Congratulations on the purchase of your new home!
I’m sorry to inform you I was not very upfront with the terms of sale and would feel guilty if I didn’t leave at least this letter in forewarning.
You might have wondered why it was listed so cheaply or why, beyond a lawyer’s details, there wasn’t a name on the seller’s side of the contract. You might have dismissed these anomalies because the patio is so nice (the jasmine over the pergola smells lovely in spring) or because of all the built-in storage in the kitchen.
In my defence, there’s nowhere on a standard contract to disclose supernatural problems and this isn’t something a building inspector would normally spot. Here’s the thing you need to know about your new home:
A month after I bought this townhouse two years ago, I accidentally caught a monster in the upstairs bathroom and haven’t known what to do about it since. And, in purchasing this house, that’s now your problem.
Whatever else you take from this letter please DO NOT touch the showerhead attachment lying in the bottom of the bath. I know there’s a hook on the side for it to hang and I know it looks like it’s scratched the tub’s enamel. Don’t even touch it. The configuration of that hose is the only thing keeping you, your new house, and maybe the whole suburb safe.
It was a complete accident. I’d bought the hose and was rinsing the tub with it when I slipped. As the nozzle hit the metal of the drain, my body fell through the world and disintegrated into individual atoms, dispersing and coalescing in ways my joints grind to remember. Something spiky thrashed around in the in-between space alongside me, piercing and pulling at my pieces as it tried to use me as traction while it sprayed howls of obscene colours around the place.
When I came to, every pipe in the house was hammering, sounding at first like bells and then like an industrial accident. I could feel the resonances in my teeth. The whole place stank of ammonia and ash.
I staggered downstairs, took two Valium, popped in some noise-cancelling headphones blaring a mixture of pink noise and binaural beats, and tried to pass out under a blanket on the couch.
I barely slept. My dreams were full of an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobia and phantom pains. Gasping for air, I woke every twenty minutes to the sound of all the neighbourhood dogs barking.
The next morning, I did the only logical thing and called a plumber.
The noises had reduced to a vague creaking by the time I led the plumber, Dean, in to fix it.
He took one look at the twisted shower hose and the few drops of blood from my nose on the floor tiles I hadn’t had a chance to wipe up, and grimaced.
“Oh you’ve got one of those.”
I asked him what he meant by “one of those.”
“The thing with these townhouses is they changed the building codes about a year before they were built and the builders could lay out the pipes differently—cost cutting, you know? Sometimes that causes this . . . problem.”
“They used to slip right past, no issue. This area’s always been a bit thin, you know? Except now it’s really easy to accidentally create these sort of snares for them. Not your fault. Dumb luck really.”
“Yes, but what is it?” I asked him.
“Oh, it’s a demon for sure. Very nasty. Normally they use the angles of the pipes to skitter on through this dimension to the next one. They’re not that interested in humans. They feed on extended pain vapours and, from what I understand, humans typically don’t spend long enough suffering to be a worthwhile feed.”
Dean, nice guy that he is, interpreted my deer-in-the-headlights correctly—I needed help.
“Look, my uncle is a priest. About a year ago, he flushed one of these out of a family’s toilet with a load of holy water through the cistern.” Dean peered into the plughole, getting way closer than I ever would. “Almost feel sorry for the bugger. Going about his business, looking for a meal. Next second he’s bound and squished into the pipes in some townhouse in St. Kilda.”
I politely reminded Dean a moment ago he’d been telling me about how they feed on the effects of long-term torture of sentient beings and maybe sympathy was inappropriate.
Father Trevor came two days later. He hissed through clenched teeth before saying, “Bathtubs are hard.”
He pointed out how the bathtub pipes connect to the toilet and the shower on the other side of the wall. He then asked me why I even got a showerhead for the bath if I’ve got a standalone shower. I told him that was hardly relevant, and couldn’t he just push the thing along into the toilet and take it from there?
He did try.
He flushed the holy water. He banged the walls and bottom of the tub with various implements. I learned a lot about Latin chants.
Needless to say, none of it worked. He was very apologetic and advised me to try not to irritate it and go about my business.
“Just close the door. Try to ignore it.”
Which would have been easy enough, except for the dreams.
They started that first night with overwhelming feelings of doom and sadness, half-remembered agonies. Over time they got more specific. Scenarios where I was jailed somewhere foreign. Scenes of my sister and her kids—my only close family—dead and laid out in my (now your) nice patio. Vivid experiences of my limbs being amputated and internal organs being pulled out.
It was the demon. Letting me know it was alone and stuck and hurting.
I tried all sorts of things after that. Got representatives of every religious denomination I could think of and all the other ones I could find. They were all very interested. Very concerned. All of them had things they could try, but none were particularly confident. They were all afraid they’d botch it and let the thing loose.
I tried a few psychics, who refused to cross the threshold. One wouldn’t even get out of her car.
I had a few scientists over, who denied anything weird was going on when they realised there was no way they could feasibly publish anything from this.
I saw a few therapists, to see if the problem started with me. It did, but no amount of learning to identify and modify my thoughts about the monster in my house did much to fix the underlying cause of my anxiety and sleep problems.
There’s no ethical framework for situations like this. I’ve looked, and nothing quite fits.
It was clearly stuck and in constant pain because of me, even if I didn’t mean it, and, worse, continuing because I was choosing not to let it go. On the other hand . . . inflicting pain is its whole deal. That’s how it survives. By freeing it, I’d be inflicting that back out into the world. It was sort of beholden to me to not let it go for the sake of many worlds or something. No way to live with myself on either side.
Releasing it would have been easy. The shower hose is the problem—untangle the lines of interaction and relieve the trap. I thought about it a few times. Once, I got deliberately drunk and stomped upstairs to do the deed, only to end up passing out and waking up to a bathtub full of red wine vomit and everything still in position. Thank God. I’ve got nothing to go on that the demon will leave peaceably. No experience with its kind. No way to test its trustworthiness except trying it out and, honestly, the risks if I guessed wrong were a bit too high for my tastes.
I’ve never figured out how you’d go about killing it, either. Some of the experts I got in had suggestions—I’ve left the binder in the bottom drawer in the kitchen with the details along with the spare keys for the windows—but nothing I was ever confident to try and some I wouldn’t know how to start attempting. I mean, where do you even get plutonium? Or original cursed items from the next dimension over? I work in local government records management; I don’t know any Bond villains.
And every night my dreams haunted me with reminders of the cruelty I was perpetuating upstairs while I dithered—wasting time mulling over philosophy and what the worse evil was. Alone in the dark. People walking past while I bled out and called for help. Trapped in slow torture devices.
I started to feed it.
I figured, if we were stuck with each other, if I must be this thing’s jailer for the sake of the universe, I could at least be a decent one.
Now, there was only so much I was willing to do. I’m not a freak.
I started with mice in a cage with some poison and no water overnight. The first time I did it, I got the first full night’s sleep I’d had in weeks, so I stuck with it, even if picking up their little curled corpses in the morning made me feel awful.
It wasn’t enough. After the first week of poisoning—just when I thought we’d gotten into a routine—the nightmares came back. Trying to drink water from a broken glass in the desert.
The next few things I tried were too quick. I was trying to find something I could live with, something I could make a routine part of my life. Straight up neck snapping or decapitation. Freezing and bludgeoning. I spent whole evenings pulling the legs off spiders and crickets en masse, to no avail. Bone-breaking failed—the shock set in too fast no matter how many different ways I tried it.
At night, the demon taunted me with feelings of painful inadequacy. Why bother at all if only to provide nothing?
I kept trying, determined to find a middle path. I had success with slow blood drain for a while. Except, I had to keep swapping in a new guinea pig to dribble every hour and I was driving miles on the weekend to restock. The local pet stores had stopped selling to me.
Burning was excellent, provided it was slow. Birds were good—not too fluffy and fewer screams. There used to be a lot of crows and pigeons around here. Really easy to lure with food or rubbish.
Working with pairs worked a treat. I had a series of rabbits for a while that I skewered the eyes out of or skinned alive within view of each other. They’d really whip each other into a fear frenzy. Good stuff.
Eighteen months I did this. Tried to find a way to make the best of a bad situation for the both of us. I struggled with it. I’d try to stretch the feedings out—leaving hours or days between. I tried turning up music or closing my eyes or doing it fast or drinking myself blind to disassociate from what I was doing. But each time I found a method I could sustain, it would stop working. The demon in the pipes would load up the dreams and remind me this was all my fault for being too weak to release it. The least I could do was take responsibility for my actions.
And so I continued, trying to find the next thing I could stomach.
About six weeks ago, though, when I was holding a screaming tabby by the scruff of the neck over the bathtub with a paring knife poised between the pads on its back feet, crying and trying to psych myself up to start peeling, apologising to it and saying “I have to, you don’t understand, I have to,” . . . I realised.
I wasn’t feeding the demon with the cat.
I was feeding it with me.
I had been feeding it with almost two years’ worth of my suffering. With my feelings as I fought with myself about the right thing to do and drove myself to increasing acts of gore and violence, inspired by what I found most upsetting, to try and appease the thing in the drain.
And, while it might be stuck here, I’m not.
So, I put the house on the market.
Try not to hate me. Maybe it won’t bother you; maybe it’s just angry at me.
Maybe, dear purchaser, you’ll have a better time handling this than I did. Maybe you’ll be braver. I hope so.
But, if you find you need plumbing help, Dean’s number’s on the fridge and his emergency rates are very reasonable.
The Previous Owner
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