It seemed like a typical Saturday night in our house.
We were innocently sitting in the den, feasting on steaks I'd just pulled off the barbecue and laughing ourselves silly watching Monsters University on our big-screen TV.
I was parked on our ratty hide-a-bed sofa that looks as if it has been gnawed on by wolverines, whereas my wife, my daughter, her best friend and our miniature wiener dog Zoe were cuddled up on the new designer couch.
In the far corner, to the right of the TV, our secondary dog, Mr. X, a feisty, curly-haired mutt who resembles a cross between a cotton swab and a throw pillow, was snoozing contentedly in his kennel.
It was the picture of domestic tranquillity until we heard it -- a mysterious gnawing noise that was just barely audible over the movie's soundtrack.
"What's that noise?" my wife and the girls muttered between bites of perfectly grilled tenderloin steak.
Bravely, without a thought for my own safety, I hit the pause button on the remote control. For several intense seconds, everyone listened carefully, and heard nothing, so we resumed watching the movie.
Moments later, slightly louder than before, the mystery sound returned. "It's back," my wife whispered, dropping her fork and clutching the wiener dog to her chest.
Again, I paused the movie and everyone scrunched their faces to show how hard they were listening.
Then we heard it, clear as a bell. "Scritch! Scritch! Scratch! Scratch! Gnaw! Gnaw!" the sound went.
"Is it the dog?" my daughter wondered aloud as we shifted our gaze to Mr. X, who was lying upside down in his kennel, oblivious to the climate of fear growing around him.
The scratching and gnawing continued like this for several minutes, clearly emanating from a point above the ceiling in the corner of the room. Employing the amazing deductive powers I have developed in many years as a homeowner, I quickly reached two horrifying conclusions:
1) There was something living in our attic;
2) It was eating our house.
My wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, drew the same conclusions, causing her to gasp with heart-felt homeowner horror: "OHMYGAWD! WE HAVE SQUIRRELS!"
This was the moment when all the women in the room turned towards me, rolled all six of their eyeballs, and, without a word, gave me that imploring look, the beseeching glare you typically see at some point in almost every B-grade horror movie. It was a look that carried this urgent telepathic message: "You need to do something!"
In cheesy horror movies, there is always one guy, an expendable, glasses-wearing character, who is expected, all by himself, to creep up into the attic to locate the source of a mysterious and obviously lethal noise.
Q: Do you know what happens to that guy?
A: He flies to Hawaii and relaxes on the beach, because any (bad word) idiot knows what happens to minor characters in cheap horror movies who willingly climb into attics to investigate creepy noises.
In our house, the entrance to the attic is the size of a matchbook and hidden in the kitchen pantry, so that wasn't a viable option. What I did instead was bravely get off the couch and walk outside in the dark of night, which was very dark, except for all the streetlights and the two flashlights I was carrying as a safety precaution.
I aimed the flashlight beams at our roof, although I wasn't sure what I was looking for. Had a squirrel suddenly poked its tiny head out of a hole and chittered at me menacingly, I would have wet myself.
In the end, I didn't see a thing, but the mystery sound hasn't gone away, so my wife is going to phone the exterminator this morning. But she still expects me to do something, which is going to be difficult, because I'll be spending the next few days on a beach in Hawaii with that bozo from the horror movies.