Nov. 16, 2018
By: cereed27
User Level:
Average Rating: 3.0

Of Mice and Me


When I was in high school, I found a scared, glue-trapped mouse in the garage. I’d never seen such a thing, and tried to set the mouse free in the back yard, but getting it off the trap proved difficult. Eventually, I started flipping the trap back and forth, hoping the mouse would fall loose, but it just stuck to the trap. I flapped more vigorously until it finally flew off with a pained squeak, leaving behind the entirety of its skin and fur on the trap.

Years later, because karma comes back on the stupid more than the aware, I had a bit of a mouse problem in my second city apartment. My girlfriend at the time, a lifelong city girl, tried to ease my worries by saying that having a few mice was just another cost of living in the city, but I didn’t think that was it. 

She only became convinced after we settled in to watch a movie one night, when, as soon as the lights went off, we could hear clinks and scurrying coming from the kitchen. Upon shining a flashlight on the counter, we saw three of the little buggers doing acrobatics on my dishes, at which point my girlfriend became firm in her insistence that I had to do something about the infestation. She went home and didn’t come over again for some time, which was something, because a 20-year-old girl had been murdered in her backyard not too long before that and she was justifiably terrified to sleep alone.

For years, the mice would come in from outdoors every fall. It would start with one, whose droppings I’d find on the counter, which meant I’d have to clear everything off and bleach the entire area, and then set traps in every possible high-traffic spot.

I also started a kill count on a dry erase board hanging on my fridge. The first year it climbed to ten hash marks, but the second year a young doctor moved into the apartment below me, and that fall mice casualties shot up to 30. I’d go a few days without a kill, and then two traps would snap minutes apart. I got home from Thanksgiving weekend at my parents only to find three dead mice and a shredded bag that had held a half-pound of almonds. And every time I found traces of them on the counters, I had to dismantle the entire system and decontaminate every surface. At the height of the rodent holocaust, I ran into the downstairs doctor, who agreed that our building had a bit of an issue.

“They hollowed out a loaf of bread on my counter,” he told me. “Strangest thing. I came home and it was just the crust left.”

I asked him what steps he was taking to kill them, and he informed me that he couldn’t do it.

“Aren’t you an ER doctor?”

“It’s not that. I just don’t have the heart. They’re innocent.” I asked him if he’d seen any cases of bubonic plague recently. He laughed, but I was only half-joking. I was tired of finding the poo-pellets and freaking out about disease.

When the next fall’s infestation started, I was prepared. I set a prodigious number of traps: Glue traps. Snap traps. Spring traps. I baited them with sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter and honey. If there were any mice in my apartment, they weren't long for this earth. 
For a week, nothing. I came home to empty traps.

Then, on a Monday night, I heard the tell-tale snap from on top of the counter. They crawled up there through a space behind the oven. I turned on the light to see a big mother mouse trying to suck breath through a collapsed esophagus. It only took a minute.

On Tuesday night I came home to find the father in the same predicament. Stiff from his long day at the office.

And Wednesday night I found the kids. I turned on the kitchen light and heard the rustling of one of the glue trap boxes from the floor by the fridge. I hate the glue traps, because when you pick them up the mice squeak pure fear. It's second as guilt inspiration only to that sound dogs make when you step on them in the dark. And then there’s the question of how you dispose of them. Restaurant people I knew told me that they had their Mexican staff take the filled glue traps outside, turn them over, and stomp them with glee, like kids with bubble wrap. Nope. No existential crisis there. I couldn’t do that. Not yet, anyway. Every time I found a mouse in a glue trap, I thought of PETA protestors. It is cruel. It is vile. But I’d made it 35 years free from bubonic plague, and I partly credited glue traps.

I looked down at this box on that Wednesday night, loathe to move it, but it rattled on its own. I knew inside was a scared mouse that I didn't want to deal with. When I toed the box, I was surprised when two identical little heads popped out. The kids. It was the most adorable thing I'd seen in a while. I picked up the box and thankfully they didn't squeak. I put it in a plastic bag and thankfully they didn't squeak. I walked the bag outside to the dumpster, and that's when they started up, but I lifted the lid and dropped them in.

Even though I couldn’t kill them manually, I tied their traps in plastic bags, hoping they’d suffocate long before starving. Still, I’d have visions of cats getting into the dumpsters, doomed to walk the rest of their days with glue traps stuck to their paws and faces. I hated the traps and eventually found a different kind that was instantly lethal and reusable, and that’s the one I use to this day.

I’d feel better about everything if I just learned to live with a few mice. They’ve fought for their place in the world and they’ve earned it. How are they different from hamsters and gerbils? They were among the earliest mammals, one of the few creatures to survive the asteroid 65 million years ago. I should feel kinship with them rather than revulsion. I should thank them for evolving into me.

But, nope. Not there yet.



Claire and her Rat Friends


As I mentioned in the last chapter, a popular, beautiful, young waitress had been brutally raped and murdered in the alley behind my ex-girlfriend’s house, an event that both traumatized and enraged the neighborhood. There were nightly vigils in the alley for a week, where friends and neighbors gathered to remind each other that she had been a wonderful person, and that through their sorrow and honoring, the world was still a good place.

I, on the other hand, had been shocked into the determination to make the world a safer place in some small way, and joined the neighborhood Town Watch.

With the Town Watch, we formed a plaid footpath across the neighborhood three nights a week. We looked for crime and signs of crime, and took notes of who had security cameras so that we could create a database to share with police. After a few weeks of that, I found myself more aware of details I’d looked over before, and more willing to report them.

But we never found someone committing a crime. When that happens, the vigilant get bored and start seeing crimes in ordinary deviances.

Like the urine stench that came from a house three doors down from mine, which had broken first-floor windows that were filled with stacked newspapers. I’d always passed that house and assumed it was vacant except for some squatters, and didn’t pay any attention. But now that I was a Town Watch officer, it occurred to me that perhaps it was a drug den, filled with criminals just waiting to mug someone. As I walked by it one night on the way home from a meeting, the stink of urine was overpowering, and I decided to call a city hot-line to report the problem house.

“Thank you for reporting it,” said the bored-sounding operator. “We’ll have someone look into that.” I wasn’t convinced, but that’s as far as my Town Watch powers extended. Anything beyond the sidewalk was out of my jurisdiction.

A few weeks later I was discussing the property with Rick, an Albanian who ran a coffee shop on the corner.

“Oh, that’s just old Claire,” he said.

“Somebody actually lives there?”

“Yes. She’s old and can’t afford electricity or water. It smells like piss because she uses jars and dumps the jars on the street at night.”

“Oh. Oh my God.”

“I don’t understand how you Americans let that happen. In my country, old people are taken care of. Everything else may be shit, but old people are safe.” I didn’t have a response to that. “When Claire comes here, she just sits for hours reading the same page of a magazine. She doesn’t order anything, but I feel sorry for her and let her stay.”

“Oh, wait, that’s her? That lady—“

Suddenly I knew who she was. I only saw her once a month, coming from her front door to leave trash out, walking with a 90-degree hunch that didn’t enable her to look at anything but the sidewalk. She was a living ghost, her hair a mess, her clothes bleached by a thousand washes. She had scabs on exposed skin that I had attributed to old age on the one occasion I’d given her half a thought. She was the kind of reclusive old woman who makes neighborhood children believe in witches. I’d never put it together that she actually lived there.

“Yes. That is her.”

I felt bad for reporting her house. Yes, I wondered. Why do we allow that to happen in America?

With the coming of winter, the urine stink disappeared, and I assumed that summer’s heat exacerbated the smell while cold air cleared it out, like it does with the subways. The infrequency of Claire sightings meant that nobody noticed she hadn’t come out for a few months, and then one night I saw the flash of emergency lights coming through the window.

Outside were two police cars and an ambulance, blocking the street in front of Claire’s place. There was a small crowd of neighbors gathered outside, and I bundled up to go out and see what had happened.

When the paramedics wheeled her out on the gurney, there was nothing left. They hadn’t put her in a body bag, but had strapped a tarp over her, and from the looks of things, there was nothing underneath but bulges where her head and feet were.

Gossip and speculation commenced among the neighbors, but I didn’t learn the truth until I saw Rick at his coffee shop the next morning before work.

“The rats ate her,” he said with a heavy expression of gloom.


“She had rats. Hundreds of rats. They lived with her on the second floor. The third floor had no windows and it was full of pigeons. But the second floor was for the rats. She fed them. Then, I guess, she ran out of food.”

“Wait, they killed her?”

“The police didn’t know, but that’s what he thought. He said it had been too long, maybe two months, so they don’t know how she died.

They only know the rats ate everything.”

“Wait, where did the rats go when they were done?”

“They are still there. The police said he had never seen anything so terrible. They couldn’t walk through the first floor, all the garbage. The second floor was all rats, and the third floor was all pigeons.”

That trash was the stacks of newspapers and magazines I’d seen through the windows. That was the first time I’d heard of hoarding. After Claire, I googled “eaten by rats,” and discovered that – horribly – elderly hoarders are devoured by rats with much more frequency than I’d have ever considered.

Through additional neighborhood gossip and research, we discovered that Claire’s family had owned a dozen properties in the neighborhood and was once very active in its flourishing. She lived there for the better part of a century, meaning she’d lived through the white flight, the Puerto Rican and black changeover, and now the gentrification. As it turned out, she’d been very wealthy. But why had she been so alone? How can that happen?

Sometime later, Rick was deported due to a visa issue, leaving his wife and young child to fend for themselves. Also, Claire’s property was purchased, demolished, rebuilt, and flipped to a young entrepreneur who turned it into a party house that filled the street with happy, purposeless revelers who made me feel old. Around that time, my girlfriend and I broke up and I moved out of that neighborhood because it’s no fun to live in a place that makes you feel old and alone, its memories soured and gnawed away.

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Horrified (in a great way)
naricorn rated this work:

Nov. 28, 2018, 12:56 a.m.

I appreciated the concision of your prose--your lines were clean, easy to read, and didn't detract from the story flow. The sentence structure varied, which contributed to the forward momentum.

Understanding that this piece might be part of a larger work, I acknowledge that I don't know where this is heading, which might become clearer in later chapters. However, I did tend to wonder at times if the story was losing direction because I wasn't sure the plot was advancing, especially around the middle. I love everyday, "slice of life" stories, and I did like the main character and think him realistic. We don't know too much about him, but we get a sense of his empathy for the creatures, which distinguishes him. This empathy doesn't come across for his girlfriend, though, and I'm just bringing it to your attention because I'm unsure if it was by choice. Offhandedly mentioning that yeah, a girl got murdered in her backyard and not coming back to it for a while just gives him a very blase impression. Maybe you did it for the contrast, but just in case.

While I do like the narrator, I do think you need to explore him more. Why hasn't he moved out, when any other normal person (I think) would have left? What does he do for a living? How old is he?

The visuals are incredible. Violent and off-putting, especially the one where the protagonist accidentally skins the rat, the descriptions are what give life to the story. You capture the narrator's wrestling with the horror of the pests and the inhumanity of slaughtering them.

Comment Rating: 5.0

A Great Read
Flounce rated this work:

Feb. 27, 2019, 3:34 a.m.

“Rodents” is a story about life and death. With an external value at stake of a human exterminating pests, the fluid narrative reveals an internal value at stake when the pests takes human life. After several intense years of trying to rid his home of a rodent infestation, the narrator learns the abandoned property was actually inhabited by Claire, a poor woman who was once wealthy. The fluid narrative reveals the author’s mastery of several craft elements which makes the story a success.

The author’s intent is fully realized in the second chapter “Claire and her Rat Friends.” With the use of clear and concise dialogue, careful pacing and great description, Claire’s story unfolds. Though the narrator expresses his feelings about the rats and about Claire, these feelings don’t get in the way of the telling of the story.

In revisions, the writer might want to consider changing instances of passive voice to active voice.

This is a valuable story with many craft and story elements working very well. Dialogue is crisp and is used as a technique to move the story forward. Pacing keeps the reader engaged through the entire piece. Description puts the reader in the moment. The author presents the themes of life and death, who gets to take a way life, and the invisibility of the elderly and the poor in American society.

Originality Dialogue

Comment Rating: 5.0

SethLaRue rated this work:

Nov. 27, 2018, 8:21 p.m.

It's good. It's interesting, and feels real you know. May very well be real, so I don't know what I'm saying. I guess it's good because it seems sincere, and doesn't try to moralize or mean too much to obviously. I like this sort of thing. I could see people complaining that the character is a little unclear, but I think he just is real. Good voice for the most part. Maybe not always consistent. I think the second essay is significantly stronger. I think you could easily have a good interaction in there somewhere to really pull it together though. Just put Claire in the coffee shop. Off to one side. Or have her walk in. Something like that to put some present and felt anxiety, tension. Maybe that's not good, but I think it needs something like that to break up the exposition of it. No idea really, just thought it needed something. The first essay, I just never cared for some reason. Maybe pace it out a certain way to have a clearer progression with the characters or add a few more present moments with the girlfriend or the doctor to emphasize a message. Maybe he's feeding the rats you know or maybe they get into an argument about needing him to kill them. Maybe just bring up the girlfriend one more time. They meet out, and she won't come back after a nice night. Or you know a little extra drama? Same complaint for both then. The first one is nice didn't click though, the second one I was feeling. It's really good anyways. If I wasn't trying to come up with critiques I wouldn't, thanks a lot.

Comment Rating: 4.5

Good Imagery - Unclear Theme
haeun_logos rated this work:

March 2, 2019, 5:16 a.m.

First - your imagery skills are great! I felt chills and phantom pain with your description of people stomping on rats and with the tragedy of the waitress.

However - I take issue with the lack of cohesion with your piece. I sense that the theme that you want to focus on is, "...I moved out of that neighborhood because it's no fun to live in a place that makes you feel old and alone, its memories, soured and gnawed away." This is a great theme - the body of the work doesn't seem to follow up with this theme.

I do like your using the rats metaphorically as the consistent gnawing away of space, however I think it be done more eloquently and more consistently.

I also feel that some details don't really add much to the story - like how the staff who stomped on rats is Mexican and how Rick was deported. It terms of the staff - it seems a bit racially insensitive of how you're portraying them. It feels as though you are implicitly stating that the staff HAD to be Mexican as opposed to HAPPENED to be Mexican. I'm not a fan of the image. Either way - if you want to make THIS the character's voice, perhaps make it clear that it's his point of view and not yours.

Also, "as I mentioned in the last chapter," is a cliche that should never be touched - never spoon feed your audience. Make them think. You have good work.

Your consistency wanes occasionally - like the mentioning of the waitress's rape. It wasn't there in the beginning, but was there in the middle.

It also seems like there are a lot of gruesome details that don't lend to this idea of the "eroding of place." I do like horror - however, the gruesome imagery of stomping on rats, the rat's skin flying off, and the rape of the waitress - I'm not sure it has cohesion other than that they have rodents. I feel, with your ability to paint vivid images, that you can create a more cohesive, heart wrenching narrative about human decay.

Can't wait to read what's next :)

Plot Setting Pacing Conflict Voice Character Motivation Dialogue Concision

Comment Rating: 4.0

Intense imagery
GeoB rated this work:

Feb. 1, 2019, 5:15 p.m.

Wow, the imagery in this piece doesn’t border on the horrific, it steps way beyond that line. The scene with the kitchen workers popping mice is especially searing, as is the scene with the two baby mice and the scene with the dead woman eaten by the rats. If vermin could read, this work would give them nightmares.

The second piece actually has a nice wrap up -- “...its memories soured and gnawed away.” That thought gives the essay a little framework, which the first essay lacks. I would encourage the author to go back through the second essay and work in the gnawing/eroding aspect a little more, and rework the first essay to find a central theme to explore.

In my own work, I often ask myself if I’m writing a story or an anecdote. I would encourage the author to ask the same question of this work.


Comment Rating: 1.0

Incoherent Theme And A Penchant For Going Off On Weird Tangents
Jude_M_Eriksen rated this work:

March 26, 2019, 8:02 p.m.

I just finished reading your story and before I start my critique, I want to provide a caveat. I am not a professional writer or reviewer. My opinions are just that: mine. Should you feel that I am being unfair in my assessment of your story, keep this in mind. Use what you feel is useful to you and leave the rest. That said, I don't know of a single writer who doesn't need a cold splash of reality to the face once in a while regarding the quality of their work.

Too often we are overly precious about our words and simply want a pat on the head for merely trying. You will not get this from me. I call it like I see it, and if I don't like aspects of your writing, I say so and I explain why. Then it's up to you to decide what to do with that. That being said, here is my criticism of your story.

First off, I don't really understand why you wrote such a short story in two chapters. This could all easily fit into one narrative.

In the first half, you detail a man's battle with rodents in his apartment, describing his various methods of dispatching them while ruminating about the merit of killing little animal's opposed to their right to exist. We learn that this has been going on for years.

Then, you segue into a loosely related second chapter, connected to the first by this murder you make mention of again and the fact that another kind of vermin is involved--rats this time, who eat a reclusive old woman after she dies in her home. Then you go off on a tangent about gentrification and how this old woman's family owned a bunch of properties in the area.

Finally, you end the last paragraph talking about how the property Claire lived in was turned into a party house that makes the narrator feel old. Then he breaks up with his girlfriend and moves away because the memories of her soured him on living there.

My first question is this: What is the over-arching theme of this story? In my opinion, all you have done is detail a loosely related series of vignettes. There is no plot really or any kind of cohesive narrative to be found. Really, it just seems like you sat down with an idea in your head and just started writing to see where it would take you. That is called seat of the pants writing, which can work great sometimes, but it can also backfire spectacularly.

For a story to work, it requires clearly defined characters and an arc for the plot to hang on. All we learn about your narrator is that he kills a lot of mice and sometimes feels bad about it. His girlfriend is an cipher who simply serves to be someone to break up with at the end. You don't even say why they broke up. The other character are simply props for this guy to have someone to talk to. Furthermore, there is no arc. Therefore, there is no story. You're just riffing on a bunch of ideas that poured from your head out on to the page.

Your characters talk, but generally it's just idle chit-chat. Nothing they say drives the plot forward.They just enter the scene, say stuff and then exit again. We don't learn anything about them or why they are important enough to even be mentioned.

There is no sense of pacing because there's no plot. What is the narrator's purpose in telling this story? Just to recount what happened? If that's the case, why should the reader read it? What is there about any of this that would make them care?

Maybe one of the greatest sins in your tale is that the characters do things that defy logic. Think about it: if you lived in an apartment where the rodent problem was this bad, why would you keep living there for years?

Another thing--your narrator gleefully kills hundreds of mice over the years, even keeping a 'kill count', but at the end of the first chapter he feels bad and says they deserve to live. How does that make any sense?

Third, what's the point of mentioning the murder, except to have an excuse to tie the two chapters together? The narrator joins a neighbourhood watch to look out for suspicious activity because of it, but when he discovers this house of Claire's, the murdered girl subplot is totally abandoned. What's the point of even including it in the story?

If I can say anything positive about your writing, it's that you have a fair grasp of grammar and sentence structure. Your dialogue is OK too, as far as the fact that no one says anything that sound profoundly weird. It's too bad their conversations lead nowhere and by the end of the tale we, the readers, are left wondering what the point of the whole thing was.

My advice to you is to read up on plotting and character building. A story is so much more that just a bunch of words and ideas thrown together. In a short story, you can't afford to ramble on pointlessly and meander off into tangents unrelated to your central theme/plot. Every word has to drive the plot forward. If it doesn't, it's superfluous and should be tossed out. Also, read the kinds of stories that you want to write. Learning from the pros is the best way to learn how to do this writing thing effectively.

I know this may all sound pretty harsh, but believe me when I say that you can do so much better. You have the ambition to write, and the basic grammar skills to do it. Now you have to learn how to put it together with an effective story. Good luck.


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