A Creature Was Stirring
By Yvonne Lim Wilson
A week or so before Christmas, after we had finished our dinner and the boys were headed up the stairs to bed, Mitch saw it: a big, fat, gray rat lumbering down the hallway. It was the size of a large hamster.
Standing on the stairs, we all saw it and screamed. Mitch ran to catch it, but it disappeared in the front room somewhere. With the Christmas tree, wrapped packages and boxes everywhere, it was impossible to tell where it had gone.
Of all the Christmas gifts I’ve ever wished for, this was never on the list. Maybe I was on Santa’s bad list. Maybe rat is the new coal.
After a few days later, I summoned enough courage to wade through the front room, but didn’t find any trace of the rat. We hoped maybe it had simply gone away.
Until one night, I was standing by the stove looking over the grocery list posted on the refrigerator, and felt a presence. A presence low to the ground. Down by my feet, just past my toes, a scruffy gray rat casually sauntered past me walking out from behind the refrigerator straight down towards the sink.
I screamed. Hearing my scream, the rat dashed underneath the cabinet.
Underneath the cabinet? How could it even fit?
Upon examination, Mitch discovered a gap between the cabinet panels, just large enough for this rat to get through.
I was scared to walk through the kitchen at night. I tried to avoid it as much as I could, washing dishes either immediately after dinner or saving it for the morning. Even then, I couldn’t wash or cook in peace, feeling tense as I imagined the rat lurking behind the kitchen cabinetry, behind the refrigerator or dishwasher.
I carried on with chores as best as I could. One night, doing laundry, I gathered up the kids’ clothes and went down to the laundry room. I flipped on the light switch, set down the laundry basket and grabbed the detergent, pulling out the soap drawer of the washing machine and up popped up a mouse, surprised by the sudden light.
We made eye contact for a few seconds, each feeling each others’ fear. I screamed an ear-piercing shriek and ran out of the laundry room, slamming the door shut.
“MITCH!!! There’s a mouse in the laundry room!,” I yelled, not caring if I woke up all of the boys. “MIIIITCH!!”
Mitch came down and examined the scene. The mouse was no longer in the washing machine, but I avoided washing laundry for a good week.
I decided to call in the professionals. The guy looked all around the house and found that the seal on our roof we had put in many years ago had been dismantled when the roofers had repaired our roof last fall.
They examined the laundry room, too, but couldn’t come up with an explanation of how the mouse had crawled into the washer.
“We can reseal the entry point and place traps in your attic. You’ll want to remove any alternative food sources and put down traps everywhere,” he said, pointing to some fruit we had out on the counter.
“You will need to cover the area with traps. Whatever you think you need, double or triple that,” he said, advising that we would need at least eight traps alone in the 7’ x 7’ space in between the refrigerator, sink and stove.
I gladly handed over $500 in the hopes that our rodent nightmare would soon be over.
The pest control guys came out every couple of days to check the traps. But each time the traps turned up empty. Each time, nothing. Nothing except rat poop.
Early on, we had toyed with the idea of trapping the rat or mouse and perhaps even keeping it as a pet. None of us liked the idea of killing these innocent creatures. But as the weeks wore one, and turned to months of co-habitating with these unwelcome guests, we quickly abandoned the idea and I relished the vision of seeing these rodents dead.
Perhaps wrapped up in a box with a bright red bow, like a present, or served up on a gleaming silver platter, as I imagined Snow White’s evil stepmother would have wished Snow White’s heart delivered to her by the huntsman.
Mitch, especially, was trying to be humane and conscientious about the situation. Perhaps it was because he knew the killing of them would come down to him.
He assembled an elaborate trap that he found out about on YouTube that required drilling two small holes in a bucket, suspending a soda can coated with peanut butter with a thin metal rod and linking a “bridge” (really, an old Nerf sword) up to the top of the bucket.
The idea was that the rodent would smell the peanut butter, run up the bridge (Nerf sword), run onto the soda can, spin, lose balance, and fall into the bucket, trapped. Neither of the rodents fell for it.
“Mommy, I’m scared to sleep with a rat running around,” Max said.
“Don’t worry. It won’t come upstairs. Why would it want to come up here? It wants to be where the food is, and all the food is downstairs,” I said.
A few weeks later, though, Mitch saw a rat run through the upstairs loft. It was a different rat. Not slow and lumbering like the ragged gray rat, this rat was quick and clean with a slender build and light brown color.
A few nights after that, Mitch discovered Mr. Brown Rat was running around in his office upstairs. He managed to confine it to the closet, shutting the doors, inserting traps inside and all around the door.
At this point, we had no idea how many rats and mice we were dealing with. There was the slow, gray rat, a quick, brown rat and a little mouse. Were the rats male and female? Could they have a little rat romance, falling in love to the sound of the running dishwasher, making horrible gray-brown rat babies, outnumbering the humans in the house?
We tried all different traps. Classic snap traps. Plastic jaws of death traps. Glue traps with a plastic tray underneath. Glue traps on a paper lining. Live catch cages. None of them worked. Well, the glue traps “worked,” twice, but the rats got away.
Once, I woke up to the sound of thrashing noises—something running, bumping and struggling in the kitchen. Excited, but scared, I waited until the noises stopped and cautiously entered the kitchen. I was already planning my victory dance, eager to tell everyone about how we captured the rat over spring break.
Instead, I walked in to find the plastic glue trap stuck onto a towel underneath the dishwasher … the rat had escaped!
Another time, we found rat fur on one of the glue traps in the boys’ room upstairs. It was so frustrating to know that we had been so close to catching it.
We tried different bait, too. We went with classic peanut butter to start. I accidentally spilled some popcorn on one of the traps, so popcorn was added to the mix. Once, Mitch dropped some bacon on the floor, so we tried that as bait, too. Cheese, check. Crackers with peanut butter, check. We even used Tillamook extra sharp cheddar – good enough for party hors d’oeuvres, good enough for rats, right? French fries, check. Basically, any scraps of food that fell on the floor became experimental bait. None of them worked.
I began to feel the rodents were taunting us with their travels throughout the house. All the poop I would find were like postcards, bragging of all the exotic locations visited, as if to say, “Wishing you were here – the Soft Rug and Filing Cabinets are lovely this time of year!” or “You would love it in The Master Bedroom Closet. I can’t tell you how much fun I had and hiding under shoeboxes and crawling over luggage!”
I could tell there was a difference in the two rats. The gray one was content to live quietly, unseen. It had only been spotted twice, and it was usually in the kitchen. The brown one, however, was much more adventurous and bold. It seemed there was no place inside the house it had not been.
Many nights, I awoke to the sound of delicate little paws scratching on the floors. I could tell it was the brown rat. Just as when you live with family members, you can identify each person by the sound of their footsteps, I could tell by the sound that it was the brown rat scurrying around in the hallway and kitchen, making its nightly rounds.
One night, I awoke to a scratching sound that I could have sworn was right at my bedside window. It sounded like the scratches were coming from the inside, but I tried to talk myself into the idea that it was just a raccoon, or some other nocturnal animal outside. The next day, I saw rat poop on the inside of my window sill, less than two feet away from my pillow.
The rodents haunted our dreams. One night, Nick had a dream that he caught the rat with his bare hands, holding its squirmy, furry body. Wriggling with its little hands grabbing at him, it then peed in his hands.
“It was warm,” Nick said, describing the sensation of the pee in his hands, but there was some anger in his voice as he recalled the dream. The day before, we had discovered rat pee on a beloved rug of his in the front room. He was upset about the destruction; the pest problem had now become personal for him.
One fateful night after putting the boys to bed, I heard rustling in the living room. I hurried over and came just in time to see the brown rat jump into the fireplace. I could tell the fireplace must have been a regular spot for this rat because it knew exactly where to jump, aiming for a hole at the front of the mesh, metal curtain where the two sides joined.
Screaming, “MITCH, the rat’s in the fireplace!,” repeatedly like Paul Revere might have screamed, “The British are coming!,” I caught the attention of Nick, who had been in bed trying to sleep.
Excitedly, Nick ran down and sat by me on the couch, staring at the fireplace.
“Mommy, light the fire!,” he said with a gleam in his eyes.
It had not dawned on me to light the fire until Nick said it, but a slow smile crept across my face. I felt like an evil villain in a Disney movie about lovable rodents, maybe like “101 Dalmations,” but about rats, and I wasn’t planning on making a rat-hide coat.
“YES,” in my best evil villain cackling voice (in my mind) … “Yes!”
The brown rat was smart, having evaded all of our traps thus far. But not smart enough to know about natural gas.
But I didn’t want to do it myself. I envisioned my arm reaching in to light the fire and seeing the rat jump on my face … no, no. This is definitely a job for Mitch.
“MITCH!!,” I yelled again.
Finally, he came out from the bedroom. I started to update him on our plan, but he had already heard all the commotion, and came armed with the lighter. Without hesitation, he turned up the gas, and stuck his arm in and lit the fire.
POOF!, the flames shot up and we all stepped back. There was no rat.
For about six minutes – nothing. No noise, no movement. We wondered if it had escaped somehow. Nick and I craned our necks around the sides of the fireplace to try to see the rat. There was no sign of it. Not even a shadow of the rat.
We tried banging inside the the fireplace to scare it. Nothing.
After about ten minutes, I poked one of the logs.
Out leapt the rat, at a high arc, trying to make it over the flames. Not so lucky. Singed, but still alive, it ran under the couch.
“MITCH!! It jumped out,” I screamed. “It’s under the couch!”
Nick saw it run down the hall and into our front room. Running along after it, Nick kept an eye on the rat’s whereabouts … behind a drawer … past the drum set … across the rug.
“It’s over here!,” Nick screamed, pointing past the left cabinet against the side wall.
There are two cabinets in the front room, with an upright piano in between them with, apparently, just enough room for a rat to run behind.
Mitch ran in with a flat, plastic, Swiffer-type mop. Pulling the left cabinet forward, he plunged the mop down in the location where Nick was pointing. We peered behind the cabinet only to find the rat had run behind the piano and was now hiding behind the right cabinet.
Mitch repeated the mop action, and again missed. It felt like that arcade game where you’re trying to hit the mole popping out from a hole. Back and forth the rat ran. Mitch worried that the rat might crawl up into the piano.
Finally, standing on the piano bench, he was able to get a clear view of where the rat was, and stabbed it with the end of a broom handle.
“Wheeee-eee-eeee-eek! Whee-eee–eee-eek!,” the poor rat squeaked, begging for its life. “Eeeeeeek!”
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to kill you,” MItch thought, feeling sad for the poor rat. With each painful squeal that the rat made, Mitch only tried harder, frantically smashing it even more with the broom handle, hoping to end its suffering.
It was difficult to target the rat precisely with the broom handle in the shadows of the cabinet, cramped in between the piano. Repeatedly, we heard the screaming and the stabbing, over and over, until it finally stopped.
The dead rat lay behind the piano with its tail visible from the side. Nick and I stared while Mitch went to find a bag for the body. I turned to see if there was a bag nearby, turned back, and saw the tail was gone.
“MITCH!!! It’s still alive!,” I screamed. It was a lot of screaming of Mitch’s name that night.
Mitch came in with a bag. The rat had not gone very far, injured and burned as it was. Mitch pulled it by its tail and dropped it in the bag. He took it outside to finish him off.
Mitch later told me that he never wanted to kill the rat, but had done if for me because he knew how much it had been tormenting me these past several months. Even when he had caught it with the broom and mop, he still considered letting it go, but knew this was our chance to end it, or risk its return.
I felt like Lady MacBeth, pressuring her husband to kill, except my ambitions were a tad lower than murder to gain power and queenship. I simply wanted peace in the little kingdom that I call home.
Our house smelled like roasted rat for a good twenty minutes. It was the perfect early birthday/Mother’s Day gift and I couldn’t have been any happier. Sorry PETA.