“Do you think it’s---“
“Sounds like it,” he said.
The scratching noise on the other side of the basement door continued while we finished our game. The door is on a wall next to our kitchen and is the only way in and out of our concrete basement. When I finally eased it open a crack, I screamed and quickly closed it. A skunk was sitting on the top step.
It wasn’t the first time we’d had skunk in our basement. Five years earlier, we’d had three of them down there. Our crawl space ends with a six foot drop to the floor, and three skunk/lemming hybrids had walked right off the edge only to find that they couldn’t get back. They, too, had scratched on the door, scarring it with their claws.
Dan, the critter man, had come and boldly gone where none of us dared go to set a trap with a tranquilizer hidden in a ball of food. When he’d returned the next day, we got the good news/bad news report. The good news was, he wouldn't have to carry a skunk in a cage through my home. The bad news was, they were all still loose in our basement.
I don’t know whose brainstorm it was, but finally a plank was positioned so they could walk from the basement to the crawl space and out of our lives. We could do the plank thing again as soon as the skunk left the steps, but before that could happen, things took a nasty turn.
I was getting ready for church around 9:00 last Sunday morning when I smelled skunk. It was intense and got worse fast. Then, Jim called me into his room and asked if I smelled the other foul odor in the air. It was a different bad, but too mixed with skunk to identify. And, oh yeah, had I heard the commotion in the attic over his bedroom the night before? He described thumping and clawing and screeching noises that went on for several minutes. I hadn’t heard a thing from my upstairs bedroom.
Church was out of the question since we smelled like skunk, so we stayed home to air out the house, and thank goodness we did because it wasn’t long before Jimmy called me back to his room to show me the blood that was dripping from his tongue and groove ceiling. Forget loosening,, heart strings were snapping with each gagging breath I took..
I called Dan, the critter man, and told him what was happening. He joked that even Steven King wouldn’t want any part of this, but quickly came to our rescue. He searched the basement, but couldn’t find skunk anywhere and reasoned it must have gone from the top step to a nearby beam and back to the crawl space.
But he’d found something else worth mentioning. The skunk hadn’t been able to go to the basement floor because the sump pump wasn’t working and there was about two feet of water down there. Additionally, it was rigged with no ground wire and in his opinion, was an electrocution and fire hazard. Swell.
He was aggravated that none of the measures he had recommended the last time we had skunks had been applied. Things like attaching a wire mesh barricade so nothing could fall into the basement again. Or properly screening crawl space access so nothing could get under the house. I told him I would have seen to it if he’d given me the instructions and assured him that I’d see to it now.
Once he’d removed the plywood that serves as a door to our attic, we all knew where the putrid odor was coming from. Something had died up there and he could see it wedged in a space about six inches high between the attic floor and downstairs ceiling.
He grabbed a Skilsaw from his truck and he and Jimmy went back into the attic. They would have to cut away wood to reach the dead critter. When my son emerged, he was carrying a plastic trash bag with a skunk in it. Somehow, an animal not known for its climbing prowess had made its way from the basement to the attic and into a six inch space where it had impaled itself on a nail or screw and writhed to death on the ceiling above my son’s room. Heroically, the next day Jimmy went back into the attic with a bucket of bleach water and a brush and scrubbed what was left of the skunk from the boards.
Mild weather has allowed us to air out the house these last few days, and as I write this, an ozone generator in my son’s room and another in the attic, are doing their best to rid us of two of the most noxious odors on earth.
While I was fretting over leaving here, I told my three youngest that I felt like I needed to stay so they had a home base until they were finished with college. One of my daughter’s answered, “Don’t worry, Mom. Wherever you are is where our home base will be.”
Those are the heart strings that matter.