OK, so even though Halloween is over (and mostly as good as any other year except that I HAD MY FIRST EVER TRICK-OR-TREATERS AND MY GOODNESS THEY WERE SO CUTE), I did finally get around to reading one last selection from my Halloween reading list, mostly because the fellow behind last year's fiftytwoplays suggested it, and I suppose he knows some things about reading projects (also I did a play with him one time and we got to wear crazy makeup outdoors and have all kinds of fun and you don't just walk away from someone like that when they tell you to read something).
The story was THE RATS IN THE WALLS, by HP Lovecraft. And it. was. horrifying. In a way I'm a little glad I missed the actual night of Halloween with this one, because that night might've taken a very difficult turn. This story is short, tense, strange, and deeply, deeply upsetting. I decided to read the entire thing during my lunch break, since it’s only around 20 pages long. That was a bad idea. Seriously, do not try to read this (or at least finish it) while you are eating. I am merely glad I was not eating pork at the time (not that I ever do, as we’ve covered before).
Also, be advised that HP Lovecraft was a racist. I state this as a matter of well-documented fact, with tempered judgment based on time period, upbringing, and generally tempered judgment. It is helpful to know this about Lovecraft, you see, in preparation for a particularly offensively-named cat which you will come to know in the story (the cat is demonstrably brave and good, but still).
I can’t talk much about the story or my reaction to it without giving away the icky parts, but trust me that the ending is pretty shocking. The beginning is pretty standard horror fare – the last surviving member of a cursed line returns to rebuild the ancient family home, dismissing local superstitions about the terrible things that have happened there. These things include a massive horde of devouring rats which stampeded forth from the establishment shortly after the protagonist’s ancestor murdered his family and fled the place. Rats which destroyed and consumed all living things in their wake, including livestock and people. Rats which, our hapless Mr. Delapore swiftly discovers, may still live in the walls.
There. That’s how it starts. You will have to read it if you want to know how it ends (which I do recommend, but again, not while you’re eating).
Now, I would like to take a small moment to speak in defense of rats, here. Maybe stampeding in walls or lurking in horrible abysses they are not so great, but I have known several very excellent domesticated vermin. There was a white rat which the kids I babysat used to have, who got me out of a lot of babysitting work thanks to the amusement the kids found at just watching him run in and out of the sleeves of my sweater (those little feet are tickley!). And there was a very nice little white mouse, Trotsky, who I cared for during the two weeks before my friend fed him to her snake back in 2006ish. He was cute. I had a gerbil as a child who was extremely cute (unfortunately I had a cat at the time who found him less so). Honorable mention goes to the non-rodents I’ve owned who've been traditionally mistaken for rodents, most notably a series of pet rabbits and one incredibly awesome silver ferret named Willow, who loved ramen noodle packets and fell victim to liver cancer at far too young an age. I still miss that poor little guy.
None of those rodents (or near-rodents) ever ate a person. They were sweet, and fluffy, and cute, and generally fun to be around.
Of course, they also didn’t live in the walls or feast upon unspeakable creatures in unspeakable places. So there's that.
This marks the official end of my Halloween project, by the way. I may get to some of the films as I go along (The Penalty and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are still sitting around waiting to be watched), but I guarantee nothing. If you like recommendations for things to read, you can get in the theatrical mindset and browse the old posts at fiftytwoplays (I know it's hard to even remember 2009 these days but sometimes it's worth looking back). Mark at least used to read things that weren't UNCONSCIONABLY DISTURBING, even.