The Pipe Room

It's dark down here in the pipe room. Even with my flashlight, it's pitch black dark, and strangely cold. I'm chilled to the bone, shaking with the effort of warming myself. A soft clinking fills the air, the sound of so many activated pipes. My echoing footsteps are my only companion, a confident, sure sound. I am sure in my footing, sure in my work…

My work. Fix these old pipes. The water main's broken, and they need replacing before winter comes. If winter comes and the pipes aren't fixed, the water main will freeze along with all the rest of the pipes, and then the house will -

My thoughts trail off, and I stop, listening to the echo of the last footstep. I… thought I heard something…

I shake it off as the moaning of the wind, the eerie, wailing voice of the chilled air singing past a broken pipe. That's all, a broken pipe and the wind. Only a broken pipe and the wind…

Another sound something catches my ear, a clinking sound, like the pipes themselves. But it isn't. It's too loud to be the pipes. Far too loud. It sounds like something hitting upon metal, something sharp, perhaps…

Stop. You're being ridiculous. Not a single thing is down here but you, you and perhaps a few rats. Just a few rats. Nothing at all to be afraid of.

But… rats are never that loud. Never. Rats scramble and squeak and scatter along the pipes. Rat claws don't clink like so many keys hitting metal. No, it was something else. Something… bigger.

My breath hitches in my chest, and my heart skips a beat. Oh god. Am I being followed?

I spin around. Nothing. Absolutely nothing but the darkness. The all-pervasive darkness, hovering just beyond the beam of my flashlight…

"Who's there?" I call, trying my hardest to sound fierce. No reply. Nothing but the soft, steady clinking, first here, then there…

There was something there, hiding out of my sight. Something there…

"A-answer me!" I cry. The sound carries throughout the chilly air. I wait for it to echo.

I receive it, a whimpering whisper that calls from either side of me.

But it isn't my voice.

Dear Lord. It isn't my voice…

A sickly wave of panic rises in my throat. It tastes of bile and fear and –

What was that?!

Soft mumblings, quiet whimpers, sorrowful wails, screeches, sobs; surrounding me, echoing everywhere. I spin to look, shining my flashlight everywhere I can, but I see nothing. Always nothing.

There is nothing. And yet I feel the sting of countless glassy, inhuman eyes burning holes in my skin, sending waves of panic prickling up my spine.

Where are they? Dear GOD, where are they?!

A cry for help. An agonized whimper. A whisper in my ear, incoherent, but so very near…

I run.

Panic consumes every synapse. My mind runs as wildly as my body, dark and demented thoughts of what lies behind me slithering their way through my brain like so many twisted snakes. And still I hear the whimpers, the whispers, the pleading cries – they wrap around me, first here, then there…

A shriek tears from my lips. Then another. And another. I run faster. Where's the door, oh dear Lord, where's the door?!

There! There, I see it, but it feels so far…

I break into a sprint. My lungs are burning with oxygen. My legs are burning with effort. My mind is burning with terrified questions. The sounds shriek and murmur and whimper in my ears. The run seems like an eternity, an eternity of whispered noises and aching, burning legs.

I reach the door. Wrench the handle open. Collapse into the damp, mildewed earth. Scramble in the mud and leaf rot in a desperate attempt to escape those horrible, agonized voices.

The voices fade as I frantically drag myself away from that hellish place, and I heave in great gulps of air. Fresh, clean night air. Not the damp, chilled, fearful air of the pipe room. My heartbeat slows, my breathing slows. I collapse on the ground, exhausted and covered in muck from my frenzied crawling. Shaking from the memory of that sound…

Oh God. That sound…

What such thing on this Earth, on this vast and diverse planet, could make such a noise? Was it animal? Human? If human, what sort of eternal torment could cause a man to make such heartrending, piteous sounds?

I don't know. I don't want to know. And I never want to hear that sound again. Never again. Dear God, never again…