A short horror story by Hayley Long*.
The sun was shining and Irma the Bunny was in the garden. I had half an eye on her as I sat at the kitchen table reading a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. I will not tell you what the book was about but it didn't match the weather.
Something made me turn away from the page and look up. Irma had stopped destroying tulips and was now sitting very still near a large bush by the back fence. She was staring at it very intently. Head sunk low. Ears tipped forwards like radar receivers.
I stood up and walked over to the back door. Irma didn’t move an inch. Still, she crouched low, testing the air between herself and the bush.
Then I saw it. Just for a second. Underneath the bush, something moved.
It was probably a wood pigeon. There were often wood pigeons in my garden. Or maybe it was one of those big fat baby birds that squawk a lot and can’t fly.
I kept watching.
Then I saw it again.
It was too solid to be a bird.
Maybe it was a squirrel. I sometimes had them in my garden too.
Irma didn’t move. She just kept staring at the thing that was in the bush.
I opened the door and sat down on the doorstep. For a minute - or maybe two minutes – nothing happened at all. But then, just as I thought I might have been mistaken, the bottom of the bush moved and I caught another glimpse of it. It wasn’t a squirrel. But it was definitely something furry. Maybe a wild rabbit. Or an escaped guinea pig.
I stood up and walked slowly and carefully across the lawn towards Irma and the mysterious thing in the bush. Irma still didn’t move. She’d now sunk very low into the ground. Like a commando on the front line. Or a draft excluder.
Squatting down next to her, I reached forward and gingerly tugged at a branch of the bush so I could get a look at the lost guinea pig inside.
What happened next is a blur. It was over in less than a second but it’s stuck in my brain like a particularly sick gif on a never ending loop.
A small shrieking green thing shot out of nowhere and landed on the grass just inches away from my feet. Before I could rightly identify what the green thing was, a second thing thing shot out of the bush. It was bigger and furry and browny-grey and had a tail. It grabbed the shrieking green thing in its mouth and they both disappeared back into the bush.
What happened next is worse.
What happened next is this:
The whole bush started to shake.
And from within it, I heard a scream. It was high-pitched and tragic and it sounded like the sound of something very small meeting a terrifying and awful end.
The screaming and the shaking lasted for three or four or maybe five seconds. And then the scream stopped and the bush went still.
For maybe a minute more, I remained where I was, crouching on my ankles, scared rigid. If I hadn’t been made of stone, I’d have probably thrown up. But pretty soon, I started breathing again so I turned my head and looked at the little black rabbit that was next to me. Still very low. Ears still on Code Red.
‘I think that was a ****ing rat,’ I whispered.
Irma’s face was unreadable. If she was as revolted as I was she wasn’t showing it.
Slowly, I put my hand out to her, clamped it quickly around her body and scooped her up. And then, with nervous glances over my shoulder, I took us back to the safety of the house.
Back indoors, I felt panicky. And looking at my garden, I felt a stab of shame too. There were dandelions in the lawn. The boarders were full of wild flowers.
But then again, it was hardly a rat’s nest.
A rat’s nest?
Maybe there was An Actual Rat’s Nest.
I sat down shakily and wondered what to do.
Then I remembered my best friend.
Lynda had once lived in an ancient flat on a fortified thirteenth century bridge. The flat had been amazing – or it would have been but for one problem. Rats. Temporarily she’d fixed things with a bottle of gin and a 14-hole Doctor Marten boot. But it wasn’t a solution you could happily keep reapplying.
Still. If she could do it.
Making sure the bunny was safely out of harm’s way, I took a deep breath, screwed my courage to the sticking place and went outside to the garage. Once there, I selected the biggest, heaviest shovel I could find and went back to the bush to do a spot of killing.
But the beast had gone.
Weak with relief, I retreated back to the house.
But still I couldn’t relax.
I stuck my head around the door of my office room where Irma lives. She had hopped into her house and was happily munching a piece of kale. She didn’t seem stressed. So why was I?
Because. It. Was. A. Rat.
But then again - maybe it wasn’t.
Maybe I’d got the wrong end of the stick entirely. Maybe it was just a friendly water vole and the green thing was its baby and it was rescuing its baby from the threat of me and Irma and the scream I heard was just the high-pitched crying of a cute little water vole baby? And maybe the shaking of the bush was just the water vole rocking its cute little green water vole baby-thing to sleep? And maybe the crying stopped because the baby was OK. Maybe I'd nearly murdered a water vole?
I picked up my phone and tapped Google Search so I could ask the question DO WATER VOLES HAVE GREEN BABIES?
But even before the search bar had loaded, my optimism dwindled away. What was the point of fooling myself? In search of knowledge and meaning, I typed in the question that was really on my mind.
DO FROGS SCREAM?
The answer is yes. And it is a very sickening sound.
I dropped the phone on to the table and stared out of the window. The bush... my garden... the universe would never be the same again.
*who is currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder