“It’s a storm drain, not a sewer.”

Scott grumbled. “Here we go...”

“Well it is,” Josh said. “Storm drains carry rainwater and sewers carry sewage.”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Wouldn’t hurt if you did…”

I snorted, watching them argue. It was a beautiful day out, and I sat there, soaking it in. Summer was on the horizon, and the forsythia and grass were blooming around the water.

It was almost as good a view as the dumbasses in front of me.

“What, do you think you’re gonna get stuck? The tunnel’s only a foot shorter than you are.”

“I’m not going in there,” Josh insisted. “There’s water inside.”

He was right about that. The storm drain was a concrete pipe of about four feet in diameter, sticking out from under a small hill and pouring into the brook, and there was a stream of rainwater running inside. But it was small, and we could easily step around it. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what Josh was worrying about.

“Just give it a shot, Josh,” I said. “You can always turn around if you need to.”

Josh looked at me uncomfortably. I walked on the rocks to cross back over, and he fiddled with his necklace, the way he always did when the situation got stressful.

“Look,” he said. “I’ll wait outside. Just tell me if you see anything, okay?”

“Like what?”

“I dunno… Pennywise the clown?”

Scott chuckled. He punched Josh in the arm. “You never know. C’mon, Pete, let’s get going.”

I followed Scott inside. It was darker than outside, of course, but apart from that, there was a noticeable shift in how the pipe felt. I’d expected it to be a little cooler from the concrete walls, but the pipe was freezing. The only sound was our footsteps, and the slow drops of water dripping off the walls. And the smell. It grew more intense the farther we got, and I started wondering if we were in a sewer after all. But it wasn’t the smell of sewage. It was deeper, mildewy…

It smelled like rot.

“Let’s turn back,” I said to Scott.

He stopped to look at me. “C’mon. You too?”

“Look man,” I said, “it smells like shit. We’re not gonna find anything. Let’s just go out and tell Josh we found a severed hand or something.”

“You think he’ll buy that?”

“You never know.”

Scott nodded. He started turning around, his shoes skimming over of the water, but then I froze. There was noise now, directly behind us. Something was splashing in the water.

I grabbed his shoulder.

“What the hell, man?”

“Behind you. Look!”

He whirled around, but then he yelped and scrambled back. There was a man in the tunnel, directly in front of us.

I swallowed. I stared at him. He looked old, with a scraggly beard under his chin, and his undershirt and jeans were frayed, covered with red stains.

Blood, I thought, numb with shock. There’s blood on his clothes.

Scott was looking at him too, not daring to move. We could only watched as he walked toward us, throwing his hands into the air.

“Get out of here!”

We didn’t move. He saw us standing there, and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a knife.

“Go!”

That broke the spell. We broke into a run down the tunnel, Scott almost knocking me over as we scrambled to get out. I didn’t dare look back, praying that he didn’t follow, even as we burst out of the pipe and barely avoided falling into the creek.

Scott and I stood there, panting, and Josh looked at us like we were crazy.

“What the hell happened in there?”

I didn’t answer. I looked down the storm drain, all the way down, eyes peeled for any sign of him.

I turned to Scott. “He’s gone.”

Scott nodded, and looked away, back down the road. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

We didn’t talk much as we walked home. Josh fiddled with his necklace and asked us questions. But Scott and I were silent. We had questions of our own, and we could see them flashing through our minds.

Who was he? Why would he be in the drain instead of in the park? What was he doing in there?

Why was he covered in blood?

“Pete?”

I looked up. We’d arrived at Scott’s house, next to ours.

I glanced at him, a little flustered. “See you later, Scott.”

We parted ways. Josh and I went home, going up to our rooms. I booted up my PC, trying to drown out everything that happened. Maybe after a while, I’d have the nerve to call the cops or something.

But I never got the chance. I played CSGO for a bit, and the next thing I knew, my phone was ringing. I fumbled to pick it up.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Honey, have you seen Josh?”

I looked out the window. I was surprised to discover that the sun had set. It was probably time for dinner.

“No, Mom.”

“Then I think we have a problem.”

My blood ran cold.

“What happened?”

“He hasn’t been answering, and I’ve been calling him for hours.”

I tried to keep my heart rate level. It was a coincidence, nothing more. What were the odds that he’d actually…

“He said he was going to the creek.”

My head was spinning. So that’s what he was doing. Saving face. He probably thought we were messing with him, and he wanted to prove us wrong.

No, no, no...

“I’ll go look for him.”

“But honey, I’ve called the police…”

“It’ll only be a minute,” I said.

“But…”

I hung up, cutting her off. I ran downstairs, grabbing a sweatshirt from the railing as I raced out the door. Even when I got to Scott’s doorstep, I didn’t slow down.

He opened the door. “Pete?”

I bent over, out of breath. “Josh went inside the storm drain.”

Scott swore. “Fucking idiot.”

“5 minutes. Meet me there.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Get something warm.”

I took off before he could finish. Winded as I was, I sprinted down the road, and soon, I was at the brook. I waited for Scott.

Ten minutes later, he found me at the water. “What the hell, man?”

“I had to be quick.”

“And you couldn’t call the cops?”

“We already did,” I said. I looked into the drain. “But I’m not sitting this out. Minutes could make the difference here, man.”

Scott sighed, but he didn’t try to argue. “Okay. I’m down.”

I nodded.

“Wait outside,” I said. “If I’m not back in 15 minutes, call the police.”

“And you’re going in?”

I didn’t answer for a bit. I stared into the inky blackness of the tunnel.

“It’ll only be a minute.”

Soon, the light was gone. The tunnel was pitch black. Everything was silent, just as before, and the water dripped on concrete. But something was different now. I told myself I was imagining it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. The tunnel was vibrating.

Rumbling.

I grabbed my phone and turned on the flashlight. The old man could see it, but Josh could too.

“Josh?” I called.

No answer.

I kept walking. The water was seeping into my shoes, but I didn’t care anymore. In front of me, the tunnel curved into a bend to my left, and I followed it without much hesitation. The timer on my phone said I’d been walking for four minutes-- three and a half remaining to leave me time to get back. I started down the corridor, but then it happened again: the pipe rumbled.

It was louder this time, and I saw the walls shake a little. What the hell was happening? Cars from the road? Maybe.

I kept walking. Just the tiniest bit faster.

“Josh? Where the hell are you?”

The sound reverberated off the walls of the pipe, and I wished I hadn’t called. I could hear them again, the tiny sounds of splashing footsteps. I couldn’t call again, but I had no choice. Whether Josh was splashing or the old man, I had to try.

I squeezed my fingers into fists. Screwing up my courage, I called one last time:

“Josh?”

Silence. And then, someone screamed.

Without caring who heard, I took off running. There was a hatch ahead of me, closed but unlocked, that blocked out the water than rushed above it. It sounded like the scream had been coming from there. And the voice sounded like Josh’s. Soon, I was next to it, and I grabbed the edge of it and started to pick it up. I opened it a crack, some water going through, but almost instantly, I stopped.

There were noises coming from below the hatch.

It seemed like an eternity as I squatted there, motionless. The metal creaked under me, and it got louder by the second as someone climbed up the ladder. And then it opened, as the bloodstained man came climbing out.

I was paralyzed on the ground. The bloodstained man marched over to me, and I tensed my muscles, ready to run. But then I recognized the look on his face. It was… fear.

“What the hell are you doing here, boy?”

I didn’t answer, gaping up at him.

“Get out of here. Now! While you still have the chance.”

I climbed slowly to my feet. The man watched me warily, but I caught him catching hurried glances above him-- to the roof of the pipe.

This wasn’t right. Why was the man acting like this? And more importantly…

“Where’s my brother?”

“What?”

“My brother,” I said, staring him in the eyes. “He went to this creek and he hasn’t answered us since.”

The man wouldn’t look at me, staring down at the water.

“What did you do to him?”

The man didn’t answer.

“What did you do to him?” I yelled. Blind rage overcame me, and I shoved him in the chest. He tumbled to the ground, and I started over to him. His eyes widened.

“I had to,” he said. “I had no choice, it made me do it. Please, you have to understand.”

“I don’t care if they put a fucking gun to your head, what did you do?”

He started to answer, but something cut him off. The pipe started rumbling, but now, it was going full-force. It shook with an energy that almost knocked me off my feet. Dust was raining from the ceiling, obscuring my flashlight’s beam so that I could barely see.

The man yelped. “No. Please, not him.”

But the rumbling grew stronger. Now there were chunks of debris falling too. I put my hands over my head, desperately trying to shield myself. The old man struggled silently with himself, but finally, I heard him giving in.

“Alright,” he yelled. “I’ll do it.”

The rumbling stopped. The tunnel was quiet, except for the running of water. Slowly, the man forced himself back to standing. He laughed, a wheezing, shaky laugh. He walked towards me, forcing me backwards. There was a knife in his hand. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, the flashlight shimmering on the blade.

“Can’t be helped now,” the old man said. “There’s no turning back when it starts getting hungry.”

He moved closer.

“I never like doing it,” he said, “but I have no choice, you know. If I couldn’t find people to satisfy it, then it would have to settle with me. And it’s so easy, too. The water cleans them up, washes them right into the stream and takes them away. And no one questions it. Nobody checks the storm drain.”

I swallowed, backing away as fast as I dared. He grinned. He chuckled. He stopped where he was, and I stopped too, transfixed, watching him. He was pulling something from his pocket. I refused to believe it, but I could see it in the flashlight:

He was holding Josh’s necklace.

“It never lets them get away.”

I started running. The man yelled after me, and I could hear the splashing as he fought to catch up. I forced a glance at the screen of my phone. Seven minutes. Seven minutes and Scott would be calling the police. But the man was fast. How was he so fast? He was on my tail, just behind me, and I felt his bony arms wrap around me as he tackled me to the ground.

I was face-up, and I felt him trapping me under his knees. The water was running over my face. I fought for breath, gasping, looking up to see him, blood on white, his knife positioned down over my head.

“I’m sorry it had to come to this,” he said, smiling. “But it was you or me.”

I closed my eyes. I braced myself for his knife, but... nothing. I opened my eyes, and there he was-- sprawled unconscious in the water with the surprise frozen on his face. There was a rock next to him, and, whirling around, I saw who had thrown it.

“Scott!”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, but Scott, Josh is…”

“It doesn’t matter. Go, we have to move.”

Scott ran towards the opening, and I took off after him. I snuck a glance to the bloodstained man, and he was unconscious, not even noticing as his prey ran away. But the roof was collapsing. More dust, more debris. It rumbled like an animal, and the noise rang in my ears.

“Hurry!” I yelled to Scott. We were almost there. I could see the sunlight coming through the opening. Scott was ahead of me, and he’d already reached it, balancing just on the rim where the water went into the lake. He stretched out his arm, but I wasn’t going to make it. Clumps of dirt and concrete were pelting my back. They were getting heavier. Scott called my name, but I could barely hear him, because the entire tunnel was coming crashing down on top of me and I couldn’t…

Scott grabbed my arm. He pulled me out, just barely keeping me from falling into the water. Behind us, the tunnel was collapsing, heaps of concrete and dust roaring to the bottom. And it might have been our imagination, but we could have sworn that in all the noise, in all the chaos, we heard an old man screaming inside.

The rest of the pipe collapsed, and the screaming stopped.

We never told anyone about what happened at the creek. Grieving family members don’t take well to irreverent horror stores, and so we kept it a secret, Scott and I, just like we’d done that day with Josh. But Josh was part of that secret now, and we had the world to keep it from.

Josh’s disappearance was never fully solved. The police searched everywhere, the brook especially. They even brought in dogs to try to pick up his scent, but all they did was confirm the worst. His scent stopped at the mouth of the storm drain. Trapped in its collapse? Probably. The police wrote it down, and soon, there were fewer and fewer cops poking around the brook. The explanation stuck, and when the case dried up and the brook was empty, it was hard to tell ourselves that it was a mistaken conclusion drawn by investigators.

That is, until one day, this past week, when I was walking down the street and saw the brook to my right. When I found myself peering down into the storm drain and finding a body lying in a stream of rainwater.

It was a skeleton. Its back was arched over, as if in life, it had adjusted to a constant ducking under pipes, and a few of its teeth were missing. I took out my phone, about to call the police, but then I stopped and looked at it again. The flesh was gone, but the skeleton was almost perfectly intact. I remembered those remains you found in owl pellets, where the flesh was gone but the bones remained…

I stood up, walking faster. I kept on going until I reached my destination and didn’t look back. The old man wasn’t killed when the tunnel collapsed.

He was digested.

Narration:

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