“Iggy, get out from there! You’re gonna get stuck. I’m surprised you can even crawl on those knees of yours.” The old woman is standing out in the front yard, grass trimmed and flower bushes mulched. She is looking at the rectangular hole that leads to the crawlspace, the white cover panel laid off to the side. Two black soles can be seen edging further into the hole that leads below the house, a tan-sided construct three or four rooms short of being a mansion. The grounds around it seems crowded by its presence, two oak trees on either side and more visible overtop the roof. The neighboring houses might equal its size if you shoved them together. The woman leans over a little, hands on her hips, watching the man as he makes his way deeper. “They aren’t going to last much longer if you keep this up, and you just had that procedure done! The doctors told you to go easy on them. You might save a few hundred dollars in pest control but your medical bills are going to cost us thousands!”
“I’ll be fine!” His voice echoes back to her, the reverberation lending it a hollow quality. “I’ve got my thick jeans on,” he chuckles.
“Let me know when you need me to call nine one one. Just knock on the floor when you’re ready, you stubborn old goat.”
“I’ll be done in an hour!” he yells back, smiling as he inches along, flashlight lighting up the corners between the supporting posts and cobwebs. “Never thought running cross country in high school would come back and bite me in the knees.” He sniffs a bit from the dust, the smell of wood and must pervasive. “No sign of ’em yet. Better not be any termites this year, I swear.” He continues to shuffle forward between the support posts, white-haired head only an inch or so below the main beam that stretches overhead. He is at about the halfway point when the dizziness starts. The bottom of the house becomes the belly of a boat, tilting back and forth.
“Woah.” An arm goes out from beneath him, and he wipes a hand across his eyes, but the dizziness persists. He starts to back up, each movement a scraping, halting effort, and before long he is panting, a small noise amplified by the close confines. It seems an eternity before he feels the outside air on the patches of uncovered skin between sock and pant-leg, and then he is out, still panting but no longer dizzy, and heart-rate at a fairly normal rate for seventy-one. He sits back, arms propped on his knees, and begins the process of catching his breath. “What in the world… yeesh!”
“Hey Mr. Green, you okay?” A neighborhood kid runs up to him from where he was walking on the side of the road, blue baseball cap on head and tennis shoes on feet.
“Yeah Mike, I’m all right. Just a little winded or something.” He pushes himself to his feet and stands steady, no sign of the off-balance affliction any longer. He slaps his thighs. “Whoo boy! Need some water. Gotta stay hydrated.”
“What were you doing under there? Looks kinda scary.”
“Nah, nothing scary about it, only thing under there is dirt and dust. I was just checking for termites. Must’ve got too hot, had to evacuate! Where ya headed, Mike?”
“Going to friend’s house, gonna play Wii.”
“My kids were talking about getting me a Wii but I managed to convince ’em not to. You have fun over there.”
“Later, Mr. Green!” The boy runs off, and Iggy steps up the stairs to go inside.
It is almost dusk when the phone rings, the sky a soft collage of orange and red streaks. Iggy gets up from his la-z-boy and stumps over to the phone, ‘telemarketer’ the only word intelligible from his grumbling.
“Hey Iggy, it’s Sharon. Did- did you see Mike go by earlier? He was supposed to be at Rose’s house but when I called to tell her to send him home, she said he never showed up.”
“What? Yeah, he said hi to me. I was looking under the house for termites. Far as I know he went on his way after that.”
“Oh god. Okay. I’m going to head over there myself.” The line goes silent almost immediately, and Iggy looks at the now-vacant phone, holding it at chest height.
“What’s going on?” His wife calls from the living room, turning her back to the crime drama on the television screen.
“Mike from down the street. His mother says he’s gone missing.”
She rises from the couch and walks over to him. “Oh no! Didn’t you just see him earlier? I thought I saw you talking to him after you fainted.”
“I didn’t faint! But yeah, I said hi and then he went on his way… I’m gonna go outside and take a look around. Hopefully he just went to a different friend’s house, typical kid thing to do.”
“I sure hope so, with all the maniacs out in the world nowadays.”
“Ya got that right.” Iggy nods and heads outside. It is a warm night, complemented by the colors of the setting sun, and would be a very relaxing scene if not for the possible missing person case that seems to have developed. It is still light enough that a quick scan of the surrounding area has no shady sections in which to hide. There is no sign of Mike, or anyone else for that matter. A black rectangle catches his eye as he turns. The crawlspace is still accessible, cover laying askew from the opaque opening. Iggy walks over to it and lowers slowly to one knee and then bends further to look into the recesses below the house. A round blue shape can be seen a ways into the space. “Nah… ” he frowns, squinting but unable to be sure. “Well, back under I go.”
The going is no easier, but Iggy keeps his eyes upon the blue shape, inching his way through the drifting dust and grayish dirt that makes up the seldom-travelled sub-house landscape. In spite of the rapidly fading daylight and obstruction of the house overhead, it slowly becomes evident that the blue shape is the baseball cap that Mike was wearing earlier. Beyond the cap is unusually dark, and getting closer does not seem to help. He squints in an attempt to penetrate the shade, still crawling forward, and then almost falls as his hands are suddenly lower than the rest of his body.
“What the hell…?” He rummages around in his pocket for a second, withdrawing a small flashlight and turning it on with one hand. Its faint beam reveals that the slope upon which he stumbled leads into a tunnel that seems to continue on for some way, becoming steeper as it goes. The light only reaches so far before it is swallowed by the darkness of the tunnel. “Well, this wasn’t here before. Mike? You in there?” There is no answer and no sign of Mike anywhere, so he continues and the ground keeps sloping downward, the bottom of the house becoming further away from his head, grey dust gradually becoming damp brown soil above and below, minuscule roots poking through the dirt and the occasional rock scraping against his hands. The deeper he gets, the more spacious the tunnel grows, to the point where he can eventually stand up, brushing the dirt from his hands, elbows, and knees.
“This is impossible. I must be at least fifteen feet underground now. At least. Maybe I kicked the bucket?” He closes his eyes, pinches his arm, and then twists the skin for good measure, wincing at the pain of it. He is still standing in the tunnel when he opens his eyes. “Okay, onward we go, I guess.” The tunnel is cold, the air still and permeated by the smell of damp dirt. His feet leave imprints in the moderately flat floor, curved walls a patchwork of crumbling soil. He pauses for a moment and sweeps the light across the floor. Smaller footprints precede him, the bottoms pooling with thin layers of moisture. “Mike?” he calls out again, the sound muffled by the soft surroundings. Once again, there is no answer, but there is the faint feel of air against his face. Another ten minutes of walking and the slope levels out, and then his feet sound upon stone. He looks down and the light reveals a solid slab, perhaps slate, almost smooth, minuscule ridges lining its surface. It continues like this for a while longer until the dirt walls and ceiling are interrupted by square stone pillars on either side of him, bridged at the top by a larger lintel, a slab of rough stone that looks as though there may have been designs or inscriptions upon it that have been worn away by time. The breeze is flowing through this three-part doorway. Iggy passes through this doorway, looking up as he goes. He pauses upon the doorstep, mouth opening then closing in a frown. The top of the entrance is easily six feet higher than his head.
Within is an expansive space that cannot be penetrated by Iggy’s light. The pathway has turned from tunnel to stone bridge across a deep chasm. Shining the light down or out across the depths only shows thin spires of light grey stone, bumpy surfaces shiny with moisture. Whether they are descending from the roof of the cave or rising up from the bottom is unknowable. “Hope he didn’t fall down there…” Iggy moves at a brisker pace.
The stone of the bridge becomes smoother as he goes. All of it would seem to have been carved from solid rock, as there are no visible seams aside from the occasional small crack or chip. Strange scenes are carved into the sides of the railing and stone posts that hold them up; they pass by at eye-level for Iggy and he runs the flashlight over them. The object of the unknown artist seems to be trios of oval blobs from which various animals seem to be extruding. There is a huge variety depicted – some of which he can’t even identify – daisy-chained together in lines and then connected to the next set of blobs. There are no human figures. He reaches out a hand but does not touch.
“Well Mike, if you’re down here you may have made me a millionaire with this discovery. Might have to put you through college as thanks.” He continues along, an orb of dim light moving along the bridge, shoes making small scuffing noises against the stone. Then, from up ahead there is a noise that joins the sound of the cool air drifting past. A strange, scratchy noise, like a moist sponge being dragged across rough rock. Iggy stops in his tracks and the noise continues, getting louder as it approaches. And then he is overcome with dizziness once again, and reaches out a hand to lean against the stone pillar, his hand upon the smooth carving, cold and almost damp-feeling to the touch. The light from the flashlight tumbles about as he attempts to hold it straight ahead, eventually managing to keep it moving in a small circle as he struggles to maintain consciousness. The light wavers over a smooth, pale green surface, three large ovular spheres that almost seem to float above the thin, trailing reddish-pink tendrils that drag across the ground, and which would seem to be the source of the scratching noise in spite of their smooth appearance. The three are connected by more pinkish and porous, mottled tissue, which expands and contracts as the creature moves and its main body pulsates, a clear fluid dropping from the holes. Occasional ripples cross the surface of the green lobes, as though they are only a thin surface stretched over some sort of liquid. The closer it creeps, the more apparent the reason behind the size of the structure he has been traveling across becomes; the creature towers overhead of him. And the closer it gets, the worse he feels. It is as though Iggy’s brain is rolling within his skull, tumbling and scraping against the edges as it goes and rattling his eyes. The closer it gets the worse the feeling becomes, and he starts to slide down the pillar, flashlight dropping to the floor with a plastic clatter, rolling to a halt against one of the pillars on the opposite side of the bridge.
Just as his vision begins to go black, he slaps both this knees and yells out as the pain sends knives throughout his body and dispels the fugue from his mind, at least for the moment. His vision cleared, he sees that one of the tendrils has risen from the floor and is only inches from his face, the surface of it much rougher than at first glance, cracked and ridged like a reptile’s skin. He recoils, bending shakily to grab the flashlight and turning to run, though he is only able to stagger away from the creature. However, upon turning he sees Mike slumped on the floor against one of the railing pillars, eyes vacant, mouth open, and limbs limp. He makes a beeline for the unconscious boy and pulls him up by and with one arm, dragging him along as best he can. There is no sound from behind them but Iggy does not turn to see if the creature is following them. Once the pain from his knees wears off a bit he speeds up his pace, not slowing until they pass back through the entrance to the subterranean bridge, his breath coming in rasping wheezes. He leans against the stone and lowers the still-limp Mike to the ground, where he groans and then, after thrashing around a bit, comes conscious with a short yell. He looks up at the wide-eyed Iggy, who was in the middle of reaching to restrain the boy from knocking himself against the stone in his convulsions.
“Iggy? What… where… are we still…?” his voice rises in pitch and tears form at the corners of his eyes at the last question, and Iggy nods at him but quickly cuts him off, grabbing his shoulders.
“Hey. Don’t worry, we’re getting out of here. And we’re getting far away from that creature. Do you think you can walk?”
“Good, let’s get going. It doesn’t sound like it followed, but who knows what that thing can do.” They both jog further up the tunnel, and they are soon passing over the damp soil and climbing up the crumbling slope of it, grasping hands tossing clumps backward as they go. They are just getting to the drier level of the tunnel when there is a sucking noise from somewhere far behind them, like something rising from the depths of thick swamp-muck. This is followed by a fluttering and flapping. Both Iggy and Mike stand and start to run, but the flapping catches up to, and then passes between them.
The dove easily overtakes them and flies out and away, a flurry of white careening franticly off the walls. They both stop and stare for a moment, glance back down the tunnel, and then look at each other. Neither says a word, and they do not stop moving until they are back under the house once again, Mike emerging from the tunnel first. They can hear Iggy’s wife’s voice up ahead talking to another, unknown person. Once they can see the exit from the crawlspace, the flashing red light makes it clear as to who this unknown party is. Iggy emerges first and then Mike, his wife rushing over to him, an ambulance technician and police officer in tow. Her voice is near to shriek.
“What happened? I thought you were passed out under there, or maybe your heart had gone, I didn’t know what to do! It’s been almost an hour – wait, Mike? What are you… you’re mother’s been looking all over for you! You were under there?” She looks back at Iggy, who stares back at her.
“Did any of you see the bird come flying out of there?”
“What? No, I didn’t see anything.” She turns to the emergence crew, who shake their heads in negation as well. Iggy looks at each of them in turn and then speaks.
“I think… I think there may have been some sort of wild animal under our house. Probably after the bird. Mike here followed it, and may have hit his head on one of the beams when it startled him. I didn’t know whether or not I should move him, but I didn’t want him to be alone once he came to. Not to mention, that fox,” he glances at Mike and then back at the others, “or whatever it was might still be under there. My fault for leaving the hatch open.” Mike is looking at Iggy, but does not say anything. Iggy turns to his wife. “Sorry honey, I should have said something. You waited an hour before calling for help, though?”
She ignores this last statement. “I’m just glad you’re okay. You always try to do everything on your own.” She lets out a long sigh, reaching out to brush his arm. Meanwhile, the ambulance tech has taken Mike aside and is checking his eyes with a small light.
Iggy turns to the police officer. “Do you… do you think you could take a quick look around down there, maybe just a little ways in? I know it’s not really in your job description, but I would really appreciate it…”
“Sure! No problem.” He detaches the long flashlight from his belt and walks over and then into the crawlspace, sweeping the much brighter light slowly around the bottom of the house. Five minutes later he reappears and stands, brushing the dust from his knees.
“Looks to be clear, I didn’t see anything under there.”
“Thank you for that, officer. As long as Mike gets the O K from you, I think we’ll be okay here. Thank you for coming out here and checking on us.
“No problem, nothing else going on. Just glad it wasn’t anything too serious. Y’all take care.” He walks back to his car and pulls away.
“Better call Sharon,” Iggy says.
“Oh jeez, you’re right!” She rushes back into the house. Meanwhile, the EMT walks Mike back over to where Iggy is standing.
“He seems okay, though you should keep an eye out for any dizziness, loss of memory, abnormally long headaches. That sort of stuff. Are you guys his guardians?”
“No, but we’ll be sure to tell his mother once she gets over here, which, judging by her tone of voice earlier when this guy went missing, will be very quick. Hope the cop doesn’t give her a ticket on his way out.”
“Got that right. You guys stay safe!” After the ambulance has pulled away, Iggy looks down at Mike, who looks back at him.
“Do you remember what happened to you?”
Mike looks away, eyes narrowed and arms crossed. “I remember going down the tunnel, and thinking it was really cool, and then the monster showed up and it kinda goes black from there up until we were running away.”
Iggy nods. “Mike, I think it might be best if we stick with my story about the fox and all that. You and I both know what we saw, but I don’t think other people would believe us and… well, come over here.” He motions toward the crawlspace opening and they both walk over to it and look inside. Even with the somewhat dim light of Iggy’s small flashlight it’s evident that there’s nothing unusual under the house. Just the way it appeared, the tunnel is gone.
“What? Where did it go?”
“What, do you think that was under my house this whole time? Believe me, I would’ve noticed. It just appeared today, and now it’s gone. Not a trace. I’d be inclined to think it was a hallucination except that you saw it too. That said, I’m pretty no one would believe us if we told them, and I wouldn’t hold that against them. It’s an unbelievable story.” There is a grinding noise of rubber on gravel as Mike’s mother arrives, whipping her car into the driveway. Iggy glances at this and then puts a hand on Mike’s shoulder. “Listen, If you need to talk about it more in the future, I’m here for you. But for now, let’s try to keep that green monster a secret between the two of us, okay?” Mike nods at him.
“Mike! Where have you been?” Rose shrieks as she runs over to him and crouches down to wrap her arms around him. Iggy explains the circumstances again, remembering to include the warning about signs of a concussion but reassuring Rose that Mike otherwise was given a clean bill of health. She thanks him and then quickly herds him to the car, the worry mixing a bit with anger now at his unauthorized exploration under Iggy’s house. He looks back at Iggy and gives a weak wave and small smile, and Iggy returns the wave and raises him a grin. He watches as they drive away, but a spot of white in the tree by the side of his driveway catches his eye. The dove looks back it him, tiny dark eye inscrutable. He stares back it for a moment, and then turns back to the opening in the side of the house. He looks into the darkness one final time, but there is nothing to be seen, and no dizziness or headaches arise from his inspection. He replaces the cover and heads inside.
( ©2017 Sean Dorsey )