I am a mature and moderately brave hunter who has bloodied his spear in the noble pursuit of all manner of varmints. I've faced weasels, ground hogs, foxes, coyotes and even caught a glimpse of a wild puma once–all without the least hint of fear. But rats leave me cold.

Mind you, I am not afraid of the rat— not if I can see it and I’m armed with some type of automatic weapon, an AK 47 preferably. But in the dark? Lord give me room to fly!

This strange rat-o-phobia of mine all harks back to my childhood and the nights that we used to tell ghost stories about anything our Poe-driven imaginations could dream up about strange sighings and nibblings going on somewhere behind our farm-house’s plaster walls.

Poems like 'Little Orphan Annie' where 'two big black things' snatched the naughty Annie 'through the ceiling ere she knowed what she was about' didn't help; but it was really the ghost stories that did the most to create our fear of things that go bump in the night.

Before TV, kids used to think up all kings of ways to have fun. One of ours in those days of 'Inner Sanctum' Radio, with its squeaking door and eerie organ music, was to sit in a little circle in a darkened corner of the old farm house and let our half-sister, Virginia, scare us to death with her lurid tales. For us, she was better than Poe or Inner Sanctum because she was live, and we watched her in livid color, wide-eyed and jaws dropped as she daubed her gory, fear-infected tales.

Rats were always brought in somewhere, (Virginia was ingenious at working in rats)–nibbling off sleeping faces here or crawling all over various dungeoned or chained lost souls there. Truly, her stories would have out-ratted 'Willard' in a competition.

            Then we'd all head off to bed and try to sleep with side-staring eyes and minds as tormented as Lady MacBeth's.

One of those winters (the exact year long lost among the shuffled cards of memory), became especially frightening because we had a rat, a real rat in the house. Every night, just as I was about to doze off into tormented dream, this creature would begin to gnaw somewhere behind my bedroom wall: gnitch, gnatch, gnither, slither, gnick!”

            Did you ever have a dentist get carried away in scraping away at a poor, semi-drilled tooth with a hand probe? That’s about the way that rat’s gnawing affected me. It was sheer torture. I mean the fear was palpable. And I would lie there bathed in sweat waiting for those teeth to slice their way completely through the plaster listening for the thump that would surely announce 'like syllable of dolor,' that like the red death, the rat was in the room!

            And all the while I lay there iced with fear, brother Charles, one of those blessed souls who sleeps instantly upon contact with a bed, would lie there snoring like some blissfully constipated Vesuvius. Well, the thump never came or I would likely not be here to write this, but I still occasionally find myself listening in the night–hoping not tp here a rat.

            The spring of that year brought me my most harrowing rat encounter. I was in our pig house with my pellet gun waiting for a rat to come out of a hole on the far wall, when I suddenly became aware of a strange weight upon my left foot. Glancing down I nearly turned into a pillar of rock salt: there on my shoe, nibbling placidly upon the tip of one of my laces was the most gigantic rogue rat I had ever seen.

            I can’t recall weather I was propelled by liquid or solid fuel, but I know the lift-off occurred without count-down. It was the first time I ever achieved levitation without pre-meditation. My feet never touched the turf.

I never killed that rat, but I bowled over at least three pigs on my out, and one of them limps to this day.

There have been other Pinkonian rat experiences; some even worth a Wild Thyme column, and these I may divulge another wild thyme.

GP (1974) re-edited from “Where the Wild Thyme Blows” a column.

Copyright 2006 Gene Pinkney
No quotes may be used without attribution