When Alex was 5 or 6, we tried to keep all the toys in a central location.
We chose the basement, which was cleaned, sanitized and open. Plenty of room to play.
Alex could play for hours with only one toy and his imagination. Fortunately for Alex, he had way more than one toy. He had piles and piles. One of his favorites was Hot Wheels cars. He could be a racecar driver, a stuntman, a garbage truck driver and a driver of insanely cool cars.
Our home was over 100 years old. No matter how nice you try to make it, the basement will always have a bit of menace to it… field stone walls, a large old boiler, pipes of various sizes and gauges that spread throughout the area like some metallic octopus. The ceiling was low with only sporadic lighting.
It was ideal to the imagination of a 5-year-old. Clean but creepy.
In the floor of our basement were drains that led to the city sewer. The covers of the drains could easily be slid out of place or simply removed.
His pleas for help were the first indication that something wasn’t right.
“Mooooooom! Daaaaaaad! Help. … It’s gone, my truck is gone. I can’t get it!!”
Cami gets there first, holding little Theo, who is a toddler, old enough to understand that something unusual is about to happen.
As I am descending the basement stairs that are crooked, too close together – yes, they are just as spooky as the rest of the basement – I see my family cast in shadow surrounding our open sewer drain all staring down. Fear and concern are written large on Alex’s face. Cami has a look of uncertainty. Theo is almost crying because he knows something is lost – probably one of his favorites.
“I was just playing, and my truck went down into the sewer drain.”
The first thing I think is how many of vehicles have “accidentally” ended up in the drain and just how much will it cost me to have a plumber snake them out.
Can you snake out a Hot Wheels? Do you need special equipment? Will the backup occur on the weekend or a holiday requiring a double time charge? Will I need a whole new sewer line?
I am able to push these concerns to the side and focus on the immediate problem. “Alex,” I say, “just how many cars have accidentally gone down there?”
“None,” he says, “just the one just the truck. Just the fire truck. Just the truck. Just my favorite truck, the only fire truck that I like. It’s gone forever. I will never get it back. Noooooo.”
Tears start to come.
I get a look a concern and exclaim, “You didn’t put your hand down there did you? Let me see your hand. Please tell me you didn’t reach down there. Oh, my God, the cover is still off. Move! Move!”
I quickly replace the cover and stare down the drain without saying a word. Everyone is quiet. No one moves.
“Did anything get out?” I say. Shocked stares.
Now they are all talking, “What got out? What are you talking about? What’s in there? What’s going on?”
I look for a moment at Alex and then at Theo.
“Did the sewer monster get out?”
Stunned silence. A mix of open wonder and fear is playing across my sons’ faces. Theo is younger and not too sure of what is going on, but even he can feel that this is huge. Monumentus. Gigantic. Life-changing.
It’s time to tell the tale.
“I thought you knew about the sewer monster. Don’t you know? I don’t know what exactly it is, but it lives in the sewer. It can sneak up the drain pipes and – if the grate is off – it can reach into your basement. Two years ago a kid down the street lost his leg because he stepped over an uncovered drain in his basement. You can never, never, never remove this grate. And whatever you do – do not reach into the sewer – ever. I’m sorry but
your truck is gone for good. We will never get it back. The Sewer Monster has it.”
The questions begin.
“You’re lying. There is no sewer monster. You’re making this up… Mom… Dad is making this up, right? You don’t believe in the sewer monster, do you? Mom, do you?”
Cami doesn’t want to lie. She simply says, “I will never never reach into the sewer.” That’s close enough to confirmation. If Dad says it and Mom believes it … it must be true. I turn to the kids and urge them to go upstairs and bring down all the flashlights and lanterns.
They all return. We turn on every light, and examine every nook and cranny. By the end of our exploration/inspection we have found several other lost items but no sewer monster is in sight.
With a sigh of relief we return to the first sewer. “Are you sure we can’t get it, Dad?” With a huge sigh, I say, ‘I’ll try.’”
Everyone backs away. I slowly move the cover.
The drain has a turn about 8 or 9 inches down. I’m guessing the truck is just past the turn. My hand descends. I scream and start shaking – trying to remove my hand, but something has got me.
“Ahhhhh! Help!” Everyone is screaming. The boys are in tears. Cami is furious.
“I’m okay. I’ve got it.”
I hold up a police car.
In addition to the police car I first retrieved, we found the lost fire truck – along with six or seven other Hot Wheels.
From that day on whenever the boys went downstairs we would always say, “Just be careful of the sewer monster.”
Jeffrey A. Walters lives in West Bend, Wisc. His wife, Cami, has family in Coweta County.