THE RAT TREE
The ghost in your house is never as loud as the ghosts in your head. Even the dalmation duo howling next door can’t drown them out. Have you said this all before? In the early evenings you walk from the beach down the boulevard back home and see the rats darting in and out from between the rocks. They follow you home to their penultimate destination, The Rat Tree. The Rat Tree is actually an oversized Bird of Paradise that has grown to reach the top of your house. Every night like clockwork the rats parade up the broad leaves of The Rat Tree and nestle in its dense cushioning. You say penultimate because eventually the rats will pilgrimage from The Rat Tree to Inside The House, an event that will have you shitting yourself if you’re not ready for it. That’s how you discover the ghost to begin with, it all starts with the rats and Inside The House. Inside The House the rats can be found stealing about your parent’s room in the middle of the night. This creates an intense environment for bad dream-havers, as you need to brave the darkened hallway and the hardwood floor rat playground before you can reach your parents’ bed. The Rat Tree shudders in the wind as you walk the long hall and you hear your adversaries claw within the ceiling. Your parents have taken to putting down large plastic garbage bags at the end of their bed so if the rats dare to close in there will be footprint evidence. Supposedly the noise of the plastic rustling will startle your parents awake so they can fend off the rats from the bed-fortress. You only make the journey if you absolutely have to, so the bad dream better be worth it. The night of the ghost there is plastic down at the end of the bed as usual and you are asleep. Your parents sleep soundly surrounded by garbage bags when a rustling jolts your mother awake. Damn rats, she thinks, they must have made their way from The Rat Tree to Inside the House, through the ceiling and into the bed. But when she looks downward in fear there are no rats to be seen, just the sound of small, puttering feet wandering the hall. Damn kids, she thinks, they must be out of bed with an extraordinarily bad dream. She sends your father to investigate but he finds you and your sisters all tucked away in bed, unawake from the supposed bad dreams. He goes back to bed just as you come running down the hall in terror. You climb into the bed, over the garbage bags, and snuggle in between your parents as you all return to a fitful sleep. The next time you mutually awaken there is another rustling down at the end of the bed. The three of you fix your eyes on the plastic, waiting for the rats to reveal themselves, but there’s nothing. The sound continues and you realize that although the rats seem to be missing, there are small indentations being made in the plastic, almost as if a child was crawling up from the bottom of the bed. You shut your eyes in terror and you don’t open them again until the morning, when The Rat Tree is shuddering in its early infestation and your parents have taken all of the plastic off the bed. You assume you dreamt it, of course, until later that day when a blonde woman from the pool can be seen standing beneath The Rat Tree with your mother. A medium, you’re told later. You venture out to stand beside them beneath the rat mass in The Rat Tree and the blonde woman regards you. There is a ghost she tells you and your mother, and the ghost looks like you. The ghost watches from the window at night as the rats follow you home, and she watches as you’re tucked in. She watches the nights you wander the hallway and she watches your parents lay down the rat plastic. She never stops watching and she looks just like you. The medium leaves and The Rat Tree seems quieter after that. Your parents never put the plastic back on the end of the bed. The ghost stays Inside The House, with you.
Listen to L read "The Rat Tree" below:
L SCULLY (they/them) is a queer writer and double Capricorn currently based in Madrid. They are the co-founder and prose editor at Stone of Madness Press. Find them in the ether @LRScully.