“It’s perfect, I’ll take it.”
The bathtub, bright and porcelain, sat crooked on the porch.
“It’s great for the summer time, there’s a shower right over there, if your into bathing outside in the buff.” The old man pointed to a rusty pipe that shot skyward from the overgrown weeds with a shower head on it.
The cabin sat on 80 acres, which was mostly swamp and combative understory growth—so thick only the songbirds would fly in and out of its protective cover.
The creaky floorboards hovered three feet above red clay on a deteriorating foundation. Loosely stacked bricks filled the voids. Magazines were shoved into the widows panes where glass was absent, cardboard where the entire window was absent.
I bought an old oak desk from the antique shop down the road, I haggled the owner to include a copper tea kettle. The cabin had a fireplace in every room, a fact I would immediately tell people to increase the appeal of my little shack in the woods.
Why I decided to live there might have made as much sense as the dismal hope that a “place out in the woods” might be just what I needed. Desperately clinging to the fantasy that writers who live in cabins in the middle of the woods, miles away from people, scribble poetic prose—I moved in.
I put the desk in the corner, chopped firewood in the mornings, and brewed coffee—lots of coffee. Proud of the little writers retreat, the only things missing was the romantic prose and thoughtful writing sessions this sanctuary was supposed to encourage.
My imagination kept me up all night as the bones of this cabin settled; creatures skittered across the wood floors, something was gnawing the roof beams, or was it the door frame? In the morning I found toilet paper shreds on the floor in the bathroom and discovered a neat little pile in the corner of my pantry. I bought a few mousetraps my next trip into town.
I baited them with a smudge of peanut butter and placed them precariously around my house. My dog helped herself to the first few, peanut butter, her favorite.
Later that night I awoke to the snap of my traps. I jumped out of bed, padding across across the cold wood floor in my bare feet to an empty mousetrap, licked clean. That morning, after more coffee, I set more traps. I opened up the cabinet in the kitchen and saw an entire box of Emergen-C packets complete gone. Vanished. Fortunately, I wasn’t sick, but their audacity left me perturbed, they didn’t even leave me one. All that was left was the box and a few nibbles on the cardboard. The mice were making themselves comfortable.
I drank more coffee, wrote in my journal, just waiting for the ripe opportunity to start my next best piece of work. You can’t do that with mice running around I told myself.
Later that night more traps went off and I ran out of bed anxious to shout in triumphant glory over the dead mouse in the trap, but it was empty—all of them were.
The next morning as I was making coffee I noticed the laces on my leather boots were eaten. Little pieces were scattered all over the floor. I followed the trail and I noticed one of my wool slippers on the complete opposite side of the room where I had left it.
Weeks passed, meanwhile the mice were taking over my cabin. Not in the cute Disneyesque sense of little mice making themselves comfortable. My favorite $6 pens I wrote in my journal with, because I told myself good journaling starts with good pens, all 5 of them—were gone. Hatred I’ve only reserved for olives began to grow inside of me. These mice had crossed the line.
The next day my leather watchband disappeared, I found a roll of 35mm film in the fire place, and they chewed through the cord to my space heater.
These mice had a weird and mysterious obsession with my things. Things mice don’t normally eat, use, or even collect. One of them chewed an entire scented candle on my couch at night, stashing bits of evergreen scented wax in the creases and folds of the blankets. Another one, his brother I suspected, dropped my shaving brush in the toilet, right after he dragged my toothpaste into the kitchen.
They had gone too far. What at first was a mild sense of invasion by a few cute mice had just grown to an apocalyptic crusade to eliminate them from my cabin. I had to write my novel and get famous, besides, rent was due soon.
Before bed that night I taped a flashlight to my pellet gun and leaned it up against my bedside table. I laid in bed, staring at the ceiling with visions of victory and dead mice. The second I heard little feet scamper across my floor I jumped out of bed, flashed my light into the room and screamed. That was no mouse.
That was a rat.
It was the size of a half eaten baguette, with his friend, right behind him. Their long hairless tails slinked behind them as they scurried into the next room seeking cover as I stood in the room, confused, disgusted, violated, scared, cold. Sleep never came that night. I laid awake thinking about what I was up against; this was no longer a few mice. These were rats.
“Dude I’ve head of them attacking people!” My brother shouted over the phone, he wasn’t helping.
“Rats? Gross, move out now!” my mom wasn’t much help either.
“Hey man maybe you can catch a few and eat them to save money until you write your book,” my friends teased.
Rats were stealing my food, gnawing the rubber hand grips on my bike, eating my dogs food, chewing power cords in half. It was time to increase my extermination efforts.
The next day I went to the hardware store to purchase the materials necessary when you are at war with a rodent infestation. Don’t ask me why I didn’t call an exterminator. I was a struggling writer, with barely enough money to feed my dog and replace my expensive journaling pens.
I stuck with the rattraps, no poison, for fear of my dogs curiosity. The traps took cajones just to set and place skilfully in the corner. The slightest nudge would send the metal hinge into a bone breaking snap. I put milk crates over the traps to keep my dog away. I also purchased a few glue traps, already horrified by the thought of a rat slowly dying on a large pad of adhesive.
I even found the gumption to crawl on my belly underneath the cabin, going straight to the source. I strapped a flashing to a broken broom handle and got down on all fours. I envisioned a small rodent colony feeling the wrath of my broom handle and making the unanimous decision to find a different cabin. I didn’t find any rat nests or rodent colonies, but I did find a dead rabbit next to the dryer vent, which was, without question, why the laundry room smelled like death.
My little cabin was ready for any and every rat. I went to bed that night, anxious to see what my traps would yield in the morning—nothing. The rats had eaten each mini wheat on every trap and left unscathed. I used mini wheat’s based on their obsession to get into my box and stash the biscuits all over my house. I’d find them tucked into the corners of the couch, behind paper towels, outside in the woodpile, underneath the dresser.
The rats out-smarted me, but not again. I strategically tied each mini-wheat with dental floss onto each trap, laughing like a maniac at my ingenuity. So far I had done no real productive writing in my dream cabin. I drank more coffee, chopped wood, and continued to journal with my expensive pens to keep the creative juices primed, for that perfect moment.
That night at I heard a trap snap and quickly jumped to my feet. I ran into the room, my eyes burning with rage. Beneath the milk crate was a rat with his head crushed by the trap. And there I was, standing in my underwear at 3AM with a flashlight taped to the barrel of my pellet gun, shouting at the top of my lungs. You could see my breath in the frigid empty wooden room, the eerie white glow of my flash light reflected off the mirror on the mantel. I left his corpse for the morning.
I feel back asleep and awoke to the sound of the trap being dragged across the floor. I got to my feet and turned on my flashlight to see a rat dragging his fallen comrade across the floor. I fired, and missed. Lest I remind you, my dog, barking frantically, was no help whatsoever. I cursed loudly as the rat scampered into the impossibly small hole in the corner of the room. I re-strategized, surrounding his objective with glue traps before I went to bed.
Sure enough, he returned. One of his little pink feett got caught in the glue trap, the other three giving him enough traction to run frantically around my house. The glue trap was too big to follow him into the walls. My dog barked in frustration and confusion. I screamed. The rat squealed.
He moved too fast for a pellet gun and I was too squeamish to smash him. The rat ran frantically around the cabin looking for somewhere, anywhere to hide with his glue trap anchor. After a few laps around the house the rats frantic motions were subdued by the glue trap. First it was his other rear leg, and he scampered around with his two front legs. Exhaustion gave way and the rest of his body slowly stuck to the glue trap and he finally lay in the corner of the room panting, adhered to his sad and sticky grave.
The next morning I threw their lifeless bodies into the dense brush outside my cabin. It was early, fog hung low to the ground, I wondered about coffee, this cabin, and how many family members the rats had. I had done no productive writing since I moved in. What did I expect to find out here in the Alabama countryside, 3 miles from my closest neighbor, even further from my closest friend?
The rats had revived my common sense. My writing, my life, wasn’t waiting for the right place or time to take off and burst into all of its lackluster glory. Good writing doesn’t need a place or a time.
The rats got the message, keeping their distance for awhile, leaving my mini wheat’s, my sanity, and dog alone. My hopes and dreams of finding the perfect place to write was a fantasy. There was no magic formula or place that would make me a writer. Although, I had noticed a drive, an ambition that just needed a new source, not vermin. If I use the same drive I used to get rid of the rats, to tackle my writing, perhaps it might of paid the rent, or at least made the move into the small cabin worth it.