Oh the Rats Get Into Everywhere

At first I had been digging a hole in the woods behind Mama’s garden, but later I sat at the kitchen, building pyramids from a pile of broken teeth; it was sweet and ordinary. From no place, Mama was there. She kissed me on the cheek and handed me a plate of olives saying, Here’s breakfast, Private Gorren, then vanished back to no place. My little brother, a baby again, was playing under the table and giggling as he put beetles in my shoes while I tried to shove him away with the butt of my gun. It came to me then, walking in the kitchen door on cloven hooves. It was the Devil that interrupted me, huge in the yellow flower kitchen, and smelling of gingerbread instead of brimstone. Small eyes burned orange in his broad bull’s face. His horns were dusty as a pasture animal but his hands were the large hands of a man, a giant. Fine morning, Caleb, don’t you think? he said with a polite nod of his horns. Beneath the wrinkled tablecloth my baby of a brother continued to giggle but all his beetles fled. The Gingerbread Devil, his warm breath teasing my neck, bent down to whisper something.

I turned on my back, trying to banish the coal-burning eyes from my skull. The dream lingered, unwanted in my head and I knew I wouldn’t sleep again until I remembered what the Devil told me. Einstein and Lieutenant Adams were arguing quietly over the map in the far corner of the concrete room, but as the far corner was not quite twelve steps away it was easy to hear their words. From my box-like cot I listened sleepily, hoping to be distracted from the Devil.

“-would work only if we were in sector C, J or M-9.” Einstein was Corporal Aaron Caeney but he was a Jew and smarter than anyone in the military had a right to be. His dark honest face looked more irritated than usual, oddly foreign in the flashing orange light of the room. We’d run out of aspirin yesterday and Einstein’s face was pinched, the flashing gave him a headache. As far as I knew he was only twenty-eight, but scowling, the light making blank yellow circles of his glasses, he had the look of a bent old man.

Lieutenant Adams looked down at the map, tracing with a scarred finger. He was not any older than me, but tired and drawn as Einstein.

“You said we were in J,” he said.

“I said we were probably in J.”

I flipped on my side, watching them. Einstein, glasses and face flashing, was plainly frustrated. The Lieutenant just looked annoyed.

“Well where else would we be?”

Einstein snorted, “Just about anywhere.” When Lieutenant Adams frowned, he stabbed at the map with his finger. “Look, takin’ a guess at where we entered, we could be anywhere from H sector to M. We came down three levels initially to find a bunker with passages to the north and west. See?”

Lieutenant Adams looked at the map but obviously didn’t see much at all.

“Yeah, I see. So what?”

Einstein sighed. “I think we’re in J sector. I hope we’re in J sector.”

“If we’re not?”

I remembered, then. He did not wear a wicked smile, and he didn’t say the words with any special malice. The Devil spoke with a calm inevitability that started me shivering: Here I am.

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