayed there all day if my father hadn't made us breakfast. 

I wrapped a towel around my torso and caught sight of my reflection in the steamy mirror. I took a long time to dry myself off, trying to understand what happened.  What had been the smell? Where had it come from?

I didn't go back to my room to change. I just wore the clothes that I slept in. 

I ate my breakfast cold and mentioned briefly how I hated the wallpaper in my room. My father promised to scrape it off if I went to the grocery store, so that's what I did. 

Around noon, I returned and passed by my room and dropped the groceries off on the counter. Before I could turn around, my father entered and gave me a cheery smile. "Honey, I think you should move upstairs instead. Your room is freezing. There's a draft, and do you really want to sleep on this floor all by yourself?" he asked.

"I don't mind. It's really not a problem," I insisted. I paused for a moment, and I wasn't so sure. "I heard creaking last night. Is your room above mine?" 

"It probably is. Don't worry though. I heard creaking too. It's an old house. It's bound to be the wind, and I mentioned that the drawing room has a draft, especially since it's so large."

I stared down at the counter and wondered if I should ask my father about that rotten scent. Had he smelled it too? I nodded to my father. "I'll go move my boxes then."

"It's okay. I already moved them for you." 

At that moment, my father received a phone call, and he excused himself. I removed the rest of the groceries from the car, and when I was finished, I walked over to the stairwell. I glanced warily to my old room and crossed over to it, opening the door slowly. Had there really been a draft? I never stepped a foot inside. At the other end of the room, my father had started to scrape the wallpaper away. There was a barren patch of wood, and then there was a gaping hole. The wood had just rotten off and fallen inward and then...the rotten scent hit me.

I closed the door immediately, and I never reentered that room. 

The movers eventually arrived and brought our furniture. Even then, our meager amount of belongings weren't enough to fill our new home. Entire rooms were left empty, and the walls were only decorated by the ugly wallpaper. 

After awhile, I forgot about the hole. My father never mentioned it even though he must have seen it. I thought it was a little strange though when I saw a pest control truck in our driveway. I stood at the top of the stairs and listened to the drifting conversation.

"What caused the damage?"

The pest control worker was extremely soft spoken, so I couldn't hear his reply. I did catch a few words from my father, and I inched down a few steps, straining my ears.

"You mean to tell me that we have a rodent problem?"

I could barely hear the other man. "Well...not uncommon...treatment." I frowned to myself and wished that I could hear more. I mean if we did have a rodent problem, it should be no surprise. This house is so old. I wondered if a rat had died in the wall. That would explain the rotten stench. I heard footsteps and watched the man exit through the front door. He returned momentarily with a face mask and a dark backpack filled with pesticide. He entered the drawing room and closed the door behind him.

The room was treated, and my father and I never talked about it. I never asked what happened or if anything came up. It was like there was an unspoken rule not to enter the drawing room, especially after my father boarded up the hole. 

On the following weekend, I finally finished unpacking. It was late. I turned off my light and got settled for bed. 

We all have those nights. We all do where we struggle to get comfortable, when we're completely exhausted but cannot sleep. It was my pillow. I felt like I was laying my head on rocks. I managed to find an un-lumpy spot to rest my head, and within moments, I found relief. 

I woke to that same, putrid stench. I raced out of my room and clenched the edges of the bathroom sink, paler than a ghost while I tried to control my gag reflex. I splashed water on my face and glanced to the mirror, feeling my heart skip a beat. 

Has your heart ever done that - physically skipped a beat? It's just an expression, but have you ever experienced shock so powerful that your heart forgets how to function? Even for a split second?

My hair was knotted and tied, wild and completely out of control. It wasn't possible. When I frantically found my brush, I tried forcing the bristles through the knots. I felt like my hair would rip clean from my scalp. They wouldn't come out. I had no choice but to cut the tangles with scissors.

I spent nearly an hour in front of the mirror, trying to make sure that my hair was even. My hands were shaky which made the process even harder. 

Despite leaving my room, I could still smell that stench. I showered until the warm water turned ice cold, and I had no choice but to get out. When I returned to my room, I opened my windows to let the fresh air in. 

It happened again the next morning, and it was worse. I chopped my hair off at the shoulder in disgust and scrubbed furiously at my skin in the shower. I felt like that rotten scent had pervaded my very being, and I wished it would go away. I used my entire bottle of shampoo and reduced my soap bar to a thin sheet. I would be clean. That scent had to go.

I tentatively examined my room and went so far as to spray an entire can of air freshener. Even after using the entire can, I still sensed the smell, yet I had no idea where it was coming from.

When I got in bed that night, I had enough with my lumpy pillow and threw it to the other side of the room. Why use a pillow when it doesn't provide comfort? I clutched my phone to my chest and pulled my blankets to my shoulder. For awhile, I played a few apps and decided to rest my eyes while I waited for a new app to download. Even though I was half asleep, I heard the scuttling noise. 

I blinked my eyes open and squinted toward my window, assuming it was the nearby tree branch brushing against the house. I couldn't tell because my eyes weren't adjusted to the darkness. A sharp gnawing sound paralyzed me, and I remained very still. I knew that I had to remain very, very quiet. I held my breath and listened like I might hear it again. Beneath the blankets, I squeezed my phone tight and felt the urge to call for help. And then, I could smell the rotten stench - more powerful than ever before. 

I felt something at the foot of my bed. It was quick and methodical. I could feel it crawling over the blankets and coming closer. I screamed and kicked upward, hearing a high pitched squeak. I kicked my blankets far away from me and pressed my back against the headboard. I scrabbled with my phone and turned on its flashlight. I pointed it at the end of my bed, and all I could see was a fleshy, pink tail disappearing over the edge. I shot forward and watched with horror as the creature scurried around, its bulbous eyes blinded by the light. It ran straight into a few empty, moving boxes, and that's when I got a good look at it. It was the size of a puppy, hairless, and it's nails were inches long. The last thing I saw was its snake-like tail sliding into my closet.

My heart was hammering in my ears, and with dread, I realized why my hair has been in knots.

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