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It was the middle of July and the middle of the week. I’d been hearing it for a few days, a faint sound, the kind you weren’t sure was in your head. Do you hear it too? Like water in the walls. I asked my husband Mark before he turned off his bedside lamp. Yes, he had. Was it getting louder? I lay on my back, eyes wide open in the dark. A buzz, then silence. Frantic buzzing again and sleep sounds from the across the bed. Just flies. Maybe two, darting around the room. I’d check the wall tomorrow.
I left the back door slightly ajar during the day to let the dogs go out; that meant flies would get in. My daughter detested the buzzing, chasing them down, unable to sleep when they made it to her room. Flying insects seemed to like high places in our home, as well as fruit and food, and us. I took out the red Fire Department swatter from under the sink but hated the idea of smashing a plastic graveyard of guts and gore onto my counters, or worse the furniture. I’d become lethal with newspaper or a magazine, a dishtowel, whatever was handy. The dogs liked sunning outside and the open door reduced accidents, especially with a geriatric boxer and rescue terrier. Flies buzzing about was low on the house Richter scale but stepping on damp carpet or dog doo was a 6 plus.
A day passed. I checked my bedroom wall top to bottom and on the foyer side, then went upstairs. The room above was quiet. I searched for water marks and detected an unpleasant smell. I looked for Belle, the old boxer, a breed notorious for its flatulence. She was nowhere near. I was in the house alone and checked the toilets anyway. Nothing.
I woke the next morning to a stench like a public porta-john. The house has its own well and septic tank and that had me worried. I can’t sleep in this! I announced to Mark on his way out. He had been a field artillery officer and his hearing worked for the most part, but he could sleep through flies buzzing, foul smells, trickling sounds, and the full-out wail of the three children in infancy. I, on the other hand, could hear my pulse in my ear, as well as imagine sounds that weren’t there. Who you gonna call? Plumber, HVAC, ghost busters? I wanted to avoid multiple visits. I’m calling the plumber, I texted.
The plumber said to check on unused bathrooms. They go long enough and the traps dry out, the fumes back up in the house. Right. He warned me the smell would take time to dissipate, a day or more. What of the walls and the trickling? He thought it could be the AC, condensation from the pipes in summer. When the phone call ended, I marched up to the bathroom above our room, let out all stoppers, ran the faucets for 10 minutes on scalding hot, flushed the toilet many times. Then I went to the basement bathroom and did the same.
The smell was nearly gone by evening. Did that have anything to do with the sound in the walls? Each night we heard the trickling. Is it alive? Hm. It’s too repetitive and consistent to be an animal. Mark thought it could be termites, but we were on the second floor. By Monday when we went to bed the sound was more than a trickle.
We were living in a Hitchcock movie. Birds, bats, something was in the walls behind our heads. That something was growing. Flies die. Septic fumes dissipate. This thing. These things. They were taking over my bedroom, that haven of calm and respite, the sanctuary where I escaped the inane and the insane.
It had been five days since I called the plumber. And the wall was alive. How can you sleep? I demanded of Mark that night. Something is living with us! In this room. On top of our heads! What could be done at 11 o’clock for the derelict-in-duty, the this-too-shall-pass couple who decided to ride out the storm, thinking Katrina or Sandy or Harvey was another mock alert?
Normal people would have called the exterminator. Normal people would have slept in another room. What was normal? I read my book with a frenzy of activity above my head, a kind of white noise, the thrumming and chatter of sound the backdrop at the end of a long day. Climbers could sleep on a cliff’s edge, after all, inmates in an asylum, felons on death row. What was a nest of rodents, an infestation of bugaboos by the bed board? Get a grip. The sky was not falling, at least not yet. Though it could be.
I woke around 5:00 am to go to the bathroom. Sitting on the throne in a half slumber I heard buzzing. Flies in the john! There was no escape. I stood and focused on the sound, blinking. Huh? Buzz. Yellow. Stinger? With uncanny aim and rolled Trader Joe flyer at the ready, ZAP.
I washed my hands and opened the bedroom door. The room was abuzz. The dim light of the windows dotted with them. Wake up! I said with teeth clenched, moving slowly, keeping the room dark. Mark got up. I had my answer. A swarm of bees, wasps, hornets maybe: they were bursting forth near the ceiling by the dozens, hundreds. The entrance was at the top corner of the wall and they crawled over the dimly lit windows. Strays zipped about the room. A nest, a hive, was growing, living, thriving with activity.
Hopping onto the PC, I searched for exterminators on a local networking site. I read posts and comments. One name stood out: Will Kill. A rhyme of one syllable words, simple, a singular vision. Will Kill. It was too early to call so I snatched up the rolled flyer from the bathroom and got to work, while Mark raised one window and removed the screen. With the room dark, most were heading outside. At 630, thinking of the message I’d leave, I entered the number.
Hello, Will Kill.
What, a human voice? Who was this guy who took 630 phone calls and when could he get here? He said he was a navy veteran and had been awake awhile. He was going to visit the VA hospital and would stop by afterwards, straight away. He asked me to send a photo which I did, the half-inch long curled bodies on my desk. He texted back in an instant, German Yellow Jackets. Oh, I was doing battle with German wasps. They were big. Unlike bees which are usually gentle with a stinger they don’t want to use because they die, the wasp is just an ass: it can sting multiple times.
Turns out Will was an EOD technician in the military, Explosive Ordnance, a bomb guy. He was bald and robust with ruddy skin, and he knew something about targets and battle, had been fighting critters for some time.
Aren’t you going to cover your arms or head? He had on a tee shirt and long pants.
I can take a lot of stings. He paused at my reaction: speechless, agape. At 50 or more stings I get a bit woozy.
Spectacles on, armed with chemicals and blue painter’s tape, he told me to stay out of the room and that side of the house. The nest was huge; he could see into the wall. They came into the eaves just outside, building their nest, feeding the larvae. The sound over the last days was the pulsing before they hatched, AKA exploding and eating through the bedroom wall.
How large do you think the nest was? How many yellow jackets?
They can get big inside homes, everything’s there to build. Wood, drywall. You have 2000 to 5000 in that one. He found another nest outside the dining room with wasps zipping in through the wood shingles. Will killed them with CB-80 and Drione Dust, some potent and pricey stuff.* Then he masked the hole with wide blue tape to prevent drop-through. When asked, Will thought he was stung a dozen times.
To give you a sense of the early days. Here’s a recording made by one brave man who placed his microphone into the heart of a nest.
After a week of this and a very long morning, that evening was calm. I had a different kind of vision: a silent room, a quiet nest, dead yellow jackets littered inside the walls.
My state supports castle doctrine. If you’re not familiar with it, the law allows a person to protect herself and her home with deadly force if necessary. So, beware you thieving swarming critters! And anything or anyone else who wants in these walls without permission.
Check out video from the Hornet King to learn more.
*Price for a professional to eliminate wasp nests varies from $100 to $250 or more per nest, depending on circumstances.