(Horror stories about mice.)
About two weeks ago, a new couple moved in across the street. Julius and Bill. I was surprised the house sold, to be honest. It was a hell of a fixer upper. I guess they really liked the place.
It’s an old farmhouse built in 1712 or something. Looks it, too. I mean, it’s better now since they got all the garbage out of the front yard, but the curb appeal is still seriously lacking.
Not long after they moved in, I invited them over for dinner. I figured they’d want to know that their new neighbor was, well, neighborly.
Plus, I was curious.
I’ll come out and say it: I’d never really talked to guys like them before. Maybe I’m old school, but in my day, I wasn’t exposed to those kinds of folks. Even though I know it’s supposed to be a different world nowadays, I still have a hard time believing two men would make the choice to be what they are. I mean, what kind of man looks at another man and says, “hey, let’s be florists?”
Turns out they were just normal businessmen who happened to be into flowers. Talk about a new world. Aside from that, they’re regular guys. Good drinkers, too.
We enjoyed a lasagna and a few bottles of wine and I got around to asking about how the home repairs were going. I’d been initially surprised that they were choosing to live there while the work went on. I made a point to ask about it.
“Well, Bill wanted to rent a place while we fixed it up,” Julius explained, “but I convinced him we shouldn’t. Too expensive. That money could be put into repairs.”
“Yeah, now we’ve got extra money for rabies shots,” Bill retorted, glaring at his partner.
“Rabies?” I asked. “What gives?”
Julius rolled his eyes. “I don’t think you can get rabies from mice, sweetie.”
“Black Plague, then.”
“Okay, sure. We’ll get the plague,” Julius said, his voice oozing with sarcasm. “Won’t that be adorable? You and me in the hospital together?” He wrapped his arms around his husband and made kissing noises at him.
I winced. I hate mice.
“So what are you guys gonna do?” I asked. “I’m sure you can get an exterminator to come out for pretty cheap.”
“Yeah,” Bill acknowledged, “but none of them will come to our house.”
I was puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Just what it sounds like,” Julius answered, pouring a fourth glass of wine. “As soon as they hear our address, they just apologize and say they can’t work with us. And you know, Will, I’ve been meaning to ask one of the neighbors about that. Do you know who lived there before us? The landlord wasn’t very forthcoming.”
I shook my head. “It’s been empty for close to twenty years. But it was just an older guy named Phillip who owned the house. Ha, I say ‘older’ — I guess I’m his age by now. But I never said a word to him. Nadia talked to him a few times before she passed, but only when his dog was using our front lawn as a toilet.”
“I take it he died there?” Bill asked.
“No, he moved in with his daughter. Or, at least, that’s what Chuck, the guy down the street, told me. I never gave it much thought.”
“Good one!” Bill and I remarked. I grinned. I liked these guys.
“So we’ve just putting down traps,” Julius said. “We’ve caught hundreds of them.”
“Don’t you two get sick of dealing with mouse droppings all over the place?”
“Thankfully, it’s mostly limited to the basement. There’ll be a mouse or two on the main floor every so often, but never upstairs.”
“I saw one upstairs,” Bill said.
“Okay,” Julius acquiesced, “aside from that one upstairs and a couple downstairs, it’s the basement that’s the real problem.”
“And it is a real problem,” Bill announced. “We’ll be in bed at night and hear them from two floors away. Chewing. Scurrying. Squeaking. It’s creepy, man. Julius’s foot touched mine in the middle of the night while we were listening and I screamed.”
“So that’s what that was!” I laughed, lying.
Bill rolled his eyes. “Yeah yeah yeah. But this just goes back to what Jules and I were fighting about before we came here.”
“Trouble in paradise, huh?” I said, bemused.
Julius looked annoyed. “Are we doing this now? Here? Seriously?”
“No, we’re not doing anything. I just want Will’s opinion. Is that okay?”
“Whatever man. Go for it.” Julius reached for the wine. I passed it over, meeting his eyes and giving him a sympathetic nod.
“So Will, get this. Two nights ago, I put down ten mousetraps. I know it was ten. I still have the box that says ‘Mousetraps – 10.’ Well, I went down to the basement to check the traps the next morning. Every one of them had been triggered. They all had dead mice in them. Except there were only eight. Two of the traps were missing.”
“Yeah. Gone. I looked all around the basement. I couldn’t find –”
“You know that the manufacturer probably just put eight in a ten pack, right?” Julius interrupted.
“Okay, yeah, except that’s not what happened. And I told you that. I know there were ten.”
Julius looked toward me. I could tell he was hoping I’d defend him. But I was starting to get itchy. I’ve always, always, always hated mice.
“So what’d you do?” I asked Bill.
“Well, I went to the store and got another ten pack. And yes, Jules, it was a ten pack. And I put all them down in the basement again. This was last night. And this morning, there were only six down there.”
“Six…” I repeated.
“Yeah, six. And Jules, I didn’t even tell you this part because I know you’re squeamish, but the six mice that’d been trapped were all mangled and messed up. Like, even worse than what the trap does. All their guts were busted out and stuff.”
Julius turned green and excused himself. Bill and I listened to him puking in the bathroom across the hall for a minute or two.
“He okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s fine. Just the sight of blood is enough to turn his stomach, plus he holds his liquor like a sixteen year-old twi nk.”
I laughed. I hadn’t had a Twinkie in years.
“So Will, what do you think? My money’s on rats. They’re too big to get stopped by the traps and the mice who get caught are an easy meal. It explains everything.”
I was about to answer when Julius stumbled out of the bathroom. There was puke on his shirt and he looked unwell.
“Sorry Will, but I think I’ve gotta call it a night. I might’ve overdone it.”
“No problem buddy, thanks for coming. It was great getting to know you. We’ll do this again.”
Julius nodded, then swayed drunkenly. “Bill, you coming?”
“You go ahead,” Bill instructed. “I need to talk about mouse stuff with Will for another few minutes, if that’s okay with him.”
“Fine by me,” I answered. “You good to get home, Jules?”
“Totally fine,” Jules said, wobbling to the door and opening it. “It’s only a few hundred feet.”
“Sleep it off,” I called after him, “you’ll be good as new in the morning.”
Bill sighed. “Sorry about that. Not a very good first impression.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve been in his situation more than once and Nadia always had to bail me out.”
I walked over to the liquor cabinet and offered Bill some scotch.
“Just one. We’ve gotta work tomorrow. Got a big arrangement for some corporate place downtown.”
I poured our drinks and gave a suggestion.
“So you think it’s rats and I’m inclined to agree with you. I know the store’s got rat traps, but considering the infestation it sounds like you’re dealing with, maybe you’ve gotta bite the bullet and go with poison.”
“Yeah. Neither of us want to resort to that but it might be the only choice. I put down another ten traps before we got here and I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be the same thing as last time.”
We drank in silence. I could tell Bill was thinking it over.
“It’s just that we want to adopt once the house is done, and Jules and I are worried about getting the kid getting in contact with poison.”
“That’s legit. But an exterminator would be using poison, right? That is, if one was actually willing to come to your house.”
“True,” Bill agreed. “But that brings me back to our talk from earlier. Why is it that every exterminator seems to know about our house? Did that Phillip guy who lived there before us do something to tick all of them off?”
“I wish I knew. It’s definitely weird. If you want, I can give a call in the morning and see if I can get one of them to come here, then walk them over to your house.”
“Ha!” Bill exclaimed. “Now that’s a good idea. Hell yeah, do it.”
We clinked glasses and Bill stood up to leave.
“Thanks for the great night, Will. We’ve gotta have you over next. Once the house is in better shape.”
“It was my pleasure,” I replied. “You guys are welcome here whenever. I’m retired, so I’ve got the time.”
I opened the door for Bill and stuck out my hand. He grasped it and we shook. He headed down the steps and I turned to go back in the house.
Before I could shut the door, I heard a shriek. I whirled back around. Bill looked shocked.
“That was Julius!”
“Let’s go!” I shouted, and we took off running toward their house.
We burst in the door and Bill started shouting his partner’s name. Julius was still screaming, but his voice was much quieter. Weaker.
“It’s coming from the basement,” Bill told me, and we rushed down the stairs.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, seeing my neighbor’s condition.
Julius was lying on the dirt floor. His left leg was severed mid-shin. Blood flowed from the ragged wound and muddied the ground below him.
My war training kicked in. “We need to get pressure on that now” I announced, and pulled the belt from my pants. “Hold him and call 911.”
Bill knelt behind his partner and cradled his head in his lap. “It’s okay, honey. You’re gonna be okay.” He dialed 911 and was told an ambulance would be there shortly.
I tied my belt around Julius’s amputated shin and was heartened when the blood flow slowed to a trickle.
“This is gonna hurt, Jules, but I need to keep this elevated.”
Julius winced. He was pale and sickly-looking. The alcohol in his system wasn’t doing him any favors.
“What happened?” Bill asked. “Who did this to you?”
“I…I wanted to empty the traps before you got home so you didn’t have to do it. I felt bad.”
“It’s okay Jules. It’s okay. But what happened?”
I heard something moving on the other side of the basement among the boxes and crates and ancient furniture I assumed had once belonged to Phillip.
“We’ve got more than mice, Billy,” Julius muttered.
I looked at the area around Jules. There were only four traps. Of the three that had mice in them, two of them had been mutilated. It looked like they’d been chewed on.
“More than mice? Jules, what is it? What hurt you?”
“It’s still down here I think,” Julius whispered. “On the other side of the room.”
Distant sirens were getting louder. Help would be here soon.
Something across the basement fell over. Bill and I jerked our heads in its direction. An antique end table was lying on its side. It’d been upright when I’d last looked.
“Still…here,” Julius mumbled. He was losing consciousness. That damn ambulance needed to get here fast.
I heard the emergency vehicles racing up the gravel driveway. Doors opened and closed and men rushed into the house.
“We’re down here!” Bill yelled.
Something else fell. A chair. I stared. And then I saw it. I gasped.
“Bill!” I shouted, and pointed to the far side of the basement. As EMTs rushed down the stairs, Bill and I were looking the other way.
It was the size of a fat rottweiler, only twice as long and covered in dark gray fur. Mousetraps were stuck to its legs. Its ten legs. A thick, hairless tail whipped around, stirring up dust. Three cone-shaped heads, each home to six eyes, glared at us. And the EMTs hadn’t seen it yet.
“Guys,” whispered Bill. “Guys.” He pointed toward the thing.
The EMTs had encircled us and were working on Julius, oblivious to me and Bill and our preoccupation. None of them paid us any attention.
“Guys!” Bill screamed, and the supervising EMT finally looked where he was pointing.
Before he could get his words out, the thing was rushing toward us. It ran like a hairy centipede, traversing the long basement way faster than any man could run.
One by one, the EMTs noticed and screamed. They held their hands up, ready to be attacked. But the thing rushed by all of us and bounded up the stairs, the attached mousetraps banging against the wood as it went. We heard its footsteps thudding across the living room, toward the front door.
Stunned, the EMTs looked at each other, then at us, then they went back to stabilizing Julius. They hoisted him onto a gurney and made their way up the stairs with Bill in tow. I followed them, blankly, to the driveway, where I said my goodbyes and wished them luck.
“The cops are en route,” an EMT told me before they left. “Stay here.”
I obeyed. The police arrived fifteen minutes later. They asked me a bunch of questions, took my statement, and left. For some reason, none of them seemed surprised.
The next morning, I called the hospital to get an update on Julius. He was okay. Lots of blood loss, but he’d make it. Bill called me later that day to tell me the same thing.
I hung up. I couldn’t get the events of the previous night out of my mind. I hadn’t slept. I couldn’t eat. All I could think about was that thing and its eighteen eyes staring through me as it flashed across the basement.
I remembered the conversation I’d had with Bill the night before, and on a whim, I picked up the phone and had the operator connect me with an exterminator.
“Sorry, we don’t respond to service calls in that neighborhood.”
That was the gist of five of the six calls I made. No explanation was given. Just a version of that line, then a dial tone.
The sixth exterminator stayed on a little longer. Maybe just another forty seconds. But he said one more thing. And that one thing made all the difference.
“Sorry Mr. Thomas, we don’t send our men to that part of town.” He sounded old. Much older than the other exterminators I’d spoken to.
“Wait!” I demanded, hoping I could stop him before he hung up. “Wait. Just tell me why. Please. My neighbor is hurt and no one knows what it was. I saw it. We all did.”
There was a pause on the other side of the line, and I was afraid he’d hung up.
“Hello?” I asked.
There was a long long sigh.
“Mr. Thomas, as long as that thing Phillip Beigman found all those years ago is waiting for him to come home, you’ll never have one of us try to come take food out of its mouth. I don’t want to know what would happen to anyone stupid enough to do that. Goodbye.”
“Hold on!” I insisted. “How do you know abou–”
But it was too late. He’d hung up.