The beast abides

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son is a long­time Arkansas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

The hairy beast with pointed claws and sharp teeth in­vaded qui­etly. Jeanetta ini­tially no­ticed sev­eral things amiss on shelves in the down­stairs stor­age closet. Some­thing big­ger than a mouse had to be re­spon­si­ble. Overnight guests also heard mid­night scratch­ing and scam­per­ing that sounded like a beast do­ing beastly stuff above the ceil­ing of the down­stairs bed­room. The first thought was Ratzilla had moved in. Yeah, a dis­gust­ing thought. My first stop was Home De­pot for the largest rat trap avail­able. It looked big enough to han­dle a rat the size of a piglet. This was bound to solve the prob­lem. The next morn­ing I hur­ried down­stairs to find the trap sprung and cheese miss­ing. Same thing the next night. I knew I must be fac­ing some­thing with a brain that puts mine to shame. Back to the store for two of the largest rat glue traps avail­able. These super-sticky plas­tic trays looked big enough to re­strain any schnau­zer that laid a paw in the goo. Plac­ing cheese balls at the far­thest cor­ners of each trap, I slid them to the back in the cen­ter open­ing of a wooden desk. “There’s only one way in and out. Ol’ beasty boy will have to cross the traps to get to the bait,” I smiled. Head­ing for bed, I felt cer­tain vic­tory was hours away. The next morn­ing I arose to fi­nally face the beast. Peer­ing down, I could see one trap at the foot of the car­peted stairs. It was empty. But the un­seen thing ob­vi­ously had stepped, then wal­lowed, in the glue and left it unusable to let me know just how pa­thetic I was as a trap­per. I imag­ined him belly-laugh­ing. By now, the match of wits had be­come per­sonal. Deter­mined to iden­tify the beast, I bor­rowed a game cam­era from Rob Gunn, a friend who fre­quently hunts on his ranch out­side Har­ri­son. These cam­eras snap dig­i­tal pho­to­graphs re­veal­ing what kind of crit­ters are roam­ing day and night. Set­ting the cam­era on a stool down­stairs for the even­ing, I felt as­sured we’d soon know the in­vader’s iden­tity. Up early again, I hur­ried to the cam­era and saw move­ment had in­deed set it off more than a dozen times in the dark­ness. We scanned the pic­tures on a lap­top, anx­ious for a glimpse of the beast. But all we saw in just one frame was the rear half of a hairy crea­ture the size of a very large rat with a long, bare tail. But was it? We still weren’t sure. As in the shark movie Jaws, it had be­come ev­i­dent I needed a big­ger trap. So this time it was off to Miller Hard­ware where ini­tially I con­sid­ered a spring-jawed leg trap re­sem­bling those used for bears. That seemed per­haps a tad ex­treme even as frus­trat­ing as the hunt had be­come. I wasn’t out to maim or dis­mem­ber, but to get the beast back out­side where it be­longed. I set­tled for a metal box trap that catches prey when they sneak in­side to dine on their choice of cat food and peanut but­ter. Trap set. Lights out. Next morn­ing I again head down ea­gerly. The food’s gone. Noth­ing in­side. An­other friend, H.K. McCaleb, a dec­o­rated World War II vet­eran who knows about such hor­rors as war, then loaned us his even-larger box trap with open­ings at ei­ther end. Trap is set. Noth­ing there the next morn­ing ei­ther. and the bait re­mains in place. By now, fel­las in the morn­ing cof­fee group are bet­ting we have a rac­coon liv­ing in those 18 inches be­tween the lower drop ceil­ing and up­per floor. Made sense, con­sid­er­ing how much smarter than me was the beast. The fi­nal ap­peal was the ul­ti­mate hu­mil­i­a­tion for any al­pha male novice trap­per. We con­tacted the po­lice depart­ment and an­i­mal con­trol of­fi­cer Matthew Case, who ar­rived later that day car­ry­ing his box trap. We showed him the photo of the beast’s rear half. He smiled the know­ing smile of a bona fide beast trap­per. De­ter­min­ing the thing had to be most ac­tive di­rectly above the drop ceil­ing in the down­stairs bath­room, Of­fi­cer Case dis­placed one panel and placed his trap baited with left­over meat and cat food. Late that night I heard odd clang­ing of what sounded like pipes softly be­ing banged within the walls. Could we fi­nally have it? The next morn­ing, Of­fi­cer Case re­trieved his trap. There, an 8-inch baby pos­sum look­ing like a long-nosed kit­ten stared back. “Wha? This can’t be The Beast. It has to be enor­mous, snarling and look­ing like, well, like a warthog!” It was de­mor­al­iz­ing to know I’d been out­smarted by a baby pos­sum. In the en­su­ing week, Case trapped four broth­ers and sis­ters in the same space. Lit­tle won­der I was over­matched. It had been at least five against one. The now-emp­tied trap re­mains in place. To­day, in the quiet calm of predawn, I Iie awake breath­ing rapidly, know­ing some­where be­neath me likely lurks the for­merly preg­nant momma beast who some­how found her way in­side and into that small space. Wait, lis­ten. Is that faint scratch­ing I hear be­neath the floor? The beast abides.

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