Clement Moore wrote these immortal lines: "’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." If only that was true!
I’m typing this from a house in the Hill Country of Texas, between San Antonio and Austin, where we’ve gone to spend the holidays with relatives. I thought it was going to be lovely (picturesque!), but it has turned out to be a scenario out of a horror movie instead. The problem? In one word: Mice! We arrived the first night after dark, and made our way stealthily to the bedroom and crawled under the covers. We woke up in the morning to discover we had been lying on mouse droppings. In fact, the place has been taken over by these critters. From having country houses myself, I know that mice tend to come inside during the winter, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
But this house poses a special problem. First of all, the nearby fields are filled with donkeys and exotic deer. This sounds nice, until it’s bedtime. The house is very isolated and at night we can hear the deer blowing and the donkeys calling and these noises can seem very strange indeed to someone who is trying to sleep. The first night we were here, I tossed and turned all night–it was like falling asleep in a movie theater during a horror movie (if one could do such a thing).
But I later discovered it wasn’t just the donkey and deer noises that were keeping me up. I heard vague sounds of carnage taking place on the roof: Scrabbling followed by cries of agony, as if "Freddie" or some other horror movie character was out there. In the morning we figured it out: We had installed space heaters to warm the place up (it’s a stone house), and the heat rose, as it always does, and warmed up the tin roof. When the roof warmed up, the mice scrambled out of their hiding places and went up to the roof to keep warm. At that point, some nearby owls realized that THEIR Christmas dinner was now served, so they swooped down and had a gourmet meal. There must be some owls in these woods who are now so fat they can hardly fly, only waddle around.
The scrabbling and screeching, along with branches scraping the roof when the wind came up–all of which I heard dimly through my fitful sleep–caused me to create a dreamlike horror film scenario in my mind. I DREAMED a horror movie. But, come to think of it, my dream was nothing as bad as the rodent holocaust that was actually going on out there. The first day we were there, I called up the friend we are renting the house from and suggested he get an exterminator. The next day I called him and said he probably wouldn’t need one–that the problem had been taken care of. I wish I could say I feel sorry for those mice, but one look at all the mouse droppings everywhere, including on the dishes in the kitchen, has made me hardhearted, so I’m afraid I can’t.