The man with the thin mustache and the thinner comb-over pulled over his car and turned off the engine. The night was quiet. The road was surrounded by blue-green pine trees and a light fog. Next to his car was a lone streetlamp shining down on a manhole cover. It seemed strange that they had put a manhole out there in the middle of nowhere, but he wasn’t in a position to complain. This mustachioed figure slid on a pair of red and white striped cotton gloves, got out of the car, strolled calmly around to the trunk, and opened it. Inside were three black garbage bags. He had filled these, the previous night, with the chopped up remains of a local elementary school teacher. One by one, he carried the bags over to the manhole. He removed the cover with a crowbar, and then dropped the bags down into the darkness. Less than a heartbeat after each bag was dropped, the sound of a wet thud echoed back up to the surface. A faint but angry gurgling seemed to follow. What was it? A voice? Was it Lars?
“It can’t be,” thought the man, “I cut his goddamn head off! Furthermore, this morning I ate his brains for breakfast!” He listened carefully for another second. Then he shook his head, got into his car, and drove away.
“May the Bile Lord have mercy, it happened again,” Rolf gurgled. “Those assholes dropped some more dead humans on us! Rasputin, don’t touch that!”
Rasputin froze. The family was standing outside of their home in the sewer, a plywood and sheet metal hovel. One papa swamp-thing, one mama swamp-thing, and one little swamp-rascal. They were humanoid with decidedly amphibian features. Rasputin was on his tip toes beside the wall. His slimy and mint-colored arm was stretched towards the garbage bags, which had left a dent in their roof. “But Dad, haven’t we got to get them down?”
“Yeah, but let me do it. I don’t want you getting people-blood all over you, especially raw. It might have salmonella.” Rolf approached the house as his son retreated. He had a belly, but besides that Rolf was thin for a swamp creature of his age. “Those filthy surface-dwellers think that they can drop whatever they want on us because we live in the sewers. A little refuse now and then is one thing — that’s normal — but bodies? I should drop some dead bodies onto their fucking houses! Not so nice on the surface now, is it?”
“Honey, please watch your language around Raz,” said Agatha. She was a lovely, middle-aged swamp creature with baby blue skin, two sets of dainty gills on either side of her neck, and large pink flabby lips on the mouth part of her face. She had kind, rubbery, unblinking eyes, and was dressed in a tattered flower-printed apron.
“Sorry, hun,” said Rolf. “It just grinds my gears is all. It seems like every week they drop a corpse on us.” He pulled the black bags down from his roof and threw them in a pile. He carefully tore one open and looked in on the decapitated and brainless head of Lars the former teacher. “Gross,” said Rolf. He paused in contemplation. “I guess we’ll have to burn them. Raz, get some matches and lighter fluid.”
Rasputin went into their shack and came back out with three loose matches and a rusty can of lighter fluid. He handed these items to his father, and Rolf poured the lighter fluid on the garbage bags. “Ok, stand back.” Rolf struck one of the matches and tossed it onto the pile. The fire erupted and quickly grew. The bags melted, Lars burned, and the family stood and watched the pyre as it grew and illuminated their damp little corner of the sewer.
The next evening Rasputin wandered into the Great Hall, where several smaller sewer lines poured into a main artery. Some of his fellow youths were playing in the muck. A perpendicular pipe crossed over the sewage-way, and the children would take turns, two by two, facing off over this iron tightrope, charging at each other and then wrestling until the loser fell harmlessly into the flowing feces below. All would cheer the victor and laugh as the unfortunate fallen child rose stinking from the sewage and onto one of the cement banks. Then a new challenger would climb up onto the precarious battleground and the ritual would begin anew.
Rasputin approached a girl he knew well. Half human and half nutria, she was coated in shiny chestnut fur and had a long, thin, pink and hairless tail. Either side of her chubby-cheeked face sprouted long whiskers, and her little black nose wiggled when she concentrated on any matter. She had little human-like hands and feet, and while she usually walked upright, the configuration of the joints in her arms and legs made it significantly easier to scamper on all fours when she was in a hurry. A tank-top with “princess” written on it in rhinestones hung from her shoulders by spaghetti-straps. IT had once been the same shade of pink as her tail, but now it was a mottle of grey and brown, the original color showing through only in spots.
“Hi, Clarissa,” said Rasputin. “Who’s king of the pipe?”
“Robby the Lizard Boy has been up there for a while, but he’s a pretty lousy king. He just spits in everyone’s faces when they get close and knocks ‘em off like that.” Clarissa noticed the glum expression on her friend’s face. “What’s up with you?” she asked.
“Another body fell on our house yesterday,” Rasputin said.
“I heard about that. Stuff is always falling on your house. Don’t you live right under a sewage line? You guys should move someplace else.”
“The sewage isn’t a problem, it’s the bodies that are the real pain. But my dad says ‘We aren’t going to move just because of some surface shithead.’ He’s pretty stubborn.” Rasputin scratched at one of his gills. “I have an idea, though. I think we should go up to the surface and find whoever keeps dropping dead people down on us, and make him pay. Or at least ask him to stop.” He thought for a second. The plan had been forming, but it was far from completion. “Maybe we could steal all of his corpses, and then he wouldn’t have any more to drop on us.”
Clarissa was intrigued. “Have you ever been to the surface world?” she asked.
“No,” said Rasputin. “But you and your family go up there sometimes to forage for food, right?”
“Sure. I’ve been up there loads of times. I know my way around.” She had been to the surface twice and had never strayed farther than half a mile from the nearest manhole. There was a creek there where her father took her fishing.
“Really? You aren’t afraid? Would you go up there with me and help me find the guy?”
Clarissa looked long and hard at Rasputin. She smiled. “Of course I’ll go.”
The pair spent the rest of the day making preparations. They traded some marbles to a frog boy they knew for two pairs of sunglasses. “We’ll need these. It can get pretty bright up on the surface,” Clarissa told Rasputin. They also got their mitts on a rusty kitchen knife, “in case of trouble,” they said.
They waited patiently for morning, when their families went to sleep, and then they snuck out of their beds and met outside Rasputin’s house. They put on their sunglasses and climbed a ladder towards the surface. With great effort, Rasputin was able to lift the manhole cover, and the two climbed up and away from the world they knew.
They were surrounded by blue-green pine trees. A wide asphalt road wound in two directions into the mist. An unlit wrought iron street lamp rose above them, and above that was a navy sky with the dimming remains of the previous night’s stars. To the east, a pale yellow light broke through the trees.
“Holy moly, it’s bright,” Rasputin said. He put a slimy hand over his eyes, already covered by sunglasses though they were. He slowly spun about, looking in every direction, mystified. He craned his neck and stared at the sky. Rasputin had never been to a place which wasn’t enclosed on every side by concrete and metal. “I don’t much like it up here,” he eventually said.
“It’s definitely a different sort of place,” replied Clarissa. “Where do you think your corpse-dropper lives?”
Rasputin slid his eyes once more over the surroundings, and then pointed at four long imprints in the mud. They came off the road from the south, swept past the manhole, and then spun around back in the direction from which they originated. “Look at these,” he said. “One of these must be his footprints! I guess it was four of them. They must be big snakes!”
“You would think so, but no.” Clarissa looked at Rasputin knowingly. “My father told me about these. Surface people ride around in big metal carts. These are the marks left by their wheels. Our man probably rode here in his cart, dumped the bodies on you, and then got back in his cart and returned to his lair.”
Rasputin looked at Clarissa over the top of his sunglasses. “Looks like we got cart-tracks to follow,” he said with unsuccessfully attempted bravado. Clarissa nodded at him, and the two went down the road together, one scampering on all fours and the other splatting awkwardly above a pair of webbed green feet.
The pallor of the sky gradually shifted from navy to robin egg blue. Farmhouses appeared along the roadside, and then a high school and an empty shopping market. Soon the two sewer children were in the midst of a small town. They crept stealthily along through front yards, peering into the windows as they went. Most revealed empty living rooms, but between the curtains of one window they were about to spy a young and prematurely grey-haired woman crying at a kitchen table, a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee growing cold before her.
“She must hate pie,” Clarissa said. “How will we recognize the guy’s house when we find it?”
“His den will be filled with dead bodies,” Rasputin responded without hesitation. “Heck, he probably uses bones for his fence posts. I bet we’ll recognize his house from blocks away.”
A truck growled slowly down the avenue, stopping in front of the sobbing woman’s house. Rasputin and Clarissa hid under a shrub. A man hopped out of the driver’s seat dressed all in white, with white trousers and a white jacket buttoned up to the neck and a white cap. He opened the back of the truck and pulled out two glass bottles filled with a white liquid. Rasputin’s curiosity was piqued. The ivory-clad man strolled jauntily past the flower beds and up the steps to the front door, where he placed the two full bottles beside the welcome mat. He picked up two empty glass bottles which were sitting there, and then returned to his truck and drove away.
“Did you see that?” Rasputin whispered in amazement, “that must have been the water delivery man! Look at the quality of the water they have up here! Clean and white and pure, not like the dirty brown stuff we live with down in the sewers.” He stared at the milky fluid with wide and glassy eyes. “I got to try me some of that. Wait here a second.” Rasputin peeked into the window to be sure that the woman within was still crying at her table. He paused. Might she decide to come outside soon? Wouldn’t she too want to try her some of that? Rasputin chickened out. “Nevermind,” he said as casually as he could. “Let’s keep going.”
The two continued down the road for several blocks. Along the way, they narrowly avoided a brawl with a family of raccoons, and they had to climb under a parked car to hide from a group of children who were gliding down the sidewalk on scooters. Eventually, they reached a cul-de-sac.
Clarissa stuck her nose in the air. “He’s near,” she said. “I can smell the bodies.” A breeze floated past her nostrils. Her whiskers perked. “That’s the house you’re looking for!” She pointed towards a pleasant beige house with a large beige garage beside it and a well-manicured lawn out front. It looked almost exactly like all of the other houses, except perhaps less interesting.
The pair exchanged looks of false bravery and then approached the home and peered through the window. Inside was a foyer with beige carpeting and white walls. A navy blue sofa was sitting across from a small television set topped by twisted antennas. On the sofa lay several pillows embroidered with images of dogs and children playing. Hanging from the walls were more canine scenes. Dogs frolicking in fields. Dogs licking one another in the butt-region. Dogs playing low stakes poker. Dogs, dogs, dogs.
“I think dogs live here,” said Rasputin.
“No, this is the place for sure. It smells just like the bodies that always fall on your house,” Clarissa replied. “Trust me. Nutrias have an excellent sense of smell.”
“Do they, though? I just expected his house to look scarier.”
“When you can smell dead people, then we’ll talk. For now, follow me.”
Clarissa led Rasputin around the side of the house. The backdoor featured a doggy-door, which the two laboriously squirmed through. The whole inside of the house smelled like caramel hard candies. The pair slunk on tip toes down a hallway lined with shelves which were filled with dusty VHS tapes. The house at first seemed impossibly silent, but slowly the dull and rhythmic sound of sandpaper in use seeped through the walls. Someone was rubbing something, steadily wearing something away. The two sewer children crept as quietly as they could, their eyes tense from carefully searching every newly revealed nook and closet.
A screech! A dark shape sprung from behind a doorway! It was an emaciated black cat, fearful at the approach of strange intruders. It arched its back and hissed at the two children.
“MONSTER!” Rasputin cried.
“Eat it!” said Clarissa.
“What?!” Rasputin looked with terror at Clarissa, who nodded at him vigorously. He quickly swallowed his fear, and, with a lunge, swallowed the cat as well.
“That was a close one.”
The scritch-scratching of the sandpaper had ceased, and the sound was now replaced by stomping feet climbing a set of stairs. The children locked wide eyes and ran into a nearby bathroom, closing the door behind them. The stomping grew gradually closer. It was now outside the bathroom door. The children climbed shuddering into the shower stall and drew the curtains closed. They could hear the doorknob turn with a squeak. The door creaked open, then shut. Rasputin covered his eyes with webbed fingers. Clarissa held tightly to her tail with both of her little hands. The sound of a zipper being undone rang through the shower curtains. A hard and steely look slowly grew on Clarissa’s face. A stream of liquid could be heard splashing with halts into a body of water. Clarissa wiggled her nose with mounting determination; she withdrew the rusty kitchen knife from some hidden location beneath her spaghetti-strap shirt. She heard the zipper go back up.
“AAAAHHHHHHHHHH! Hi-YA!” Clarissa flung herself through the shower curtain, stabbing hard at the air. Unfortunately, she lept from the shower stall straight into the mirror opposite, colliding headfirst. The mirror shattered. Clarissa’s sunglasses fell off.
A thin man stood over her, his hands tucking a t-shirt into pleated slacks, his comb-over was messy and ineffective, his mustache thin but proud. “Holy guacamole!” he said.
Clarissa swung wildly with the knife and managed to slash the mustachioed man across the shin. He screamed and fell to the ground. Rasputin cowered in the shower, unable to move from fear. Clarissa was having trouble focusing her eyes. She was probably concussed from having smashed her head into the mirror; still, she wielded her blade with enthusiasm, managing to stab Mr. Mustache twice in the thigh and inflict a glancing blow to his crotch region. He screamed and writhed. His non-stabbed leg swung furiously, catching Clarissa across the head and sending her sliding towards the bathroom door. The tiled floor was becoming wet with blood.
Clarissa slowly stood. She couldn’t quite see straight. Rasputin remained in the shower. The man looked at Clarissa with a deep hatred. He didn’t even seem to notice that she was a humanoid nutria-creature: all he knew was that she needed to die. He grabbed a large and jagged piece of shattered mirror and gripped it tightly. Blood ran down as it cut his hand. He slowly stood, balancing on his good leg and facing Clarissa. She was decidedly wobbly, and couldn’t have been a third of the man’s size.
Rasputin knew that this was his moment for action: he couldn’t let Clarissa be killed. In his heart he knew what he had to do. He took a deep breath, and then he projectile-vomited an undigested dead cat at the mustachioed man. The bile-soaked kitty-corpse struck the man in the side of his neck. Mr. Mustache only had one functioning leg, so he was unable to retain his balance; with a sploosh, he fell butt-first into the toilet. Clarissa lunged and stabbed the man repeatedly in the chest. He screamed and then gurgled and then went quiet.
For what seemed like seven minutes and fourteen seconds, nobody moved. Clarissa was breathing heavily, and she kept her eyes closed. She felt dizzy. Rasputin simply sat, unable to process what had happened. “The other surface people will be angry that one of their kind is dead,” he finally said. “Who knows? This could start a war. I think… we need to destroy the evidence.”
Clarissa looked at him with tired eyes. She looked down at the bloody knife in her hands. She looked at the corpse, with its rump half-submerged in toilet water. She looked back at Rasputin.
They went to work.
It was almost dark by the time that they had finally finished their awful job. As soon as the last of the remains had been flushed, they washed themselves off in the kitchen sink and slunk back out of the doggy-door from whence they had come. They trod tiredly through the town and back into the forest. They soon reached a lone streetlamp shining a light on a manhole cover. With great effort, they pried up the cover. A blast of cold, comforting sewage stench flew up into their noses. They were almost home.
They climbed down and then stood looking at each other solemnly.
“Thanks,” said Rasputin. Clarissa nodded. “Well… see you tomorrow?”
“See you tomorrow,” said Clarissa.
She scampered back towards her family’s part of the sewer, and Rasputin approached his house. He peered into the windows. All the lights were out, but his parents would be waking up soon. He carefully, silently crept through his front door and made his way to his bedroom. He climbed slowly into his bed and pulled his comforter over his body and up to his gills. The rhythmic drip-dropping of sewage lightly raining on the roof was the only sound, and it carried Rasputin quickly to sleep.
The next night was a Sunday, and all the sewer folk gathered in the Great Hall to picnic and watch the children play king of the pipe. In making small talk, many people remarked that the sewage that day was more blood colored than usual, and filled with a higher than average amount of flesh and bones and bits of mustache.