(Thanks to Sabrina for the idea)
“So, er. What do you know about mice, Kitty?” asked Marie.
“You got a mouse problem?” asked Kitty.
“I’m not sure.”
They were seated at Marie’s kitchen with a plate of snickerdoodles between them. Kitty had already eaten three and was resisting a fourth one as she nursed her coffee. She had just recounted a horrifying story involving bedbugs. Now it was Marie’s turn.
“What do you mean, you’re not sure?” asked Kitty. “Have you seen one?”
“No. But they’ve been getting into things, nibbling at boxes and leaving pellets,” said Marie.
Kitty looked down at her coffee, mildly disgusted.
“We’ve kept our food sealed since then,” said Marie. “And the problem is mostly solved, but we can’t seem to keep whatever it is out.”
“Did you put down sticky paper?”
“We’ve tried mouse traps, sticky paper, we even called an exterminator. Nothing’s worked! Now I’m starting to think it’s all in my head.”
“If you’re seeing poo-pellets, it’s rarely in your head,” said Kitty. “Mind if I take a look, Marie?”
Marie gave Kitty a grateful smile and led her to the cramped kitchen. Marie had only seen it a few times before. She remembered there being an untidy heap of boxes, breadbags, condiments, and coffee filters. Now it looked like an operating table. It was clean and smelled of Clorox; everything was in plastic airtight bins or put away.
“Looks really clean,” said Kitty.
“Yeah, nothing makes you obsessive compulsive like vermin,” said Marie with a shudder. She reached for one of the drawers and pulled it open.
“Uh-huh. Here we go,” she said, pointing inside. “See?”
Kitty braced herself and took a look. In the corner were little black specks that looked like toaster crumbs.
“Are they mostly in the drawers?” she asked.
“Sort of,” answered Marie. “We get a lot near the oven.”
“You ever cleaned under it?”
“Hardly. We can’t move the thing. I doubt it’s ever been cleaned under. I’m pretty sure the realtor stuck us with this infestation. That’s prob’ly why our mortgage was so cheap–that and the murder rate around here,” Marie added bitterly.
Kitty, on a whim dropped to her knees and took a look under the cabinets. In the corner were two empty mousetraps, their springs tripped.
“So the bait’s gone but no victims, eh?”
“Yep. We’ve used cheese, coffee beans, we even did a line of borax–nothing. Found a lot more dead roaches though.”
“Boy, and people wonder why I live in an apartment,” sighed Kitty. “Free pest control.” She pressed her head to the freshly-scrubbed tile floor and tried to peek under the oven.
“You got a flashlight?” she asked.
“There’s one on my key-ring,” said Marie. She ran to go get it.
“I think I know what this is,” Kitty said to herself.
“Here’s the flashlight,” said Marie, returning. “You sure you want to look?” she asked, her body tense with anxiety.
“Just checking something,” mumbled Kitty. She shined the light under the huge range. Amidst the petrified debris and scum there was a flash of beady eyes and the skitter of small feet padding on the floor.
“Uh-huh,” said Kitty, fighting back a wave of nausea. “I know how to handle these.”
“Is it mice?”
“Nope,” answered Kitty solemnly.
“RATS?” cried Marie, her voice jumping up an octave.
“Nope. You got a drum of salt?”
Marie fumbled in the cabinet and brought out a box of coarse grain kosher salt.
“Will this work?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Kitty. She opened the box and started pouring the salt out on the floor.
“What are you doing?!” cried Marie, sounding annoyed.
“Trust me,” said Kitty. Very carefully she poured the salt in a lumpy line that ran the perimeter of the kitchen. She made sure that it was touching the baseboards and every corner. If the salt flow slowed, she smoothed out the salt with her finger ensuring the line was unbroken. The last of the salt, she poured around the oven.
“Is that going to work?” asked Marie looking thoroughly mystified.
“It should, just make sure the line isn’t broken. Now, here,” she said shaking the last bits of salt from the box into her white hand. “Throw a pinch over your shoulder.”
“What?” asked Marie in bemusement. “That old wives tale to keep demons away? This is hardly spilling salt, Kitty. You’ve dumped an entire box on the floor on purpose.” There was a sting in here voice as she thought of the $7 worth of salt now ruined.
“Humor me,” said Kitty, tossing the salt over her shoulder.
“Oh fine,” sighed Marie. “It’s not like this much salt is worth saving.” She tossed her salt away and sagged a little.
“It looks nuts, I know, but trust me,” said Kitty, giving her friend’s hand a comforting squeeze.”
“Alright. Nothing else has worked so why not this?” said Marie. “Can I tell Jason this was your idea?”
“Sure. I got to run now–I have to get Daniel from Speech.”
“Okay,” sighed Marie. “Hey, how long do I have to leave this salt on the floor?”
“I’d leave it untouched for a while,” said Kitty warningly. “Bye!”
Marie was still standing frozen in the kitchen when she heard the door click shut and Kitty starting up her van. She ran a hand over her eyes and went to the living room.
“Hey Mommy!” cried Van, her four-year-old.
“Look what Ginger-cat brought in!”
Marie groaned as she steeled herself to wrestle another dead chipmunk from that stupid cat.
“Okay, Ginger, give it to Mommy,” she said.
Ginger lay his present down on the foyer floor. It looked like a little lizard at first. It was dark red, shriveled and obviously dead. In morbid curiosity, Marie leaned forward, paper towel in hand, to get a better look and suddenly recoiled in horror.
It was a little man with a long tail and horns on its head.