I adjusted the minors head lamp to high beam, stretched the zipper of my coveralls to its maximum height around my neck and lowered into the crawl space leading under the house. If I pulled the ball cap any tighter I’d risk cutting off the blood supply to my brain. The last thing I wanted was to pass out under the house with the source of the horrid odor permeating the house and surrounding yard for the last two weeks.
On hands and knees, I glanced back at my dog peering down the crawl space at me from the breezeway. Her large shepherd ears cocked in curiosity.
“I’m going in girl. If I’m not back in three minutes…go for help.”
Shade shook her head, sneezed twice, whirled and left me under the house to fend for myself. Some Rin-Tin-Tin she turned out to be. Ungrateful canine.
The smell hit one night about two weeks earlier. My dreams incorporated the undeniably pungent mephitidae odoripherous, aka “skunk stink.” I swore the thing had crawled through my bedroom window and sprayed me in the face. The smell was worse inside than out. I opened all the windows for several days. The smell subsided only slightly.
Under the guidance of my neighbor, the great white hunter, we baited the raccoon trap with tuna fish and Vienna sausages and lowered the trap into the entrance to the crawl space under the house. Retrieval of the trapped skunk was a bridge we’d cross when we came to it. “If you catch ‘em – throw a tarp over the trap and lose my cell number.” He chuckled. I nodded my head in false agreement. Images of shooting it when the time came danced in my head. I wondered if skunks could spray the moment a .22 entered their smelly little skulls.
Every morning for a week I opened the trap door to the crawl space in anticipation. Like some sort of morbid Christmas like anticipation. What would Santa leave me this year? One skunk? Two skunks? Perhaps a whole family of tuna fish and Vienna sausage eating skunks!
At the end of the week, I pulled the trap up by the small chain we secured to it before setting it under the house. An untouched can of tuna and a fuzzy can of green Vienna sausages was all it contained. No skunk. The smell was stronger some days than others. It seemed to focus around the front of the house. We (my dog and me) determined it must be living under the front porch. I tossed out the moldy can of Vienna sausages no self-respecting varmint would eat and placed the trap next to the hole the cats use as an escape when being chased by the dog. I assumed the skunk entered the same way when he wasn’t repelling into my bedroom window for a direct hit.
I woke early to a commotion of crashing and clanking on the front porch. This could be it! I grabbed the .22 and slipped quietly out the front door. I have no idea what my reasoning was behind the stealth approach. A desperate varmint is a dangerous varmint I suppose. Shade barked at the caged critter. “Get back before you get sprayed girl!” I took aim making sure a stray bullet had a safe backstop. A blur of black and white flashed across the cross hairs of my scope. I needed a clean head shot. I searched for the eyeball of my trapped nemesis. A curtain of metallic yellow with black lettering came into focus…”S…N…O..W..B…A…” SNOWBALL! OMG! I almost shot the neighbor’s cat! Snowball was released back into the wilds of her neighborhood haunt and the now empty can of tuna fish tossed into the trash. Who names a black and white cat Snowball?
The days passed and no skunk. No company coming to visit and no solicitors. Those nice folks at the Watch Tower searching for Jesus must have found him because their visits dropped off significantly, too. UPS deliveries were being left farther and farther from the front porch. If something wasn’t done with the smell soon I could expect my next winning eBay delivery dropped off at the neighbors and my soul condemned to hell for an eternity.
The odor had gone from pungent skunk to something hideous and unworldly. I remembered a friend mentioned finding a dead skunk under her front porch. The search and rescue mission for Pepe Le Pew had turned into a recovery operation.
I searched through the cracks of the front porch. Unless Pepe was buried under a pile of leaves, a collection of spoons that went missing 15 years ago and cat hair, the porch “grid” was cleared. The last option to pursue was under the house.
I prepared for battle secured in an oversized blue mechanics jump suit, lace up boots, leather gloves and ball cap. All I needed was a hockey mask and I could have auditioned for the lead character in Friday the 13th. I giggled while stuffing my pockets with grocery bags, “Would you like plastic or paper?” Plastic please – because everyone knows you don’t bag a dead skunk using paper.
To say I am not comfortable in confined spaces is the understatement of a lifetime. The crawl space under my house might be larger than most but accessible on hands and knees only. I crawled through a mine field of spent bug bomb. When was the last time I bombed under here? Man, I hope it was recently. Shivers spread across the back of my neck with thoughts of spiders inhabiting the labyrinth of cobwebs dropping down the back of my coveralls. I wove under electrical wires and over sewage pipes. I felt like a huge, blue boa constrictor slithering through a maze of urban jungle. Boa Constrictor. Great. Wish I hadn’t thought of that. You read in the papers all the time about a pet boa that escaped 20 years ago discovered only after the disappearance of small children and neighborhood pets. I started to back up and retrieve my pistol before remembering I had lent it to my son. Great. Boa Constrictors.
Armed with a headlamp, mag light and pocket full of grocery bags, I continued my mission. The light from the flashlights reflected off old concrete blocks, hunks of true 4×6’s and a cardboard box. I don’t even want to know what’s in that box.
The underside of my house is divided into two sections separated by a concrete ledge and 16” headers made of 2×4’s. In order to get into the second section, you have to slither…I mean crawl…over a black sewer pipe without putting weight on it, mind you, and through one of the 16” x16” squares. The first section was clear. I slid over the concrete ledge into the second section of hell.
“Shade…?? Are you still up there? Don’t you leave me down here all by myself. Shade?” I heard what I chose to believe was my dog whimper in acknowledgement that she had not abandoned me. I continued to mumble to myself and pretend like I was not crawling under a house full of spiders, boa constrictors and varmints dead or alive. Suddenly, water gushed through the sewer pipe. Who the hell just flushed the toilet up there? I live alone! Toilets don’t just flush on their own! I would have attempted to slow my breathing….had I been breathing.
My eyes burned. A putrid taste in my mouth appeared as the smell grew stronger. The beam from my light scanned from left to right and back to…there it is. A large black and white pile of stench in the far side of the house. The closer I got, the stronger the smell. I started to gag. I can’t gag. I’ve been to confine space training. If you gag you risk choking…or was it you let yourself throw up and pass out – then continue on? No, I’m pretty sure if you gag, you choke and die. “Shade??? Where the hell are you? Lassie wouldn’t leave me you damn dog!” I held my breath for as long as I could. For reasons beyond me – I started to laugh. Ever try holding your breath in the worst, most horrid smell imaginable and getting the giggles at the same time? Nothing good comes of it.
I can do this. Never weaken. Get in there and get ‘er done. I tucked my face in my arm, took a deep breath, pulled out a plastic bag to cover my gloved hand and the other to bag Le Pew. The second I disturbed the body the rancid stench compounded 100 fold. I wasn’t going to make it. I jabbed the maggot covered hide into the bag and started backing out at mock 1. I somehow managed to back out through the 16” header and over the sewer pipe feet first. At that point I didn’t care who had flushed the toilet or if the pipe broke and dumbed on my head. Nothing could be worse than this. I needed to take a breath – dragging the bagged Le Pew behind me as far from my face as I could reach – I took another breath and scampered for the opening.
I flung Le Pew up and out of the hole smacking Shade in the head. “Shade! You didn’t leave me!” I burst out from under the house gasping as if I’d emerged from the ocean depths. The smell would not cease. I crammed the bagged skunk into three more grocery bags and tied it off, opened the trash can, stuffed the bagged Le Pew, along with my gloves, into a thick feed bag and slammed the lid down. I rolled the trashcan to the end of my driveway for trash pickup in a wake of putrefied stench. Thank goodness tomorrow was trash day.
My neighbor met me at the end of my drive as I came from leaving the trashcan on the side of the road. “What the hell have you done this time?” He muffled from behind a hand clasped mouth and nose. I recounted my tale of the Le Pew recovery mission and its tribulations and successes. It was hard to see his face through his hand, but I swear I saw him tear up a little. I’m not sure if that was from the smell or trying to keep from laughing at me. “My god girl, don’t you ever move away from here. I couldn’t pay for this kind of entertainment.”
The smell has subsided considerably in the few hours post Le Pew recovery. However, I’m certain I will be making another trip under the house; this time with a bottle of bleach, tomato juice and Fabreze in hopes to hasten the dissipation of Le Pew. As for the burning in my eyes and the rancid taste in my mouth – I’ll let you know the effectiveness of a shot of Visine and Pendleton.