Art Pact 245 - Tumble


When I moved into the house there were several existing tenants - mice, a neighbouring cat that wandered in and out at will, a family of spiders, and most disturbingly, some sort of raccoon. The first thing I did was to duct-tape closed the cat flap, but much to my dismay I soon discovered that there were other ways into the house, ways which the cat and the mystery raccoon knew about but which I could not detect. I kept my bedroom door closed, bolted in fact, because there was a deadbolt on the top of the door left there by the previous owner. That kept the visitors from making uninvited nocturnal trips into my sanctum, but it did nothing to enforce my sense of ownership over the rest of the territory that should by rights have been mine and mine alone.

The cat was easy enough to deal with. I briefly considered just trapping the damn thing (I have never liked cats - probably some childhood trauma) but the first time I caught it strolling through my living room I noticed that it had a collar with a metal tag on it. That meant it had owners, and that meant that if I caught it in a cage and (for instance) released it somewhere on the fens a good two or three hours drive away, there were likely to be questions raised.

I did not want questions raised.

Instead, I embarked on a program of calculated unfriendliness. Whenever the cat appeared I did my best to startle it out of any further desire to visit. I threw tennis balls at it. I jumped out at it and shouted. I also laid out small bits of food on the floor for it, morsels that were heavily coated in mustard powder. I heard shrieks of displeasure from downstairs during the night that often woke me, but I rolled over and went back to sleep safe in the knowledge that each shock would bring the day closer and closer when the cat would view the house as merely a place of strange and disturbing experiences - not as a shelter away from home to be roamed at will, but as a place to fear and actively avoid. After a month of this treatment I did not see the cat again, except occasionally at the end of my garden. Even then, when it saw me it would tense up, hiss dramatically, and then flee as though its tail was on fire.

The mice and spiders succumbed to a combination of grout, poison, mouse-traps, and the Hoover. It is a strange thing that you learn when you have a place of your own - that contrary to expectations, one of the most important places to clean is the ceiling. I had always assumed that gravity would take care of keeping the ceilings clean, but the spiders had other opinions on the matter. Thousands of the scuttling little buggers must have vanished into the nozzle of my vacuum cleaner, attended by the sticky wisps of their homes.

The mice were merely decimated by the traps - I found perhaps eight with their necks broken over the course of the two months that the little territorial war raged, and there must have been dozens upon dozens left alive if so many were caught - but the economic pressures were harder for them to bear. I moved all foodstuffs into the higher cupboards, installed seals around the cupboard doors and plugged the holes that I thought were mouse-sized. The aim was to make it infeasible for a family of two mice - both wage-earners - with two to three pups and no outstanding debts to be able to afford to stay in my house. I have little truck with welfare scroungers living off my taxes, I was certainly not going to stand by and let parasites live off my very foodstuffs. The mice starved once cut off from the teat, or they grew to understand the harsh economic necessities of life and struck out on their own, using their natural entrepreneurial spirit to carve a new life for themselves in the unclaimed wilderness at the end of the garden. Perhaps they simply moved into another house, a house where the owners were more of a soft touch. I'm sure there were champagne socialists living somewhere nearby - let them give the mice their handouts!

But the raccoon - or whatever it was. Well, that was a different matter entirely. I had seen the thing only out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was another cat, but there was something about it that was not quite cat like. I know what you are going to say - was it a squirrel? It was not. It was larger than a squirrel, and although predominantly grey, there were black parts of it too. It clearly was not an actual raccoon, since such creatures are confined to the new world, but it was something that I had no name for. Lacking a definitive name, I began to call it the raccoon in my own mind.

The raccoon resisted any attempt to scare it. It did not take the bait of the "poisoned" morsels of food. It was not startled when I jumped at it - indeed, it did the startling more often than the other way around. I would be sitting in the living room reading, and when I glanced around to look at the clock I would see two eyes glaring at me from the dark of the kitchen hallway.

Sometimes this seemed just natural behaviour - of course whatever the creature was it would want to stay out of my way, and that would lead to surprising meetings. But it sometimes became a little more sinister. On the fourth of May, six months after I had moved in, I was carrying some boxes downstairs to unpack when I suddenly heard a chittering noise from my left, further along the balcony. The next thing I knew was that the step I had expected my right foot to land on was gone, and I was tumbling downstairs, an avalanche of limbs and books and old school trophies and the shattered remnants of a set of wine glasses my aunt had given me many Christmases ago, back before I had been forced to kill her.

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