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Without going into overly boring detail, suffice it to say that I work in the pest control industry, and we sometimes get called upon to enter a customer's crawlspace and retrieve something that's died there, usually when the customer starts to notice a smell.

Of course, when I say "we," I really mean "me," because I lack one of my five senses, the one usually referred to as "smell." Naturally, this makes me a prime candidate to belly-crawl into a crawlspace and haul out whatever dead, rotting thing is offending the customer's delicate sensibilities. This is never a pleasant task, but two specific instances stick out in my mind as particularly horrific.

If dead things disturb you, or if you are generally squeamish when it comes to gross stories, you may want to go read about puppies instead.

The first was the simple collection of a Norwegian rat out of a snap trap (that's your standard spring-loaded mouse trap that man has been unsuccessfully trying to improve upon for a while now). The trap was relatively close to the crawlspace entrance, which was nice. One of the laws of life for a pest control technician is that if something is going to die, it's going to do so in the most inaccessible place possible, so I thought I'd gotten lucky this time.

As I approached the trap, I noticed that the rat was, alarmingly, still squirming. Since a successful catch in a snap trap usually involves severing the rodent's spine, I was more than a little confused. "Is it still alive?" I asked myself as I leaned in for a closer look.

No such luck. The body was infested with maggots to the point that it wriggled like it was still alive. My initial reaction (well, after the involuntary gagging and trying not to throw up into my mask) was to just toss everything in a garbage bag, trap and all. But traps cost money, we're not allowed to throw them out while they're still functional, and so I had to extricate the rat from the trap. In the process, the corpse broke open, spilling all the maggots and juices all over myself and the crawlspace, which I, of course, had to clean up, one at a time, so they wouldn't hatch into flies under the customer's house.

Okay, so that's pretty gross, and it still makes my lip curl when I think of it, but I don't still have nightmares about it, like I do about the second story:

Same type of deal, customer smelled something dead under his house. In this case, of course, it was on the far wall from the crawlspace entrance, behind a maze of insulation and pipes that weren't too narrow to squeeze through, but had to be navigated with my head lying flat, turned to one side.

Let me back up one step and say that I tend to get extremely claustrophobic in cramped spaces, due to some very unfortunate hours spent with a babysitter that turned out not to be fit for service. Sliding face-first through a narrow crawlspace counts as a "cramped space." Adding to the fun are the abundance of old cobwebs that tend to be found in crawlspaces. Nobody likes spiderwebs in their hair.

So I'm sliding through the crawlspace, an action that requires me to put my flashlight out in front of me, check the area just ahead, then slide up, effectively blocking the flashlight's beam with my upper body. I then reach down, slide the flashlight up, and repeat the process over and over again until I get where I need to go. About the fifth or sixth slide, I pull the flashlight up and find myself face to face, literally four inches, from a dead cat.

It was definitely not the source of the smell. It had no internal organs left, and most of its fur had been torn off and scattered around the area by rodents. Its skull, facing me, was dessicated, skin shrunken, so it looked a lot like a skeleton cat hissing at me. I had to quickly back out of the crawlspace into daylight and spent the next ten minutes shaking in my truck.

But customers don't pay for you to find the problem and leave it down there, so I had to go back in, collect the cat, and search the rest of the crawlspace. There were three other dead cats in there, all several months dead at least; it was like a feline graveyard. And I never did find what was stinking. Word of wisdom: don't let your pest control tech put bait or feeding traps into a crawlspace. Apparently, nobody told this to whatever tech first placed the traps — with snap traps, you know where the body will be. With bait traps, the rodents tend to feed, then crawl off into a wall or a pipe to die, someplace where the tech can't get to it, and then there's no choice but to wait it out and hope the smell goes away soon (it usually takes about two weeks).

 

Those are my crawlspace horror stories. I'm hoping that by writing them down, I'll sleep better tonight.

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