Authors: Compiled by Christopher C. Payne
For Twisted Minds
Christopher C. Payne
Copyright © 2010 by Christopher C. Payne
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JournalStone rev. date: October 8, 2010
Cover Design Shannon Stamey and Denise Daniel
Edited by Whitney L.J. Howell
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I would like to dedicate this book to all of us, but sadly I cannot. I fear not a single soul would begin to understand. So instead I will dedicate this book to nobody, so rest assured, everyone will surely be insulted.
Vaughn and Trish Embers were 10 minutes into watching a porn DVD when the scurrying in the walls first started. Even though they knew the surprisingly affordable colonial was old when they’d first moved in three months before, the thought of a possible rodent problem deflated the mood instantly.
“I told you we should’ve had an exterminator spray the place before we moved in,” Vaughn grumbled, hitting the pause button.
“You did no such thing,” Trish said, turning to him.
“Well, I wish I had, then.”
“Jesus, I hate rodents. Do we have any kind of poison or something to set out?”
“The closest thing would be that Bundt cake in the fridge your Aunt Violet made for Christmas. I’m sure that’ll kill anything.”
After pondering the possibilities of their visitor possibly turning up in their bed later, Vaughn made a late night trip to Walgreen’s for several boxes of d-Con™ Mouse Bait and various glue traps.
Placing the items in areas they thought a mouse might frequent, they went to bed and listened in the dark for further scurrying.
* * *
After nearly a week of no noises within the walls, they determined that the poison had done its duty and went about planning their first dinner party since moving in. Although they’d opted not to invite co-workers to their foray in entertaining, Vaughn had asked Neil Germano over from his office at the Department of Health. After all, he was the one who’d seen the house for sale and suggested it to them in the first place. Trish had invited her older sister, Carmen, her brother-in-law, Dale, and her best friend, Keysha.
Considering how badly the gathering would end, the beginning was fun for everyone present. Vaughn had made his mom’s recipe for jambalaya, which went over even better than he and his wife anticipated. After playing several games of bowling on their Wii system, they all sat in the living room drinking coffee.
“So, what do your neighbors here rate?” Neil asked Vaughn.
“I’d give ‘em about a 33.”
“And what kind of ‘rating’ are you talking about?” Carmen asked curiously, moving the sugar cube-filled cup away from Dale before he could add more to his coffee.
“The Lunacy Scale,” Vaughn responded, biting into one of the raspberry coffee cakes Keysha brought over. “Me and Neil came up with it during the last company retreat they forced us to go on.”
“Basically,” Neil sighed, “it’s a way of ranking just how crazy your neighbors or co-workers are. One through 25 are basically normal, 25 through 35 could benefit from occasional therapy and minor anti-depressants, and 40 and up is when you need to hide the sharp objects.”
“From what me and Trish have seen, no one around here we’ve met so far is destined to start running around in their underwear and screaming about the government putting LSD in the drinking water.”
“Well, there’s Mrs. Bondelli,” Trish offered. “Anyone with that many gnomes on their front lawn is clearly batshit.”
They all laughed.
“Hey, Vaughn, can I get that jambalaya recipe from you before I leave?” Keysha pleaded. “My boyfriend only knows how to make chili.”
“Hey,” Neil shrugged. “What’s wrong with chili?”
“You need to show Dale a thing or two in the kitchen, Vaughn,” Carmen joked. “I don’t want him to get his own show on the Food Network. Just something he can make with no fear of the place burning down.”
Dale chuckled politely, casually flipping his wife the bird by scratching his chin with his middle finger.
“It’s pretty easy, really,” Vaughn shrugged, glancing around for something to write on. “You got a notepad or something?”
Keysha grabbed her oversized purse from the floor to retrieve her day-planner, and two of the largest rats Vaughn had ever seen burst from it and landed in her lap.
* * *
“I thought you said she was on a diet,” Vaughn bemused as they walked up their driveway. “What was she doing with cookies in her pocketbook?”
“They were Atkins cookies, Vaughn. Jesus, could you reboot your sensitivity chip or something?” Trish eyeballed him. “Keysha’s probably going to relapse with something like that happening. She still hasn’t returned any of my messages.”
Vaughn and Trish had stayed two days at a nearby Best Western before they decided to brave returning home. After explaining their situation to Vaughn’s Aunt Francine, she let them borrow one of her largest tomcats named Azabache.
Once disengaging the alarm system, Vaughn set down the pet caddy he’d been lugging. He released the large black feline, who dashed out and immediately began sharpening his claws on the side of their loveseat.
“Azabache! No!” Trish hurried over to him, shooing him away before any real damage could be done. “Why do I feel like we should’ve just done a search for exterminators in this area?”
“But, we’ve already got an exterminator right there,” Vaughn pointed toward his aunt’s cat, who sat grooming himself on the carpet. “Decon doesn’t have shit on that little hairball-coughing sociopath. Cats are natural predators, Trish. It wouldn’t surprise me if those rats got one whiff of Azabache and committed mass suicide.”
“As long as he doesn’t start pissing all over the house,” she grimaced. “There’s nothing worse than the smell of cat urine. It makes ammonia smell like honeysuckle Febreze®.”
After setting up a litter box and food/water dish in the kitchen, they left Azabache to search and destroy.
* * *
Vaughn was working on several case files he’d brought home when he heard the cat’s hiss from downstairs. He hurried into the guest bedroom, which also doubled as a makeshift gym, and got Trish’s attention from the treadmill.
“I think he caught something,” he whispered excitedly, as they descended the stairs.
“How can you be sure?”
“They don’t just hiss at nothing,” Vaughn assured. “I hope he bites its damned head off.”
“Y’know what, Vaughn?” Trish protested. “You’re really pole-vaulting over the line into being disgusting right about now.”
They cautiously crept into the kitchen just in time for a dark shape to dart between them, Azabache right behind it. The chase came to an end in the dining room beneath the china cabinet. Dishes rattled as the cat could be heard attacking the rodent. A moment later, Azabache emerged triumphantly with the limp figure in his jaws.
“Oh my God...” Trish muttered in disgust, wincing and shutting her eyes. “It’s like one of those nature shows or something.”
“Marlin Perkins would be proud,” Vaughn chuckled as he hurried to grab a dust pan and garbage bag. Managing to coax the cat into depositing its kill into the bag, he tied it in a knot and affectionately scratched Azabache between the ears.
* * *
They found the eight inch hole in their basement laundry room the next morning, ragged around the edges and staring at them like an orifice. Trish, who refused to go near it, was insistent that they call a pest control company that would come on a Saturday at short notice. Vaughn, having scooped up their feline guest from his perch atop the entertainment center, shook his head.
“Why mess with a good thing?”
Azabache, during the previous evening, had succeeded in slaying two more rats. He’d been rewarded with a can of Albacore tuna Trish picked up from Wegman’s, which the cat had devoured in less than two minutes.
“Do you see the size of that thing?” Trish motioned to the hole. “Cat or not, I don’t feel at ease doing laundry or anything else in this house while we’ve got a bottomless pit in our wall.”
“Trish, I really think you’re-” Vaughn began, but his wife shook her head.
“And don’t tell me I’m overreacting, either. You know I have a thing about rodents, even the so-called ‘cute’ ones like squirrels or woodchucks. See, you deal with this kind of crap for a living. Of course, it’s not gonna freak you out.”
“I go to restaurants and see if the kitchen staff’s digging in their asses. And, as for that hole—”
“You mean that abyss?” Trish smirked.
“Do you really wanna cough up a couple hundred dollars to some old smelly guy in coveralls, when we’ve got a rodent’s mortal enemy itching to mow down every squeakin’ last one of ‘em?”
Reluctantly, Trish agreed, and Vaughn set down Azabache in front of the opening. The cat sniffed a few times curiously, his furry head cocked attentively. A moment later, his body went poised low and a long growl escaped from his throat. He scurried with lightning quickness into the hole, loudly ascending the wall with vigor.
“When he’s done we’re going to Home Depot and spackling over that hole,” Trish announced, looking tense.
Despite his amusement at his wife’s uneasiness, he knew Trish had valid cause to despise anything even remotely rodent-like. When they’d first met at Morgan State, she’d been staying in an apartment building that’d been overrun with them. With a roommate that frequently left half-eaten pizza and take-out scattered around their living-quarters, she had to start sleeping with traps surrounding her bed.
Azabache’s wail from within the walls was so sudden that it made them both jump a step back, glancing in surprise at each other. There was a commotion they couldn’t quite make out, as if the cat were struggling past something.
Was he driving the rats toward the hole?
When Vaughn cautiously leaned toward the wall, a black blur shot out of the opening and collided with him. He and a very terrified Azabache tumbled to the floor. The feline was in such a hurry to get away that he ended up scratching Vaughn’s forearm in the process. Before they could collect themselves, the animal was already halfway up the basement stairs.
* * *
Malik Houston, the technician that Pied Piper Exterminators sent out, was neither old nor smelly. He bore more than a passing resemblance to a very young James Earl Jones in rimless glasses as he observed the hole with a penlight.
Azabache, after his exodus back upstairs had fled into his pet caddy and refused to step out until Vaughn had returned him to his aunt’s house. The scratches he’d inflicted in his hasty escape, although cleaned up and bandaged, still were sore to the touch.
“Exactly how many rats are we talking here?” Vaughn asked, trying not to envision a horde of black furry bodies bursting from out of the plaster.
“Couldn’t tell you exactly,” Malik shrugged, putting away his light. “If I had to guess, based on what you described earlier, I’d say at least 20.”
“Well, I feel better now,” Trish smirked. “We might as well go back to the Best Western.”
“I wouldn’t go packing my stuff up just yet,” he offered, opening the large duffle bag he’d laid atop their washing machine when first arriving. “Not until I do a sonogram on your walls.”
“Are they pregnant?” Trish laughed weakly.
Malik smiled, removing a device that reminded Vaughn of a large polygraph machine. It was accompanied by a palm-sized PDA screen, various wires, and several suction cups. Applying KY Jelly to the cups, Malik carefully began attaching them to the wall.
“Well, it’s not exactly the same kind you’ll find at an obstetrician’s,” he informed them as he worked. “But both machines more or less do the same thing. Most exterminating companies make an educated guess as to how many rodents a home is infested with, and then base their course of action on that.”
“And charge an arm, leg, and one kidney in the process,” Vaughn added.
“Basically,” the technician nodded. “But, this method is gonna give us a visual of exactly what we’re dealing with.”
“That thing’s gonna take pictures of the insides of our walls?”
“Well, nothing Herb Ritz-worthy you’ll want framed above the mantel. But we’ll get an image of where the rats are nesting and how many. Once that’s done we can either fog them out, or I can cut into the wall and-”
“‘Cut into the wall’?” Vaughn protested, his square jaw going slack. “As in plaster and all other kinds of stuff everywhere?”
“Relax, Mr. Embers,” Malik turned to him casually. “It’s doubtful it’ll even come to that. And, even if it does, I’m also a licensed contractor and can redo your wall the same way – if not better than – it was.”
“How long is the sonogram supposed to take?”
“Well,” Malik responded, listening to the wall with a stethoscope. “The scan is going to cover your walls from top to bottom. So, we’re looking at two or three hours. If you guys wanna go watch a movie on DVD or something, I should have some results by the time you’re done.”
* * *
Vaughn and Trish were near the end of V for Vendetta when Malik appeared in the living-room doorway. He stood there looking slightly perplexed, cleaning his glasses with a handkerchief. Trish got him a soda from the fridge, which he thanked her for and downed half of in mere moments.
“Okay,” he exhaled. “The good and bad. How do you want it?”
They opted for good.
“The remaining rats in your wall seem to be fleeing your home.”
“How?” asked Trish. “We didn’t see any come out of the hole downstairs.”
“Rats are experts at finding entrances and exits we wouldn’t normally think about. Hell, they can squeeze through an opening the size of a silver dollar. Most likely it’s one of the air ducts that lead to your yard.”
“Well, don’t let the backdoor hit ‘em in the ass on the way out. What’s the bad news? They chewed through the phone lines or something?”
“Not exactly. The rats seem to be hurrying to get out because of the other object I picked up inside your basement wall.”
“What ‘other object’?” Vaughn frowned.
Once back in the basement, the X-ray imagery Malik showed them reminded Vaughn of the science films his class would have to watch periodically in grade school. Small figures that were obviously rats occasionally scurried past, sometimes running into each other. But, as Malik scrolled toward the right, a significantly larger object manifested.
“I have no idea what it is, but the rats either avoid going near it or are leaving the house altogether to get away from it.”