A tug on the sheet and my wife's panicked pleas jolted me awake. Something uninvited had been in bed with us, making little, pittering footsteps up Debi's leg.
That nearly launched me through the tree house roof, just a few feet above our heads in the sleeping loft. I groped the inky blackness for the spotlight stashed near my feet. I had put it there in case we needed to make a midnight run to the outhouse -- there was no electricity and no running water in this outpost along the Edisto River -- along with my FNP 9mm, which I brought to fend off bands of rabid raccoons and any deranged ax murderers roaming the surrounding woods.
"SOMETHING'S IN HERE! SOMETHING'S IN HERE! I WAS SLEEPING! IT CRAWLED ON ME! I FLUNG IT OFF!"
Between gasps, Debi clutches my arm and tells me it was a mouse. Good thing it wasn't a case for the handgun, because I was still flailing blindly to locate the light. Had the raccoon or axeman shown up, we'd be dead by now, or at least bleeding out.
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Nonetheless, I could hear my heart pounding in my ears when I finally laid hands on the light. I shined it around the loft, then around the open living area below.
Nothing. Not a sight. Not a squeak.
Debi swore she was not dreaming. But as we waited for the adrenaline to subside and sleep to return -- it was about 4 a.m. -- we sought more rational explanations for our brief panic, given the utter dearth of evidence to justify it.
Maybe it was a dream. Or restless leg syndrome.
We spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking, kayaking and birdwatching. That is what got us excited in the first place about this overnight canoe trip down the Edisto. The outfitters drop you off at a boat landing 23 miles upstream. You paddle about 13 miles to the remote tree house, set up camp, then paddle the remaining 10 miles to your car when you're ready to depart.
It sounded like a lot of fun, and it was. We can't wait to do it again, in fact.
But the experience also was humbling. Clearly, we are not so rugged as we imagined just before bedtime.
I'm the first to admit I'm too pampered for my own good. I have never been a hunter, haven't done much camping and wouldn't last two days Naked and Afraid. I match Debi's inordinate fear of spiders with an oversized phobia of rodents, which was one reason I had a difficult time drifting back to sleep. Indeed, this episode caused me to revisit last summer's brief infestation of marsh rats, which were attracted by the veritable Golden Corral of birdseed and suet in the feeders outside our kitchen window. One day, while trimming the jasmine from the arbor near the feeders, a rat fell out and plopped on my leg before scurrying up a nearby tree.
I'm ashamed to admit, my response was a much-too-feminine shriek. (I'm happy to report that a day or two later, I reclaimed my man card -- in my mind at least -- by plinking a rat as it chowed down at the suet feeder.)
Anyway, nothing makes you feel quite so pitifully suburban than losing sleep over a fur ball many folks cage for a pet. After all, the saying is NOT, "ferocious as a mouse." They are small, timid creatures, not likely to break the skin with their teeth, let alone impart black death. Nonetheless, when nothing but a mesh screen separates two air-conditioned townies from the unfamiliar sounds of the woods and a night that is dark as the tomb, nature can be more discomforting than relaxing. Nothing strikes fear like the unknown and unfamiliar, after all.
Our outfitter sees this this kind of thing all the time. Before launching the canoes at the landing, we had a hearty, knowing laugh at the Yankees and inlanders who think water moccasins drip like Spanish moss from tree branches overhanging the Edisto, or who fear they'll be knocked from their canoe and gobbled alive by an alligator.
City folks -- pfffft!
So after a bit of nevrvous laughter, we banished thoughts of the many gruesome ways to die in the remote wilderness (death by a thousand Fievel nibbles among them.) Debi and I drifted back to sleep as cicadas buzzed in the treetops and rain drops pattered on the tin roof just above our heads. We awoke to a glorious, clear morning, took a dip in the river, then began gathering up our things for the paddle out, laughing at ourselves for the previous night's silliness.
A mouse -- pfffft! The only thing running wild in that loft were our imaginations.
I was still chuckling as I packed up the items from the table in the living area. That's when I noticed little crumbs on the brim of my hat. Next to it were two tiny poops and a Ziplock bag of trail mix, with a nickel-sized hole gnawed in it.