Stanford Log entered the room like a little child lost in the woods. He looked around at the panoramic window. The psychologist motioned to a grey couch. Stanford twitched his nose like a rat and tried running out of the room. He was caught in the hallway and dragged back by two men in white uniforms. He sat on the couch, defeated.
“Fine, I’ll tell you my story, because a good story deserves to be told,” Stanford said. He lay on the couch, head propped up against one of the armrests, hands folded across his chest like a corpse. The psychologist thought he looked old and young all at once. Stanford was thin as a yardstick, with little patches of hair on his face like his father hadn’t taught him to shave yet.
“Feel free to say whatever you want,” the psychologist said.
“That’s a risky move, doc,” Stanford said.
“It’s your story.”
“You already know it, though.”
“What do you mean?” The psychologist asked. He rolled up the sleeves of his black sweater and crossed his legs. He prepared to take notes on his clipboard.
“The nurse took my history. Judging by how early it is, and the fact your hair is unbrushed, you probably read it this morning. That would explain why you’re dressed like that.”
“I wear the same thing every day,” the psychologist said calmly, “and I never brush my hair. But you’re right, I did read your history.”
“Then you know I was a medical student at the University of Toronto.”
“Yes, that’s where I studied,” the psychologist said with a big smile.
“That doesn’t help our relationship much, U of T was an unpleasant experience.”
“That’s quite understandable. The professors there tend to be unforgiving, and medical school is never easy.”
“How would you know, you’re a psychologist, not a doctor.”
The psychologist gazed at the Psy.D on the wall. He got it to work in the field, interviewing patients. Stanford Log, despite being churlish, was shaping up to be an easy case. The psychologist’s job was to get people to tell him their story, and here was a man who’d offered it to him on a silver platter. All he had to do was endure a little abuse about his hair and outfit, then take notes.
“I like that sculpture on your work-desk,” Stanford Log said. The psychologist turned around to look at the small owl figurine Stanford was pointing to. It wasn’t the only statuette, there were lions and frogs and pigs. On the walls were colorful paintings of horses and bison and lions, but Stanford Log chose to single out the owl. Interesting.
“Thank you,” the psychologist answered.
“Did your kids make that for you?” Stanford Log asked.
“I don’t have kids.”
“Oh, married to your work?”
“I suppose so. Do you like Owls?”
“I’ll pretend that wasn’t a lazy attempt to turn the topic back to me, and yes, I do like owls.”
“They eat rats. Rats are the worst animals, cold and vicious and unforgiving. They’re desperate and they’ll eat anything.”
“You know quite a bit about rats,” the psychologist said.
“We dissected them in college one time.”
“How’d that go?”
“Interesting, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. I spent my last summer in high school working. When the money I’d saved up only lasted a couple of months I went back to work. I was going to college, working, and writing stories on the side.”
“What kind of stories did you write?”
“Ones like the one I’m telling you, I suppose. Speculative fiction.”
“Yes, my life sounds like fiction, but it’s the furthest thing from it. A miserable chain of non-fictional events that lead me here, and it all begins with my ex-girlfriend. She always had too much mascara on, but it didn’t bother me at the time. She didn’t eat either. Anyway, one night she comes over to my apartment near the campus. She loved visiting me in that apartment for some reason. It creeped her out, and she liked that sort of thing. Anyway, I’m studying for an important test and drinking a can of mountain dew to stay awake. She sits on my lap and pushes me against the back of the stiff, wooden chair, taking the can out of my hands because I’ve had enough energy drinks. I yell at her and push her off the chair. Don’t judge me, I was really tired. She slapped me across the face, and I told her we were breaking up. She cried so much her mascara dripped on the floor. I’m not lying! Drops of mascara on my floor.”
“Right, go on.”
The psychologist noticed the patient wasn’t looking up anymore. Instead, he had his head turned towards the doctor. His eyes were narrow, like a snake.
“As soon as she left I got off the chair and went to lie on the floor. It helps to lie on the floor and think. I closed my eyes and convinced myself that I was better off without her, that it was her not me, all that shit. When I opened my eyes, I saw two human-sized rats in front of me. One was as big as an adult and the other was the size of a child. You probably don’t believe me, who cares, you’re not even a real doctor.”
“Please continue sir, I am not judging you in any way. This is a safe space.”
“Good, but I’m guessing the people who’ll read your notes will judge me. Doesn't matter, a good story deserves to be told. Are you paying attention, doctor? No, you’re not a doctor, sir.”
“Good. the rats weren’t actually the size of an adult and a child, but from my low position on the floor, eyes blurry from exhaustion, they did. Perspective, sir, that’s what it was. My brain was playing tricks on me. I got to my feet and at once the rats shrunk to normal size, only one was still much bigger than the other, possibly twice as big. The big rat opened it’s mouth and bit the smaller one’s head clean off. He took the headless boy in his jaws, threw it into the air above him like a trained seal throwing a volleyball, and caught it in his mouth. The big rat swallowed the smaller rat’s body in one gulp. Then the big rat grew.
Stanford turned his head and watched the psychologist write on his clipboard.
“Are you writing something about me being delusional? Seeing things that aren’t really there?”
“Don’t worry about these notes,” the psychologist said, “focus on your story.”
“Why’s that, sir? Why do you want me to focus on my story?”
“A good story deserves to be told,” the psychologist said.
Stanford flashed him a sinister, bemused smile without opening his mouth.
“The day after I broke up with my girlfriend, one of my classes dissected rats like I told you before. I found it strange seeing as I just had that experience with the big rat. My professor handed out these metal trays with dead rats on them. They lay on their backs like a dog that wanted a belly-scratch. He placed my tray in front of me gentler than anybody else's like he was a waiter and I’d ordered the rat special. It was the big rat from the night before. I start cutting it open, and it starts moving. First just the legs, then the heads going from side to side too. I stabbed it all over the place, but it wouldn’t stop moving. The professor took the rat away and gave me a failing grade. I began seeing the big rat everywhere, and it was growing. It had eaten all of the little rats, who’d volunteered, of course, seeing as this big rat was their king. He was the rat king, and he and his hench-rats invaded my life and caused its end. My own personal apocalypse. I was getting pretty damn close to failing medical school, so I doubled down on my studying and did my best to ignore the rats.”
“Right, did that work?”
“Oh yes, I’m just here because I like to talk to fake-doctors.”
“Okay, so what happened next?”
“I was studying one day, not that long ago, and eating some almonds. The almonds looked normal, felt normal, smelt normal, sounded normal, but as soon as I put them in my mouth they turned into rats. A little grey head peeked out of my lips, and the tail stretched down the back of my throat and gagged me. It didn’t matter, I was eating much at that point anyway. Eventually, I stopped eating altogether.”
“How do you survive without food?”
“I don’t know.”
They settled into a very long silence. Stanford closed his eyes and slowed his breathing as if he was sleeping.
“Don’t fall asleep on me Mr. Log,” the psychologist said.
“I couldn’t if I tried, sir.”
“So you don’t sleep or eat?” The psychologist asked.
“Yes! I’ll give you a moment to write that down.”
The psychologist smiled and wrote something on his clipboard. He wondered what his next question to Stanford Log should be. Was he telling the truth about not sleeping or eating?
“Squeak squeak?” The psychologist asked.
“What did you just say, sir?”
“Squeak squeak,” the psychologist repeated himself.
Stanford Log rolled off the couch and got to his feet, looking down at the man below him. The psychologist was still wearing his black sweater and jeans, only now he had grey fur, a small grey tale, and beady dark eyes.
“You’re the rat king!”
“I’m going to put a stop to your invasion of the human world.”
Stanford Log hit the rat across the face with all his might. The rat king bent over in his comfortable grey chair and covered his face with trembling hands. Stanford Log bent down and took a bite out of the rat king’s arm. He chewed on a chunk of skin and swallowed. The taste was familiar. He’d eaten other rats before, that's why they brought him to this place.
“Squeak squeak!” The rat king called out.
Two other rats in white uniforms scurried into the room. One of the rats bit Stanford on the arm. Stanford hit the ground and fell asleep for the first time in a long time.
“I think I have enough notes,” the rat king said.