It was the garbage that brought it out. I’m pretty sure about that. What I’m not so sure about is if I’ll ever use any sink, shower, toilet, or drain connected to the city line ever again. And that’s saying something; I’m a plumber.
I saw it in a sewer pipe while I was digging underground in the basement of a home under construction. I was doing a job there because the day before that my wife Claire walked into the house after visiting the doctor, our newborn son in her arms. Little tyke was just over one month at the time.
“What’s he got?” I had asked.
She shook her head. “It’s some kind of pinworm.”
“Not … too much.”
She sighed and looked down at our little boy’s round, scarlet-blotched cheeks. “It’s looking like $600 for the visits and the medication.”
My hands clenched into tight fists and then my arms seemed to work on their own to bring them down on the table with a loud clank! A saltshaker hopped up and then clattered back onto the surface.
Claire shot me a glare, and I placed one hand over my eyes apologetically. Workaholic was what Claire was calling me nowadays. I was becoming a workaholic and I was going to go crazy with stress. I’d cut back on drinking, but damned if I didn’t feel stupid now for making that outburst; I saw Sammy squirming within his cotton blanket wrap.
“I’ll ask my mom for money,” said Claire. “She’ll do it if it’s for medicine. Until you get your cheque…”
“Yeah, we’ll ask for money again. And then next time we need something, ask again. Because Jacob can’t provide. Again.”
She lolled her head and rolled her eyes pleadingly. “Jake, it’s not like that.”
“She never liked me from the get go, Hon, you know that. This’ll be one more pin for her to peg me with …”
Overworked, Jake-o. You’re stressing out.
I ran my fingers through my hair. “I — I know. I know. But we’d going to have to pay her back anyway. I’ll just take Vander’s job offer. Put it on the Visa.”
She bit her lip. “Jake, I don’t know if —”
“We need it now, not tomorrow, and not whenever your mother hobbles over to the bank because she doesn’t know how to do an e-transfer.”
She clicked her tongue. “Fine. Fine, babe, have it your way. Just — don’t stress yourself out. Okay? Don’t blow a gasket or something.” She leaned in with a strained smile, a smile that hid her disapproval, but a smile nonetheless. “Don’t want another doctor’s bill, do you?” Then she kissed my forehead, lips soft and warm as pie.
Sammy wiggled his fingers at me. I stuck my pointer out to him and he grabbed on. Incredible, how kids can be that cute.
I put the salt shaker back into place. Claire was good to put up with me. I knew that. But the thing that she refused to accept was that overworking was necessary in a job like mine. It means more money. It means job security. When you’re starting your own company, slim of work, and your job consists of digging dirt and positioning pipe, you better be capable of that extra umph others don’t have. Tradespeople were in demand, yes, but not no-namers. Not fresh meat. Not a start-up with a total of four incomplete jobs on his résumé. Not Jacob Plumbing.
So if Jacob Plumbing did twice as much work as Joe’s, word would get around. It was better for the long run. And besides, it meant more money. Money that could be used for medicine… since we didn’t have insurance.
I could pull five houses at once. I could do it. I’d work my current houses during the day and I’d work on Vander’s house at lot 131 during the night. They’d be pouring concrete there soon, so I didn’t have another way. I’d be stressed, sure. But life is stress. My dad taught me that. Teaching me about plumbing was one thing he was good for, anyway. He said that a good way to get rid of that stress with a pick and shovel.
Little did I know I’d be learning more about dealing with fear.
The next evening I went to lot 131 after spending 14 hours installing eight toilets in two of my other four houses, including a freestanding tub in each. Quite a feat of heavy lifting, and I was exhausted off my ass.
I thought of the little tyke grabbing my finger as I pulled into the driveway.
I saw thunderheads lumbering closer in the coppery sundown sky and I was kind of fascinated by their mute threat, but more so angered. Rainwater flows into the ground where you dig, and makes it that much harder to lay pipe.
“Pisser!” I shouted, and slammed my palm against the wheel. “God-damn pisser end to a pisser day.”
I’d never worked during the night and the barebones frame-and-concrete structure on lot 131 seemed to be staring at me under those dark clouds…like some giant skull of an unnameable beast. Its garage was a gaping maw, its glassless windows eye sockets.
Thinking of weird shit.
I got out of my truck, feeling a light drizzle on my face, and I saw that the framers, along with whoever else had been working, left a lovely pile of garbage right between me and the entry to the basement. Coffee cups, fast-food wrappers, empty sardine tins, even Tupperware with smears of old chilli still inside…weeks’ worth of lunches. Assholes.
I cleared a path, shoving and kicking, and then gathered up my equipment from my van. Pickaxe. Shovel. Hacksaw. Floodlights. I carried it all into the basement using a ladder and made another two trips to retrieve all the needed piping. By that time the drizzle had become your medium-grade rainfall, pattering against the bare wood roof and leaking in through the openings for the basement windows.
Now…I thought the outside looked spooky? Down here felt like a god-damn crypt. The stretching shadows cast by that blaring yellow floodlight on the flat concrete walls played tricks on me as if they themselves were alive. The darkness didn’t help at all; the rills of rain coursing down through the small basement openings looked dark as black blood.
“Fucking pisser,” I said as I plunged the spade into hard gravel, soft clay.
It occurred to me the cursing felt good; one way to keep my nerves in check, anyway, as I worked in the dark. Alone.
I worked for the better part of an hour, and that’s about when lightning started to flash. Rainwater gibbered and drummed against the plywood above me, dripping through the cracks and eventually into the basement. I got pretty soaked. The water coated the gravel stones in a wet sheen. The thunder that followed the flashes of white light rumbled the place so hard I felt it in my balls — nearly made me jump out of my god-damn overalls.
Maybe I am too overworked after all, I thought, feeling foolish. Nerves are all over the place.
On I dug, though.
Thinking of little tyke with the rose-red cheeks.
And with a great struggle through water which kept flowing into my gullies, I’d dug out almost all of the network of grooves I needed. Slow going. Hard going. But progress. Just a couple more trenches, and after that I could start laying the pipe and gluing.
I wiped a sweat-and-rainwater mix off my brow with the back of my hand and that’s when I heard it.
Now you know how weird that is. I wasn’t digging anything right then. That wasn’t me. Yet there was that kind of similar sound…from behind me.
I turned around.
Just the mini-ravine I’d carved into the gravel, leading straight to the doorless cellar…
I stared for a moment into that dark doorway, heard nothing else but the dribbling of falling water all around me. I shook my head. Racoon around here. Or a cat. Animals love these places. And no doubt it was a decent place to get out of the rain —
ssssssssshhhlick! … ssssssssshhhluck!
Again this sloshing, sliding noise, and now it wasn’t stopping.
Was there mudslide in that cellar or something?
Or what if …
What if it was a rat?
I positioned the floods at the cellar: empty at first glance, but there were corners around the doorway. I reversed the shovel, holding it like a spear now; a rat was something I could not tolerate. At all. This is was a country house and out here rats can get as big and as feral as you like — or don’t like. Wild bushy things with blood-red eyes and snaggle teeth like buck fangs, wiry whiskers that quivered insanely, and the size of a god-damn hare. Survivor rats bulked up by game meat. A cat or raccoon will run at danger. Prairie rat? Better find a way to kill it, soon as you can.
Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled. My nerves twitched with the vibration.
“Damn thing,” I muttered as I stepped closer and closer to the cellar, the shovel tight in my grasp. I cocked my head forwards, listening.
ssshluck … shhhk! … sssh-shhh-shick! …
Louder and louder that noise got, until just as I lunged into the cellar it stopped altogether.
The floods had afforded me plenty of cascading light: nothing in here. Absolutely nothing. No mud. No critter. Just the end of the vertical sewer drain which I’d busted open before I’d started digging … and a half-eaten Egg McMuffin still in the wrapper — yet another present from the assholes, for someone else to clean up.
And that’s when it occurred to me.
“Oh, fuck off.”
Something had got into the drain, looking around for food or shelter. Critter was probably chowing down on the McMuffin, and then heard me coming and scampered into the nearest dark hole. That thing’s a four-inch wide pipe; almost any cat, rac, or rat can slink in there if they really want to — if they’re scared enough — and due to the fact that it was also in a cellar, the water could not get in. I leaned down to look into that pitch-black hole, listening for a tell-all mewl or caterwaul. Or hiss.
Listening … listening … listening …
Waste of my god-damn time. Exhaustion playing tricks. Overworked.
I strode back to where I’d been and then it came again, that god-damn noise —
— and I whirled around, clutching the haft of the shovel so hard that hot pain shot through my knuckles. I was ready to rap the spade-end hard against the pipe to hopefully scare whatever was in there out or elicit some kind of response.
But instead I froze.
If someone could have seen me then, they’d say my jaw was hanging open so wide that it was touching my chest, and that a thread of spit escaped my lips, mixing with the rainwater into one long strand that dripped down to my feet.
There was a worm poking its head out of the hole.
A very big, white worm.
I say worm only by analogy … because I know of no worm on Earth that can be of that size and pallor. It was thick as my thigh with milk-white, rippling flesh, flesh which appeared to be wet — covered in some kind of clear slime that gleamed in the harsh yellow floods like cooking oil. Its skin was crinkled slightly around its upturned, lipless mouth. If it was a worm, then it was a worm straight out of my nightmares.
For a moment it was still, as if discovered. Then it slowly slithered its way forwards, its head bobbing almost as if sniffing, as more of its round rippling body emerged from that hole.
My legs were stone. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even blink, my eyelids were peeled back so far. My pulse hammer-ticked in my temples.
It found the McMuffin and in a sort of weird, faceless interest it started prodding at it. It paused for just a second as if contemplating, and you might have thought it was a rubber sock puppet right then if it wasn’t for the two rows of hooked fangs it bared which gleamed all too pearly-real in the light cast by the floods … and the long, pointed tongue which snicked out between those teeth, scooping up the breakfast sandwich and wax wrapper entirely into its jaws.
It clenched its teeth down on the sandwich, wrapper and all, and then slipped back swiftly into the hole, leaving nothing behind but a wispy fishing-line thread of drool and a chunk of egg from the McMuffin which rolled into the water-swollen gully.
I don’t know how long I just stood there staring at that now-empty hole. What snapped me out of it though was the thunder, the hardest and loudest thrash yet. I felt its rumble box my balls again like a quick one-two against a speed bag. I dropped the shovel and backed away from the pipe upon feet that felt no sensation … only mere pressure. I hit the wall behind me, rebounded, then twirled around and ran to the ladder, climbing it up out of that strange basement and away from that otherworldly worm-thing.
I got to my van and swung the door open, hopped up and in, slammed the door. I took my keys out and they jingled as I tried to shove them into the ignition with a trembling hand, once, twice, and on the third time I got it. I twisted the key hard and the old Ford growled to life.
I grabbed onto the wheel and … just sat there.
I sat there staring out at the rainy dark, listening to the engine humming and the rain smacking the windshield wildly. Look, I was going to drive away. I really was going to. Okay? I even jostled in my seat trying to make myself hit the gas. But that engine and that rain got my thoughts going. You know the kind. The reasonable thoughts. The ones that keep you out of institutions.
I didn’t see that, my mind asserted. It was an assertion as clear and right as the sun on a cloudless day. Claire tried to tell me. I’m overworked.
“Overworked,” I whispered.
I’m overworked, and I didn’t see that. Happens all the time to people working at night. They see things that aren’t there. Just work through it. Tomorrow morning they pour the CONCRETE. Tomorrow morning’s the DEADLINE. Finish the job. Make the money. Use the money for MEDICINE.
I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles.
Tomorrow they pour the CONCRETE, my mind insisted once more, tomorrow morning’s the DEADLINE.
If I didn’t get this done now, the guys would come out there tomorrow morning with an unfinished basement before them. They’d have to call me back in — which wouldn’t be likely at that point. More likely they’d call a new plumber. I would not get paid, and Mister Vander could even take a big, wet bite out of my wallet for delay expenses if he wanted to. Not to mention my reputation: hire that asshole Jacob? After he left that basement on lot 131 unfinished? Nah. Don’t think so.
And what would Claire think, after I’d been so stubborn? Her mother? That damn old witch who, when she found out Claire and I were dating, she told her daughter, “You’re not dating a plumber”?
No — finish the job. Make the money. Use the money for medicine.
I slowly clicked the engine off.
A flash of neon light split the night sky in two and at the exact same moment came the electronic whizzing sound of my cell, startling me. I fumbled with the ringing phone for a moment before managing to answer.
“Babe? How’s it going?”
“Oh, Claire, I’m — fine. Just fine.”
“How’s Sammy today?”
“Got the medication. But he’s still got the fever.”
I let out a shaky sigh. “Shit.”
“Jake, please try not to stress. He’s with me and I think he seems a little better … he smiled at me — once, anyway. And listen, I picked up some wine for us. I know you cut back but it’s Wolf Blass and it was on sale. When will you be home?”
“I’m not sure. Midnight. Maybe later than that, I don’t know. They pour concrete tomorrow and there’s still a lot of worm left.”
“A lot of work, I mean. I meant to say a lot of work left.” I clenched my teeth, shut my eyes, and put the heel of my palm to my forehead. There was a pause in the conversation now and I could see her eyebrow raising.
“You better take it easy out there,” she finally said. “Don’t work yourself to death.”
I wanted to say ‘I’ll try’ but instead I said, “I’ll — ah, I won’t.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, babe. I can take tomorrow off. It’s just that the concrete comes here in the morning. So I gotta go.”
“Alright, then. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
I hung up and just before I opened the door I remembered something: my lucky flat-head screwdriver. I didn’t even need it, really, and it sounds stupid … but my dad had given it to me when I started learning the trade. Used to be his. Not that I needed too many reminders of him, but it worked like a charm through all the years and that reminded me that if he could keep going as hard as he used to, then I could.
I reached into the back, grabbed it from my toolbox, and stuffed it into a big pocket in my overalls. Claire was right. She always was. I never forgot to take that flat-head with me to a site.
I jumped out of my van into the haze of rain, feeling a little more confident. Of course I had imagined that thing in the basement. Of course it was just my nerves. I walked back to the site as thunder rocked the ground beneath me.
“Overworked!” I shouted as I got closer to the basement. It felt good to say it out loud. Reaffirming. If there had been neighbours anywhere near lot 131, they might have seen one crazy-looking plumber.
I descended a few steps down the ladder and, bracing myself, peeked down into the basement. Even with my newfound confidence my mind envisioned the worst: that thing, slithering around in maddening figure-eights, its glistening fleshy body sliding out of that pipe …
But no worm-creature was there.
“Over-fucking-worked,” I muttered, and continued down. Then I surveyed the work left to be done. After the last bit of digging, I’d have to cut some pipes down to the right size for the ravines. Then lay and position and glue. And it was then that I spied something floating in the gully water near my foot. Something white. For a second I thought it was bone.
The torn piece of egg.
The piece of an egg that was now, by the way, gone.
How do I explain that, huh?
“Backing up,” I said. I reached into my pocket and ran my fingers over the dinged up surface of the screwdriver’s plastic handle. Dad had worse days, worse nights, and he always made sure I knew that. But I could do this. “Leftover garbage in the sewer,” I went on. “Air bubbles. Old piping. City line out here is a million years old.”
I grabbed my shovel and got to work, hoping to I could get it all over with quick.
It was almost midnight and I was on to the pipe-cutting when I heard the sloshing noise again, and although there was no sight of anything in the sewer hole, it became incessant.
sssssswishh, sssssshlop! … ssshhh! …
“Backing up,” I said as I sawed a pipe in two, the squeaking of the hacksaw against plastic doing nothing for my nerves. “Old piping. Million-year-old city line.”
shhhhhhlick! … ssssssh-sh-sh-sh! …
“Backing up!” I shouted again with declaratory vigour, and sped up with the sawing. “I’m not crazy,” I said, rain prattling all above me. Hacksaw squeaking. Noises in the pipe.
I somehow managed to endure this for a half-hour until it all started to get quite maddening.
“I’m not crazy!” I hollered to no one at all, still sawing through my last pipe. Squeaking, grinding. Grinding, squeaking. The sewer drain sloshing.
ssswishhh, ssshlop! … swishhh, shlop! … ssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhshluck!
A made a final cut in the pipe and the end of it fell to the crushed-rock floor with a ba-dong! I whirled around and faced that noisy drain. I felt a rush of heat in my cheeks and forehead, and I screamed at it. “I CAN’T AFFORD TO BE CRAZY!!”
And then it stopped.
I nodded at the open drain. “Good,” I whispered. “Good. Good.” Then I went back to laying the last of the pipes, nearly done.
I was graced by that silence for as I glued the last pipe into place. Well — the second last pipe. I still had to attach the cleanout (a sort of connecting pipe) onto the … the sewer pipe … the pipe where my strange ‘friend’ was — or wasn’t.
The rain had not let up one bit, and lightning was still flickering and flashing insanely, lighting up that basement every few minutes with white neon. I approached the sewer pipe with the cleanout connector in one hand, glue can in the other. And even if I was going crazy, there was a part of my mind — rational, or maybe irrational — that continued asking me: What if you’re not crazy?
I tapped on the pipe with tin glue can. Nothing. Tapped on it again, harder. Still nothing.
I leaned down in front of it and took the glue brush out. I started brushing the outside of the cleanout pipe and held it to the end of the sewer pipe … then I hesitated.
What if I trap it in there? What if the inspection doesn’t pass?
I pulled back slightly. That was another thing: if I didn’t clear this pipe out now and some thing was still in there, the inspection wouldn’t pass, and when a plumbing inspection doesn’t pass you might as well tear the whole house down and start over. No plumbing, no house.
I put one gritty palm to my forehead and squeezed my eyes shut. I slapped my cheeks a couple times.
But there’s nothing in there. Nothing at all. I’m just overworked.
And that was the damn truth. Honestly. What I’d seen simply wasn’t real. Worms don’t get that big and they can’t crawl up sewer drains. That’s when another thought intruded: but if it is real, then … just how long is the fucking thing?
I let out a kind of quiet cough and frowned. That was something I did not want to even think about. There are certain things that your brain simply doesn’t allow. Have you had a thought like that? A thought so out of whack that there’s that automatic response from the mind, that referee whistle of sanity?
Well it was gone now. Whatever it had been, it was gone.
I placed the connection over the pipe.
And right then I heard a loud gag come from that pipe, a kind of bellowing, guttural groan that no human mouth could produce — maybe a bear, and that’s being generous. It startled me enough to drop the connector pipe and then there was a sharp hacking sound:
And suddenly a thick clear liquid spewed out of the pipe. It came with such a force it knocked me back onto my ass, this stuff sticking all over me … and it was warm. I blubbered and held my hands held in front of my face as the liquid rushed over me and then ceased.
I looked at my arms, covered in this disgusting gook. Its odour was cloying. I spat a big loogey of it out and gagged so hard it felt like I tore my throat open. It tasted almost like vomit, but also sickeningly sweet.
I looked down between my legs and saw something, in a foamy pool of this stuff, some kind of sheet of paper with torn edges and a few holes. But I could barely make words printed on it through a thin layer of the fluid. I took it, pinching one corner of the sheet between my thumb and pointer, and held it up in the light, confirming what it read beyond all doubt. I found myself muttering, “Son of a bitch.”
Thick foam coursed down across the lettering: Egg McMuffin.
Right then it popped out of the hole like a jack-out—of-the-box, that same ooze glistening on its pale skin, its flesh curled back and exposing the dozens of shiny hooked fangs. It stopped right in front of me.
“What … the hell … are you?”
As if in response, it stretched it mouth open and hissed wetly, a reptilian hiss, like a crocodile’s. Its tongue flicked out. It lunged forwards.
I have never felt pain as pure as I did in that moment. I had flinched of course, turning my face away, but I hadn’t moved far enough to avoid those fangs completely. They plunged into my left ear, sending searing hot wave of amazing pain all through the side of my face. As it pulled away and tore through the lobe and cartilage, I let out an enraged scream.
I instantly scrambled away, half-crawling, with one hand held against my bleeding, torn ear. I felt warm blood ooze between my fingers as I splashed through brown water, and in my pain-induced delirium I knocked the floodlights over. It cast light on the wall opposite of me and illuminated my pickaxe leaning against the wall.
I stumbled to my feet and rushed for the pick. The tipped floodlights behind me cast a grim, stretching shadow of myself over the pick along with the distinct, swaying shadow of that thing, towering behind me in the form of a question mark. All my thoughts of being wacko or seeing things went out the window in a hurry. Fuck it all — this was real as it got. And if I was mad, then this was a pure, living madness.
I grabbed the pickaxe and put my back to the wall. The worm had slinked out of the pipe further than ever before, and now it was almost the entire length of the basement. Its mouth was salivating and coated in my blood. As it inched towards me the floodlights highlighted its slimy skin from below with a yellow gleam and created harsh contours on its scowling, wrinkling, eyeless visage.
I believe I was operating on sheer terror as I swung the pickaxe; I could almost feel my mind trying to tear itself loose from seeing this nightmare. I swung left, right, one, two, sending thin arcs of rainwater from the pick’s bladed edge. The worm-thing dove and ducked around the swipes. And once more it launched forward, its maw open, fangs protruding.
My heart dropped about six floors as I swung once more — swung too little, too late. My arms were heavy as lead from exhaustion and I barely brought it up before this thing wrapped itself around my neck and squeezed. It felt like one big wet, warm gummy on my skin.
I let out a choked gasp. It wrestled me off my feet, to the ground, the pick flying out of my grasp. I bucked my hips and kicked and tried to let loose a scream from a throat where no air entered or left. I felt the pressure in my head like a balloon filled to the point of popping. I dug my fingernails into what I could of its slippery body and felt its muscles flexing under its flesh, hard as iron. No use.
It faced me then and opened its bloodstained mouth. Not just opened; expanded. Beyond any reasonable length. Its flesh peeled back from those fangs so far that its ruby-red gums were exposed up to where you could see exposed sinew. The fangs parted further and further and the skin stretched and stretched. Clean cold horror sank into me as I came to realization it was preparing to swallow my entire fucking body … headfirst.
I groped around for something — anything, anything — that could be of use. The pickaxe was completely out of reach. In my blurred, rain-drenched vision I saw it lying on the gravel, about six metres away. Neon lightning stabbed at my bulging eyes, and revealed nothing in my immediate surroundings.
Its mouth was bigger than my head now. I could see the back of its ribbed throat, and at beyond that a mucoid cavity from where spongy tongue protruded. All I heard was my own heartbeat which was now racing at a sprinter’s pace, desperately trying to pump blood past the constriction — but no good. The worm’s grip was vice-tight.
This was it.
This was my end.
And maybe … maybe Claire’s … and Sammy’s …
In that instant I heard a voice, my own voice, shouting at me in my head with indignant fury.
GET THE JOB DONE!! MAKE THE MONEY!! USE THE MONEY FOR MEDICINE!!
But — how?
If I could have, I’d have kicked myself. Instead I shoved one hand into my pocket, curled my fingers around the handle of the flat-head, brought it out. I gnashed my teeth, bracing myself … and just as those seemingly endless number of fangs came towards me I rammed the blade into the roof of its wide open mouth — right up to the handle.
A gush of red.
Hot blood upon my face.
The worm’s grip loosened.
Immediately wrenched myself out of its grip … its slippery skin actually working to my benefit. I leaned against a wall and took in huge, ragged breaths as I watched the monster writhe and slap itself against the ground in an angry fit, blood pouring out of its wound in steady globs, mixing with the muddy water and creating a blossoming sanguine pool beneath it. It wiggled madly for a good while. I used that time to catch my breath.
Eventually, miraculously, it calmed. It lied there limply, twitching, and seemingly out of energy. It wheezed a few times; strange, harsh croaking. Then I watched as it began pulling itself back into that drain in slow, drawn-out slinks.
shhhk … shhhhuk … sh-shhhk …
A weird joy filled me right then. It felt like the inside of my woozy aching head had been filled with green and orange light. I’d won. I wasn’t crazy.
And now I’d show everyone.
I searched around, looking for my hacksaw. I found it soon enough. Then I proceeded to cut the fucker’s head off.
After the last swipe through its mushy, blood-oozing neck, I stood there, bloody hands on my hips, admiring my handiwork. It had actually been quite easy. It had tried to resist a little bit, but I think that screwdriver up in its brain was too much. All it could manage were weak squirms.
But I soon noticed the rest of the thing’s body was still trying to slide away into the sewer drain … even without a head.
“No you don’t,” I’d said. “No you fucking don’t.” I ran over to the drain and gripped its round mass with both hands, and began to pull. “I got a job to finish, pal.”
I pulled. I pulled and pulled. More of it slid out with gooey squishing sounds. I continued pulling until my arms were sore. And then I pulled more. More of it still came. I pulled until the rain eased up. I pulled until the rain stopped. I pulled until I could no longer feel my arms, and still I pulled. And it just kept coming out. More … more … more …
The last thing I remember from that night was making some sound at the realization that there would be no end. Maybe I was laughing. Maybe crying. Maybe screaming.
I don’t know.
It’s been a few months since then. I got paid for the job, although the money went to Claire. She’s in charge of my bank account, now. I think that’s best.
I eat microwave meals here and I don’t drink anything they give me that doesn’t come from a sealed bottle. But it’s not so bad, other than the fact I can’t see my wife or son very often. Sometimes I can call Claire and talk to her for a while. She’s still as supportive as ever — and she says Sammy’s doing great. He’s growing fast, she says. I don’t tell her how worried I am about that. I tell her not to drink any tap water. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m stressing out.
They’ve told me to write this all down and give it to them to read. But as soon as they got half way through, they hand it back and stamp REJECTED on my papers. I asked if there was anyone else who’d be more open to my testimony. They gave me a funny look and said I could share it on the internet if I wanted … would that be okay, Jake? Would you like that?
Yes, I told them, I would.
And I should add the rest of what happened. About how they found me the next morning.
I don’t actually remember the morning after, so I’m just going on what I’ve heard. I am told I was wide awake. The concrete layers found me in front of that drain, covered in bloodstains, slumped against the wall and hunkered down on my haunches. Apparently I never blinked once.
I only said one thing, when the police came: “My father once said that putting in long hours in a mind numbing job and tolerating insufferable working conditions is the only way to build character … he’d say that before bursting into tears of Black Label!” And then I laughed.
You know what they didn’t find? They didn’t find a trace of any mutant worm. Not a head. Not a shred. Not anything. Just Mister Jacob. A plumber covered in blood. Part of his ear missing. And a fully finished network of piping with a cleanout cover on the sewer drain.
To this day I’m not sure how I finished that job. But I’ve picked up a guess. They let me browse Wikipedia here.
Did you know that an earthworm — once cut in half — can regenerate? It grows a new tail back. Some worms split into two. The planarian flatworm can reform its entire body from a sliver that’s just one three-hundredth of its original size … and they can miraculously retain their memories.
Can you imagine that?
I can. I can imagine it slithering back into that drain. I can imagine its head growing a new body while I was passed out from exhaustion. I can imagine myself sealing that drain when I woke up, overcome by defeat and grim terror.
But then, I can imagine a lot of things nowadays. I often find my mind floating away to other, distant places, places where there are things of such great weirdness and horror that they will not fit through the puny pipeline that is human understanding.