When The Ceiling Dripped Blood

We had moved into the house less than a week before. It was December. There were boxes everywhere, some neat, most not, almost none of them labeled. The gods had played Fifty-Two Pick-Up with our lives and we were trying to get it back into some semblance of order.

The house was much larger than the one we had moved from, which was a significant chunk of the reasons for moving. The small, three-bedroom, two-bath house in a so-so neighborhood with so-so schools near the intersection of two major freeways was getting to be problematic with three kids, aged one, three, and six. The large, five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house was in a really good neighborhood with really good schools, had a separate family room, and a much bigger yard.

Between work, moving, getting the oldest into his new school, and trying to unpack and get re-organized, it was a real three-ring circus. One daughter’s birthday practically got forgotten in all of the chaos, and it was not clear if there would be a time for a tree, or lights, or any other decorations for Christmas. Hell, between the expenses of moving and then paying for a bigger house that we really couldn’t afford, it was anyone’s guess if there were going to be presents for Christmas, let alone a lot of decorations.

It is safe to assume that I was stressed. Just a tad.

The weather had turned bad for a couple of days as it sometimes does in Los Angeles just before the holidays. It was late that night, near midnight, and there was a pretty good rain storm going on outside with some occasional thunder and lightning. Everyone else was in bed, but I was up late in the family room at the far end of the house, unpacking boxes and taking a few minutes to breathe.

I had finally found and gotten a television hooked up to the cable outlet in the family room. I was working on getting the computer put back together with some idiot late night show on the television for background noise.

I became aware of a dripping noise. Not a huge gushing surge or even a steady stream of fluid, but a drop-plopping-onto-something sound every twenty or thirty seconds. It was coming from the other side of the room, over by the door to the garage.

Given that it was pouring rain outside and we had only been in the house for a couple of days, my first thought was that there was a roof leak that we hadn’t been told about. I grabbed a small garbage can and went looking for the leak so that I could minimize the water damage.

Near the door to the garage, where there are a set of book shelves and cabinets built in, I found the wet spot. I got a paper towel to mop up before I put the trash can down and was startled to see the towel soaking up a dark red fluid that was thicker and more viscous than water.

I looked up at the ceiling where the drip was coming from and I could clearly see that there was a dark stain there. The ceiling in the family room is made of open 4×8 beams painted dark brown, with white-painted lathe hardwood laid down perpendicular to it as the bottom layer of the roof. There was a knot in the wood with a crack that I could see up into, and once I got a flashlight I could see the drops slowly forming there before they fell.

OK, so, to review. Dark. Middle of the night. Heavy rain. Lightning. Thunder. We just moved in. Chaos inside. And a thick, dark, red fluid (i.e., blood!!!) dripping from the ceiling.

I would like to say that I went to check the bathroom mirrors for swarms of flies spelling out “GET OUT!” or any places in the house where “REDRUM” had been scrawled in lipstick on a door. I didn’t. Instead I figured that there must be a rusty nail or something up in there, some tar or roofing material that was staining the leaking rain water, and that’s what was making the water look dark. There was no way that it was actually blood. C’mon!

I cleaned up the mess and put the garbage can there catch any further leaks.

Two or three nights later I was in the same room, again late at night. This time it was quiet and not raining. I had checked the previous couple of nights to make sure that nothing else was dripping or leaking and hadn’t seen anything further.

But late on this night, again, I heard something dripping near the door to the garage. And on this night another sound as well, a scraping noise coming from the ceiling.

I went to where I had found the drip the first night and could again see a thick, dark red fluid dripping from the ceiling onto the counter. It looked like blood. And every few minutes I could hear a soft scraping noise, a shuffling sound.

I thought it might be coming from the garage on the other side of the wall, so I got a flashlight and went out to check, figuring it might be rats (or a raccoon!). We have lots of fruit trees and I thought that there might be one in the garage. But there was no sign of any critters there, and from the garage I could still hear the shuffling sound, coming from high up on the wall, which would put it on the roof of the family room. The sounds and the dripping stopped after about ten minutes.

The next night I was ready and waiting for any odd occurrences or noises in the family room. An hour or so after sunset, I started hearing something again. Tonight it was more shuffling noises in the same spot as before, slowly moving along the wall between the family room and the garage, out toward the outside edge of the room. Then I heard a rush of wind, a literal “WHOOSH” sound, then nothing.

About two hours later I heard a loud thud, then more scraping, shuffling noises. This time the sounds moved from the outside wall back in toward the main house, followed by some noises like something settling and moving around. Five or ten minutes later, again I found blood dripping from the ceiling.

At this point I had yet to get up on the roof. We had only lived there about two weeks and, as I said, it was pretty chaotic. But the next day I dug out the ladder and took a look around up there.

IMG_8316_smallThe flat gravel roof is the family room. The pitched roof running left to right in the center background is the garage. The higher, pitched roof on the right is the living room and main house. Where the pitched roof from the garage doesn’t quite meet the flat roof of the family room, there’s a bit of an open space, running the width of the family room.

IMG_0104_smallDid we have uninvited guests? I got a flashlight and took a closer look.

IMG_0103_smallRunning the length of the family room (with the garage wall on the left in this view) is this triangular hidey-hole. In this particular picture from last year you can see Rocky & Raquel lurking down at the far end, but on that first day that I peeked in here over twenty years ago, I saw nothing.

It was dark at the far end and I didn’t have the best flashlight, so I went and got a better one. I crawled up right next to the opening and put my head and arm in with the flashlight — in retrospect, possibly not the best move if there was a pissed off wild critter in there and I was wedging my head into the only exit. Still, I saw nothing at first, waving my flashlight around to figure out what I might be seeing…

…and then the owl opened its eyes, looking right at me from ten feet away. Huge, gigantic, golden, glowing eyes. And it blinked and I was outta there!!

Yep, it really was blood dripping from the ceiling. This magnificent, huge owl was crawling along the gravel at night (scraping and shuffling), flying off after dark (with a very audible WHOOSH), catching dinner and coming back to take it back into its nest to eat, and as the rat/rabbit/mouse/squirrel/critter got eaten, the blood was soaking down through that knothole and into the house.

As much as I love birds and owls, it couldn’t last. The critter-friendly hiding spot under the garage roof had to be closed off.

Then, as now, my main concern was to make sure that I wasn’t dooming any critters by sealing them in, particularly if there are little critters there waiting for mom and/or dad to bring home dinner. So I cut a large piece of heavy-duty wire mesh sheeting to cover the hole to the triangular hidey-hole and waited for a good night. When I heard the owl leave, I went up and checked the “nest” to make sure that it was empty and there weren’t any other owls, adult or babies, left behind. Then I sealed it up quickly and figured that the owl would have to find some other nesting spot.

Now, with Rocky and Raquel in there (the wire mesh got taken off when we had the roof re-shingled a few years ago), it’s time to seal off the “critter nest” again. We know that there are at least two kits in there now, but they’ll be grown soon and then it will be time to again wait to hear the critters leave for their nocturnal adventures and do a quick eviction on them.

We learned that lesson the first time over twenty years ago — WHEN THE CEILING DRIPPED BLOOD!!

1 Comment

Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Weather

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