The bunnies were cute until they began dining on my asparagus. Squirrels raided the bird feeders but they were cute and their antics fun to watch so we forgave them. A creek borders our back yard, making us a way station for all sorts of wild life. We’ve had raccoons knocking over the plants on the patio, flower beds disrupted by armadillos, and an aloof bobcat hiding behind the planters to spy on our birdfeeders. The neighborhood box turtle visited often enough that we researched her gender and named her Myrtle.
We enjoyed our status as open air zoo – tossing out sunflower seeds for the jays, peanuts for the squirrels and an occasional lettuce leaf for Myrtle. Then the rats arrived.
A clatter and rustle from the dark yard prompted us to flip on the patio light. There, exposed in the brief flash before they melted away in a wave of fur and long, skinny tails, we spied at least a dozen rats enjoying a late night snack on our birdfeeder. A plague of rats, a pack, a swarm – enough to send us stomping and yelling back to the safety of our living room.
Further horror ensued when my husband spotted one burrowing under our house. “They probably have a whole rat tunnel system under our foundation!”
We purchased pebbles and rock and filled in the holes while blotting out the image of stranded rats slowly decomposing among our plumbing pipes.
I wondered if we would have found them so despicable had they had the soft, fluffy tails of squirrels. The sight of those rats clinging to our birdfeeder reminded me of the movie Willard. It came out in 1971, when I was eleven years old. I saw it at the movie theater, probably on dollar night and with my friends. I don’t remember much about the plot, except that it involved revenge, and a lot of rats. The main character, a young man named Willard, formed a friendship with a pair of intelligent rats. There are many directions the movie could have taken from that point, but this is a horror movie, so I’ll just tell you the final scene involved a rat army led by their commander, Ben.
The odd thing about this movie, when I look back on it, is that I remember feeling sympathy for the animals and not the human characters. Strange how our perspective shifts when we identify with the monster.
We solved the rat issue by bringing in the bird feeder each night. I picture them gathering at the base of the pole where the feeder hung, wondering who took away their buffet dinner. The collective noun for a group of rats could be pack, plague, colony, swarm but they can also be called a mischief.
You can read about the movie Willard at the AFI Catalog site.
Willard inspired a sequel two years later – the movie Ben. This film featured a song by Michael Jackson. Try to listen to it and remember he is singing about a rat.