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All part of life’s rich pattern

February 26, 2021

Life always seems to be looking at me and thinking: “What J.Michael could do with right now is a new learning experience.”

It’s probably my own fault. I’ve always admired Merlin’s advice to Wart when he was feeling down. (“The thing for you to do is to learn something…”) I quoted it at my mother’s funeral: I’d like it spoken at mine.

But there’s learning and there’s learning and there are a lot of things that over the years I’ve learned and rather wish I hadn’t had to.

There’s learning the unpleasant sensation of having a sample sucked from your marrow: it’s rather disturbing. That was when they were trying to find out why the platelet count in my blood is low, I think. And I am just going to have to accept that in most such cases they say, as they said to me ‘It’s ideopathic’, which is doctor for ‘search me, guv’. I understand that there are a number of really alarming things they eliminated by that test so I should be grateful. The same could be said of a number of alarming tests and even more alarming symptoms I’ve had over the years. I should have learned this when the first Big Alarm sounded back when I was still a fair bit shy of forty and one Christmas Eve I got an intense pain right in the middle of my chest at the back and being the bright, sunny individual I was came to the conclusion that this was it. My heart was going to give out on me before I’d even properly got out of life’s starting blocks. (Query: did I ever manage to do that?)

I should have learned my lesson then when the doctor I finally got to see said: “That’s just a back pain. Yes, they are unpleasant. Here have some pills to help with the pain.” (If I had known about the bunging up effects of opiods I might have thought twice about taking them just before a Christmas feast.)

The lesson I probably should have learned was not to be such a gloomy type but I maintain to this day an assumption that the worst will happen. That’s probably what this week’s drama was about: Life trying to teach me to hope, again.

Briefly, on Tuesday night about 10:40 I leaned back in my chair, heard a slight sound to my right and looked over to see a rat in the door from the kitchen. He’s chased a bit of dryer fluff out of there and was just chewing it to see if it tasted good when he became aware of me. No expression on the ‘face’ of a rodent at all but his body language conveyed alarm and his movement was then retrograde back the way he came. When I got up and went and searched the kitchen he was nowhere to be found.

Now I’d had rats in the place once before and then my late cat Monty caught one, slaughtered it and laid it at the side of my bed as tribute, looking me with an glance that said: “And what are you going to do about this, eh?” So I knew what to do and contacted the Council’s extermination contractors via their website and booked an appointment, the earliest available, for today. (My landlords are handing over the property to new owners on Monday which is bound to complicate matters but when I called them with my tail of… I’m sorry my tale of woe they agreed to send someone round next week to see if maybe, perhaps, they could justify the expense of bunging the hole the rat got in by.)

The day after the rodent apparition I gave the kitchen a good clean up, both to get any food out of the way of possible returning visitors and to make it decent enough to show a visitor and when I had finished doing so I became aware of a very disturbing stench arising from beneath the sink, the area where the rats got in last time.

It only got worse over Thursday and Friday morning. You may imagine what my nights were like, if you know me. I lay awake for hours imagining what the problem might be. I settled on ‘There has been a breach in the sewers’ pretty early on and from then it was all downhill in the Imagined World of Michael. I had extrapolated from my kitchen fittings having to be ripped out to my walls having to be rebuilt to the whole block of flats being condemned as unacceptable for human habitation. I kept going through the very short list of ‘Family and Friends Who Can Be Imposed On’ and bewailing the necessity.

Yes, there’s a lot going on under the placid surface of Lake Cule. You don’t normally see half of it.

So when I say that I am now actually grateful that I now know what the smell of a dead and decaying rat is like you must understand that I’m being very philosophical about the whole sensory experience. The young man from the extermination company who came along and left some rat-poison (New and Improved, he assured me and something they had only just been allowed to put down) said it must have died there because it couldn’t figure out how to get back into the sewer system from this side. It had probably eaten poison somewhere else and then dropped dead soon after I saw it. He also was unimpressed about the job the landlord’s contractor had done bunging up the hole last time.

I said a brief word of thanks to the guardian spirit of the late Monty for continuing to keep an eye on me and reflected that the next time I panic over something I won’t have learned any lessons from this time either.

Yes, I really do need to get a new cat. No, I’ve not had any luck there either.

  1. So the next time the players in a horror game are finding a not-really-recent-enough-for-comfort corpse you can give them a more lurid description of the experience than you could have last week…

    (Assuming you’re running it, obviously. As a player you can try to gross out the GM, but in my experience this rarely ends well.)

    If you ever have a need to produce this smell, there’s a trick with… well, perhaps I’d better not say it here. But I’ll tell you if you want to know.

    • I believe that rats become vile smelling quicker but humans rot longer and worse. More meat to decay, y’see.

      I only smelled the rat and glimpsed its tiny corpse in the shadows under the sink. More than that I was spared.

      Have you ever tried to describe a smell? Especially an unfamilar one without many close relatives?

      I did once wave a packet of cinammon under the noses of my players in a Tekumel game to tell them what the Ssu, Enemies of Man, smell like but that’s as far as I’ve gone in introducing scent based elements to games.

      And if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about I’ve read STALKY & CO too. If it’s something even more disgusting I reflect that I don’t need that degree of realism and sometimes having an experience once is enough, even for me.

  2. Chris Bell permalink

    I seriously doubt he was talking about the cat that went mousin’ on her back with a little pillow of plaster under her head: he’ll have some horrible collection of chemicals to simulate it with, no doubt. I definitely do not want to know.

    We had a dead rat in the garage once, undetected (except as an utterly horrible Smell permeating the whole house) for long enough for it first to have deliquesced and then to have gone mummy. That had led to a lot of panicky cleaning of the entire house before it was finally run to ground, and it left a stain which is never going to come out of the concrete. Still, apart from the stain it was easy enough to clear away once we did finally locate it. The smell cannot be described, but I doubt I shall ever fail to recognise Dead Rat if I encounter it again. I believe Diana Wynne Jones described it as the Reek of Wrongness (OMT).

    • I count myself lucky that Ratty was found after only two and a half days. Knowing the way my pessimism hangs on to the first hypothesis (unless it can come up with something even more depressing) I doubt if I would have ever thought “Hey! It might be a dead rat!” After a week I shudder to think what state the flat would be in. I would probably be screaming stuff about plague down the phone….

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