The Intruder

For Halloween, I wanted to go back to my creative writing roots and share a “frightful” short story I wrote recently.

“I’m going to throw Lorde into the car to get it!

What I didn’t admit to my husband was that I always viewed Lorde to be the most expendable of the two cats. Lorde was sweet, but he wasn’t “mine” and he was always a little…off. My cat, Morgan, embodied all the famous cliches pertaining to cats: fat cat, lazy cat, curiosity “killed” the cat, and in a case such as this, a scaredy cat.

I knew that if I put Morgan in the car to chase off our intruder, I would come back the next morning with him curled up in the footwell of the front seat having not moved since the night before. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rodent popped out of its hiding place to flip me off as I cradled my non-hunter and brought him back to the house to feast on a breakfast of wet food and treats.

I wanted to send in our known killer cat. Lorde was a ratter. He never gave us the bugs he killed as presents, but if I found a dead bug body, I knew Lorde was the last one to see it alive. He cornered a tiny Brown Snake in our laundry room one summer afternoon and meowed in disappointment when I scooped it up with a cup and cardboard to bring it outside.

If he could handle a snake, surely he could hand a rodent?

My husband laughed at my outburst. He thought I was joking, and I was for the most part, but there was an edge of seriousness in my declaration. I wanted to get rid of this rodent that found its way into my vehicle and causing unseen amounts of damage. I had reached the point of crazed desperation.

We discovered the intruder on Saturday.

I was locking up the house while my husband had our child in his arms, preparing to put him in the car seat.

“Oh wow, look what Bodhi did!” I looked over to where my husband was pointing at the car seat after I opened the driver’s door.

“Bodhi?” I was a bit incredulous at what my husband was suggesting, “I don’t think Bodhi would be capable of destroying his car seat like…” I realized I couldn’t rationalize my child being strong enough to fray and completely destroy his car seat straps while sitting in the back.

What could have done this? We rarely come in contact with wildlife, so how could something have gotten into our car and make such a mess?

The only thought going through my mind as I picked the fluff and insulation away from the crotch strap to find that the clipping mechanism was able to slide completely away, was that someone did this. Not something, but someone.

Why would someone break into our locked car, destroy the car seat like an animal did it, lock the car back up again and walk away? That made no sense.

Then I took a moment for a rational thought. Okay. Not human. But animal. What type of animal? Raccoon? Could a raccoon open the door in such a fashion? A bear? Here in the middle of suburbia? We had just vacationed in a rural area, did it happen then?

Digging through the car seat damage a little more, I discovered the poop.

“We have a rodent” I calmly informed my husband.

“How?” He had the tone of complete disbelief and shock that always irritates me in stressful situations. I saw him grip Bodhi a little tighter.

“I don’t know how, I just know we have one,” I was tense as I walked to the back of the vehicle. I braced myself when I opened the trunk. I half expected and hoped the rodent would jump out and that would be the end of it.

No such luck. I found more droppings in the trunk and it clearly rifled through my things in its quest for more food.

When I was given my first car fifteen years ago I treated it as my most prized possession. I kept the interior clean, took it for weekly washes, and made sure it was always up-to-date with the maintenance. I transferred this level of care to our brand new car we bought just before Bodhi was born. Despite having a toddler, I did my best to keep it clean. His car seat was a food trap, but other than that, there was no reason for the vehicle to be an appealing place for a rodent to set up its mobile home.

The fact that there was a rodent in the vehicle and I drove around with Bodhi, prior to the car seat destruction, unknowingly caused my anxiety to rise. Any sort of pest infestation, whether it was one or many, made me feel like I was unclean and negligent.

I had to get rid of this thing. At any cost.

It took me two hours to tear the car apart. I pulled out everything in the trunk: the spare tire, the tools, the stroller, everything. Out came the car seat. Out came the diaper bag. Out came anything I didn’t want it’s nasty, disease-carrying paws to walk on.

Next was a trip to the hardware store for a solution. I got a catch-and-release trap and placed it in the trunk with some peanut butter. I waited anxiously until the sun came up Sunday morning.

I looked in the untripped trap and saw what looked like a paw mark swiped through the peanut butter. The rodent reached in from behind and grabbed at the bait rather than going into the trap itself. A massive flaw in the trap’s design, I thought. I will have to write to the company. 

Back to the hardware store.

I grabbed an electric trap, snap traps, and sticky traps. I felt like a monster as the cashier scanned the sticky traps. So inhumane, but this rodent was giving me little choice. I couldn’t drive the car, especially with Bodhi, until the rodent was gone. I couldn’t risk it destroying another car seat, jumping on him, jumping on me while I am driving. All sorts of horrific scenarios of injuries, accidents, and illnesses flashed through my mind as I pulled the traps out one-by-one when I was home.

We left the live trap in the trunk and added in the electric one. Monday morning: nothing but more poop.

I opened all the doors, turned the car on, put it in neutral, cranked the loudest music I could find and gunned the engine until the car smelled like it was overheating. I could hear in the quieter moments of all the commotion what sounded like something skittering around, but I think that was my mind willing that sound to be the rodent. It was most likely nothing.

Monday night, the trunk now contained: the live-trap, electric trap, and two snap traps. I added some candy to the peanut butter bait.

Tuesday morning, the rodent set off one of the snap traps and got at the bait from that one, and left more droppings. It tore up some of the carpet in the back seat. The rodent was mocking me.

I opened all the doors again and set off the panic alarm to see if that would scare the rodent out. All it did was bring a neighbor out to check to see if I was okay. I nodded and thanked her for her concern.

Tuesday night, the trunk now contained: the live-trap, electric trap, two snap traps, and two sticky traps. Peanut butter, candy, and beef jerky. The car would be going into the shop the next day for the dealership to take the seats out and see if they could find where the rodent holed itself up.

I had officially declared total war on this intruder. It was at this point I threatened to stick Lorde in the vehicle (traps removed of course) to spend a night.

Wednesday morning, more poop, another set off snap trap and rejected beef jerky. Not only was it refusing to take the bait, it was also picky about it.

I should leave him a piece of paper and pen so he can give me his shopping list. I put my foot down on black truffles, I thought to myself as I gnashed my teeth.

I drove the car to the shop and waited my turn in line. One service intake person was joking with another about the customer in front of me:

“Just an oil change, nothing crazy!”

“No, I am the crazy one for y’all today,” both intake workers looked at me with a confused look, “I have a rodent I need you to scare out.” Both workers looked away. A third one called me over.

“So you have a rodent problem?”

“Yes,” I went through the whole long tale of how we discovered it and how I’d been trying since Saturday to get rid of it.

“You think its still in there now?”

I hesitated. I was worried if I said yes they would refuse to help me. I knew that this was my nuclear option: take out all the seats, look to see where the rodent was nesting, and do whatever they needed to do to get the guy out of the car. I also needed them to find if there was a place he was getting in and out of, and if he was doing damage to my wiring out of desperation for “safe” food.

“Unfortunately, yes. I found a fresh dropping in the backseat this morning.”

The intake worker blanched. I could feel my adrenaline starting to pump through my body in anticipation of having to be more assertive over my needs in the situation. I tried to explain my desperation as clearly as possible.

“I have a toddler, I really need this out of my vehicle for his safety. Whatever you need to do, I am under no illusion that this will be easy, timely, or cheap. I just need him out.”

At that moment, my husband walked in holding our son to help drive the point home.

“I’ll see what I can do, but he may jump around so we aren’t able to catch him…” I knew he was hedging because he couldn’t promise me anything.

“Seriously – whatever it takes. If you have to tear the entire vehicle apart to scare him out, that’s fine. I don’t care what it takes. I need. It. Gone.”

As I drove away with Bodhi and my husband I could feel some relief. Finally, I would be rid of it. This would be enough to scare it out. We may have to replace seats and carpet, but as long as it was gone, I could get my car back and finally relax.

It took five days, but when the shop got back to me Monday morning, the intake worker gave me the rundown:

“We found the nest and as soon as we pulled the seat out it ran out into the shop. We kept the car open just in case there was another one hiding and to allow it the opportunity to leave your vehicle as well. Near as we can tell, it’s gone. We went ahead and replaced the back seat and checked all the other nooks it could be hiding it. We detailed the entire interior to sanitize the surfaces and give you back a clean car.”

He brought me out to inspect their work. Absolutely clean. I looked closely for droppings that I was now used to seeing in the trunk area and back seat. Nothing.

I paid them, felt massive guilt over how much the whole ordeal cost, signed the paperwork, and felt the guilt be replaced with relief as I hopped into my now clean and rodent-free car. Good as new.

I decided to grab some groceries on my way home and picked up some ingredients for a favorite family dish, spaghetti with garlic basil tomato sauce, for dinner that night in celebration.

When I opened the trunk to store the bags, I dropped the bag containing the glass tomato sauce. It shattered on the pavement getting red sauce all over the back of the car and my pants. I strangled out a cry of anger at what I saw.

A single pellet of poop.

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Featured photo credit: Photo by Taton Moïse on Unsplash

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