THE ANGRY RAT 



     My friend Scott was assigned to work the gate shack in front of the Bien Hoa MP station last night. It was after curfew and I was on town patrol and getting bored. I decided to drop in on my buddy to keep him company for a while.

     The gate in front of the PMO is round and about five feet in diameter. It is open on the sides at waist level and has a wooden roof in case of rain. The shack sits about a foot or so above the ground and is protected by sandbags around its perimeter. There is a small opening to its rear for entering and exiting.

     Scott was certainly happy to see me when I pulled up in front of the station. Gate guard duty is the army equivalent to a prison’s solitary confinement. At the gate in Bien Hoa, the guard must stand at all times, and is not allowed books, a radio, or food and drink in the shack. Most MPs are reluctant to go near a gate shack without being told. The reason is simple. Almost all military policemen assigned to gate duty are desperate to get off of the gate. They will employ the most devious methods available to them to accomplish this. It is not uncommon for an MP on a gate to suddenly experience violent intestinal distress requiring immediate latrine attention. The bouts of stomach flu can, and probably will, last for hours.

     It is also likely that whoever relieves the guard for lunch will be there for some time. The thrill of being in a patrol car will turn even the most innocent of soldiers to bribery. I can tell you Roni that just two days ago I relieved the gate guard for lunch. An hour later the jeep carrying the guard pulled up to the gate. Then, right in front of my eyes, I saw money exchange hands and the jeep sped off, not to be seen again until the end of my shift.

     I knew Scott well enough and trusted him not to abandon the gate. We had talked for a few minutes when I happened to notice a huge rat emerge from a drain pipe on the opposite side of the gate. The rat was about fifteen feet away from us and he was a monster, about the size of a full grown cat and twice as fat.

     The rat seemed to notice us in the gate. He stopped outside the pipe and stared in our direction for some time. Scott and I were more than a little concerned by this rodent’s behavior. He was looking at us as if we were his next meal.

     A machete rested on the wooden roof above my head. It was to be used only in the case of a dire emergency. I quickly assumed that this situation qualified.

    I pulled down the machete and, gripping the handle, took aim at the rat. Scott said something along the lines of “let your sword be swift and true” (he said later he had read that line recently in a comic book), but it was obvious both of us were a bit nervous.

     I let the machete fly. It hit the concrete in front of the rat, throwing sparks in the air, but missed the creature itself by a matter of inches. The rat did not move for several seconds, and then it seemed as if its eyes became larger and redder. If the rat was contemplating its next move earlier, the machete made up its mind. It charged us then, heading directly at the entrance of the gate shack.

     I’m not sure if charged is the right word, maybe waddled is more appropriate. Even so, it was fast enough to block our only means of escape.

     While Scott and I huddled at the far end of the shack, the enraged rat tried desperately to gain access to our temporary home. Luckily for us, the thing was too obese to jump the short space between the ground and the gate. But I’m telling you it tried. For at least fifteen minutes that beast from Hell did its best to get at us, sometimes jumping straight up in the air on it’s hind legs, at other times backing up and attempting an awkward running start. Thankfully the height was too great for the fat thing and it finally tired, but the rat still had not given up. It lodged itself in the hole under the entrance, lying in wait for one of us to make a careless move.

     Not long after this I realized I wasn’t stuck on this gate, and that the rat was more Scott’s problem than mine. Our friendship notwithstanding, I decided to make a break for it.

     Scott was beside himself when I told him he would soon be on his own against the overweight predator. He rightly accused me of starting the whole thing with the machete. He had a valid point, but I in turn pointed out that from the minute the rat spotted us we were probably doomed.

    With a final apology I made a break for my jeep, jumping wide over the hole and sprinting like a madman. Safely behind the steering wheel, I looked back at the gate a final time. Scott still hugged the far wall of the shack, his eyes focused on the entrance, beneath which I could see two red eyes staring menacingly into the night.

     I ran into Scott a little while ago in the company area. He was still fuming some but calmed down after a bit. He told me the rat kept him company the entire night. He heard it scratching and gnarling at the wood beneath his feet looking for other access points or maybe trying to eat his way in. Scott was mighty glad to see his relief this morning. He said the other MP probably thought him crazy, the way he tore from the gate. He confessed it was the longest night of his life and I had no reason to doubt him.

     I didn’t want to tell Scott, but during our conversation I noticed flecks of gray in his hair that were not there the day before. I’ll have to buy him a beer later and hope that he doesn’t look in a mirror anytime soon.