The radio announcer warned drivers to be very careful when driving in the area of the mice plague, however, I just had to drive to the town of Hurtley. Again, as was my wont, I drove to this location on a warm summer evening in order to be able to meet my client there first thing in the morning.
Hurtley is a small farming town with great grain silos, which are visible from far away. Also, there are huge mounds of grain simply covered by large tarpaulins. The people there are particularly friendly to anybody who calls on them. Unfortunately, they lose their young folk to the city and those who stay, try very hard to make a living and to stop the population drain. I thought of my contact there, a hospital engineer with a craggy face and deep sunburn, which told me that he was also running a small farm in his spare time.
Darkness had set in but in my headlights the roads were clear and there was no traffic at all. I had the feeling that I was the only person in the world driving on that road. The gentle music in my car and the soft glow of the dashboard gave the interior a pleasant ambience. Suddenly, I saw something - a strange vision. Slowing down to almost walking pace, I gazed at what seemed like a gigantic grey carpet on the road - a carpet stretching from one field, covering the road, and continuing on the other side. It was so large that I could not see where it started or where it ended. It covered the ground and billowed as if there were a draft underneath it. Incredible! As I got closer, dread came over me - ‘the grey carpet’ was a plague of mice, migrating across the road and spilling into the field on the other side. They moved in such tight formation covering the left side of the road and spilling onto the middle that they really looked like one gigantic grey carpet. When I wound down my window, I heard them emitting a high-pitched squeaking that continued on and on. It was a clear moonlit night and I could see quite a distance into the land on both sides of the road - and what I saw was wall-to-wall mice. There was no end to them.
I quickly had to make a decision: I had to continue my journey, come what may, as I had people waiting for me: the motel where I had booked a room and my client early the next morning. Driving slowly and gritting my teeth I kept going, into the mass of living flesh. My car slithered and slid and my hair stood on end because I could not see where the road ended and where the fields started. Unlike in floodwater, I could not see the middle line on the road to guide me, yet every now and then a traffic sign indicated to me that I had managed to somehow stay on the road. After about an hour of this gruesome experience I had reached the outskirts of the town and the mice had started to thin out.
I staggered into the reception room of the motel and the manager looked with alarm at my white face, trembling body and wet shirt, clinging to me. I stammered a bit when I told him what I had just been through. He nodded understandingly and his face hardened. It was like a punishment from God and there was little the suffering population could do about it.
Digging trenches with poisonous liquid, trapping them, shooting them; nothing seemed to have had any effect on this plaque. And as for the cats, they were nowhere to be seen. Jim, the motel manager, spoke very slowly: ‘And when this plague is over we can expect a plague of snakes. They normally follow mice.’
‘That is terrible, Jim. How do you cope with all this?’
He managed a forced smile. ‘You city people have no idea what we go through at times. As if the drought was not enough for us!’
I had walked into my motel room in a very depressed state. The next morning, upon seeing my blood spattered car, my stomach churned again. After completing my business with Alan Frosby, the maintenance engineer, I had driven off to the next town and found the roads clear and the land eaten bare, devoid of any plant life. Only occasionally did I encounter mice and the ones on the road were as flat as pancakes. This eerie experience will be with me for a long time, taking its place in my memory, next to some other catastrophes I have encountered in my long years as company representative.