I’m frightened. Very, very frightened. This time of year brings out my worst fears. I dread the words that come out of my wife’s mouth this evening as the winter cold deepens. The words haunt me: “Can you go into the crawl space and check the mouse traps?”

Just writing this sends a shiver down my spine. I try to act manly, deepen my voice and say, “Of course, babe.” But she can hear the fear in me. My kids look at me and feel empathy for my plight but relief that the task is not theirs.

This time of year is generally my favorite. The roaring fire pit and crackling wood, fleece vests, crisp days and dark nights. Fir-scented candles sending a serene aroma throughout the house. Unfortunately, it is also the time when gigantic (regular-sized mice) take up residency in my crawl space. It’s not their fault. No mouse enjoys a polar vortex. Don’t tell the mice this, but I can’t blame them. Our house is one inviting place.

Behind this splintered door is where the real fear begins.

Hearing my wife’s words, I do what any cowardly husband and father would do to protect his family. I put on the Rambo II soundtrack (highly underrated) and get dressed in camouflage. I don war paint like Stallone when he went to free the hostages. I grab the brightest flashlight I can find. I pick up the shovel (there is no way I’m using my hands to pick up a snapped trap). I kiss my wife and kids and tell them goodbye.

Then I enter the darkness.

At first, I feel okay. The light and safety of the basement recreation room still provides a safety net of sorts. But as I venture further into the abyss, the lump in my throat grows, the beat of my heart increases. I am alone and I am scared. The floor is concrete but my courage is not. I turn back and see the faces of my kids who have come down to wish me luck. They are concerned and innocently hopeful that they will see me again. Their hopefulness I cannot share.

I turn the first corner and become covered in darkness and in dust. The low ceiling is filled with drooping insulation, the cave crickets cast their enormous shadows and the heating ducts ping with sounds of expansion as the heat runs through them. The creaking overhead comes from my children’s concerned paces for their father’s quandary. Actually, they’re just getting a snack. I would totally get a snack too if I wasn’t down here, fearing for my life.

The crawl space is divided into three sections. The first section is relatively benign. It leads to what I have lovingly referred to as the “door of death.” Behind this splintered door is where the real fear begins. Beyond that door there is another door which I simply refuse to enter. I mean, hey, if the first door has a scary nickname, do you think I’m going into a door beyond that? Besides, the mice congregate here anyway. Come to think of it, I don’t even know what is behind that second door. I’m not very inquisitive and curious so it’s best to just leave well enough alone.

I fearfully prop open the door of death ever so slightly as if doing so will allay the fear racing through my mind. I don’t need to enter at this point to see the first trap. I shine the flashlight on it. No mouse. I let out a sigh of relief, but this is temporary because I now have to enter the door of death to locate and evaluate the other traps.

Whatever it was, it is also probably very angry at my attempted deception/homicide.

Maybe I can just tell my wife I checked all the traps. She would probably believe me. No, no, no! Society is pressuring me into being manly and if I fail this test, what sort of role model would I be for my kids who are too busy eating snacks to even care at this point?

Turning back one last time, I bargain with fate to be a better person if I make it out of this alive. I now find myself beyond the door of death. It’s darker and dustier here. I tell myself I’m not in Kansas anymore. Actually, I never was in Kansas. I’ve never even been to Kansas. I wonder if Kansas crawl spaces have mice.

“Stop it,” I yell to myself. I have a job to do. Would Rambo behave like this!?

I shine the flashlight on three other traps placed strategically beyond the door of death. Nothing! No mice! There is however one more trap to check. This is the money trap, the trap that always seems to have something in it. I look towards it. No mouse! Something is odd though, out of place if you will. The bait has been eaten. Kneeling there, my imagination takes me to a very dark place. Something ate the peanut butter and lived to tell about it. Whatever it was, it is also probably very angry at my attempted deception/homicide. It could be watching me at this very moment, with several of its friends, plotting their revenge.

In full panic mode, I crawl as fast as I can, still trying to act stoic despite the fact that I am cold and alone. But the fear is strong in me and I race out of there like a 7th grader on the last day of school. I bust through the door of death, hitting my head but rapidly reaching the safety of the rec room carpet. I lie there on my back, tears streaming down the faded war paint on my face. Anxiety recedes into relief and I revel in the harrowing tale of survival I just experienced. I made it.

One day, I will share this with my grandkids.

Opening my eyes a few moments later, I see my wife and kids hovering over me. I have a bump on my head. My wife smiles and says, “Good work. You should check them again tomorrow.”

“Of course, babe.”