December 25th, 2015

And all through the house…

…a creature was stirring.

Last night was Christmas Eve. I was expecting a visit from my son, who was flying in as a rare treat. I had tidied up, and was putting on the finishing touches while waiting for him to arrive from the airport. As I was poised at the top of the staircase on my way down from the second floor, I saw a movement on one of the lower steps.

A dark shape. A small dark shape—very still, and then in motion again. With tiny little ears, and a long tail.

A mouse. Very much stirring.

I let out a shriek, like in the cartoons. Yes, I know that mice do not hurt people. But yes, they give me the willies when they startle me and scurry around—like—mice. The few times when this has happened before, they’ve always sought the little opening from whence they’d come and scurried away, hardly ever to be seen again.

But this mouse seemed to be lost and disoriented. Maybe because it was almost midnight on Christmas Eve, and no creature was supposed to be scurrying. In the midst of my unreasonable fear was a sort of amusement. What was it doing here, this evening of all evenings?

The mouse was still on the staircase landing, and although I assumed that somehow it had managed to climb the three stairs to where it was, it appeared to be perplexed about how to get up or down from there. I watched it from what I considered a safe distance at the top of the stairs, and I could see it moving back and forth, back and forth, first towards the wall and then towards the edge of the step, but it could not seem to get the courage to make a break for it.

What did I do? I called my son and asked how far away he was. Forty-five minutes. And then I settled in, not for a long winter’s nap but for a long viewing from a good vantage point to monitor the mouse’s position till he arrived. For the moment, the mouse seemed quite well-contained on the stairs, but I didn’t trust that—and sure enough, slowly but surely, with many fits and starts, it managed to get back down those three stairs to the ground floor.

Now, it turns out that watching a mouse is actually sort of interesting. This one darted from stair-bottom to hall to bathroom to bedroom and back again (my place is built upside-down, with the bedroom and bathroom downstairs and living room and kitchen upstairs). I had a special horror of the mouse being in the bedroom—so after its one foray into the bedroom for five minutes and then out again, I slammed the bedroom door shut and placed a thick towel to block the crack at the bottom. The towel seemed to act as an effective barrier, like a small mountain range, and the mouse didn’t venture into that room again.

But back and forth it went—along the wall in the hall, into the bathroom, up a few stairs and then back down them again. I noticed that it seemed to get smarter and smarter; each time it climbed the stairs it was better at it, until it seemed as though it had been doing this all its little life.

And then by trial and error it found the molding along the side of the stairs, which then acted as a sort of ramp by which the mouse could easily climb all the way to the top. This filled me with dread. I was conceding the downstairs for now, but the upstairs was my territory! But what to do? That molding-ramp made it so easy; the mouse was coming up in a determined sort of way, till I could look into its beady little eyes and it could look into mine. I let out another involuntary yelp, stamping my feet and clapping my hands, trying to make enough noise to frighten it off.

I looked and sounded completely and utterly ridiculous.

And yet it was effective; the little thing stopped in its tracks, then turned and went back downstairs again, to my great relief. Then a few minutes later it came up the ramp-molding again, and I re-enacted the same stupid pantomime I had before. The mouse kept coming—up up up, light and fleet of foot, relentless and implacable. I actually thought of throwing something at it to head it off—perhaps my shoe, like Clara in “The Nutcracker.” But oh, for a platoon of tin soldiers like hers! (I’ve cued up the video to start at the right spot):

But alas, we were alone, just the two of us, mousie and me. And I didn’t really want to hurt it, which I thought might happen if I threw my shoe, so I reached for a pillow—and at that moment I heard the key turn in the lock and my son walked in.

I’m always happy to see him, but perhaps never so happy as this time, as I stood at the top of the stairs in a semi-crouch, clutching a small pillow and making silly-yet-hopefully-scary noises at a mouse that was climbing a molding-ramp on the edge of the staircase.

My son managed to keep his disdain under control long enough to catch the mouse in a plastic container and escort it outside to be released, but not before we took a photo though the plastic. Yes, the mouse is cute. But no, I don’t want him in my house, not on Christmas Eve or any other time.

Mouse 2

Mouse 1

49 Responses to “And all through the house…”

  1. JimBobElrod Says:

    Pretty funny Neo. A couple of days ago I discovered a rarely used kitchen drawer where some of his distant relatives had taken up residence. Gotta find the mouse trap.

  2. F Says:

    Several months ago I had the bad luck to be stuck in a CA desert town during some kind of convention that took up most every available room. My host was happy to announce that he had found a motel with two rooms (he was buying, so who was I to complain?) and we checked in.

    It was one of those cinder-block motels that line US 395 from about Riverside to Reno (or maybe beyond, but that’s the section I know) and that were built in the fifties, when highways made motels a good business. If it had been renovated since built, the renovation consisted of paint only.

    I showered and turned in, and just before turning off the light saw a mouse climbing some molding across the room. “He’s far enough away not to be a problem,” I thought, “and besides how is he going to get into bed with me?”

    I turned off the light and went to sleep.

    Sometime later I woke to feel him running across my hair. That ticked me off no end, so I created a noisy ruckus and pulled the cover over my head so he couldn’t get there again.

    A while later (I was asleep and don’t now how long it really was) I felt him sniffing his way along my leg. If I was ticked off before, I was really ticked off this time. I jumped out of bed, created even more of a ruckus to scare him well clear of the bed, and tucked the sheet and blanket well under the mattress, pulled the cover over my head, and went back to sleep.

    All seemed to go well for the rest of the night and I slept soundly. When I woke up I threw the covers back and the little bugger jumped off the bed and scurried off.

    It was a relatively cold night (the desert experiences extremes of hot AND cold) and I guess he was just looking for a warm place to sleep. After my second experience with him I think he just decided to enjoy my warm bed without getting near enough to me to wake me. Good for him and me both!

    I have an even worse story of sleeping on the beach in CA many many years ago, when I slept with my mouth open, but that’s too painful to repeat.

    Merry Christmas to us all!

  3. Matthew M Says:

    He or she is cute!

    My critter in the bedroom story occurred at a bed and breakfast on a French farm. The French mouse was equipped with wings and flew in an open, screenless window in the middle of the night. My companion and I pulled our respective covers over our heads and wished our visitor away, which took considerably longer than we hoped.

    Your ‘nature’ tag could be very versatile, Neo. Thank you for a smile.

  4. bassplayer Says:

    It was a Saturday a number of years ago where I was in the bedroom on the second floor. My wife had just went to the basement where the washer and dryer were about to get their weekly workout. Mind you my wife walks around the house in bare feet, refusing any footware unless absolutely necessary. I then heard an ear-piercing scream. This wasn’t the typical ‘I’m startled’ kind, but one that smacked of serious trouble. There was no need to question what happened, I just high tailed it down at top speed. When I got there she was holding her foot up and simply states “I stepped on it.”. There on the concrete floor were the remnants of a small mouse that one of the cats must have played with but didn’t take to the back door like usual.

  5. Ed (from Ypsilanti) Bonderenka Says:

    We got some boxes out of storage in a warehouse with more than we stored.
    It was weeks before we were mouse free.
    The imagery in your story was great.
    Peanut butter attracts them more than cheese.

  6. mezzrow Says:

  7. sdferr Says:

    We larn to takes care which hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings we goes to crushing along with Bobby Burns, yet glad to see it out of doors.

  8. LisaM Says:

    Cute mouse and a funny story. I’m not afraid of mice (spiders are my phobia) but I can sympathize.

  9. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Ed: yup. In my youth, when my mother insisted on using Have-A-Heart traps to catch the little beasties alive, we baited them with Ritz crackers, liberally (sorry) smeared with peanut butter. Worked like a charm.

    Neo, you might want to invest in one:

    You can set the trap and forget about it — until something gets trapped inside, at which time you pick up the trap by its handle, transport it FAR away, and release.

    Alternatively, you could exercise your Second Amendment rights (sort of) and have a water pistol handy. (I’ve known people to keep one in every room, to dissuade the cats from doing what they ought not to do. Never tried them on mice, but I feel certain they won’t like it.)

    Kudos for your response to the situation! Judging by your phrasing, you do seem to be afraid of the little critters — which makes your response, sitting and watching him with horrid fascination, shooing him hither and yon until your son arrived, all the more praiseworthy.

  10. Jim Sullivan Says:

    Some bad news, however.

    Unless your son released the mouse more than a few miles away, it will come back (if it and it’s family have made a home in your house).

    And if there is one, there are a lot more.

    My father-in-law set live traps for mice once. And was releasing them too close to home. On the advice of the cooperative extension, he dabbed different colored paint on their backs with a q-tip.

    Soon, he found he was recatching the same group of mice.

  11. Harold Says:

    Very charming Christmas story. The mouse and its progeny thank you for not killing it.

    Your son did the right thing, the ole plastic container trick. I’ve caught bees and spiders that way and escorted them out into the world outside.

    Field mice are damn cute. Not cute enough that you want them to live in your house but still damn cute.

    Merry Christmas.

  12. Prospector Says:

    Awwww, cute little guy. We have voles up here in interior Alaska. A lot of them. They build tunnels under the snow. I kind of don’t mind them very much. They mostly go after the dog food.

  13. Eric Says:

    How’d he catch it?

  14. PatD Says:

    My wife used to live in the country. One day she came hope to see a snake slither under her sofa. She didn’t waste any time. She called 911.

  15. Gringo Says:

    I have never had any qualms about killing a rat or a mouse. I shared a campus apartment for 3 years with a student from Bhutan. There was a rat/mouse in the bathroom. My roommate, being a Buddhist, didn’t want to kill the mouse. I took a broom handle. performed the honors, and deposited the corpse in the dumpster.

    My childhood home in rural NE was filled with rats, mice, and even a flying squirrel one time. You couldn’t get rid of them. Just had to keep them down to a dull roar, as one of my elementary school teachers said about class noise.

  16. Sgt. Mom Says:

    I do not have any problems with mice. Cute or otherwise.

    I have cats. Indoors cats – names available on request — and an outdoors cat – Smeagol the Feral.

    No … no problems with mice. At all.

  17. vanderleun Says:

    Now that’s the best thing written here in terms of writing in quite some time. Most excellent.

    E. B.White would be impressed.

  18. Cornhead Says:

    Neo’s son is a mouser.

    Nice catch!

  19. AesopFan Says:

    Loved the story.
    We had a couple of fearless critters in the house earlier this winter, coming in from the snow I suppose. I always thought mice would avoid coming out in the open if there were lights or people, but not these two.
    They were living in the garage (who knew I was renting out an “apartment”?) and didn’t get into anything in the house (no shredded items or droppings), but all the grandkids’ toys and the couch pillows etc. got a good cleaning and went into bags until we were sure they had moved on to other quarters.

    HO HO HO!

    The q-tip tip was a good idea.

  20. John F. MacMichael Says:

    I once (early 90s) had curious encounter with a mouse in my mother’s house. I had come over for dinner. My Mom told me that she had seen a mouse in her living room. She had worked out a plan to catch it and return it to the great outdoors. She told me to lay a trail of cheese crumbs from the edge of the living room to a little basket set by my feet where I was sitting on the living room couch. Her idea was that the mouse would follow the trail of cheese to the basket, climb in to get the piece of cheese in the basket and then I would reach down, cover the top of the basket with my hand to trap it and take it outside.

    My response to my Mom’s plan was, to put it mildly, skeptical. I told her it sounded like something out of a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon and there was no way in the world that it was going to work.

    Nevertheless, at her insistence, I laid out the trail of cheese crumbs and the mouse trapping basket.

    To my amazement, then and now, her plan worked exactly as she had forecast. The mouse appeared, scuttling along the edge of the living room and found the cheese. He followed the crumbs across the room to the basket and climbed inside. I reached down and caught him in the basket. I carried the basket out and let the mouse go in ivy in the garden.

    I still have trouble believing that her plan worked so perfectly.

  21. Chris Says:

    I’m reminded of an incident from my childhood.

    My little brother, around two years old or so, woke up in the middle of the night screaming “there’s a bat in my room!” My Dad, assuming that he’d been dreaming, yelled “shut up and go to sleep, you don’t even know what a bat looks like!”

    The next morning we found a dead bat on the bed next to him, which the cat had killed.

  22. Ed (from Ypsilanti) Bonderenka Says:

    I had an outdoor cat that kept the mice down, but a cat in the house is more bothersome than a small mouse that generally keeps to itself.
    Except mice can’t be trained to use a mouse box with mouse litter.

  23. GMac Says:

    An unheralded benefit of dating for a man living alone is the impetus to clean the house thoroughly when a lady comes for a visit. I have trained myself to not look too closely at the periphery, but counters, central floor locations, etc., are kept reasonably clear and clean. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. Having young children who regularly visit on alternate weekends makes staying ahead of the mess even more problematic.

    This past summer, in anticipation of a visit from a woman dear to my heart, I got out the Hoover upright and attacked the 1 1/2 inch gap under the baseboard heating elements around the perimeter of the dining room. Near a dim corner, while sucking up dust bunnies with the wand attachment, I thought I saw a long, thin, writhing object being sucked into the tube.

    Incredulous, I tried to convince myself that what I observed was not a snake! Invoking Jack Buck’s Kirk Gibson home run call, I kept repeating, “I don’t believe what I just saw.” Then ‘kid’s toy rubber snake’ momentarily leapt to mind. I could not remember ever seeing one around. Suddenly it struck me that what goes in could come out! I had shut off the vacuum in my confusion and realized I had better head quickly outside.

    Nothing was happening, I was staring at the machine trying to determine how to extricate it, wondering how far in it could have traveled. I turned on the machine momentarily, shut it off quickly and out slithered a substantial garter snake, moving rapidly across the porch and down the stairs into the grass, looking none the worse, at least physically, for the wear.

    How did it get in the house? Perhaps through the basement and up the holes from the old cast iron radiators which were still open after the radiators were removed. But what good fortune! How would it have made its presence known if I had not sucked it up? How would I have removed it if I had discovered it otherwise? What dread would it have inspired if it had escaped inside?

    Surely I would never have thought of vacuuming it up. What a testament to Hoover uprights! One of my daughters has an intense fear of snakes, so the story remains untold, perhaps to be included as a ‘going away to college’ gift in about five years.

  24. DNW Says:

    Being one of the more brutal commenter here, but sensible of the season and the feelings of others, I will simply remark that it is unwise to tolerate rodents in your dwellings, primary or otherwise.

    What they do not destroy they befoul; and of course, they are vectors for diseases of various sorts.

    I ripped an entire wall out of a picket post cabin and rebuilt it from and including the mud sill up, with hand tools, no electricity being available, to get rid of the buggers’ access. Was worth every hour spent.

  25. DougP Says:

    Thanks for the well-told tale! We don’t have mice, but we do have the odd chameleon now and then. I feel they help keep down the bug population, but my wife finds them somewhat alarming so I deport them with the dust pan and broom. I suppose they come in from the garage, but lately I’ve been reading that they like to live in colonies, so I’m wondering if there is a seething mass of these critters somewhere in the walls. Perhaps I should keep these thoughts to myself!

  26. DNW Says:

    Gringo Says:
    December 25th, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    I have never had any qualms about killing a rat or a mouse. ”


    In deference to the sensitivities of others, I’ll make this telegraphic.

    Buddy’s house. Dog pen behind garage. Heap of compost straw near. Raiding the dog bowl in broad daylight.

    Lawn chairs set up on rear deck. Supply of beer. CO2 cartridge pistol, semi-auto.

    More fun that you have a right to ask for.

  27. Sergey Says:

    Neo, it was not a mouse, it was a common shrew. At least, it looks like it in the photo.

  28. Sergey Says:

    The good news is it will hardly return, and there are no other shrews around. Shrews do not like company, they have their own hunting grounds which they defend from any other small predators. It came to your house by accident, hunting for some insect – probably, butterfly or moth.

  29. Sergey Says:

    That is how it looks like:

  30. Ed (from Ypsilanti) Bonderenka Says:

    I once went out in the shed to ckean it.
    I found a newspaper that had an article about my nephew, that I had saved.
    When I opened it, inside was a small black toy bat.
    I thought.
    I stared at it as it made mechanical clicking sounds as it slowly opened it’s wings .
    I was amazed my kids had never shown me this toy.
    Then it opened it’s eyes.
    For the last time.

  31. geokstr Says:

    Be careful, neo. It looks mighty pissed off.

  32. neo-neocon Says:


    That’s what I thought. Looks fit to be tied.

  33. neo-neocon Says:


    Looking up shrews and photos of them and comparing to mice, I don’t really think so. Shrews have smaller eyes, and are always gray, whereas this had big eyes and was brown. And the length of its nose is well within the mouse norm.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t look pleased.

  34. Gringo Says:

    Neo, it was not a mouse, it was a common shrew. At least, it looks like it in the photo.
    I looked at field mice photos with your shrew photo and with the photos of Neo’s “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie.” Field mice and Neo’s beastie have big ears and big eyes- the shrew does not. You can find field mice photos where the snout resembles the snout of Neo’s beastie.

    Neo’s beastie is shrewly not a shrew. 🙂

  35. Sergey Says:

    Field mouse? Probably, yes. Certainly not a domestic mouse, most fit striped field mouse (Apodemus agrarius).

  36. Joe Katzman Says:

    We’ve caught those (yes, with peanut butter; also hamster food). Neo’s little mammal is a field mouse. If you’ve never seen one of these 6″ critters hop 2 feet in the air as it bounds out into a field, you’ve missed something.

    They are intelligent, forward-thinking, and tenacious, in addition to being cute. The vast popularity of mice and hamsters as pets is not an accident.

    Sadly, when so many things want to eat you, a tolerance for living in your own crap (and hence much less need to expose yourself to danger) is a big evolutionary edge. Many unfortunate consequences flow from this.

    Neo, inspect all of your foodstuff bags/ containers carefully for holes, and don’t be surprised if you find caches in odd places. Including footwear.

  37. Lee Says:

    When I was a kid, we lived in the country and every winter, mice would move in. One winter, while we were away on vacation, they set up an elaborate household in the stack of kitchen drawers: the bottom drawer was the pantry with pulled off wax and dog food and peanut brittle; the next drawer was the bedroom with piles of feathers and hair and pillow foam, the next drawer was not evident — nothing was out of place there, but the top drawer, the silverware drawer, was disgusting — it was the bathroom. Filled with mouse droppings… Ugh…

    Another winter, one more would steal peanut brittle from a box on our sideboard (my mom was a school teacher and every year she received BOXES of opportunity brittle from students; no one, outside of our winter nice, liked peanut brittle), and the mouse would carry it up in to the planter on the side board and have a nice little picnic in the mini forest there…

    That same winter, a freaking mouse settled down for a nap on my head. I screamed, he went flying…

  38. Lee Says:

    “PILES OF wax, dog food, and peanut brittle” NOT “pulled off wax and dog food and peanut brittle.” I do wish we could go back and edit…

  39. KBK Says:

    The general technique is to chase it down, and then throw a towel over it. We then flush them.

    My wife did a variant on this at Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant in Boston as the staff looked on in horror. She used her napkin, and gave the mouse/napkin to the parking lot attendant.

    We have more problems with flying squirrels than mice (they are even more endearing), but our mouser cat has the place under control, inside and out. Night patrol on the mantlepiece and all that.

  40. KBK Says:

    BTW, mice are nothing to mess with. Google hantavirus. You don’t want them in your attic.

  41. virgil xenophon Says:

    BAD MOUSIE!! 🙂

    (actually there is a 1947 children’s book by that name, “Bad Mousie: Donica’s story”) by Martha Dudley, dedicated to her daughter Donica. Martha was the daughter of our family Dr in the days when physicians still made house-calls. The illustrations are to die for!)

    (Click on the ebay listing to get a sample of illistrustation on the 1947 original cover. Later books lack the cover illustration and I’m not certain how many of the original illustrations are contained in the later versions, but the 1947 printing on ebay has them all. You should check it out Neo-Neo!)

  42. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    HOLY GIRAFFES! $60.00 for a kids book!

  43. geokstr Says:

    All the above being said, with some fava beans and a nice Chianti…

  44. Matt_SE Says:

    I especially love the last, close-up picture. It has the feeling of “duh-duh-DUH!!!!”

  45. neo-neocon Says:

    virgil xenophon:

    Thanks. You may be happy to hear (if you don’t already know it) that on YouTube, someone has put up this video of a reading of the book, plus its illustrations.

  46. Lee Says:

    For KBK and his Night Patrol:

    (Ian Anderson makes it seem like there something risqué to the lyrics as he sings, but there isn’t — it is about a cat.)

  47. Spec Says:

    I live right on the fringe of the country with my backyard up against farmland. Which means when it gets cold, my garage becomes a haven for critters. Last winter, I “caught” 17 mice in my garage…which is my nice way of saying they’ll never see daylight again. They make a mess, destroy things, urinate all over my tools making them rust, and generally are a nuisance. And occasionally one will make its way into the house much to my wife’s chagrin. We’ve also relocated major populations of squirrels and chipmunks, a family of raccoons and a snapping turtle. Our Golden Retrievers have proven to be no help in this regard.

    If you live trap, just make sure you locate them far enough away from the house or they’ll be back.

  48. Lee Says:

    And for Neoneocon, another Jethro Tull tune:

  49. Exeter mom Says:

    Charming story, but you and your son are too tender hearted. Don’t confuse the story with the creature. Mice are rodents and multiply rapidly. Your posters are correct. They will find a way back in to your home. The only way to resolve this problem is to KILL THEM! They are NOT cute. And, yes, peanut butter is the way to go.

    Another old Maine trick is to set out a bucket with molasses in it, and provide a ramp for them to get to the top. The mice fall in and die, leaving no odor. This is especially good in a
    basement or shed and works for an entire season, maybe longer.

    Happy New Year, my friend.

    Happy New Year, my friend.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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