The Mouse

“I think we have mice,” Kayla said. She rolled over on the sofa and placed her ear against the wall, sure that she had just heard the scuffling of feet. Nothing. She looked back at Matt who slouched in the red chair, his feet on the coffee table, his eyes half closed.

Did you hear me? I think we have mice?”

“Don’t be silly. It’s the neighbors upstairs. I’m sure they’d fumigate.”

He held up the remote and began to switch through the channels until Kayla said, “Pick something.”

“Huh? Nothing on really.” He left it on the Military Channel where there was a program on World War II and fell asleep. Kayla listened for the scratching, but it remained quiet. Almost as if the mice knew she was listening for them.

They’d been lucky to get this place. It was a decent size two-bedroom, and they split the twenty-four hundred dollar rent. The drawback was that it was a basement apartment—garden apartment, the owner called it—though it only had small half windows in the front of the living room and in the back at the kitchen. Because the house sat in the middle of the block there were no windows in the bedrooms.

“Cells,” Kayla called them, though Matt didn’t seem to care. He seemed to enjoy holing up in his dark little bedroom and tapping away on his computer.

“You’re like a mole,” Kayla would tell him. He was a little with his longish nose and thick round wire rimmed glasses. He was a psych student of independent means. Quiet, easy-going, he kept to himself most of the time, but that was fine by Kayla. She had her own friends.

“You’re too picky. This place is perfect for you. You can walk to work.”

He was right. It was a fifteen-minute walk to her office at Dupont Circle, and yet there were those noises. Not all the time, but enough. Except Matt didn’t hear them. Whenever he came into the room, they stopped.

Kayla decided to buy an electronic mouse trap. It was the most humane thing. She would bait it with peanut butter and let it do its work. The directions said it could hold up to six mice at a time.

She set it up behind the couch and waited. A week went by. Then two. The trap remained empty, but the scratching continued. At night when she was lying in bed, she’d hear the scritch scratching on the wall, the scrabble of little feet, and she’d toss and turn until morning. She couldn’t eat. She’d imagine mice running through the cupboards prying into their supplies, leaving a trail of little brown turds behind. Stepping into the shower with its dark curtain terrified her so she bathed less and less often. Her hair became a chaotic nest of tangles around her thin, white face. She was too tired to do laundry.

Kayla would find herself drifting off at work. During a presentation by the president of her company, she began to snore. She was fired that afternoon.

Kayla dragged herself home and threw herself on her bed. She no longer cared about the scratching. She just wanted to sleep.

When she woke, all was dark and still. She didn’t hear a sound except her own breathing.

“Feeling better?” Matt said.

“I am a little.”

Kayla started to stand, but Matt grasped her arm and pulled her down. “No, I’m afraid you won’t be leaving yet. This is the second part of the experiment. I call it sensory deprivation. Don’t worry. It’s not total, and I won’t let you starve or dehydrate. Maggie was very resilient. I expect you will be too. Who knows? You make even make it to Stage Three.”

Kayla could feel hear her heart throbbing. “Stage Three?”

“Let’s not worry about that now,” Matt said as he wrapped duct tape around her hands. He slapped a final piece across her mouth. “The record is four months. Let’s just see how you do.”

Sugarplum’s Gift

“What’s that sound? Is it the cat? She sounds like she’s having a hairball!”

“That’s not her hairball noise. She probably saw a bird at the window. Go back to sleep. I have to shower.”

Gary pushed back the covers. Emily settled back and began to drift toward sleep. Down the hall, Sofie was already moving around; she didn’t hear Logan yet, but he always was the last up. Just ten minutes more.

She heard the shower go on and began to drift.

“Hagggh. Hagggh.”

She heard the sound again. It didn’t sound normal at all. Maybe something had gotten into the house. She didn’t know what kind of creature made that noise. She hated living out here in the woods. Sometimes she felt under assault by all the critters that wandered the perimeter of her home. She liked the city. Concrete, car exhaust, people. She understood those things. Ticks, raccoons, foxes, deer, and all the other things that inhabited their property were aliens; moreover, since they were there first, they seemed disinclined to give way to the people who came to live there. Emily didn’t blame them.

She wished the land had stayed house free.

Sugarplum trotted into the room, her head down, shoulders hunched. She began to play in the corner, and Emily settled back under the covers. In the bathroom, she heard Gary turn off the shower and knew she’d have to get up. He always drove Sophie, while she took Logan. Emily hated mornings. She closed her eyes. Five more minutes.

Sugarplum jumped on the bed and slowly walked up toward her. Sugarplum loved to cuddle, and Emily smiled.

“Hagggh.”

Something dropped on her shoulder, something small and furry, and alive. Emily heard herself screaming before she recognized the field mouse scambling through the covers. Sugarplum was on it at once.

Emily heard the pounding of feet. Greg stood in the doorway, water still running down his face. “What the hell happened?”

“Sugarplum has a mouse! Just get it!” She could still feel the damn thing dropping down on her bare shoulder.

“Jesus Christ, I thought someone attacked you,” Gary said. She could see he was trying not to laugh. He grabbed Sugarplum who still had the mouse clamped in her jaws. “Well, it’s dead now.” He held it up by its tail and walked downstairs in his towel.

Sophie popped her head in the doorway, eyes wide. “Eww, a mouse?” She looked at Sugarplum who was circling the bed looking for her prize. “Well, I guess Sugarplum brought a gift for you, Mom.” She glanced away. “Dad really needs to hurry up.”

Logan pushed past her. His hair stuck out in all directions; his eyes were blurry from lack of sleep. “Mom, I never even knew your voice went that high,” he said. That was impressive.”

“Everyone get dressed,” Gary said as he came back into the room. “We’ve got to get moving.”

Emily pulled herself out of bed. She wanted a shower, but now there wasn’t time. She’d do it when she got back. In fact, she’d drive Logan to school in her pajamas. She just needed to brush her teeth and scrub her arm. Her skin crawled, and for the hundredth time she wished she lived someplace else.

She glanced down at Sugarplum who still prowled the sheets. Sugarplum looked up. Her orange fur bristled, and her green eyes glittered. It was her hunter’s posture.

“Hagggh. Haggggh.”

Emily backed away and went to the bathroom to get ready.