Scuffling, scuttling, tearing, the pitter-patter of tiny feet... The sounds brought me out of my half-sleep where the steady song of rain was lulling me into the arms of Morpheus. What is that? I listened. Something in the bathroom. Something very, very, on-a-mission, busy in my bathroom.
A gust of wind slammed a sheet of rain against my bedroom window. The fat drops sounded like b.b.'s pelting the glass. Something in the attic made a cracking sound followed by a creaking. The noises from the bathroom ceased for only a few seconds during this commotion, and resumed with renewed passion. Scuffle, scuttle, rip, rip, rip, swoosh. The swoosh was a furry animal body brushing against the underbelly of the bathtub - I was positive of that.
Oh, crap... now what? I groaned and clicked on the bedside table lamp. Golden light filled the room, gave the illusion of warmth. The illusion; I had set the thermostat at sixty-six. I was not looking forward to the sudden chill when I sat up and folded the comforter to the side so I could get out of bed. But then again, I had to pee. Emptying my bladder always takes precedence over staying warm, because spilled pee gets cold real fast, which means I would end up being cold anyway.
Now, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah - my visitor. So, I sat there on the toilet emptying my bladder and listening to my uninvited guest's rustling and scraping sounds directly below the bathtub. It sounded like the little bugger was very hard at work! At this point, my cats decided to investigate too, and there we all were staring and shaking our heads and making confused faces at each other. I was so caught up in our group investigation that I forgot that I had just peed and was now drip-drying in place. The cats, however, had zeroed in on the tub drain; one had his little pink nose firmly planted in the hole. He then jerked his head up, gazed predatorily down the drain, and began scraping at the metal with his paw. The others joined him as if it was a contest, and the poor critter below swooshed its way within the rim of the tub (picture a critter doing the tobbogan run in the critter Olympics) trying to get away from the noise.
I inquired of my wise kitties, "Skunk, racoon, or opossum?"
They ignored my question, now obsessed with digging their prey out of the drain.
I persisted, "Giant Godzilla-size rat?"
The construction, or destruction (depending on whose perspective you choose) continued through the very cold and unusually wet and stormy winter. One night I detected the subtle fragrance of skunk (no, I was not the culprit - and stop laughing), which gave me the idea my guest was a skunk. She was a mama skunk at that, and she was building a nest for the little'uns on the way. Well, my heart kind of melted at her dilemma, so I simply couldn't evict her, given her delicate condition and all. I expected her nest-building would be completed soon and everything would settle down, and in the spring she'd leave with her kids in tow.
Oh, if it could have only been that easy.
By late winter her activity increased. Her peak work hours were between three and five-thirty a.m. at which time she concentrated on collecting insulation from the tub surround and sub-floor. The ripping noises would wake me. It sounded like she was demolishing my house from the ground up. Many were the nights when I would pound on the bathtub and implore, "Stop eating my house!" On those occasions, she would always stop what she was doing and slowly swoosh her way out from the tub surround and go into stealth mode.
But it was not just the noise and possible ongoing damage to the building that concerned me; there came to be a strange musty odor every time the central heating came on. My home was beginning to smell like my grandmother's basement. I lit perfumed candles to cover the odor. However, I gradually developed a nagging cough and flu-like symptoms. My energy level went down to almost zero. I figured I had caught some kind of seeping gronk that was going around, and patiently treated it with OTC meds and extra rest.
Springtime finally came, and my guest vacated the premises. My cough increased, grew deeper into my lungs. My home continued to smell like my grandmother's basement, and I simply could not get rid of the odor. Finally, though, with the advent of warm weather, I got to turn off the heating and open up all the doors and windows. The odor dissipated. I began to feel a little better - the cough was not as bad as it was. Unfortunately, summer returned with a vengeance - record high temperatures most days over one-hundred degrees and close to one-ten on many. Now, the odor returned with the air conditioning! I began to get sicker and sicker. I noticed my face had taken on a pale gray pallor, and I couldn't walk to my mailbox without stopping to rest and catch my breath.
I went to the emergency room a few nights after my birthday, at which time the doctors diagnosed that I had an "exacerbation of COPD." They loaded me up with steroids and sent me home. Well, me and steroids don't get along, so it was two weeks of hell while I became physically functional again. That functionality lasted only a week or so before I could no longer breathe without great effort. Well - back to the emergency room, and this time they admitted me. That was the night I saw some rather strange and disturbing things (dead relatives, for example) as I lay gasping in my hospital bed expecting The End to come at any moment.
Obviously, I lived through the crisis (which the doctors blamed on smoking and some kind of unknown sepsis that had settled in my lungs). They sent me home with strict instructions to never smoke again. (Sigh of remorse and frustration here.) I told them about the bad air in my house, told them about the critter under my house. That all fell on deaf ears; they were convinced it was smoking that did it, and the unidentified infection was merely a result of very damaged lungs.
I didn't buy their theory, and I knew I was right the first night I returned home. My house reeked, not only of years of cigarette smoke, but also that horrible musty, wet-dirt, stench that entered every time the air conditioning came on. I noticed a film of pale yellow dust upon the wood furniture. Within a few hours of being home again, I was back to being sick. It was obvious to me that my home had become toxic.
An inspection from my HVAC contractor verified the bad news. The critter under my house all winter had not only destroyed most of the insulation, but had also destroyed a good portion of the HVAC air ducts. The ducts were laying on the damp ground below my home, and they were sucking up the dirt, fungal spores and God knows what else, and depositing it all into my home!
Presently, I am still recovering - weaker but wiser. The critter, after some research, has turned out to be a racoon instead of a skunk - based upon its behavior and the amount of damage incurred.
Moral of the story: Seal up all potential critter-size entrances around your house.
Second moral of the story: Don't let illness reach the point of near-death before you seek help.
Third moral of the story: Trust your own instincts (don't trust your doctors have listened to you).
Fourth moral of the story: It's always a good idea to pee before you go to sleep.