A quite literal title for this week's story! Yes, even before I signed the lease, I had been warned that they were in our building, but what can you do, give up before you get started?

And to tell the truth, I think that in a (port) city like Tokyo, in a low-lying district like ours, and in a building this old, the presence of rats is simply something to take for granted. It becomes not a question of 'Are there any there?' but of 'How do we keep this to a reasonable level?'

So the battle is on. City Hall won't let me use nuclear weapons, so eradication is out of the question; I'm going to have to approach this in terms of 'territory'. I've got 'my space' - the shop and public areas - and they've got 'their space' - behind the walls, etc. - and as long as they respect that division, we're going to get along just fine. And for the past couple of months, that has been where things have settled. We have seen not one sign of their presence out in our area - no droppings, no hair, no nibbled items, no nothing.

But rats are rats, and I am seeing signs that they are no longer willing to stand by our gentleman's agreement. It began a few nights ago; I was asleep on the tatami mats in the Print Party room when I was dragged awake by the sound of the 'doorbell' ringing. (We don't have an actual doorbell - what we have is a sensor rigged up in the stairway that rings a buzzer in the back room of the shop, so that the staff knows that somebody is coming in.)

In my befuddled half-awake state, imagining that perhaps I had left the lower door unlocked by mistake and somebody was coming in, I quickly dragged my trousers on and staggered out into the shop. Nobody was there, and the doors were all locked. When I recounted this episode the next morning to the man who lives upstairs (and who passes through our shop on his way out each day), he was not surprised in the least. "Ah, so it's not just me! I've been trying to tell everybody, there's a ghost in this building! Something terrible must have happened here years ago …"

Well, I wasn't about to argue the point with him, but given the choice between a specter and something four (or two) footed, I know which one I would take as my primary suspect. And so it has turned out. Late the other night, I was sitting quietly in the shop working on email when I heard the doorbell ... once ... twice. I crept to the window that overlooks the stairway and was in time to catch a good view of the intruder. No ghost. About 12cm long (plus tail), he jumped out from behind the plants placed along one wall, bounded up the stairs one by one, and disappeared into a crack in the wall near the top of the flight.

What to do. I could fill both of those cracks - his entry and exit points - easily. But if I close off too many of their 'travel routes' this will force them to create more, perhaps digging or gnawing holes in places that I really do not want them to get to. How do you tell rats, "This far, and no farther!"

Wait and watch, I guess. If they do try to take more territory, I'll have to become more pro-active, and fight back, laying bait and traps, and perhaps blocking those holes.

I suspect though, that I am actually already at war, but just reluctant to admit it …


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