St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

Something in the Pipes

The mice have been in my apartment for about a month. I noticed them a few weeks ago when I sat down to watch the new Red Dwarf. I was happily drinking a beer and munching on some chips, still clad in my bathrobe, when a movement caught my eye. Something scurried out from under the fridge, stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, and looked at me. Before I could do anything other than look back in surprise, the fleet-footed little bastard had vanished back under the fridge.

Well, I wasn’t having that. I bought rat poison and a few glue traps and rigged my kitchen for death. Did I catch anything? Did I buggery. I saw the mice twice after that, and each time in a totally trap-free area of the floor. They haven’t even flirted with the possibility of stepping onto one of those traps.

The prolific Ernst Fluch
The prolific Ernst Fluch

Of course, in a venerable San Francisco apartment there are bound to be pests. The apartment block was built in 1928, placing the lobby’s columns and gold flourishes squarely in the glory days of art deco. The architect was one Ernst Fluch, an odd duck of a German, who immigrated to the USA after the First World War. Before that he had been an architectural advisor to Kaiser Wilhelm II during some of his more troubled years. Wilhelm had grown more and more interested in the occult, and began to associate with a rag-tag collection of psychics and shamen. His personal physician had begun to worry that the Kaiser’s mind would become unbalanced by his spiritualism, and as time went by it became more and more obvious that these mystics had the Kaiser firmly under their thumb. That was when he began to work with Fluch.

None of Fluch’s architectural projects survived the blitz of the Second World War. This may sound unsurprising until you look up the street maps of Berlin and realize that Fluch’s buildings were not in devastated areas of the city. The neighboring buildings stayed safe, but something about Fluch’s work seemed to incite a ready fire. It was as if the city itself could not bear to leave them standing. I have not been to Berlin myself, but I have friends who have and who I’ve asked to stop by one of these sites. Each one of them has reported back that the streets still carry an uncommon chill as if they were a dog that remembers an abusive owner.

The winds do blow heavily down the streets in San Francisco, and it should be no surprise to learn that Fluch worked prolifically in this area. He was responsible for the design of no fewer than 130 buildings in the city, one of which is my own home in Amber Apartments1 — the one I share with the mice.

I thought the mice were coming in through a hole in the wall near the radiator. That’s where the glue traps were set up for a week, but still without catching a thing. Only lately I’d begun to notice more and more strange noises coming from the pipes. Sometimes it just sounds like water whistling through the valves, though the radiator is always switched off. Other times it’s a distinct and repeated clang that echoes through the walls. I could just about bear the water noises, but the clanging was liable to keep me awake at nights. So I decided to get a closer look at this mouse-hole to see what might be there.

First I picked at a few flakes of paint. The spackling seemed ancient and immediately began to crumble away from the wall. As the light poured into the wall, it startled a den of hundreds of mice. They all came flooding out into the apartment. They were on me before I could jump back, already crawling up my arms and legs. I jumped around frantically trying to shake them off, but I could already feel one trapped down the back of my shirt. As I danced around the room I stepped on mice with my bare feet and felt them crunch underneath me.

I’m still shivering. It’s impossible to shake the memory of them crawling on my skin and stepping on their soft, sticky bodies. But nothing the mice did was worse than when I examined their den. There was a cramped crawlspace underneath the floor. The first thing I saw was a human eye, dangling from its socket, desiccated and caked with dry blood. I was too shocked to realize what I was looking at. Then I saw the rest of the body and screamed.

The apartment’s previous occupant had been trapped under the floor for months, banging on the pipes to attract my attention. Until they finally swarmed and killed him, he had been subsisting on the mice’s raw meat. The poor soul had been there for so long that there was evidence he’d even kept one of the mice as a pet of sorts, because he’d scratched its name into the wood with a piece of sharpened bone. He’d called it Mickey.

Have a truly horrifying Halloween, everyone.


  1. Amber Apartments is a reference to the Arabic ΚΏanbar, in turn derived from Middle Egyptian π“‰»π“ˆ–π“…‘π“‚‹π“ƒ«π“ˆ“ (ambergris), an incense used during rare human sacrifices to Set, the Typhonian Beast.