Prompted by Sunday Scribblings: Dare
The metal loop on the ceiling was hard to reach; the hook on a short wooden handle had been intended for someone taller, and in the end, I had to call in one of the doctors to thread the hook into the loop and pull down the folding ladder. We stared at the square of darkness that was the only entrance into the attic. Something was going on; there’d been rustling and shuffling noises for days, and Mary, the clinic receptionist, was terrified, certain an escaped criminal was hiding up there. I’d spent a weekend once in a vacation cottage that had rats, and that’s what it sounded like to me. “I’ll just go up and find out what it is,” I had said, and now I picked up the flashlight and gripped the ladder with my other hand.
“No! Don’t!” Mary squeaked, but Dr. Morse just looked amused.
“I dare you,” he said, and up I went.
I directed the flashlight beam into all the shadowy places behind filing cabinets and boxes until I found it cowering between two cartons–a terrified raccoon trying to make itself as small as possible.
Later, one of the doctors went up on the roof and nailed shut the grating that had come loose, but he had forgotten one crucial thing.
I was the first person to arrive the next morning. The Christmas tree lay on its side in the middle of the waiting room. Shattered blue and white glass ornaments were everywhere. In the reception area, open drawers spilled their contents, and in the hall, the attic trapdoor was open, the spring-loaded ladder half unfolded where the trapped raccoon had made its escape. In the break room, it had found the ultimate fulfillment of all its dreams–a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii. Shredded bits of cardboard and tissue wrappers lay strewn on the floor where it had gorged itself.
At the end of the hall was Dr. Cooper’s office, where the chocolate nuts had disagreed with the raccoon, making a nasty mess all over the desk strewn with mail and patient charts, and there, scrunched up on the bookshelf between textbooks and stacks of medical journals, was a sick-looking, miserable animal. It warned me away with a horrible retching sound mixed with a desperate growl.
The humane society came and took the raccoon away while the rest of us scrambled to clean up the office before the first patient arrived, a prim, elderly lady in a bright red coat. She looked at the tree, which we’d just managed to wrestle upright again. “Aren’t you going to put any ornaments on it?”
“Maybe later,” Mary said.