By Matthew Lett
“Dare ya’ to go in there,” Tommy challenged. He was standing on top of the drainage pipe at the edge of his
backyard. A solid blue sky rolled above him, the sun winking down in golden rays from the heavens. Before him, was
his new best friend, Bobby.
“Dares go first,” Bobby countered. He was 10 years old and the new kid on the block, currently staring up at his one
and only friend since moving into the neighborhood.
“I think you’re just scared,” Tommy teased. He laughed, tossing back his lank, blonde hair. “Is that it, Bobby? Are you
Tommy began making clucking noises and flapping his arms up and down, still laughing, as Bobby peered into the
dark, moss-covered mouth of the drainage pipe. Tendrils of lime colored slime dripped from its inner lip; small pools of
brackish brown water floating within its hollow throat.
Squinting against the sun’s glare, Bobby looked back at Tommy, “I’m not afraid,” he protested, “besides, my dad
says it’s dangerous playing around old pipes and drain ditches.”
Tommy hopped off the pipe and landed in front of Bobby. He was naturally athletic and a year older than his friend.
“Are you serious, Bobby?” he asked. “I’ve been in there a million times, plus all the other guys! C’mon, man, it’s no
big deal. Everybody does it.”
Bobby looked at him uncertainly for a moment. The pipe was fitted into a grassy knoll and then ran no more than
thirty-five yards across the edge of a forest where it opened up into a small stream.
“You go first,” he told Tommy, “and then I’ll go. I swear.”
For an instant he saw something flicker in his friend’s bluish-gray eyes. It had been for less than a second—
something cold and cunning rippling just behind Tommy’s eyes—and then disappeared just as quick.
Bobby felt a sudden chill despite the warmth of the afternoon sun, as Tommy brushed past him, still chuckling.
“My brother has a word for guys like you, Bobby, but I’m not gonna tell you what it is, yet. What I can tell you is that
the word begins with a P and ends with a Y.”
Tommy laughed out loud, as Bobby stood there, his round freckled-face masked in confusion. Tommy punched him
playfully in the arm.
“Okay, dude, the word is pussy but don’t tell your mom I told you that. Now get back and let me show you how it’s
Bobby watched as Tommy dropped to his hands and knees, preparing himself to enter the drainage pipe’s mouth.
Tommy looked up:
“See you in a few minutes…pussy,” he said, and entered the pipe amidst echoes of his own laughter.
Bobby watched until the bottoms of Tommy’s black sneakers disappeared and then knelt outside the opening.
He could smell something rotten inside fouling the air, damp and menacing, no doubt in his mind something multi-
legged and squishy. Bobby shuddered in a fit of goose pimples.
Stop it! He ordered himself. Just stop it! You’re acting like a baby. Like a big baby! Like a big…big…pussy baby, he
told himself, although he wasn’t exactly certain what the word meant. But Tommy used it and it sounded cool, a word
Bobby knew that didn’t need definition because it would apparently shock his mother according to Tommy.
“How ya’ doing in there?” he called into the pipe. “Tommy?”
No answer, but a hollow echo.
Bobby got down on all fours inching his way closer to the black opening. Somewhere behind him a robin sang in the
forest, the wind weaving itself in silent currents amongst the treetops. A beetle the color of solid midnight trundled
out of the mouth and over his hand. Bobby yanked his hand back with a grimace of disgust. He thought about
smashing it with his fist, but didn’t. It would be squishy.
The beetle on apparent important business scurried away, as Bobby called out again, “Hey, Tommy! C’mon, man!
Where are you? I swear I’ll go through as soon as you do! I swear it! Are you mad or something?”
Still no answer, just echoes of his own pitiful cries. Bobby wondered for a moment if rats—large rats—lived in
drainage pipes, and then, more importantly, if Tommy was really mad at him. He couldn’t afford to lose Tommy as his
friend, not at this juncture in his young life. He’d always been small for his age—“a runt” his father sometimes called
him—the boy with the plain brown hair and funny nose who is terrified of girls and almost always picked last for
playground games. But Bobby liked to think that Tommy was different; someone who could look past his
inadequacies without judgment and accept him, as a friend, without question. And Tommy had. Tommy, who seemed
to be friends with everyone in the 5th grade had suddenly become his friend two weeks ago and Bobby wasn’t
spoiling it. He was tired of being an outcast and a loner.
Bobby began to worry, really worry. Tommy had yet to answer to his repeated calls and the idea of him being
trapped inside the pipe was quickly becoming a reality.
“Tommy!” he shouted into the dark portal. “Where the heck…”
“Up here, bozo!” Tommy’s voice rang out from above. He was standing on top of the drainage pipe looking down at
Bobby. He was smiling, but his narrow set eyes were mirrors of intensity. “You’re next.”
Bobby got to his feet brushing dirt from his knees. He felt more than a little foolish and knew his step-mom was going
to have a fit when he came home and she saw the condition of his brand-new blue jeans.
“Okay, okay,” he said, “I’ll go. If it makes you happy, I’ll go; alright?”
Jumping off the pipe, Tommy landed on one foot and twirled around in one graceful motion.
“That’s what I wanted to hear, buddy,” he said. He gave Bobby a pat on the back. “There’s nothing to it, man. Just
make it quick.”
Bobby frowned. “Quick?” he repeated.
“Yeah, quick; you fool around in there too long and the Old Man will get ya’.”
“Old Man?” Bobby said. “You mean there’s an—”
Tommy laughed, dropping him a sly wink.
“Don’t worry about it, dude. It’s just a legend my brother and his friends made up to scare little kids. Some story
about a homeless guy who got cold one night and crawled into the pipe to get warm; he was supposedly real
hungry, too and started eating what he could find in there. You know beetles, spiders, slugs and shit, stuff like that.”
Bobby shook his head, unable to imagine eating an insect; the feel of tiny multiple legs racing over your tongue
before you bit down and heard the squish of the insect exploding inside your mouth. Bobby shuddered.
“Anyways,” Tommy continued, “the homeless dude was never seen again. Some say he just curled up in there and
died, but my brother said he’s still in there, nothing but a rotting corpse, his spirit still cold and hungry after all these
years.” He patted Bobby on the back again, his smile genuine and innocent. “But don’t you worry about it, bro,” he
assured Bobby. “It’s just a bull-shit story. We’ve all been through the pipe and we’re all still here. Ready?”
Bobby nodded his head. He knew the legend was nothing more than a story to scare little kids—pussies, Tommy
would’ve called them—but still couldn’t shake the terrible image of an old man, his mouth full of dead bugs, rotting
inside the dark depths of the pipe.
Taking a deep breath, Bobby dropped to his knees. The mouth of the pipe yawned before him, inviting and teasing,
promising him Tommy’s friendship for years to come; his days as a 5th grade refugee finally come to a merciful end.
Bobby shuffled forward on all fours, his head just inside the pipe, and then turned back to Tommy, “Can we go play
baseball after this?”
Tommy nodded, his smile radiant in the glowing sunshine.
“Sure,” he answered, “and we’ll tell all the guys you made it through the pipe. They’ll love it. Now get going or the
ballgame will be over before we get there.”
Bobby paused, thought it over one last time and began his journey with one outstretched hand…
When another hand popped out of the tunnel. The smell of death, rot and disease suddenly filled the afternoon air;
the hand clamping down painfully around Bobby’s wrist.
Instinctively Bobby jerked his hand back, but the long, skeletal fingers around his wrist were tightening in an iron like
grip, pulling him deeper into the drainage pipe’s mouth. A low moan echoed from the pipe, an old and dusty sound
full of ravenous hunger and dark desire.
Again Bobby tried pulling his right arm free, but the hand had a lock on him, its dead white fingers sinking deep into
the flesh of his wrist. Bobby began to scream, pulling and fighting. He struck out at the hand, beating it with his other
fist, but the disembodied hand proved strong and relentless like a pit bull slaughtering a rabbit.
“Tommy!” he screamed. “Tommy! Help me!”
Bobby was up to his shoulder now, the fingers on his right hand numb and useless. He turned his head to find
Tommy and found him standing not more than three feet behind him.
“Help me!” he screamed at his friend. “Something grabbed my arm and won’t let go! God it hurts! Help me, please!”
Tommy remained where he was standing, watching his friend with interest. A lazy puff of breeze ruffled his hair, his
eyes a universe of wonder. Last time had been quicker, he thought distantly, listening to Bobby’s pleas for help. The
Snyder kid, whom he’d met the summer before last, had been skinny…a weakling; a pussy.
Bobby continued wailing and pleading, as something warm, wet and sticky began sliding up and down the length of
his trapped arm. He was nearing exhaustion, his breath coming in short ragged gasps, and gave his arm a last
And for a moment—an exhilarating second in time—he was free, until something snapped down on his arm like a
packed bear trap. Bobby’s face went the color of old chalk, his mouth open in a soundless scream of terror and
agony. His arm was being viciously shaken to the left and right, as if something were trying to tear it from its socket
like a human drumstick. He screamed again, loud and high, his shrill voice carrying over the now silent forest in
waves of utter despair.
Tommy watched on, a tiny smile playing about the corners of his mouth. A column of black ants in single file marched
past his foot. He stomped them into oblivion, waiting for the inevitable. Soon.
And as if on cue, Bobby gave a final scream—a heartless yelp, really—and disappeared inside the pipe’s mouth like a
well-planned magician’s trick.
Tommy stood there a moment basking in the afternoon sun. Bobby had been perfect and he was proud of himself, as
his friend would be. He took a step closer to the mouth of the pipe…but not too close. His friend had a voracious
appetite and Tommy wasn’t taking any chances. Squatting down in front of the pipe, Tommy waited patiently while
his friend feasted on Bobby.
It was a time later, the waning afternoon growing into a soft dusk, when Tommy finally heard from his friend:
“You’ve done well, Thomas,” a raspy voice echoed throughout the tunnel. “Very well, and you will be rewarded, but
not yet. Not yet my young friend, not until I’m stronger.”
The voice stank of a thousand graves, filled with black arcane wisdom from the ancients that it would soon pass on
to its young apprentice, Tommy.
“I understand,” Tommy answered.
His mother would be getting dinner on soon and he needed to go, but didn’t want to offend his friend, either.
“Excellent, Thomas,” the dark voice spoke, “I’m glad that you do. Now, bring me more, child; bring me more.”
Tommy nodded and stood up, “No problemo’,” he said. “I’ll be back soon.”
And with thoughts of what his mother might be cooking for tonight’s dinner, Tommy made his way out of the ditch
and up the gentle slope heading toward the ballpark.
He realized now he had at least an hour before dinner and the evening was turning out to be fantastic. A scratch
game of baseball sounded mighty fine, and who knew…he might make a new friend.