“Look, I’m not gonna pay a couple of hundred bucks for some guy to come out here and tell us that he can’t do anything or try to charge a couple grand to fix it. We just bought this house.” Nick and Amy were standing in their kitchen. Nick was leaning against the counter next to the sink. Amy was standing across from him, looking down at the floor just in front of the sink.
Amy says, “Nick, the floor is about to collapse. It sinks in under my weight. This is a serious problem.”
They were a young, married couple who just may be a little in over their heads. Nick had just published his first novel. It was selling slowly but it was selling. He had always been a little too confident for his own good. When the book started to generate some serious money, he quit his job as a warehouse tech at the hospital and convinced Amy (a nurse at the same hospital) to do the same.
Their savings were nearly gone. Amy, normally a happy and vibrant person, was visibly anxious. Nick sighs and says, “Look, if the floor is rotted it’s because of moisture and that means there’s a leak in a pipe somewhere. I’ll get under the house and see how bad it is. It’s not that old, so it shouldn’t be that bad. I’ll fix it. I am your handyman, after all.”
Nick smiles at her but Amy’s expression remains solem. She says, “What about the floor, Nick? You’re not that handy.”
“Ouch,” Nick says, “Jesse does flooring. We’ve known each other since high school, I’m sure he’ll give me a good deal. If the rot hasn’t spread too far, it shouldn’t be too much.”
“God, I hope so. I swear, I could kill the inspector who looked at this place. We should sue his ass off.”
“Oh, come on, babe. You know we couldn’t afford the court fees.”
Amy glares at Nick. He puts his hands in the air and says, “Alright, alright, not funny. You know, you used to laugh at all my jokes.”
Amy rolls her eyes and says, “Yeah, well, that was before we broke.”
Nick walks over to Amy and hugs her. Amy hugs him back and puts her head on his shoulder. She says, “I’m really scared, babe. What are we going to do?”
Nick strokes her hair and says, “Don’t worry. Please. Jeff told me that the book sales are increasing and I’m getting good reviews. We’re gonna be okay, I promise. I’ll go check out the pipes and see what I can do.”
“Okay, Nick. I trust you.”
She kisses him softly on the neck and they let each other go. Amy composes herself and says, “So I’ll let you go do your manly thing. I have some errands to run.”
Nick smiles and says, “You know, I’ll definitely need a shower when I’m done under there. Maybe, when you get back, we can play naughty nurse and the dirty handyman.”
This time, Amy laughs and says, “Shut up you dork.”
“I love you, Amy.”
“I love you, Nick.”
Nick watches Amy leave and then he goes to the backyard. The access panel is on the opposite side of the house. As he walks toward it, he says to himself, “Whoever designed this place was a real genius.” Nick has a bad habit of talking to himself.
When he finally gets there, he looks down at the panel and then back toward the back patio, approximately where the kitchen would be. He says, “What is that? Fifteen or twenty feet? Way to volunteer, dumbass.”
Nick kneels down and opens the trapdoor. He is immediately hit with the stench of old mildew and damp earth. He is about to climb in when he realizes that he forgot to bring a flashlight. He runs back into the house and grabs one out a drawer in the kitchen. He goes back to the opening and crawls inside.
The crawl space is dark and full of spider webs. There is not enough room for Nick to get to his hands and knees. He will have to crawl on his stomach. He turns on the flashlight. It produces a dim beam of light. He says, “Nick, my man, you are on a roll. Grabbing a flashlight without checking the batteries. Oh, well. Plenty of light from the trapdoor.”
Nick begins to crawl. It is slow and difficult work. He has gone no more than a foot when he hears a loud bang and the crawl space goes dark. He tries to turn his head to see but there is not enough room. “Oh, damn it. The door shut. This just keeps getting better.”
He looks forward. The beam from the flashlight doesn’t reach very far. Just keep moving forward, Nick. You’ll get there.” He continues to crawl.
Nick tries to keep his mouth closed, not wanting to inhale any dust, but he is panting. He inches along, spider webs caressing his face like the hands of a ghost. Suddenly, there is a noise to his left, a rustling sound. He points the flashlight in that direction. He sees nothing at first but then the beam settles on a pair of glowing eyes.
He is startled and tries to get up. He hits his head on a cross beam, making a loud thud.
He says, “Ouch, son of a bitch! That’s using your head, Nick. Scared shitless by a mouse or rat. Oh, god, that’s the last thing we need.” He looks for the eyes but they are gone. Nick decides to cancel his mission and return to the trapdoor. The crawl space is a maze of pipes and structural supports. He decides to crawl backwards.
As he makes his way back to the door, he finds this way is even worse. His shirt begins to slide up, exposing his skin to the dirt and chunks of concrete. When he feels an open space at his feet, he knows he is almost there. That is when he hears it. Heavy breathing and his own. He freezes. He cannot tell where it is coming from or even what it is. It is a raspy sound, almost like dead leaves scraping on the sidewalk.
Nick frantically searches with the flashlight. He does not see anything. The breathing is getting louder. Nick is in a full panic. He shouts, “Who’s down here?! Where are you?!” He does not expect a response but he gets one.
“Right behind you, Nick.” He screams and rapidly begins to crawl forward. He bumps his head and scrapes his arms but he does not stop.
He is not sure how far he has crawled but he does not hear the breathing anymore. He stops to rest. He looks around in all directions but the flashlight has grown weaker. He can only see for a few inches. He looks to his right and cannot see the foundation of the house. He reaches out and he cannot feel it either. In his panic, he had somehow made his way to the center of the house.
He tries to roll over onto his back but it is too tight. “Okay. Uh- whoever you are… if you’re, uh, if you’ve been living down here… I can help. If you need money, food clothes… you can use the shower. I can help you.”
“I don’t want your money, Nick. I want you, Nick. You are my food.”
“Oh, Jesus, who are you?!”
“I’m not a who, Nick.”
“What?! Get the fuck out of my house!”
“It’s my house, Nick. It’s always been my house.”
Nick feels something grab his foot and he screams again. He begins to kick wildly and starts to crawl again, losing a shoe in the process. As he crawls, his hand lands in a puddle. It does not feel like water. It is thick and a little warm but he keeps moving, dragging his body over the puddle. He comes to a web of pipes and two by fours. He is blocked. He looks at his hand. He cannot tell in the dim light but he thinks the liquid is blood.
The crawl space is quiet, except for his own breathing. Okay, he thinks, move to the right and find the foundation and get out of here. He struggles but he is able to position his body to the right. He looks ahead. The crawl space seems endless. “You’re going the wrong way, Nick.”
“You’re never going to leave, Nick. You belong to me now.”
“I’m just hallucinating. There’s mold down here. You’re just in my head.”
“No, I’m not but I will be soon.”
Nick does not respond to this. He is moving, looking for the foundation. He glances to his left and right as he moves. He tries to tell himself that it is just his imagination but as he looks around he sees human bones and skulls scattered everywhere. It feels as if he has been under there for hours. He wonders about Amy. Is she home yet? Would she have come out to check on him and seen the door closed? What would she think? Nick must have finished early and went to hardware store or to see Mike.
“Amy can’t help you, Nick. No one can”
It’s all in my head, he thinks, you caught claustrophobia that’s all. He stops when he sees a four inch, y-shaped pipe. He says, “You know what this is. The drain pipe for a toilet. There’s a bathroom in the hallway just off of the kitchen. Turn right and you’ll reach the door.”
To his right, the voice closer than ever, says, “No, you won’t, Nick. I’m going to eat you alive, starting with your face.”
“Oh, god, just leave me alone!”
“Fuck you. Okay, don’t panic. Why are you down here? To fix a pipe because the kitchen floor is weak. It sank under Amy’s weight. Get to the kitchen and break through the goddamn floor.”
“You’ll never make it, Nick. I’m coming for you.”
Nick moves to his left, crawling as fast as he can. He keeps his head up, following the pipes. He can hear the thing in the crawl space following him, gaining. He finally sees the drain to the kitchen sink. He stops and pushes himself up with arms, using his back to press against the floor. It does not budge. The breathing is getting closer and closer. Then, it hits him. He shouts, “You dumbass! The floor in front of the sink.”
He lowers himself and slides a few feet to left. He pushes himself up again and this time there is some give. The breathing is very close now. Nick is pushing so hard that his arms begin to tremble. In a strained voice, he says, “Come on you bastard! Break through!”
“I’m going to get you, Nick. You’ll never leave.”
“Come on! Don’t quit! Come on!”
“It’s too late, Nick!”
He breaks through the floor, letting out a guttural cry. Amy is in the kitchen and she drops the bags that were in her arms, screaming. She sees Nick, covered in blood and dirt, trying to drag himself into the house. She says, “Nick? What the hell are doing?! What hapened?!”
Before he can answer, Nick is being pulled back under the house. “Amy! Help!” She rushes over to him and grabs his arms but she cannot hold on to him. Nick is sucked back into the darkness.
“Nick! Nick!” In the darkness, there is only silence. “Nick! Nick! Nick…”
“Nick? Are you still down there? Nick?”
Nick opens his eyes. His vision is a little blurry and his head hurts. There is a bad smell. He is laying in dirt. He is in the crawl space. “Nick, can you hear me?”
“Amy?” His voice is heavy and a little raspy.
“Are you almost done? I thought you wanted me to be your naughty nurse when I got back.”
“I’m coming, Amy.”
He makes his way back to the trapdoor. He looks up and sees Amy kneeling down with a concerned look on her face. He says, “I think I need a regular nurse. I hit my head and I guess I knocked myself out.” He smiles at her and crawls out.
Amy helps him to his feet and says, “Where’d you hit your head? Let me see.” She examines his head and laughs.
“You big baby,” she says, “no blood, not even a bump.”
“Still, maybe you should put on your uniform and give me a full physical.” They both laugh at this. They could always make each other laugh.
They start walking to the back door and Nick says, “You know, maybe I should just call Mike. Let him rip up the floor and then we can find the leak.”
“That sounds like a better plan. I don’t need you killing yourself down there, you klutz.”
“I don’t think I’d like that, either. But on the plus side, I had a crazy ass dream down there. Could make a hell of a story.”
“Oh, Nick, you need to wake up.”
“Whoa, what was that about? You think I’m a one hit wonder?”
“Wake up, Nick. You need to wake up.”
“Amy? What’s wrong? Why do you keep saying that?”
“Wake up, Nick. Wake up.”
“Amy, stop it. What is this?”
“Wake up, Nick. Wake up”
His vision starts to fade. Everything is going dark. Amy’s voice is far way and fading. He tries to speak but he cannot. Darkness takes over.
“Wake up, Nick. Wake up.”
Nick opens his eyes. He looks around. He says, “No.”
“Wake up, Nick”
“I told you you would never leave.”
He is back in the crawl space. He points his flashlight in all directions. The beam grows weaker and weaker until it finally fades. Darkness takes over.