The rustle of silk dropping to a moonlit bedroom floor. There it was again. Remi’s reverie was broken by the scuffling of sharp little claws. He looked up with revulsion and hatred at the bare boards separating the room from the one above. He heard it every night now, it kept him awake as he lay in his narrow bed and when he slept it disturbed his dreams. It was, he supposed, a rat. God, he loathed rats, always had. He had gone up once, climbing the crumbling stairway with its leprous walls and straining his ear against the door heard almost imperceptibly soft shufflings. Heart in mouth he pushed at it. It was jammed, his courage had failed him and he had scurried back down, ashamed of his cowardice.
Remi was a drifter, moving from farm to farm in search of work. He was thankful it was the end of the season. The days were getting colder, the dank fields were draped in mist. He would be glad to move on, move south. The farmer had allowed him to stay in an ancient decaying cottage, now almost entirely engulfed in ivy. His room was sparsely furnished; just a bed, a chest of drawers, an empty, draughty fireplace. The top floor was a store for rabbit food. An ideal nest for the rat. The thought that he could almost reach up and touch it made his skin crawl.
The picking was finished and he joined the other workers in the café in the village and drank beer. Then there was a celebratory lunch with wine and cognac. Going back to the cottage he had collapsed on the bed. He was woken by the scratching from the ceiling. Fogged with drink, he felt a sudden overwhelming rage. Snatching up the poker by the fireplace he lurched up the stairs. He pushed with his shoulder at the stiff door and it burst open. There wasn’t one rat. There were hundreds of rats. They poured away in a filthy brown flood, up the walls, dashing between the sacks. Remi felt a thrill of fear and disgust. He stumbled back. The door swung shut with a soft click. Grasping the handle, he wrenched at it. It came away in his hand. He turned back. Myriads of dark eyes, blank as shotgun pellets were watching him intently. Unhurriedly, noiselessly,the rats inched forwards.