Thursday, December 09, 2010

San Francisco Fog

Picking his way through a fog so thick it is difficult to make out the shop lights, a lone tourist steps into an antique shop in the maze of San Francisco's Chinatown. Looking through objects strewn carelessly about the cluttered shop, he discovers a detailed, life-sized bronze sculpture of a rat. The sculpture is so interesting and unique that he feels compelled to pick it up and as he holds it, finds it difficult to put it back down. Though not much of a collector, he reluctantly asks the shop owner what it costs.

"Twelve dollars for the rat, sir," says the shop owner, "and a thousand dollars more for the story behind it."

"You can keep the story, old man," he replies, relieved at the bargain price, "but I'll take the rat," and happily leaves the store with the bronze rat under his arm.

As he crosses the street in front of the store, the tourist sees two gray rats scamper from a sewer drain and fall into step behind him. Clutching his bronze trophy tightly, he walks faster, but every time he passes another sewer drain, more rats pop out and follow him.

By the time he's walked two blocks, at least a hundred rats are at his heels. The fog is quickly lifting and people begin to point and shout. He walks even faster, and then breaks into a trot as multitudes of rats swarm toward him from sewers, basements, vacant lots, and abandoned cars.

As in a nightmare, rats by the thousands are squealing fiercely at his heels. Nearing the waterfront at the bottom of the hill, he panics and starts to run. No matter how fast he runs, the rats keep up, squealing hideously now, not just thousands but millions; a tide of rats pouring from every part of the city and closing in behind and around him.

Running onto a pier, and trapped at the edge, the tourist makes a mighty leap up onto a light post but, grabbing hold, drops the bronze rat. It lands with a bounce on the pier and tumbles into the Bay.

Pulling his legs up and clinging desperately to the light post, he watches in amazement as the screeching tide of rats surge over the end of the pier and follow the bronze rat into the bay. They thrash about wildly, but vainly, and all swiftly, agonizingly, sink into the dark, frigid water and drown.

Shaken and humbled, the tourist somehow makes his way through the returning fog back to the antique shop.

"Ah, so you've come back for the rest of the story," says the owner.

"No," says the tourist, "I was wondering if you had a bronze Republican.

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