I’m frightened—petrified. This time of year brings out my worst fears. I dread the words that come out of my wife’s mouth as dusk settles early on this cold winter evening. The words haunt me: “Can you go into the crawl space and check the mousetraps?” Just writing this sends a shiver down my spine. I try to act manly by deepening my voice and saying, “Of course, babe.” But she can hear the fear in me. My kids look at me and feel empathy for my plight but also relief that the task is not theirs.
This time of year is generally my favorite. I love the chill in the air, the dim light reflecting off the embers in the fireplace, and the silence in the winter night. Unfortunately, it is also the time when gigantic mice—other people say they’re regular size—take up residency in my crawl space. It’s not their fault. No mouse wants to be outdoors in this weather. Don’t tell the mice this, but I can’t blame them. Our house is one inviting place.
Hearing my wife’s words, I do what any cowardly husband and father would do to protect his family. I put on the Rambo: First Blood Part II soundtrack (highly underrated) and get dressed in camouflage. I don war paint like Stallone does when he goes to free the hostages. I grab the brightest flashlight I can find. I pick up the shovel, because there is no way I am using my hands to pick up a snapped mousetrap. I kiss my wife and kids and tell them good-bye. Then, I enter the darkness.
I prop open the half door leading to the fear zone. At first, I feel OK. The light and safety of the basement recreation room still provides a safety net of sorts. But as I venture farther into the abyss, the lump in my throat grows, and my heartbeat increases. I am alone, and I am scared. The floor is concrete, but my courage is not. I turn back and see the faces of my kids, who have come down to wish me luck. They are concerned and innocently hopeful that they will see me again. Their hopefulness I cannot share.
Turning the first corner, I become covered in darkness and dust. The low ceiling is filled with drooping insulation. The cave crickets cast their enormous shadows, and the heating ducts ping with sounds of expansion as the heat runs through them. I hear creaking overhead. My children must have returned upstairs and are pacing nervously over their father’s quandary. Actually, they’re probably just getting a snack. I would totally get a snack, too, if I weren’t down here fearing for my life.
The crawl space is divided into two sections. The first section is relatively benign. However, it leads to what I have lovingly referred to as the “door of death.” Behind this splintered door is where the real fear begins.
I glance back once more before propping open the door of death ever so slightly, as if doing so will allay the fear racing through my mind. I don’t need to enter at this point to see the first trap. I shine the flashlight on it. No mouse. I let out a sigh of relief, but this is temporary because I now have to enter the door of death to locate and evaluate the other traps.
Maybe I can tell my wife I checked all the traps. She would probably believe me. No, no, no! Society is pressuring me into being manly. If I fail this test, what sort of role model would I be for my kids, who are probably too busy eating snacks to care at this point?
Turning back one last time, I bargain with fate that I will be a better person if I make it out of this alive. I now find myself beyond the door of death. It slams shut behind me, like a vocal representation of the terror in my heart. It’s darker and dustier here. At first glance, the fallen pieces of insulation appear to be mice. They aren’t. I tell myself I’m not in Kansas anymore. Actually, I’ve never even been to Kansas. I wonder if Kansas crawl spaces have mice in them. “Stop it,” I yell to myself. “I have a job to do. Would Rambo behave like this?”
I shine the flashlight on three other traps placed strategically beyond the door of death. Nothing. No mice! There is, however, one more trap to check. This is the money trap, the trap that always seems to have something in it. I look toward it, my eyes slightly closed. No mouse! Something is odd, though. Something is out of place, if you will. The trap is tripped and the bait is gone. As I kneel there, my imagination takes me to a very dark place. Something ate the peanut butter and lived to tell about it. Whatever it was, it is probably angry at my attempted deception/homicide. It could be watching me at this moment, with several of its friends, plotting revenge.
In full panic mode, I crawl as fast as I can, still trying to act stoic despite the fact that I am cold and alone. But the fear is strong in me. I race out of there like a seventh grader on the last day of school. I bust through the door of death, hitting my head but rapidly reaching the safety of the carpet in the recreation room. I lie there on my back, engulfed in the warm light, tears streaming down the faded war paint on my face. Anxiety recedes into relief, and I revel in the harrowing tale of survival I just experienced. I made it. One day, I will share this with my grandkids. My own kids are probably still busy eating snacks upstairs.
Opening my eyes a few moments later, I see my wife hovering over me. I have a bump on my head that hurts. My wife smiles. “Good work. You should check them again tomorrow.”
“Uh, yeah. Of course, babe. I was thinking the same thing.”