Aksel was a Norwegian rat, although it would have been a matter of contention if anybody told him that. He thought he was a Norman rat since his forebears had come to the New World aboard a French ship that sailed from Bayeaux long ago. It had been more than a hundred generations of his family saga ago. He had no idea about Norwegians. He didn’t even know where Norway was.
He knew where Rolling’s Pond was. He didn’t know he was on Prince Edward Island. He had no idea he was on the North American continent, although if he had known it wouldn’t have mattered. Home is where the heart is. The pond was where he spent most of his time. During the day he slept in the basement of the Stella Maris church. He didn’t own anything, not even a fork, knife, or bedroll, but it was cozy. He stored food there and had a nest of straw and a small pillow.
He wasn’t a farmer, instead foraging for food. He went gleaning far and wide. He ate anything and everything. He thought he had probably eaten thousands of different foods in his lifetime.. He ate any discarded human food he came across as well as all crops from all fields. He ate all the time, snacking on whatever came his way. Some people said he was a glutton. He preyed on lizards, chicks, and other rodents. He caught fish on Fridays. The pond had all the fresh water he wanted.
His mother had let it slip one day that their kind lived about two or three years. His eyesight wasn’t going bad. It had always been bad. He needed glasses. He was colorblind, too. His other senses, smell taste touch and hearing, were outstanding. He wasn’t especially agile, but he could run jump climb and swim enough to keep life and limb together. He used his face whiskers to feel the world around him. He could wiggle each one of them individually, unlike cats like Snaps from Murphy’s Cove who were always messing with him. He and Snaps were going to have it out one day. The beast was forever laying low for him. He had to find a way to neutralize the cat’s claws, which were razor sharp and deadly. He had the scars to prove it.
Except for Snaps, cats rarely bothered Aksel. He was too big and nasty for most of them, feral or otherwise. Snaps was on a different order of things. He was a dangerous son-of-a-gun. They were a stop-and-go dance in the dark When Aksel stopped the cat stopped. When he started up again the cat was on his heels again, intent stealthy menacing.
Nobody ever called Aksel by his name. Instead, they called him sewer rat, wharf rat, and street rat. Some called him Hanover rat and Parisian rat. He didn’t like it whenever he was called a dirty rat. He was fastidiously clean. He washed and groomed himself ten times a day. He was a brown rat with a white underside. He was big boy, his body length almost a foot long with a tail slightly shorter than a foot. All he had to do was smile and wiggle his tail at passersby to make them jump.
One day he met one of his kind in the dumpster behind the Co-op next to Amanda’s. After giving each other the secret handshake, after which both rats were sure the other one was legit, they gossiped while they ate. His new-found friend, it turns out, had come off a cruise ship in Charlottetown, gone on a self-guided tour, been late getting back, and was now stranded until the next boat rolled in.
“I can hi-jack myself on to any boat,” he said. “You know those big round things they attach to mooring lines, what they call rat guards, and they coat them with grease? I suck up the grease. I spit it out over my shoulder when I go over the rat guard.”
Cruise ships had been coming to Charlottetown since just after the turn of the century, pulling into port to hearty welcomes. They let loose hundreds sometimes thousands of tourists all at once to eat drink lick ice cream stretch their legs see the sights and buy “Anne of Green Gables” dolls and effigies.
It was after midnight when Aksel and Your Yeoman Purser, what his friend called himself, went their separate ways. “I know I’m just a rat and a mug, to boot, but I have got to say this place here is something else, just beautiful, and everywhere I look there is food.”
Aksel was more nocturnal than not, so when Bernie Doiron found the woman dead in the ground on the other side of the hill from Rolling’s Pond and every cop car, ambulance, and fire truck in the land descended on his landscape, the noise that morning woke him up. He had just fallen asleep. He coughed and cleared his throat, blinking. He was curious and made his way the back way to the top edge of the field where it was all happening to see what was going on.
Aksel had a love hate relationship with human beings. On the one hand, he preferred living near them since they were a rat’s number one fast food outlet. On the other hand, they were always trying to kill him. They were always checking his droppings and tracking him by them. They were always putting out traps and bait stations. Whenever they found his nest they gassed it. He was cautious. He knew full well what glue boards and snap traps were about. It didn’t matter if they were baited with his favorite fish and cereals. He gave them a wide berth.
“My mama didn’t raise no fool,” he grumbled to himself.
He saw what Bernie had seen and what the cops were seeing. It was an arm that had been chopped off. He guessed the rest was still in the ground. It looked like they were digging her up, although why was beyond him. He knew they weren’t going to eat her, so what was the point? What human beings did baffled him more often than not.
Aksel quickly lost interest. There wasn’t going to be a free meal in it for him anytime soon unless somebody dropped some food. That was something else that puzzled him. They seemed to not want to pick up food they had dropped. In his world no rat did that. They ate everything in sight, no matter what.
He sprinted across the open ground behind him. He could run faster than any man alive. He could run six times his body length in a single second, but he couldn’t keep it up for long. When he got to the tree line and was out of sight, he slowed down and caught his breath. When he got to Church Hill Rd., he looked both ways before crossing. There was no sense in being run over on his own doorstep by some potato truck.