The Leak

Plop.

Plink.

Plop.

Plink.

It was the most infernal sound, and he found it to be grating on his nerves.

Plop.

Of course it was a silly thing to be mad about, it was a a slow leak after all. That was something to be grateful for, right? That the sound wasn’t constant? Hadn’t he been trying to do that sort of thing at one point in his life? The whole “gratitude practice is good for the soul” thing? He should be grateful it was a slow leak.

Plink.

He grated his teeth, feeling his jaw pop as he scrubbed enamel against enamel. He was grateful he still had teeth. Hard to believe after all this he still had his teeth.

Plop.

He wanted to throw his hands up in exasperation, Screw this gratitude nonsense, he felt his arm muscles cramp at the thought of movement, I’m miserable.

Plink.

Even thinking, now, had become exhausting. He felt himself giving up on thinking, blinking back sleep. He hadn’t been mentally strong enough to maintain his gratitude practice before, either. Funny, as back then he had definitely had an easier task set before him. Now he was retroactively grateful for the car (even with a parking ticket!) and the yard that had trees perfectly set apart for his hammock (even if the neighbor had a yappy dog!) and the well that had fed into his home crisp, clean water (even if he’d had to dig the new one only one year into living at his new house!). What he wouldn’t have given for a car to drive him back to that yard and a tall glass of water from that well. At least I’m growing as a person now.

Plop.

He felt around in the darkness, trying to find something that would indicate that the ground around him had changed since the last time he had performed this exercise. Just dirt. Always just dirt. At least it’s not too cold down here. See! I’m getting better at this gratitude thing already. He was fairly certain, approximately 85%, that he was in a cellar. The room was dark and cool and if he ever got out he was fairly certain, about 70% so, he’d find that he’d been living next to a lifetime supply of potatoes.

Plink.

Of course it wouldn’t hurt to get that leak fixed given all the precious goods in the cellar. Like me he thought, giving up on searching the ground around him. He relaxed his muscles again, lying limp on the ground.

Plop.

He almost felt the light hit him before he could see it, only the tiniest sliver from the upstairs like usual. He could hear the old wooden steps giving slightly under the weight of the person making their way down them, descending into his hell.

Creeeaaaak.

Creeeeaaaak.

Plink.

Creeeeaaaaak.

He hoped this was the food time. He hadn’t yet been able to figure out what determined when he got fed. (He was about 30% sure he was being fed every three days, maybe less.) The figure walked across the dirt floor, their footfalls making muffled thumps as they stirred up the flooring.

Plop.

He struggled to hold still, his heart still quickening as it had the first time he’d experienced this torture.

Scoosh.

In a cloud of dust the tray slid in front of him from under the small slit in the front of his crate.

“Eat.” The voice was soft, almost like that of a concerned caregiver. He’d spent (what he assumed was) many moons trying to figure out this voice. He was 95% sure his “caretaker” was a woman, though one could never be sure these days. She was always so quiet, encouraging him to eat the stale bread or cold porridge quickly.

Thunk!

He was startled from his thoughts, she’d kicked the bloody crate! “I don’t hear you eating.” Frantic whispering, here was the fear he had heard in this voice so many times before. What are you afraid of? He wanted to yell at her, but he sensed that if he did he might never eat again. So he ate.

Plink.

Plop.

Scoosh.

“I’ll come back soon.” She whispered, he heard the sadness in her voice. He placed his hand up on the crate, trying in desperation to feel a human connection. Any human connection. “Please…” he croaked, his vocal chords cracking under the weight of the word. He had never spoken to her and the breeze she created as she ran away from him took him aback. Is she afraid of me? He felt the tears come then, the hot, sticky mess of tears. He had stopped crying so long ago, but now the tears were coming again. He tried to stop, best to conserve water, but they just kept pouring out of his eyes. His body racked with sobs as he tried to push down the welling —

Plink.

The scream escaped him, a deep guttural, animal sound. “Are you afraid of me? Come and face me you coward! Come and see what I have become, you monster!” He threw himself against the sides of his crate, something he hadn’t done in what he was sure was months. He had stopped throwing his weight into the boards because the broken ones were replaced whenever he went to sleep. But now, in this moment, he no longer cared. Replace the damn boards, he thought, it won’t matter if I smash myself into a pulp. He had finally snapped.

Plop.

Plink.

Plop.

Plink.

Upstairs, the girl sat on her bed, sobbing. She didn’t dare tell her father that her puppy had spoken to her. He would be so mad- he’d told her repeatedly to stop going down there to feed him. But she had loved her puppy! Even if she didn’t get to take him outside or play with him like the other kids in her class. She’d loved him because he was hers. But then, he’d started screaming. He’d screamed and screamed. He didn’t sound like the other kids’ puppies. He sounded more like Daddy. She had been sitting on her bed, crying and shaking and listening. It had been hours before the screaming and thumping had finally stopped. She didn’t dare go check on her puppy. But she knew she still had work to do, so she ran into the kitchen and washed off his plate. He was bad to slobber on the plate, so she had to be extra careful when she washed it or the sticky residue would stay. She knew that today, especially, if Daddy saw the slobbery plate in the kitchen she would be in so much trouble.

Thunk.

Crack.

She lay on her bed, waiting. The feeling in the pit of her stomach wasn’t a fun feeling. She heard his truck pull into the drive way, saw the headlights shine through the front window and through the crack between her door and its frame. She’d laid down an hour or two before, placing a cold washcloth across her tiny puffy face the way her mother used to. Her mother had left right before they’d gotten the puppy. Daddy had said that Mommy had found a new family she liked better, so she left them. The kids at school said Daddy probably killed her mother. She’d argued with them, but they said that the court didn’t have any proof so they couldn’t take him to jail. The thought choked her up and she struggled to even out her breathing again.

Creeeak.

Her door creaked open a fraction more, she could hear him breathing. “Good night, Punkin’.” He said softly, closing the door behind him. He scratched his beard, blinking back sleep. Things had been hard for them since her mother had left. His little girl had come home one day absolutely bawling about how the kids at school had said he was a murderer. He hadn’t been surprised, all their parents were a bunch of blabber mouths prone to exaggeration. Still, it had wounded him to have his little girl upset over such a thing. He sighed deeply, If only she knew how hard I worked to get her mother to stay.

Creeeak.

He closed the door behind him and turned to head toward the kitchen, fairly certain he heard the sink dripping. Thinking of his wife had reminded him of her hobby. She’d been a bit of an eccentric when he’d met her. He had told everyone that’s what he loved about her. How totally weird she was. But he hadn’t known. He’d found out just how weird maybe three years into their marriage. At that point they’d just moved into this house. He couldn’t understand why she’d been so smitten with the place. Still, he’d been happy to get it for her. Happier still to build her a shed out back for her hobby supplies. Of course, when she’d said workspace he assumed she’d be painting. So his mockups for the shed had featured huge windows to let in the light and a beautiful bay window with a seat in it, gazing out into the woods behind the house. She had laughed, told him she didn’t want a mini-house, she wanted a shed. If she’d wanted something other than a shed she would have said so. He’d been inclined to indulge her. Should’ve built it the way I wanted it. The sound of water dripping didn’t appear to be coming from the sink after all. He headed toward the cellar door, feeling his stomach turn in knots.

Plop.

The sound was most certainly coming from down there. He cautiously made his way down the stairs. When he’d finished the shed, she’d been so happy. She pranced around the house, happier than he’d ever seen her. She filled it quickly with ungodly things. At first they had seemed harmless, a shovel or rake. Maybe she wants to start a garden. Then the items became more alarming, with handcuffs and huge plastic tarps entering the shed. Still, he’d chosen to believe that maybe she was going to be making sculptures. Idiot. She’d carried on, collecting her supplies piecemeal in that way for months. He realized now it was less suspicious this way. Less likely to raise eyebrows. Sure doesn’t hurt she picked a little house in the middle of the woods. He had been fiddling with the pipe when he noticed it. The little wooden crate in the back corner. He walked over to it, kneeling down to look at it. One of the boards appeared to be cracked a little from the inside. He pulled off a board.

Plink.

The wooden box was slowly falling away as he worked. She’d started “collecting” the next year. She’d left for a long weekend, “I’ll just be out with the girls! You don’t want to come, it’ll be lots of squealing and talking about how boring our husbands are.” He’d laughed, told her to have fun, and then left for work. She must’ve packed up the car after he’d left, making sure to have all the things she’d need. When he’d gotten back home from work on Monday morning there had been the sound of activity in their cellar. “Dear, everything alright?” He yelled down the stairs. The cellar gave him the heebie-jeebies and she had known. It was perfect. “Oh yes, Love! Just working on a project!” He’d told her he’d have dinner ready soon and had left her to it. Should’ve gone down those stairs that day. Now he could see the dirty rags in the box, Probably her last “project”. He kept working, the sound of water that had brought him down here slowly melting into the background as he became absorbed in his thoughts.

Plop.

He’d slowly figured it out. She was slick, but she had left clues around the house. It was like she wanted him to figure it out. So he’d be afraid of her. But he’d never felt afraid of her. Thinking on it now, he figured that was why she had gotten pregnant. If she couldn’t make him afraid for himself, then perhaps a child would work. But it hadn’t gone to plan. A few months in she’d become bedridden, struck with terrible nausea that kept her in bed all day. She’d been so horrible the whole time. She’d become violent with him, but what had hurt him the most were her words. She’d blamed him for this horror that had befallen her. He’d bore the weight of her onslaught, keeping a smile on his face for the people at the supermarket when he ran his weekly errands. He’d taken off so much work to take care of her because she insisted no one else could come to the house. He didn’t have to ask — he already knew why. When the baby had finally, mercifully arrived he had felt this immense relief. Finally everything could return to normal, or as close to normal as they had ever been. She was just too full of hate, then. She didn’t get better, she got worse. It had taken him a while to dismantle part of the wooden crate, it was a rather large one and, fool that he was, he’d only been using his pocketknife to pry out the nails.

Plink.

Now he could see that the pile of rags in the crate still had something in them, something fleshy. “Wha-,” he pulled at a few more boards that had been fixed to the ground, causing the structure to flop over on one side. The man was bloodied terribly, like he’d been in the worst bar brawl of his life. Is there a pulse? Please, God, let there be a pulse.

Plop.

The ambulance arrived almost half an hour later. “We just had to be in the middle of nowhere,” he’d sighed. It wasn’t until after he’d called the ambulance and applied what medicine he could to the man’s wounds that it occurred to him. They’d want to know how this happened. How had this happened? She’d been gone for so long, how was this man still even alive? That’s when Stefanie, his sweet Punkin’, poked her head around the doorjamb. “Hi Daddy,” she said, eyes cast down. Oh my God. Is this her puppy? Has my kid been keeping a man trapped in my basement? A man her mother brought here? Did she know? He tried hard to keep his composure. He’d told her to stop taking food downstairs to her “puppy” because he had assumed she was using it as an excuse to eat outside mealtimes. He most certainly had not thought it was because she was keeping a prisoner in his cellar. “Hi Punkin’, is there something you want to tell Daddy?” She padded across the living room toward where he had been crouching and he scooted up a bit, using the furniture to block her view of the dying man. She fell down into his lap, looking absolutely heartbroken. “I know you said I should stop feeding my puppy but he gets so hungry and would whine when you weren’t here so I’d feed him and today he got so mad after I fed him he kept screaming and crying and breaking things and I didn’t know what to do and then he got really quiet and -“ She fell into sobs, curled into his chest. Oh my God, Punkin’, what has your mother done to you? What sick monster leaves a man in her family’s cellar and then leaves them with him? He kissed her forehead, “Oh sweetheart, don’t worry about him. I’m going to make sure he’s ok and then we’ll get you another puppy that you can take outside. Would you like that, Punkin’?” She sniveled, wiping the snot from her face with her forearm, and nodded. “Yeah.” She sounded so small, so totally at a loss. How could I think this child has any evil in her? He smiled, “Go back to your room now, I’ll come get you after the doctors come get your puppy.” She nodded, slowly getting up and padding back to the safety of her bedroom. Because she does.

Weeeooooeee-

He woke up, shining white lights overhead. “Oh God, I’m dead. Wait – I’m dead! My prayers have been answered! Sweet, merciful death has finally taken me!” He went to throw his arms up overhead, only to find his wrists were restrained. My goodness, I hadn’t expected that Heaven would have chains and I can’t imagine why I’d be sent to Hell. He looked down at himself, starch white sheets and what appeared to be a hospital wristband. “Shit.” Just then the nurse that had been busying herself at the foot of his bed laughed, “Y’know, most folks are pleasantly surprised to find out they aren’t dead. You’re quite the character, Mr. Ridgeby. You musta got some sort of story to tell.” She patted his foot, “But I reckon’ that one can wait for a while, you got a whole lifetime ahead of ya. Why don’t you rest up a bit here and I’ll have the doc come check ya over. You are Mr. Ridgeby, ain’t ya? We were pretty sure we ID’d you correctly but none of your kin have come to verify it’s you. Seems you been gone a heck of a long while and they all figured you t’be long dead and in the grave.” Calvin, Calvin Ridgeby, was taken aback. “They forgot about me?! Assumed I was dead and moved on! Unbelievable. Unimaginable. Unforgivable.” He frowned at the nurse, who looked quite surprised at his outburst, “Miss, I am, believe it or not Calvin Ridgeby. Please send a message to my family posthaste that they can kiss my inheritance goodbye, those thieving rodents!” He was pretty sure, say 95%, that his family had partied as they stole the money from his bank accounts. The nurse smiled and nodded politely, making a swift escape from his room. Calvin Ridgeby, his friends called him Cal, was back from the dead and out for blood. “Someone let me out of these restraints!” He pulled on them, the strain causing one of the velcro restraints to give.

Rrrrriiiip.

“Mr. Hedgewood, would you please explain to us, again, how a missing man came to be in your living room?” Harrison Hedgewood, a man that most of his neighborhood had come to know as a kind-hearted single father, repeated his statement. He’d told them over and over how his wife must have left the man there. That he’d come to suspect near the end of their marriage that she had been up to no good. How his suspicions had ended their marriage. He’d explained that his daughter must have found the man, taken him food and water, and kept him as a pet. He’d explained the crate set-up in the cellar, how he had refused to go down there and his wife had known it. How, as a single father, he couldn’t beat his daughter’s bus when she got home from school. Though most parents of latch-key kids worry more about things happening to their kids, not this. The cops kept looking for inconsistencies in his story, he knew that. He also knew they wouldn’t find any, because he was telling them the truth. Between retellings he kept asking about his daughter, where was she? Was she ok? They weren’t grilling her were they? She was so young, so small. Surely they wouldn’t hold her at fault for any of this? He was so frightened for her, that’s what made the detectives feel more like his story was the truth. They were slowly coming to the decision that he was likely innocent in all this. Or at least, mostly so. They weren’t inclined to put away his daughter’s only caretaker. They would probably let him off easy. Especially since Mr. Ridgeby’s statement never mentioned a man at any point. Only the young woman that had abducted him. In his half-starved delirium they were fairly certain the mother’s voice giving way to the girl’s would have gotten past him easily. They were rather concerned about the mother, though. She’d seemingly vanished into thin air. There were simply no records to indicate where she might’ve gone. The detectives had grilled him on this, too. But Mr. Hedgewood, according to all accounts, had long-suffered his wife’s torments and had been all too glad to see her leave. Most of the townspeople said he’d probably murdered the woman. “Check for her grave!” Someone had shouted outside the police station. They had checked for a grave on the property and had come back with graves. Seems the Mrs. Hedgewood had been very busy indeed, giving the detectives more motivation to find her. Poor Mr. Hedgewood, upon seeing a picture of one of the corpses, had seen his police-station issue breakfast a second time.

Thump.

The shovel had hit something other than dirt again. The forensics people were having a field day. They’d come from an office in one of the bigger cities near the little podunk town where the Hedgewood’s had made their home. “Y’know, I have a hard time believing that he didn’t know these were all here.” One of them said, dusting dirt off a skeleton they had found beneath one of the gardens in the backyard. “I dunno, they were all under garden plots or flower beds. Your wife starts tilling the earth for tomatoes, would you question it? Or would you eat the tomatoes?” Returned a second worker, readjusting their blue baseball cap as they bent down to snap a photo. The first shrugged, and the two kept working. It appeared they had a long day ahead of them.

Click.

Calvin Ridgeby had been trapped in the hospital for what he had considered far too long a time. It was this opinion that had begun to turn all the nurses against him. They’d stopped coming to check on him except when they did the rounds, his call button becoming all-but ignored. This was likely why no one noticed when Calvin Ridgeby, a man of still great worth, had begun to experience an accelerated heartbeat. Upon further examination it appeared he’d begun to have an anxiety attack of some sort. The hospital psychiatrist was unsurprised to hear this, more unsurprised still to find the hospital nurses had begun to neglect a patient suffering from a slew of mental issues. No one could quite figure out what had set him off. “The poor man was disturbed, and frankly had every right to be.” The psychiatrist had said, shaking his head as he finished his part of Mr. Ridgeby’s charts. “Too bad he won’t make it to court.” The detective had shrugged, giving Mr. Ridgeby an unceremonious send-off. As everyone finished breaking down the room, a nurse noticed that Mr. Ridgeby appeared to have ripped out one of his IVs. The liquid was falling to the ground beside his bed.

Plink.

Plop.

Plink.

Plop.

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