Of Mice and Men

It's no secret that in a rural area like this, you're going to deal with mice. I would have had the same problem back home except I chose to get lots of cats. Grandma always said she'd rather by cat food than deal with mice. I agree. Perhaps that's why my first question upon hearing about the mice was, “Why not get a cat?” It was explained to me that cats are not welcome in Australia.

 

Wikipedia puts it this way: “Cats are kept as pets in Australia and are also one of the major invasive species that are causing detrimental effects to indigenous wildlife. For biosecurity reasons any cats that are imported into Australia must meet conditions set by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

 

After I thought about it, I haven't seen one cat since I have been in Australia. It makes sense. But if there are no cats to catch the mice then the duty falls to humans and that is not necessarily an easy job.

 

In April Alex saw a mouse run across the bottom shelf in the cafe kitchen. My former restaurant instincts told me to pack my bags and work somewhere else. I had never worked in a kitchen with unwanted critters but I knew what happened to restaurants with such. I don't know the laws in Australia but if a health inspector in America finds out you have a mouse you'd be shut down immediately. Maybe the rules are bent for cafes on the island since it was rural. Regardless of the laws, Alex and I had Matthew put a mouse trap on the bottom shelf to catch the mouse. Within ten minutes we had our victim. Matthew emptied the trap and set it again. A few hours later we had another victim. This went on for about a week. In all we caught around six mice.

 

The next week I was in the dry storage room and I saw a mouse run across the floor. I told Matthew in hopes that he would set another trap but he said I needed to learn how to do it myself. A battle of stubbornness lasted for 24 hours before I decided I'd rather not have mice running around the canned food. I got out one of the traps we had bought with Yollana and I read the instructions on the box. It was simple enough. Put a small dab of peanut butter on the wire thingy and then pull back the other wire and set it down. I sat the trap and told Matthew how heroic I was; sacrificing myself for the good of the cafe.

 

The next morning when we opened I saw a tail hanging out of my trap. It felt good to know I had done my part to fumigate the place. When I showed Matthew my success he nodded and told me to dispose of it. I begged and pleaded and argued but Matthew was once again more stubborn than I thought. The next day I went in with plastic gloves and a distant mind. It was all in my head, I told myself. I grabbed the trap and held it in front of me while looking behind me. I walked a hundred meters behind the barn and then slowly pulled the wire back. I flinched when I watched the corpse slide off the tray. It was pretty gross but once again I felt good for doing something I didn't want to do. I had overcome my fears...well, sort of.

 

A month later all of us volunteers were having a cozy night in the lounge room. The fire was hot and our tea was fresh. I was in my pajamas and thoroughly enjoying a good movie. The movie was so good and so intense that I didn't want to leave for a restroom break. I held it and held it until I finally couldn't hold it anymore. I didn't want to miss anything, but I couldn't wait. I rolled back the door and ran as fast as I could to the toilet, untieing my pajama pants as I went. When I got to the toilet I shut the door, lifted the lid and sat down as quick as I could. As soon as my pants hit the floor I saw it. Panic went all over my body and I screamed like I had never screamed before. I didn't even know my voice could still go that high. I hopped back and forth on my feet, trying to both pull up my pants and open the door at the same time. Meanwhile Stuart Little is freaking out as much as I am. He's running back and forth from one side of the wall to the other, looking for a way out. I screamed and screamed and felt chills run all over my body as my heart pounded on my chest like it wanted out too. Seconds seemed like eternity but I finally got the door open. The mouse scurried off around the corner and I ran out into the hall, holding my pants up with one hand and holding my chest with the other. I was breathing heavy and I felt adrenaline surging through my blood. I looked to my right and saw all of the others had came to see what was wrong. Their eyes were wide and they looked concerned.

 

“There was a mouse in the bathroom with me.” I was frowning and I hoped tears wouldn't fall, though I could feel them trying to form.

 

“That's it?” Pierre put up his hands and walked off. Maggie's entire body relaxed and she smiled at me. Matthew was already back in the lounge room, laughing loudly. I let my breathing steady out before going back to the lounge room. Everyone laughed and told me I was a bit dramatic. I tried to explain how scary it was but the group made a good point: it was a mouse, it couldn't hurt me. They are more afraid of me than I am of them. I took those words to heart and tried to continuously remind myself that it was a mind game. From then on I felt more brave about facing the enemy.

 

The very next day I had to conquer my fears again. I opened the door the cafe kitchen and watched calmly as one ran across the countertop, not two feet in front of me. I winced, swallowed my disgust and kept moving. I earned a point.

 

The day after that I was wiping down tables at the end of the day when I saw something wiggling through the cracks of the wooden table. I was again about two feet away. I watched as a little rump squirmed back and forth, waving like a flag between the cracks before contracting and then sliding through to the other side. I didn't even shiver. I only thought, “ew.” Mice-1, Haley-2

 

Perhaps the biggest test was the furry friend in our bedroom. I first noticed him one night while I was sitting in bed writing, waiting for Matthew to finish brushing his teeth and turn the light off. I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I looked past the top of my laptop and saw a little mammal coming out of a small hole in the floor near the door. He looked at me and I knew he had to be fearful. I looked back at him, making sure he couldn't smell fear on me. If mice were like dogs I didn't want to give away my weakness. For several seconds we sat there, me and the mouse, staring back at one another. Neither of us knew what to do. We were both trying to be brave, but cautious. Finally the mouse withdrew back into his hole. I eyed his hole carefully as I continued to type about my day. When Matthew came in the room I told him we needed a trap by the door.

 

Our bedroom trapped killed three mice in three hours. Then it killed two more the next day. We had killed a total of five mice in our bedroom. I guess that's why I started having restless dreams about mice. One consisted of two mice cuddling next to my head on my pillow. Another consisted of them running all around my body while I slept.

 

Perhaps the most intricate dream was somewhat like the movie Ratatouille. I pictured hundreds of mice running all over my bed. They were sewing dresses, making coffee, dancing and celebrating. They moved all around my sleeping body with ease. The ones who drank coffee moved faster and faster until they looked like cocaine addicts. I woke up to that one with chills.

 

One night after we turned off the lights I layed in my bunk thinking.

 

“Hey Matthew..”

 

“Huh.”

 

“Do you think the mice would crawl under my covers if they got cold?”

 

“No. Absolutely not.”

 

“Why not?”

 

“Because they won't. I told you, they are more scared of you than you are of them.”

 

He then joked about them crawling up in my sheets and cuddling with me. I laughed and tried again to keep mind over matter. I still wondered about them crawling up the posts of my bed and sleeping with me, but I didn't want to think about it in the dark of the night.

 

All of this has been ongoing for the past few months. The colder it gets, the more guests we accumulate. For the past few weeks I had noticing something else. Every morning when I think about my options for breakfast I do the same thing. I look at the toaster first, then the fridge, then the eggs and finally the pantry. One morning when I looked at the toaster I noticed there were a lot of black crumbs around the counter near it. I looked closer and realized the black crumbs were not crumbs. They were something much dirtier than crumbs. I looked around the counter and saw no food laying out so I gathered that they were eating bread crumbs in or around the toaster. I thought about how many times I had put toast in that toaster without even thinking. I bet every night they were squeezing themselves inside and having a feast. So I washed the toaster, disinfected the counter and opted for yogurt.

 

The next day I saw the same thing. I washed and disinfected and ate yogurt.

 

The day after that was another repeat. I showed Pierre and he shrugged. Matthew put a trap in the pantry on the floor, which never brought any carcasses. We didn't want to put a trap on the counter but we also couldn't find the place where they were crawling up on to the counter. One side of the counter led to the wall and the other side led to the fridge. On the other side of the fridge there was a door leading into the hallway. With no solution we continued to set the trap in the pantry and we became more careful about wrapping and putting away food.

 

The same phenomenon was going on in the cafe kitchen. The droppings were showing up more often. One day we forgot to put up the bread box and the next morning there were “black crumbs” all over the inside of it. Some days there would be no crumbs on the counter, no bread, nothing edible at all left out, yet I would still walk in to find lots of black crumbs.

 

Last week I had the boys buy more traps. Pierre sat one in the walk-in fridge, one in the cafe and one in the dry storage area. I watched them everyday for a week but saw no success.

 

This morning was the motherload, though. When going through my breakfast routine I noticed an ungodly amount of black crumbs on the counter next to the toaster. The only thing left out was a brand new kilo of butter, fully wrapped in paper. We hadn't even touched it since bring it back from the store because it was wrapped. I didn't think mice wanted anything with butter so I looked around behind it and figured it must be the toaster crumbs again. I picked up the butter so I could wipe off the counter and that's when I saw it. There was a huge chunk missing from the side of the butter. The paper was torn and there were tiny teeth marks all around it. I looked on the other side and saw more droppings stuck to the wrapper. Around that time Maggie walked in and I showed her. We were equally grossed out. When Matthew came into the kitchen I watched his face melt in disgust as well. He threw away the entire block and told me to order another one.

 

After my breakfast of cereal I walked across the parking lot to open the cafe. I opened the walk-in fridge and once again saw no carcass in the trap. I grabbed the breadbox and walked towards the cafe kitchen. I looked in the box and found a bag of sandwich bread and a bag of hotdog buns. lots of droppings. How could this be when the box was locked up in the walk-in fridge all night? I also couldn't understand why there would be droppings when there were no crumbs outside of the bags. What had they ate? I looked closer and saw a huge chunk of hot dog bun missing. The bag had the same bite marks on it that I had seen on the butter. I walked back to the hostel to show Matthew and Maggie.

 

“This means war.” I was not only disgusted but tired of dealing with these pests. We didn't have the inventory to keep throwing away good food like this. The traps weren't working. Something needed to happen.

 

“It's poison time.” Matthew shook his head as he lifted his cup of coffee to his face. We had put off using poison because we didn't want to find dead mice all over the cafe and kitchen but enough was enough, these guys were overstaying their welcome.

 

That afternoon Matthew put down blue squares of poison all over the place; our bedroom, the hostel kitchen, the cafe kitchen, dry storage and the walk-in fridge. Each time I walked in our room I was delighted to find the cube getting smaller and smaller. I don't know what the poison companies put in their cubes but it must be something that tastes good to the mice because they were eating it like butter.

 

That night I thought I would sleep well knowing that the mice were on their way to death row. Unfortunately, I was wrong. My first three hours of sleep were fitful. I kept feeling itchy as if something were touching me. Every time I woke up I checked my sheets and every time they were rodent free. Then I woke up because I heard noises, a few different noises that sounded like scurrying and tails hitting wood. I grabbed my phone and shined it around the room. Sure enough there were three mice running around the room wildly. Shivers went down my back and I let out a whimper.

 

“Ewwww..they're running around the room!” I said out loud. Matthew rolled over and asked me what I was talking about. “The mice! There's more than one! They are running around.” I was breathing heavy and tears were swelling up in my eyes.

 

“Well, that's what mice do.” Matthew obviously wasn't too worried about it.

 

“I know, that's why I can't sleep. What if they crawl in my bed?” I am ashamed to admit that at this point I was full out whining in fear. I sounded like a five year old and if I cried I knew for fact that Matthew would call me a five year old. I couldn't help it. I was terrified that these little creatures were going to crawl up on my bed while I was sleeping and wiggle through my hair or my sheets.

 

“They won't crawl in bed with you.” He paused. “Well, they might.” I let out another whimper and then saw one of the mice shoot across the floor underneath a pillow Matthew had laid next to his bed. I pointed and told him but he didn't seem to care. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

 

I tried to calm myself down. It was only mice. They were more scared of me than I was of them. But if they were really more afraid of me then why weren't they respecting my personal space? I only wanted them to stay away from me and my things. I wish I could tell them that. When breathing and thinking didn't help calm me down I decided to full out pray.

 

Jesus please put your hedge of protection around me. Please, please, please don't let the mice touch me or my bed. Please keep me safe. Don't let them get on my bed. Keep me safe, Jesus. Amen.

 

Back home I would say a similar prayer before going to bed at night, only that prayer was that no one would break in my house. In comparison I felt silly, but prayers always gave me peace in fearful situations.

 

I did eventually calm down enough to lay my head on my pillow. The mice had left my mind but I found myself thinking about odd things for most of the night. I saw the sunrise peak through our bedroom window just before I fell asleep.

 

In the morning I woke up feeling very unrested. I walked into the kitchen and found Maggie and Matthew. They asked me about the mice and Matthew kidded me about being scared. It was all fun until later I found a whole tray of milk ruined from where the mice had cut through the cardboard and got inside. What was interesting is that of all our selections—full milk, skim milk and soy milk—they only attacked the soy milk. The boxes were all the same so I concluded that the mice are either hipster or vegan.

 

For the next two days I watched as each cube of poison slowly disappeared. While I waited for the poison to kick in I was curious if other islanders were having similar problems with the species so I posted a little something in a KI Facebook group. Within hours I had dozens of polarising answers. Apparently poison is highly discouraged on the island due to its effects on the wildlife around the area. Though most people voiced strong opinions against poison, there were one or two individuals who said it was hippy hogwash to think of poison as evil. I enjoyed reading the discussion though I dare not admit the sins we committed on our property. Once again my redneck side was coming out. How giddy I was at the thought of poisoning dozens of mice.

 

Despite the Facebook outrage against poison, the mice did disappear within the week. I started sleeping through the night again. I began to enter dark rooms without anxiety. I was even able to go barefoot for small amounts of time. Things were really looking up. Once again the humans proved victorious over an unwanted species. Thank God for rat poison.