Q1--QUEL TEMPS FAIT-IL?

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Le ciel est couvert,

il y a des nuages épais.

C'est le début de novembre.

Je me demande s'il va pleuvoir.

(The sky is covered,

there are thick clouds.

It is the beginning of November.

I wonder if it will rain.)

A Saturday

Nov. 4—Well, I finally moved back into the boarding house after experiencing some weird stuff at the Lum House rental (it burned down, by the way, and no, I had nothing to do with the blaze).

Anyway, my new space consists of two rooms— a front entry room with a small bathroom in one corner and a roomy bedroom with four large windows, two of them facing South. The forward-facing one looks East over a front garden, well-paved with trimmed grass and hedges.  

On the right side are massive hedges and a yew-tree fence with institutional-looking office buildings lining the other side. On the left side is a paved drive backed by a high stone wall. There is also a forest that can be reached by a side door. There is also a carriage house, now converted into a garage/laundry area where the eldest Jardin sister Izora lives/lurks.

The boarding house is known as the Rue Des Jardins Lodge or just the Lodge. It is ancient compared to the last place I stayed.

"Yes, it is an old house," the landlady Grand-Mère Jardin said when I first mentioned the age difference between the two houses. "It's over two hundred years old, but no ghosts here."

"No ghosts?" I repeated, giving her a baffled look. "Then who were those two little girls in frock dresses I saw upstairs? They were drawing on the hallway walls."

"Ahh, yes," Grand-Mère Jardin nodded. "Those would be my two little grandnieces visiting over for the weekend. I will have to speak to them about the walls."

"Oh, I see," I said, slightly embarrassed. "Well, that American girl in 201 was complaining to me about them. Says their playing was getting on her nerves."

In actuality, I could put up with those elfin girls scribbling and scampering around. Let them be kids and have their impromptu art show.  

It's Carrol Laburnhan's complaining that I couldn't stand. I find it impossible to unpack, let alone write in my logbook, with her hovering just a few feet away, airing her long list of grievances. I'd sooner put up with noisy, happy grade-schoolers rather than a moody, unhappy housemate who seems to have a BO problem.

Frowning, Grand-Mère Jardin wrinkled her beaky nose. It seemed she was already familiar with Carrol's constant griping. "Yes, I will go speak to her." Then she gave me an inquiring look. "Is there anything else?"

"Yes," I hesitated for a moment before continuing, "I saw a couple of strange animals while coming downstairs. Maybe they were pets..." My voice trailed off when I saw Grand-Mère Jardin shake her head.

"No, not pets," she replied. "Exchange students. Buzby Smirkquill is a British Keythong while Midori Kishiko's a Japanese fairy dragon."

"Oh, okay," I murmured.  

"They're living folk too," she chuckled, noting my still baffled expression. "Here," she gestured around the massive foyer, "only the living... even my eldest granddaughter Izora who dresses like a vampire. She's living too."

"But no ghosts?" I said, my eyes quickly scanning the room, searching the corners for unexpected shadows and flashes of movements.

Grand-Mère Jardin cocked an inquisitive bushy eyebrow at me. She reminded me of a great blue heron with her angular frame and feathery blue-gray hair topped by a black lace headdress.

"No ghosts," she reassured, pointing to the batch of dried fennel hanging over the front door, then to the fronds hanging over the doors to the kitchen and study, "or any other unwanted spirit will get past that barrier."

Nov. 6—Okay, I looked up more on these fennel things in the study library, and it's a common custom in these parts of Brittany. A bunch of dried fennel is supposed to have the power of keeping away evil spirits — Dark Fae, demons, political and religious wack-jobs; you name it.

I guess it doesn't apply to yokai since there are several yokai exchange students here, including Sheila Blackshear, who is an Oni (the kind sort, not the ones who are always bashing people with clubs and getting rollicking plastered). She's a Japanese-American from Boston and has a younger slacker brother who also identifies as a licorne. So I guess the Otherkin isn't exclusively a humans only phenomenon. And speaking of Otherkin, there's another American girl next door to me who identifies as an elf.

I don't know if she's on the autistic-spectrum or just plain shy, but she never looks straight at me when speaking. Instead, she fixes her wide watery eyes just below my shirt collar till I get nervous and begin to think she's either a perv or there's a bug crawling there.

Speaking of bugs, I haven't seen a single bug upon moving in, no mouches (flies), spiders, food moths, and beetles, not even a single house centipede-like what was infesting my old place. A lot of corvids and magpies though as well as cats. I wonder if that might explain the bug-free zone around here.

Nov. 10—At present, there are thirty-four residents at the Rue Des Jardins Lodge. The cats outnumber us by fifty-two. No matter where I go on this property, there are always cats about; besides the twelve that frequent the house, there are also forty neighborhood cats that roam the front lawn and side gardens. It seems they take shifts, moving in groups of ten as they "inspect" the grounds. When one or more groups head back into town, presumably for lunch breaks, another will take over the rotation. Usually, when I come home from school, there will be ten cats, all crouching on the garden walls and always facing the surrounding woods.

As I walk up the drive, they will all turn their heads in unison. It always creeps me out, even though I'm a cat person. It feels like I'm being spied on by cyborgs and having come from a society where the government routinely used animals as remote drone spies, I didn't find this odd feline behavior very amusing.

Also, the way they greet me is very unusual, not like cats at all. More like they were all raised by dogs; the moment my hand grasped the doorknob, they would all jump down from their perch and run-up. Soon this furry stream became a river as ten cats turned to twenty, then to thirty. All these cats would rub and weave around my legs as if begging for attention or to be let in, but I don't let them in and would always walk a bit quickly to my room upstairs.

Oh, and here are a couple more weird things about these cats. Never once did I witness one of them ever crossing over the wall into the far back where that overgrown garden is. Always, they patrol the areas to the front and sides, but they don't go beyond the back wall. It's like a No-man's-land for cats there. Also, these forty outdoor cats split into two groups of twenty come nightfall. One of the groups would congregate around the front of the building, while another stood guard in the back. Some even climbed up to lie in the branches around my windows. Every time I peered out before drawing the curtains, they would turn their heads, staring up at me until I quickly closed the curtains.

Nov. 14—Thankfully, the rain held off until I reached home at about five o'clock. As soon as I was inside, it began bucketing down thick and fast as a monsoon. Then the wind rose, blowing through the surrounding wood in a frenzy. It promised to be an ugly night with thunder and lightning all around. It was the first stormy night I had experienced ever since moving back here. Also, my first time seeing ball lightning. Odd about the lightning, though.

Well, I got up because I felt a draught of cold air on the back of my head, and I found all my papers and books scattered about the room as well as a wicker chair overturned beside the bed. Also, all my clothes were half-tumbled out of my closet and looked like they've been tried on by someone. It looked like a miniature hurricane swept through here. Wind, I thought as I went straight to the window. Of course, that latch must have given way, letting in the gale. But why didn't I wake up at the sound of stuff flying around?

Sure enough, the window was partly open, and the latch unhooked. From behind the drawn curtains came a gust of wind carrying a strange smell; fetid and unpleasant like that of decaying meat. No doubt some rodent or other small animal died nearby, probably left there by one of the cats.

As I reached out to push it shut, a dark form streaked past me, slamming the window shut. At the same time, I felt hairy paws wrapped tightly around both my ankles.  

"Whoa, hey!" I exclaimed. I stared down in confusion at two bristling, wide-eyed cats staring up at me.  

Miss Tabitha, my brown and white tabby, had hold of my left leg while my right was engulfed by one of the Jardins' black and white cats. There was an all-black cat on the window seat, the one that did the Superman leap to close the window. It still had its front paws on the window as if keeping it shut against the gale outside.

"What's gotten into you guys?" I demanded as I righted my chairs to sit down and pry off the freaked-out felines.

Before I could even touch them, both cats instantly released their hold and scampered to join the third cat in holding the window shut. They all turned to look at me as if expecting me to help too.

"What now?" I muttered, thinking it was strange that Miss Tabitha would be tolerant of other cats on her turf. She must be worked up over something to put up with this intrusion.

There was a rumble of distant thunder, and there was a faint orange flicker behind the curtains. It reminded me of a candle burning at the end of a hall; the second roll of thunder, closer this time, echoed from above. The glimmer quickly grew to the size of a flashlight glow.

"What is that?"

I rose slowly to my feet, my eyes widening as they fixed on the orange blur moving slowly back and forth.

As I reached to open the curtain, Miss Tabitha suddenly hissed and spat, striking at me with a paw.

"Hey!" I yelled, darting my hand back. One claw had caught my thumb, drawing blood in a long thin line. "Damn it!"

Swearing more colorful oaths, I hurried to the bathroom and cleaned and bandaged the scratch. Then I went to shoo all three cats out of my room; eventually, I had to give up after several minutes. Chasing cats was like trying to capture a whirlwind; you never know which way it was going to go. Now imagine a temperamental whirlwind armed with sharp teeth and claws.

In a huff, I went back to bed, believing the cats having taken leave of their senses due to the storm noises and the weird lightning close by; nothing at all unnatural about that. Just as I was drifting off, someone came down the hall and hesitantly knocked several times on my door. Shutting my eyes tight, I silently prayed, whoever you are, please go away. It's late, and I want some shut-eye. Immédiatement!

"Marie, please, come to the door," I heard a voice that sounded like Carrol stammer out. "It's really stormy out and. . . can I spend the night with you?"

Now I have chatted with Carrol a few times before, but I didn't know her all that well other than she's constantly bitching and moaning and has cleanliness issues. This massive phobia for thunderstorms was a new thing for me. Still, I wasn't going to budge from my warm bed.  Don't get me wrong: I'm not a cold-hearted witch, but I really like my personal space, especially when I sleep. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Carrol had a body odor issue that seems to be growing more severe with each passing day.

There came a massive crash of thunder that reminded me of heavy furniture tumbling downstairs.

Carrol's pleading voice fell to a quaver then broke off into a yelp of terror. Then I heard a high-pitched yowling as if someone stepped on a cat. Then all I heard was the raging wind and rain.

I lay as still as I could, and after a while, I finally drifted off. Yet my dreams were far from peaceful. I don't know if it was an actual nightmare or if I was half-conscious at the time but what I remember is this. I remember hearing no other sound save for the faint moaning of the wind and then a hiss as a few raindrops pattered on the slate roof.

In the murky darkness, something seemed to be moving along the outside of my room. It was just a sudden and intense thought since I never actually saw anything. But it felt like whatever it was moved back and forth, sometimes to peer into the front entry room before returning to stare intently at me as I huddled up in my bed.

As for the cats, they were like in Grand Prix mode, streaking furiously from one room to the next then back again like they were chasing something. I suddenly got a weird tingly feeling like hundreds of spiders were running up and down my back. I felt like whatever the cats were tracking was dangerous, and as long as it stayed outside, we were safe just as long as we didn't open a door or window.

Maybe I was just feeling weird because of the stormy weather, but there were other funny things. The wind, for example, sounded very strange when it rushed up the drive. It didn't sound like the wind at all . . . it sounded more like a flock of chattering starlings or a hurrying crowd of jeering people. It felt like there were a lot of these things pausing to stare up at my windows. Then they would take off, whispering and tittering, only to come back with the next funnel of wind.

Nov. 15—The weather's still bad, and Miss Tabitha's still in her weird commando phase. When she isn't joining in the daily feline patrols, she'll be sitting at the same rear window overlooking the Southeastern corner garden. Always she's looking off in the same general direction, which is right near the center.  

I look too, and very carefully because I don't want to get swatted in the face. I don't see anything, though, just a lot of overgrown bushes. I wonder why the Jardins (normally tidy and well-organized people except for Izora) would leave this particular corner of their property so wild and neglected. Funny also how it’s always kept shut and tight and securely locked. Maybe it's a wildlife preserve, although I haven't seen any wild animals besides the corvids and magpies since coming here. The other animals seem to stay in the woods and faraway fields, giving the grounds and back gardens wide berth.

Meanwhile, the cat's growling, hissing, and bristling the whole time, so I figure she's afraid of something living in that shrubby place, maybe a badger or a wild cat even. I just gave her a catnip toy and went to Skype. Coming back home, I discover she's back to her normal friendly self, rolling around on the floor, purring loudly, jumping up to sit in my lap. Still, I wonder how long this good mood will last.

Nov. 16—By now, I pretty much knew my close neighbors on my floor by name. Nearly all of them are new residents, either foreign exchange students like Sheila Blackshear, for example, or like me or Carrol Laburnhan, children of expatriates. Unlike me, who had recently reunited with my family, even though we communicate for now over an encryption Skype line, she has no one save for a few friends and a charitable aunt whom Carrol says lives in Nîmes, in the South of France. She also told me that her aunt owns a couple of well-known wineries as well as a large stable full of Tuatha horses.

Honestly, I feel rather bad for the girl. She seems lonely and socially awkward, most likely due to her parents abandoning her to various reluctant relatives. Her aunt was but the latest in the series, but the others had backed out, probably citing various child-free excuses.

As for the faux-elf next door, her first name is Anne; still don't know her last name or anything else about her except that she's a health food nut and she's obsessed with elves. I mean seriously mental enough to the next level to consider having your ears surgically reshaped so they're permanently pointed and elf-like. She makes Izora Jardin who gets her kicks while wearing corpse paint and a Goth Vampiress costume seem relatively normal.

I was coming home late in pouring rain about eight o'clock, my umbrella pulled down over my head. About halfway up the drive where there was a long shallow puddle of water, I saw a pair of trousered legs ahead of me. Upon raising the umbrella, I saw the rest of the figure—rather tall and lanky, clad in a stylish frock coat and tall top hat, and walking as I was towards the main house. He must have heard me because he turned, and I saw he had on one of those Venetian Carnival masks.

I only saw him for like half a minute before a sudden gust of wind nearly sent me tumbling down the drive.

Okay, who could that be at this late hour? Hell, it's probably Anne again wanting to know where she could find a black market enhancer that can splice human DNA with the DNA of a magical creature. . . even though I told her that such shadowy practices aren't safe, and I'm a natural-born felinoid alien.

Well, whoever that is sounds pretty desperate. Best to see who it is before they wake up the entire house.

Peace out!

Je vais te le demander:

qu'as-tu pense d'hier soir?

(I'll ask you:

what did you think of last night?)

Okay, well, let me ask you this,

how was last night for you?)

Nov. 15—Hier soir (last night)

Okay, seriously. . . who's paranoid enough to think that rats are going to break through the walls of their room in the middle of the night and eat them alive?

Wuss kids, that's who. Wuss kids like Olivia Satoui, who arrived late at night, clutching a couple of blankets, a pillow as well as her spoiled Angora cat Muezza.

She stood there for a good five minutes as if surprised to see that I still up before stammering out that rats were invading from the attic, and could she please spend the night here. Well, seeing as Olivia wasn't one for making trouble or telling tall tales, I said, "Sure, come in."

No sooner then she scooted past me then Monique Aloisio showed up with her laughing dove Pidgie, also complaining about the rats and describing in really graphic details how rats devoured several doves in her aviary back home.

"Umm, okay," I muttered.

No sooner then I closed the door, I heard knocking followed by the all-too-familiar voices of the Lewis Twins, as I liked to call them— the Gossip Twins.

"Hi, Kes." Apricot was one of the few people to call me by my actual Gerdin name. "Is it all alright if we could come in?"

"We seemed to have an overabundance of mice," Amber spoke up in her nasal snob tone. "They seemed to have declared this place home base."

"Also we have a really bad phobia for pests," Apricot continued nervously. "We had a rather traumatic cockroach infestation back home that lasted for like eight months."

"Yes, it was awful!" Amber cut in. "I still have a reoccurring nightmare where roaches would cover the entire walls and ceiling, and they fall onto us, and then we get eaten ..."

I promptly opened the door and waved them over the threshold. As much as I disliked the hoity-toity Lewis snob, I still had great sympathy for anyone who had to go through such a hair-raising, vomit-inducing experience.

Long story short, five more people showed up to this impromptu sleepover, including Buzby and Midori (who wound up sleeping in the sock drawer). I, on the other hand, ended in the walk-in closet due to the twins commandeering my bed. To make matters worse the closet had no door so I couldn't block out various snoring and the embarrassing bathroom break noises even with a blanket tacked over the entrance.

Somehow, I must have fallen asleep because I had a nightmare. In the dream, I awoke suddenly to the sound of heavy rain and saw a man seated in front of my dressing-table, studying himself in the mirror.

The moment I shot up, I was hit by such a nauseating wave of horror and dread that I could neither move nor speak. There was also a faint rank odor in the room.

His back was turned toward me, but he seemed to be tall with shoulder-length blonde hair. He also wore a tailored overcoat of antique garb, and there was also a glossy top hat and leather gloves resting nearby.

I couldn't see his face because there was nothing to see, just the room behind him and me staring from the closet-space. Then the full realization hit that I never had a dresser-table, and this unknown person could see me as I could see him. When he suddenly turned and regarded me with a face hidden entirely with gauze bandages, I fell back in a dead faint.

Nov. 16—Le martin (this morning)

When I came to, the first thing I notice is my cat Miss Tabitha gently pawing my cheek while Muezza looked on in lazy curiosity.

The pink light of dawn was filtering around the edges of the blanket. Cautiously, I sat up and peered out, noting everything: my occupied bed, the various boarders still sleeping soundly on the floor, the covered birdcage on the dresser. My ears pricked when a sparrow uttered its morning repertoire, and a flock of geese passed overhead, honking loudly. There was a strong smell of rain as well as a faint damp current of wet earth and mildew.

Frowning, I got up and walked carefully around the slumbering group and inspected the window. It was slightly ajar; the latch had come undone. I shut the window and stood with my hands in my pockets, looking out into the nearby trees. The leaves and branches glistened with last night's soaking rain. There were no cats to be seen.

When I finally got dressed and a chance to use the bathroom, I stepped into the hall and found Sheila still in her rumpled pajamas with messed up hair and a deep scowl on her green face.

"Morning," I said rather cautiously. "Did the rats or the rain keep you awake?"

"Neither," Sheila grumbled. "Just Anne and Carrol having a massive screaming match in the middle of the night."

"Oh?" I gave her a baffled look. "I didn't hear any fighting last night."

"Yeah, well. . . this place has weird acoustics," Sheila explained. "But I heard it, and so did that Irish gal Ginny Agnez who has the room between those two. Said they sounded like banshees, and she had on noise-canceling headphones."

"What were they fighting about anyway?" I asked.

Sheila frowned as she shrugged. "Oh, something about Carrol stealing some of her stuff." The Oni blinked her yellowish eyes thoughtfully and added, "Didn't catch it all, of course, because I had to shove some earplugs in. Still didn't quite help though."

She shot me a curious look. "You sure you didn't hear anything?"

"No," I murmured, shaking my head. "Nothing."

"You're lucky to have thick walls," Sheila muttered sourly. "It's really annoying for us because our walls are thin, and we have to listen to this crap from midnight to nearly three AM."

"They went that long?" I said, astonished.

"Yeah, and I really hope the Jardins do something," Sheila answered, disgusted, "especially for Anne's sake. She's nice, but she's really terrible at confronting people and standing up for herself."

I shrugged vaguely. "Well, it sounds to me like she was standing up for herself."

"Yeah, but you can never argue with a crazy person," Sheila pointed out. "Just leads to lost sleep and neurons. Worse is when they're crazy-stupid!"

Fortunately for the sleep-deprived such as Anne, Sheila, and myself, we didn't have any school on Wednesday. We had a peaceful moment of rest due to Carrol Laburnhan getting moved downstairs toward the back. Unfortunately, however, I got this vague nagging feeling that something wasn't as it should be.

Q2--Quel Vient Ici Quand La Lune Est Pleine?

(What Comes Here When The Moon Is Full?)

Qui Vient Sous La Pluie Lorsque Les Chats Sont Absents?

(Who comes in the rain when the cats are away?)

Personne que je ne veux savoir, personne que je veux recontrer.

(No one I want to know, no one I want to meet.)

Nov. 22—So apparently, my fellow boarders weren't exaggerating about the rats cause I heard them too.

This might also explain this nagging feeling of wrongness I've been getting lately. Either that or it's the dismal and dreary weather we've been having.

Nov. 23—Still more rain in the forecast as well as rats. Mice too since Miss Tabitha caught several while they were foolishly trying to raid her food bowl. We didn't need to call an expensive mouse expert since the Lodge already comes with its furry pest control service. The rats, however, still concern me even though Grand-Mère Jardin got her contractor son-in-law to patch up any visible mouseholes with steel wool and epoxy. He also laid down glue traps in the kitchen area and my closet, even though I specifically asked for a Venus Mouse Trap, so I don't have to dispose of squealing, still kicking varmit myself, let alone look at it.

Nov. 26—Rats still keeping to the walls, maybe due to the cats. The cats are now in full predator mode, stalking along the walls, listening with great excitement at the frantic scampering and squeaking inside.

Seems like the rats are fighting amongst themselves, or they're on the run from something. I'm guessing either from a stoat or a larger, possibly cannibalistic rat gang. Funny how the rats decided to take refuge at the Lodge despite the cats prowling around. Wouldn't it make more sense to find shelter in the woods? Probably plenty of way safer hiding places out there.

Nov. 28—No. Just no. I'm not following your bat guano crazy advice, Carroll, in letting the mice go (they're going to be freakin' dead anyway)! Nor am I letting you sleepover because you So TOTALLY believed Izora's story about the haunted back garden and how the thing's going to sneak into your room late at night and suck out all your blood. You know how Izora likes scaring people, and she wants them to think she's so weird and quirky, although I think she's rather lame and annoying.

That whole sleepover thing was just a one-time event due to the rats driving people nuts! And no! I'm not going to give in to those big, brown puppy-dog eyes of yours just staring at me and your Rodger Rabbit pleading 'PUULEEEEZE, I'LL BE GOOD AND NOT MAKE ANY NOISE OR WATCH WEIRD ANIME CRAP ON MY PHONE OR TRY ON YOUR CLOTHES!'

You have an issue with your new living arrangement, then take that up with the landlady. As to the mice, I am so trapping those effing bastards as we speak with Miss Tabitha's help as well as the glue traps. Any I find alive, I'm going to either deliver the coup de grâce with a ball-peen hammer or give them to Ixora to feed to her snake. And any rat I find, they'll get the same DEFCON 1 treatment.

Even Olivia, who's a Shinto-Buddhist and has a couple of gerbils and a hamster back home, agrees with me. Wild mice, as well as rats, are not adorable animals as portrayed in the animated films Ratatouille or Despereaux. They are annoying, potentially dangerous, disease-carrying pests and should be treated as such!

NO! HELL NO! No matter how much you cry and beg like a stray dog at my barricaded door, I am not going to change my mind about my bad house guests! And don't make me add your juvenile delinquent antics to an online forum site about unwelcome housemates.

Fortunately, the thumping and banging petered out after like twenty minutes, and eventually, I got ready for bed.

Tomorrow is yet another Wednesday meaning no school and a couple of extra hours of sleep. At least, that's what I would have liked to have happened. Instead, I get woken up around 8 P.M. by cautious knocking. Thinking it was Carol again, I said, "Just stop it! Okay? Stop! I don't wanna talk anymore!"

A familiar soft voice broke the quiet, "Hey, it's just me, Sheila."

When I jumped up and opened the door, sure enough, there was my friend standing in her dressing gown.

"D-damn, you scared the living bejeebers out of me!" I spluttered.

"Well, I thought something might have happened!" Sheila explained. "I heard all this yelling and banging and shit ..."

"Yeah, that's was Carroll," I muttered. "She was trying to convince me to let her sleepover. I guess she's afraid of the freakin' woods in back."

Sheila shook her head in utter disbelief as she studies my door. "Damn!"

"What?" I walked around to where she was looking and then stared at the long scratches marring the woodwork. "Damn!"

"Whoa, some of those look deep," Sheila murmured.

I nodded numbly, suddenly getting a weird, knotted feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"What did she use to do all that?" Sheila went on as she prodded the ragged edge or the ragged edge of one of the scratches. "A Freddy Krugger glove??"

"Naw," I mumbled without looking up from the splintered damage. "She had on those werewolf gloves, the ones with the plastic nails."

"Plastic wouldn't cut this deep," Sheila pointed out as large fragments of wood fell to the carpeted floor. "Steel might."

I shook my head in confusion. "I don't freakin' understand. This has gotta be a sick joke."

I noted how the scratches continued down to the bottom of the door, furrowing the hallway carpet, and then extended out to the wooden stairs.

Cautiously, I crossed the landing and peeped furtively over the banisters, listening breathlessly.

"See anything?" Sheila was right beside me now, leaning over the railing.

I slowly shook my head; a cold rush of air from the now wide-open door sent shiver after shiver down my back. The fog poured up the moonlit staircase in thick, pale coils, but there was no sign of a living, breathing soul anywhere.

"What are you two looking at?" a voice asked from behind.

Sheila spun around to see who was speaking. I would have lost my balance if she hadn't pulled me back by my pajama collar.

Monique stood in her luxurious French pajamas and designer slippers. She stared at us curiously while Pidge sat on her head like an avant-garde hat.

"What's going on?" she demanded. Her eyes soon shifted to the stairs. "And what's with the smoke? Is the house on fire?"

"Fog, and probably Carrol left the door open when she ran out," Sheila explained.

"Or something took Carrol and left it open," I cut in, glancing nervously over my shoulder.

I got the cold, sick feeling from before when I first saw all those scratches on my door. Staring at the pea-souper fog now shrouding the stairs, I had the sense that something was staring back, something that was probably silently laughing at us. The image of the tall, blonde man with the bandaged-up face flashed through my head. "Do you think we need to shut that door?"

The moment those words left my mouth, the fog receded down the center, just like the Red Sea parting before Moses's raised staff. Now there was a clear path amid the swirling tendrils of spectral gray.

Instantly, I felt the hair bristle on my head. For what seemed like ages, we just stood there staring, wide-eyed with mouth agape.

"What the fr. . ." Sheila mumbled.

A gust of cold air whooshed past our faces and down the stairs, causing us to shiver. Swirls of fog rapidly streamed out the door, which then slammed shut with a loud bang.

With a flurry of pinkish-brown feathers, the dove took off down the hall, leaving a stream of white guano behind.

"Did we just see that?" Monique managed to croak out, oblivious to Pidge's abrupt departure and the white splatter marring her purplish-red hair.

And that was when we heard the chorus of panicked screams throughout the house.

Seconds later, doors slammed open, followed by scrambling feet, and then the hallway was full of freaked-out boarders. There came other sounds, a scampering, rustling, and a high-pitched squeaking as thin mangey rats dodged frantically between stamping feet and swinging umbrellas and lacrosse sticks.

The light suddenly came on downstairs, and then a shrill voice called out. "What's going on up there?"

Grand-Mère Jardin was up and most likely thinking that there were burglars or some other sorts of criminals loose on the premises.

"Ethelyn, Ethelyn!" she called out to her daughter-in-law, and then to the three granddaughters who shared the downstairs space. "Nissa, Asira, Isabella! Hurry! Get up! Emergency!"

"Well, merde," Sheila muttered, watching the chaos. "It looks like it's the YMCA for us."

Both Monique and I winced.

Nov. 30—Fortunately for all of us, we didn't have to get transferred to a dubious location full of bed bugs and weird, annoying people because then a miracle occurred.

Izora, dressed up in the many-colored motley of a court jester, came skipping and dancing to the tune she cranked out on her hurdy-gurdy, and behind her, the rats began to follow behind. Soon a long stream of furry forms scuttled and skittered down the hall and stairs and out the front door into the drippy night beyond. That was the last seen of almost all the rats.

'Almost all?' you were wondering; well, we didn't know it at the time, but there was still a monstrous one on the loose, and no, it wasn't a mutant one or Carrol in wererat form (although that would have been a much more original fursona than the typical wolf one).

So where was Carrol during all this? Well, asleep, of course, and all dressed up in a Max-style wolf suit outfit under the stairs in the Harry Potteresque cupboard.

She claimed she was sleepwalking and didn't realize what she was doing. Of course, weirder things have happened to people while they were sleepwalking, including cooking and driving long distances. So it wasn't like Carrol was purposely doing crazy stuff in her sleep, although you gotta wonder what the freak did she use to scratch up my door like that, and how she even managed to remove the fennel over the front door without any of the Jardins finding out.

Dec. 8—Okay, let me tell you about what happened to me several days later. It's all rather very interesting and horrifying at the same time.

It was a Friday night, Dec. 5, St. Nicholas Eve, to be exact. 'Tis the season to be jolly Fa-la-la-la-la again! Time for feasting and celebration, Christmas elf hats, ugly holiday sweaters with pom-poms, and buying and exchanging gifts for family and friends. Yes, I am indeed talking about Christmas time! Christmas is celebrated differently in France. Over here, Christmas officially starts on Dec. 5. Instead of stockings, children would leave their shoes by the hearth or by the door for Pere Noel (Father Christmas) to fill with gifts. In homes that have a Christmas tree, Pere Noel hung little candies, nuts, and small toys on the branches.

Having just returned from a two-hour family Skype session (where they promised to come during New Year's Eve) and from touring the various holiday celebrations, I was a bit energy-zapped, if not utterly exhausted from all the hectic activity. I planned on heading off to bed soon after.

Well, usually I fall asleep in about thirty minutes, but for some reason, I couldn't fall asleep. Instead, I was tossing and turning around in my bed thinking--did I suddenly get insomnia? Is it just that I'm a teenager, and it's all due to hormones? Maybe all the sugar in all the fruit candy I've eaten made me stay up or something?

I started peering around my dark bedroom, waiting impatiently for sleep to consume me. I didn't know how long I had been lying there, just waiting for my brain to stop whirring like a washing machine on a spin cycle. It felt like forever. Finally, I rolled over on my side and looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was almost midnight, so I had been lying there for close to several hours.

Since it was too late for a shower, I decided to read a book instead, until sleep finally came. I've been binge-reading H. P. Lovecraft despite his archaic, overly-formal writing style and the fact that he was an elitist, racist snob, and a paranoid shut-in.

I just got through with the story "The Rats in the Walls" when it happened. Seemed like every Lovecraft story I've read features some dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks protagonist who does not heed this don't- go-back-to some ancestral place-and-digging- up-the past-warning. If you haven't read this particular story, it features the last scion of the ancient de la Poer family, who decides to restore the ancestral home, Exham Priory. Spoiler alert: it also features a monstrous swarm of rats breaking out of the cursed priory and devouring several hapless humans along with their livestock.

I must've drifted off, still sitting up in bed, because the next thing I heard was this sharp clicking, metallic sound like knitting needles hitting or rubbing together.

Frowning, I got up and walked over to the nearest window. Maybe a branch was scraping against the glass, I thought. Unless it was Carrol again doing her werewolf stunt, but then I remembered she just had her privileges revoked. Her aunt had come over two days after the rat episode, not from cultural, vibrant Nîmes as Carrol had claimed, but from quaint medieval Swanwick, overseeing the Trieux River, famous for its overflowing flower gardens and old stone wash houses.

Carrol's aunt, a no-nonsense, sharply-dressed businesswoman, had taken away the fursuit and threatened to send the girl back to the States. Told her how she better start acting responsibly and not waste precious money intended for her lodging and school supplies on tacky cosplay and anime merchandise.

As the sour-faced aunt dumped the fursuit along with the entire comic collection into several garbage bags, Carrol cried and howled like a hapless baby the whole time. Occasionally, she would look up at my window, where I was discreetly watching, as if expecting me to intervene on her behalf. But I made no move, minding my own business instead. I didn't want to become part of this gratuitous drama.

The sound came again, sounding more like long bony fingers scratching about, which was ridiculous because the dead didn't rise like that in the movies. Still, I pulled the curtains back nervously and peered out cautiously through the small opening.

My eyes soon widened to the size of brandy-balls.

Snow.

I threw open the curtains, heedless of the three hissing cats clinging to them.

Everywhere snow as far as the eye could see. Thick blankets of the stuff covering the surrounding lawn, woods, and distant meadows across the road. Everything shimmered silvery-white in the full moon.

In the distance, I saw a dark, shadowy figure slowly walking along the road, head down as if deep in thought or in utter despair.

Who is that?

Narrowing my eyes, I tried to make out features, but the silhouette was too murky and indistinct as if the person was surrounded by a swirling black mist.

A sudden current of bitter cold made me shiver. Behind me, something plopped to the floor of the closet. Then I heard something moving slowly in the direction of the entrance way. It was a confused sort of skittering and shuffling, and the sound of rustling as storage boxes were pushed aside.

The hair on the back of my neck and scalp bristled up. Letting the curtains drop, I turned very slowly to face the newest occupant of the room as it dragged its horrendous bulk painfully forward, its numerous filthy claws seeking purchase on the smooth floor boards. It glowered up at me with its many pairs of beady eyes and I saw fragments of wood and gummy blood stuck to the sides of its whiskered muzzles.

If someone were to ask me what a rat king was, I would have told them immediately that it was the main villain in a fairy tale ballet set to a music score by Tchaikovsky and performed around Christmas time (sometimes as a form of audio torture).

The real life version was far darker and more disturbing than any of your standard monster-movie fare. It described a large mess of rats with all their tails tightly knotted and fused together with cemented filth.

The most famous and terrifying specimen was the 1828 one, discovered by a German miller while cleaning out his chimney, consisting of thirty-two rodents; the scorched mummies now resided at the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg.

In European folklore, they were seen as a really bad omen, after preceding a major disaster such as plague.

The squealing, filthy things that crawled forth from the back wall of my closet exceeded the Mauritianum specimen by thirty-four. The second major difference was none of the rats I found had much in the way of flesh attached to their small bones, much like the panicked horde that we witnessed earlier.

And the third major difference, that made me flee my room in gibbering panic to claw and bang desperately at Sheila’s door until she let me in, was the voice. Had it sounded like a bunch of screeching, chittering rats, half-mad with pain and panic, I would have accepted that. What I couldn’t accept, however, was when those damned things started speaking to me in unison, in a dry, buzzing tone that sounded more like insects speaking rather than rats. Every one of their quivering, matted rodent faces rasping out, “Marguerite, is that you? Have you finally decided to see me?”

Sheila took care of it. Good Ole Sheila. She took it down the old-fashioned way, via heavy-duty hiking boots.

As for the cats, all three of them had to get a few stitches and medication due to trying to take care of it.

Of course, a few people found out about it. It’s kinda hard to keep something like a huge berserk, possibly demonic-possessed rat king a secret when the next door neighbors suddenly hear someone stomping around in your bedroom around 3 A.M., wearing what sounded like hobnailed boots. Now imagine to their shock, to see a rather cranky yet triumphant Oni holding a pair of bloodstained boots in one hand and a bundled-up beach towel in other.

“That rat king,” Sheila would tell us later. “I swear that fucker’s bigger than anything I’ve seen outside Boston, and it still had a lot fight left in it.”

Yeah, Sheila would know cause her dad happens to be a licensed state exterminator, and probably seen it all—swarms of bottle ants, cockroaches, maggots, bedbugs, whopping 7 to 8 pound rats that mob-devour cats, pigeons maybe even small dogs.

When I asked her how deep the snow was when she went out to open the bins, Sheila gave me a funny look.

“Just frost,” she replied with a shrug. “Didn’t see any snow.”

But I know I saw snow outside my room’s window. I knew there were thick sheets of the stuff clinging to the trees, making look like they were made of melting frosting. It was soft and fluffy, not hard and crystallized like frost. Yet when I went out to look this morning, the snow was entirely gone, although there was frost like Sheila said, but not enough to make everything perfectly white.

Sheila’s rather skeptical about me hearing the rat king speaking. None of the rats her dad encountered spoke any coherent words, although he saw a few wearing clothes and hefting makeshift melee weapons.

“An animal’s got to have the right kind of brain structure and vocal cords in order to do human speech,” she told me.

Other than Sheila, Olivia and Anne, I never told anyone else about it talking for fear of possible ridicule. I wonder what I should tell my parents the next time we Skype. I really wish they wouldn’t be so afraid to give me their address so I could come visit them. In the meantime, I will hang some fennel over my door and windows.


Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart
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