Subsisssstence. More. Subsissstence,” was heard from far below in the darkness beneath the grate that would not open. Even further in could be heard the screams of a frightened teenage boy. The terror had reduced his emotions to that of a little child, squalling, wailing, whimpering—
And then silence that screamed infinite times louder.
Gordon Luthar wasn’t in his office and had gone for the day.
“Can you give me his home number?” asked Assistant basketball coach Mr. Hind to the secretary.
She gave Mr. Hind the number to Principal Luthar’s cell phone.
“He doesn’t like to be called unless he’s in the office,” she said, “But if this is an emergency, I think he’ll understand.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Hind. He then called Principal Luthar.
“Hello, this is Gordon Luthar”
“Yes, Principal Luthar?”
“Indeed. Who is this?”
“I’m Jeffry Hind, the assistant basketball coach.”
“Oh yes. Congratulations on yesterday’s win.”
“Thanks. Listen, a young man has fallen into a gutter drain. There seems to be some trouble down there, and, well, I can’t get the grate open.”
How delightful, he thought.
“The grate is spring-loaded. Like a mousetrap. Have you called the local authorities?”
“Yes, I have.”
“You may not want to go down there yourself.”
“I feel it’s my responsibility,” said Mr. Hind.
“I insist. Call them anyway. If you feel you must help, there is a latch that unlocks the grate in one of the corners of the opening.”
Mr. Hind found a small knob in one of the corners, but it needed pliers to move it. A well timed strike with a crowbar set the knob to unlock. The grate opened like shutters in a window.
“Okay, it’s open,” said Mr. Hind.
“There should be other teachers still on school grounds at this hour. I will be right over. We may need to call the boy’s parents.”
Principal Luthar hung up first. A police k-9 unit drove up. An ambulance drove up a few minutes later.
When Principal Luthar drove up, paramedics, a fire engine, and local police had arrived on the scene. Yellow police tape was now sectioning off the area.
“I am Gordon Luthar, principal of Bernard Berenson Middleschool,” he said to the chief firefighter, “What is happening so far?”
“I tell you what, we’re havin’ a tough time finding the boy.”
“The drain opens up to the city sewers. The sewers go for miles. He could be anywhere.”
Luthar started to understand the situation. If the boy was not found and retrieved in a timely manner, then his plans would unravel. He’d never hear the end of it if the boy died. He had an idea where he could be found, but simply leading authorities would be suspicious.
Luthar waited until the firefighters went into the drain single file. He counted to 100. Then he went in himself.
In the drain it was cold and dark, but one could stand upright. The firefighters carried flashlights. A couple police officers went with them for protection. But they were going the wrong way. Trouble didn’t lurk that direction.
The Briostone, that Luthar wore around his neck, not only kept his physical appearance. It also helped him see in the dark, speak with other ghosts, and gave him a sense for danger. He went in the opposite direction as the authorities. Soon he was hearing what he wanted to find.
“Subsssistence,” could be heard in the next room.
“Simper, what are you doing?” said Luthar.
There was young Shawn Skipperson, huddled in a corner of a large room. Six feet above the ground he had been plastered with mud and filth to the wall, but was still alive and unhurt. His captor, a lemon colored, massive crocodile, stood there watching his prey. The real culprit couldn’t be far away.
“Horus!” said Luthar, “Horus Corley! Where are you?!”
Another yellow crocodile appeared out of the shadows of the room. Beside it, smiling wickedly, stood a squat little man. He was dressed in a trench coat and hat. His ears, which in life he had surgically altered to look long and pointed, stuck out from under his fedora. His purple lensed glasses concealed conniving eyes, and reflected light from another place.
“Is it time to visit me again already, Luthar?” said Corley, “I’ve paid my tribute.”
“The honor you had is now tarnished,” said Luthar, “Why have you captured one of my students?”
“C’mon, man,” said Corley, “My children gotta eat.”
“I normally let you have your fun,” said Luthar, “But your activity today is causing a scene. It is getting in the way of MY PLANS.”
“Look, man,” said Corley, “We’re hungry. Don’t you smell that? It’s liver. Liver! Fresh! Young! Liver!”
“I am asking nicely,” said Luthar, “Release the boy. Unharmed. Return him to his friends. Depart from this particular drain.”
Corley turned to his crocodile familiars.
“What do you think, Madison? Simper?”
“Sssusstain,” The two yellow crocodiles hissed. They had a sudden weird gleam in their eyes.
Luthar stretched out his arms. From his sleeves emerged twin daggers. He clanged them together to make sparks.
“This is MY school,” said Luthar, “You will cease this. Or I shall bleed your etherial blood dry.”
“You’re not the only one with a Briostone, Luthar,” retorted Corley, “How about if we got ether from you this time?”
Corley took out a single dagger from his coat.
The dagger extended two feet longer.
“Naw, sorry Luthar. I think we’re cozy right here.”
From “Fall from Autumnway” from the curiously long book of short stories, I am lettuce, who are you?
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