Customers laugh when we tell them we hunt bugs. We’d laugh too, but that response is a sad testament to the state of The Pest Control Industry. The literature in every book about ending bug infestations says the best practice is to inspect (hunt) and find the source of the infestation before applying pesticides. Yet almost every generic pest control company you can hire still sells reoccurring applications of pesticides, usually selling the pesticides as “green” claiming that the neurotoxin pyrethrins (synthesized chrysanthemum) they’re hosing your home down with are natural and safe for babies and pets. No matter what they say, there is no way to apply a pesticide in advance that protects your home like a barrier (or an eco-shield), prevents infestation, and or kills a pest before it’s present.
It’s amazing when you think about it. The Industry has successfully sold millions of humans on the idea of “preventative maintenance,” claiming that they can kill and or repel bugs before they are there. If magic still exists in our modern world, this is it.
Each of our bug hunts have their signature service storylines, but the goal of all our bug hunts is to end The Infestation (however you define that for your Homefront) and that process follows a classic narrative arch that has a beginning, middle, and an end. The length of your personal service storyline will depend on the size and strength of your infestation. Typically our odorous house ant hunts require 1-2 hunts per season (usually only one), heavy carpenter ant hunt infestations can require 2-3 hunts per season and another hunt the following season to ensure full elimination, and our bedbug hunts typically require 2-5 hunts to reach The End. A new roach infestation can be knocked out in one service fairly easily, but a heavy infestation (especially in an apartment building that’s infested) can limp along for a long time.
COSTS: $125 – $165 for initial bug hunt, $65-$85 for follow ups depending on how close you live to Gresham, Oregon
We don’t apply synthetic pesticides for non-infesting pests, especially beneficial predators like spiders, beetles, and centipedes, but we do offer thorough “culleans” for small flies (especially in restaurants) and spiders. We also don’t apply pesticides for non-infesting bugs that enter your home, become trapped, and die on their own like box elder bugs. Oh and we also don’t apply pesticides for panty/clothing moth infestations, because The Infestation won’t end until the breeding sites are identified and removed from your home. In any case, we’re happy to inspect The Action and work with you to write an action plan for ending whatever engagement you’re having with the urban wilderness. Selling you a reoccurring service is not a plan.
< The Pest Predator in action >
Here’s what a house ant infestation looks like when you find the nest. These guys were living under the insulation:
Here’s what I mean when Predator says, “Ring around the bait means it’s working.” That will have an effect for sure!
“You know I excluded 62 entry holes at a hundred year old church last week,” I said with a smile.
“That’s not residential,” Joe said without skipping a beat.
“Well, uh, yeah…”
“We still hold the one day residential record.”
Produced on September 5, 13 2019 in Gladstone, OR
by Joe and Grace and their family
I am Wilderness Security Guide, the customer service character in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. And this is the story about a record and making it right.
After I inspected Joe and Grace’s crawlspace and the crawlspace of his adjacent rental property, I found a number of active entry holes and a lot of possible ones:
When my initial inspection concluded, Joe and I talked in his backyard.
JOE: So what do you think we should do?
STORYSOLD: I don’t know…on one hand, I like to think we could work together. You’ve already been trapping the rats…the hard part will be to keep your home and rental from being an open highway to any wild creature looking for a warm place to hole up.
JOE: Do you do that kind of work?
STORYSOLD: Yes, but you have a lot of entry holes…I’m not sure if I can 100% “rat proof” it.
While we talked, Joe often stopped to talk with his kids who were playing in the yard. They seemed like a real wonderful family, and I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to help them. And I didn’t mean, simply placing some stations or traps to freshen up every month. I wanted to make a real effort to hang the CLOSED TO RATS sign on their home. Gladstone was expanding like the rest of the Metro, and that meant new construction, and new construction meant the demolition of the old, and that meant the ratonauts of the neighborhood would be out, looking for new territory.
Our conversation ended with our promise to email Joe an action plan and quote for an epic day of exclusion, spanning both properties. A few days after I sent it, Joe agreed to deal us in.
Chapter 2 – The Epic Exclusion Day
After I arrived and set up shop in the driveway, I took a hard look at the entry holes I was there to seal up, wall off, and block to keep rodents from entering the home.
Deep in the crawlspace—mask, respirator, and jumpsuit on—I looked through the swath of space the rats were running through between the main crawlspace, add on crawlspace, and the mudroom. It felt like standing on the three corners of Nevada, Oregon, and California, I could reach out and put a finger in all three rooms.
“Well team,” I laughed. “Today may be that day when my mouth wrote a check we can’t cash. I don’t know how I’m going to block all that space…They haven’t invented force fields yet.”
After a long hard look at The Three Corners belly down in the dirt, I decided to start on the other side of the crawlspace. It wasn’t sure what it was, maybe at one time it was crawlspace for two people to use at once? I didn’t know, but I engaged my creative engine and found a way to wall it off.
I used a mixture of screen and plywood because the exterior foundation was too rough to simply cover it with plywood. I added gravel, mostly for looks. The hardware cloth and foam should easily do the job.
Next, I tackled The Three Corners. “Proper planning is overrated,” my teammate Pest Predator observed as I studied the wall from the mudroom. “Turn off your inner computer and use the force Luke.”
I know from experience “use the force” or “follow your heart” or “go with your gut” isn’t always the best advice. But it was this time! Once I cut a couple of long pieces of plywood to fit the swath of space, a plan began to fall together like a natural force of action.
Before foam, and after foam…
I’m pretty sure foam technology was invented by NASA or stole from an alien civilization only NASA knows about (same, same).
I left the add-on corner open in case a rat or two was still hanging out, watching my show. I didn’t want to wall them in like something out of a Poe poem.
Here’s a good shot of my plywood wall that now runs along back >
The Great Foam adventure continued in the mudroom. I have to thank Joe for his comment about the color. “Oops. Sorry.” The orange is a little too SE Portland. From that moment on, I’ve only used the professional grade Black Purr foam they sell at the pest store.
After I finished The Three Corners, I enjoyed a break from the sweat and dirt in the crawlspace and I built two new, custom crawlspace doors:
And that’s why they call it a “skill saw.” I was pleased how well these doors came together. It was dumb luck that I decided to buy three latches instead of two. The top one there couldn’t be made to swing outward and be fitted tightly too.
Next up were the many broken vents in your home and the rental. I fixed all the ones I documented in the first service story, plus some. Here’s shots of a few of them:
Rat Catcher vs. Cable Guy: “I win.”
Sealing the gap around vent and duct >
The two most interesting surprises that day were: (a) this old “door” wasn’t secure, so I secured it with nails and a screw from outside, and foamed it inside >
(b) when I first inspected this, all I saw was a crack. It wasn’t until I pushed on the concrete block—and it moved—did I realize there was a highway running from the backyard, under the siding, and over that space between the joists. My solution was a little wonky, but it will keep the rodents out >
By the time I went to work on the mudroom door, Joe was home from work. I hope my conversation wasn’t too jangled. Our human hadn’t eaten much, and he was starting to lose brain function. The good news was, thanks to Joe’s recommendation to reuse the old door sweep over the metal flashing the mudroom was now 93.2% more secure!
The last thing I did was count all the entry holes I’d excluded that day. Without a doubt, it was my one-day record: 22 entry holes (give or take a few)!
The last thing I told Joe that day was, “Give me a call if any of my exclusions fail. I’ll be happy to return and make it right.”
I drove away believing all the rat holes were now CLOSED for business. I imagined Joe would set his traps in the crawlspaces and maybe catch one, or two, but I didn’t think I’d be back.
So goes the best laid plans of rats and rat catchers.
“Base on the work done so far, he has covered extensively the work of exterminating the roof rat. We have not discovered where, how many are nesting in the roof, so we are taking 2 or 3 stages to seal the entrance and exit areas. Still in progress…” Nita’s 5 star review on Thumbtack.
– Act I – Crossing The Line –
Before I arrived at Nita’s home in SE Portland, I was trying to remember if I’d cleared any roof rats from homes in her neighborhood. It was on the east side of the city, but it wasn’t near the river, or too close to Tabor, or along Johnson Creek in The Flats…
I was still wondering as Nita shared her backstory with me. As it goes, her neighbor saw a rat on her roof and took a photo of it. The photo was taken at a distance. I couldn’t make out any rats, but I could see that some wild creature had turned her solar panels into a nesting opportunity.
I wanted a closer smell, so I broke out my ladder and climbed up. I found a lot of insulation, twigs, and leaves, but no urine smell or droppings.
Nita and I chatted about roof rats for a while. I explained that roof rats (a.k.a. tree rats, black rats, ship rats) are notorious for living in attic voids for years unnoticed by homeowners, because—like a sneaky neighbor—they are very in-tune with your behavior, and they usually feed outside in trash cans and gardens. The experts even say they prefer vegetables.
“The big question is,” I asked Nita. “Where did that insulation come from?”
Her attic was a Portland classic: steep stairs leading to a cozy bedroom that had storage voids on both sides, a dormer, and a tiny triangle shaped void between the ceiling and the pitch. My childhood home in Milwaukie had the same set up. My sister Heidi used to hide in the void when we played hide-and-go-seek. She always won, because we never figured it out.
Luckily, I was able to access the void below the rooftop nest. Within a few seconds of entering the void, I found what I was looking for: (a) the signs of nesting roof rats, and (b) the same kind of insulation.
I also found a pair of what I call “Tom-and-Jerry holes” leading to the void between the ceiling and the pitch. If you look closely, you can see where they manicured the edges of their highway.
I belly crawled back as far as I could go in the void, looking for the entry point(s), which is, by far, the most important piece of information for any rat hunter. Entrypoints are easier to find in crawlspaces, and not always as easy in big, beautiful SE Portland homes.
I had no luck in the void, so I climbed back up on the roof, cleared off as much of the nesting material I could reach, and remembered my climbing instructor’s advice—“Three points of contact at all times!”—while I searched the roof for entry point. I found one on the side of the dormer, which could lead up into the attic void and The Nesting Space.
The hole was plenty big for Nita’s home wreckers to enter, but I didn’t see any signs of oily rub marks, which I usually find in entrypoints that have heavy use…It could be new paint, or maybe it was big enough for them to slide by without markings, or maybe there’s more than one entry?
At this point, it was too soon to tell—so I stuffed the hole with a plastic bag marker and set my mind to the business of trapping roof rats.
Dropping a trap in the nest isn’t always the best strategy, so I set most of my traps on the roof and the base of the tree I knew they were climbing to and from their nest on their nightly feeding routes.
My Volehalla Rodent Trapping System’s rooftop debut! I used zip ties to fasten them to the power pipe. I baited the trap near the new nest with peanut butter and Bob’s Red Mill; I used chunks of old nest/insulation to bait the one closer to the tree, and I set 2 boxes on the ground: one at the bottom of the tree, and the other beside an shed with a lot of harborage and fruit nearby. It just seemed like a nice place for a rat to hang out.
I didn’t put any attractant in the attic traps. Instead I followed the wisdom of the old rat catchers, and presented them with a pile of oats and peanut butter in the hope of getting them hooked and “pre-baiting them.” I also set a number of traps without bait in front of the Tom-and-Jerry holes in the hope of (a) establishing them as runways (b) killing them when they try to sneak by, or blunder into them.
When I was done setting the scene for our roof rat hunt, Nita and I chatted for a while about our action plan. I offered her a reduced rate for my trap checking services in anticipation of what I knew might become a long campaign depending on how many rats were living with her.
We also talked about the other attic void. I wanted to see it, because the rat tunnels in the insulation were clearly running under the bedroom. Nita explained that the solar panel guys sealed it up, because they decided for her that she would no longer need to get in there.
“So,” I thought to myself. “They went to all that trouble to mud and tape the door closed, because why? No needed to go there?” My guess was the guys from the solar panel company had a very good reason why they wanted to spend the time and money to seal the void up…and I very much wanted to know what that was, so I asked Nita for permission to open it up.
I stared at the covered lines of the old door for a while, and even made an effort to see how hard it would be to reopen. In spite of my strong need to know—everything!—I talked myself down off the ledge and decided it was a bad idea to start punching holes in Nita’s wall.
When the “making a plan scene” was done, Nita did something I thought was truly great. She invited me to sit down and share some fruit and ice water with her. I can count the times I’ve sat in a customer’s home like real people do with my hands. Normally, working for other companies, I didn’t have the time to spend a few moments getting to know customers. I only wish I had scheduled more time to spend with Nita listening to her stories…before The Action began.
And begin it did. The following service story is a conversation I had with a tough mother roof rat who didn’t go down without a fight…
– Act II: The Action –
Service #2 (Sept 4): The Conversation Begins
RATS: Outside, one of the Volehalla traps near the new nest under the solar panels was tripped, and my bag marker was pushed out. No signs of activity in ground Volehallas. In the attic, two traps were tripped and the oats were all picked clean.
“Thanks for the oats,” Momma said. “You idiot human!”
RAT CATCHER: I reset traps in attic using a new attractant, a scientifically developed product called “Provoke” as well as peanut butter. I added old Victor style snaps to my line up. Moved the paddle style traps back under boards in front. Make a note that the two traps blocking “high road” Tom and Jerry holes hadn’t been touched. Then, since they seemed to like the oats, I set a live catch trap in a corner…sprinkling it with oats in front and behind the trigger. I imagined the rats wouldn’t be able to resist another free handout of Bob’s Red Mill. Outside, I removed my marker and set two snap traps in front of the entry point, feeling pretty confident that I was going to nail the next rat that headed out to feed…
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “Have you ever heard of the old bait and new live catch trap trick? I guess not.”
Service #3 (Sept 15): The Learning Curve
RATS: One of the traps in front of entry point had been tripped, indicating the rats had successfully left the attic to feed. The Volehalla trap near the solar panel was tripped as well. Inside, the live trap was still full of oats and no rats. And all the snap traps were untouched as well, except two:
The two youths were caught in traps set with peanut butter in a nice “hidey hole,” a floor joist opening that had been shielded with metal.
Half the head of one of the youths had been eaten.
“When will you humans finally get it?” Momma Roof Rat said after she’d snacked on her youth’s head. “They will never grow strong if I protect my children from predators, and feed them claw to mouth all the time. I honor him by eating and gaining strength, and remembering him in body and in mind. To waste a life is a dishonor.”
RAT CATCHER: In the attic, I reset the traps and added dog food to the mix of lures. Outside, I added three traps above the entry point in the eves. The trap on the bottom of the combo wasn’t set. It was there to hold the other two in place. On the ground, I lured the Volehalla traps (which previously had no attractants in them) with fresh tomatoes in hopes that momma and daddy rat had abandoned their nest.
“If you still want to nest in Nita’s attic void after I sent your youths to rat heaven,” I shot back. “You should think again! I’m not going to stop until you get it. You nested in the wrong home.”
Service #4 (Sept 20): No, Not Gone
RATS: Outside, the traps blocking the hole were tripped again. Momma rat was still nesting inside and feeding outside at night. And, strangely, one of the traps I set up in the eves was missing. Like I couldn’t find it. I imagined a rat might have dragged it down—and died in it—and then Nita’s half feral cat might have dragged it off somewhere…but no. I searched all around the garage, and the missing trap was nowhere to be found.
“Search your feelings Rat Catcher…” Momma Rat mocked from the safety of her secret lair. “You know why your traps only work on dumb males and youths. Mothers are the toughest creatures on earth.”
To which I replied (with a chuckle), “Yeah, I know. But I’m betting you will not be able to win this one by the power of your girth alone!”
RAT CATCHER: I was still convinced Momma had abandoned her next, or at least she was out at night looking for new shelter. And I wanted to know for certain if she was still there, so I cleaned up the remaining oats and dog food, and then fixed a one-way vent over the entry point—and wrapped it with plastic so I could tell if it had been messed with or not. I was sure, if she was there, she’d get hungry and have to leave…
Service #5 (Sept 27): Desperate Times
RATS: In the attic, every oat that was left in the live catch trap up to the trigger had been eaten. Every oat and kibble of dog food around my “free food spot” near the opening had been picked clean. But there were no dead rats in my traps. Outside, I found no new signs of activity.
“You have to be the dumbest rat catcher in Portland,” Momma said as she listened to my large body lumber in and out of the attic void. “First it was free oats. Then it was free dog food. I’m living The Good Life here thanks to your handouts. Keep them coming buddy! I promise I won’t tell Nita, or your competition, that you’re feeding the wildlife!”
I didn’t take the bait and reply to her taunts. Instead I did this…
RAT CATCHER: In the attic, I made a pile of granular bait (poison) on their free food spot. Outside, in an act of pure desperation, I built a tree trap to make myself feel more like a crafty Rat Catcher.
Service #6 (Oct 4): The Beginning of The End
RATS: In the attic, the bait poison was untouched. The oats on the far side of the live catch trapped finally kicked in. A third teenage roof rat was found dead in the live catch trap.
On the far side of the attic, between the floor joists that ran under Nita’s bed, a fourth teen was found dead in a trap lured with peanut butter.
“We don’t like that scientific rat attractant you used in the beginning,” the rats said. “It’s like McDonald’s meat, so obviously not food.”
“I know you like dog food too,” I replied to the fallen teen. “And it doesn’t mold as fast as peanut butter. I’m going to leave a big handful on top of this tub for your Momma–and any other of your sibs–if they’re still here. Feel free to eat up. It’s a free handout treat I give to all the rats who officially register their place of residence with me.”
Outside, the trap that blocked the rope leading to the tree was tripped, but no dead rats hanging dramatically from The Rood. On the roof, the oneway vent trap was still untouched, and I found my missing trap. It was sitting in plain sight at the top of the solar panels just above Momma Roof Rat’s Second Home. I simply hadn’t thought to look there.
“Hum,” I said as I inspected the trap like a pest hunting version of Sherlock Holmes. “There’s blood on the bar.”
I didn’t need a CSI team to connect The Action. Momma Roof Rat, her mate, or one of her teens had explored the dormitory eve, tripped that trap I set there, got caught, and then dragged it up and over the pitch of the roof to the edge of the solar panels where the trap was caught…and the rat was able to use the leverage to free its appendage. The story reminded me of that campfire classic starring the logger who sawed his own leg off, and then drove home with his stump to save his own life.
I didn’t change anything on the roof, but I did check the long forgotten Volehalla box I set beside the shed. The fresh tomatoes I lured it with a month ago were no longer fresh. So I “freshened” it (as the Ecolab techs like to say) with some dog food and a dab of peanut butter to make it stick.
Service #8 (Oct 7) – The Big Mouse
I was watching an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale with my wife Farmer Emily when I received a text message from Nita.
NITA: Hello Jake, I had two contractors today who I hired to tidy up my backyard shed. When they finished power washing the top and bottom, they noticed your trap box that you planted on the side. And behold they saw a big mouse dead on the trap. What do you want to do with this box? I took a pic but did not know how to send it to you on the phone. I think the mouse was too big to go through the hole and got stuck halfway…
You should see it!
JAKE: Holy Moly! That’s a big mouse! If the trap is in your way, feel free to move it anywhere. If you’d like me to swing by Monday AM and clear it. I can do that too. What a wild adventure, huh?
NITA: Yes, it is! I found another baby dead on the concrete pathway exposed this morning, too. I checked the box also and the bottom half was mangled and the internal organs exposed. Somebody came and dragged the box upside down. Wow! Gross! Yes can you come by and clear it? I leave for work around 7 AM.
JAKE: No problem. I can swing by around 10…
– Act III: The Line Redawn –
On Monday I arrived in a hurry. Scott the Badass Texan Facilities Manager of East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District was waiting my arrival for their inspection. I was late, but I stopped for a moment of remembrance when I saw what remained of Momma Roof Rat.
I know it must sound crazy to hear a professional Rat Catcher admit this, but I had to choke the tears back. I’d never met Momma Roof Rat, but I knew her well. I imagine the cat, or raccoon who picked at her bones understood, all too well, the thankfulness, respect, and yes…love that develops between a predator and the prey they feed on for life.
Let the scientists reduce that love to the instinctive, animatronic, Disney satiation of hunger, but I know humans hunger for food, shelter, and sex too. I know this, because I’m still a little wild–and I’m thankful like a wolf howls for the death of Momma Roof Rat.
Without this victory, Nita would not be able to redraw more clearly The Magic Line between civilization and wilderness we call “home.”
Service #9 (Oct 25)
I decided to give the dog food in the attic a while longer to tempt any rats that might still be living inside. Turns out, that wasn’t a bad idea. When I messaged Nita about the dog food a few weeks after Momma Roof Rat’s death, I got this reply:
NITA: Yes, I did…checked twice in the last 2 weeks, and the first time had no activity, but the second time I went back on Thursday, the dog food was untouched, but a baby mouse [#6] was caught on the trap in back [the traps I set within reach of the door], but nothing in the front two. I was trying to tell you, but I got busy with my contractors for the house. Cleaning, packing, and more cleaning is an overwhelming task. Anyway, I’m not sure if you want to pick this baby up or wait till another one bites the dust. Waiting to hear from you!
JAKE: If you caught it in attic, that is ok. Still means our entry point hasn’t been compromised [my theory was that Momma had abandoned the ones still in the nest after I installed the oneway vent trap]. We should schedule another service to check traps in attic and seal entry if we have the “all clear.” Would you like me to come soon to clear trap?
NITA: Yes, I think that is a good idea.
When I arrived for my last service and read The Scene, I found: no new signs of nesting under solar panels, no tripped traps on roof or outside, and the plastic wrap was still unbroken on oneway trap. Inside, the dog food was uneaten, none of the thirteen traps in attic were tripped, and the “easy pickings” I set on some of the traps were uneaten as well.
When I walked down the stairs to announce the news to Nita, I delivered my lines like I’d found more activity…and then I smiled big and said, “I’m calling it. We’ve finally reached The End.”
“Well yes,” she smiled. “We will see.”
I don’t think Nita fully appreciated the tease. Not that I blame her. It had truly been The Long Ballad of Momma Roof Rat.
And it’s worth noting that, in The End, none of the poison was eaten. What that means is, no roof rats were killed slowly and painfully by anticoagulant rodenticides in the production of this service story.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ SERVICE STORY (Reviewed on Home Advisor)
“Working with Storysold was a dream. We had a huge undertaking with almost 40,000 sq ft between two properties! With both buildings being over 100 years old keeping critters out is difficult and the previous tenants of the building allowed a huge infestation to occur. Jake was able to not only eradicate the unwanted pests he also filled holes and cracks and has stopped them from having easy access. Communication was great and the pricing was fair and manageable for our small nonprofit! I will continue to work with Storysold and recommend them for any pest control needs, big or small!”
Produced for Jamie C. and her team at Sunnyside Methodist Church in SE Portland
I am Wilderness Security Guide, the Environmental Control Operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. The story you’re about to read was written by my teammate Bookmaker Jake. He’s a sociopathic liar with god-like delusions of world domination, but he did OK tracking The Action at the heart of this service story. He called it, Church Mice –
Guide stepped from our little Ford Transit cargo van, hit the ground on a familiar street in the heart of SE Portland, and looked up.
Normally, it’s dangerous to look up in the middle of the street. But it’s not as dangerous when you’re receiving a vision from heaven.
No joke, Guide stopped cold in the middle of the road when she realized that the iconic old church was our destination. None of us knew why she stopped so suddenly, but we knew our teammate well enough to know she was instantly hooked: hyper focused, feet frozen waiting for her to make a direction from ten, no memory of the past or present, only two hawk-like eyes on the church and The Action that was about to unfold there. After Guide broke her heavenly stare (and crossed the street), she asked our host to use his camera/phone to document The Beginning >
None of us sawThe Grailhovering over the field of service that day, or anything so clandestine. But, each for our own oddball reasons, our whole team joined Guide on The Hook. Even the Pest Predator looked up—and saw his character producing a hit service in the old stone church. It might just have been our human’s childhood training, but the feeling—that strong sudden urge to be a part of whatever story was about to unfold there—was undeniable. The hardest part of pitching our services to the youthful Church Director, Jamie, was not looking in her eyes and saying, “Forget the money, we’ll do it for free!”
That’s about as good as it gets for “visions from heaven” these days.
The church folks set a sign along the sidewalk. It read, “IN WITH THE NEW, OUT WITH THE OLD, ONE IS SILVER, THE OTHER IS GOLD.” We felt it summed up The Action there pretty well. The first congregation had formed in 1890 at a shoe factory, and then spent the next 21 years building the beautiful stone structure that many locals know, most famously, for their dedication to feeding the city’s poor. The last “silver metal” congregation died an immaterial, other-than-physical (but not spiritual) death in the early 2000s. Not sure why. People just stopped going to church.
Since then, the church has managed to keep its commercial kitchen open to feed the poor/people experiencing homelessness. It also hosts a variety of groups, teams, and neighborhood gatherings like Alcoholics Anonymous and the preschool who is run by an instantly likable human named Joey who has made the magic happen there, with or without proper funding, for more than a decade.
Now a new organization was emerging—stirring the old spiritual stew (heavy on the method and light on the holy rolling theatrics)—with new youthful leaders like Jamie and co-stars like Josh the new maintenance guy.
The plan for a new beginning—aka The Youthful Revival–was thus:
1) Address the neighborhood’s concerns concerning the mass of humans experiencing homelessness around the church.
2) Restore the safety of the neighborhood by shutting down the soup kitchen, cut off the services to the “good and bad” homeless persons, and exclude them from camping on the sidewalks.
3) Shut down the soup kitchen, cut off the food supply to the church’s rodent population, and exclude them from their cozy, predator-free nesting sites in wall voids, behind cabinets, and cupboards.
“Oh wow,” I said when I understood The Youthful Revival. “Are the mice acting as a foil for the homeless persons, or are the homeless persons acting as a foil for the mouse population here?”
“Who cares about all that literary crap?” Guide replied. “What we have here is an opportunity to flex my environmental control techniques on a hundred year old, mouse infested church!”
“This would be an honorable challenge for sure,” Pest Predator chimed in. “If we get the green light, can I join you?”
“For sure,” Guide smiled. “I’d be happy to theme up with you on this one Predator. I’m going to need your eye for spiders, ants, and other bugs to find all the entry holes.”
“Good,” Predator replied without expression. “Count me in.”
Once our team realized what Jamie was asking us to do, it became even more difficult to hold back, bite the tongue, and keep from leaping (hands in the sky) exclaiming, “Holy Moses! what more can we ask from a good service story? Name your price! We’ll start now!”
After Jamie gave us the grand tour, we communed with her in the dusty, eerily unused sanctuary. “I’m sort of new at this pricing thing,” our human host said. “What’s your budget?”
Then she told us. And Jake accepted it. All smiles. Clearly he should never be permitted to play poker.
Our first service scene was awesome. It couldn’t have looked any less like the pest control service our human performed for his 4 former employers if we tried. Instead of jumping right into the heroic acts of setting traps and poisoning God’s tiny creatures, we cranked up the tunes and clean the kitchen.
Not many humans have read our official company novel (mission statement) The Living City, but those poor souls who have read it would recognize a guest appearance by our much-loved “live action” character, Dishmaster Jones. It felt good to dust his character off and put him to work, scrubbing and cleaning. Dishmaster cleaned for almost three hours before he said anything. Then he smiled (with a tear in his eye) as he said, “Oh wow, for a while there I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear the hum of a Hobart again.” Don’t worry if you don’t get it. He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular.
I had been mentally prepared to do the cleaning scene like a sanitary ninja; but stoic, righteous, loner, isolationist asshole hero types are not always a good fit for church work, especially when The Hero’s Journey is cleaning the microscopic devils from the dark corners of a kitchen. Church, as we knew it, thrived on group projects. And Jamie seemed to agree. She rallied a group of volunteers to clean and ready the basement for their reclamation.
Not too unlike our service story in NE with Farmer Rachel, Master Freddy, and Evanshoe—The Adventures of Ratty Claus—cleaning the old church was a true voyage of discovery. Nothing there was ubiquitous. Everything we saw, felt, and touched was alive with its own untold story. We’d become so used to generic cityscapes—strip malls, chain food joints, familiar retail stores, Beaverton (etc.)—our cleaning scene felt like we were rip roaring through an unseen wormhole at the center of the old church, emerging newborn on The Other Side with every newly discovered story.
God’s not big on comedy. Church Goers aren’t normally allowed wicked senses of humor, but rat catchers are known for theirs. Most of the good rat catchers get it. We’re civilization’s foil: the bumbling John Goodman Bugs Be Gone comedic sidekick character in Arachnophobia who tries and inevitably fails to control The Action of nature. With that said, I loved that Jamie called her windowless, concrete dry storage room, “The Murder Room.” When I asked her why it was called, The Murder Room, she said, “You know. It’s that room in movies where the murders happen.”
Made sense to me. I killed 5 mice in the entryway of The Murder Room after setting a few “fishing traps” in my first scene. As my righteous, gun-loving uncle likes to point out, “[group killing] war isn’t murder.” Only individuals killing individuals is murder in The Eyes of God. And no one would ever call killing mice murder. Somewhere along the way, we’ve labeled them, forever, as vectors. Rodents will always bear The Mark of Cain (marked for eradication like malaria transmitting mosquitos and meat infesting horn flies) and that means we, the pest heroes, will never have to worry about the home’s environmental backstory. It’s “see a rat, kill a rat” all day, every day. Instant diagnosis. Unlike real doctors, we pest professionals get to skip The Story, bypass The Action completely, and go straight to the part where we apply our generic treatments. “Disease” and “rat” are synonyms. Killing a mouse, rat, or vole is the same as treating a disease, because the presence of rodents in your home, or church, is always bad like the Dark Lord Satan.
And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” It was the first thing God printed, page one. Must have been important.
Can you imagine a future world where doctors and pest professionals alike enjoy the ease of instant, or nearly instant, diagnosis? You would wait in a long line (like a grocery store) to present yourself before your doctor’s customer service counter. Next you would strip and put on a ritual gown of some kind, then wait some more while the doctor scanned your body for symptoms (using a Star Trek style Google body reader) a few short minutes before they labeled you with an instant diagnosis that came complete with its Google treatment, a pill, therapy, surgery, or a combination of pills, therapy, and surgery.
Thankfully, our doctors haven’t found a way to reduce our everyday, live action stories to generic symptoms and instant diagnosis. They still bang our knees, tell us to open our mouth and say “aw,” and make kind but firm inquisitions about our drinking, drug, or sexual habits. They still have to, at least, make some show of learning our backstories before they slap us with their diagnosis and treat us, instantly on sight, like rats.
In our story, however, the consequence of not dominioning the church mice seemed clear. After a few hours of running my Ghostbuster’s-style backpack vacuum around the walls, I had a canister full of proof. If the presence of live mice in didn’t equal “bad” or “disease,” their droppings certainly did. And that was enough of a backstory for me.
When the initial cleaning scene had come to an adequate ending, I sat in the basement and performed the classic prebattle scene. You know, the scene where the Ewoks set their rolling log traps, Wylie Coyote set his new ACME roadrunner trap, or that annoying Home Alone kid set his deadfall paint cans and flame thrower traps to foil any bad guys who dared cross The Line and invade his territory.
I quickly became bored applying peanut butter on traps. Desperate for any distraction, I asked Guide to give us a call to arms speech to hearten our entry into the coming battle scene. I asked her nicely, but I also told her I didn’t want just any call to arms speech. I told her I wanted one at least as good as the one Bill Pullman used to rouse the blood and bile in his fellow earthlings before they battled their infestation of space aliens.
“We will not go quietly into the night,” the Supreme President of Earth (Bill Pullman) said, standing on his fighter jet with a bullhorn in hand. “We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
Guide agreed to indulge me, but her speech did not, or would ever, meet the emotional needs of men charging into battle. If she delivered that speech, let’s say, a few moments before the trench officers of WW1 blew their whistles to “Charge!”, not one unsuspecting youth would cross heartily over The Line. They would all stand there—feeling unfilled—ready to die at the hands of their officers rather than charge bravely into battle. Guide’s “call to arms speech” was more like a calm, how-to lecture (or cooking show demonstration) on the best ways to kill the church mice.
“Just remember team,” Guide said as we shit-canned the empty jar of peanut butter and reached for a tube of green, scientifically engineered mouse attracting goo. “The mice are already hooked on free food: kitchen scraps, garage, kiddy crumbs. They’ve been living large in fancy ‘burrows’ under kitchen cabinetry without any predators around to keep their bodies fit and their minds sharp. All we have to do is ride nature’s wave and spur The Action onward to its inevitable climax. Free food is always a trap, and abundant free food is always a recipe for infestation/The Suck of tragedy, crisis, and environmental disaster. History is ripe with examples. Smart creatures, both wild and domesticate, work a little harder to find the undiscovered niche markets the predators have yet to stake out.”
I listened to her usual lines on the subject of freedom vs. security/wild vs. domestication, but, as usual, I didn’t agree with her. Guide likes to paint my character as the Asshole of our team, but she does that because she’s jealous. I’m better at seeing The Big Picture than she is…and she knows it. I mean, really, she was missing the obvious fact that we were slathering free food on traps in a soup kitchen. Doesn’t The Church sort of run on the idea of feeding and finding civilization—the Dry, Centrally Heated Body of Christ—for all the poor, homeless, wild creatures of earth?
What would The Church be without its church mice?
As we set over 250 snap traps under stoves, below cabinets, along walls, on pipes, behind boilers, in storage rooms, and other dark corners where the furry evils dwell, I pondered that question. I’m as much a rat catcher as Guide is, and any rat catcher worth their salt will tell you (likely after a few beers and a few tears) that deep down, they’re sort of rooting for the wild creatures. Real rat catchers don’t really want the mice to stand in line at our traps, eat the free food, and spill their sacred wine. Real rat catchers are half wild creatures themselves, who cross The Magic Line because they want to feed their prey to The Wilderness like an ancient offerings to the gods. For real rat catchers, killing in the name of their customers is just part of the job. No true hero ever delights in the slaying of an honorable foe. Monsters like Orkin Man, Rentokiller, and Terminixor will never understand that. That’s what makes them monsters.
I know my next line might sound confusing, contradictory, or like “circular logic,” but the wild humans among you will get it immediately: “No one on our team wants the mice to spill their sacred wine, but we’re proud as hell of catching the ones that do.” Our first real trap check service at the old church revealed 23 kills. And we shared that body count with everyone we met that day. “Including the 8 we caught in our fishing traps without really trying…we’re up to 31 already,” we reported to Jamie.
That was just 31 mice. Jamie had also put us in charge of clearing the rodents from a neighboring house. It had been vacant for some time, and its backyard had often been used for an unofficial homeless camp. In its cold, empty, dimly lit basement we found an entry hole (around a heating vent) leading to and from the house’s inaccessible front porch. It proved to be the perfect rat catching honey hole. I was able to trap and kill two healthy adults right off the bat.
We were so proud of our body count, we even told the homeless folks who wandered into the basement (right on cue) nearly every time we propped the door open. The first few poked their heads in politely hat-in-hand looking for “services.” Upon investigation, I discovered that “services” was code for free food in the soup kitchen–not the nourishing Word of God. In any case, whatever their deal was, I informed them, matching their politeness almost competitively, that I was just a humble rat catcher/small grain of sand (with 32 confirmed kills). Each time, I asked the service seeker if they wanted to help me clean mouse turds. When they said no, I excluded them from the church by shutting the door that had been opened to them. My favorite service seeker was a friendly guy I met the last time I opened the door, a few minutes before I became fully convinced the service seekers would always be there knocking and waiting for the door to be open to them. He asked me about the art classes. I told him I wasn’t staff—just a humble (but highly skilled) rat catcher. The whole time we were talking he not so slyly slipped pens, paper, and other art supplies from a nearby table into his satchel. I laughed while I watched his show, enjoying the finer arty points of the interaction immensely, before I dusted off my old social worker character and asked him to leave non-verbally (herding him to the door with my actions) all the while apologizing for something in a calm, even, non-threatening tone.
A month into our service story, Guide turned to us and said something weird. “I can see them now,” she said as we cleared another 5 mice from our traps in the kitchen.
Pest Predator took off his respirator and replied, “Funny, I don’t smell anything unusual.”
I looked at my teammates like a sports bro standing in line at a comic book convention. “Say again?” I said, making my best Trump face/you’re-the-idiot (not me) look.
“The mice,” Guide replied without making eye contact. “I can see where they’re running now.”
“You see the mice!” I laughed. “Are you adding X-ray vision to your list of supereconomic powers?”
Guide turned to Predator and said, “The traps have spoken.”
Predator nodded his understanding, leaving me to wonder if I was the “I” in our team who’d been left out of The Loop like a bad boss. After much debate and discussion over a 6 pack of Cascade Ice (because we were, as a team, still officially on another 10 month Adventure in Sobriety), I was able to piece The Action together. Here’s what Guide “saw” in our traps:
In the dark void, a few inches behind the Tom-and-Jerry hole in back of the Hobart, a few survivors of our trapping efforts (which was now well over 55 dead mice and 3 dead rats!) huddled in mass like shell-shocked refugees of a highflying bombing campaign.
“I can see him now,” a long lean mouse said to the fat footed one beside her.
“Say again?” the Fat Footed One replied with a cold, black-eyed stare.
“I can see the human,” Long Mouse said again. “I know what the rat catcher is going to do next.”
The other mice nodded agreeably at Long Mouse’s hopeful statement.
“Why do you always have to be so weird,” Fat Foot laughed. “We should be happy he hasn’t used any bait poisons yet. You know how impossible it is to train our corruptible youths to say no to drugs!”
“In small doses,” Long Mouse shot back, “anti-coagulants can be used medicinally, or to induce spiritual awakenings…”
“Is that what happened to you?” Fat Foot scoffed. “Did you ingest too much bait, and now you think you’re At One with The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky? Snap out of it. We need to do what we’ve always done: keep quiet, stay in the walls, freeze in place (stand and make The Blank Face Look) when our human masters speak their sacred words, and wait for the offerings of food to fall from Volehalla. Only then will we be loved as Holy Pets, with real parts to play, in this church’s great congregational drama.”
Suddenly, three mice emerged from the wings of the dark wall void. They all look satisfied, fat and happy with the glow of a good meal.
“I have received a vision,” Long Mouse replied unaware of the new mice in their midst. “We’re all prey of The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky…who loves us…and wants us to prosper, thrive, and live wild, free, and keep our bodies fit and strong for our parts in The Great Game.”
When Fat Foot hear that, he roared with laughter. “The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky loves us?! Oh wow, now I know you’ve ingested bait!”
The three new mice laughed too. The most satisfied of the three, a mouse known as Light Claw, spoke up and said, “We just saw the rat catcher. He is obviously some hack the humans in our congregation hired on Home Advisor to test us. Everyone knows Home Advisor is total bullshit!”
The second new mouse snickered along with the group and added, “Yeah and we passed our newest test. Our humans placed peanut butter in little cups surrounded by a big flat alter. The answer is, as long as we nibble humbly at The Butter of Life without touching the alter, our humans will continue to offer us their blessings of food and fellowship.”
“Yes Mouse is right!” Light Claw thundered victoriously. “I got the idea from watching Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom with the security guards last night. All we have to do to continue receiving our blessings of food from Volehalla is nibble the peanut butter from the cups without touching the Alter of Unbridled Greed. You see, it’s a metaphor. Our human masters are trying to teach us to live a righteous life…as long as we’re not greedy and take what they give to us…we will continue our journey to become their Holy Pets.”
“Yes!” Yes Mouse cheered. “It’ll be rad! We’ll spend eternity eating The Butter of Life with our human masters in Volehalla!”
Long Mouse rubbed fur with all the mice in the void, before she flattened her body to the floor, and said, “I don’t know if Volehalla is real, or not; but I do know that human out there isn’t trying to teach us any lessons. Life is not a test. It’s a game, and The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky didn’t send their predator to be our gentle guiding, comfort human.”
“Predator! You mean that guy out there?” Fat Foot laughed. “That idiot couldn’t catch a rat if it jumped in his lap.”
“Yeah…and we all know mice are a lot harder to catch than dirty old, nasty street rats…he couldn’t catch us if we jumped in his lap!”
Light Claw peaked out of their Tom-and-Jerry hole. “Look everyone!” he laughed with delight. “There he is now!”
“To the choppa!” Fat Foot laughed.
“What’s he doing?” Long Mouse asked.
“Not sure,” Light Claw replied. “It looks like he’s fixing something to the bottom of our pantry door.”
“What an idiot!” Yes Mouse roared. “He’s trying to evict us from our sacred pantry. No way our masters approved that one. As long as church mice have lived in these walls…not one of our human masters have tried to block off our entry holes. Besides, we can get in the back way!”
“Not any more,” Light Claw reported from the light. “He found the hole behind the fridge. He’s filling it with some kind of gun.”
The mice suddenly grew silent. While their new reality sank in, Fat Foot spoke up. “He can’t block all our holes…there’s too many…”
Long Mouse flicked her tail and said, “I don’t think this is another one of your stupid tests. That fucker’s trying to kill us.”
“You mean the humans hired him to punish us…”
“No,” Long Mouse answered boldly. “I mean that guy’s a rat catcher…our natural predator…who won’t stop until we’re all dead.”
“Heretic! We’ve interpreted the sacred words of our masters…God put mice on the earth to bring comfort to our human masters…”
“Our humans wouldn’t kill their Holy Pets! Not without reason!”
“That would be murder!”
In that moment, Long Mouse realized her words were meaningless without action. She rubbed fur with her old friends for the last time, and then she ran from the void, through the Tom-and-Jerry hole, into the light of the kitchen like the Dark Lord Satan was nipping at her heels.
“Hey you, Rat Catcher!” she squeaked at the human standing like a giant above her, holding a foam gun. “Catch me if you can!”
“Oh my, what a bold creature you are!” Guide said when she saw Long Mouse bolt from the hole. Instead of giving chase, Guide watched her wild creature friend run across the open kitchen, through the kitchen door, to an entry hole on the side of an outer door leading to freedom.
“Sorry friend,” Guide said with a chuckle. “I already got that one.”
Then Guide opened the door for her wilderness creature friend. Shocked and surprise, still running with all her might, Long Mouse saw the trees, clouds, and sunshine on the other side of the door. She didn’t wait around to discern the Rat Catcher’s actions. She knew it wasn’t some kind of twisted loyalty test. Long Mouse ran for the open door without another thought, running from her former cozy, predator free home—out into a world she’d never known. The Wildernesswas old as the sun, sky, and grass, but to Long Mouse…it was a brand new, wild frontier fraught with danger, hidden treasure, and adventure.
“Anybody else?” Guide called into the dark hole.
Nobody moved. They all stood perfectly still—like they’d done a thousand times before—with their heads bowed (attentive as movie goers) ready for their human masters to drop their daily bread.
Guide didn’t speak. She didn’t say things—speak in the foreign tongue of The Sacred Word—that inspired the mice to stay quiet and attentive in their roles as Holy Pets behind the walls. Guide didn’t eat food and drop any daily bread to reward them for their roles in the church’s congregation that lived, like an audience, in sacrificial service to the directors (the priests, politicians, and storytellers) who rule The Fourth Wall.
She aimed her foam gun in the hole and squeezed the trigger. The black mass of chemical goop erupted in the void like Vesuvius, trapping the mice like a landslide of hot mud, embalming their bodies forever in foam. Guide had finally answered their prayers, pushed The Conflict to its natural climax, and opened the gates of Volehalla to them. They were now forever what they had always become each and every day they spent in sacrificial service to their masters. They were now true Church Mice, ever-lasting parts of The Dry, Centrally Heated Body of Christ.
In 2 short months, our team at Storysold: Pest Control caught 95 mice, 4 rats, and excluded over 62 entry holes: foaming wall voids, patching the foundation with concrete, installing door sweeps, covering open windows with plywood, and patching the bigger holes with metal and mesh.
In the midst of The Action on one of our 2 epic exclusion days, we met one of the oldest members of the congregation. He was the church’s former unofficial facilities manager. His name was Tim and he had a grandfather who was also a member of the congregation. I talked with Tim while Guide and Predator exercised their environmental control skills installing a tight fitting door sweep to keep the mice out of the pantry. It takes a lot to make me really listen to any human, but Tim had amazing stories to share, so it wasn’t an effort. Not in the least. He talked about the old church’s Golden Age like the time they built a basketball court on the third floor for the neighborhood youth, only to discover they built the ceiling too low. He smiled when he shared the part where the congregation literally raised the roof to make the court work.
In The End of any service story, it could be said that most humans work for money. Work is rarely a reward. Work is a “four letter word.” That’s humans. We, the live action characters of earth have no need for pressed and dyed fibers.
[ Never heard of live action characters? In brief, we’re earth’s smallest creatures—the unseen engines of life—who feed on The Action. For more on that check out Guide’s website: www.thewildguidingnews.com ]
All that’s to say, it was Tim, Joey, and Jamie who deposited these lines of literary gold in “our storybank accounts,” which is how you’d say it if good lines, scenes, stories were real currency like it is in The Living City:
DEPOSIT #1 – Jamie gave us the heartfelt review we display with pride at the beginning of this service story.
DEPOSIT #2 – Somewhere in our conversation, Tim said, “We’ve had mice in the church off and on over the years…but you’re the first person that I remember who has tried to seal up all the holes.”
DEPOSIT #3 – “I’ve had mice running across my desk for years,” Joey said to us in passing one day after our traps had gone silent. “When I first heard they hired someone to exterminate the mice, I didn’t expect them to actually go away. But they’re gone. I can’t believe it.”
It felt good to bank that literary gold from the humans, but the legacy we left in the dark, dim lit basement of the vacant house felt even better. The shiniest of the treasure we earned in this story was the newly formed actions we found on the wild side of the door we built from scraps:
The new door still led to our rat catching honey hole under the inaccessible front porch (and we were still catching rats there after our traps inside had all gone silent), but there was now another scene in production on the other side of that door. Two feet from the edge of the porch at the edge of our honey hole, a congregation of a different sort was growing at the base of a beautiful old oak tree.
You would never know they were there unless you read this story. They made a point never to gather in mass, or make The Blank Face Look on the audience side of a wall void for their human masters. They dug their own burrows. They gathered their own seeds. They faced their predators at night—always wary of the dangers of silence—and they rubbed fur with their loved ones whenever they could…content with the small wild pleasures The Action had to offer them.
In time, Long Mouse was the only mouse under the tree that remembered Volehalla. She did not gather the youth to her side to spend their precious harvest time reviving the cautionary tales of Church Mice. She didn’t feel any need to lecture them on the dangers of free food or the madness and infestation that follow the actions of Holy Pets.
When the youth asked her what lived under the porch, Long Mouse simply smiled and said, “Why don’t you ask The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky? Some say he’s still baiting his traps with free food there…”
And the youth would laugh because they were all old enough to know that The Great Rat Catcher in The Sky—the hawks, the owls, and ferial cats—all the predators of SE Portland circled, stocked, studied, and hunted the wild markets where Long Mouse and her loved ones gathered their seeds. That was just a routine, daily part of The Great Game. The predators worked hard to stay one step ahead of their prey—and they ran, like Long Mouse had ran, with a love of The Actionin their hearts.
Stories can become pretty infested with bullshit without it. Speaking of which, isn’t it time for us to schedule another service? We have to check our traps.
PRODUCED FOR ANNA AT HAGRID’S CABIN, AN AIRBNB THAT WE’VE SERVED SINCE AUGUST 21, 2019.
“High on Larch Mt., overlooking The Columbia River that once brought the first invasive humans to Oregon, there stood a cabin so wild and beautiful it broke reality, beyond The Fourth Wall, to that magical place where Lamorians run through the trees looking for gold, wizards battle dragons with sticks, and Rubeus Hagrid the Gentle Gamekeeping Giant sometimes struggles to keep his mouse friends out of his beard…”
I am Wilderness Security Guide, the environmental control operator in charge of rodent services for Storysold: Pest Control. I feel like I should make some kind of apology or disclaimer for the service story you’re about to read, but I’m not. Instead I’m going to be a good teammate and say nice things about this story. I authorized Bookmaker Jake to ghost write it for me, and I hope you enjoy it!
For a few years the lovable star of the Harry Potter series, Rubeus Hagrid, was able to balance his wizardly duties and do his job as gamekeeper too.
He tried to run missions for Abus Dumbledore, help Harry and his friends when he got in trouble, and still have time to make his nightly rounds in the forest managing the populations of hippogriffs and flobberworms.
He tried, but his fellow wizards were needy. Villain after villain rose from the pages of their lives like roaches in a Vegas diner, and they all depended on their old buddy Hagrid to stand and fight The Good Fight with them.
Then one day it happened. The stress of his daily heroism found a name…
He returned to one of his favorite cabins overlooking The Columbia River Gorge after a long day of wizarding, plopped down in his cozy chair, and fell asleep. When he woke he rubbed his eyes and looked down, into his beard, for the first time in months. He couldn’t believe it. There was a small family of mice nesting right under his nose!
“What the..!?” Hagrid exclaimed. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Nesting,” they replied in unison.
“Not on my watch you’re not!” he thundered as he rose, shaking the mice from his beard. The family all jumped and ran, scattering in all directions.
As gamekeeper, it was his job to keep the populations of wild creatures in the forest from becoming a mysterious force few Muggles know anything about. The word Hagrid and his friends use to describe That Thing Creatures Become When They’re Not in Control of Themselves cannot be translated into Muggle, but the closest inaccurate English word is the word “infestation.” The Infestation is that unseen thing a herd, flock, band, pack, tribe, gaggle, or family can become when their population becomes too large to manage, or control, without outside help. The most obvious sign of The Infestation is a lack of conflict (and wildness) within the population, which inspires healthy doses of diversity and balance. Predator free shelter, abundant food, and the creation of a singular population control center, all are signs of the phenomena Hagrid and his wizard friends nicknamed, The Suck.
Hagrid understood the dangers of keeping dangerous pets more than anyone. It got him in trouble more than once. (Remember the dragon egg!) He was very aware that any creature caught in “an infestation spell” loses all control of themselves. Like a bad house cat (or a growing baby dragon), the infestation spell makes its host feel free, almost immortal, like they will never have to worry about food, shelter, or death ever again. They surrender their wildness, responsibility, and control of their actions to the singular, centralized control center of The Infestation. Once they do, they fall into The Suck like a zombie. They live to feed (and feed to live) like a pet, because The Suck has reduced the diverse range of actions the wild creatures were once capable of producing to One Scripted Routine. “More” is the only action The Suck knows, and all it’s energy is hyper-focused on making big, even bigger.
Deep down, Hagrid loved wild creatures: dragons, spiders, and monster dogs, so he didn’t try to trap the mice at first. He tried to cast protection spells on his cabin with his umbrella wand, but it didn’t work. As soon as he cast his first spell, Voldemort countered his spell by opening hidden portals in the walls, under the siding, under the doors, and underground for the mice to enter the cabin.
To make matters worse, when Hagrid wasn’t in his cabin on Larch Mt., he allowed a few of his favorite Muggle friends to rest and relax there. Few Muggles know this, but he was the first to coin the term “Airbnb.” Hagrid could have asked for their help fighting The Infestation, but he knew Dumbledore would frown on the idea of teaching Muggles the gamekeepers’ magic.
Luckily, a half-wizard friend of his Anna heard about Hagrid’s troubles on Larch Mt. and flew in her magic van to help. The first thing she did was wait for Hagrid and his friends to leave, and then she had a heart-to-heart with the mice.
“You’re under Voldemort’s infestation spell,” she spoke in Mouseese.
“Say what?” the mice laughed.
“No seriously,” Anna explained. “You need to leave the cabin before you become so well fed and unafraid of predators you lose your wildness forever.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” the mice laughed louder. “Silly Muggle! We are mice! It’s scientifically impossible for wild mice to lose the wildness of our characters. Any real wizard knows that!”
Anna tried to warn the mice away from The Infestation a few more times, but her word spells had no lasting effect on them. She wasn’t a wild creature, but she was a half wizard…and she knew that most earth creatures are more likely to understand, respect, and respond to action spells.
So she dug deep and began to cast action spells…
She didn’t know the gamekeepers’ magic, but she knew the Muggle version of gamekeepers’ magic. Humans call the people do who that sort of Muggle magic “pest control operators,” and Anna decided to hire a new nearby company to trap the mice in the cabin and send a clearer message of action she hoped they would understand.
Roughly, translated into mousese, the message Anna wanted to send was “Stay out!”
The new company was calling itself “Storysold: Pest Control.” It was owned and operated by a human named Jake. Unlike other companies, Storysold: Pest Control wasn’t a normal business entity. It didn’t have its own immaterial governing body and or corporate character that hosts the actions of many humans. Storysold: Pest Control is a human: one organic, hand-shakable, flawed and fleshy governing body named Jake who hosts many live action, customer service characters. Hosting many characters helps him stay balanced, in control, wild, and free from the troubles caused by the self infesting, addictive, responsibility sucking super characters that rule most companies. Storysold was founded on the simple fact that a pest control company has to first be able to control itself before it can control anything else.
Day one on the job, Jake brought his whole team of “stage magic” customer service characters along to help Hagrid and Anna battle Voldemont’s infestation spell: Wilderness Security Guide, The Pest Predator, and Bookmaker Jake, but Jake chose Wilderness Security Guide to play the main character for our production of Hagrid’s Cabin. She usually leads all our rodent services with her sharp-eye for tracking The Action, but Predator sometimes takes the lead when she needs the help.
Guide cleared and reset the first company’s old traps, and then he added twice as many in places where he suspected Voldemort had cast his hidden entry portals. Guide doesn’t use anti-coagulant bait poisons like most rodent control operators, because she’s very aware that everything, including poisoned mice, will one day end up on her plate. Besides, it takes skill to use traps. And Guide the one of the best in the business of trapping creatures caught in The Infestation.
On our second service to Hagrid’s cabin, Guide cleared seven mice from her traps. Her end game wasn’t to kill mice. She didn’t didn’t see her role as a wild, live action human character to be the primary predator of mice. Like a good, all-American tycoon, she believe in delegation. She considered mice hunting (and digesting) the work of lesser predators like owls, weasels, fox, and hawks. Guide was hunting The Infestation—The Suck itself–and every tripped trap gave her more information about the size, strength, and movement of the unseen, immaterial, super villain she was tracking in The Action of the cabin like a Ghostbuster tracking an unwanted phantasm.
The second customer service character on Jake’s pest control team was The Pest Predator. Predator was much too alien to be a human character. He embraced his weaknesses–traits the humans called Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, and Bi-Polar Disorder–and transformed them into strengths. Like Guide, he specialized in the finding of entry holes and infestation portals and shutting them down, but unlike his teammate, Predator was gifted with The 2nd Person Perspective, a fierce love/hate relationship with The Action that’s needed for tracking and hunting the mircoworld of insects. While Predator belly crawled every accessible inch of the cabin tracking the microworld for signs of The Dark Lord’s entry portals, Wilderness Guide flew high above The Action and cobbled a working description of The Infestation from her Bird’s Eye Perspective.
One of Guide’s first discoveries was a mouse-sized gap under the door leading up from the basement, which she believed accounted for the activity Hagrid’s guests reported in the kitchen and other places in the cabin. She also found a few large holes that looked like burrows leading from the outside down under the foundation. On her second service she filled them with gravel. On the
Predator and Guide have a lot of themes in common, but the one that polarizes them is the use of chemicals, poisons, and pesticides. Pest Predator is our chemical control operator. He believes in the targeted use of chemicals to control bugs and rodents, but Guide does not. She hates using blood thinning anti-coagulant poisons on her mice friends for two reasons: 1) slowly bleeding to death inside over the span of 24 to 48 hours is a cruel way to kill any earth creature, and 2) introducing poison baits to The Food Chain is bad. At best it spoils her owl friends’ meals; at worse it can kill them.
Normally, pest control companies put bait poisons in stations outside homes and businesses to thin rodent populations. It’s by far the most common method of rodent control. Clearly our team needed some way of thinning the rodent population outside Hagrid’s cabin, but how to do that, in the best of all possible ways, was far clear. That’s when, I (Bookmaker Jake) was asked to host an official team meeting for the purpose of writing a new service storyline. My teammates will deny this at every turn, but I’m the real leader here. I’m gifted with The First Person Perspective.
After a long jangled meeting, we finally agreed to put action to the storyline we called, The Volehalla Rodent System. It was already in existence. We used for “open field trapping” at Farmer Emily’s Full Cellar Farm, but our “shelter bait” rodent boxes had yet to be tested for use around home fronts and other human territories. Here’s a brief description of that storyline:
THE VOLEHALLA RODENT SYSTEM: All the voles, field mice, and rats living on your farm or garden know is, “game on.” Food is everywhere, and their natural predators are eating Science Diet for their urinary track infections. The Master Switch flips and their population explodes. Now, instead of facing predators, they begin to police themselves and form rank structures and hierarchies. No wild creature enjoys being policed by their own (it’s humiliating), so the brave ones—the missionaries, soldiers, and astronauts—explore in hope of a better world. “Oh utopia! Oh heaven! Oh shelter! Oh Portland!” The ratonauts see that dark, unexplored hole in our shelter-bait rodent box and snap! Their ancestors welcome them through the gates of Volehalla.
It was the first time since Jake began to host Storysold: Pest Control that all three of his customer service characters worked As One Flesh on a single storyline: Predator picked likely rodent runways, Guide trained her owl-like eyes on the foundation searching for portals, Jake followed their advice and installed the Volehalla boxes around the cabin, and I (Bookmaker Jake) inspired the team by stealing glances at the cabin’s beautiful view of The Columbia River Gorge.
The Volehalla Rodent System was an immediate success. The numbers of mice we caught inside dropped as the numbers caught outside increased. In some cases, one box would catch as many as four mice in the five traps set in a row between the holes. We had no way to measure its success against a classic poison bait station system, because the bait stations have no way of tracking how many mice, rats, or small squirrels it kills. Only how much poison has been consumed from the station by some earth creature, which often included ants and slugs.
Based on the advise of Hagrid’s friendly neighbor, we set a few for rats around an unused shed. We only had 4 traps set, and the boxes caught 2 rats in a month.
It was that service, when we cleared the 2nd rat from our trap, the smell of death triggered the presence of a familiar character: Voldemort!
“Looks like you’re really winning Guide!” Voldemort laughed. “No doubt, Anna and Hagrid will be proud of the work your little band of rebel characters are doing here.”
“Band of rebels?” Guide laughed back. “We’re not rebelling against anything. We’re the new norm in pest control, so you better get used to it.”
The Dark Lord flew a few feet higher than Guide’s bird’s eye perch, robbing her of her usual perspective high ground. “Oh sorry about that crack about rebels,” he snickered. “I’ve never read any of The Harry Potter books, so I have to imagine what this Voldemort guy sounds like to you humans. Darth Vader is always a favorite. In my humble opinion, he’s the classic figurehead for the classic human infestation called ’empire.’ Oh how I love to hear those empires grow and go pop!”
“Yeah sure,” Guide said as she panned her perspective out, a few feet further than The Infested Head, like a cat struggling with its human to stay atop its pride. “Whatever you say, wacko.”
“Yes,” he snickered again. “I have to say I love watching you try to battle my infestation with you’re primitive control techniques. You’re no match for the power of my magic.”
“What magic?” Guide replied. “I can track any action on earth, even magic ones.”
“This has been so much fun!” he roared with laughter. “I hate to ruin it by telling you the truth.”
Guide eyed her prey as he once again took The High Ground from her.
“Ok you win. Tell me the truth about what?”
“I’ll make you a deal,” The Dark Lord said, tapping his fingertips together. “If you acknowledge the fact that most heroes are repressives who struggle to share their feelings and emotions with others, and generally fear any real relationship that forces them to break out of their righteous, little, indivisible Truth Castles, I will do my villain thing and share my diabolical plan with you…”
Guide took a quick survey of her teammates. Predator was busy tracking a nearby ant trail, obviously unimpressed by Guide’s banter with The Dark Lord. Bookmaker, on the other hand, was loving every moment of it. He was grinning big like a proud parent, giving Guide two thumbs up.
“Sharing is what grown adults do,” was all Bookmaker had to say on the subject.
“Yeah,” Guide sighed. “I see your point. Villains can be better at communicating than heroes.”
“Not good enough,” he beamed infectiously. “I want you to admit that villains, as a whole, are a lot better at sharing their feelings than heroes. That’s why they always lose. Heroes take the sharing as a sign of weakness, and use it against them. Happens in every Hollywood action movie featuring Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Mel Gibson, and The Rock.”
“Leave The Rock out of this!” Guide shot back, suddenly very angry. “I love The Rock.”
Voldemort was cool as a cucumber. “Whatever you say Hero.”
Guide took a long, deep breath and said, “You’re right. Villains as a whole are a lot better at sharing their feelings than heroes.”
When Voldemort heard that he cupped his hands to his mouth and announced, “Did you hear that one Hagrid? How about you Anna? You hired a real villain sympathizer here…next thing you know she’ll be filling your fridge with free-range chicken eggs and organic vegetables!”
“Good one…” Guide said unenthusiastically. “Now it’s your turn.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…I just wanted to show you how I could spin the drama and use your sharing of feelings against you…you know if I wanted to do so.”
“Get on with it! We have a bedbug hunt in an hour!”
“Ok, ok, keep your feathers on,” he smiled. “I hate to ruin my diabolical plan by sharing it with you, but that’s what we villains do. We self-destruct. Like an infestation that runs out of control.”
“You’re still stalling…” Guide said as she folded her arms and flew higher than before.
“I call my plan, Systemic Death Production Disorder,” Voldemort said, settling into his perspective a few feet below Guide. “I have you all so EXCITED about sending all your wilderness creature friends to Volehalla, you’ve forgotten all about ending my infestation.
Guide was speechless. Truth hurt.
“Keep this up,” The Dark Lord continued, “you’ll be no better than my immortal generic character The Orkin Man. You’ll get rich, one reoccurring monthly service at a time. Embrace it. It’ll be easy. And besides, why would you ever want to end your service to such a beautiful story?”
He had us there. Hagrid’s cabin was a beautiful place to work, but we’d made Hagrid and Anna a promise to hunt and end The Infestation.
Guide sat at the edge of our van, looking glumly into The Wilderness with the smell of the dead rat sill in her nose. She didn’t know what to do. She’d poured gravel in all the holes around the foundation she could find, installed a fancy foam door sweep on the basement door, and excluded all the entry holes she could find around the exterior. Even Predator agreed they’d run out of ideas.
While all this drama was happening outside, Anna and Hagrid were hanging out inside quietly watching The Action. Until now, neither of them had used any magic to help the Muggle owned pest control company they hired to battle The Infestation.
“Do you suppose we should help her?” Hagrid asked as he picked through his beard, looking for signs of mice that were no longer there.
“We should,” she smiled, “but it feels so nice to relax…you know…let the Muggles figure it out for themselves. Like big kids.”
“I hear that!” Hagrid chuckled joyfully. “It has been nice to relax…and stop rushing off to fix every crisis that Harry and his friends get themselves into…”
The two wizards didn’t talk for a nice long while. They shared a few homemade newt head cookies dunked in purple dragon’s milk, and pretended to be like humans and watch a TV show.
“I’m going to do it,” Hagrid said out of The Blue.
“I already did,” Anna grinned and dunked another newt head cookie in her dragon’s milk.
Hagrid looked around, trying to spot Anna’s sly act of magic. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he looked over at his old friend and asked, “I give up. What did you do?”
“I cast a winter spell,” Anna chuckled. “Guide should discover it anytime now.”
“A winter spell!” Hagrid boomed with joy. “Brilliant!”
Right on cue, when Guide was done falling into The Suck of defeat, she and Predator took another lap around the foundation and saw it. It was a clear rodent tunnel along the edge of the foundation they’d missed the month before, because of a bush had blocked their view.
Anna’s Winter Spell had made all the leaves wither and fall, reveling an entry tunnel leading directly under the foundation!
“Ha!” Guide cried aloud when we found it. “Take that Voldemort!”
The Dark Lord watched at a distance as our team dug out the tunnel, plugged the entry point with foam, and covered the trail with gravel. The portal that had fed The Infestation for so long was now officially CLOSED.
“Drat!” Voldemort cried, feigning defeat. “I should have never shared my diabolical plan with you characters! Alack, alack! Now I shall never win!”
While Predator and Guide worked, basking in the glow of their victory, Bookmaker Jake wondered how a villain could lose with so much flare and intention and still be The Villain. There has to be something we’re missing here, Bookmaker thought to himself. I think that Asshole’s letting us win…but I don’t know why. Is he somehow still winning…and quietly robbing us of our victory?
I can’t be sure. Maybe I imagined it. But I thought I saw The Infestation flicker, fade, and suck back into the immaterial form of Voldemort. Ones and zeroes, The Suck had simply changed vectors. The mice were now no longer the agents of infestation, The Dark Lord had taken the all power of The Infestation into himself like a dragon sucking in oxygen for another fireball.
We felt that The End was near, but we still hadn’t had a service were no mice were caught inside. For a true victory, we needed to clear Hagrid’s beard for good…
Two months later, we were checking the Volehalla boxes behind the shed. It must have just happened. The snake, a beautiful fat red racer, was writhing with its head caught in a rat trap.
Bookmaker was convinced it was Voldemort in the flesh. “Kill it!” he cried in fear.
As usual, I didn’t listen to my teammate. But I too had become convinced that we needed to kill the snake. Not for fear, but for mercy. I was sure the snake wouldn’t survive…
Shovel in hand, I was about to do The Right Thing and “put it out of its misery” when I felt the weight of a familiar giant’s hand rest on our head. Hagrid didn’t say anything. He simply laughed like he was watching a child trying to tie their own shoes for the first time.
I put down the shovel, opened the box, and lifted the bar from the snake’s neck. Then I went about my business.
When we returned at The End of our service, the snake was nowhere to be seen.
It had vanished back into The Wilderness to live another day.