Mice are the small enemies who will eat you up from the inside out. But I don’t mind that. It’s the pellets that I mind. They leave them everywhere! If only they would nibble discreetly and shit back in their dens, or within the walls, I might leave them alone.
They were in the pantry, they were in the wash. They were behind the cat-litter box, cat piss or no. They were in my dish cupboards. They ate old love letters and lace. They ate my marriage licence.
The only room they didn’t touch was my daughter’s bedroom.
So when I went to the witch, and she served me tea with the tea bag still in the cup, which I knew meant that she didn't like me, and she told me it would cost me my daughter to get rid of the mice, I said yes.
Then I said, you won’t kill her, will you?
And the witch said no, no, she just needed an apprentice. Nobody wants to be a witch of their own free will, you see, it doesn’t pay enough and the men will never trust you enough to marry you. So you have to work two jobs and spend your Friday nights listening to other people’s problems.
I squirmed in my hard chair, and she winked at me.
When I got home, my daughter, who was too beautiful to be a witch and looked nothing like me and was probably switched at birth by the hospital except hospitals don’t do that anymore, said what happened to all the mice?
I said I made a deal with the witch to get rid of them.
Like the pied piper? she asked.
Yes, I said, except instead of the whole town losing their kids, it’s just you.
She cried and she raged and she threw a fit, but she knew that I didn’t like her, and she didn’t like me, and her father was dead, so there was no reason to stay. When I drove her to the witch’s house in the morning, her bags were already packed.
Darling daughter I said—
Oh, stuff it, she snapped, and off she went.
I threw the rest of her things out of the car, and off I went, too. But soon the mice were back and I went to the witch’s house to demand my daughter back so I could sell her to the witch again, and get rid of the mice.
The witch said those are the wrong mice. They are not very nice mice at all.
Oho, I said, you’re the one who sent the mice in the first place, so you could get my daughter. Well you’re just going to have to take care of these ones too. I left and went home but the mice were still there. They drank the cleaning supplies, they ate up the toilet paper. They ate up the wood in the windows and the windows fell out. They chewed the wires to all the lights and I spent the night in the dark and the cold, covered in mice pellets, and the next morning you know where I went.
I just don’t know, the witch said. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but those mice still won’t leave. They’re the wrong mice, the wrong mice. I don’t know their provenance.
I said that’s fine but I’m staying here until they’re out and now you have to fix everything that’s ruined in my house because I gave you my only daughter in exchange for no mice and if you’d done what you said none of this would have happened.
Then my daughter appeared. You’re staying here?
You can’t stay here. You have to leave!
I’m staying here until the mice are gone, to remind you witches to work harder. You a pair of slatterns, that's what you are.
She was still as beautiful as anything. I wondered if she was the witch’s true daughter and my true daughter had been thrown out with the trash.
How are we going to get the mice out of her house? my daughter asked.
The witch shrugged. Instead we should ask how they got there in the first place.
My daughter bit her lip and I laughed. You brought them! I said. You brought them! You brought the mice to eat me up from the inside out!
I was tired of waiting for the witch’s mice, my daughter said. So I called some of my own. I called them up out of your heart. I called up jealousy mice, and resentment mice, and petty mice, and angry mice, and revenge mice; mice of spite and mice of nagging; a thousand and one stingy mice; a thousand and two frowning mice; a thousand and three never-quite-right mice. They have always been eating you up from the inside out, and the only way to get rid of such a curse is to…
Is to purify your heart, the witch said.
Bullshit, said I. You said you’d get rid of those mice and you’re the ones who are going to do it. I’ll not lift a finger, I’ll not drop a bead of sweat, I’ll not pray a single prayer for humility to get rid of those mice. I am the mouse in your house now, and I’ll eat you up from the inside out. And I lifted the cover of the stew pot and ate all of it, bite by bite.
originally published in Big Pulp Winter 2012: Lot's Crawlers
DeAnna Knippling loves fables, folktales, and myths; "Inside Out" is her version of "The Pied Piper." She recently survived her first real mouse infestation and was shocked at the sheer rage that sprang out of it. A freelance writer/editor, mother, and cooking geek, she blogs at www.deannaknippling.com.