The grand old house had been the envy of the neighborhood for over two hundred years. Its foundation was solid stone, carefully placed, its walls hardwood timber, stout as a ship. The stately structure had weathered hurricanes and floods, tornados and even an earthquake, surviving with mere scratches. Until one day the Groundskeeper noticed strange piles of sawdust under the gutters after a rain.
Concerned, the old man traced the paths of damp sawdust to the base of the attic windows. He labored up the narrow stairwell, then cautiously opened the attic door. Immediately, he sensed movement in the room, as though the floor shifted under his feet. Before his eyes, a dark grey shadow passed out of the light and into the woodwork.
“The Master isn’t going to want to hear about this,” he said to himself, as the stench of decaying wood reached his nose.
“ROT?! ROT IN MY HOUSE?! THERE’S NO ROT IN MY HOUSE!!!!” the Master screamed over his eggs and toast as a large chunk of spongy wood landed on the table, lifted itself on invisible legs, and walked into the flower pot.
“YOU’RE FIRED!” he shouted to the Groundskeeper, who quickly ducked through a side door and was never seen again.
“Don’t worry, Master, I’m sure he’s hallucinating, old man that he is,” the Butler soothed, as a glob of smelly splinters landed on his shoe, disgorging a small black cloud that disappeared into the floorboards.
But the Butler was not a stupid man, and understood that rot might cause a problem. Reluctantly, he called the rot experts.
“Ants,” said the first pest exterminator when he pried back a ceiling panel in the attic and an army of black carpenter ants streamed out.
But the Butler shook his head. “Can’t be ants,” he said, for no apparent reason.
He called another exterminator.
“Ants,” the second one said, after peeling up a floor tile. “Lots of them.”
“No way!” the Butler said, swatting and stomping as hundreds of the large black crawlers swarmed up his pants.
He called another pest exterminator, then another.
“Ants,” they both said. And so it went for days, as a dozen more pest controllers tromped through the old house, and every single one said the same thing: ants.
The attic had begun to crumble, so Caretakers of the house had taken refuge in a grove of trees in the yard, lounging on blankets that were covered in insect carcasses and bug slime.
“Couldn’t possibly be ants,” they cooed in unison whenever the Master or Butler walked by. Every day, the attic roof sank deeper as the mounds of fallen rot grew.
“You know, there’s a guy in the next county I want you to call,” the Master finally suggested, after a chunk of attic landed in his soup. “He’ll know what to do.”
So the Butler called the guy, who drove over in a little red truck, stood on the doorstep, gazed down at the stone foundation, and pronounced with confidence: “Rats! What you have is an invasion of rats! In the basement!”
The Butler beamed with pleasure. “Of course it’s rats! How could we have been so mistaken?!” And as he spoke, a rotted timber gave way high above him, fell down three stories onto his head, and knocked him out cold. So cold he didn’t notice the brigades of ants that burrowed into his helmet of hair and curled up in his ears.
Soon, the guy with the little red truck was setting rattraps all over the basement. “We’ll have them in no time!” he proclaimed. But after a week, his traps were empty.
“THEY’RE IN THERE SOMEWHERE!” the Master shouted.
“Of course,” the Butler echoed, rubbing his forehead.
“Poison!” the guy with the little red truck suggested next, before spreading lethal powder in all the basement nooks and crannies. But after another week, not a single dead rat could be found.
The Master, Butler and Caretakers gathered around the basement windows, longing for rats.
“Pesky devils!” the guy with the little red truck admitted cheerfully before announcing his next idea.
“Explosives!” he cried as he hauled a load of grenades down the basement steps.
“BANG BANG BANG!” the basement echoed as the grenades discharged. Everyone covered their ears, gleeful at their imminent triumph. But again no rats appeared, only cracks in the old stone walls.
“Hmmmm….” the Butler murmured, rubbing his chin. “Rats are clever, but we’ll find them!”
The Caretakers clucked their assent from the safety of their blankets, now covered with a fine stone dust. “Of course it’s rats,” they crooned sleepily.
“JUST GET IT DONE!” the Master yelled on his way to his afternoon nap, flecks of plaster and spackle now mingling with the soggy wood shards on his shoulders.
“More explosives!” the guy with the little red truck shouted as he rolled kegs of dynamite down the basement stairs. He ran a long fuse through the old stone portal that had stood for centuries, along the base of the foundation, and into the sturdiest space in the house.
“KABOOM!” came the sound as blocks of stone and lumps of mortar went flying across the yard to rain down on the blankets of the Caretakers, who lay prostrate and still under their weight.
As the dust settled, the old house lay in rubble in the hole the explosion left behind. An old cat staggered, blinded and burning, from a basement window. The Master and the Butler huddled together under the trunk of a fallen tree, whimpering softly about rats.
In the charred and ashen scene, the only other signs of movement were the swarms of ants escaping from the hole and spreading like dark shadows across the quivering neighborhood. And in the distance, peeling out across the landscape, the little red truck headed back the way it came.