A story from Suburban Missouri.
When I was nine, we moved to a new neighborhood. It was a little cul-de-sac in the (then) developing ‘burbs of Columbia, Missouri. Nice and cheery, but farther out from the middle of town, so I had to ride the bus into town. On the plus side, however, my best friend, Sam, lived two doors down so I had some company. The night we moved in I asked my parents if Sam could spend the night, and they agreed. My Mom got some pizza rolls and Dr.
Thunder for us while we played. Most of my toys were still in boxes stacked in my room except for my favorites, so Sam brought some of his. Snake Eyes and Kopaka were duking it out against Megatron and The Makuta to save Action Man from their evil clutches. Kopaka had frozen Megatron’s T. rex feet when we heard slow gurgling coming from underneath the floorboards. My little sister had just gone to the bathroom, so I figured it was the house’s plumbing, but Sam insisted that it was an evil blob monster that he had “totally seen get a cat” a few months ago. I told him that was stupid, he called me stupid, and the insults escalated to “fart eater” when Mom called from the kitchen to get pizza rolls and soda.
That night, after Action Man’s heroic rescue, I laid awake in my sleeping bag thinking about the “blob” in the plumbing. The previous school year, Sam had done a piece for our class’ writer’s workshop about “The Blob that Ate Cats”. It was a silly little story about a monster that lived in the storm drains and plotted to eat every cat in the world. The class thought it was funny, but Sam insisted that it was real to the point of the teacher taking him outside and talking to him. The next morning, Sam went back home and I helped my parents unpack.
Erin, my little sister, took up a lot of Dad’s time; she was bored and wanted something to do. In the week that followed we managed to unpack everything, just in time for school to start. It was a crummy way to end the summer, but when my parents gave me a new Bionicle Hordika poster to put in my room, I didn’t mind so much. I lay in bed that night, looking across the room at the Toa Hordika swinging valiantly through the green webs of their ruined city and wondered what we were going to do tomorrow. I was so preoccupied by thoughts of starting Fourth Grade that I didn’t notice the gurgling noise at first. It seemed to come from the floor just underneath my bed. My imagination took over, filling my head with pictures of vicious squishy monsters. I pulled my head underneath the covers and waited for morning to come.
When it did come, my Mom woke me up to get ready for the first day of school. When I had finished my scrambled eggs I ran out to the bus stop to wait with Sam. We talked and joked about our new teacher (whom neither of us had met) and how much of a dragon lady she was going to be. At school, it turned out that Mrs. Torbett was a very nice middle-aged lady.
She had us all draw pictures of what we did over the summer, then go in front of the class and tell the rest of the students about it. She didn’t even mind that I had drawn a Bionicle helping us carry boxes into the new house and told me it was a “Very nice imaginative touch.” Then it was Sam’s turn. Sam, with a customary troublesome smirk on his face, held up a picture of him and me playing with toys. The picture didn’t stop there; it cut away through the floor to show a dark, grey-black mass, all rounded humps and waving tentacles, chasing a cat through the sewer.
My heart sank as he told the class about hearing the blob in my room. The class laughed, most of them being veterans of Sam’s old blob story. Sam, very unusually, turned red and stamped his little feet, and started shouting, “It’s true! It’s true!”
He looked at me, as if for confirmation, but all I could do was put my head on my desk. The teacher politely asked Sam to “quit disrupting”, then called for a member of the faculty to take him to the Principal’s office. The rest of the day proceeded normally, but without Sam.
On the bus ride home, Sam refused to sit with me, and I rode in shamed silence, feeling like a total sellout. He didn’t even say goodbye when we got off. Any sadness I felt that afternoon as I sat in my room and moped evaporated when I saw Mom coming home with a familiar snout hanging out the back window. I rushed outside to greet the family’s old Rat Terrier, Pumpkin, to our new home. She barked and jumped, trying to lick my face as I patted her. After letting her sniff around outside and do her business, Mom led her inside. Pumpkin froze in the doorframe, ears pricked, stump of a tail tucked in tight.
She sniffed the floor apprehensively and took a few gingerly steps inside, never letting her guard down. Mom explained that dogs were sometimes cautious about visiting new places. That night, I woke up with a start. Pumpkin, curled up next to me when I went to bed, was now whimpering and yipping, standing at the edge of the bed. The gurgling noise was back. Pumpkin gave a few half-hearted yips and cowered into me, shaking. As she whimpered helplessly, I tried soothing her with a few strokes down her quaking back, but the gurgling noise persisted.
Then I felt something warm spreading from where the dog lay, curled and shaking. My back turned cold and icy. I knew that dogs only peed like that when they were very afraid. This was pumpkin! A terrier, who as a puppy used to thrash rats nearly her own size, terrified and peeing the bed. Something was very wrong. The gurgling sound seemed to move slowly around the room, then stopped entirely. But even once it was quiet, I was too terrified to move, and fell back asleep sometime before dawn, still cradling the scared old girl.
The next morning, I didn’t tell my parents what had happened, afraid they wouldn’t believe me, or wouldn’t let Pumpkin sleep with me anymore. Instead I made some story about having a nightmare and accidentally wetting the bed. They gave me a sad look, but didn’t press the issue any further. That day at school, I apologized to Sam on the playground and we were best friends again. I told him about Pumpkin, and he stood there with the cheap playground hula hoop in his hand and said nothing. I didn’t hear the noise again until the middle of September.
The night Pumpkin disappeared. It was around eleven at night, late for me, when pumpkin woke me up by jumping off the bed and scratching at my bedroom door to be let out. Groggily, I took her to the back yard to go to the bathroom. I stood by the sliding glass door, my back turned to give her some privacy. Not that I was squeamish about that thing, but since she was a puppy, Pumpkin had refused to poop unless she had some space to herself. I heard a single strangled yelp and jumped, turned to the glass door. Pumpkin was gone.
I cried out and ran to my parents’ room, gibbering about the poor old dog. Mom and Dad got up, sleepily confused, but seeming to get the gist. Dad searched the yard and the woods behind the fence with a flashlight, shaking a cup of dog food, a flawless tactic, while Mom sat in the living room with me, calming me down and asking what had happened. I told her about the past five minutes, she assured me that it wasn’t my fault, that Pumpkin had probably just squeaked through the loose boards in the fence and had pinched herself, and that Dad would be back any minute now, Pumpkin in tow, and that everything would be okay. It was half an hour before Dad got back. No Pumpkin.
We called the humane society for weeks afterward, but no dog matching old Punk’s description had been found. Eventually, the family seemed to forget about the sweet old girl, but in the back of my mind, something was wrong. In all the searching of those days, they had missed something. In my neighborhood, the back yards were built with a drainage system to prevent flooding. The yards shared a common drainpipe, the size of a man’s head, curved a few inches down so that nobody could stick their foot in it, covered with a metal grate. The drain was in our yard, and on that night, the grate had been off.
November now, I hadn’t heard the gurgling noise since Pumpkin had vanished, and had almost forgotten about it. I was taking a shower after school with my favorite watermelon shampoo, rinsing the stuff out of my hair, eyes closed against the sting. I felt something, cold where the water was hot, touch my foot. I opened my eyes with a gasp in time to see something black-brown slither through the drain. I screamed and jumped out of the shower, suds clinging to my hair.
Something gurgled and banged against the lid of the toilet and I bolted from the bathroom, dripping wet. I screamed and sobbed my way to my room and cowered on the bed, my wet skin soaking the comforter. I heard the gurgle creep up on me, to my room. Between sobs and moans I could hear it, gurgling and bubbling underneath my bed. The gurgling sounded almost hungry. My Mom found me there, curled up, damp, and naked, sobbing on the bed. She put Erin in her room and came to my side. I flinched from her hands until I realized who it was. I flung myself onto her, sobbing and gasping, and before she could ask what was wrong I told her everything.
The noises, Sam, Pumpkin getting scared and peeing the bed, hearing the noise before she disappeared, about the shower and the toilet. She stroked my hair, understanding in her voice, and told me that everything was okay. That I shouldn’t blame myself for what happened to Pumpkin, that sometimes dogs just run off. I pulled away from her and looked at her like she was crazy. What didn’t she get? Did she think that I was making up a story to cover my grief? I kept insisting that that wasn’t the case. She conceded, and told me that tonight we were getting to the bottom of this.
That night, a Friday night, she stayed up with me in my room, waiting to hear something. Sure enough, the gurgling noise came crawling underneath the floor. It seemed to come from right underneath where we sat on the floor, playing with legos. Seeing me starting to get scared, she instead reached out a hand and told me to listen. I listened. She said that the noise was just the plumbing acting up, that what I felt in the shower was just cold water, the shampoo going down the drain played tricks on me. That the toilet banging was just from me jumping around.
To prove it, she told Dad to go to land developers the next day and get a blueprint of the house to show me where the plumbing was. When Dad got home the next day, he looked confused. He talked with Mom, showed her something on paper. She went white faced and looked like she was about to scream. She didn’t know I was watching them from around the corner. They left the blueprints on the table to go talk in the other room. I snuck into the kitchen and grabbed them off the table. My heart stopped when I got to the schematic of my room.
None of the House’s plumbing went underneath it.