Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Night of the Intruder

By Alan Burkhart
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

The truck I normally drive is in the shop for a few minor repairs. So - I'm driving a truck that has been unoccupied for a couple of weeks. An inconvenience, but a small price to pay to have Old Blue up and running the way she's supposed to.

Last night was my first night in the "spare truck." I rolled out my bedroll and settled in for the evening about 8:00 pm. A powerful storm front (complete with hail and tornados) had blown through a few hours earlier. It was cold as a witch’s butt in brass bloomers and the wind was howling outside. I was well-insulated from the cold with a good heater. The wind was rocking the truck's air suspension and singing its eerie song in the gaps between my truck and the two parked on either side of me. A few fat raindrops splattered on the "tin roof" above me. In other words, perfect sleeping weather.

About 10:30 I shut down the laptop and had my standard evening snack of Special K and 2%, then gathered up the day’s trash (Subway wrappers, empty milk carton, etc) and dumped it all in my dinky trash can behind the passenger seat. I switched off the interior lights, turned the heat down and buried myself under the blankets. I was snoring in short order.

1:00 AM...
Something startled me awake. Didn't know what it was. I lay absolutely still in the perfect darkness, not so much out of fear but rather from my lifelong cautious nature. Then I heard an unfamiliar sound - and it wasn't from the outside. At this point I realized I was not alone. This truck stop is known for prostitutes (no, that’s NOT why I’m here), and I wondered if some crack whore had made the ill-advised decision to break into my truck.

I tensed, but remained still and quiet. I was parked facing the truck stop, but could not see the lights from the building. This told me that the heavy Naugahyde privacy curtain between the cab and sleeper was still closed. If someone had gotten into the truck, he or she was still in the cab, not in the sleeper with me.

I quietly reached out to the tiny bedside table, picked up my pocketknife and opened it. Not a huge weapon by any means, but razor sharp. The noise came yet again - definitely inside the truck, probably on the passenger side.

Knife in hand, I quickly reached up and turned on the lights. I was perfectly ready to gut and field-dress an intruder if necessary. I threw open the curtain and found the cab unoccupied. Doors locked. Windows closed.

Then the noise came again and I came damnably close to jumping out of my skin. That’s when I realized the noise was coming from the trash can. A tiny little mouse, moving with their unique fluid grace, popped out of the trash and glided out of the can, across my briefcase, over my laundry bag and down into the small closet behind the passenger seat. The whole process took maybe two seconds.

I closed the curtain lest someone see me in my Fruit of the Looms (not a pretty sight, I’m sure) and began a search and destroy mission for the offending rodent. It goes without saying that I’m bigger and stronger than even the largest mouse, and probably smarter than the average mouse, but I was no match for this one in terms of pure craftiness.

Armed with a flashlight and one of my work shoes, I tore open the closet and shined the light around. No mouse. The bed is also the lid of a large storage compartment. I raised it to see if the little guy had escaped the closet to cower behind a dust bunny in this mostly unused space. No mouse (but lots of dust bunnies). Looked behind the seats and under the dashboard. No mouse. At this point I began to wonder if I was on Candid Camera. There I was: Storming around in my underwear with a flashlight and a Justin work shoe on a small game expedition at one o’clock in the morning. Hoping that the little monster wouldn’t decide to snack on my toes, I returned to bed.

I’m rather glad it was just a mouse. Had it been a snake, you’d have seen headlines at Fox News and CNN about a scantily-clad overweight truck driver streaking across a parking lot. Scaring passersby, disturbing the peace, etc. Let’s all be glad that didn’t happen. If I’m ever on the news, I’d rather it was because I won either a Nobel Prize or the Mega-Millions lottery.

7:00 AM...
Alarm clocks are by far the most cruel and arbitrary contraptions ever devised by human ingenuity. They don’t care what sort of night you had. They are indifferent to your fatigue. You will haul yourself out of bed to kill the noise. Resistance is futile.

So there I was this morning, sitting on a dock in Laurel, MS waiting to unload. Slurping coffee and munching on a Hardee’s biscuit. And there was the mouse, peeking at me from beneath the passenger seat. I swear he was laughing at me. I tried to fetch him a kick but he was once again too fast for this aging trucker. Perhaps I should begin keeping one of my cats in the truck for security purposes. Sammi is ten years old, but she’s still a world-class mouser.

Now it’s approaching 8:00 pm. I’m back at the same truck stop with yet another load to deliver in Laurel in the morning. Haven’t seen The Rodent since this morning, but I can’t help but wonder if he’s still here. If so, he’s traveled farther than most mice since I’ve been down to the Gulf Coast and back today. My truck is due out of the shop sometime tomorrow, and you can bet I will thoroughly check my stuff before tossing it back in my regular ride. I’m all for company, but not when it scares the bejabbers out of me at one in the morning.

See ya’ll on the road.
- - Alan