Nasrin

#NASR-08-RATS

& I Still Believe that I Cannot Be Saved

I

Maybe you imagined it.

No, she knew she’d seen it.

What surprised her most was how mild her fear was as she sat there gripping her blankets, staring @ some empty wall, shadowy under the lowly lamp light. ’Twas only now that she realized how long that wall had followed her, how many memories it kept for her.

You can’t stay up all night. I already have trouble staying ’wake in school as is.

You knew this day would come. You can’t be surprised.

II

Dad, I think I saw a rat.

Without turning ’way from the family computer, her father said, Enjoy your new pet.

¿Can’t rats give diseases?, Nasrin said with the uneasiness o’ someone who caught puke-every-half-hour flus a’least once a year.

If you’re still living in the middle ages, yes.

She heard the voice o’ her older brother, Amin, pop in: Let me get my pellet gun & I’ll take care o’ it.

Suddenly, father’s expression turned stern.

No guns in this house — not e’en pellet guns. ¿What are you, a fucking hillbilly?

Come on, I’m just protecting my li’l sister.

But e’en with her fears o’ being bitten & dying o’ some obscure disease, Nasrin frowned @ the prospect o’ any rat being shot dead. Worse, she feared she’d accidentally fall into her brother’s fire & lose an eye or something.

You’re not nearly white ’nough to use that ’scuse, LaPierre, her father said. She probably just imagined it, anyway. Now stop bugging me; I have busy work I need to do — you know, protecting us from the much realer threat o’ living under a bridge ’cause I can’t pay rent.

So Nasrin slunk back to her room with a guilty glumness — but not ’nough o’ 1 to keep her from continuing her pretend Donkey Kong Country knock-off, composed not from assembly code, but from action figures o’ an armored panda human & pimpled frog man in a Hawaiian shirt & beach shorts & a dusty keyboard plugged into thin air. A few minutes in she saw the rat skitter by ’gain & tied it into her game as a rare, instant-kill enemy.

III

That night the rats had a game o’ their own.

Nasrin woke to the sound o’ loud scurrying & knotted her blanket in her fingers when she saw not 1 rat, but a whole ring o’ them round her couch bed, wandering this way & that, each step random like an RPG NPC.

Then she saw a few surround a teddy turtle, pick it up ’bove their heads as if ’twere crowd surfing, & then carry it ’way inside a hole in the wall so small, she was surprised such large rats could fit through it.

She sat there with her mind buzzing with indecision, ’fraid o’ both the rats stealing all her toys ’way if she sat there & ’fraid o’ being attacked herself if she dared so much as breathe mo’ heavily.

If I run fast ’nough, I could maybe make it through the door ’fore they notice me & wake dad up.

He’ll probably be annoyed. ¿But what other choice do I have?

But then she pulled the blanket mo’ closely to herself. Maybe it’s not worth it. I mean… they’re just toys. Nasrin said this with a deep frown full o’ the memories o’ all the ventures the characters that dwelled in these toys went through — the only characters she knew, truly.

’Sides, it’s ’bout mo’ than the toys: — though in the deepest corners o’ Nasrin’s mind she acknowledged that the toys did occupy a large space — if I don’t stop them while I have a chance, they’ll ’ventually come & get us.

So she took a deep breath, & then leapt out o’ bed & raced for the door — & by that, I mean she tripped on the bedsheet still wrapped round an ankle, causing her to tumble to the thick carpet with a booming thump.

Nasrin’s heart drummed faster than a fan as she sat up & saw the rats all turn toward her with eyes glowing illishly green e’en in the dark — so brightly that it lit up almost the whole room with a radioactive cast, which now felt like a spotlight on Nasrin.

If there’s any chance to lve, it’s by acting… ¡now!

The fear was ’nough to break through Nasrin’s natural inclination toward paralysis & compel her to jump to her feet & run for the door. She heard sour hisses as she reached it, but was able to open it & leave before any rat touched her. With the hope that none could fit under the door, she closed it ’hind her.

Then she ran up the stairs toward her father’s room. Though her ultimate goal was to wake father, she didn’t have it in her to shout for him to wake up, but waited till she was right next to him to shake him roughly — well, roughly for her — & whisper, Dad…, repeatedly.

He mumbled incoherently for a few seconds, & then mumbled a mo’ coherent, ¿What? ¿What now?

¡The rats! ¡There’s, there’s a lot o’ them! ¡I saw some taking some o’ my toys ’way & they have glowing eyes!, Nasrin said in an exclaimed whisper.

Her father whispered, too, but mo’ loudly, Damn it, Nas, that’s just a nightmare. You should know better than this.

No, I saw it, I swear, Nasrin whispered mo’ urgently.

¿Why didn’t I expect him not to believe me, ’specially when he didn’t before? ¿Doesn’t this happen all the time in cartoons?

Mmm hmm. I’ll go to sleep & they’ll go ’way, her father murmured as he turned ’way from her.

Nasrin froze. Though part o’ her wanted to reach out & shake him ’gain, thinking he just had to do something, the sturdier part o’ her realized there was no use. She shivered as it hammered in her mind that she would have to deal with the rats herself, that ’twas likely she was going to be killed & there was nothing she could do to stop it.

IV

But she was still ’live the next morn, where she found herself woken in a curled position on the floor o’ her father’s room. She looked up @ her father’s face, strange-looking with his glassesless shrunken eyes & hairy chin. But she easily recognized the way he shook it slowly, back & forth.

Lemme guess: it’s the rats ’gain.

Nasrin nodded slowly.

Her father rubbed his face. ¿& how long will this go on?

Till you do something ’bout it, Nasrin mumbled in a mousy mumble o’ morning grumpiness.

¿What?, her father mumbled himself.

But Nasrin felt the useless grumpiness melt & didn’t see the point in saying it ’gain; so she simply said, Nothing. Sorry, & slowly rose to her feet & walked out.

V

That night, as she was putting games ’way, she noticed a rat pop its head out o’ a hole & glare @ her. This caused her to freeze; but that ice was shattered into shivering crystals when she heard a slithery voice emit from it:

We know you’re our enemy — & our enemy is our enemy, & our enemy always falls.

Then it popped its head back in, leaving Nasrin to sit there with a sudden stomach ache.

VI

Nasrin spent the rest o’ that night not sleeping, but drenching the corner o’ her couch bed with tears as she tried to squeeze herself into it. Years younger she imagined there lived a world that had an infinite ’mount o’ everything in there; how she wished she could come inside now.

Then she felt a hand clutch her arm softly. ¿Nas?, whispered the voice o’ her brother. Though she sniffed ’way her tears, she didn’t want to turn ’way from her corner.

You’re not still scared o’ those rats, ¿are you?

Nasrin murmured something impossible for e’en her to hear.

Then she heard his whispering words much closer to her ear:

Listen, father has to go to some convention next Friday night. I’ll take care o’ those rats then.

VII

Nasrin didn’t dare watch as her brother “took care”. But no matter how much she covered her ears with her hands or covered her whole self with her blanket, her ears couldn’t ’scape the sharp pings & the sharper hissy screams that followed.

After what felt like an agonizing eternity, she heard the pings & screams taper off, followed by her brother’s cheerful voice: That should be the last 1. Now I’d better clean these up ’fore dad gets home.

Nasrin forced herself to throw the blanket off & look @ the warzone o’ rat corpses. Though she expected a sea o’ blood, she found the dry, shrunken carcasses she saw e’en mo’ sad.

But she forced herself to her feet & helped her brother pick up those wiry-haired mounds o’ cold meat & toss them into the grocery-store bag he set to the side.

VIII

The ensuing days were almost worse. Nasrin could still hear the rats’ death cries ring through her ears, could still see their misshapen corpses in her nightmares. But she forced herself to keep all the boiling upset from leaking out for fear o’ showing ungratefulness to her brother, who saved her life, after all — or worse, to clue her father in on what happened.

It got to the point where she felt she had to drown out the rats’ screams & began to cling mo’ & mo’ to listening to loud music on head phones — whether through her brother’s music player she’d oft borrow or on the family computer. She found that her typical video game music wasn’t loud ’nough & kept mostly to the Marilyn Manson songs her brother had ’mong his odd variety o’ rock, rap, pop, electronic music, & 1 or 2 comedy & country songs, & from there ventured into finding a way to get heavier & heavier music for herself.

Her fears only worsened 1 night when she saw what she thought was her guilty imagination, but was, she realized, a true rat, poking its head out o’ a hole with an angry eye now glowing violent red.

It took full effort to hold in a scream from erupting with both hands.

This is when I die. I might’ve led to most o’ them dying, but they still got revenge.

But all the rat did was say to her in a deep tone o’ bitter medicine, Enjoy your peace for now, you butcherous bitch. Your brother won’t be there to kill for you fore’er, & when he’s gone… The rat opened its mouth — the 1st time she’d seen 1 do so — & revealed a large, yellow-tipped fang.

Then it turned back into its hole, & she didn’t see it, nor ’nother, ’gain for years.

IX

Those years ended today, Nasrin now 16 ’stead o’ 11, & Amin, indeed, was off somewhere she knew not. & here she was sitting in bed, staring calmly @ the rats scurrying out o’ the hole, 1 by 1, the fear creeping up on her like a sniffling cold growing into a full-fevered flu — a fear only let out through subtle trembles o’ her arms. It wasn’t that she couldn’t see any reason to fear the thousand nooses hanging in front o’ her with no sign o’ ’scape, so much as her confusion & uncertainty holding back her reaction.

They haven’t killed me yet… ¿What are they waiting for?

If they give me just 1 day, I may be saved…

As if responding themselves, the rats scurried back into the hole — all but a much larger rat with knotted graying fur with a chunk missing, as well as pieces o’ its ear & the end o’ its tail. Only 1 o’ its eyes glowed green, while the other was dead black.

Nasrin was surprised to recognize a rat after mo’ than 5 years, but she did.

I hope you enjoyed your happy days carelessly getting ’way with murder; ’course, now they’re o’er, the rat’s voice, much raspier than before, said before popping into its hole.

She didn’t sleep that night — didn’t see a use. She could sleep as long as she wanted after she saved her life. For now, she clicked on the light, with the inkling that the rats didn’t like it, & might be mo’ likely to keep back, & then she spent half the night planning & half the night going o’er all her favorite memories.

X

’Pon coming home from school the next day — for ’course they wouldn’t wait before a weekend to bother her — she dug through the garage, only to be disheartened when she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

She stood there, half in the shadow o’ the garage & half in the hot late afternoon sunshine — for the garage light didn’t work anymo’. ’Cause o’ this, she had to light the dark half with a lighter she found ’mong the junk — probably Amin’s.

I definitely don’t have ’nough to afford 1 o’ my own, nor would I know where to buy 1…

¿Could I just run ’way? ¿Could the rats follow me out in the city?

¿Dare I try finding out?

She began pacing the garage, eyes darting ’mong much o’ the useless junk they key in there, such as the ol’ toys she was so worried ’bout the rats taking, now collecting dust & dirt stains. She kept glancing back @ the clock on her phone & saw the minutes climbing up to night like spiders.

She grasped her forehead. How she wished she could be in her bed, curled in warm blankets with just the empty darkness round her.

¡I don’t have time to waffle! ¡I have to do something!

She began pacing round ’gain, only to trip o’er a pile o’ fishing rods — ¡when did anyone in this family e’er go anywhere close to fishing? — hidden in the shadows.

In the exhaustion & the pain in her shin that throbbed like red lights that flashed on & off, on & off, she began to think, Maybe I deserve to die… I did cause so many o’ them to die… & they’re clearly intelligent creatures, too — probably smarter than I am, actually. What I did was probably genocide.

Then a thousand thoughts shot through her mind: ¿What was I s’posed to do? ¡They were gonna kill me! ¡’Twas Amin who did it! ¿How’s it my fault I was so stupid as a 10 or 11 or whatever year ol’?

¡Augh! ¡Why can’t everything just leave me ’lone for once?

In a fury, Nasrin began kicking shit round & grunting, fueled by the absence o’ her father, @ ’nother stupid convention, — a clever bit o’ timing for those rats, such innocent rats — fueled e’en mo’ by her oft hurting herself on the hardness o’ some o’ the objects she attacked.

¡Augh! ¡I can’t fucking believe I’m going to die ’cause we have all this useless shit & not the 1 fucking thing I need!

’Mong the things she ’specially aimed her feet @ were the stupid fishing rods, which she kicked half a meter ’way.

Then she stopped with her leg hanging in the air.

There she saw, lying where the fishing rods had been before, Amin’s pellet gun.

XI

Nasrin found out that her question o’ what to do after she was convinced the pellet gun had ample ammo & that she could use it halfway competently was useless: so early had she seen the sun go down, leaving ’hind an increasingly cloudy grayness that began to leak rain.

There’s no avoiding it. Might as well get it o’er with.

She clutched the pellet gun to her chest like a security blanket, took a deep breath, & then opened the door back into the kitchen.

XII

What scared Nasrin most wasn’t the sight o’ the rats, but still not seeing them after o’er an hour waiting in her bedroom in the dark.

¿Can they see me? ¿Are they just going to wait till I let my guard down, — till I inevitably fall asleep — & then kill me when I can’t do anything?

Part o’ Nasrin thought this seemed too merciful — to kill her in her sleep — for creatures who so emphasized their thirst for vengeance; but then she realized they could just tie her up while she slept & then wake her up for the fun…

& then Nasrin’s mind filled with all the ways they could destroy her: tearing the skin off her with those sharp teeth… perhaps with some eye-gouging…

Nasrin began to claw @ her own face in reaction to such itchiness. Despite having gone to the bathroom just before coming into her room for just such reasons, her bladder already felt like ’twas bursting with a gallon o’ water.

¡What’s taking so long to get here? ¡Hurry up already!

¡I’m such an idiot! ¿Why didn’t I think to hide the gun in here — maybe under my mattress — while ’twas still day, when they were unlikely to see me? ¡Such simple insight could’ve kept me ’live!

But the sickness that struck her straight to her stomach made her rethink her desire to live.

¡I still have those pills! ¡They won’t be able to harm a nerve o’ me if I’m already out o’ here!

She reached under her mattress for the bottle, only to freeze when she saw green light emerge from her side. She put her hands back onto her pellet gun & slid it just under her.

Murderous witch, ¿are you ready? ¿Any last words?

Nasrin said nothing. She only sat there with a grim frown, her knees shaking o’er the hard, blocky gun.

¿Nothing? You know, I’ve ne’er heard a single word from you — ¡e’en the call to have us murdered was so stealthy! ¿’Bove talking to us?

Nasrin only shook her head. E’en in front o’ rats she felt the words twist into dust on the way from her mind to her mouth.

The rat cackled. If you says so…

Nasrin saw a million green eyes pop round her.

¡Now!

She jumped out from under her sheets, aimed the pellet gun @ the 1st rat she saw, & began popping out pellets, slowly revolving in a circle, bobbing her gun up & down to get any uneven rats.

@ 1st the rats fell 1 by 1 with screeches she still remembered from when she was 11. But then she heard the lead rat cry out, ¡This is our only chance! ¿Remember what happened last time? ¡Better going out fighting!

Then the rats pounced forward together like the beads o’ a necklace tightening round a neck, & before she could shoot them all, they reached her, 1st 1 biting her on the hand, while the others clawed & bit all round her till they covered her like huge termites. Despite the sharp pain shooting all round her nervous system, she kept her grip on the gun & continued shooting @ rats while she kicked @ the others.

Then she heard the ¡pew!s o’ the pellet gun become empty clicks.

By this point the rats had her on the floor. Nasrin began to feel woozy from the shock o’ the pain, & figured she would pass out soon.

She looked round & stopped her eyes on the dresser. She reached out & pulled out the bottom drawer, & then pulled on the bottom bar o’ the dresser with full strength, causing it to slowly slide forward, & then shook it.

¡C’mon! ¡C’mon!, she shouted.

Then it fell: the lighter. She grabbed it & clicked it on, releasing a bulb-shaped flame that combined with the rat’s green eyes to make the room look mo’ festive, o’ all things.

But she didn’t aim the flame @ any o’ the rats in particular, but pressed it to her own shirt sleeve, & then placed ’nother flame on her sweat pants. She kept placing flame after flame on her, causing mo’ & mo’ rats to jump back, standing half a meter ’way, staring @ her. She herself had become so numb to the constant bites & scratches o’ the rats that the deep burns o’ all the flames hardly seemed different. If anything, she mo’ noticed the chilliness o’ the extra air seeping into the hole after hole being built into her apparel.

The lead rat, who hopped back ’mong most the others, said, ¿Decide to do yourself in?

When the last rat left, she leapt to her feet & ran out o’ the room. As she neared the bathroom, she slowed, only to speed past after remembering the weather.

She shoved her way outside into the dosing rain, not e’en stopping from the jolting relief o’ the soft coldness on her burns & wounds, & yanked open the garage. Luckily, it took her no time @ all to find what she was looking for this time, as well as a blow torch much better than the pitiful lighter.

She stormed back inside with sloshing footsteps, lugging the blow torch in 1 arm & the can o’ gasoline in the other.

¿Back already, witch?, said a voice from nowhere.

She didn’t respond. She stomped straight up the stairs, though her eyes did dart all round her for signs o’ early rats. None appeared.

They can see you. They know what you’re going to do, & they’ll just run. You can’t beat them. They’re smarter than you. You can’t beat them & they’ll destroy you & there’s nothing you can do.

But her feet moved as if on automatic, only to stop inside her bedroom. She shut the door & waited, revolving round the room. She still saw no rats.

¿& what do you plan to do with those? ¿Catch us?

Nasrin felt such a jolt o’ pleasure. She gasped as if she’d ne’er breathed before. ¡I’m saved!

She stopped in front o’ the rat hole, & without letting her face o’ fury fall, demanded quietly, Come out.

The rats laughed — so many tiny noises that poked & prodded such small dregs o’ consciousness she had remaining. She bit inside her mouth to keep herself aware.

We wouldn’t want to ruin your last moments — they look so fruitful, said the lead rat.

Nasrin growled, & then threw the gas can on the ground. She glanced down with a held heart to see the spread o’ its liquid… ¡Yes! It went into the rat hole.

She held her breath. OK… The timing has to be perfect…

You humans think you’re so intelligent, but you’re actually some o’ the most insipid creatures… ¿You truly think you’ll trick us into drinking poison like the average rodents? ¿Have you no pattern recognition?

Nasrin rammed the torch forward as she clicked it on, causing a fire to burst from its mouth & quickly spread ’cross the lake o’ gas into the hole.

Then Nasrin’s ears were filled in surround sound with screams e’en louder & piercing than she’d remembered as a preteen.

Then she noticed the flames rise through the wall, & then spread out round the room & out into the ceiling & floor. The slightly orangish blackness began to quickly gray in clouds o’ smoke. She raced for the door & opened it out into the rest o’ the house with coughs, only to see the flames spreading ’cross the rest o’ the house. There she saw rats darting back & forth & in seemingly random directions, only for all o’ them to ’ventually be caught & disappeared by the long tentacles o’ the fire.

She ran down the stairs & out the front door, gasping in the fresh air as the smoke billowed o’er her to join the rainy clouds. She walked round the house, & then stopped ’pon a point out from which lines o’ rats spread. She walked right up to the point, bent down, & sprayed fire down into it, causing the hissy screams to explode in volume. Though some rats still zipped out, the # was much fewer than before, & e’en many o’ them only managed to get a meter or so ’way before collapsing, soon after revealed to be nothing mo’ than black husks under curtains o’ fire pulled back by the rain.

After a few minutes, the screams died down, leaving just the crackling firepower o’ the fire vs. the rain. After a few mo’ minutes o’ silence, Nasrin rose to her feet, walked a few steps ’way, & dropped the torch onto the dirt. She was hunched o’er. Only now did she notice the buzz o’ exhaustion & her still-untreated wounds. Pain woke up ’long her whole body ’gain.

I failed… I know some rats ’scaped, & they’ll want revenge e’en mo’ now…

¡& the house! ¿How explain that? If not prison, a’least insane asylum fore’er… Eternal locked… Eternal torture…

I can’t stay ’wake. But if I collapse here, the rats’ll come back…

She turned back to the house & stared @ it with blurry eyes, staring not so much @ the bright flames as the translucent smoke, which looked now as soft as pillows, as warm as blankets.

She jumped when she heard a piercing siren quickly grow louder, & turned back to see a red blinking truck rush up the street, & then stop just before her. & as she numbly saw people in yellow suits climb out, she knew ’twas too late to be saved.