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As Dusty walked down the creaky wooden stairs into the couple’s basement, he was immediately assaulted with a dank smell of musty old newspapers and paint-thinner. That can’t be a good sign, he thought to himself. It was the type of old-fashioned, unfinished basement that was the setting of at least a dozen horror movies over the last decade.

Mr. and Mrs. Harmon were newlyweds who had just moved into this house—their dream house—a two-story brick colonial just off one of the nicer streets in the city. Mr. Harmon was exceptionally nice, and he and Dusty had hit it off on the phone. The reason for the call was that the right side of the house had started to sag. Dusty couldn’t tell by looking, but he could tell from the panic in Mr. Harmon’s voice that the couple was convinced something was amiss.

Dusty was in a bit of a rush, but upon arriving he found himself shooting the breeze with Mr. Harmon for twenty minutes before they finally got down to business. Mr. Harmon confided how much they had paid for the home, and that’s when Dusty knew the Harmons were in trouble—Dusty was no real estate pro, but he knew enough about house prices in this area to know that the deal they had gotten was too good to be true.

“Sorry for the mess. We haven’t had time to clear out most of this junk.” Mr. Harmon flipped a light switch, and one of those old bulbs-on-a-wire sparkled to life overhead. “You said it was probably termites, but this wood looks fine to me.”

“Right you are, but these aren’t the support columns,” Dusty said. “Mind if we take a look inside that room?”

“Sure thing.”

The room was enclosed in the middle of the basement, and it had an old bicycle and other junk piled suspiciously in front of it. Mr. Harmon cleared this debris aside and opened the door. And that’s when Dusty saw it: fresh drywall and paint—a very bad sign.

Dusty stepped into the room, having a strong premonition of what would happen next. He banged on the wall a few times, and heard a rancorous swarming beneath it. The two men exchanged troubled glances.

Mr. Harmon stormed out of the room and came back a minute later with an old sledgehammer.
He swung it like a designated hitter into the left side of the wall.

The basement wasn’t well-lit, but through the hole they could see thousands of tiny white termites crawling over each other.

“Mr. Harmon, I hope you have a good lawyer.”

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