“I know they have problems with rats…and they do too [pointing to both sides of his house],” the neighbor said. “I don’t have a problem with rats. If I did see one, I’d invite them to sit with me and watch the television.”
Produced on Dec 17, 29, 30; Jan 2, 7, and 15 2020 in NE Portlandby Farmer Rachael, Evanshoe, Mac, Theresa the Fabulous Fix-it-Fairy, and special guest star Master Freddy
Chapter 1: The Set Up
I am Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is the story of my service –
Once upon a time, there was a goodly couple who rented a house in NE Portland. He designed world famous footwear and she farmed with Farmer Llew and Farmer Emily at Full Cellar Farm along the battlefront of The Urban Grown Boundary in Gresham. Evanshoe and Farmer Rachael (and their dog Mac) were young and in love.
Life was good, as it should be…
In those days, no one went to school to learn to farm right. Organic farmers were all “rocket scientists” with fancy degrees in journalism, literature, geology, art, or in Racheal’s case: wildlife biology. All the righteous, good, super rad farmers were what our parent’s generation called, “HIPPIES,” or Highly Intelligent People Pursuing Individual Excellence. They have to be H.I.P.P.I.E.s, because farming right (without letting the bad farm economy break you) is a production that makes sending rockets to the moon seem like kitten play.
All that’s to say, farmers don’t have time for rats. In fact, Farmer Emily is known as the Vole Hammer, because she doesn’t set and clear traps like civilized rat catchers do. After she inevitably unearths their burrows with her hoe, shovel, or rototiller, she stomps them with her boot–wham!–and death comes organically: one hundred percent rodenticide free.
For farmers, classic rodent control is almost a joke. So much so, Rachael has been entertaining their crew all season with stories of the rats that live in her basement. Rachael’s rats had become normalized like the Rat in That Restaurant (all rat catchers know at least one) where the night manager turns off the lotto machines, locks up the liquor, hits the lights, and smiles as they hear Charlie their non-pet pet rat scamper from his Tom-and-Jerry hole to manage the restaurant for the late, late shift. Rachael’s rats were like that. They’d become much loved reoccurring characters in yet another story about a rental house in NE Portland inhabited by tenants who hear, see, and cohabitate with rats everyday.
I knew all this, because our human host Jake is Of One Flesh (as humans are fond of saying) with Farmer Emily. And we can’t stop our human from all his self-absorbed jabbering about, “Emily this…” and “Emily that…” Jake’s like a window without glass. No filter whatsoever. The whole Storysold team knows Rachael and Evan had rats in their home, but none of us (not even Bookmaker Jake who’s always looking for a way to turn a dime into a buck) ever thought Rachael cared enough to want something done about them. That was until our human/receptionist received the following text:
RACHAEL: Hey Jake! So my landlord said we could go ahead and hire you to come look at our basement!
What could have prompted that move? I thought suspiciously. I don’t know how I feel about trapping and killing rats who have practically been members of their family…It doesn’t seem right somehow…
Whatever it was, it seemed that the young couple’s story had taken a radical departure from their baseline norm somewhere along the way, and I wasn’t going to miss my chance to explore The Action and discover why.
Two days later, I arrived at the rental house fresh from two other rental homes in NE with rats. Jake had spent some time talking with the goodly couple earlier that summer at the annual Full Cellar Farm Potato Dig where they successfully bypassed the expected conversation about how they’d recently engaged the human ritual of becoming Of One Flesh. Instead Rachael, Evan, Jake, and Emily all spent an hour drinking La Crack and talking about death. All that was to say, Jake had already been introduced to Rachael’s cast of characters, but I’d yet to be formally introduced.
After I walked through her home in my routine super judgy, third person, “bird’s eye” perspective (making note of the organ, movie projector, well stocked kitchen, real books on real non-Ikea shelves, and their refreshing lack of farmhouse style maxims on their walls) I delivered one of my usual lines in an effort to cut to the heart of it.
“So where’s The Action?” I asked like a salty soldier.
Rachael’s response didn’t disappoint. I expected her to launch into her story about her rat encounters, but the first thing she showed me was a mysterious fly infestation emanating from the basement. It’s hard to see, but Mac their yappy (but lovable!) family dog was a natural pest control operator, catching and eating every fly Rachael put in his path.
I stood outside of the scene and took it all in: the human holding the dog to the window, the dog gulping down flies like puppy chow, and the blue door before me. I was an experienced meta-tracking reader of live action, but I felt like I was missing something literary here. There was a force in The Action that was strangely familiar…but what?
Try as I might I couldn’t ID that action. I didn’t know what exactly I was experiencing, but I did know I wasn’t going to go anywhere interesting just standing in the kitchen, so I faced the door…which Evanshoe had excluded with blue painter’s tape to keep the flies out. Then I took a deep breath and opened The Blue Door like a portal to another world…
Downstairs, in the unfinished basement, I watched at a distance from my bird’s eye perspective as Farmer Rachael showed me her flies. She wasn’t kidding. She had hundreds of large flies, all buzzing at the windows, all banging at the glass in search of daylight. At first I wanted to blame the Handyman (the guy Racheal and Evan simply called “the man,” because he wasn’t handy) who had placed some classic Victors and bait on the water heater for the rats. I thought that, until I thought better of it. Large flies are like my wolves and ravens in epic Norse mythology. I use my insect friends to track down dead rats, locate my prey, and find their burrows. The flies in Farmer Rachael’s basement weren’t lingering around any dead things. They were flying aimless, looking for a way out.
I attempted to entertain Rachael with heroic service stories of battling flies in restaurants, but my stories fell flat. My mind was elsewhere. I was sizing up the wonky patchwork wall that failed to stand in the middle of the basement between the civil living area and the dirt filled, rat habitat in the crawlspace on the other side. The wall leaned towards us, bulging from its bottom like a pregnant Alpaca about to give birth to some mysterious new life form through its crack that ran the full length of the floor.
“I’m going in,” I reported to Rachael as I ran back to the van to grab my screwdriver. Someone had sealed the crawlspace up like an unmarked pauper’s grave. There wasn’t even the classic, an old plywood crawlspace door that someone had nailed or screwed shut. It was simply a wall, half made of plywood and sheetrock built to block off and forget.
Zip, zip, I unscrewed a plywood piece around the ductwork. A moment later, our human was wiggling his mass though the waist high opening in the wall, diving like a spelunker into the darkness.
“Hello again…rat catcher,” a voice boomed from nowhere.
Once we landed on the ledge on the other side, I flicked on Velma (my trusty rechargeable flashlight) and searched the space for its source. The black plastic was covered with rat droppings and the heat ducts that ran from the civil side of the basement into the crawl looked like a rat superhighway. I shined my light back onto the wall. No wonder that thing leans, I thought as I picked up an old magazine from the 50s featuring a article for housewives on how best to cook for their husbands. It looks like the Tenants of the Ages have been dumping their forgettables behind this wall for decades…
The crown jewel of the junk moat (between the wall and the earthen, waist high floor) was undoubtedly the pile of chimney ash and screens that leaned with the help of some old broken doll parts, luggage, canned food cans, and glass liquor bottles.
“Did you read me?” the voice boomed again. “I said ‘hello again…rat catcher!’ It’s rude to ignore an old friend…”
“Old friend?” I asked suddenly feeling a little out of control.
Click–off went my flashlight. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I looked around like a lost miner for signs of light.
“Jinkies!” I smiled inside. “I read you alright!”
On the street side of the crawlspace, I saw a long sliver of light shining along the edge of the exterior wall.
“What do you think you found there?” the voice boomed with laughter. “You don’t know shit about this story yet…”
Usually the voices in my head go away after I discover where the rats are running (you know, now that I “get it” it’s time for action). I’d found the long, wide, entry gap where any rat in NE could join the wilderness party in our heroes’ home, but the voices weren’t going away. It was then that I remembered the flies…
“For certain,” I replied cool as a cucumber, as I flicked Velma back on and began to search The Junk Moat for burrows. “I don’t know you either. What did you say your name was again?”
“Oh you know, rat catcher,” the voice laughed knowingly. “We’ve crossed paths in my wilderdom many times…long before you began to host the live action character you call Wilderness Security Guide…”
That one got me. “Ok crazy voice,” I smiled. “You win. I’m taking the bait. When did we meet in your ‘wilderdom?'”
“Well, rat catcher,” the voice began. “I seem to remember that day, many years ago, when you were running around playing an overworked Sport Applicator for Northwest Pest Control. You were refilling the poison you stocked in the alley behind one of those fancy late night eateries along Mississippi Ave…I never remember their names. And who cares, right? Restaurants in my part of town change like spins of The Wheel of Fortune.”
“I remember it had fish tanks,” I said, trying to remember. “The stations on the outside, in the alley, where always wiped out every month…but the traps inside were always untouched.”
“Yes, rat catcher. That’s right. You do remember. It’s called ‘Moloko’ or some shit like that now,” it seemed to grin. “The traps inside only seemed to show no action. I only sent my veterans inside for the leftover sushi…veteran rats who’d lived long enough to avoid something as obvious as a few old rat traps set in the same place with the same stale offerings month after month. We let all the stupid youth eat your bait. You know, the same way you treat your youth. We fed all the needy youths medicides, or send them to war for an overdose of The Action. In small doses over time, your anti-coagulant bait poisons are great for mind control. One look at a bait sick rat, you’ll know they’re very good at lessening the fearful effects of having to face The Suck of Civilization everyday.”
The familiar feeling I felt at The Blue Door was growing stronger with every line. I was still digging for burrows in the darkness, breathing hard in my respirator, but I was no longer focused on the task at hand.
“As usual, you had to wait for the bartender to arrive,” the voice continued its story. “You’d developed this habit of wearing a satchel, a man purse full of rat catching gear, so you wouldn’t have to go back to your truck for supplies. On this particular occasion, in route to service the Interchangeable Fish Tank Restaurant, you passed an old woman begging change from hipsters along Mississippi. When she asked you for a dollar, you paused long enough to say, ‘No, I’m sorry. Not today. I’m busy hunting rats.’ You didn’t mean offense. It was just your classic egotistical need to report your every action to The World like we care…but she didn’t know you from Jack. ‘You mean, ‘hood rats’ don’t you?’ You were about to engage her when the bartender arrived (ringing like a school bell) and let you inside for the service. Fifteen minutes later, you were hustling out to your next stop in The Great Sport Application Game sponsored by Northwest Pest Control. As you hustled, you noticed two large men hustling down the street…drilling eyes into your brain. You grinned big and did your best to look like a no-nothing idiot (which wasn’t hard) as they passed you by very slowly. A few steps later, you rounded the corner and came face to face with the woman again. You weren’t as dumb as you seemed. You knew exactly how and why she reacted the way she did. So you offered her a few bucks and said, ‘See, I really am a rat catcher.’ Then you opened your satchel and showed her your traps. That softened her up enough to let a few of her rat stories out. She told you a great story about the restaurant you were servicing….when she was a youth, the bartender used to give a free drink for every rat killed in the very same alley you placed your stupid bait stations. The woman’s face lit up with laughter when he remembered a patron walking in, dead rat in hand like a cat, presenting his kill in exchange for a drink. I still don’t believe you deserved to hear that story…”
“Yeah,” I said as I climbed awkwardly out of the crawl. “I remember I was late to my next stop, but it was worth it. I never liked NW Pest Control’s run-and-gun approach to rat catching anyway.”
“But that was far from the first time we met…” the voice continued. “Go way back. Do you remember what NE Portland looked like before Santa flew in from Silicone Valley to drop big Christmas buyout checks in everyone’s chimneys?”
“Yeah I remember Mallory St,” I said, remembering all the trips I took to NE to visit my Grandmother’s boyfriend. “Leon made sure I understood what a Red Line District was…I remember when Alberta was filled with a variety of small businesses. Not just restaurants and bars. Now it’s trendy to start up fancy sewing shops in storefronts where bigger sewing factories had failed decades before because they weren’t selling to The Cool Kids.”
“Do you know me now rat catcher?”
No I don’t know you, Mystery Voice, I said as I walked upstairs to share our story of how I believed the rats were entering the home. You’re not a real thing…not really…you’re just another strangely familiar, untold story running though our mental habitat that I haven’t had the time to track, ID, name, and control literarily.
After Farmer Rachael and I made a plan to contact her landlord Theresa and share my plan for rat control with her, I said goodbye to Rachael and Mac and sauntered across the street to our work van.
It wasn’t until I was alone, with my doors closed to the outside world, did the unidentified character make its sounds again.
I tried to drown it out with music from my playlist–The Good Old 90s–but it was stronger than the loud voice of Pulp’s Common People. I wanted to be a good listener, but I was rocking with rat services. I didn’t have time to track, ID, and name a free floating apparition from our human’s past.
I didn’t have time to track the voice, but my teammate Bookmaker Jake did. I hate to admit it (because he’s a lying Asshole), but I was relieved when he clocked in and began the literary process of engaging, controlling, and containing the obnoxious free-floating character like Ghostbusters.
Chapter 2: Bookmaker Clocks In
I’m Bookmaker Jake the Character Control Operator in charge of fictions and publications for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is the story of my service –
To begin, I apologize for my teammate Guide. She’s an ignoramus. My process for controlling characters is nothing like Ghostbusters. That movie was a waste of Bill Murray’s talent. I have to contain the character in my human host first, before I can “go hot” and hit the strange, unidentified thing with my streams of electrochemical medicide…
Not that any of that matters. I already I nailed this so-called “mystery voice” character down a long time ago. It’s a Christmas story about a character called, “Ratty Claws.”
The real action of this service story actually began when Wilderness Guide sent a formal action plan to Rachael and Evan’s landlord, Theresa the Fabulous Fix-It Fairy. I have to hand it to her, Guide was unmoved by the normal limits of pest control. She proposed that: A) we remove the junk moat and free the inner wall from rodent harborage; B) we tear down the old cardboard wall inside and exclude the long gap around exterior foundation; C) trap to determine the level of rodent activity present; and C) remove all the old plastic, clean, disinfect, and put new plastic in.
The night before we submitted our proposal, Evanshoe returned from a long day of cobbling shoe designs at Niketown to find Farmer Rachael watching the flies escape from one of their basement windows. Her arms were folded on the window ledge, chin on arms, watching the darkness fall on their backyard. In the distance, beyond the long fingers of their little fruit trees, a rare showing of stars shone through a passing gap in the grey of Portland’s winter blanket.
[ FYI – right now Bookmaker is pretending he’s an Author. This scene never happened ]
As soon as she saw Evan (and the hopeless look in her lover’s eyes that often appear in the eyes of tenants who have been living with rats), Rachael broke into song…and they danced. Not like Disney dancers.
The song had a simple chorus that went something like, “Oh please Fix It Fairy! No, no, no, no more rats!”
Suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, a Portland folk band joined the couple in their basement. They came armed to battle the rats with banjos, drums, fiddles, and kombucha. They hoped all their noise and activity would repel their rat troubles like one of those scammy ultrasonic rat repellers.
“Dance! Be merry!” the couple sang. “We have to sing and protest for our rats to be gone!”
And they danced and sang The No Rats Song to Theresa the Fabulous Fix It Fairy all night long…at great risk to their personal economies. No doubt, the band all had kids and jobs waiting for them when the sun shone.
As the sun creep through the basement windows, the Anti-Rat Singers all packed their drums and fiddles and faded off to greet their true audiences: work days filled with kids, coworkers, clients, and customers. In the final moments of their gathering, the newlywed couple held each other tight.
Looking longingly into Farmer Rachael’s eyes, Evan popped the big question: “Why now?”
Rachael didn’t skip a beat. “Because I love you!”
“No,” he replied with a knowing chuckle. “I mean the rats…”
“Oh,” she smiled big like they were sharing a milkshake with 2 straws.
When Evan’s eyes met hers, he laughed again, and asked, “I thought you were ‘ok’ with rats?”
“I am…but I hate flies. Keeping the rats out of the basement can’t hurt.”
Then they kissed and went to work with the help of a bag full of organic energy drinks.
I’d like to say that Theresa the Landlord heard their sweet Anti-Rat Protest Song, but she lived in another city all together. No matter. Within minutes of sending off her proposal, Wilderness Guide received the following message:
THERESA: Let’s do the whole amount of work so we have happy tenants!
No doubt we were preaching to The Choir! The next day, the following texts were exchanged:
STORYSOLD: I’m hired. Game on!
FARMER RACHAEL: Oh great! I’m glad she saw the light!
STORYSOLD: Looking forward to cleaning out that crawlspace! Good times 🙂
FARMER RACHAEL: It’ll be so nice to have that back area cleaned and sealed up. I’ve just avoided it for three years haha
Chapter 3: The Action Begins
Unlike Guide, I knew all about Ratty Claws. Not because our human had hosted its character (living and working with it day in and day out) or anything like that. I don’t have much more than an overactive empathy for the way Ratty Claws flows. As my teammates will all tell you, I’m a notorious know-it-all who uses my empathic imagination to put myself in other characters “shoes.” I don’t always use that power for good. Most of the time I just use it to try and sound smart. You know, so I don’t sound dumb. Or like some uncultured savage.
That’s why, when Guide found the key Rachael hid after they’d left for their honeymoon, turned the key, and suited up for her first service in Theresa’s now vacant house, I took a few moments to remember The True Meaning of Christmas…
It took me more than a few moments, but I came to the conclusion that Christmas didn’t have much to do with The True Meaning of Christmas, because all those well-cultured memories only reminded me of an older story. I know, even as the Future Famous Author I am, I won’t do justice to this story; but here’s a sold, rough draft effort:
– The Origin Story of Ratty Claws (AKA The True Meaning of Christmas) –
Long before human began to generically engineer characters like Santa Claus to build The Fourth Wall of Civilization, our planet was filled with wild creatures who hosted wild, live action characters like Ratty Claws. Around this time of year, the wild creatures used to gather with their family and friends in their dens, nests, burrows, and homes (with the snow and wind blowing outside) and they’d take turns trying to reenact The Good Times of their summers. They didn’t actually try to recreate the event, or anything as silly as that. They’d just feel it–glowing in the warmth of remembering without words–basking in their memories of sun, harvests, and victories over predators. Then, moments before the winter sun set, they would ration their hard earned supply of nuts, seeds, and such. No home had exactly the same ritual, but it was common for the youngest, smallest, and weakest of them to find a few old things that hadn’t used all year (aka junk) and set them on the edge of their Homefront with a few fresh helpings from their feast. They called the junk and food helpings, The Offering. At dawn, the wild creatures would gather again at the edge of their Homefront to see if Ratty Claws had paid them a visit.
“See,” the wisest rabbit in the burrow would say. “All the junk and food we left for Ratty Claws is still here! Praise Ratty Claws! Our home is secure!”
Or alternately they might say, “Ratty Claws was here here last night. He ate all our offerings and shit in our junk.”
“What does that mean, Ma?”
“It means we have some work to do…”
And the creatures were thankful for Ratty Claws, because he wasn’t there to eat them. He was just there to eat their leftovers and shit in their junk. As The Action always flows, every wild creature had its own ritual, but all wild creatures understood what happened next. If Ratty Claws took The Offering (snuck down their “chimney” and took their cookies) the next course of action was clear. They had to dig, build, and or reenforce The Magic Line they called home. And then they continued to set out their offerings just inside their New Homefront, night after night, waiting to see if Ratty Claws would cross The Line again, or cross their home off his list of “easy pickings.”
“Yes that’s right young whipper snapper,” the older rabbit would say. “We love Ratty Claws. He reminds us to never forget, never take our homes for granted, remember the past, and never give an inch…because the next creature who comes to test the security of our Homefront may want to do more than eat our leftovers and shit in our junk.”
Wild creatures understand this story. They all still believe in Ratty Claws in some way, but civilization lost that ritual a long time ago. I don’t expect you to know this unless you’ve read The Rise and Fall of The Novel Corporation, but Ratty Claws is what we characters call a “live action character.” Long ago we, the few remaining live action characters of earth, were enslaved and made to build The Fourth Wall of civilization by a race of generically engineered characters we know as The Generics…
The Generics are would-be immortals. They don’t want their homes to rot like nurse logs and feed The Urban Wilderness. They want their real estate value to always and forever increase, so most of them spend a lot of time and effort to exterminate wild, live action creatures from their homes. It’s far more than a simple matter of function, The Generics don’t want to be reminded of all the things Ratty Claws stands for. They’ve risen above the base need to watch The Magic Line, tend their territory every day, and remember that somewhere deep down they’re wild creatures too.
Long story short, one of the markets The Generics set aside for Ratty Claws and his “ratonauts” was a territory you humans call a “Red Line District.” These neighborhoods were the territories The Generics didn’t care to invest in. They didn’t care if Ratty Claws reduced every house and business to food for trees. The Red Line was a demarkation that set The Generics apart from the wild characters they relied on, like air or water, to build their immortal Fourth Wall for them everyday.
As a result, the territories on the wild side of The Fourth Wall were isolated and poor, cut off from the treasures of civilization. And that created a hunger (a real demand) for The Generic Way of Life that The Generics used to control the characters that lived in their redlined wilderdoms. The poster character for that demand was Santa Claus.
Santa hijacked the natural, generically immune ritual of leaving junk and leftovers out for Ratty Claws a long time ago. Jolly “Old” St. Nick turned the practical act into yet another sales pitch for The Immortal New: new baby kings, new stuff, and new homes all shinning with lights and decorations that don’t remind anyone of anything specific to their stories. There’s nothing Santa and his billions of followers hate more than regifting an unused gift (or even worse: making a gift from materials salvaged in someone’s junk) because Santa’s working with the predators.
Santa wants you to feel warm, and cozy, and forget the fact that He (rather easily) slipped down your chimney and ate all your cookies. A fury of action always followed a visit by Ratty Claws. After Santa visits a cozy home nestled behind The Fourth Wall of Civilization, the only fury of action that follows is more baking scenes featuring more cookies for Santa.
Humans may have forgotten Ratty Claws, but the rats of Portland haven’t forgot him. They know Ratty taught Santa all he knows about sneaking into homes “quiet as mice.” Civilized histories never remember there origins, but The Action never forgets anything worthwhile. Every origin of its goods are present in action now.
– Thus Ends The Origin Story of Ratty Claws –
Speaking of rats shitting in junk, five hours of digging later Wilderness Guide reemerged from the wild side of the pregnant-alpaca wall in Rachael’s basement with some real treasures in hand…
Chemicals mean clean! but Guide was anything but clean. Our human’s face was covered in ash, earth, and rat dust. It was clear that Ratty Claws had been crossing Theresa’s Homefront (and eating the leftovers and shitting in the junk) for many, many years. Not too unlike the edge of a wild creature’s home, the dark earthen space behind the pregnant-alpaca wall in the basement was The Wild Place where the Tenants of The Ages dumped the things they wanted to forget…
And The Tenants of the Ages had lots of things they wanted to forget: torn pictures, unopened mail (looked like bills!), canned food cans, quack medicine and booze bottles, magazines, and rusted tools and toys. The Offerings were so great we had to pack it in bags, stage it, and return for a special service with Farmer Emily’s delivery van to haul it all out.
Chapter 4: The Rising Action
Guide worked hard to remove all the junk from the junk moat, as well as the many piles of broken glass and junk she found under the plastic. Ratty Claw’s ratonauts (Ratty’s handpicked explorers, missionaries, social workers, and soldiers) had long established a moon colony there, but their presence wasn’t obvious. The undiscovered country behind the wonkie wall didn’t have any of that wonderful, pink, cozy insulation Ratty loved so much. So all the burrows Guide discovered were under the plastic (so classic!) or dug into The Wild Side of the junk moat.
As any tracker who tracks The Action of The Generic Way of Life, it’s super unmanly to do physical work. “Real men” are decision makers and deligators who get their employees or housewives to work for them. The ultimate proof of that is, The Generics pay Hollywood actors millions of dollars to host the shirtless, jackhammering, jungle-fighting “Real Man” characters, so they can continue to inspire their armies of “Real Men” who work for them.
Can you imagine the horror those shirtless jackhammering employees feel when they realize, at age 64, that for all their steel pounding, gun slinging, and motorcycle riding they never earned that real man respect and power they fought for? What do “Real Men” do when they realize all that acting only earned them a cold beer and TV? So tragic.
The point of all that was, on what my teammates call my “bad days” I have a strong compulsion to become that Author (The Man Behind The Real Men) who delegates all the hard work to the characters in my story. On my “good days” I kind of, sort of, feel like I should maybe do some real, measurable work to help our team…other than clacking my braincells together to crank out quality decisions. On this day, as I watched my teammate Guide trying (in a sweaty mess) to hoist her bags full of junk over the wall like some kind of prison slave, I decided to help. For real.
But first I had to warm up to The Action. “Come on! You can do it!” I coached. “Lift with your legs!”
“Will you shut your entry hole and help!” Guide replied. “It feels like I suck dust every time you open your mouth.”
“Would you rather work with Ratty Claws?”
“Yeah,” Guide shot back, perking up a little. “What happened to that voice anyway? It’s like it vanished the moment you took over the writing of this service story.”
I grinned big. I knew Guide’s ability to tolerate my character AND move decades worth of junk were two actions that didn’t jive. So I threw her a bone…
“I made the whole backstory about Ratty Claws up,” I grinned like a pat on the back. “The voice was me all along…in disguise. Ever since Storysold’s less than grand opening in August, you’ve been working so hard, cranking out exclusion scenes and killing rats, I wanted a piece of The Action.”
“Apparently not enough to help do the heavy lifting…”
“Come now, Guide,” I said cheerfully. “You know inspiration is the most powerful force on earth…and I’m here like your hero to supply that most valuable resource for you…my valued teammate!”
Cough, cough–Guide belly crawled across her homemade ramp, through the hole in the wall, and popped into the basement like a rabbit in a garden. Collapsing on the cold concrete, she looked up at the ceiling (still coughing) as if she was praying to the gods. “I’m glad you admitted to making all that crap up,” she said, completely serious. “I don’t want our producers to think we actually believe Ratty Claws runs this wilderdom. He’s stuck here like the rest of us…only an Asshole like you would try to push the responsibility for running this old red line territory onto one of my wild creature friends.”
“I never said Ratty Claws ran shit here,” I said, defending myself. “I was just saying that all wild, live action characters will take any unused part of The Generic’s blessed civilization, claim it, and make it their home. It’s only natural. No doubt, even that ‘great man’ of civilization, Christopher Columbus, did the same. He hit land, look around, and saw an entire continent that didn’t fit his collective vision of civilization. And like a rat, he took it like an offering from God…”
Guide’s coughing grew louder and louder, until it drowned my character out. We prompted our host to take a break and walk upstairs to get a glass of water.
“I’m am real, Guide,” a voice boomed suddenly. “All you need to do is believe in me…”
“Ratty Claws!?” we said in unison.
“Yes, it is I…the one and only Ratty Claws!”
For some reason, Guide was immediately sold by this fiction. “I want to believe,” she said as our human chugged water, “but you’re who story just sounds so generic…like some Asshole made it up to paste yet another label on the character of this wonderfully rich, old neighborhood.”
“I love my Portland rats…all my I-5ers and Down Spout Rats in NE, Water Ave Norways, and Tabor Tree Rats,” the voice replied. “I love my rats, because they maintain their wild sides. They don’t support The Suck…the super massive singular infestation at the core of civilization. They do their jobs…helping you all flesh your stories out.”
Guide laughed knowingly at that line. “I agree,” she smiled. “How our so-called civil characters treat our so-called pesky characters…how they win or lose the conflict…is the heart of every story.”
“Look in the mirror,” Ratty said suddenly very serious. “I want you to see me.”
Guide and I both laughed nervously. “Oh yeah?” I said like a challenge.
“Yes,” Ratty replied. “Do it now…”
“No,” I said instinctively.
“Do it now, and I shall reveal my true literary nature to your team!”
After a short team meeting, we prompted our human to creep into Farmer Rachael’s bathroom (being careful not to track dirt everywhere), flip the lights, and look in the mirror. No doubt, we thought in union, “He’s 42 and aging rapidly.” And he doesn’t like looking in the mirror. But he did it…and behold!
“Now how do you feel?” Ratty Claws asked as we continued to face our nature in the mirror.
“I dunno…” I replied thoughtfully. “I like the way our human looks. He fits the part. All he’s missing is the eye-patch and the cape. He’s totally nailing the fidgety fear of people and crawlspace stoop.”
“I agree,” Guide replied. “For some reason, this image makes me feel like a bona fide badass rat catcher.”
And the rest of our team agreed too. There was something beautiful and good in remembering the old, aging unwanted things we throw away after Christmas.
Ratty Claws smiled in the mirror and said, “Theresa, Farmer Rachael, Evanshoe, and Mac will be proud of the way you’re hauling all the junk to the edge of their territory in observation of my wild, time-honored mid-winter ritual…but you haven’t reached a good ending yet. Not by a long shot.”
The home’s Homefront was still suffering from a serious case of Entry Hole Disorder.
Chapter 5: Master Freddy to The Rescue!
Numbers aren’t our strength. Even our prices are sometimes a reflection of how we feel about a given service story. Is it raining? Do you own a pet? And so on. I suppose, taken our hatred of number, in retrospect it wasn’t too weird that we had the young couple’s return home date marked for JANUARY 20TH.
One of the many benefits of knowing the characters and their characteristics “we” host well is, I know numbers aren’t our strength. So, naturally, on the morning of the 7th (after my first cup of coffee) I followed my gut feeling/manemotion and decided to check that fact with Farmer Emily. Sure enough I watched my love with baited eyes, standing before me in her overalls, rain jacket, and bogs, as she said, “They’re getting home tomorrow.”
“Holy Moses!” I thought as I kissed Emily goodbye like a soldier. “I have 2 scenes to perform for other folks today before I can do any work on Rachael’s story!”
I had no real plan to deal with this literary curve ball, but (as the writer I am) I launched into The Action of the day anyway in hopes that some kind of inspiration would strike. Our second stop turned out to be an awesome discovery on par with discovering dinosaurs at the center of the earth. The producer of that service story, Marti, had been working with our human’s old employer, a generic, commercial character called “Pioneer Pest Management.” She was not happy with the classic/generic industry model where the rat catchers don’t track down entry holes until after the trapping is completed. That seemingly small fact in Marti’s live-action story was enough, alone, to make us want to swan dive into her action. And so it goes with awesome stories, right? The better (or more interesting) they are, the harder it is for us to want to sink forever into their warm, boozy, trap of love.
So yeah, I wasn’t “on my way” to NE until almost 2 o’ clock…
I was about to surrender the idea of nailing an ending to our service story before Evanshoe and Farmer Rachael returned home, until we heard the voice of Ratty Claws suddenly announce, “No! That’s not good enough!” It was like the got-damned king’s trumpet had sounded throughout the land: 100% full buzz killing Amber Alert.
“And why not?” Guide asked, being as 3rd person as possible.
Ratty didn’t even flinch. He replied, “Because this is what your human would call a ‘Christmas story.'”
“And how does that matter?” I, Bookmaker Jake, asked like a tenured professor.
“Because it would make a better story if you did…and your word in action is all you own in The End.”
We heard what Ratty had said, but we were also watching yet another production of Bumper-to-Bumper Traffic. “And how the hell do you suggest we make that kind of magic happen?”
Ratty was calm and smooth with the answer, “A rat would ask for help. That’s what we do…”
“I thought you rats were out for #1 like humans who host profit-driven Generics?” Guide snapped back.
“Really?” Ratty sighed. “I know you know The Action better than that.”
“Yeah ok,” Guide agreed when she realized she knew rats were often a lot more communal than humans. “We can save that Disney moment for later.”
“Good, ” Ratty replied. “Now why don’t you at least entertain the idea of asking for help?”
While I tried to decide if rats or humans asked each other for help more, our human blinked dumbed-eyed at traffic and tried to find some music that would stimulate and ignite some kind of action.
Left to our own literary devices we would have never made it to the next scene, but we got lucky. Our human’s playlist just happened to hit Break My Stride by Mathew Wilder. Only 3 humans in our world fully understand the literary significance of that song, and they’re all runners: 1) Go Faster (our human’s runner character); 2) Farmer Emily (human without a stop button), and Jim Clem (AKA Master Freddy the Running Guru) who also has no stop button.
“FUCKing hell!!” we cried in anguish when I realized I had to ask for help.
The logistics of that decision wasn’t easy, because I’m a reclusive, anti-social, generic hating rat catcher. I didn’t know many friends who would be OK (and not resentful) about answering a call for help. Save one. Master Freddy was an old friend who was, also, a myth runner. Bearded, bouncy, light of foot, Master Freddy worked The Counter at Plaid Pantry (as a manger) during the workday, and spent his evenings running the streets and trails of Portland–Mt. Tabor, Powell Butte, the Waterfront, Springwater, Forest Park–like a lost member of the Raramuri running tribe.
Never mind his character name. That’s a story for another time. The conversation began when Jim texted our teammate Go Faster asking if Jake wanted to run that day.
STORYSOLD: Can’t run today. I’m going to be at that job until after dark.
MASTER FREDDY: Dang. Ok man stay strong
STORYSOLD: I forgot they are coming home tomorrow. I’ll pay you $20 cash an hour plus any food you want to bring us. No rat shit. Should be easy work…and you get to be a guest star in the story
MASTER FREDDY: What are you proposing?
STORYSOLD: Helping at that house you picked me up in [last time we went running] if you want
MASTER FREDDY: If you need help today I’m in. How long will it take? I won’t get done until 3, but I can head straight over there after I’m done.
STORYSOLD: That would be awesome 🙂 It’s mostly moral support.
MASTER FREDDY: Ok. Can we use the microwave over there? Cuz I can bring Plaid food. Or I can stop some where and pick something up
STORYSOLD: Plaid food is great!
I know I said “mostly moral support,” but I’m also a big fat liar. Luckily Jim aka Master Freddy isn’t a “Real Man” who can not help his friends when there’s work to be done. After he arrived on the scene (and ate some Portland sub sandwiches) we launched right into The Action. Jim was indispensable. Instead of our having to crawl out behind the wall every time we made a cut, Guide marked the 2x6s, handed it to Jim, and Jim used Farmer Rachael’s chop saw to cut the pieces like a pro.
When we’d finished with the exclusion work, Jim swept the basement while Guide disinfected the crawl and put the new plastic in place.
[ I asked Jim to take an action shot ]
Three hours later, we hauled the remaining bags of junk and tools back to our work van. It was dark and raining when I shook Master Freddy’s hand and thanked him for flying in like Han Solo to make this service story truly great. As a testament to his team of characters, he refused my offering of money. Instead, after some haggling, he agreed to join us for dinner at Full Cellar Farm with Farmer Emily. What a badass!
Chapter 6: Life Returns to Normal
In spite of forgetting to put Emily’s weekly share of vegetables in the fridge and forgetting to deliver the fresh farm eggs we wanted to gift the honeymooners, our completed service story was met with enthusiasm.
STORYSOLD: Welcome home, I am almost done with your rat story. No hurry, but one you get settled I would like you guys to pick your favorite pieces from my junk collection in your basement. I’m going to make something from them…it’s part of your story 🙂
FARMER RACHAEL: I just peaked down there. No flies and it looks and feels so clean. Honestly I can’t thank you enough. We will pick out a favorite treasure and let you know!
STORYSOLD: Crawl is 90% cleaner, but the basement now has a coat of dust…sorry
FARMER RACHAEL: I didn’t notice that! But honestly as long as the rats are gone it’s cleaner than before. It feels good down there. Whatever curse we had feels lifted!
A week or so later, we made good on our promise to finish the story. In addition to sealing a few gaps around the foundation from the exterior and removing the last bag of junk, our team enjoyed a brief moment of togetherness when we performed a long forgotten, mid-winter ritual….
Evanhoe liked the shoes and Farmer Rachael liked the photos we stashed in the old Budweiser can of vegetables. The jars have dog food and water in them, marked with lines to see if Ratty Claws had crossed The Magic Line onto the civilized side of their pregnant alpaca wall.
Even with all that work, you can never be sure. No matter how small, Ratty and his ratonauts will find all the undiscovered territories Generic Santa Claus and his followers have walled off, tossed out, wasted, and forgotten long ago. So don’t forget to put out some junk and leftovers at the edge of your territory for Ratty Claus to shit in.
And if he comes to reclaim your wildness, we suggest that you listen to what the young couple’s Neighbor Will said when we talked rats with him in passing…
“I know they have problems with rats…and they do too [pointing to both sides of his house],” Neighbor Will said. “I don’t have a problem with rats. If I did see one, I’d invite them to sit with me and watch the television.”
Yes that’s right. We are formally recommending Will’s action plan: sit down with your wild creature friend, serve him up some peanut butter, watch some TV (with the old rabbit ears), and then, when you’re done binge watching The Newest Show, we suggest you call Storysold: Pest Control.
You need to call, because the fact of that rat (munching popcorn with you on the couch watching Game of Thrones) means your home territory still has at least one open entry hole. And the next creature that scampers through that door may not be as cool, or as hip, as Ratty Claws. The next creature that scampers through that entry hole might have a thirst for human blood, or even worse…some kind of working contract with Edge Pest Control.
In The End, we made a new crawlspace door for The Wild Place in classic Portland style, using a few items of junk someone had tried, long ago, to forget. It was our token ode to reminding you humans that, as long as civilization persists, Ratty Claws will be there, ready as always, to eat your scraps and shit in your junk.