THE DRAIN PEOPLE
“We are in the dark places of the earth."
Artois, Ohio is a small town. Growing up here with a population of about 1,500; you learn to remember all the faces you see. The familiarity of the entire town and its minute size with my own house on the main street: Second Street was a place that over time, I thought would have shook off some sort of shrill eeriness that crept up me whenever I walked down it. Somehow though at night-time, as cliche as it sounds, it was a place that felt so devoid and lonely that it was as if all the world had left me alone completely like I was the last sixteen year old on this planet. Artois had become the void at night, where it felt like not even stray animals would attempt to explore it. There was never a stray cat, never the sound of crickets. There was nothing.
It was Sunday night. Summer was beginning to show itself and with it nights were shorter. But the time-keeping skills of better people were lost on me. As I’d snuck out earlier in the night to go and smoke with my best friend—Marcus. We didn’t do it much and I never did it after that night with the drain people. He’d called me up around ten, with his lispy voice whispering down the phone. “I got a ten—come over, and we’ll roll one. Can sneak back before your dad knows it.” Sure, I thought. Why not? As scary as Artois was it was never truly threatening just barren and somewhat static.
Unfortunately after my second inhale of the pungent sh*t my phone had gone off, vibrating wildly in my pocket. I slipped it out and answered. “Home. Now.” The jig was up and my dad had clocked me. Not to be one to go out of his way for his son when said son was in the wrong, I know when I got home I’d be told I’d be punished in the morning. Having a police officer father was rarely great in small towns like this. It just meant their diligence was more on their own priorities than missing cats and damaged crops.
Sadly, I left Marcus and began to walk home. He lived down on the edge of Artois’ east side, so I only had to cut through few streets and walk up Second Street to my house on the edge of the other side that gave way to a long winding road that went on and on with farmland for as far as the eye could see. The sky was already dark purple, the stars dashed across velvet and shining brighter than the single house lit up. Something about being out here like this, surrounded by darkness and cold, with each house empty faces, eyes shut, mouths open. Slow dread filled me and I told myself that I was freaking out over nothing, I was acting like a little kid.
I checked my phone and looked at the time: 23:23. The air had grown crisp with a slight pinch, like a blanket enveloping me and letting me know that the day had ended a long time ago. I heard a faint rumbling behind me and turned to look back.
Down the way was a pair of headlights that were growing brighter and wider with each second. It was cruising down toward me. As the beams blasted my eyes I shielded them and then squinted as the car froze ten feet down the road. I tried to stare in at the windscreen and then remembered every horror film I’d ever seen. The hapless fool who decides to investigate the car and then his innards are found strewn over a telephone wire. I turned fast, walked on, never daring to look back. Behind me the rumble of the car grew louder and cruised up towards me again. I stopped when the metallic mess was next to me.
It was an old piece of sh*t; a Chevrolet Estate Wagon with rustic metal where the window bearings once were. The wheels were as old as time itself, and the faded brown paintwork had been thawed away to a duller, bloody-like fade. The windows were dirty and smudged. I felt my heart in my throat as the window rolled down. I stepped back from the car and waited for the inevitable jump-scare attack. Why didn’t I just run? What the f*ck was I thinking? Out here in the dark on my own. I should know better.
The back windows rolled down too, creaking loudly like nails on dishes. The face of the passenger side stared out at me. It was a woman with blonde hair, flowing freely. Her lips were in a wide smile, wider than any smile I had seen before. It was as if her jaw was stretched. The only thing I could think of was Fred from Courage the Cowardly Dog. An inhuman smile that spread out. Her eyes were wide, as if clear tape was holding them apart. I took a deep gulp and looked to see the three children in the back giving me the same stare; the same eyes, mouths, and blonde hair. They all eyed me with that same inhuman smile. Driving the car was the same thing, a man with the eyes and mouth. I was frozen in fear. Was I going crazy?
“Hello, young man,” said the woman in a monotone voice; robotic like and deepr than I expected. It was as if she’d learned to talk from a textbook. “We are looking for Second Street.”
“Do you know where Second Street is?” asked the husband, still staring.
“Do you?” asked the two girls simultaneously. I coud swear their voice was the sameas their mothers.
I felt too many eyes on me and couldn’t find my own voice. I had lost it deep down in my stomach. I felt the itching need to run, to scream out and beg for help but somehow the fear slid down and I mustered enough courage to be still.
“You...you—you’re on second street. It’s this one,” I said as I looked at them all and realized I’d missed something. Their arms. They sat like wooden dolls, perched and frozen as if their heads were the only things that were alive. As if somebody had bolted fleshy heads onto wooden frames crudely. “Y—you’re looking for a certain h—house?”
“Yes, thankyou,” said the husband.
“Yes, thankyou,” said the wife.
“Yes, thankyou,” said the children in unison.
“No—no problem,” I replied weakly.
All of them turned their heads together as if they’d practiced it a thousand times. Without missing a beat, they all turned and stared forward, still smiling their Fred smiles as the car cruised up the road another ten feet. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to go in any direction they were heading at this moment in time. Even though my house was between them. The cars brake light suddenly lit up, illuminating me in red and then the car began to screech and smoke as the ancient car tried to reverse fast. I ran.
I turned off the road and into the darkness of the trees against the house next to me. I ran through the shade and slid away as the car went off behind me. I felt the hot rush of air in my lungs and the fear fuelled me to run. I looked back to see the car idling and ran out of its view, and around the back of the house. I slammed into the small chainlink fence and climbed it, and then straight across to the other side and over again. My feet fell onto soft grass and then I went against the wall of a shed on the other side of the house; giving me a view of the street ahead, still lit up with the lights of the car. I huddled down and watched quietly, waiting to see the sunken eyes on me, but they never came. Slowly, the car cruised up past me and I knelt down further; fear coursing through me more than blood and I was whispering to myself. “Don’t find me. Please don’t find me, please...please don’t.”
As it moved up the road I pushed myself to climb out of the dark corner of the shed and peeked out. It was a way up the street now, closer to my house. I crept out and slowly moved along the darkness, waiting for the smiling faces to be around every nook. It was only when it slipped past my house I made a run for it. I was close, I could see my porch up the way but as I felt the sudden rush of relief, the car turned and parked on the side of the road. I sprinted and dropped down onto the floor behind the porch and looked out as the car lights turned off, turning it into another dead part of Artois.
Fast; every door opened and they stepped out, all five of them. The mother walked first and the husband followed behind. Each child followed until they were all walking in a straight line, their heads looking up but their strides identical to one another. They walked away from the car and I ran up to the porch and over to the bench on the far side to get a better view. My breathing was heavy and I was covered in dirt. I didn’t know what I was going to say to my dad, but I knew he wouldn’t believe me if I told him the truth.
Down the road, the smiling family were stood in front of the drain. It was the main one that was the entrance to the network of drains in Artois. I remembered my father telling me about it and was glad we lived so close to it, to “stop any vagrants from being able to sneak into the system underneath the town.” These aren’t vagrants, I thought. As the wife stuck her head into the drain and then slid in as if she was paper under a door. She knelt to her knees, smashed her head down on the grate and went straight through. The husband repeated it and slid in easily enough. The first child did the same and—
I shot out a bloodcurdling scream as I felt a hand grip my shoulder. I turned and saw my father staring down at me with wide eyes and couldn’t stop. He shook me and his voice seemed to just fizzle away for a moment as I felt the blood go past my ears until eventually I ran inside and to the window. Across the way was the last child, staring at me. I felt his wide eyes and big smile invade me and I turned and ran with my dad yelling for me as I ran up the stairs, ran to my room, and hid under the covers. I don’t remember falling asleep.
The next day before school I tried to explain to my dad what happened but he didn’t believe me. It was just me looking for excuses to get out of a punishment he assumed. I explained the car but he just ignored me like he always did at times where he thought my imagination was getting the best of me. Against better judgment I shut my mouth, and spent three days barely sleeping at home. Each night I’d wake up to see the old Estate Wagon hadn’t move, and the black drain was as regular as any old drain. On the fourth day I woke up from my thin thing barely called rest to find the car was being towed away. Dad was sat on the porching drinking when I stepped out. I rubbed my eyes and looked over and then looked down at my father. “What happened to the owners?”
“The car was stolen. Been here for three days and I got them to run some plates and turns out it was nabbed down in Zoar.”
“How long ago?” I asked. Ice suddenly sliding down my back.
“About a week or so ago.”
I didn’t ask any more questions.
I don’t walk out at night anymore. I always run home before it gets dark, to the annoyance of my friends. I’ve tried to explain the drain people to them but they all just think it’s a joke. Something that they can’t see or understand and so I’m the idiot for it. I remember thinking to myself that maybe I was actually insane and they were right, that all of this was maybe some sort of psychotic snap or years of me building up the eeriness of Artois at night. I wished it was that.
Dad was working late one night and I had been kept back for detention. Winter was in full effect and it was getting dark by four in the afternoon. I was held back until six. It was the only time I ever walked back in the dark until I left that small town. But as I did walk, I could see them in the drains, staring at me with those bony, shark smiles and their hollow-eyes. I ignored them, but their pasty white faces shone out in the dark until finally, their monotone, deep voices rang out. “Excuseeee mee.” I ran wildly into the night. They were still down there, watching me. Whatever they were. I remembered screaming and running away terrified and hearing their monotone voices down in the drains all the way home until I finally collapsed into my house, wailing like a baby.
I left Artois that summer to go live with my mother in Oregon. I wanted to be as far away from the drain people as possible. Yet sometimes even when I walked around Astoria—my new home, I would avoid drains, for fear I’d see their wide eyes, and their ever-growing shark smiles.