April 7, 2016

critter concerns

I’m a little obsessed when it comes to the notion of rodents in my house. I spend minutes—hours even—analyzing noises, trying to decipher whether it’s the wind, the house settling, or some unwanted critter moving in without asking. How presumptuous! How rude!

The trouble doesn’t stop once I’ve figured out the noise, usually while I’m flat on my back staring at the ceiling, long after I should have gone to sleep. Once you figure out there’s something living in your attic, you can give up any hope of getting a good night’s rest. You’re resigned to doubling up your coffee dosage in the morning an layering on concealer to mask the dark circles that make people think you were out late drinking rather than contemplating the noises in your house.

At least I’m rational enough to know it isn’t a ghost. Our attic has entirely too low of a ceiling for a ghost to live there comfortably. Besides, everyone knows ghosts prefer to be close to the action—the energy sources. They’re far more likely to be lurking in your bedroom watching you sleep once you’ve finally gotten over your sound analysis. Fact: I’ve often woken with a scream in my throat, because I knew someone was watching. It always turns out to be my cat. He gives me a pitiful, wide-eyed stare, because he can’t figure out why I’m reacting so strangely to his obvious sign of affection. It’s flattering, I’m sure, but it’s yet another reason I always keep a full supply of concealer.

But back to the animals in my attic. Realistically, I know it’s probably a mouse. Someone told me the tiny, scurrying flutter could also be bats mating. That doesn’t help. Bats are basically mice with wings. And rabies. I’ve never seen a bat in the house, though, and I pray I never do. Based on how I handle mouse sightings, I can only imagine what kind of wreck I’d be after a run-in with one of their winged associates.

Let me be perfectly clear: I hate mice. I have a long and storied history of my dealings with mice. It’s a little too dramatic to get into the specifics, so you’ll just have to take my word. While I’ve always come out the victor—so far—the journey is never pretty nor particularly flattering.

I actually wrote one of my real-life encounters with a mouse into First & Goal. People tend to assume authors use their real lives as inspiration for their novels. I’m guilty as charged, but it’s not usually in the way they’d think. For one, I pirated that mouse scene. I also once told an interview subject I’d love to catch crabs when I should have said I wanted to go crabbing. I blame that on living my life in the Midwest and never being the outdoorsy type. Regardless, I harvested that story, too, and it founds its way into Hard Hats and Doormats.

I wonder if people on the coasts ever have to worry about crabs sneaking into their houses. If you know the answer, please let me know so we can compare notes on how they stack up to mice.

I don’t really know what to do about mice in my attic, if that is what lives there. I’ve filled the entry points into the house with steel wool and caulking, which is probably enough. Out of sight, out of mind. Except when they’re running midnight relays. Then, I’m too busy imagining the whole scene to remember I’m probably safe from having them move their operations down to the main level. Even if that happens—and I’m always waiting for it to happen—I can usually rationalize that my cats will serve as a secondary defense if the steel wool and caulking fail.

The other night, I was up late reading a book. It’s one published before I was born, so I obviously needed to read it right away before I ran the risk of having it spoiled for me. I was making excellent progress when I heard the noise. This wasn’t the wind or settling. It wasn’t even the flutter of mice or maybe bats. This was heavy footsteps. I froze, and for a whole five seconds, I wondered if I had a human squatting in my attic. I waited for what might happen next, but the steps stopped in fairly short order.

This is 2016, though, so I didn’t have to leave it to my imagination for long. I Googled “animals in the attic” and a whole list of possibilities opened up to me. It’s early spring, so the Internet tells me I quite possibly have a female raccoon or possum up there giving birth. Great.

If that’s the case, one source says it’s no big deal. I should leave them in peace, and they’ll vacate on their own in a few weeks. I’ll be able to sleep well knowing I sheltered one of nature’s enduring miracles and the circle of life. Hakunah matata indeed.

Another source isn’t quite so cheerful. This nest of raccoons or possums, I’m told, is probably leaving piles of feces and puddles of urine as we speak. They’re also probably chewing on electrical wires, which will soon cause a fire. They advise me to capture the babies and use them as bait to lure the mother out of the attic.

I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds awful. Call me crazy and reckless, but I’d rather take my chances with the feces and fire than actually try to confront these wild animals, let alone catch them.

Though every source assures me they’re more afraid of me than I am of them, I call bullshit. I am virtually paralyzed with the idea of coming face to face with one of these critters. A possum once crossed my path when I was little and I screamed at it, it screamed at me, and I screamed back. I still wake up in a fright remembering it. (Which again, earns me one of those confused stares from the cat.) I’m too chicken to set traps for mice let alone rig cages intended to abduct babies. And I can’t see that scenario playing out in a way that doesn’t include a raccoon or army of mice jumping out and attacking my face the second I poke my head into the attic. If the scarring and series of shots awaiting me aren’t enough, I’ll also probably lose my balance on the ladder in the fray and end up breaking my neck.

The only good news from this internet search is that if I hear those flurry of light steps during the day, it’s probably squirrels. Somehow, squirrels seem less scary to me than mice and bats and raccoons and possums, but what do I know? I’d really rather not have anything but old Christmas decorations living in the attic. That doesn’t seem to be an option at this point. Unless the old battery-operated rolling Santa is coming to life every night, I have animals. And, okay, that’s maybe actually even creepier to think about than the animals.

I wonder if it might be time to call in professionals. Or maybe I should take that first source’s advice and ride it out. See what happens. Does that make me lazy, cheap, or a wuss?

I should probably check my concealer inventory just in case. I predict a few uneasy nights in my future.

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