The Storyteller: The Rat Trap

The Storyteller: The Rat Trap


I pressed my hands tightly over my ears, hoping to keep out the wailing, the shattering glass, the mumbled sobs. And then, as fast as it had started, silence.

I waited. Had it been a dream? An earthquake? Inch by inch, I lowered the blanket from over my head and peered into the dark room.

Silvery beams of moonlight streamed in from the room’s lone window, the only sound the soft, steady bubbling of my fish tank. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the silhouette of my cat — Syd — came into view. He sat at the end of my bed intensely watching the door, his orange-and-black-striped body perfectly still, the only movement that of his tail twitching now and again.

As I strained to listen, I heard a door open somewhere in the house. Or maybe it wasn’t a door. Maybe it was a hidden chest opening, or perhaps a coffin.

I cupped my hand to my ear and held my breath, listening. Muffled by my closed bedroom door, hints of footsteps on the carpet approached slowly from down the hallway. She was heading my way. I was next.

Weeks earlier, a new friend of my mother’s had turned her into a vampire. I’d seen it happen. I’d seen her sharp fangs appear suddenly one night after she’d drunk a potion. Ever since, when she smiled she’d done so with closed lips. And now when I did grab a glimpse of her teeth they often dripped with blood.

As if more proof were needed, since then she’d become fearful of the sun and fonder of darkness. For the last few days it had gotten worse. She seethed at anything made of silver.

Days earlier, acting like a detective attempting to uncover the truth, I pretended like I didn’t suspect her transformation.

Our ritual was that I’d help her put away the groceries. My main goal had always been to keep a tight inventory of our food stores, but I also loved trying to line up the cans in neat, tight rows like those of the store’s shelves: the Mandarin oranges cans in one row, chili and soups in another. Next I’d stack up dried Ramen noodles, squirreling away a few of the packages from my brothers.

“It’s not nice to be deceitful,” my mother said, taking the noodles from my hand.

I grinned. She smiled, her lips tight. But instead of putting the packages with the others as she always had she slid the contraband behind a bag of flour on the upper shelf.

Continuing on, I found a jar of pickles. When I tried to open it the lid would not budge.

“It’s stuck,” I said.

She took it and lightly tapped the lid on the edge of the counter. Without much effort she then opened the container and handed me a large, warty pickle that was dripping with green liquid that smelled of dill-infused, vinegary, salty seawater.

I put the cured cucumber into my mouth like a huge cigar and continued rummaging through the bags.

“What are these?” I asked, holding up a package of thin sheets of wrapped cardboard about the size of an index card.

She thrust out her hand and I gave them to her. Tearing away the plastic covering, she revealed what looked like a thin layer of amber Jell-O.

“Touch it,” she said, pointing at the surface with her long finger, uncharacteristically now tipped with red nail polish.

The surface was sticky and smelled like wet paint.

“Every year, right before it begins to rain, the rats start looking for a place to spend the winter,” she said.

When she spoke her newly sharpened bicuspids flashed briefly.

“I put these traps around the house and then the rats get stuck in the glue. Then I can…” she said.

“You can what?” I asked.

“I can fix the problem,” she said.

But days later, as footsteps approached my dark bedroom, I had forgotten all about the rats and their sticky paper deathtraps, and now my only instinct was to hide until the sun rose, filling my room with light and safety and warmth.

The footsteps suddenly went silent. The sound of my pulse pounded in my ears as I slipped back under the covers. I felt the weight of Syd’s body leave the bed, the sound of his feet landing on the carpet hardly noticeable.

Except for the cat’s light padding around the room and the soft bubbling fish tank there was no other discernable movement or sound. Then the doorknob rattled and there was a faint groan of the hinges as the door began to open.

I closed my eyes, and as quietly as possible I slipped from my bed down onto the floor, hoping to find shelter under the box springs. Squirming under more deeply I immediately became stuck on what must have been a super-sized rat trap. The left side of my body was glued to the sticky sheet. Struggling for release only made it worse, and now the entire left side of my face became stuck, too, my neck twisted, the range of my gaze now limited. I tried to pull away, but the entire gooey contraption seemed nailed to the floor. As I attempted to pry my skull away the gluey mess tore painfully at my skin and hair. Unable to move for fear of becoming even more entangled, I opened my eyes.

Inches from my face were my mother’s blue felt slippers. But although the legs were distinctly female, even in the darkness I knew these were not my mother’s. These were bone white, covered in pinpricks of unshaven hair and riddled with a network of thin blue veins that twisted down sinewy ankles.

Syd softly purred as he made figure eights around this imposter’s legs, but his tail remained stiff and his body seemed tense.

When the imposter began to kneel the cat’s demeanor instantly changed and he lurched, plunging his sharp fangs into her leg, resulting in a gurgling screech and a puncture wound quickly filling with dark blood. Syd darted away just as the sound of numerous footsteps clamored toward us from somewhere in the distance.

What happened next is another story.

(Due to an editing error, the original posting of this column contained the wrong text. The correct column appears here.)

Tim Carl grew up in St. Helena (class of ‘84). Left to join the Navy, came back, married his sweetheart and went to school. He ended up getting his Ph.D in biology at CU and became a Fellow at Harvard. Later, in 2006, he co-founded Knights Bridge Winery.

Tim Carl lives in Calistoga and grew up in St. Helena (class of ‘84). Left to join the Navy, came back, married his sweetheart and went to school. He ended up getting his Ph.D in biology at CU and became a Fellow at Harvard. Later, in 2006, he co-founded Knights Bridge Winery.


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During a lengthy, rainy holiday period, school is out of session and Tim Carl and his friends have built a large pond in their neighbor's yard. It would be just swell if they could enlarge it ... with gunpowder, gasoline and an underwater fuse.

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