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.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at email@example.com.