It’s a fever hallucination, nothing more.
That was what I convinced myself when I heard the sounds. It was an auditory hallucination and that was a reasonable enough explanation.
We’d lived in this apartment for about 7 months. It was old, and the neighborhood wasn’t the greatest, but this would be the final stepping stone. We were saving for a house and this was the perfect place to do it. The rent was inexpensive and gave us the opportunity we needed to stash our paychecks. We were determined, since we’d become fathers, to buy a house… after moving several times since, this would be it… this would be the last place we would ever rent before we bought a place of our own. It was poorly insulated… hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The kitchen cabinets were terrible… broken hinges and peeling formica. The pipes were always doing strange things as well, knocking and shuddering within the walls when a tap was opened anywhere inside… But we made the best of it, the best that we could.
My husband was picking up extra shifts at the hospital these past few months and our son Cody was with David’s mother during the day while we worked the extra hours. I was supposed to be pulling overtime every week as well, but I’d opted out of a flu shot this season and when influenza hit me, it hit me hard. This week I had to give all of my shifts away to burn and freeze and vomit and sweat it out in bed. David offered to stay home with me but of course I couldn’t let him do that. I was a grown man. I convinced him I didn’t need him there to coddle me. I would fend the aches and pains away the old fashioned way with NyQuil and Tamiflu and tomato soup that was impossible to keep down. Every time I tried, my stomach did backflips and I found myself hovering over the toilet as I purged it out the way it had come in, but at least nobody was home to feel sorry for me. I was glad for that small grace.
As the days alone at home went on, I could hear the pipes rattling and banging inside the walls even though nobody was home using the water. I worried it might be a leak someplace, but I didn’t worry much. Water was included in our rent so the waste of it; waste that might or might not be slowly waterlogging the shitty insulation inside the shitty walls didn’t really matter much. I didn’t call or email management. The more pressing issue I was contending with was the conviction that I was going to continue to slowly die, day-by-day huddled under blankets on the couch where I shivered.
I’d never paid the sounds of the plumbing much mind. Since we’d moved in, the pipes had made noises. On the third or fourth day that I spent dying alone, I threw up another stomach-full of hot soup, and once again ignored the soft, quiet giggles that I thought were coming up in bubbles from beyond the u-bend. The aged building being full of tricks, I chalked it up to fevered delirium. Laughing from the toilet simply didn’t make sense.
I’d been hearing it for days.
That same day, I heard the sound again later… louder.
My temperature had skyrocketed to 103.2°. I was taking a shower. The water was so cold my skin burned and every second-blink was spotty and white as the bright lights of the bathroom blinded me and the ice of the water seemed to fill the room with frost. My teeth chattered and as I shivered, I felt my stomach lurch. I threw up right there in the shower… poorly masticated chunks of grilled cheese and more creamy red soup gurgled into the drain… there it was again. The giggling.
I don’t know what compelled me to do it… maybe it was the frustration of the sandwich not finding its way down the drain on its own… maybe I didn’t want to deal with trying to mash the disgusting pieces through with my foot… or maybe I really thought the laughter was real… but I got out, nakedly walking through the apartment to the junk closet, swearing and shaking against the frigid air conditioning as I went. I returned with a screwdriver. I unscrewed the drain-catch and after the rest of the sick had drained down, I peered inside.
There was nothing there; as I suspected there wouldn’t be.
After the shower, I struggled to the couch in our living room and sleep drowned me swiftly.
“Now come on buddy,” I heard David say, “you need to get washed up before bed.”
Groggily, I opened my eyes.
“Nuh-uh.” Cody said.
“Why not? You love showers?”
“They’re in there.”
“Who is?” David asked?
David opened the door to the bathroom and showed Cody the empty room. I could see from where I lay on the couch that dusk was casting purple light across the walls through the frosted glass of the small bathroom window.
David gestured through the doorway in an open-handed semi-circle. The room was empty and small. A room without places for anyone to malevolently lay-in-wait. “See?” he crossed boldly through the doorway, to the cabinets opening each door, he lifted the lid to the toilet and checked in its tank and threw the door to the shower open.
“There’s nobody in here, buddy”
“No, down there.” Cody pointed anxiously past the shower’s glass doorway.
“Scott?” David called from the other room, “did you take the drain-catch out?”
I mumbled something about temperatures and giggling and sandwiches.
“I was getting ready to get in and I heard them in the drain, Daddy.” Cody said.
“They said thanks for taking out the-the-the-thing.” Cody stammered. “That’s why I ran out to get you,” he said.
“I don’t want to let them do it,” he said.
“Do what, buddy?”
“They were laughing. There’s something down there. They said they’ve always been down there. They said they’ve always wanted to watch.” Cody said. “I don’t want to let them do it.” He repeated.
David leaned down then, on his hands and knees, a smile on his face to prove to our son that there was nothing to fear. He stooped down, peering into the floor of the shower. When he stood up, he looked terrified.
“Something stared back!” David said, picking Cody up and rushing him out of the room.
Cody, seeing him react the way he did, began screaming.