A boy is kidnapped by sewer dwelling monsters.
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Billy Mintz’s friend Jerry is missing. The grownups say he's goofing off, but Billy thinks they're wrong.
Mr. Clawson, a local recluse, claims Jerry was taken by sewer dwelling monsters as food. He says they like kids that are fat and juicy. Billy hates to admit it, but Jerry's a bit plumb. And Mr. Clawson should know. He escaped from them as a kid and is now the thinnest guy in town.
Billy, with a small army of friends, ventures into the sewers to save Jerry. It’s when the rescue mission drives the monsters above ground the grownups start believing.
It was one of the eeriest days in Lewiston he could remember. School had just ended for Billy a week ago and it was unseasonably cool out. He was stomach-down on his bed, reading a spooky old comic about aliens. The layer of fog on the street below helped add to the creepy ambiance, allowing him to get even more into what he read. That’s when he heard a hard tapping sound on his window.
Lifting his head, he saw a large, black bird with beady eyes staring at him. Billy closed his comic and got up, moving close to the windowpane, but the bird didn’t move, not even when Billy’s face was so close it fogged up the glass. The staring was irritating. Billy tapped the window. “Hey, you. Scram!”
The bird tilted its head and let out a squawk. It pecked at the glass so hard it made a small chip in the smooth surface.
“Get your own window,” Billy said. He picked up his toy handgun from off the floor. It looked fake and had dozens of lights that flashed around the barrel when fired. Worst of all, the gun made a series of completely absurd noises, sounding more like a car alarm than a weapon. “Buzz off!” he said and pointed the gun at the bird, set to pull the trigger.
The doorbell rang. “You better not be here when I get back,” Billy said to the bird. He pushed the toy through a belt loop in his pants, holstering it, then grabbed his nylon jacket off his doorknob and scurried down the stairs. If he moved fast enough, his mom wouldn’t get a chance to tell him what time he had to be back by. As luck would have it, he only made it to the front door, his hand almost on the knob.
“Hold it!” his mother said and stepped into the room. She was a loud woman in every way imaginable. Her voice was loud, her footsteps were loud, and her snoring was loud. “You need a heavier jacket.”
Good, thought Billy. She might focus on the jacket and nothing else. Chances were it wouldn’t be the case, but he liked to think it would be. He tried to be optimistic about everything. It kept him in a good mood. “Yes mom,” he said and opened the closet.
“I want you back before dark,” she said. “And if it starts raining, come home right away.”
“I’m not afraid of the dark,” he replied and found his coat of choice. It was blue, with a detachable hood he could put on if the rain started up. The doorbell rang again.
“William,” his mother said. “It’s not the dark I’m worried about. Kids your age shouldn’t be out late. The neighborhood isn’t the safest at night.”
“We’ll stick together,” Billy said and opened the door. There on the steps were his three friends. On the right was Devin. He was exceptionally tall for his age and had a shock of unkempt red hair on his head. Then there was Carrie. Today she was in tattered jeans and faded green T-shirt. To match the ensemble, she had a blue baseball cap hiding her short blonde hair, plus a broken-in glove covering her left hand. Then there was Jerry, a chubby kid who sweat so much always looked like he’d just finished a run, even if all he’d done was walk across the street. At the moment he had his red baseball in his hand and was wiping his forehead with his shirtsleeve. Regardless of how unsightly a crew they were, Billy considered them his best friends, and he didn’t see that ever changing.
Billy’s mother looked to Carrie. “You make sure he gets his butt in the door before sundown.”
Billy’s face grew red. She was making it sound like Carrie was his date or something. That thought he didn’t exactly mind, but he didn’t appreciate his mom making him look like a baby in front of his friends. “I can take care of myself,” he said, flashing his toy gun as a joke.
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Mintz,” Carrie said with a smile. “I’ll keep him out of trouble.” That was how Carrie was; she always called adults by their last name. Billy’s mom wasn’t Jean, she was Mrs. Mintz, even if Carrie had been told she didn’t have to be so formal.
Taking a step out the door, Billy said, “I’ll see you later, mom.” He briskly closed the door behind him, not letting his mother respond.
“Hey,” Jerry said. “My mom would ground me if I did that to her.”
Billy started down the steps and said, “Yeah, but if I don’t walk out, she’ll keep talking forever and we’d never get to leave. She’d invite everyone inside for some stupid reason and not let us out of her sight.”
“But still…” Jerry said.
“Still nothing,” Devin said, butting in. “Let’s get moving.” He walked ahead, leading the pack down the road to the right.
“You know,” Carrie said, “she’s probably just looking out for you after what happened to that Charlie kid. Moms worry about stuff like that.”
“But Charlie went missing over a month ago. I don’t think whoever took him is out looking other kids in our grade to grab,” Billy said.
Devin chuckled. “The only reason he got grabbed in the first place was he was so slow. If he wasn’t such a cow, he probably would’ve gotten away.”
“I resent that,” Jerry said.
“Devin, if you talk like that anymore, I swear I’m going to slug you,” Carrie said, giving him an angry glare. “And he wasn’t running, he was biking. Didn’t you read the newspaper? His bike was found less than a block from his house, the poor guy.”
“Still,” Devin said, “he would’ve been able to bike faster if he wasn’t so tubby.” He made a left turn and ran ahead of the group when Carrie gave his arm an aggressive tap with her fist.
“Where are you going?” Billy asked. “The park is the other way.”
“We aren’t going to the park right away,” Devin said as he looked back. “We saw something big on our way here and you’ve got to see it. It’s HUGE.”
“What is it?” Billy asked.
“You won’t believe it until you see it,” Carrie said, walking up behind Billy and pushing him along with the tips of her fingers on his back, although her left hand was still gloved in the catching mitt.
“Alright, alright,” Billy said. He walked forward, but not quite fast enough to escape her push, letting it last until she took her hands back down. They went down the block and took a right at the next corner. The feeling he was being watched came over Billy, and it wasn’t because Jerry was trailing behind. He could hear Jerry’s puffing breath. No, what Billy felt was the glare of a silent watcher. Casually moving forward, he looked left to right with his eyes, not moving his head. For an excuse to look behind him, he turned around and said, “Come on, Jerry. Keep it moving, slowpoke.” That moment was enough for Billy to notice the bird, the same black bird from his window silently stalking him from above. Billy drew his firearm and assaulted the bird with a volley of loud noises and lights as he sped up to escape.
“No fair,” Jerry said and struggled to pick up his pace.
“Keep up,” Devin said. “We wouldn’t want to lose you. Don’t pull a Charlie on us.”
At that, Billy slowed down a hair. Jerry may have been a bit big, but he was still their friend, and Billy didn’t want to make fun of him too much. However, it was only another half a block before Billy saw what all of the commotion was about. In the distance, he saw the dark, dank house of Mr. Leonard Clawson. The light in the attic was on, as it always was, but this time the entire house was lit up as well. Even the porch light was illuminated. “What?” Billy asked in bewilderment.
“That’s right,” Devin said, stopping shy of Mr. Clawson’s chain-link fence. “He’s actually out of his attic.”
“But why are all the lights on?” Billy asked.
“Don’t know,” Carrie said. “But something huge must be happing.”
Billy thoroughly understood that. For all his life, he’d never seen more than a shadow lurking around inside the big house. The lawn was overgrown and vines slithered up the sides of the house, even over the windows and around the chimney. At the very most, a hand would pop out from a partially opened door to grab the mail from the box on his house, fishing around like the rest of the body was terrified of coming out, but that was it. Even then, the one time Billy had seen it, he had to rub his eyes to verify the visual. “Did he come outside at all?” Billy asked.
“Not that I’ve seen,” Devin replied. “But if there’s ever a chance to see him in the flesh, this is it.”
It was true, and it excited Billy the way seeing something rare always did. For him, it was bigger than a lunar eclipse, maybe even a meteor shower. “Did your parents ever say anything about why he’s the way he is?” Billy asked Devin. He got no response and turned to Carrie. She shrugged her bony shoulders.
Still, there was Jerry. He answered, huffing between words. “Mine did. They showed me a newspaper they saved from way back. There was a whole two pages about him. A picture too.”
“And?” Billy asked.
“He went missing when he was younger. They sent search parties all over town for months. Posters were everywhere and people thought he might’ve been dead. Then, out of the blue, he showed up in the street. His clothes were all wet, torn up and he was covered in slime. It said he was bleeding too.”
Carrie moved towards him in interest. “What then?”
“Nothing much. The police said he was ranting and raving like a lunatic about some monsters he’d dreamed up. Poor guy has been afraid of his own shadow for who knows how long.”
The choice of words struck Billy as funny. Shadows were the one thing most present at that ramshackle house. Billy believed the guy was afraid of everything but his own shadow. Furthermore, all of the talk about kidnappings was getting on his nerves.
Just then, a shipping truck with a funky logo featuring a red outline of a person running on the side turned onto the street and went up the Clawson driveway. The kids all backed farther from the fence, but none of them took their eyes off the vehicle. A horn’s blare came from the truck and a large, muscular man hopped out.
The door to the house opened and revealed the figure of the elusive Mr. Clawson. There was a man, close to fifty years old, holding open the storm door with a pale hand. The fingers were almost raw bone. He was like a skeleton wrapped in human skin. No hair sat on the figure’s head and his eyebrows were but thin lines etched on his face. Even his cheeks were sunken in, unnaturally wrinkled and pallid. No shoes were on Mr. Clawson’s long feet as he stepped out to prop open the door. His shirt hung on him like an oversized potato sack and he was swimming inside his pants. He looked nothing short of a cancer patient.
“Oh my,” Carrie said. “Does he even eat?”
Another man hopped out of the passenger seat of the delivery truck and lifted the back panel, revealing a treadmill, recumbent bike and some other devices. He met up with the driver at the door, greeted Mr. Clawson and went inside. The two men hauled out skeletal, antiquated exercise equipment, replacing it with the new machinery. Both of them nodded at the group of children as they passed by before they got back in their truck and left. Mr. Clawson vanished inside and turned off all the lights but the one in the attic, returning to his reclusive ways.
“What just happened?” Billy asked.
Without warning, Devin jumped the fence and ran up to the door. He knocked and the light in the attic turned off.