(More horrific fun)
Chapter 6: Planning
I ran like the wind, or it sure felt like I did. I took the quickest glance back as I turned the first corner, only to see a carpet of rats was not chasing me. I didn’t slow down until I passed the last corner and saw the big, grey door in front of me, and I didn’t slow down very much. The heavy door opened easily as I pulled with every ounce of fear-powered strength. When I passed into the warm light of the basement hall, I closed it with urgency; I didn’t want the rats to get out.
I had no idea how long I had been in the storage area, but, if you had asked me, I would have told you it was an hour or more. I tried to act calmly, like I had not just survived a nightmare. It was not until I reached the elevator that I realised my effort would surely have been wasted.
It was well into the evening and I was in the hall, which almost never happened. I was covered in dust and cobwebs, highlighting the little lines of sweat running down my face and neck. That brought the fact I was sweating like crazy to my attention, which brought the fact that I was still panting and out of breath to my attention. The run was nothing, I could have run farther than that in gym class without trying; but I had never run from rats before, and I’m sure I had never run that fast, either.
Luckily, I escaped notice on my return to the apartment. I locked the door, even attached the little security chain we never used. Grandma was asleep in her wheelchair; everything was as I left it; suddenly, it felt like the safest, most wonderful place on earth.
I was filthy and needed to clean up. I tried to stay on the entrance rug as I stripped off the gloves, overalls and shirt, which were the biggest issues. My shoes could wait to be cleaned, so I turned my overalls and shirt inside out and threw them into a plastic bag. I kicked myself about forgetting the can of Raid as I checked pockets. Then, I checked the time. It was just before eleven. Had all of that happened in only twenty minutes?
I started to run the water for my bath. As I reached over to test the water, something fell from my hair and I nearly screamed. The tiny form of a spider sent equally tiny ripples through the bath water as it struggled, swimming for safety. Not a fatty, but too big for my liking. I was crying before I knew it. I had just enough sense to close the bathroom door so I wouldn’t wake Grandma, but not much more than that. I sobbed and sobbed as the rush of what I had just done caught up with me. I was an eleven year old wreck for several minutes. The tub was at the point of overflow for a little while before I turned off the taps. The spider had got free of the water to rest on the edge of the tub, where it sat, seeming to watch me; for a little while, I watched it back. It had to go, but I was completely spooked by it. Getting rid of spiders was Grandma’s job. In the end, a Kleenex and forced courage got the job done.
I cried again while I bathed, but washing seemed to clear my mind, so I felt much better. I got into my pyjamas and tried to settle down. It was strange to feel so tired, like I’d run a marathon or something, and be wide awake. It was the longest, short night I had experienced. I was able to drink a little water and eat a piece of bread. It was past eleven thirty and well past my bedtime. I really didn’t want to go to bed; the thought of being alone in a dark place was more than I could bear, so there was no point in actually trying it. So I took a blanket from the closet and got onto the couch. It was a rare thing for me to sleep on the couch, but it was comfy and fit me just right.
I was starting to relax, if only a little, when I realised that I would have to go back down to the storage to get the empty bucket. What little chance I had of sleeping ran off with that thought.
A million other thoughts stampeded into my mind; the planning was on and the resting was off. I said a quick prayer for God to help me; but they were just words, I was too distracted to pray properly. What could I do?
I got my notes from Grandma and turned the paper over. If I couldn’t sleep, I could plan. I reviewed my experience and put together a better plan than simply walking in for the bucket. My first thought was to camp out next to the storage door and intercept the farmer. Grandma had told me he was odd, but my new fear of the storage area was enough to risk upsetting her and the farmer. After all, this was technically a favour to him, so he could be made to see reason or get his slops elsewhere. There were two flaws, in addition to challenging two adults, which would make the plan fail miserably. For one, the thought of going downstairs and spending the night next to a nest of spiders, rats and whatever else was more than I could handle. The second flaw was that I would surely be noticed by someone from the building. I would have no proper explanation, in that case.
So, it came down to another approach. The main issue was 106. Something had moved inside that unit, something big. I wracked my brain to think of anything I had heard about rats, especially regarding their size, and came up dry. I convinced myself, just barely, that the sound wasn’t exactly what I thought; I had been scared, and whatever it was had made a smaller sound. I remembered my grade two science unit on sound, and how things could sound different coming from different places, so it must have been that.
Anyway, I began to form a plan. My goals were to stay as far from 106 as possible and spend as little time in the storage area as possible; easy enough with a little planning. The speed part was mostly solved already. I had been there once, so I didn’t need to go as slowly or waste time searching for 106. The return trip didn’t involve a heavy bucket, either; I could go quick, maybe even run, to save time. If I had finished the entire trip in less than twenty minutes, lugging a bucket and having other delays, then I could do it much faster at a run with an empty bucket.
My deep concern about 106 was still the sound I had heard and what might have made it. Even if my brain had exaggerated the sound, rats were involved. Not good things to get close to. The light was bad and I would be ambushed, sooner or later. Grandma might get well enough to do the bucket thing again, but that might take days or weeks, maybe more; so the rats would have a few chances to get me. I needed a way to get the bucket without getting closer than necessary. In the end, my solution was to rig up a pole with a rope, like a fishing rod, to hook the bucket from a distance. Several designs crossed my mind, but the realities of materials and construction ended each idea. The closest thing I could come up with, that had a chance, was to find a stick and tie some string to the end of it. I was pretty sure I could bend a coat hanger into a good enough hook and attach it to the other end. I couldn’t figure out why, but it seemed like an impossible task when it was really just a stick, string and coat hanger. Everything seemed like it would be hard to do.
I woke with a start. The night had nearly passed. I was sleeping with my head on the table. Somehow, I had fallen asleep without realising it. My pen was still in hand and the paper resting under my head. I felt stiff and tired as I got up and went to the bathroom. I washed my face and checked the time: five o’clock. The previous night felt far away, like a dream. I wasn’t sure what to do about my fishing rod plan, but I had to do something soon. Grandma always got the bucket the next morning, and it was usually quite early. I decided I would try to put together my plan in the little time I had. If it wasn’t perfect, I could adjust it after.
I took last night’s clothes from the hamper and shook them off on the balcony. Normally, this would get me in trouble, but I didn’t have time to wash them and dirtying another set of clothes seemed wasteful. I got a flashlight and let myself out. There wasn’t anyone around as I left the building through the back door and crossed the parking lot. A small patch of lawn separated the parking lot from the bush, where the slope to the river began. It was just after five and only the outside lights of the building gave me any chance to see. I used the flashlight to search the bush until I found a stick suitable for the job. It was as tall as I was, and sufficiently thick for what I needed.
When I returned to the apartment, Grandma seemed to be stirring a little; the pill was wearing off. I didn’t slow down in my task. I found some string in Grandma’s craft supplies and tied a long, doubled length of it around a knot in the end of the stick, which I had stripped of branches. The coat hanger turned out to be a bigger job than I had planned. Getting the twisted part untwisted was a lot of work that ended up taking more than fifteen minutes, making a mess of butter knives, a screwdriver and braking a set of pliers. Once it was apart, bending it into a hook shape was fairly easy, and I tied the result in place with a triple granny knot.
It was almost six o’clock, and Grandma was getting quite restless. I had no exact idea of how long it would take me to get the bucket, but estimated it wouldn’t be more than ten minutes. Grandma probably wouldn’t wake up in that time, or so I hoped.