No Deliverance

By Sung J. Woo


Sunday night, I was sitting at our dining room table, half watching the football game between the Manning brothers and wholly reading James Dickey’s Deliverance.  It was about ten o’clock, and the moon was out, and there was enough light from the kitchen window to cast a shadow on something odd on the floor.

Because I was so engrossed in the novel, I’d left the TV on mute.  Usually my wife and I watch something together as the weekend draws to a close, some movie or television show on DVD, and we’re in and out of the kitchen, opening the fridge, filling a glass of water.  Not to mention that the TV is blaring with the raucous sounds of Hollywood: cars blowing up,  machine guns firing, the swell of violins as lovers kiss.  But my wife was out of town, so It was an unusually quiet night.

The thing on the floor didn’t move.  It was round, like a grape.  But I didn’t have any grapes, and besides, this was bigger, though not much bigger.  I walked toward it, and then saw what it was.  A mouse.  Duped into the unnatural silence of this Sunday, he must’ve come out early for his night-time roaming.

I screamed.  Not a primal scream, nor a squeal, but an appropriate expulsion of vocal energy for everything I was feeling at the moment: surprise, disgust, and in a way, betrayal.


We live in a house built back in 1844.  It used to be a general store on New Jersey’s Morris Canal back in the early 1900’s, so there are enough cracks and holes in the building’s structure for a critter to climb through.  This was not the first time I’ve seen a mouse in our house, but those times, it was either already dead (once, when our cats got off their lazy asses and actually earned their keep) or safely tucked inside a plastic green house (a humane trap).  So although I was aware that little creatures canvased our house at night when we were asleep, the idea that we were sharing the same space didn’t quite jibe in my mind until I saw this guy scurrying about.  Once the moment of shock passed, I did feel betrayed.  It was as if we were unwilling roommates who had agreed to keep to our proper schedules to stay out of each other’s way, and now here he was, breaking the contract.  I almost wanted to throw my hands in the air and tell him, “Excuse me, but do you mind?

When the mouse heard me, he ran.  His clawed feet click-clacked on the floor in a continuous stream like a tiny typewriter, and he darted for the space between the shoe basket and the cupboard.  Not his finest hour, as all I had to do was lift the basket to find him.  Which I did.  And there we were again, exasperated human versus tiny mouse, face to face.  Like all the other mice who visit our house, this, too, was a deer mouse, nocturnal animals blessed with huge black eyes so they can see better in the dark.  He was no bigger than my thumb, but seeing this uninvited rodent literally cornered was vexing.  What now?  How was I going to get him out of here?  A broom would’ve worked, but it was outside, then I realized, stupid me, the back door is right there, I’ll just swing it open, and the mouse will feel the air, smell the air, love the air and run out on his own accord.

Except the mouse was stupid like all mice, and ran across the floor and under the stove.  A few seconds later, I saw his tiny nose stick out from the gap, but when he sniffed my presence, he disappeared again.

Seeing that I had no choice but to bring out the humane traps, I opened the trap door to our basement to retrieve it.

Word of advice: if you have a humane trap, make sure you don’t set it, leave it in the basement, and forget about it.

I screamed again, louder this time.  Discovering the dessicated carcass of the mouse in the trap was like experiencing the the oldest trick in the horror movie book: the victim (a young girl, of course) is being chased by the masked killer, runs to the closet where the gun is, and when she yanks on the door, out falls the bloody body.

Luckily, we have two traps, so I at least managed to set that one, though from experience, you need two to catch these guys, because the mice are so light that they don’t trigger the weight-rigged trap until they’ve eaten the second bait.

In the morning, I was hoping to see the little guy encased inside the clear green walls, but the peanut butter and cracker was untouched.  Maybe I scared him away.  Which was fine.  Because he sure scared the hell out of me.

Unfortunate Update: The following afternoon, I glimpsed the mouse, just a quick whip of the tail as it once again ran under the stove.  So the battle between man and beast continues.  Sigh.

Reading Update: I did finish Deliverance, and even saw the movie tonight to complete the experience.  The movie’s good, but the book puts it to shame.  There’s no comparison, really — the close first person narration can go to places that the camera just cannot.  And the film emphasizes Lewis (Burt Reynolds) to its detriment.  Understandably, he’s the flashiest of the characters, but this is Ed’s (Jon Voight) story, and you just don’t get enough of it in the movie.  Read the book.

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SUNG J. WOO is a writer living in New Jersey. Some of his short stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney's, KoreAm Journal, and The New York Times. His debut novel, Everything Asian (April 2009), has been praised by the Christian Science Monitor and received a starred review from Kirkus.

28 responses to “No Deliverance”

  1. The little bugger. Mice can be such pesky little fuckers. My parents house was built around the 1880s and so has the same problem. They don’t use the humane traps, though. When I lived there it was always my duty to empty the things. Sometimes the mice weren’t all the way dead, either.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      As of this morning, there’s still no sign of him. I’ve read that the nastiest of these traps are the “glue boards”. The mice get on, but they can’t get off. Nasty…

      • The only ones I’ve personally encountered are the ones that smash their skulls in… However, if you get a big enough mouse that isn’t always enough.

      • Matt says:

        I’ve used those glue traps. They’re terrible. You have the choice of either killing the animal yourself or letting it starve to death.

        I had an infestation of rats in the walls of my apartment my first year in New Orleans. Traps couldn’t keep up with how fast the bastards were breeding, and finally, after finding a rotting carcass of one under my bed, I said fuck it and started using poison. That did the trick.

        • Sung J. Woo says:

          Lord, those are choices I don’t want to have. It’s pretty awful, what we do to these creatures. One website advertised the glue traps as “fly paper for mice,” which I suppose is true in concept, but still, man…

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Oh! I love mice!
    I used to keep mice when I was a kid. I started with two and ended up with fifty.

    And I’m with you on ‘Deliverance’ – I too have just finished the book and it was so much better than the movie. Isn’t that always the way?

  3. Jude says:

    A few years back I was visiting my friend and while talking to her, noticed a mouse dance (make that plural) going on in her kitchen. I kid you not…the little buggers were everywhere, running across the bench, the oven and the floor. The mice had invaded.

    Like you, she was loathe to put the traps out; meanwhile the mice were having a ball… On my suggestion a cat was borrowed… and within a day, there were no signs of mice ever having been there.

    Best mice traps ever invented…get a cat!

    And good luck…

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      We have two cats, both Siamese, but both unfortunately without claws. Even so, they’ve caught a mouse or two in their time, but they’re both pretty old now. Who knows, maybe they’ll get inspired and I’ll find a dead mouse in the morning!

  4. Marni Grossman says:

    Ridding the house of any and all unwanted animals always fell under my mother’s purview. My father’s suggestions always involved paying someone else to do it. Therefore I deeply respect your attempts to wrestle with the mouse yourself. Bravo!

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Thanks, Marni. As of today, I’m giving up, as the guy hasn’t come back, at least as far as I can see. I kept loading up on the cracker (smidgen of stinky cat food, a piece of cheese), but the guy hasn’t come back. Perhaps he’s found some better cuisine elsewhere.

      My mother never had any qualms about killing critters. Quite fearless, in fact. She’d often just squash big-ass insects like crickets and cicadas with her bare hands!

  5. Greg Olear says:

    I identify fully…I have major musophobia. Man, I hate those fuckers. In our house upstate, they lived in the walls. They couldn’t come out, but the cat couldn;’t get at them, either. Then they’d die in there, and the stench….ugh. Ah, country living.

  6. Gerry says:

    thats funny, glad your” roommate” decided to go back to proper schedules ^_^

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Funny now. I tell ya, though — it wasn’t funny when he was crawling around. Seriously — the little guy put a scare in me. I still find myself tiptoeing through the kitchen, and I’m sending my dog first…!

  7. Paul Clayton says:

    Nice post, Sung. I read Deliverance back in the day. Before it was a movie, when Dickey was largely known for his poetry (which is why I had never heard of him.) I pulled the paperback off the shelf, paid my 2.99 or whatever it was, and then went out onto the boardwalk to read. What an engrossing trip! Years later they made a movie out of it. And then Dickey became famous. I read another of his, about a guy alone, I believe it was in Japan, fighting his way back to his (The American) lines or something. Anyway, it was unbelievable. In the Rambo vein, so unbelievable that I had to leave it unfinished.

    BTW, I like mice. Hope you and him can co-exist.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Glad you enjoyed Deliverance, too, Paul. It’s really just a hell of a read, fast as anything, and yet quite deep, too. I hear Dickey wasn’t fond of it overshadowing his career as a poet, but man, that kind of a shadow, I’d gladly have over me any time.

  8. angela says:

    i don’t know what i’d do if there were a mouse in our house. i freak out enough about mosquitoes.

    my parents’ house is out in rural NJ, and shortly after we first moved in, i heard skittering and running about above my head. i told my dad, who listened for about 10 seconds (it was during the day), heard nothing, and promptly pronounced me insane. later he found the droppings in the attic.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      I probably went a little overboard (okay, I know I went overboard), but I got myself a 100ft roll of copper mesh, to try to plug up any holes. I reinforced our outside basement door, sealing what I believe is an easy point of entry for the little guys (with their flexible vertebrae, they can wiggle through a hole the size of a dime!).

      And I got 4 more humane traps. It’s getting colder. They’ll be knocking. I gotta be ready!

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    Cats all the way. I salute their mouse-catching abilities. Especially when I read somewhere that there’s a theory that as cats never see people catching their own food, a cat bringing in a dead mouse is not an offering to the master, but rather, a kind of exasperated ‘Hey, idiot. I brought you something to eat.’

    I haven’t read the book or film of Deliverance. But I feel exactly the same way about the book and film of The Godfather.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Ha! I love that cat theory. Makes perfect sense. It’s absolutely true that they want to share — when we found the mouse our cats had captured that one time, they literally stood over the corpse and let out these wails, no doubt saying, “Eat, eat!”

      Haven’t read any of the Godfathers. But yeah, those movies, man, they’re something.

  10. Irene Zion says:


    I have to tell you that a humane trap that is left untouched until the mouse is a mummy is no longer called a humane trap. Now it is called an inhumane trap. Just saying.

    (You screamed? At a teeny tiny mouse? I only scream at cockroaches over 5 inches long and spiders that are on my pillow at the same time as my head is. I have to re-evaluate how I picture you now.)

    Sorry I’m so late, I’ve been out of the country in the land of constant and unrelenting rain.

    • Sung J. Woo says:

      Does it help that it was a manly scream? Not quite as boisterous as Braveheart, but certainly way above Ned Flanders.

      I’ve heard that bugs are bigger in Florida, but a cockroach that’s over 5 inches long is not a bug. That’s an animal, and I think I’m gonna faint…

  11. Irene Zion says:

    Yes, yes it does, Sung.
    As long as it was way above Ned Flanders, your image is safe again and unblemished.
    If it helps, I do scream quite a bit when I squash a five-incher.
    Since they are larger, their exoskeleton is much sturdier so it takes quite a few whacks with your shoe to stop it’s legs from squirming.
    Then there is the squeeky, screechy noise I make when I use two three by five cards to carry his sometimes still twitching body to the toilet to flush him at least twice to make sure he can’t climb out.
    Then there’s the retchy noise that comes unbidden when I use two paper towels and windex to clean up the squoosh left behind.
    Actually, I think I make more noise than you ever did, each time this happens.
    I should not have been casting the first stone.

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