Around three a.m., it started once more, that hideous gnawing and scratching through the wall accompanied by the smell of disease and something terribly feral. Before she had come around and inserted herself into my life, my nights were wonderfully peaceful and quiet, absent of little scurrying feet behind paisley wallpaper. Cats screeched in a heavy chorus, scratching at the walls, leaving me with the knowledge that the sounds were no dream or phantom of an upset mind while our dog lay clueless on the living room rug, as dogs often do.

During the cold, cold winter, my mother passed and by summer she had come with her swirling red skirts and long curled mahogany hair and her forest eyes flashed in cold, stern intensity even as her pale lips curved in a sweet smile. Every night since her violation into my family, the awful sounds of scratching and gnawing would start with the terrible smells and screeching of my three cats at the ancient walls of my room. Far be it for me to question my father’s desire to remarry, for human need for companionship is one of our strongest emotions and I will never fault my father for her presence which is her invasion alone.

“Good morning,” I say to her through clenched teeth and her icy eyes follow me as I sit down at the old wooden table, helping myself, not to the omelets she had made that morning, filling the kitchen with the pungent smell of eggs, onions, and brewing coffee, instead putting bread into the toaster. Hitting the toaster’s lever harder than necessary, I turned my back to the woman, ignoring her presence even as I feel her gaze burning into me like a deep brand in my brain, her mere existence marking me. I knew that there was something rotting and nasty in her, though for all of my perusal of her person, I could never discover it, even in the late hours, watching her sleeping frame, her body sunken in my father’s bed.

Just a few more weeks, I tell myself, just a little more time and things will be back to normal, my father will tire of her and she will be gone, but still the sounds continue, deep into the night. Keeping true to my father is too difficult, pretending that I like this intruder, but my hatred bleeds through to my expression for not even the deep love for my father can make me love this woman. Listening to the scratching inside of those walls fills me with a dull sort of horror, the sounds of tiny squirming bodies working on the creaking wood scares me, yet I am frozen on the bed, incapable of doing anything except listen to the relentless gnawing.

Many nights, I listen to those sounds, wide awake, my insomnia eating at me, I can see her rot eating at everything and I wonder why no one can see that but my cats and I. Notions, various and furious, circle around in my head, bombarding me with ideas of escape both great and terrible, yet, just as I am frozen with fear of those sounds at night, I am frozen in this place, her perfume clotting in my skull, the sounds scratching around in my ear. Opening the cupboard two days ago, a plan forms in my tired head, a way out, a plan so simple, I know I can do it.

Pattering footsteps join the scratching, the light, sudden footfalls like scampering of some bipedal rodent, it drives me mad, the frantic sounds, like a terrifying chorus of the wind of the night beats on my window, only the image of the white powder in the cupboard makes my troubled thoughts settle. Quilts, heavy and stifling cover my form, the weight trapping me, smothering me, the darkness that greets my eyes is yawning and powerful, the smell of animals that I cannot see is nauseating. Rats, rats, the daemon rats, yes, I can hear them now, as soon as the sun starts to set, it drives me mad, that incessant scampering and scratching.

Still, be still, I beg in my mind as I hear the muted sounds of thousands of rodents, their horde pulsating behind the peeling wall. The woman stares at me, her gaze questioning at my dazed state and I yearn for sleep, so her presence is overpowering and I wonder if I am a ghost and she has stolen my clarity. Under that unrelenting stare, I can finally see it, the squirming in her chest, that dreadful feral smell follows her. Velvet strands of mahogany hair on my hair brush, she is replacing me, little by little, I can see it now. White, I feel the color has bled out of me and spread into her cruel, stretched, painted lips, and I am a ghost in the room, listening to the scratching, the terrible scratching. Xena looks at me with her feline green eyes, only those eyes, her black fur hiding her in the shadows, a plump rat dangling from her jaws and I understand I will not fade away.

You can call it murder, fine, but I know better, it was the rats, and surely they will see that, the rats devoured her. Zealous, I watch as they take the woman away and I sleep and sleep and all is quiet, the walls are silent.