I tore down a fence on a Monday in late October at the Quadplex I own. It ran along three sides on the back half of the property. A previous owner had pounded two by two posts directly into the earth. Now the posts were rotting from the ground up. Impossibly, each post seemed to be held in place by the fence. One area of the fence was smothered in thick vines that traveled upwards towards a utility pole, itself old and rotting, warped at the top where many wires pulled it in one direction.
To get at the fence I had to cut the vines. They dripped sticky liquid on my neck and arms as I worked. The red-brown vine tendrils twisted through the fence and I could not distinguish them from the rusted wires that held the fence mesh to the posts. The cut vines and steel fence edges scratched at me like a cat.
The project was taking much longer than I anticipated and I cursed the never ending vines. Using all my strength I pulled out a section of the fence mesh, ripping out the remaining tendrils I missed cutting. I dragged the section and flung it onto the growing pile. Out of breath, I walked around and examined the ground where the fence and vines had been. I stepped on a pipe sticking out of the ground a couple inches. The pipe was plugged with crumbling mortar. I kneeled down and pulled out the hammer I was using to take out the fence tacks from my tool belt. My frustration at the fence project needed an outlet and I struck the concrete with the nail puller end. The concrete plug did not extend far as I quickly chipped it away. I heard a faint splashing noise after the last chunks fell. A swampy odor hit me. I turned my head and backed off.
What was down there, I wondered? From the splashing it sounded like there was an empty space there, not just a pipe in the ground. A problem was down there; that I knew. A problem that would require money some day. Perhaps an old oil or sewer tank, which meant tank removal, environmental cleanup. Fuck. Filling in dirt to stabilize the yard. Fuck. I didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t a sewer line. That went out the front of the property. In the basement you could see the iron pipe gather the sewage from the four apartments and sent out front to the street.
I bought the quadplex a few months before, my second rental property. Built in 1905, it was a large two story house that had been divided into four apartments at some point. The stucco exterior was a cream color. The windows were tall and thin and probably wouldn’t pass code if built today, a tall steep roof that would be great for an attic unit someday. It was beaten and not a pretty sight exactly, but it had dignity and it was solid. The foundation had shifted somewhat and some of the floors had a little topography to them, but it sat heavy and reliable, like a Roman aqueduct or medieval cathedral. Blindfolded I’d take an old home like this any day over these cardboard boxes held together by staples and spit built during the last few decades. The location was good, in the city near colleges and museums and a string of commercial blocks. It was a foreclosure. When I took over the top two apartments were okay, they just needed painting and a deep clean, but the bottom floor had been gutted and abandoned. When I first saw the property, the realtor hadn’t even bothered to show up, he just told me where the key was and reminded me to lock up. It was dark when I viewed it. It was both fun and creepy to show myself around the property. While it sat empty some amateurs filmed a horror movie there, some words written in fake blood were all I saw. Realtors talked about transients taking up residence in abandoned properties and so I was justifiably nervous walking around. I walked around slowly, my flashlight darting around the cold empty house. The basement was a trip: high ceilings, limestone foundation and floor. There was a washer, dryer and large ceramic sink for all the tenants to use. In the center a huge gravity furnace, the biggest I had ever seen, sat fat and brooding in the center, its black metal tentacles snaking up throughout the house. Someday that thing would have to be replaced. But it worked and I the tenants would be paying the heat bill. Also, behind a stack of junk was an old door. Anyway, I bought the house. I could tell my realtor liked it and the inspector gave it a clean bill of health for the structure and the mechanicals. Though old they all functioned. In my walk through before I signed the papers I asked the seller’s realtor what was behind the door in the basement and he flipped the papers on his clipboard and announced that it was an empty closet. While I was curious I didn’t think it really mattered. The house was cheap, but I had nothing left after the purchase.
I took the keys in January, and worked in the cold with work lights as the copper on the main floor was ripped out at some point. The heat on only enough to keep the pipes from freezing. My budget was tight and I was doing all the renovation myself, scrounging for cheap materials on craigslist when I could. The air was cold and my work lights cast shadows on the walls. I was always cautious each time I entered. I didn’t want to surprise any transients broke in. I always locked up the power tools in a steel bin I had chained to a pole in the basement. Before I had any tenants someone tried to force the back door, the paint was chipped and the wood had splintered a bit. Now it was fall again and I had tenants in three of the four units and so the place didn’t feel empty.
After tearing down the fence I went downstairs. I looked again at the door. I wish I had insisted the realtor show me that space. I just knew the problem in the yard was connected with what was behind the door.
I pulled away two old heavy air conditioners, a box of air filters, wood scraps, paint cans and a box of paperbacks. There was a large dirty set of drawers in the way as well, probably from an old tenant. Why yes outgoing tenant, I would love your old shitty furniture that you don’t want to move! Oh how generous of you to offer! The dusty drawers didn’t want to budge. I turned around and braced my back against it and pushed. Finally it popped out of position and slid loudly away from the door. The door was solid oak and about seven feet tall. The lock was riveted to the door, an old lock with a big keyhole. It was locked of course and I didn’t have the key.
So, lock picking was my top priority-one project. Doing research that night I discovered unnervingly that any keyed lock can be picked. The old locks like I one in the dungeon were even easier. Sometimes there’s a good reason why they don’t make’em like they used too.
I had a set of curved picks, sort of like heftier dental picks I bought from a discount tool shop, that seemed similar to the lock picks the web gurus used. I could feel the parts move as I twisted the picks around. I really didn’t know how to tell if I was on the right track, but unlike a criminal who had to work fast, I had plenty of time. I felt a movement in the mechanism and heard a click. Without losing the position of the mechanism, I used two free fingers to pull the handle above the lock. The door scraped against the ground and swept an arch of dust on the stone floor.
A cacophony of old odors wafted out, both earthy and metallic. I flipped on my flashlight, the cool light picked out brick walls. There were four wood steps leading down into the room. Exhilarated and nervous I placed my feet on each step as if they might break, flicking the light around trying to get a general sense of the room. And wary of any zombies, vampires or mummies I might have roused. The room was definitely outside the foundation of the house. Except for the shared limestone with the foundation the walls were cream colored brick. The room was about fifteen by twenty-five. There were three hardwood pillars running along the center of the room supporting a thick square main beam. All the connections were with thick metal connecting plates and square braces bolted into the wood. Above the beam were ten inch joists and above that a wood floor. I wondered how many feet of soil the ceiling supported. The concrete floor was bumpy and uneven.
Two long workbenches made with thick rough sawn timber sat against the left and far walls. On one sat a large rusting washtub. A large oak cask sat in one corner, a gas lantern on top. Lengths of twisted copper pipe, dull like an old penny lay here and there. The best discovery was a combination safe, painted black about two by three, open, with nothing inside. There wasn’t much else.
I walked around and evaluated the treasure I unearthed. The room itself struck me as a treasure. You could feel the entombed history of the space. The oak barrel would make a nice rain barrel, or cut in half, two planters. The benches, the wood still looked solid, not sure what to do with those. The washtub, again, a planter maybe? The safe was really neat. I’m sure I could have sold it for a nice sum, but it’s a nice piece and part of the house. The room looked to be ready for a great workshop. I could set up all my tools down here. Or maybe I should setup a home theater or an art gallery. “Yep,” I would tell everyone, “This was a bootlegging operation back during prohibition. When prohibition ended, there wasn’t much to do but button her up. You can still see the…” blah blah blah.
The next day I found some old timey key blanks at a used building material store I thought would work. I used carbon paper to find where the notches should be on the key and used a angle grinder to whittle the brass down. But while I was working on the key I realized that in all the excitement I hadn’t yet seen the pipe that had been sticking out of the ground.
After I finished the key I came back with set of work lights and an extension cord. There were two outlets in the room but they didn’t work.
The harsh white lights went on. I walked around more carefully, examining the walls in the far corner I discovered a bricked up doorway. The bricks were slightly lighter and the mortar was a little darker. I tapped with my hammer along wall and over the door but there was no difference in the noise emitted. But would it sound different if there was another room beyond this one? I didn’t know.
I knew I had to see what was beyond the bricked up door. I still had not found the source of the stopped up pipe in the yard, the room didn’t push out that far. I went to the basement and looked over my tools to see what grabbed me. I came to the conclusion that if you want to take down a brick wall you should use a sledgehammer. And also, when could I count on having the experience of busting through a brick wall again? Luckily, I had such a blunt instrument, a fine old wood handled beast I picked up at a garage sale a few months ago.
I put on work gloves, goggles and ear protection and starting swinging. After the first few swings I figured I underestimated the structural strength of brick and mortar, but after a few more swings I felt the brick beginning to give. After a few more the first brick shattered and pieces of it fell behind the wall. After each swing the hole grew bigger. I flicked on a flashlight and put my face close to the opening. The same odor from the pipe met me. There was more brick, a tunnel this time. The soft sound of running water appeared when my breathing slowed.
I knocked out some more bricks, I could here the reverberations of the impacts coming from the tunnel now. I thought about all the bad things that could happen to me in there, falling bricks, dangerous gases belched from the sewers or the earth, rabid rats, zombie prohibition gangsters with tommy guns. I stepped inside and flicked on my flashlight. All brick this time, the tunnel was arched and ran about fifty feet. About halfway down the tunnel I saw the small circle of light coming from the pipe in the yard. The far wall was bricked up, the exit looked like it had been sealed at a different time. This wall was crumbling badly, I could scrape out the mortar with my fingers and wiggle the bricks I tried. I could hear running water on the other side of the wall, probably a storm drain.
Part of tunnel had been bedrock, granite it looked like. An entrance had been bricked up on the granite. I retrieved the sledgehammer and broke through it easily. Looks like while building the tunnel they had broke into a cave. Looking inside the cave there were some remnants of a few barrels, wood rips and hoops strewn around. The bootleggers had been storing the booze in the cave. It was a tight fit, I had to craw in trought the opening and the room’s ceiling was about four feet high and angled downward. There could have been an exit into a larger cave, but I couldn’t see one. I felt relived and excited. No half empty oil tanks or other chemicals, just rooms and tunnels. What a bonus that locked door had turned out to be, lots of possibilities. I should turn the basement into a museum, a prohibition era museum and hold jazz nights on weekends. But after pacing around excitedly thinking up wild ideas, I realized that this all had to wait. There was one more apartment to finish and rent. I needed the money. So, I closed that big oak door and returned to working on the last apartment.
About three days later I got a call from Lucy’s sister. She asked me if I had seen Lucy, who was supposed to meet for dinner downtown the night before but never showed. I told her that I had not seen Lucy around the last couple days.
Lucy Kerington was a tenant who lived in the one bedroom on the second floor. She had a dog. I didn’t really want a dog in my building, but as she pointed out when I showed her the apartment, the dog was small. I don’t know why that matters exactly, maybe they’re less likely to scratch the wood floors or something, or when they urinate in the corner there is less of it. But I’m sure the dog was a deal breaker for Lucy and I wanted that unit filled with a stable tenant. She was tenant gold: social security and a fat government pension from her deceased husband. Once in a while I would see her take her little dog, Shubert or something, out for a walk. She’d waddle a bit down going down the stairs, short and thick with graying hair, glasses and dressed like the nineteen sixties. But not hippy sixties, like silent majority sixties. She was a bit ornery too. About every two weeks I got a request of some sort from her.
I didn’t know her well, but for her to leave multiple days without telling anyone seemed unlikely. I asked Gloria, the sister, if it was all right if I let myself into the apartment if Lucy didn’t answer. She thought it would be. I went upstairs to the apartment and knocked. No answer. I pulled out my set of keys and after a couple tries found the right one. No growling from pets or tenants greeted my entrance. “Lucy?” I said as I stepped into the living room. I walked slowly, peering around corners and announcing my presence every once in a while, feeling guilty for being in the apartment without the tenant’s permission. Everything seemed okay, except the lights didn’t work. I flipped off a few switches and unplugged the blender and toaster oven. I went into the basement and flipped the breakers for her apartment. The gravity furnace kicked in with a thump/whoosh and I jumped. The pipes squeaked and rattled as air pushed around the system. I didn’t like the sounds for a variety of reasons. They were creepy for one and they reminded me that that furnace would need an expensive replacement someday. Fuck. Back upstairs all Lucy’s outlets worked again. I left a note asking Lucy to call her sister and locked up the apartment.
I phoned the Gloria and she decided to call the police, I said I thought that was a good idea. I walked around the property. Lucy’s tiny Toyota was parked in its usual spot in the back lot. I looked through the windows but nothing struck me as salient.
The next day a detective called me and asked to come over and take a look around. As I was putting the vines I had accumulated from the fence project into the compost pile he pulled up in an unmarked Ford. He was about what you would expect, around forty, balding, about five nine and stocky, looking forward to retirement I imagined. But I could tell he was sly and sharp, in the sort of offhand disinterested way he asked questions. I let him into the apartment, showed him the note I left. I mentioned the fuse thing. He looked around the basement and took down a note. He didn’t venture into the distillery. I didn’t think of telling him about it. He looked in the car too. I wondered if I was a possible suspect in his mind.
He gave me his card and left. Afterwards I puttered around the distillery and thought through the possibilities for the space. I thought about Lucy as I paced too. Did she wander off? Did someone abduct her? The apartment didn’t seem to be a scene of a crime. Did she skip town for some reason? She didn’t seem like the type: pictures of grandkids, grandfather clock, embroidery, newly reupholstered antique couches and chairs.
I shook my head, I shouldn’t have to worry about it. She was my tenant, that’s all. It’s not my responsibility to keep track of them. The police are on it I thought, just do what they ask you to do. For some reason when I left I locked the door with the key I made. Two more days passed without any sign of her. I tried keeping it out of my head. The detective looked around again, longer this time, ruffling through her things, walking around the property and neighborhood, questioned me again. I had never faced this situation before. It happens of course, tenants just moving out one night, leaving messes both physical and financial for others to clean up, but it hadn’t happened to me yet. And again, she didn’t seem like the type.
After the detective left I ran into my tenants Sam and Hanna, as they were getting on thier bikes. They said they were off to the farmer’s market. We talked about what could have happened to Lucy and about being questioned by the detective. Sam and Holly, a hip couple in the other one bedroom on the second floor, the best apartment in my opinion. The bedroom was big and had a small deck looking over the back yard. Holly was going to school for a master’s in counseling. She was quiet and uncomfortable speaking, but had a large working vocabulary and asked good questions. Sam was a gabster, even more than me. He could talk endlessly about the minutia of indie rock bands and geology. He liked dark beer too which made him okay in my book.
After talking with them I went back inside and worked on installing a new countertop in the two bedroom. Using a circular saw I trimmed an edge of the countertop so it fit flush against the kitchen wall. When the saw shut off I heard knocking and yelling on Harrison’s door. I realized I hadn’t heard anything from him today though it was a Saturday, his day to turn up the stereo or movie and recover from Friday night.
A female voice yelled, “Harrison? It’s me and Jay, are you in there? Where are you?” Something told me to connect with these folks.
A short brunette in jeans and a t-shirt and a tall slender guy in a Brueger’s uniform were at the door. The guy was on the phone, sounded like he was leaving a message for Harrison.
Harrison lived in the studio on the first floor. He is an alcoholic and works at a Bruger’s Bagel somewhere in the suburbs. Usually I see him in his uniform, about five seven and kinda chunky, many evenings he is visibly drunk, or if he is not drunk he is carrying a bag from Bruegers. I was in his apartment fixing a door just after he moved in and I peeked in the fridge, all Brueger’s items, the condiments were in packets. He’s a good guy though, a solid guy. He liked drinking, bad movies and video games. He was friendly sober and drunk.
His friends said he had not shown up for work the day before and was not answering his calls. They were supposed to go to a show downtown and Harrison had the tickets. I got a sinking feeling. We exchanged information and we said we’d call each other when Kyle showed up.
I picked up a tape measure and measured the countertop space because I didn’t know what else to do. But it took three tries because I kept spacing out. Two tenants now missing. I made a cut with the circular saw, shut it down and started to pace. I decided more concrete action was needed. I should call the detective. But it was obvious to me that I first needed to check out the basement. While correlation does not entail causation, the opening of the tunnel was an event correlated ominously with the disappearances. My stomach sank another ten feet.
The basement colors looked darker than I remembered. I was hyperaware of the information arriving through my senses, every object a possible clue. I don’t want to admit it but I opened the access door to the gravity furnace, so I could rule out any nasty surprises. Only the pilot light made a slight hissing noise, but there was nothing unusual, just decades of crud built up on the inside.
A pile of laundry lay on the washer, a male’s laundry. A box of laundry soap had tipped over onto the floor. I felt sick. Kneeling, I saw someone had dragged their hand through the spilled soap. I noticed scuffles in the dust and dirt on the concrete leading towards the distillery.
The door was forced open. The lock on the door had splintered from a push from inside the Distillery. I stepped back and listened. A truck rumbled by on the street and a toilet flushed upstairs.
I rifled through my red metal tool chest and picked up my biggest claw hammer. It was one of those new tools that is designed to look more like a medieval weapon than a tool. It was a large thick steel multitool with a hammer, nail puller, board bender and pointed tile breaker on the bottom.
I picked up a flashlight. My hands were shaking which the flashlight amplified. I stepped down the creaking steps into the Distillery. I flipped on the work lights, which threw light and shadows around the room. About half way through the distillery smeared blood began to appear along the trail. At the tunnel entrance there was a bloodied Brueger’s apron. The wall into the storm drain was destroyed. A few bricks caked with mortar where all I could see. The echos of running water was deafening to someone listening for danger. Slowly I approached the cave entrance and looked inside, flashing the light around. Nothing. The blood trail led to the stormdrain. My heart pounded. Time to make a call I thought. I turned around.
I don’t know what I heard exactly, but something made my hair stand on end. I turned my head towards the storm drain as I started running the other direction. Clicking and scraping noises now, the sound of the water running down the storm pipe dulled as something filled the tunnel. The noises paused for a second then crescendoed towards me. I cried out incoherently and pointed my flashlight at it. Only in glimpses, I caught legs and antennae propelling towards me using the walls as well as the floor, mortar and dirt sprayed where its legs dug in. Mad clicking noises echoed through the tunnel.
I sprinted out of the tunnel, stumbling on bricks from the wall I hadn’t cleared away yet. When I was almost to the basement entrance I chanced another look back. It was more legs than body, like a cross between an arachnid and a crustacean. Its exoskeleton was mottled brown, dark greens and bumpy. It’s legs were about six feet long, had three joints and grew larger towards the tips. On the outside of each leg was clearly a hard shell exoskeleton. On the inside were what looked like short tentacles or fat hairs. They covered about two thirds of each leg and grew larger towards the end. They were somewhat translucent and flowed like sea anemones.
The body was about six feet and slender, each of its four segments was about the same size and about two feet in diameter. The last egg shaped segment, vibrated like a rattler’s tail sending a sub-harmonic beating I felt more than heard.
The head was integrated into the first body segment. Two fat moving mandibles twitched and two sets of black eyes, one pair the size of grapefruit, the other about plum sized. A pair of smaller legs/arms near the mouth, fashioned with spiked comb-like tips started waving about, looking for flesh to pull into the mouth hidden by the gyrating mandibles.
A pair of whip-like antennas, with a firm stalks and rope-like strands whipped around the room. One slapped me in the face, the thick course hairs on the antenna scraped me and knocked my head back.
It moved fast in the tunnel and distillery, but it slowed as it entered the basement, maybe it didn’t like the light so much. But it quickly became comfortable in its surroundings. It drew in its legs and antennae and sprung towards me quicker than I could process. As I drew back my arm to throw the hammer one of its legs swiped at me and pulled my legs out from under me. I could feel the translucent hairs sticking and wriggling and wrapping around my leg. They were sticking to my jeans dragged me closer. This is what happened to Harrison and Lucy I knew.
The furnace switched on with its whoomp and creaking noises. With its fat body, tentacles and arms I think the furnace suddenly became a potential threat to the creature where it had ignored it before. It must have because the thing reared up, faced the furnace and loosened its grip. I caught traction on the floor threw the hammer side arm from the ground. It struck the face between the eyes and mandibles on the right side.
I turned and ran towards my tool bench. I could hear the thing coming after me again: pushing over boxes, latching its arms into concrete and the wood joists above. An arm tore down a pipe from the furnace and clanged onto the ground. I had options: circular saw, angle grinder, nail gun, pick ax, reciprocating saw, hammer drill, chain saw. I picked the nail gun, turned off the safety and aimed for the eyes. There was another safety such that the front panel had to be depressed before firing, to prevent people from doing what exactly what I wanted to do. I put my hand over the panel and pulled in, spreading my fingers over the barrel. I pressed the trigger and ‘pfft!’ a nail went through my hand. Warm blood and numbness followed. I repositioned my fingers and fired again. I couldn’t see where I was hitting exactly, but the creature stopped its charge about five feet from me. I continued to fire as fast as I could. I caught one of its larger eyes, I could see the nail sticking out of the wet ball, goo dripping out. The creature hissed and its inner arms went wild clawing at is face. Other nails bounced off the exo-skeleton and pinged on the concrete or bounced around the room. The air compressor turned on.
The nail gun began spiting only air. I grabbed the chain saw and pulled the cord. It started on the second pull. The creature was flaming now, not sure whether to run or fight. I lunged at one of its legs, as I grabbed the chainsaw with my free hand I could feel the nail shift in my hand. Still quick, it pulled up the arm faster than I could follow it with the chainsaw. Another leg hit me in the back. I lost it for a split second and whipped around my weight drawing up the chain saw, I aimed for tentacle side of the leg, I figured it would be soft, unlike the hard shell on the other side. The chain bit immediately and chewed through the flesh, blood and scraps of tentacle spewed out. The creature drew back its leg and pulled me down. Another leg slapped on top of me and I went at that one too. It went through the soft flesh easily. Sparks flew as I contacted the tough shell. Now its two front legs, while still attached by the exoskeleton slapped around uselessly. It turned and retreated still madly clicking dragging and scraping its way back to the depths.
I got up and assessed my status, besides the hand I seemed to be okay, bruised but okay. I put down the chainsaw, still put putting away and barricaded the door as best I could.
I counted my options. I could call the detective. But what would I tell him exactly? There’s a monster in the storm drain that’s been eating my tenants? Or, come down into my secret tunnel and let me show you something. No. That would take too long. Also, there was the fact that I was pissed. This monster was eating my tenants, an anathema to me as a landlord. Nobody fucks with my tenants but me.
Strangely painlessly I pull the nail out of my finger with the claw of a hammer and backed out of the basement through the creature’s goo and my dripping blood. Still with the chainsaw put-putting in my other hand I went upstairs in the apartment I was rehabbing and washed the wound. My hands were shaking. I wrapped two fingers in a shop towel and duct taped it up. I took a quick shower and changed clothes. I called Sam and Holly and told them under no circumstances to go into the basement.
I drove to a deteriorating second ring suburb strip mall. There was a gun shop I had seen before. I sat for a few minutes in the car, fixing my hair and tried to make myself look sane. I laughed. I made up a story.
“Howdy,” I said cheerfully and sanely as soon as I made eye contact with the proprietor, a white male in his mid forties or so, glasses, medium height and build, mustache.
“What can I do for you today sir?”
“What are the gun laws in this state?”
“Well, it’s a background check for rifles and shotguns. If you want a hand gun it’s the same thing but with a seven day waiting period.”
“So I could potentially buy a gun today and walk out with it?” I said.
He looked at my bandaged hand. “Assuming you pass the background check, yep.”
“Cool, see, a friend of mine is getting married. The bachelor party is this weekend and we’re going to a shooting range. Everybody in the group already has a gun except me.”
“So, what were you thinking?” he asked bending over and leaning his elbows on the glass display case.
“Something impressive, a rifle probably. Do you have any thing that you can fire without reloading or pulling the thing back?”
“You mean semi-automatic?”
“Sure.” The proprietor eyed me and looked away rubbing his chin with a slightly mischievous look. “You know, if you really want to make an impression, I might have something for you. Something new. Just got another shipment today. They’re going really quick, most of the shipment is already spoken for, but I have a few that are loose. They can’t make’em fast enough.”
He went in back and came out with a box and pulled out the weapon. It was like a futuristic laser gun or something. It was sleek, various shades of gray. The magazine was behind the grip and trigger, built into the stock, allowing it to be compact but still have a long barrel he explained. But most importantly, the bullets were big.
“Those are pretty big bullets.”
“Yep, seven point six two NATO rounds. There are bigger of course, but I wouldn’t recommend anything any more powerful for a beginner frankly. And there’s not much in a semi-auto format that uses more powerful rounds.”
Though expensive, it was a done deal. Then we talked accessories. I ended up with a green laser sight and flashlight that attached to the barrel. Also, I bought two boxes of ammo and two more magazines. With the rifle and the accessories I dropped a huge chunk of doe, but it was an investment in my future. I had never fired a gun before, but I’ve seen a lot of movies and understood the concept. He showed me how to work the gun, load the ammo. It was simple: pop in the magazine, pull the bolt back to put a round in the chamber, turn off the safety, pull the trigger. My background check passed.
I entered the basement, closed the door to the distillery and braced it with couple boxes. It wouldn’t hold, but at least it would give me some warning.
I loaded three twenty round magazines slapped one into the rifle and duct tapped the two extra magazines to the rifle strap. I put batteries in the laser and light and clamped them to the rifle. I turned the safety on, I could see myself shooting myself in the foot or something as I stumbled around in the darkness. I strapped on my head lamp.
A few months prior I bought a little video recorder to shoot videos of my DIY projects and put them on youtube. I lined it up with the barrel and duct taped it to the side of the rifle. I put on work boots. I listened for a moment outside the door and pulled the boxes away and went in. I turned on my headlamp the rifle light and pressed record on the camera.
It stunk worse than ever in the tunnel, there was blood on the ground and the walls. I peered into the cave entrance, but I didn’t see any blood or anything on the ground. The trail of blood led into the storm drain. Slowly, I looked around the corner into the storm drain. There was more water in the storm drain now, it had rained last night and the water was just now working through the system. I didn’t see any signs in the storm telling me which direction to go, but for some reason I picked left, against the current. I shuffled along the ledge, swinging my head and the rifle all around me.
Smaller pipes were feeding into the drains and I struggled to keep my rifle from getting wet as I passed each one. I didn’t think the water was deep enough for it to hide in, but my eyes continually scanned every shimmer and eddy. After traveling a few hundred feet I started hearing scratching noises ahead and I slowed my pace. I continued to steal glances to my rear. Because that’s how the monster always gets you right? You think it’s ahead of you but its really behind. I told myself this hunt was a bad idea. I should turn around and begin the slog of convincing authorities of the existence of this unlikely creature. But something kept driving me just a few more feet further. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to see it alive once more. The air was thick and heavy and scattered the lights. Ahead I could hear more turbulence in the water as I approached a junction with another large tunnel. In the humidity, sweat trickled down my forehead and I wiped it away. There was a little light coming in from a man hole or storm drain. The water flow dampened all other sound, but I heard the clicking again, but at a slower tempo than before.
I pulled the rifle up into my shoulder and flipped off the safety. I stepped forward and one foot dragged and scuffed against the concrete. The thing rose up out of the water and came to life, its whip antennae thrashed around the cave walls. The front two legs were stumps now, had it chewed them off? But they weren’t bleeding anymore. And it seemed to move around well enough, right towards me with the remaining four. I pressed the button activating the laser and put the green dot on the beast. I pulled the trigger and nothing happened. I switched off the safety and pulled the trigger again and still nothing. I panicked, then remembered I hadn’t pulled back the bolt. You got to put the first one in the chamber I remembered the gun man saying. I pulled the bolt back and pulled the trigger again. The shot and the flash stopped time for a second and rang through the tunnels. The rifle kicked back hard into my shoulder and the barrel rose up. I saw the round enter high up on a leg near the body, but the thing still came at me. It changed direction, trying to side step the hurting thing. I pulled the rifle hard into my numb shoulder and pulled the trigger again. Shaking, I didn’t hit it. An antenna hit me and knocked my aim off the next round which slapped into the brick wall behind the creature. I backed up a step and continued to fire. There was no running now, I had to shoot it dead right here. I fired again, each time the flame illuminated the beasts remaining eyes. It kept coming at me even though I could see the small explosions and subsequent holes of the rounds impacting the creature. I fired just as it hit me heavy like a concrete punching bag. I blacked out for a split second I think. When I was aware again I was on my side against the wall. It had rolled into the water stream, legs and antennae flailing, splashing the water. It’s eating legs had sliced me on the shoulder, my shirt was torn and I was bleeding. I hurt all over and could feel where the exoskeleton had scraped me. I stood up wobbly and fired three more times into the creature. It’s legs curled into its body and twitched.
I walked out, called the police and drove myself to the hospital. I didn’t tell them about the videocamera.
I got sick, really sick. That thing had been carrying some weird shit around in its blood. But those old outdated bacteria and viruses were no match for my modern immune system and the phalanx of antibiotics and anti-virals the doctors unleashed. They didn’t want me to die, my case study was worth at least a few journal articles. I was in about five days. The scars aren’t too bad, besides, women dig ‘em.
A few reporters and writers offered to write my story. Well, I just told it to you. As you know I made a DVD of the movie I filmed. You can see the creature clearly much of the time. Even I was surprised at how fast and agile it was, even injured. My stupidity with guns just heightened the drama. There’s a bunch of extra features with commentary from paleontologists and other experts speculating about the creature’s origins. Diagrams and still photos of the scenes, interviews with me and the remaining tenants. I had a comic book artist turn the whole encounter, including my first unfilmed battle in the basement, into a graphic novel. He made me look kinda like Ash from the Evil Dead series: square jawed, chain saw wielding, bleeding and torn clothing. It is perhaps a little exaggerated. The creature’s body went to the Smithsonian or so they told me. No one’s seen it since. The cave entrance was sealed up tight. The tunnel filled in and the brick wall repaired; all by the time I got out of the hospital.
Maybe your surprised, but I’m still able to get tenants, although they’re now of a different sort. More adventuresome and they always want to hear the story. I tell them the rumors of the deep cave system that sits deep underneath us. And I show them the distillery and the repaired brick wall. After that most are satisfied that the place is as safe as any in the neighborhood, which isn’t saying much.
Some might say I’ve profited at the loss of others, like giving tours of a serial killer’s horror chamber. But I don’t think it’s quite like that. Everyone tells me its not my fault, I couldn’t have known knocking that wall down would do this. I know that, but I still feel bad as a landlord that my tenants got eaten. I regret feeling the need to break that wall. But, I’ll play the game now.