GROSS-OUT FRIDAYS: Maggots Invaded My Apartment

Something had died up there in the ceiling, and its rotting body was now a nursery to a sea of larvae.
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Joanna Johnson
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Something had died up there in the ceiling, and its rotting body was now a nursery to a sea of larvae.

I may have my faults, but squeamishness isn’t one of them. In 11th grade biology labs, I was the classmate who pricked everyone’s fingers for blood samples. It goes without saying that I’m the roommate who cleans clogged shower drains, and the friend who squishes centipedes. But The Maggots did me in.

It started with a fabulous new apartment, in a building dating from the mid-19th century. My new roommate and I were both recent college grads, both only a few months into our first “real” jobs, and both stuck in terrible living situations. (It probably goes without saying that housing options for brand-new grads with drained bank accounts are rather limited.) 

The apartment had a sunny kitchen, warm woodwork, hardwood floors, even a fireplace — and best off, a great price. We moved our shabby secondhand furniture in, and celebrated our newfound independence.

RIP, maggot-free floors.

RIP, maggot-free floors.

The honeymoon came to a halt the first time we heard our other “roommates.” Something — likely a squirrel — was thumping around above the bathroom ceiling. This ceiling was directly under the roof, so we didn’t worry about it at first; we assumed the animal was safely outside.

Things changed the Sunday night it moved in. We could hear the squirrel running through the wall between the kitchen and bathroom, and then scampering over the bathroom ceiling panels, directly overhead. Soon it started screeching, a shrill little cry that clearly announced the pest had found its new home.

We tried yelling at it, and pounding on the ceiling with a broom, but he stayed put. After an hour of no success, we did what any other clueless 20-somethings would do: We went to bed.

Monday morning we woke up to silence. Hoping this was a good sign, we decided not to call the landlords; we’d just moved in, and didn’t want to be those tenants who called about every little thing.

When we got home from work that night we realized our mistake. There was a horrible smell in the bathroom, a musky funk that had nothing to do with faulty plumbing. There were also dark spots on the ceiling tiles, and a small hole in the corner over the shower — but maybe those had always been there? Not being in the habit of staring at the ceiling, we couldn’t remember. We lit some scented candles and decided to call the landlords the next morning.

My roommate and I may have been lazy, but the squirrel sure wasn’t. Later that night the scampering returned; we shut the bathroom door. When I opened it again an hour later, the tiny hole above the shower had turned into a fist-sized gap. Someone wanted in.

We put our meager problem-solving skills together, and built a patch with some cardboard boxes and a lot of duct tape. Actually getting it on the ceiling was another mater: Neither one of us wanted to put our hands anywhere near that hole. We finally balanced the patch on top of an upside down Swiffer, and stuck it to the ceiling from several safe feet away.

When we called the landlords on Tuesday we were told they’d bring in a pest control company they’d worked with before, and I breathed a sigh of relief. (In retrospect, having on-call pest control should not have felt reassuring.)

The pest folks called us for more info, but wouldn’t take our word for it that there was actually a problem; they thought the sounds we were hearing might be the people upstairs. One of their guys did a drive-by while we were at work, but couldn’t find the outside hole where the squirrel was getting in.

That evening was mercifully squirrel-free, but the silence should have been a warning. The next night we came home to a dank stench coming from the bathroom. We cautiously opened the door, hoping the squirrel hadn’t broken through our layers of duct tape and empty cereal boxes.

Inside, we found maggots — lots of maggots. Their pale little bodies wriggled around the floor like hipsters at a house party. They wriggled around in the bottom of the tub, and they wriggled around in the bathroom sink. 

Clearly, something had died up there in the ceiling, and its rotting body was now playing nursery to a sea of larvae. Trying not to retch, we swept up the maggots, disinfected the floor, and called the landlords to update them on this newest development.

Looking back, we should have called it quits right there and headed to a hotel for a few days. But we didn’t want to give up so easily in our first foray into real adulthood, and besides — how many maggots could there possibly be in one little squirrel?

The next time we checked the bathroom, more maggots littered the floor. We cleaned again . . . and again . . . but each time we cracked the door open, the maggots were back.

We devised “maggot-outfits” with hoodies and carefully draped pashminas to avoid having maggots drop down on our heads — or worse, down our necks — as we cleaned. It was impossible to avoid stepping on their plump, squishy bodies, which popped like ripe berries underfoot. 

Oddly enough, my roommate and I couldn’t find the exact spot the maggots broke in through; they seemed to materialize on the molding from thin air. They fell from the ceiling like raindrops, making the wet smack of a suction cup when they hit the floor.

Later that night we discovered that maggots were squirming out under the bathroom door into the living room, heading right towards us as we watched in horror on the futon.

In the morning, we woke to hundreds of maggots covering the bathroom. It looked like someone had emptied a 10-pound bag of rice on the floor — if that rice were moving. We cleaned and, afraid to take a shower under the rain of maggots, my roommate fashioned a makeshift canopy over the tub by propping an umbrella over the shower rod.

Dramatic reenactment.

Dramatic reenactment.

The landlords were nice people, but the maggots had them stumped. Since the pest folks weren’t free, one of the landlords took apart the bathroom’s exhaust system that day on a hunt for the maggot-ridden body. But he couldn’t find it, and we came home that night to just as many maggots as we’d seen before.

We ran out of scented candles.

After another morning under the shower umbrella, the pest people finally crawled into the wall; they found what the landlord described as “part of a squirrel corpse.”

How did the grubs get into the bathroom? How did one squirrel feed so many maggots in the first place? And where was the rest of the corpse? We never found out. But the maggots were mercifully gone.

In the following weeks, squirrel research suddenly became much more interesting. Our working theory has been that a mother squirrel may have moved her nest of babies in right before they died, which would account for both the commotion and the number of maggots.

Or maybe it was just a particularly nutritious squirrel.

Since that one awful week, life’s been blessedly maggot-free, but I’ll never be able to look at spilled rice the same way again. 

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