A Monster by Any Other Name

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by Milo James Fowler


Narrated by Bob Eccles

A Monster by Any Other NameJimmy was having a little difficulty getting his point across. Sometimes he really hated being seven.

“What did you say you saw down there?” His mother stood in the bathroom doorway while the plumber used some kind of small wrench to disconnect the stopper from the sink’s drain.

“I couldn’t get it out. The stopper—it was stuck,” Jimmy said.

“Yeah, they make ’em that way so’s you can always pop ’em up and down. See here?” He pointed under the sink to where the bottom of the stopper was mounted on some kind of lever.

Jimmy dropped back from his quick peek. He didn’t want to look any longer than he had to, not after what he’d seen.

“You said it was—” Mom began.

“Got a lot of hair in here, ma’am. Combine that with all the gunk that comes from brushing your teeth and washing your face every day, the kid could’ve thought he saw anything.”

Jimmy stared at the plumber’s haggard reflection in the mirror behind the sink. The man was wrong. And smelly too.

“Tell him what you saw!” Mom raised her voice and gave Jimmy a little shove.

For the first time, the plumber looked up from his grimy hands and fixed bleary eyes on the boy.

“You seen somethin’ funny down here?” He slipped two fat fingers into the drain.

“Don’t!” Jimmy jumped.

The plumber yelped, jerking forward all of a sudden as something sucked his fingers down the hole.

“Just kiddin’,” he chuckled, pulling two perfectly healthy, bloated digits out into the open. Tangled around them was a wad of long black hair and what looked like slick gobs of phlegm.

Jimmy breathed again.

“I put that heavy duty cleaner down there every week,” Mom said. In the mirror, Jimmy saw her cheeks blossoming with color. Her hand went to the collar of her blouse like it always did when she was nervous.

“Yeah, that stuff won’t take care of this.” He smeared the hairy muck around with his thumb. “Gonna have to snake the thing to clear it all out. How long you lived here?”

Mom’s slim shoulders rose and fell. “Five years.”

“Never had it snaked?”

She frowned slightly. “I thought that was just for toilets.”

“A clog’s a clog, ma’am.” He wiped his fingers off on his stained overalls. Most of the snot smeared, but some of the hair rolled to the floor.

“You’re going to put a snake down there?” Jimmy blinked up at the large man. Maybe it would do the trick. Snakes ate mice, didn’t they? And some snakes could eat larger rodents, from what he’d learned in Mrs. Beecher’s class.

The plumber chuckled again. “My snake ain’t alive, kid. It’s more like an antenna—a big, long one.” He glanced at Mom with a sly grin. She avoided eye contact and bothered her collar some more. “Whatever you got down there, Mr. Snake and me, we’ll get it out sure enough.”

A scraping sound came from the drain. Mom froze. The plumber’s grin faded. Jimmy clenched his fists down at his sides.

How could he explain something he hadn’t even gotten a good look at? All he’d seen was part of it reaching out over the top of the drain, under the stopper. He’d poked at it with a cotton swab, and at first it hadn’t moved at all.

Then it had angled upward slowly, like it was pointing straight at Jimmy.

He’d slammed down the drain stopper as fast as he could, and whatever-it-was had dropped out of the way just in time.

But now the stopper was gone. The plumber had removed it. And the scraping sounded like something was scurrying up the drainpipe from underneath the sink.

“Jimmy?” Mom said, but she didn’t say anything else. If she had asked him what was coming, he wouldn’t have known how to answer her anyway.

All he’d told her was that “something” was down there. And when she’d tried to take a look for herself, there’d been so much gunk she hadn’t been able to see much of anything. She’d dug around with a few cotton swabs and come up with the same nasty muck the plumber had dug out with his fat fingers. She’d tried running hot water and drain cleaner, but the sink had started to fill up like a smelly green pond, and she’d called the landlord right away.

The plumber had shown up two hours later, and by then the bathroom had really stunk.

The plumber added his own scent to the mix: a unique blend of body odor, onions, and Axe sprayed at the wrong parts of his torso. Now, he added the pungent aroma of fear.

Jimmy had never smelled it on a man before; it was like stinky pee. Jimmy’s father had been a brave Navy SEAL, and he’d given his life for America’s freedom five years after Jimmy was born. As far as he knew, Dad had never been afraid of anything.

So Jimmy tried not to be afraid either. Even as Mom backed away from the door into the hallway. Even as the plumber picked up his pipe wrench like he was going to hit whatever came scampering out of the drain. Jimmy stood his ground and waited for the thing to rear its ugly head.

Somehow, he knew it would be hideous. And he knew it would be coming straight for him. The way it had pointed at him was something he’d never be able to shake from his mind’s eye.

“Gonna get your snake?” Jimmy’s voice sounded small, even to himself.

The plumber didn’t seem to hear him.

A familiar sight emerged as the scraping sounds stopped: a single claw crept out of the unstopped drain. It shifted once to the left, then to the right. Mom saw it and screamed, stopping her mouth with both hands. The plumber saw it too and stared, frozen solid.

Jimmy pointed. “Yep, that’s what I saw.”


BIO: Milo James Fowler is an English teacher by day and a writer by night. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, and Macmillan’s Criminal Element. Stop by anytime: http://www.milo-inmediasres.com/