It went and got snowy in Seattle back before Xmas, you may have seen in the papers, being as serious snow in Seattle is the stuff of national news interest. It drifted deep in the yard and piled up against the bedroom slider, transforming the terrain and screwing up my business. Stopped short in most of my endeavors, I determined to take a brief Winter Break, a few days of peaceful reflection and rest. Such was not to be.
My first inkling of domestic violation came deep in the silent night, as I started awake with the sensation of tiny paws feeling my hair. I jerked up and heard the scamper as the owner of the paws retreated. By the time I got the lights and my glasses on, no sign remained of the interloper but the pile of hulls by the birdseed bag.
Relations with the many and varied species of fauna which surround me are mixed at best. Living as I do on the Edge Of The (sorta) Wild, I pay the price of enduring the presence of any number of timid woodland creatures. Chickadees and finches flock the feeder and attack the occasional squirrel brave enough to attempt to raid it, crows and blue jays discuss each other's less attractive characteristics in tones that would do credit to an East Harlem schoolyard dozens session, raccoons and possums amble through in search of the odd nutritional opportunity, feral cats stalk anything stalkable, urban coyotes serenade the moon on frosty nights. It's a regular dog and pony show out there, and I do my best to be a respectful and tolerant neighbor.
It is only, as I have often stated before, when a creature foolishly decides to invade my private space and attempt to take up residence where they are not wanted that my neighborliness changes to an attitude, let us say, somewhat more aggressive. Unfortunately, that's a more than somewhat somewhat for me — I'm totally a wimp when it comes to pest control. I can poison moisture ants without a second thought, but I flinch at baiting out intrusive rodents. Not out of any particular reverence for life, mind you — it's just that poisoned rats tend to find inextricable hiding places to die in, then haunt you with vaguely distressing odors for the next six months. "I smell a rat" is not just an abstract phrase, people.
From the first, this rat was more than just another pest. At first he roamed the house, seemingly fearless, greeting my roommate Moh entering to shower by the dawn's early light and poking his tiny nose out from under a pile of stuff by a closet while I stood there. He also displayed an almost indecent knack at removing bait from my cheapass dollar store traps without setting them off, and totally ignored an elaborate electronic snare constructed from a 17,000 volt neon sign transformer on loan from a mad scientist friend. Obviously I was the victim of that great evolutionary principle: Build a better rat trap, breed a better rat.
The last straw came when I realized that the seemingly unstemable trickle of moisture ants I began to endure were due to the rat's having stolen their bait traps as well as his own.
For a while I almost sympathized with the resourceful little beggar, pluckily making his way alone in a hostile world he hadn't made, but the Vermin Stockholm Syndrome wore off quick. Still, I was impressed enough with him ("Did you ever consider that it might be a her?" suggested Moh. Bad Moh! Wicked Moh!) to imagine that Something Somehow was trying to Communicate. Had I consulted a grizzled old shaman mumbling into his fetishes in front of a blazing fire, reeking incenses fouling the air, he would have nodded sagely and pronounced, "It is indeed a Spirit Rat, my son. You must seek to propitiate it." And charged me a pouch of tobacco.
One of my bandmates in Snake Suspenderz, a devotee of the Hindu god Ganesh, noted that that august elephantine-headed Personage is traditionally depicted riding a rat named Mooshika (I looked that up), and that "If you see a rat, Ganesh is not far behind." He suggested that the traditional god of small businesses and Remover of Obstacles might be less than favorable toward my messing with his mighty steed. Being a good all-purpose brown-nosing pagan, I burned offerings and humbly begged the divinity's Pardon and explained that while I had nothing but respect for Him and his Mount, the flesh rat living in my wall that was keeping me awake at night was either going to leave or be reluctantly dismissed with extreme prejudice to his next incarnation, so sorry.
While being shut in with a frisky varmint for a week in a blizzard unmistakably telegraphs DESTROY ALL RATS STOP SPIRIT OR OTHERWISE, a more reasonable message eventually delivered itself, the chief information dispatched by any communal parasite: Clean up this heap, hooman. I'd been derelict in the maintenance of my domicile for far too long, and a dose of The Rat was just a symptom. I spent several days exploring and removing piles of leftover stuff decorated with droppings, reclaiming my linen closet and blocking holes, removing well-chewed ant traps from this or that remote corner. And then I went to the store and bought rat poison for the crawlspace, seemingly the only sure anodyne to Today's Modern Rat Of The Future.
And now my home is cleaner than it's been for a year, my way appears no more obstructed than it ever did, and I haven't lost any ant baits recently. But I'm not fooled. Eternal vigilance, my friends.