Searching Through the Sounds of Silence

May 6, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Rodent Ramblings, Terrific Tales

by Pamela Ebel

A Note from the author: I wrote the story several months ago as a follow up to A Rat’s Tale when I discovered the next journey Magawa’s progeny were being trained for. You can read A Rat’s Tale by clicking here.

“Captain, the rescue team from Tanzania has arrived. They’re unloading their gear. Where should I take them?”

Captain Dietrich Hall paused, his hand full of rubble and freezing snow held mid-air.

“Take them to the command post so that we can show them the maps of the areas we are working and what we have done so far. How many of them are there?”

“There are four members of the team and two rats.”

“Rats. Did I hear you correctly? They brought rats?”

“Yes, sir. But they say they’re special rats trained for this kind of mission. The main team from APOPO sent them.”

Dietrich stared at the massive piles of debris that surrounded their portion in what was left of a residential area of Iskandurun, Turkey, and wondered what rats could possibly do in this situation. He gave a short list of orders and headed for the command center.

“Dr. Karst? I’m Captain Hall with the International Red Cross. We are coordinating parts of the rescue operation, but as you can see, the damage is wide-spread and catastrophic. We are told the death toll is over 40,000 and climbing. There were only rudimentary services in this part of Turkey before the quake and because of the location, terrain, and lack of infrastructure and heavy excavation equipment, this many days later, I am afraid we are going to go into recovery mode soon.”

Dr. Calle Karst stood at the table with the site maps being used to coordinate the search. Several men and women from a variety of organizations were debating where to concentrate their efforts.

“Tony, that large pile to the west appears to be where the majority of the huts and smaller individual houses that the families were living in are located. It’s where we pulled the first survivors out. They claim their family members were still alive when we arrived. We should continue to concentrate resources there.”

“Pat, I know what the families say, but we haven’t heard anything from that area or had a hit by the dogs for days now. The hospital, several of the tall high-rise apartments, and the school were more brick and mortar. I think we need to concentrate on that area.”

Karst continued looking at the maps and listening to the arguments being made for certain actions.

“Do you have a base line for where you think survivors outside that housing area might be?”

Everyone turned to look at the woman and her three companions. They also noted two cages lined up next to the strangers.

“Folks, this is Dr. Calle Karst and her team from Tanzania. They are here at the request of the APOPO.”

The woman called Pat looked down at the cages where she could hear rustling and small noise like squeaks.

“What’s in those cages? Sounds like something’s alive.”

Karst bent down and open the door to one of them.

“Joe, come on out and meet the folks you will be working with.”

A large rat appeared at his cage door, wiggled his nose, and sniffed the air. Shortly, he came out and stood up before Karst making short, loud squeaks. She picked him up and held him close. Most of the other searchers stepped back quickly, looking either nervous or scared.

“This is Joe. He is an African Giant Pouch Rat. His brother Lou is in the other cage. They have been trained to search for survivors in just this type of setting.”

“How do you keep them from eating the people who have died out there? How do you know what they are doing in that rubble?”

Pat was clearly offended by the presence of the rodents and Joe felt her irritation. Being a social creature and trained to offer empathy he worked his way out of Karst’s arms, dropped to the floor, and headed toward the Red Cross worker. She started backing up, yelling for the rat to stop, which he did. But he stood up on his hind legs and looked into her eyes with his paws outstretched.

“He recognizes your fear and is trained to try and help you. Our team has never experienced fear directed toward them. He won’t hurt you. Joe, come on back. We need to get Lou out, get settled in and start working. Corey, will you get their back packs out of the truck and check them out to be sure they’re working please? We’ve wasted enough time on pleasantries.”

She looked sharply at Pat as Joe climbed into her arms.

“Dr. Karst, please have your team follow me. We have a small tent with tables and chairs but only spotty electricity supplied by a gas generator we use sparingly. It should work for you, and I have sent a set of the maps of the area before and after the quake over for you. You guys must be hungry and thirsty. Do you want a bite to eat?”

Dietrich led the way to the tent.

“Thanks, Captain, but we have our own provisions, and we brought supplies for the survivors and other rescuers. I want to get everything set up and get the boys out working.”

Passing a large rubble pile at the base of a craggy cliff of debris both Lou and Joe began to squeak loudly and push against their cage doors. Karst and her team stopped, set the cages down, and let the rats out. Both trotted onto to the rubble and started sniffing and moving between rocks and pushing into crevices. Then, they both backed out and stood where they were making the squeaking noises again.

“Come back, boys, and let’s get you geared up. Corey get the backpacks on them. Paul be sure our radios can pick them up. Joe, Lou, come.”

The rats went to Karst who picked them up and headed to the appointed tent. Dietrich followed her through the swirling snow. In the tent, the rest of the Tanzania team worked feverishly on two miniature backpacks containing video gear, microphones, and location trackers. As the team checked and double-checked the equipment, Karst held bottles of water containing food supplements up for each rat to drink from.

“Why were they on that rubble pile? What caught their attention? We had the dogs there for two days with no hits. And the survivors said there was just an old brick work shed with a tractor and a couple of wagons and empty crates.”

Dietrich watched Lou and Joe drink their supplements quickly as they continued to turn toward the rubble pile.

“They heard something?”

“Yes. And we need to get them over there quickly. From what you tell me that is just the type of place little children would go to play out of the snow and cold. If they weren’t seriously injured by the concrete, we might have a chance.”

Soon the team carried Joe and Lou back to the pile where they moved to the same spots and began to sniff as they worked in a back-and-forth pattern. Joe disappeared first into a tight crevice, and Lou followed suit shortly on the other side of debris.

Karst’s team moved back into their tent to monitor the searchers movements. Dietrich marveled at the video images that the cameras picked up. Small cratered areas that the weight of a human or dog would cause to collapse were traversed carefully by Joe and Lou.

Soon they heard squeaks come from Lou, and Paul began talking as the rat moved slowly forward, his camera picking up the image of a small boy. Paul assured him not to be afraid of Lou, that he was there to help. As they watched the child reached out, Lou rubbed his nose in the small hand.

Soon Joe checked in with more images. Karst called the rats back as the rescuers began the hurried process of moving rocks. In forty minutes, they had retrieved six children who assured them there were no more people in that area.

Pat was putting the finishing touches on the cuts and bruises of a little girl as her mother, another survivor miracle, looked on.

“I’ve told my daughter there are only two rats working here to help us. I think their names are Lou and Joe.”

“No, Mama, there was a third rat. He was bigger than the others, and he had a blue ribbon with a big gold medal around his neck. He told us not to be afraid because the heroes were coming to find us. He stayed with us until the others appeared, and then he was gone.”

Calle Karst listened to the little girl’s story, then returned to the tent and reran the video of the rescue with Dietrich at her side. In the background, when Lou and Joe joined together to alert to their location, they could see a large rat with a gold medal around his neck watching.

“Where did that rat come from doctor? You said you only brought two with you and that is all we saw.”

She shook her head, tears in her eyes.

“That’s Magawa, our Hero Rat. He was the first we trained for such missions. He saved thousands from land mines in Thailand.”

“Well, where is he? Why didn’t you introduce him to the group?”

“Because, Captain, Magawa died two years ago.”

Joe and Lou stood off to the side and watched as the solitary figure crawled up the face of the rubble area, turned, and stood up so that the medal gleamed. He nodded to his children, then turned and disappeared.

Since we didn’t have any photos of Magawa or the other rats in this story we have included some of Drusilla Kehl and the Illustrated Rat’s wonderful rat artwork. To learn more about her art you can visit her website.

You can find more pet rat related articles in our Rodent Ramblings section!

Pamela Ebel has been published in Shotgun Honey, The BOULD AWARDS 2020 and 2021 Anthology, Tomorrow and Tomorrow 2021 Anthology and other venues. Her poetry has appeared in the Delta Poetry Review. A native of California, she now concentrates on tales from her original home state and tales from the highways of the South. She also knows, like the Ancient Greeks and the Irish, that as a southern writer you can’t outrun your blood. She has turned to writing full time as of 2020, obviously either perfect or bizarre timing, and this will be her fifth career. She lives in Metairie, Louisiana, with her husband and two cats.


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