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The mystery in the attic

July 24, 2010

As I was awakened during the night, I heard footsteps. I arose with a startle, but soon realized the steps were coming from my attic.

"Is it a person?" I mused. "No," much too light for a person," I deduced.

My thoughts were interrupted by chewing and chomping, and then more running. Directly above my head in the bed is an air vent for the furnace. The creature was there. I quickly jumped up and shut the vent lest it decide to look back at me, or even worse, lest it decide to go potty.

The running, chomping and chewing continued throughout the night. The footsteps were quick and noisy. It was as if the creature was training for a marathon or the Olympics. One thing for sure, this was a nocturnal creature enjoying my attic for his playground. Every single time I would doze off to sleep, he/she/it would take off for another sprint. At this point, I didn't know if I should go and search the attic with a broom, a light saber from my son's room, the .38 pistol or the rifle. What could make such a noise? It must be, I deducted, a capybara.

When 13 year-old Jim awakened, I questioned him.

"Jim, what exactly is a capybara?"

Without missing a beat, Jim responded, "A capybara is a large, semi-aquatic rodent of tropical South America, having short limbs and a tail and often attaining lengths of more than 4 feet."

"Oh my," I responded, "so like you've memorized animal definitions or what?"

He replied tersely, "Yep, it's in my science book."

It was a wonderful homeschool mom moment, but shortlived as he inquired, "Why on earth are you asking this first thing in the morning and it's not even a school day, its summer vacation?"

I explained that we now had a resident capybara in the attic, tongue in cheek here, and he knew it. They know me so well!

"Mom, you're funny," he said.

"Well, let's just say it sounded like a rodent of that size. OK?" I inserted.

Throughout the day, I wondered at what sort of action I should take. I knew the people who lived in this house prior to us had mouse/rat poison in the attic and nothing had ever touched it. However, I also remembered the torn up insulation and large scratches on the attic door with insulation torn to shreds last winter when I had the repairman come and check the furnace during one of the storms.

The repairman replied, "I sure don't know what was in here, ma'am, but it sure wanted out."

Yikes! This was no mouse. It must have been a squirrel, a chipmunk on steroids, or, as I said before, a capybara. I mean, those things are "honkin' big."

It sounded massive, and I feared for my life. Well, OK, not my life, but I didn't want wee-wee coming through my vent on my head during the night either.

The day went on without a noise from the attic. The next night likewise. "Capy" had moved on, I assumed. Maybe he'd found luxury at a neighboring house.

Maybe the mountain lion ate him as he descended over the outside wall. Maybe it was "Lilly the Mountain Lion" returning the favor of letting her raise her babies around our place last summer.

Nevertheless, "Capy" did not return. However, as I walked through the living room and into my bedroom, past the closet, a smell wafted up and took my breath away.


"Boys, where's your basketball shoes and cleats?" I yelled.

"In the entry way closet," they replied in unison.

"Oh, maybe something ... oh no." It hit me. Capy was dead. And had chosen this house to "let go and go to rodent whatever" somewhere in the attic. Deciding the sooner the better that I go look, I crawled through the attic, flashlight in hand to find absolutely nothing, except maybe a few more scratches on the attic door.

As the next day came, the odor became more intense. My son and I took packaging tape and began taping every duct "intake and out" tightly. More scented plugins were placed strategically to "mask" the odor. I lit so many candles one would think we were trying to have a seance or something.

Vanilla candles will never be the same again. Vanilla candles and dead rodent simply do not make for a nice fragrance: let's say we call it "oder de rot" or something.

I pondered at one point chainsawing the walls in search of ol' dead "Capy" but changed my mind as the day progressed. I even surveyed Facebook friends and got some great advice: One friend said to pour baking soda in the vents. Another said to lay charcoal around to absorb the odors. One friend inserted that Stihl made the best chain saws.

My sister, being the comedian she is, decided that since they now use lime to eat away at dead deer along the road, I should just pour lime in all my vents and hope for the best. Another suggested a long vacation about now. Another friend said that perfume under our noses might help. However, I was personally thinking about Vicks vapor rub up my nostrils at this point. The most realistic advice was "hang in there, it will take about three weeks and it will be over."

Not what I wanted to hear, but, yep, week two and the stench is weakening. So very glad the windows can be open and ceiling fans on. I mean, what if I needed the furnace right now? Yikes, and in my bedroom, too. As a mom, I'm glad it's not the kids' rooms.

So, if there were a capybara in my attic, maybe I need to lure Lilly the mountain lion back to our place (she probably smells us no matter where she is right now) and ask her to do "guard duty" or something. She so owes me.

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mother of three, and the grief counselor and a chaplain for Mountain Hospice. To contact her, call 304-823-3925, ext. 136, or e-mail



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