Slaughter on the Farm (Five Minutes #27)

I live alone, deep in the Appalachian Mountains. People often sigh and say, “I envy you. It must be so peaceful out there, alone in Nature.” It is not. At the moment I feel anything but peace over being solely responsible for the death of a family of five. A new mom with four teeny tiny, bald pink mice. God knows if there is also a father out there devastated over the carnage. 

The babies were so very new and helpless that they could do little more than lie on their backs, not yet able to walk, barely to turn. Their mouths could only search sweetly and anxiously for their mother’s teat. 

And I slaughtered them. Every last one.

I had no business going out to the studio in the first place, taunting a seriously injured foot. The route is hilly and uneven, and especially treacherous now with the long soft gopher runs concealed by fallen leaves. 

According to my doctor, I should not have been applying any weight to my foot even on a solid floor, having just had a sizable bone spur mercilessly filed from my ankle bone. 

The surgical site is squishy and swollen. The surgeon had also scraped and scooped away the gristle from the two major tendons that had been deteriorating as they tried to glide over my ankle but met instead a sharp bone shredding and then grating cartilage. This had been going on for over a year. I am a hiker and during that time had traversed miles and miles up and down canyons, and in my daring escapades had turned, twisted and stretched my ankles navigating tree roots and river rocks and leaping chasms. I thought it was a pulled muscle or maybe a stress fracture and while I babied it a bit, mostly I just kept on going. Until it would no longer let me.

My tendons had been screaming every day since the surgery from the moment I woke. Zingers from sudden missteps had already sent me back to the couch white-faced a couple times.

But I had much to lose by another rodent infestation and felt like I needed to check on the status of the studio. It would be my only foray for the day, one slow careful navigation across the yard and back.

I made it there, only twisting my foot badly once. I took a deep breath and entered the space expecting to be enveloped by calm. It was after all, usually a lovely pristine space. But instead I opened the door to a room littered with animal droppings and air reeking of funk, not quite dead animal funk, but something close. There aren’t many places to hide and the blanket chest having been the situs of the last malicious mischief taking place in the studio, I warily crossed the room and pulled open the heavy wooden chest lid. Slowly, I removed the neatly stacked blankets, my arthritic claw-like fingers pulling the plastic-encased blankets up one by one until I arrived at the bottom of the chest. There she was languishing in a pile of scat, chewed plastic, colorful wool felt, smelly blood, and feathers from my peacock costume, nursing her tiny newborns. She looked up at me with deep black beady-eyed terror. She’d have screamed if that was her way. 

Her new brood, well they were darling babies, anyone would have told her. Teeny tiny soft things, absolutely precious, each one, their mini-hearts pounding rapidly against pure white underbellies. with perfect pink lips seeking their mama who had suddenly and surprisingly shifted away from their clinging mouths and the reach of their tiny paws that had been lovingly stroking her.

I thought quickly, formulating a plan for removal to a safe spot outside. I would pick up the ring of fuzz and transfer the four babies in their soft nest, a nest that included bits of my favorite shawl and soft wool from a blanket just mended from a mouse ravaging it, to a peaceful sheltered spot in the leaves in the woods at the edge of the yard. Then I would reunite them with their mother. 

I began trying to catch Mom. Wild-eyed, she abandoned the tiny ones, pawing the air where she’d been, mouths searching hungrily. And she scrambled across the chest away from my reach. My slow hands followed. It was clear that she would slip out of my fist, and might bite me too, so I tried catching her by scooping her with the a blanker. She eluded my every attempt, back and forth, up and down until finally she successfully escaped over the lid and across the floor. The studio is not that large and not very cluttered, so I figured I could easily find her. 

I turned my attention to the babies. It was not a difficult matter to pick them up part and parcel with the nest, though my uneven steps stressed the integrity of the nest and drove them wee ones a bit apart, they remained in my palm until my foot twisted and gave way. With an anguished scream, I dropped the nest and the little ones who lay where they fell, unable yet to move beyond pawing the air. Well, it was close enough to the edge of the woods and in sufficient shade, so I left them there and went back for Mom.

First, I had I to collect the two humane traps stored in the basement, long green plastic houses to catch her. It was a long sojourn on my aching foot and took a minute. 

I returned to the studio and looked under the daybed. Nowhere. I pulled out the box with the airbed stored under it. Maybe she was in there. I hobbled over to the door with the box, planning to take it out and dump it near the babies in case she was in there and would come scurrying out. I kept my eye on the box where I’d set it and did a quick scan of the floor under and behind the costume rack. She was not there. Nor was she in the corner behind the radiator. Sill eying the air mattress box, poised to lunge as I had forgotten to close the door, I limped over and fumbled back through the blanket chest. 

For all I know she could have been the very same mouse I had so humanely removed not long before. That damn mouse had not only chewed through several of my favorite blankets but had chewed a hole through the floor to get in to the building. I had mended every last blanket, purchased expensive vacuum-seal bags as well as heavy-duty duct tape which I painstakingly layered to prevent re-entry. Nonetheless I did not hold the new hole in the floor or the minced vacuum-seal bags and chewed blankets or the destruction of my favorite festival shawl and my peacock costume against her, or the past damage either. I was determined to reunite her with her babies if I could find her. 

Which I could not. I f she was not in the air mattress box, I could only hope that her sense of smell was very, very keen and that she would sense their presence forty feet from the studio.

Nearing the nest that had tumbled from my hand, I dumped the air mattress. She did not scamper out. I peered inside. It stunk, but she wasn’t there. Limping and hopping, I unfolded the bulky queen mattress to uncover fresh, putrid pools of blood in its folds. I moaned. Did she really deliver in the folds of the mattress? This meant another trip to the house for soapy water and rags.

But first I hobbled over to check on the upturned babies. Each tiny body pulsed with an increasingly frantic heartbeat. Three pairs of delicate lips and and three pairs of exquisite paws searched the air. 

I could not have been more grateful for the fourth baby. He showed no signs of distress. His heart beat steadily and softly. His eyes remained blissfully closed and his smile was confident.

At that point, I still believed that she might gather them still and create a new nest and home. I stopped back at the studio to renew my hunt for her, but the room was silent. There didn’t seem to be sense in loading the traps with peanut butter. I had no appetite. Surely, she didn’t either. 

But she was overwrought, so I strategically placed the traps where she would probably run. 

I checked back a bit later before the sun set, my ankle screaming at me the entire slow trip over and back, but no luck. All was still silent. 

I checked on the babies. They were struggling and looked much worse. Very desperate. Except the fourth one who remained unperturbed, smiling as sweetly as the Dalai Lama.

I did not return to the scene of my crime for three days. I could not. By then thankfully there was no trace of the babies. Still, they were tiny things to find in the vast leaf fall of the yard. She’d had plenty of time to get out. Maybe she had found them. 

I would stuff the hole in the floor now with my last Brillo pad. 

Slowly opening the door of the studio, I was hit this time with the rank smell of death. 

I can’t be absolutely certain that it was Mom who had suffocated in the humane trap I had forgotten to unset, but it looked a lot like her.