Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Mouse Hunters

October now, with the hunter's moon half-full and, appropriately enough, we’ve been hunting. Our new home turned out to have existing residents – mice – and we don’t feel like sharing.

The first encounter came when we heard a suspicious rustling noise from a large box full of assorted foodstuffs in the middle of the kitchen. Careful listening convinced us that we had a visitor. Miss C’s plan was to remove the rodent, box and all, to the back garden - but as we began to move, a small brown streak erupted from my end, crossed the floor and shot to safety through a tiny gap at the base of cupboard – all before I could move an inch in pursuit. Round one to the mouse.

We were agreed: the beast must die. Off we went to the local hardware superstore, which turned out to stock only one type of mouse trap – a humane trap, based on tilting and a locking door. Deployed with temping morsels of chocolate and nuts, this trap was triggered twice in an evening, bringing us running to examine our catch - but turned out to be empty on both occasions. Foiled! Score: mice two, humans nil.

Back to the shops for more traps – two spine snappers. Before we could deploy them, a familiar sound issued from the still-packed food box. Our blood was up now, and we determined to end the battle on the spot – a hunt seems much more sporting that traps and poisons.

Miss C guarded the north end of the box with a steel-tipped walking pole, while I barricaded likely exit routes. Siege! Donning disposable gloves (germ proof, but probably not bite-proof), I began to empty the box, starting at the southern end. Out came jars, bottles, bags – all examined for stowaways – as I worked my way slowly along the box. Gradually, more and more of the floor of the box was visible: the available cover for our prey was shrinking fast, and the tension built with every item removed. Miss C was all for bashing away the remaining heap, in hopes of scoring a lucky hit. I vetoed the strike, partly on humane grounds – I believe in a clean kill – and partly because of the mess – I wanted a tidy victory, not airborne mouse guts.

Suddenly, as the tension became unbearable, with only a few spice jars remaining, our victim came into view, cowering at the end of the box. It stayed very still for a few seconds, black beady eyes all agog with fright. Just for a moment, I felt very sorry, and something of a bully: then, he broke and ran right towards me, making an amazing leap for his old escape route. No luck today – I had blocked it, and anyway, with the box empty, he couldn’t quite get the height. I grabbed for him as he tried the corner, and felt him squirm upwards, still climbing for freedom – he took a surprising degree of force to restrain. With a hand full of warm and wriggly mouse, a mousy Alcatraz was urgently needed. He was promptly decanted into a small pedal bin, which was immediately bagged and double bagged – no chances with this one. At last, score one for us!

What to do with the prisoner? Miss C had been all for execution, but I asked clemency for the defendant: could we not commute the sentence to transportation? The quality of Miss C’s mercy is not strained: it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the earth beneath – so we set out along the road to the city, to find a quiet new home for the prisoner. Some miles from home, I put the little bin down in the glare of Miss C’s headlights and opened the lid. A small whiskery face looked up at me for a moment, and then this tiny creature made an amazing standing jump, clearing the top of the bin, and ran for the verge, and freedom.

Back at the house, we set the spine-snappers anyway, just in case. This morning, neither had sprung - but our chocolate bait was gone.

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