We were in the thick of the time between fall and winter. It’s the season that in every other place seems to fade in a matter of days, but in the Pacific Northwest it lasts for months. Not cold exactly, but certainly not warm, and with a persistent rain. It was a Thursday when the whole thing started. Our dining room was equipped with a big threshold-type door (maybe “opening” is the right word, there were no actual doors attached) that afforded a view reaching about halfway into the kitchen. Located in the half of the kitchen that you could see was our prized toaster-oven. I cooked just about everything in that beautiful little fire hazard and when I saw the first mouse poking its business into it I screamed a little (maybe closer to a shriek), then Megan and Shannon came running to the dining room. I was just sitting there, mouth agape, just kind of pointing at the toaster-oven. The scream had scared the mouse away so they had no idea what led to my outburst. After a few minutes my panting subsided and my wits returned and I explained the cause of it all. They definitely laughed at me, but shit, this wasn’t my fault, I had never been exposed to a wild animal. My closest encounter to that point was a failed attempt at fishing a few years earlier. I am not exactly sure how I made it that far into life without ever seeing a mouse, live, in the flesh, but that’s how it happened, I couldn’t help my reaction. This was all new, and kind of “animal kingdom” for me. I quickly went into a flurry of questions wondering how we were going to fix this mouse problem. Megan suggested traps, she knew all about how mice run patterns for food and if the toaster was in that pattern a trap behind it would fix it in a hurry. Then Shannon chimed in, she suggested we purchase something called a “pest repeller.” The idea, she explained, was that you plug this device into an outlet and it sends a current through your electrical system, scaring the mice out of the house with pulse-like sounds and carrying no need to kill the animals (she was a vegetarian). She even offered to buy it that night.
An hour or so later she returned with repeller in hand and directly plugged it in. The box said it would work for a space up to 1000 square feet, the house was much bigger than that but the gadgets were expensive and at that point we didn’t fully grasp the scope of the problem. It was the next morning (Friday) that things started to come into perspective. Megan didn’t have to work until 10 so she started cleaning up the small piles of mouse poop that she found behind the toaster and in the drawers below it. Then while cleaning she came face to face with a small rodent, and out of the corner of her eye she saw another. There were two mice in the kitchen at the same time. Apparently the vegetarian mouse repeller was scaring the animals out of the walls and into the house, not out of the walls and out of the house as the box stated, and this was not ideal. Traps were going to be necessary. Megan unplugged the plug-in vegetarian option and Friday, late morning, she stopped and bought a couple of traps on her way to work. That evening the three of us were sitting around discussing where to put the traps and the hilarity of a vegetarian option for pest mitigation when we saw another mouse sniffing around the toaster-oven. It was decided that the area behind the toaster-oven would be ground zero. Peanut butter was applied to trap one and it was locked and loaded (as they say) into place behind the toaster-oven. Trap two was put into the drawer underneath it. Within 15 minutes both traps had sprung and mice one and two were killed. It was here that the pile of plastic newspaper bags (the kind of bag designed to keep a paper nice and dry on a moist, wintery, Portland lawn) started to come in handy: we would undo the spring of the trap and drop the dead (or close-to-dead) mouse into the newspaper bag, tie the bag off, and pitch it into the dumpster. And the first two mice were disposed of in this way. We reloaded the traps and they were reset into position. By the hour of bedtime we killed one more mouse, bringing our kill total, thus far, to three. We took the last moments before sleep to hang a death tally sheet on the kitchen wall, crude looking, just hash-marks scrawled under the words:
We hoped it would serve as a warning for all future, freeloading mice that cared to enter our kitchen.
The next morning both traps contained kills.
We marked the tally sheet (now totaling five), and Megan and Shannon set about for a deep cleaning of the house. All crumbs and possible mouse food had to be disposed of, as did the various piles of mouse poop that would certainly be discovered. The bike shop I was working in at the time was open on that Saturday so I was unable to help with the deep clean (this was probably for the best as cleaning has never been my strong suit). As I was leaving home the women were suiting up in thick, yellow, rubber gloves and dust masks (Hantavirus can be deadly) and preparing for the task at hand.
The six o’clock hour hit and it only took me a few minutes to ride home. Every light in the house was on and the music was blaring so loud I could easily recognize the song when I turned left on our block (“Borderline,” Madonna). I came up our front stairs and into the house. Hanging in the entry way was a chandelier, a little low and a little gaudy but high enough not to hit your head on, and not ugly enough to throw away. Hanging from the chandelier were eight newspaper bags each containing a dead (or close-to-dead) mouse. This was shocking. It was chilly outside and the house was big and we were broke so it was chilly inside too. The bags all had some condensation building, like each mouse had gasped for one final breath and coated the inside of the bag with fog. My stomach turned a little. In my horror I slammed the door shut. This brought Megan and Shannon to where I was standing and my shock grew to awe. These two women were standing there, yellow gloves filthy at their sides and masks turned askew on top of their heads. The rubber bands of the cheap paper masks had brought out a sweaty, crazy look to their hair, and they both just stood there kind of giggling. But it was that awkward, evil giggle that only comes after cleaning a grand scale sort of mess, and then killing the mess maker. I had nothing to say. I walked into the kitchen to see the death tally and the two-day count was up to 13. We had hit double digits.
At this point I pulled myself together after the shock of the hanging carcasses and the crazed women and I asked Megan how the day went. She spoke of dozens of piles of poop in every dark space in the house, she spoke of dry heaving, and then she mentioned the closet with the puppy food. At its mere mention my stomach turned again. A few weeks prior some friends had come to visit and brought their new dog with them, just a puppy, and having forgot its food in Seattle they went to the store and bought a bag of Puppy Chow. After a few days of visiting they departed for home and they decided to leave the half-filled bag (roughly six pounds of leftover Chow) knowing that they would be back soon and the dog would need food then and it seemed like a good plan at the time. We stuck the dog food in a seldom-used closet and forgot all about it. The mice had found it. Over the next few weeks they had chewed through the bottom of the bag and started to eat the remaining poundage. When Megan and Shannon got to the closet during that Saturday’s deep clean they found an empty bag and what could only be described to me as “a huge fucking mound of mouse shit that probably filled its own God damned garbage bag.” Megan incorporated her hands and arms to reinforce her words with visual description. I then asked about the current death tally and Megan referred to the house as “the killing fields” and that giggle started up again. They had caught 8 mice on the same two traps that caught the previous 5, all in the same two places and all with the same kind of peanut butter.
Megan and Shannon had become machines at unloading the dead mice, resetting the traps with the perfect amount of peanut butter and putting it back into the respective, lucky spots. It had been working all day, but they had not had a kill in a few hours and with the cleaning almost done we settled into the dining room for a celebratory can of beer. It seemed the worst was over and the house was at least close to being mouse-free. It was right then, sitting around the table that I saw a little mouse sniffing at the peanut butter on the trap behind the toaster-oven. I quietly set my beer down and in one swift motion clapped as loud as I could. I startled Megan and Shannon and for that I was sorry, but more importantly I startled the mouse. I startled him right into the trap spring and it closed the door on its tiny life. I had become directly responsible for a kill and I immediately marked its death on the tally sheet.
After I penciled in the 14th hash-mark I walked over to the trap to discover that the mouse was much smaller than the one I had seen the previous day. Shannon then mentioned that the last few mice that they had killed had appeared to be younger in generation, almost babies. It was as if the adults had all been killed off and the children were left to fend for themselves.
Everyone was tired pretty early that evening. We downed a few more beers then headed upstairs to bed. Our death tally was holding steady at 14 and it seemed the action was done for the day. I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when Megan groaned. She had just seen a mouse in our bedroom. I finished up with my teeth and headed down stairs to grab a trap. I took the one out of the drawer and set it behind our bedroom door. If this mouse wanted to screw with our sleep it was going to pay.
We slowly drifted off to slumber. I was dreaming about giant mice when I heard the noise. It woke us both up at the same time. Megan shot up and shouted “I got you, you fucker!” It was then I heard Shannon from the bathroom say that it had in fact sprung about 10 minutes prior and that the mouse was still alive and had been scurrying around the room with the front half of itself tangled and broken under the kill wire of the trap. I then asked Shannon what she was doing in the bathroom. Apparently, the now-stuck mouse was spending time in her room before finding the trap in ours and it was becoming quite aggressive. It had been running over the top of Shannon’s blankets and dashing under her bed and it was getting out of hand. Shannon retreated to the one place she figured would be safe: the bathtub. She figured a mouse couldn’t climb the sides of a claw foot tub. But the bathtub is an uncomfortable place to sleep and she had been just laying there, awake, listening to the last few agonizing minutes of this little rodent’s life. Megan and I got out of bed and turned on a light and found the mouse zigzagging the room, banging into anything impeding its progress, pushing the trap across the floor like a snow plow, relying only on its back feet for forward movement. Its head and front legs were pretty well crushed in the trap so this little fellow was already on its way out of the proverbial door.
We needed to put it out of its misery. I came up with a plan, but it was going to take all of us. Megan was to pick up the trap and pull the spring back, dropping the mouse into the newspaper bag that Shannon would be holding just below the trap. Shannon would then set the mouse side of the newspaper bag onto the floor and I would then hit the bag (and mouse) with a big, heavy, book. No one was excited about this. When using a trap to kill a mouse the intimacy of the finish is removed, even scaring the mouse into a trap with the clap of hands still doesn’t carry the potential of getting bloody. There is nothing that can stick to your conscious. But this was something else all together. This was murder. I needed to pick just the right book.
I went over to the bookshelf and looked for something big, something that would get the job done easily. My choices were as follows: The Oxford Annotated Bible (that choice seemed to say “mercy,” but maybe overly so (and the possibility of getting blood on the cover of my Bible was something of concern)); next up was the dictionary my father gave me when I left for college, a big, blue, hardcover, but nothing about a dictionary says “put it out of its misery” (this was not the right choice and I could see that, even in the heat of the moment); I then let my eyes roll over to the biggest of all the books, a Riverside Shakespeare. This book was left over from my college years and it was big and heavy and I would most likely never read it again, so a little blood on the cover wasn’t much of an issue (on top of that the cover was maroon, so what was there to worry about?). This was the most obvious weapon. I grabbed it, announced my choice, and asked Megan to start the procedure. She grabbed the trap. By this point the mouse had kind of run out of steam and all but given up. She raised the kill wire and dropped the mouse. Shannon had the bag below and she gracefully received the small, twitching rodent. Shannon then placed the soon-to-be-out-of-its-misery mouse on the floor as I raised the book over my head for the forthcoming murder. The book came down fast, and then, with a loud bang, and a small cloud of dust the mouse was dead.
That was the last mouse we had to kill. The house was free. Any remaining mice probably witnessed that finale and left. But the world didn’t seem as clean as it once had, or as innocent. Each of us now had blood on our hands, and this blood could never be washed off. After the book slamming we pitched the mouse-guts-filled bag into the dumpster with the rest of the pocket-sized carcasses and speechlessly, silently went to back to bed. We knew it was over. We never even tallied number 15.