“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” says Oliver to Peter, as they stand at the entrance of one of the many openings of the Clintwood City Sewage System. The entrance has a thick metallic wire fence covering the hole with an opening that has been cut with what looks like a hacksaw of some sort. “Why, are you chicken?” Peter replies as he stands on the other side of the fence, using his cellphone flashlight to look deeper into the tunnel.
Clintwood City, just like every other city in the world has its own urban legend. It goes by the name of ‘The Reaker,’ a creature so foul that the mere sight of it causes your body to lock up in shock, unable to move, to think and even to scream. It is then that the Reaker will drag you deeper into its lair, somewhere far in the sewage system, a place so dark that you, or what ever remains of you, will never be discovered. Of course, not everyone believes that the Reaker exists. Only last year, a fellow student of Blossom Hill High went missing after he also wanted to explore the system, he was never found. The media says that he got lost walking through miles upon miles of pipeline with some sections dropping off into the lower tunnels, but the children of Clintwood City know the truth, he was the victim of the Reaker.
Oliver looks behind him before entering the fence that was designed to keep children like him out, the slimy green walls and the thick, overgrown shrubbery made it feel like they were exploring an ancient temple in some faraway land, just like the movies of Laura Croft in Tomb Raider, but this was less than half a mile from Oliver’s home. He steps on through, trying his best to avoid the trickling stream of sewage water from soaking his shoes and socks. Peter’s light doesn’t stretch very far into the darkening tunnel, the blackness seems to absorb all of the light, making it nearly difficult to see.
Peter examines the graffiti left on the wall, though he can’t work out most of it for the writing is too faded or unreadable, he carries on walking further into the pipeline. “Eww,” Peter shouts out as a little bit of cold water drips onto his head from above.
“I don’t want to be here,” Oliver says whilst occasionally looking at the slowly fading sunshine of the entrance that they had just come from.
“Just a little further,” Peter snaps back, grabbing hold of Oliver’s arm, dominating all the decisions being made on this little adventure that Peter had insisted Oliver come on, instead of doing something more fun like going on a long bike ride or playing video games in his basement for a few hours.
At the end of the pipe, it opens up into a much larger tunnel. Along the edges, there is a walkway with a now slightly deeper stream of gray water running through the middle. Peter flicks his light left and then right, not that it helps much.
“Which way should we go?” Peter asks, but Oliver doesn’t answer. He has made it perfectly clear that he does not wish to proceed any further with his protest in silence to Peter’s question. Peter turns right and Oliver soon follows, stepping ever so carefully along the edge way. The two boys have to duck to avoid bumping their heads along the curving wall. Oliver occasionally brushes his hand against the grime that has formed along the brickwork, flaring up his inner mysophobia that he didn’t know he had.
“Ok Peter, that is enough. I am turning back.”
“Don’t you dare even think about it!”
“You can’t tell me what to do.”
“You wanna bet.”
As the boys start to argue, their echo grows louder, reverberating off the tunnel walls, and traveling deeper into the abyss. The two boys stare at each other in silence, only the dim light of the cellphone’s flashlight illuminates their faces in whiteness, glaring deep into each other’s eyes. Oliver is angry at Peter, as he has always been known to only think about himself and not others. This is one of the traits that Oliver hates about Peter, but Peter has always stuck by his side for he is the only one at school that considers him as a friend. Peter is the one who stuck up to the bullies of the school and stayed by his side, protecting Oliver from being the laughing stock in the schoolyard, it doesn’t help that he is a small, scrawny boy with bucked teeth and fluffy ginger hair. The perfect target for the much larger, beefier boys of the school. Without Peter, he has no one.
The tunnel leads to a much larger room which splits off into two directions, the two boys look at each of the tunnels.
“If we go any further, we are going to get lost,” Oliver says, gripping the tee shirt of Peter’s left arm. But Peter pulls away from Oliver’s grip, causing Oliver’s footing to slip beneath his feet and flat onto his back, feeling the grimy wetness soak onto his skin. His hat falls off his head and flows downstream deeper in the opposite direction, floating among the human feces of the Clintwood City citizens. This infuriates Oliver as that is his favorite hat, a blue ‘New York Giants’ cap that his grandma had bought him a few years ago, a birthday present that he has cherished.
Oliver doesn’t say anything, he holds in his anger, pushing deeper within him as Peter laughs, holding onto his belly.
“I am pretty sure I saw it land next to a floating turd,” he howls, wiping a joyous tear from his eye.
Oliver clenches his hands into a fist, Peter doesn’t see this as the darkness of the tunnel has blocked out all light.
Peter’s laughter is halted by a growing roar from deeper down one of the two tunnels, they both stare at each other in complete silence, scared out of their wits as the sound gains momentum with each passing second, as if a dragon has awoken from its sleepy slumber.
“Run!” Peter screams as he desperately pushes Oliver, in a plea to sprint as fast as he can in the direction of the pipeline that they have just come from. Luckily for the two boys, they haven’t gone too far into the sewage system to get lost. Before long they were making their way down the same pipeline with the opening in the distance, splashing in the little puddles as it sprays up their legs, not caring about the riddling bacteria and other germs that reside in the sewage. In their haste, the two boys often slipped on the surface below them, not noticing that the sewage water is soaking their feet, seeping through the holes of their well-worn shoes. Heading for the gap through the fence, Oliver’s collar is caught on a loose, sharp end of the metal wire, ripping his tee shirt as it yanks him to the ground. Peter soon slides on through the gap, almost twisting his foot on a rock that sits at the opening of the pipe.
Oliver and Peter decide that it is best to climb up the bank of the ravine, instead of making their way downstream that heads out of the city, the shrubbery clings onto their clothing as they climb over thin branches and through the cutting brambles. As they reach the top, a gap in a bush is presented before them, but as they dived for the opening, it is as if the plant is holding them back, not letting them go any further.
”I am caught, it has got me, Oliver!” Peter panics as tears stream down his face. Oliver turns around to see that Peter is in complete fear, a bramble vine has wrapped itself around his waist. Oliver goes to help Peter, untangling him from his unthreatening doom.
The opening leads onto a walkway of a local park, used frequently by dog walkers and mothers with prams as they escape the grinding city of Clintwood and its congested roads. The two boys run down the walkway. To the passerby they look a complete state, with Peter’s limping foot and their now scruffy ripped clothing, they look like children that have been raised by wild animals. It was at that moment that the two boys noticed the train tracks that run near the park, a train that takes you west out of the city was passing, full of commuters and holidaymakers on their way out of Clintwood. The two boys look in disbelief before turning to each other, laughing their heads off, for letting the unnecessary fear get to their heads.
“Oh we are silly,” Oliver laughs, tapping Peter’s shoulder, almost forgetting about his favorite hat. The two boys make their way to Oliver’s home. Oliver holds onto Peter, helping him as he limps by his side.
“Come on, let’s go and get ourselves cleaned up and play video games, I know that my dad is making hot dogs tonight,” says Oliver. There is still time in the day to have some fun before Peter’s hour to go home. “Back home when the street lights come on,” Peter’s mom often says as a way of convincing him to stay out of the house for most of the day. Peter often spent most of his time in Oliver’s basement, a second home for him, a second family. If he is lucky, he can get two meals in one evening.
“Why don’t you try and stay over? Just send your parents a message,” asks Oliver.
“Nah, I can’t. I have a wedding to go to tomorrow morning, my aunt is getting married.”
“Yeah, she is getting married to Gerald, the guy she met when she went to Mexico.”
They finish up eating the last of the hotdogs and play one last game on the PlayStation, an army shooting game, a popular topic in the schoolyard among the students.
“I have to head out, catch you tomorrow after the wedding?” Oliver and Peter connect their knuckles as a way to say goodbye.
“Catch you tomorrow, man.”
Oliver watches as Peter runs up the sturdy, wooden steps. He can hear his mom say goodbye to him as the front door closes, causing a bang to pound through the house.
“If he bangs that door one more time, I am going to kill him.” Oliver’s dad shouts from an upstairs room, not shouting at anyone in particular. Oliver connects his headset and concentrates on finishing the game.
Peter walks down the slabbed path of Oliver’s yard. Following the trail of pink and purple petunia flowers and a perfectly trimmed rose bush that sits peacefully by the front gate. The orange clouds float quietly against the darkening blue sky, the summer bugs buzz to mark the ending of a hot day, and the street is swarmed by the annoyance of mosquitoes as they try to find every inch of available skin that is exposed on the body, causing Peter to swipe his hand across the front of his face as one or two of them fly by.
Something blue sits on the curb, just next to the front gate of Oliver’s yard. Upon closer inspection Peter can see that it is a blue hat, it looks exactly like the one that Oliver lost earlier that day. Peter picks up the hat, it is sitting just above an open drain, slightly damp but slowly drying in the warm evening sun. The NY standing for New York is etched into the cotton. ‘Strange, how did it get here?’ Peter questions himself, unsure about whether it is the same hat or not. Peter looks towards Oliver’s home, looking at each of the windows to see if he can see his friend in any of them, ready to return it just like the good friend that he is.
Peter feels a slow, slippery tightening around his ankles, he looks down to see what is the cause of the strange tightening, but what Peter sees with his very own eyes causes him to stand speechless. A long, brown tentacle has wrapped itself around, just like the Kraken on long voyages of wooden ships of the past. Peter is pulled sharply to the ground, losing his balance as he smacks the back of his head on the asphalt of the road, with a few more tugs he is being pulled into the drain. He screams for help but no one comes to his rescue, families are too busy with their own lives, blaring television sets, and noisy children, there is no hope. Peter grabs onto the curb, but he can feel himself losing grip, He pulls himself up, only to feel the counter pulling in his legs grow stronger. There is nothing else he can do. He knows he is to be pulled under, and dragged along the drainage system to the unknown. “Help!”
Oliver turns off his PlayStation and put his controller to the side, avoiding a telling-off that his parents normally give him when he leaves his controllers and games all over the basement floor. He is making his way to the bathroom, ready to have his evening shower. His sticky skin is desperately in need of the cooling of water after this long hot day, as well as from roaming around the sewage tunnels. When he got home, he had forgotten to have a wash, too distracted by the prospects of beating Peter at the game that he always brags about. His main goal was completed by beating his high score, putting Peter in his place with the most perfect of head-shots.
As he goes in to collect his pajamas from his bedroom’s built-in wardrobe, he looks out of the window to the typical sight of suburban America. Rows of houses, with big yards and streets lined with trees as the sun starts to set below the horizon. It is then that he spots it. A blue hat, toppled on its side, sitting on the road. ‘That looks like my hat,’ Oliver says to himself, squinting through the glass. He throws the pajamas onto the bed and runs down the stairs. He opens the front door, being careful not to slam it, upsetting his dad who is watching an NFL repeat upstairs. The warm evening air hits him, and just like Peter moments before, the flurry of mosquitoes tickles his face. He walks over to the hat that is sitting by the drain. He picks it up. ‘It looks like my hat.’
Oliver feels it with his fingers, still a little damp and the smell that is coming off it is potent.
“But how is it here?”
He kneels down and looks into the drain, thinking maybe a flow of water had laid the hat here by a fortuitous coincidence, the drain is too dark from the lack of sun. Oliver knows that it is bone dry, the city hasn’t had a rainy day in over two weeks, not helping in Oliver’s investigation about how his hat that he had lost ended up right outside his home later in the day.
“Strange,” he whispers to himself.
“Oliver, what are you doing? Come inside,” Oliver’s mom calls, standing at the front door, wrapped up in her pink and white dressing gown, glancing around making sure none of the neighbors can see her in her most vulnerable moment. Oliver stands up and runs back towards the house, holding onto his hat. He puts it into the woven, washing basket that sits in the hall, near the bedroom doors. Before returning to the bathroom to continue with his evening routine, washing the sweat from the pores of his skin.
– The Next Morning –
“Honey, are you awake?” Oliver’s mom asks on the other side of the door. Oliver shuffles in the comfort of his bed, the quilt still over his head to hide away the blaring morning sun. She knocks on the door before slightly opening it just enough to poke her head around the door, her hair frizzy as if it is Medusa’s snakes from the night’s rest. “Oliver honey, can I come in?” Oliver stirs in the bed, she comes in, stepping over the pile of dirty washing that has been lumped on the floor, a task that she has told him many times to complete by simply putting the piles of clothes in the washing basket, but this is not the time to give him a telling off for his laziness. She sits at the end of the bed, slightly bouncing in the springs of the mattress.
“I have something to tell you, Oliver, can you look at me?”
“What Mom?” he pulls the quilt down, still glassy-eyed from the Sandman’s little grains in the edges of his eyes.
“It’s Peter, he didn’t make it home last night.”
A burst of energy rushes through Oliver, it causes him to sit up straight in his bed, an expression of worry across his face.
“What do you mean he didn’t go home last night?
Oliver’s mom turns to face him more direct, places her hand down on his smaller hands, and looks at him directly in his eyes.
“When Peter left our home last night, did he say he was going anywhere else?
“No, he just said see you tomorrow.”
“His dad called last night when you went to bed. He said that he never made it home, they have been out searching for him in the car all night but they still haven’t found him. The police are also searching for Peter.”
Oliver is speechless, his best friend disappearing as if he didn’t exist baffles him. After a little longer conversation with his mother, Oliver goes to pick up his phone that is on his nightstand. There are no messages from Peter, the last one he sent was yesterday morning saying, ‘Hey, would you like to hang out?.’ Oliver gives his phone a ring, but there is no answer on the other end. “Where are you, Peter?” Oliver squeezes his phone a little tight, he is worried about his friend.
At the breakfast table, Oliver feels sick to his stomach about the disappearance of Peter, he struggles to eat his bowl of ‘Lucky Charms,’ the colorful gems seeming to lose their joyous touch. He pushes the bowl aside, putting away the box of the cheerful-looking leprechaun back in the cupboard. Oliver walks outside into the front yard, he needs some fresh air to help relax his nerves. He can already feel the heat stirring up, ready for the day. ‘It’s going to be a warm one.’
Oliver presses the name of Peter in his contact list once again, trying to see if he would eventually answer him. As the phone tone rings, he can hear the tune of Peter’s phone ringing in the distance. Oliver looks in that direction but can see nothing there. He tries to ring it again, thinking that he is now hearing things in his head, but it is definitely there, only slightly.
Oliver walks in the direction of the ringing phone, he stands on the curb of the sidewalk looking at the road, but he can’t see anything. Oliver rings it again, he can hear it more clearly now. He notices that Peter’s phone is sitting at the bottom of the drain, a tunnel that runs alongside the road that stops the road from flooding during heavy rain. He tries to reach it, but his arms are too short. ‘I have to go in.’ Oliver squeezes his small frame into the drain, he looks behind and in front, the tunnel is long but cramped, not big enough to stand up straight. He grabs hold of Peter’s phone, ‘56 missed calls,’ most of them from his parents. Oliver squeezes back through the drain and pushes himself up onto the road.
Peter’s phone is the biggest breakthrough to his disappearance, though Oliver is trying to decide what to tell his parents. He knows that he will sound crazy if he tells them that the Reaker has gotten hold of Peter, to them they will probably think that Peter has gone off exploring the drainage system and has gotten lost somewhere deep in the tunnels. He decides to keep it a secret by placing it in his pocket. Up in his bedroom, he takes out the phone, holding it in his hand not knowing if the true owner of the phone, his best friend is still alive. He knows the pin from numerous times when Peter has asked Oliver to open it up to check a message or to use it when his own phone is out of battery. He remembers that Peter is the owner of a SmartWatch. Oliver goes straight to the app that allows him to search the whereabouts of the watch, a great app that is used when finding the items that you have lost, but now it feels a bit strange when he looks at the screen at the red circle that sits in one spot, in the middle of some random street in the suburbs of Clintwood city, the red circle now feels like it represents the ominous location of Peter’s body.
Oliver heads out, sneaking past his parents so as not to arose suspicion. He pulls out his bicycle and heads for the street. ‘Meldew Road’. The street is on the other side of the city, there are shortcuts but he wants to avoid them, they are known spots for bully hangouts, and there will be no helping Peter if Oliver gets himself caught up with the likes of big Timmy Mathews or Reggy Patroni, the two infamous bullies of the school, two people that Oliver has wished that the Reaker would take some day.
After getting to the location, Oliver looks around. According to the phone, he is right on top of Peter, but all he sees are rows of houses on either end of the street, with their perfect yards of trimmed bushes, blooming flowers, and pickard fences. Oliver watches as a middle-aged man in cargo shorts and a white vest mows his lawn in his front yard, occasionally glancing over at Oliver in a confused manner as he only sees a strange boy, standing in the middle of the road, looking at the floor. But, just like everyone else in this city, he keeps to himself, carrying on mowing the grass on what promises to be a beautiful day. Oliver chains his bike up to the lamppost next to him, he sees an open drain that he can crawl into. It is a little narrow, forcing him to not be able to stand up, in a crouching position as if he is in stealth mode on one of his shooting video games. He follows the drain until it comes to an opening, a second tunnel that drops to a lower level under the road. He takes a deep breath, and turns on the flashlight of his phone, checking the battery life -78%. That will have to do.
He zigs zags down, getting deeper and deeper into the system. Complete blackness darkens his mind as all-natural light is nonexistent, now only relying on the flashlight. – 73%. He remembers that his phone dies a lot faster these days, evidence of an aging battery, his first phone that he has owned was given to him about three years ago. Oliver knows that he must be careful, he must give himself time to get himself out of the drains, with or without Peter. Through a crack in the wall, a room opens up before him, a huge room that holds a huge containment of water at its center, as it swirls off into different directions. The stench in this room alone brings tears to Oliver’s eyes, he gags and dry vomits with every step he takes, retching continuously. He looks into the water, something he wishes he didn’t do. A floating poo bobs on the surface, toilet paper clogs a corner, a dead goldfish floating on its side, hardly a warrior’s sendoff like in the old Vikings with burning boats. – 66%
According to the phone, the red dot is sitting in this room. But Oliver cannot see anything. It is just too dark with only a small circle of white light illuminating the way. He wants to shout out Peter’s name, but what if the legend is true? Oliver decides to stay quiet. He walks over towards the dot, avoiding slipping on the surface, the last place that he wants to end up is in one of the streams of sewage water, floating away to one of the city’s water treatment plants. A metal bridge strides across one of the streams to the direction of the red dot, its rusted and out of use, gaping holes have formed along the bridge’s flooring, and a section of the handlebar is missing, probably fallen off into the stream long ago. Oliver takes each footing with ease, he doesn’t know how sturdy the bridge is or when it was last maintained. It looks older than what he is. As he steps onto the bridge, the metal strains with the weight, he checks his battery – 51%. ‘What the heck, I must have been down here longer than I thought,’ the fear of losing light strikes his mind.
“Peter?” Oliver calls in a whispering tone, as he nears the red circle. When Oliver looks back at the phone, he can see that the red circle isn’t in the same place, it is moving. He can see that the red dot has gone around him and is now behind, sitting on the other side of the bridge that he had just come from. Oliver swiftly turns around, but trouble soon arose when in shock he loses grip of his cell phone, he watches as the little ball of light flies across the room before disappearing into the stream that flows next to him. Oliver stands in fear with complete darkness around him, he still has Peter’s light, but the app doesn’t allow him to use the flashlight at the same time, the glare of the screen blinds him, not that there is much to see. He turns off the app and decides to use the flashlight. “Peter?” he calls out one last time, but still no reply.
Oliver decides that he has had enough, he builds up the courage to go across the bridge one last time, remembering to stand on the stronger rods that run underneath its surface, he looks at the battery on Peter’s phone – 6%. The phone has been on all night, Oliver remembers that one of Peter’s bad habits was to always forget to charge his phone, letting it drain and die. “Oh, Peter.” Oliver makes his way over to the bridge, he knows he is going to run out of battery before he reaches the top, but he just hopes he can get there fast enough for the natural sunlight to seep in. He retraces his tracks. Back over the bridge, up a ladder – no there was no ladder, was there? Oliver is confused. A growling grunt can be heard behind him, somewhere in the room something is living, not the squeak of a rat, but a growl of something a lot bigger. The Reaker.
Though Oliver cannot see it, he does hear the sloshing of water as it moves roughly through the streams of sewage that run through the room, Oliver decides to climb the ladder anyway, just to get out of there. The ladder must lead somewhere. He climbs on up and finds himself standing at a door, he grabs onto the handle, and twists. It is locked, the noise is closer, and now the grunting growls are at the bottom of the ladder, from where he just came from. There is nowhere else to go, the railings lead to no other place. He tries the door again, it isn’t locked, it is just a little stiff and needs a shoulder to push. Oliver bashes his shoulder against it, hearing the door as it drags along the concrete floor. “Come on, please!” Oliver screams as he tries bashing it harder. He can feel warm air breathing down on his neck, “PLEASE!” he screams again, the door finally becoming lighter as it opens widely. Oliver runs into the room, it goes into a corridor that has no lights. He doesn’t look back, he doesn’t even know if the Reaker is following. He didn’t close the door behind him so he decides it is probably best to just run. – 3%.
Oliver comes out into another tunnel, this is not used for any sort of drainage, it is big enough to both stand and stretch out wide, he decides to turn right, he feels like it is the direction he needs to go, but he does not know. The darkness is creeping on him.
He sees an opening, stairs that are going up out of the drains, and the battery is now horribly sitting at 1%. It is a green door, a door that is used by the wastewater treatment operators. Oliver knows that this door symbolizes freedom, it symbolizes the outside. They are seen throughout the city. Just 5 more steps to go. Oliver grips his hand on the handle of the door, looking forward to smelling the fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun upon his skin, to see the green of trees and the birds in the sky. To escape the Reaker and his evil presence behind him.
The door is locked.
In the corridor behind Oliver, he can hear the Reaker, there is no escaping him. It stands at the only exit of the room. The battery symbol on the phone is flashing red. A few seconds’ warning before the phone is to die. Oliver sees the Reaker. “Oh God, uh ah!” It pokes its head through the door, and Oliver sees its pale, white face. The tiniest of eyes, but a large nose that is in portion with its stretched mouth, the teeth are long and jagged with the tint of yellow. It walks on its arms and legs, human-like hands with webbed fingers and an uncountable amount of tentacles soaring from its back, swaying in every direction.
The battery dies.
The Reaker screams!
Credit: Marcus Woolley
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