One fine day I was walking through the woods when I tripped over a root.
Unfortunately it was the sort of root that is attached to a human person, which is to say it was someone's leg. Unfortunately this particular human person was a Witch.
"How dare you!" said the Witch. "I was having such a nice nap! Curse you! You shall have rodents in your basement for eternity!"
"I don't have a basement," I said. "I live in a fifth-floor apartment."
"Not anymore," said the Witch.
I made my apologies and went home, only to discover that my entire apartment had been cleared away for a new superhighway in the time I was gone. Which was an awful bother, but at least the payout from the government was enough to purchase a nice little house for myself.
Unfortunately, the only house I could find in my price range had a basement.
Having nothing left to my name but a spoon and a change of clothing, moving into the house was as easy as walking in the front door. So I set about stocking the house with things, using my remaining cash.
It took me a week to go from the basics to the fripperies, and by the time I had got to the knicknacks I began to wonder if the curse was going to happen after all. I had not heard any squeaking from the basement yet.
Then again I had not looked down there since I started. So I decided to bite the bullet and see how the curse was coming along, if at all.
But before I took another step away from the kewpie-doll shelf I heard a strange gnawing. It sounded much larger and louder than a rat gnawing. It almost sounded like what I heard in the forest sometimes.
I rushed downstairs to discover that a Beaver was munching on one of the posts holding up the staircase.
"Stop that!" I said. "I don't have money to pay for repairs! Shoo! Get out of here!"
"I cannot get out of here," said the Beaver. "I am stuck in this basement. I am starving."
"Oh for heavens sake," I said, and turned on the basement light. "Look, there's the hatch door in the corner."
"Oh," said the Beaver. "Thank you very much." And he opened the hatch door and was soon out of my hair.
Unfortuantely, he only took a week to get into everyone else's hair, because he dammed the stream behind the house and turned it into a pond. Most of the neighbors had a bit of their backyards flooded, except for mine, because my backyard was a big slope. Whatever, not my problem.
Another week went by, in which time I attempted to find myself a wife. But there were few enough lesbians in this town, and most of them were not impressed by my lack of an automobile. Prospective tours went nowhere.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering what to do, when I heard a soft thumping from the basement, and I said to myself, "Oh dear, here we go again." I went down the stairs and there was a rabbit down there.
"Now hang on," I said, "A rabbit isn't a rodent. It's a lagomorph. Take the stupid thing back."
"Excuse me," said the Rabbit. "Why would you say such a thing to my face? And help me out of this basement, I shall starve down here."
Hearing no answer from anyone else, I grumbled a bit and then brought the Rabbit up to the kitchen.
Whereupon it hopped right out the open door and began digging a hole into the hillside.
"Oh come on," I said, "I was planning to make some rice terraces."
"Terrible climate for it," said the Rabbit. "Also terrible soil. Try potatoes."
"You don't want carrots?"
"Only as much as a human wants candy," said the Rabbit.
So I set to work making terraces on the hillside, only grumbling a bit about having to leave a space for the Rabbit's warren, when a Flying Squirrel hit me in the face.
"Let me guess," I said as I peeled her off my face, "your name is Rocky?"
"He's a damn show-off is what he is," said the Flying Squirrel. "Taking a human name and everything. Harrumph!"
"You are very cute," I said. "Would you like to help me pick up a chick?"
"I see no chickens around here," said the Flying Squirrel. "I see no tree either. This is a lonely hillside."
"That's because the Beaver knocked them all down," I said. "I can plant you a tree, if you like."
So I spent the next week planting a couple trees in the side yard, where their height would shade the house in the summer. And the Flying Squirrel was happy. But the ladies who toured my place were not happy, because I had no food.
And then one day, when I was sitting in the living room, wondering if I would ever have a wife, I heard a squeaking from beside me. There was a little grey mouse.
"Oh thank goodness," I said. "The curse finally worked properly. Tell me, Mouse, if I feed you properly and give you a nice cage, will you refrain from gnawing on my baseboards?"
"Terrible habit of mine," said the Mouse, "but it will be much easier to avoid if I have other things to gnaw on. Also I expect to have peanut butter in my dish at least once per week."
"Look at me," said the Mouse. "Look at how small I am. You think I can handle cheese? That would be assisted suicide. No thank you."
"Alright," I said, "but it's going to be mostly potatoes."
So I fashioned a nice cage out of spare wire, and filled it with shredded newspaper and spare pieces of baseboard, and set it in the kitchen, and the Mouse was happy. But the woman who interviewed me that week was not happy, because she did not like the Rabbit, nor the Mouse, nor the pond. Nor the fact that I had very little money.
I spent the next week harvesting potatoes and feeling a little lonely, though much less than when I had moved in.
And I began to wonder if I would hear anything else from the basement. I had not heard anything in a while. So upon one afternoon, when the Mouse and I had finished running maze tests, I decided to go downstairs and check.
There was a Capybara sitting at the base of the steps.
And a small woman with mousy hair.
They were in the small space of floor that was not occupied by piles of potatoes. They had not eaten any of them.
"Alright," I said, "how long have you two been down here?"
"About an hour," said the Capybara. "Muriel here is still recovering from the trip."
"Really," I said. "Why did I get a two-for-one deal this time?"
"Because we're a package deal," said the Capybara. "I'm her Service Animal."
"I can see how that works," I said.
Muriel finally shook her head and blinked. "Oh!" she said. "Someone's basement! This is terrible, we would go -- "
"Want to be a wife?" I said.
"I do not know if I qualify," said Muriel.
"Aw come on," I said, "let me show you around."
And I led Muriel and the Capybara up the stairs.
"Oh!" said Muriel. "You have a Mouse! She is so cute!"
"And I do tricks," said the Mouse. "Or at least I'm learning."
Muriel went out the side door and saw the big trees. "Oh!" she said. "You have shade in the summer!"
"And acorns in the fall," said the Flying Squirrel.
Muriel went to the back garden and saw the terraces.
"Oh!" she said. "You have potatoes! And a Rabbit!"
"And he only steals my potatoes occasionally," I said.
Muriel went down to the pond.
"How about that," said the Capybara. "You have a pond to swim in."
"How about that," said the Beaver. "You have a Capybara."
"Sounds like you both enjoy this place," I said.
And so Muriel became my wife.
And I went to the Witch in the woods and said, "I am sorry for tripping over you and interrupting your sleep."
"It sounds like you have learned your lesson," said the Witch. "Did the curse finally bring you to your knees? I am surprised you lasted this long!"
"Was it supposed to?" I said.
"It was supposed to fill your basment with rats!" said the Witch.
"Oh," I said. "You might have cast it wrong, then. I got a beaver and a rabbit and a flying squirrel and a mouse and a capybara and a mousy woman."
"Silly me," said the Witch. "I will fix the curse to work properly."
So after that my basement was filled with rats, who, in exchange for all the potatoes, took it upon themselves to keep the basement clean, as well as the rest of the house when Muriel was feeling out of sorts.
They also snuck into the houses of other people, now and then, and Muriel and I made lots and lots of money by being the town's best rat-catchers, because I was the one telling the rats to do the sneaking in the first place.
But don't tell anyone.