It’s the brown one with the smiling cartoon dog on the front, sticking his nose and tongue out at you, begging for a pet. His paw is the handle. It’s tacky, it’s silly, it’s adorable, and I use it every morning to get my fix of joe. I love that damn thing. So let me know if you find it, because Lord knows I damn well can’t.
And believe me, I looked everywhere the morning I realized it was missing. I looked in the cupboard. I looked in the dishwasher. I even looked in the living room, thinking maybe I left it out the night before and forgot to wash it. But it wasn’t there. I mean, I have other mugs, so I still got my coffee that day. But it’s the principle of the thing, you know?
Anyway. That little ordeal – to say nothing of the awful, septic-burst stench that came out of nowhere and that now permeated the entire kitchen – started the day off on a sour note. And when that kind of precedent is set, I hold a petty grudge against the universe for the rest of the day. I was cranky on my way to work. I was cranky at work. I was cranky on the way back from work. I was cranky in the drive-thru line. I was cranky when I got home, and when I sat down on the couch, and when I turned on the TV, and when I crawled my ass up to bed. I went to sleep cranky, and I had cranky dreams of cranky ass people just annoying me in cranky little ways. It’s incredible how such a small thing can ruin your whole day.
But by the next morning, I’d slept it off. Like with many things you’re attached but not addicted to, the realization that my life could proceed as usual without it – say, if I drank my coffee from the old Christmas mug instead of the dog mug – was revelatory. So I shrugged everything off after I got my joe and went to get ready for work.
Shower. Brush teeth. Shave. Underwear. Shirt. Pants. Socks. Tie. Jacket. I went back to the living room and put on the first shoe, then the oth- wait.
Where the hell was my other shoe?
I like to kick them off in spectacular fashion at the end of the day, so honestly, it could’ve been anywhere in the room. But it wasn’t under the couch. It wasn’t in the closet. It wasn’t under the coffee table, either, or between the couch cushions or on or under the loveseat or anywhere else in the whole damn room. And seeing how I was already running late for work that day, my little scavenger hunt cost me what little time I might’ve had to change my outfit to match the only other pair of shoes I had time to grab.
So if the loss of my favorite mug made me cranky for a day, then wearing brown shoes with a black suit – along with having to smell that same revolting mystery stench from the previous day – made me fucking pissed. And I looked like a goddamn idiot, so I stayed pissed. I was pissed on the way to work. I was pissed at work. I was pissed on the way back from work, and in the drive-thru line, and when I got back, and – yeah. You get the idea.
And this time, I never got unpissed, because the strange disappearances didn’t stop at the shoe any more than they’d stopped at the mug. The next morning, I woke up and couldn’t find my razor. The day after that, it was my favorite tie. On Monday, my toothbrush was missing. On Tuesday, it was all the pens in the holder in the kitchen; on Wednesday, it was my phone charger; and on Thursday, it was a brand new box of Cheerios that I was really looking forward to.
I was losing it. I thought I was going insane at first – like, maybe I had early-onset Alzheimer’s or Dissociative Identity Disorder. One of my other personalities was hiding all my shit as a gag. I didn’t know.
But on Friday night, I absolved myself of any mental responsibility. Because that’s the first night, I actually heard someone – or something – walking around downstairs when I was usually asleep.
It was the weekend. I’d just gotten back from the bar, and I wasn’t tired enough to go to sleep as soon as I walked in. At about 2 in the morning, I was lying in bed, playing with my phone, when I heard footsteps downstairs. And breathing. And scuffling, and scampering and the sound of things being moved and fidgeted with.
I was scared, but once the memories of my mug and shoe and toothbrush and charger came back, I got angry. So I grabbed my bat and went downstairs, ready to confront the burglar directly.
Unfortunately, whatever-it-was was gone by the time I got in the kitchen. All that was left was the disorder of the room – with cupboards open and dishes out that hadn’t been before – and that goddamned smell, too – the one that’d only just started to go away, but that was now stronger than ever.
So I decided to have an alarm system installed that weekend. There was a deal going on, so I got the works: motion detectors, keyfobs, door contacts, an outdoor camera, and one or two glass break sensors. But the main thing I was looking for was the indoor camera. I had it installed near the front door, so it captured the living room, the stairs, and the kitchen all at once. If something was going on, I should be able to get it on film and figure it out quickly.
I slept soundly that night. And the next morning, I woke up early, sat up in bed, pulled my laptop over, and opened up the camera website. I hadn’t expected the idea to work. But it did; there was a video on there, from 1:46 AM. I clicked the link.
The video was only thirty seconds long (as are all recorded clips stored to the cloud by the app), but it was enough. It was difficult to make out many details in the dim light. But I could clearly see some kind of feral figure rummaging through my kitchen, knocking things over, grabbing food and silverware, and running off… back towards my basement. The video ended three seconds after it vanished.
For a good few minutes, I sat there, processing what I’d just seen and all the implications that went along with it. I mean, I’d figured something bizarre was happening. But at no point before watching that video did ‘basement-dwelling creature’ make it onto the shortlist of potential culprits. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what to do.
Was that thing in my house this whole time? Since I moved in? Maybe I should go check it out. No. No, I don’t wanna wrestle with… whatever that was. Hell no.
So I mulled it over and decided I needed to call the police. They arrived shortly after 1 PM.
“Afternoon, sir. We had a call about some kind of disturbance?”
“Yeah! Yeah, thanks for coming. C’mon in.”
I shut the door behind them.
“So I guess I’ll start at the beginning. I’ve been having a problem with, um, missing items the past two weeks. Batteries, phone chargers, mugs, toothbrushes. It’s all there, and then I wake up one day and boom! It’s gone.”
“Okay, do you think you’re being robbed, or-?”
“Yeah. But not in like, a traditional sense.” I pointed to the camera. “I got this security system installed yesterday, so I could see what’s going on. And last night, it captured something. Here.”
I showed them the video on my phone.
The shorter of the two officers spoke for the first time when the video ended, although all he said was, “…the hell?” The two traded glances.
“I know. I don’t know what that thing is. It doesn’t look human.”
“Any chance of a break-in?”
“Yes, sir. Any chance this thing’s been coming into the house at night from maybe a back window or an unlocked door?”
“No. I don’t think so. I keep the placed locked at night, and it’s still locked when I get up in the morning. None of the windows are broken, either. I think this thing’s been coming up from my basement. That’s where he’s headed at the end of the video.”
The officers looked at each other, and the taller one shrugged.
“We’ll take a look at it. See what’s going on.”
“Thank you, guys. I mean it. At first, I was just going crazy over the missing stuff, but now I’m kinda freaked out about that thing.”
I walked them into the kitchen and showed them the basement door.
“Sorry about the smell in here. I think it’s got something to do with that thing in the video. Anyway. You guys want me to come down there with you? Give you the grand tour?”
“No, sir. Just stay up here. We’ll take care of things.”
“Alright. Alright, just – let me know.”
He tipped his hat, and they both descended into the basement.
All I could think about while I waited was the thing in the video and the officers hunting it. I hoped they knew what they were doing. I hoped they were okay. They were professionals, after all.
But at the same time, I couldn’t imagine something like that being included in their training. I mean, what was that thing? Some kind of vampire, or an army experiment gone awry? Just some freak? I checked and re-checked the footage over and over. Again, the poor lighting made it difficult to see much beyond the silhouette. But I could see that it was pale and thin and roughly humanoid. But humanoid didn’t make it human. That much was readily apparent. If I looked closely enough, I could see bristles of hair and eyes, and were those – were those teeth? I couldn’t tell. But my mind, always eager to fill in the blanks with the worst possible scenario, was leaning towards ‘yes.’
The hours ticked by, and the officers never emerged from that basement. It was getting late, and I was getting worried. Eventually, after pacing the kitchen floor nervously for the fortieth time, I decided to go down and check on things. I mean, they’d said not to follow them, and I didn’t want to interfere with ‘official police business,’ or whatever. But how the hell long could, something like this possibly take? Besides, it was my house. My basement. My rules. I don’t think they had any kind of legal precedent to keep me from parts of my own home, especially since I was the one who called them.
So I opened the basement door and descended the steps. The first thing I noticed was the abominable stench – one that matched the fainter version that’d lingered upstairs for the past few days – that was now strong enough to identify as some combination of rot, disease, waste, and – and death. It was overwhelming. But I needed answers, now more than ever, so I just pulled my shirt up over my nose and kept going. I rounded the corner away from the stairs and started walking deeper into the basement.
“Hello? Officers? You guys, okay?”
No answer. I started to get nervous. It wasn’t a particularly huge room, so if someone was in there, I think I’d be aware of it before even getting off the staircase. But there was nothing but silence, from what I could see. I walked down between the shelves and found a big fat heap of nothing behind each one. But the smell got undeniably more potent the further back I went, so all I really had to do was follow it to get to wherever it was I was going.
So I did. I followed the stench into the deepest corner of my basement, where it was at its strongest. It was unendurable. My eyes were boiling. My nose stung. But I found what I was looking for, although in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t.
There was a tunnel there, dug right through the corner where the wall met the floor, that stretched away from the basement deep enough into the ground that I couldn’t see where it ended. I knelt and peered inside.
What the fuck?
I sat at the entrance to it for a while. In addition to pondering over the basics (how long it’d been there, how it got there, who dug it, etc.), I wrestled with the increasingly obvious fact that since the officers were neither present in the basement nor the upstairs of the house, that meant they’d crawled into that fucking thing. It was a revolting thought. I didn’t know why they hadn’t just called for backup (or why backup hadn’t trailed them here, yet) or suggested blocking off the tunnel and calling it a day. But no – in their professional wisdom, they deemed it necessary to crawl into that hole.
I looked deep into the tunnel. Darkness. Darkness and dirt and exposed tree roots and little animal skeletons. That’s all I could seem. And that smell. But there was no sign whatsoever of either the officers or of that creature from the v-
I saw movement. Just a little, at the farthest end of the tunnel, a bit past where my eyes could define shapes. But I know I saw something. I squinted, and then I took out my phone and shined the flashlight into the depths.
There it was. The pale thing from the video crouched like a beast in the tunnel’s far end and staring back at me like a hot meal. I didn’t stick around to shake its hand – I bolted back the way I came and tore up the staircase and slammed the door behind me. Then I slid my back down it into a sitting position and gasped for breath.
What the hell was that thing? It looked like a human. Not a healthy one – by any stretch of the imagination – but like some kind of deformed, severely malnourished, pale man with the type of sightless eyes you’d find on cavefish that’d never seen the light of day. To be honest, I only saw it for about a quarter second before I ran. But that quarter-second was enough. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get that image out of my head.
And then – fuck. The officers.
It’d been about three hours since they’d shown up, judging by the clock on the oven, and given the fact that I saw only that thing and not them in that tunnel, I’m guessing they didn’t crawl inside it willingly.
Do I call the cops and let them know their officers are likely dead? Would they blame me? I mean, I don’t think ‘mystery basement creature’ would be an acceptable excuse if you get caught with dead cops in your crawlsp-
The doorknob, right above and to the left of where my head was rested, began to turn. I nearly pissed my pants; not only had the creature followed me up here, but at no point had I considered that this thing was intelligent enough to work a door like that. I stood up and grabbed the knob with both hands, and held it tight. The creature tried to twist it again but stopped when it caught, and then started making bizarre grunting and clicking noises. Maybe it was vocalizing its displeasure with my resistance.
And then – wham – it started pushing up against the door with its shoulder to get it open. Only my weight thrown back against the frame prevented that. I felt it step back from the door when it felt the resistance and consider its options, at which point I released a single hand from the knob just long enough to twist the lock on it.
Then I stood back and reached for my phone to call the police again, but – fuck – it wasn’t in my pocket. And it wasn’t on the floor, either, or on the counter, or anywhere. I feared I must’ve dropped it in the basement when I ran. Goddammit.
I continued my search for another second, and then-
I stopped what I was doing. My heart thumped.
There it was again. It was throwing the undersides of its fists against the door. Dammit. That old rotting wood wouldn’t last ten minutes under that kind of an assault. I needed to reinforce it before I did anything else, so I slid a kitchen chair under the knob. But that only prevented him (it?) from turning that knob; it did little to protect the integrity of the wood.
Sure enough, the wood splintered a bit in the upper right panel. The basement-thing noticed that its crude plan was working. I heard a grunt. And then again-
A three-inch-wide piece of painted oak board now hung loosely from the frame. I could see the thing now – and it could see me – through the hole it’d created. At least I think it could see me, although like I’ve mentioned, its eyes were glossed over and blackened and atrophied. No matter. It knew I was there, and that’s the only thing that counted in that moment. Maybe it could smell me.
The hole widened, and the kitchen light glinted off the basement things yellowed, dull teeth. It was a grotesque looking bastard. I thought about fighting it myself, but if it could do this much damage to a wooden door with its bare hands and kill two armed police officers and drag their corpses down into the depths of its lair, I was confident it could do at least as much to me.
No, I had no choice. The door was on its last legs. And I didn’t want to wait until it no longer stood between us.
I grabbed a kitchen knife and thrust it through the hole in the door, and I felt the blade stick deep in something soft and warm. The basement-thing squealed pitifully and staggered back and then tumbled down the stairs. It wasn’t dead. I could hear it groaning and writhing as it pulled out the knife and grasped at its bloody wound. But it was hurt, and it was scared of me now. I had some leverage. I watched it take another look at me from the bottom of the stairs and then scamper off back towards that tunnel. And I now felt a surge of confidence and vindication, so I threw the door open and followed it down there.
I chased it through the basement, hoping to capture it before it reached the tunnel. No luck. It grabbed my phone, dove straight in and scampered down it, and didn’t look back.
I paced around. I didn’t want to leave things like this. Not only did it take my only form of communication (unless I wanted to email for help), but there wasn’t as much blood on the ground as its reaction had suggested, which likely meant it was more scared than wounded.
And this thing was at least somewhat intelligent, too, since it could look at a doorknob and decide to turn it. Now that it knew I was a threat, it might up its game and grab me in the night after it shook off what’d just happened.
No. No, I had to go down there and finish the bastard off. Whatever it took. No man takes my goddamn coffee mug and lives.
So I grabbed the knife and started army crawling down that tunnel. It smelled like hell itself – and as I moved, I had to brush aside bugs, and animal carcasses swelled with maggots and dangling, rope-like tree roots. I crawled and crawled and crawled, well past the point where I was sure I was no longer under my property line. It was exhausting, but eventually, I spilled out into a small cave and stood up and dusted myself off.
I looked around. There was a little lake (more like a puddle) in the middle of it, and multiple rock pillars stretching from the moss and glowing-mushroom covered ground up to the ceiling. And of course, like everything I’d encountered for the last three goddamn days, it smelled like the end of the world in this place. Once again, I pulled my shirt up to my nose and wiped away boiling tears. I gripped the knife with my free hand.
Alright, where is this thing?
I started walking further into the cave, and as I did, I came across more and more junk. Piles of it. Food. Phones. Remote controls. Silverware. Clothes. Toys. Video game controllers. Cables and cords. There must’ve been $10,000 worth of crap down here, and very little of it was mine. There were also multiple side-tunnels jutting away from the main chamber in random directions, which I assume had been dug into the basements of my neighbor’s houses. The implication – that a bizarre humanoid cave creature was breaking and entering into multiple homes and collecting a museum’s worth of garbage – were simultaneously fascinating and unnerving.
I kept walking, following that rotten, distinctive stench. And then I saw it. The creature was huddled, trembling in a corner, grasping at its wounded shoulder and rocking back and forth and clutching to its chest for comfort what looked like a molded stuffed animal in its free hand.
I pitied it. It looked terrified and confused. I didn’t know what it was – and maybe it didn’t either. I mean, there didn’t seem to be any purpose or rhyme or reason to its behavior. Perhaps it was curious about the surface world and collected little knick-knacks here and there to get a taste of a much brighter, more open place that would never accept it.
But I also knew it was dangerous. It wasn’t tame. It wasn’t human. It had no intention of playing nice. I approached cautiously, trying to get the drop on it. And then –
I stepped straight onto a dog’s chew toy, and the noise exploded.
The creature whirled around to face me and screamed at the top of its lungs. It was a guttural, inhuman noise that would’ve torn a normal man’s vocal cords to pieces. Every last hair on the back of my neck stood on end. And only at that moment, when it was too late to flee, did I see the corpses of the two police officers, beaten to death with sheer brute force- that were lying at its feet. I didn’t have time to prepare myself for a similar fate. It lunged for me, forgetting its wound, and I staggered back and then turned and ran for my life.
But it was hopeless. The thing was easily twice as fast as I was and caught me with ease. It smashed into my backside – and to this day, I’m not sure if it was a punch or a kick or a full-on body slam – but whatever it was, it knocked the wind straight from my lungs, and I tumbled to the ground and dropped the knife. I tried to stand, but it was on top of me before I could and just tore into me.
It hit me and smacked me and threw me around and dug its fucking nails into my skin. I’d been in fights before, but never against someone with such a brutal, animalistic approach to combat. I had no answer. My punches were deflected. My attempts to tackle it were met with kicks to the face that loosened teeth. At one point, I tried to kick it myself, but it grabbed my foot and just started pounding on my shin with the undersides of its fists, all while howling and shrieking with desperate anger. It was like getting attacked by a demon; there was no rhyme or reason or calculation to his technique, just violent aggression.
Eventually, the creature grabbed my throat and threw me straight into the corner where I’d caught it initially, and I fell onto my back and spat out a tooth. I felt sick. My head was swimming. I’m sure at least a dozen bones were fractured at this point, and when I rolled over, I saw it was coming my way to finish me off. But I also noticed that I was lying right next to one of the police officers’ still fresh corpse.
And guess what he still had in his hand.
Please be loaded. Please be loaded. Please be loaded.
I grabbed the handgun and, with a shaking, weak, and a possibly broken arm, aimed it at the creature and fired once. Twice. Three times. Two center mass and one in the shoulder.
POP!! POP!! POP!!
The sound was almost literally deafening as it echoed around the chamber. But two of the bullets went straight – the creature grabbed its stomach and then its chest where it’d been hit, looked at me with what looked more like disappointment than anything else, and then it tumbled over, dead before it hit the ground.
I rolled over onto my own back and gasped for air. Then I passed out.
Lights. Red flashing lights. Some blue thrown in. Everything was blurry. Everything hurt. Everything was bandaged. And I was outside, lying on a gurney in a parked ambulance. I groaned.
“Hey, he’s awake!” Someone said.
I groaned again.
“Hey, sir. You okay?” A police officer was now standing over me, annoyingly close. He looked concerned, as did the other officers and the paramedics who were there.
“Mmmmphwwhat? W-w-hat h-happened?”
“You tell me. We just found you down at the bottom of that cave.” He pointed off to a small opening in the ground in a copse of trees, between my house and my neighbor’s, that I’d somehow never seen before. Well, that explains a lot.
I saw two other gurneys being wheeled out and members of the press snapping photos, and several officers trying to get them to keep their distance. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible for the deaths of those officers. Dammit.
“This your phone?”
“This yours?” He held up a plastic evidence bag with my phone in it. Screen cracked. Wonderful.
“Looks like either you or that creature redialled 9-1-1. I guess by accident. That’s how we found you.”
“Did you get dragged down there with Payton and MacDonald?”
“Payton and MacDonald. The two officers who died tonight.” He looked a little choked up when he said that. “Did you get dragged down there with them?”
“I – I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill those m-”
“No no no! We know you didn’t. We found that – that thing down there. I just asked if you’d gotten dragged down there with the officers.”
“N-no. No, I went in there myself. I used one of their guns to kill it after it beat the shit out of me. Then I woke up here.”
He smiled a bit and patted me on the shoulder.
“Well, you did well. And you’ll get this back shortly. We also found a lot of stuff down there that might’ve been yours. Razor, toothbrush, a shoe. Box of Cheerios. Feel free to sift through the pile when you’re up to it.”
He started to walk away, but before he got far, I called out:
“You guys didn’t happen to find a mug in that pile, did you?”