More Than an Urban Legend
by Bertil Falk
part 1 of 2
Zoë was excited. Thanks to the local and very active Club Cosmos, there was for the first time a small science fiction convention in her town. And Robert Bloch would be the guest of honor at this small-town event. With a trembling heart, Zoë entered the hotel, registered and went into the coffee shop where the fans used to meet, chit-chatting about the latest fannish feuds.
Zoë arrived at the moment when one of the members of the club was telling the guest of honor that after seeing the movie Psycho and the murder of Janet Leigh behind a transparent shower curtain, she didn’t dare to take a shower.
Not only a master of suspense and horror but also a smart stand-up, Mr. Bloch commented — as he usually did when people told him about their Psycho-related reluctance to have a shower-bath — that the woman should be glad that Anthony Perkins did not murder Janet Leigh while she was sitting on the toilet.
That caused a wave of appreciative laughter and the convention continued along that pleasant line. Zoë was very satisfied as she went home that evening with two signed books.
The next morning, she had breakfast with her mother and father and then went to the next-door neighbor’s house. She had promised Mr. and Mrs. Swanson to baby-sit their three-year old daughter.
To begin with, all went well. Zoë played with little Mary. They watched Sesame Street on PBS and ate some ice cream. Then, Mary had to answer a call of nature and since she was more than able to go there herself, she went, singing “Three Blind Mice.”
Zoë switched from PBS to a game show. After a while, she thought that Mary should have answered that call of nature. But she heard no singing any more.
She got to her feet and called out: “Mary!”
“Mary! Are you through?”
“Mary! Where are you?”
Zoë went to the bathroom. The door was open. But the bathroom was empty. Only one of Mary’s shoes was on the floor.
“I see,” Zoë said. “You want to play hide-and-seek with me.”
Zoë began to hunt for Mary. She was nowhere to be found.
Slightly alarmed, Zoë went to the outer door. Locked! The key in the lock!
Of course, Zoë had locked the door herself when Mary’s parents left the house.
Half an hour later, Zoë was desperate. She called the police and she called her mother and soon a lot of people turned up.
There was no way that Mary could possibly have left the house. And yet there was no sign of her. To Zoë it all became an inferno. She realized that the investigating people began to suspect foul play on her part. It got worse as Mary’s parents returned home.
The news media were filled with speculations as to the disappearance of Mary from a perfectly locked house. There were insinuations of a disturbing kind. Zoë had a nervous breakdown and had to be taken care of.
This was in the 1970’s, when so many bad things were happening in the world, and after a couple of days the nasty event disappeared from the news, clearing the way for other disasters.
That was, until something happened ten days later.
In a similar way, a three-and-a-half year old little boy disappeared during a visit to the bathroom, while his mother was in the kitchen. It happened in another part of the town, but the journalists, as did the police, immediately saw the common denominators. The two events were so similar in every detail. The only difference was that the boy had been barefoot. But like little Mary, little Bill was gone and there was no explanation for his disappearance.
Now the two bathrooms were examined in every respect. The water closets were removed. But no! Nothing was found!
A Wednesday three weeks later, in another part of the town, Mrs. Uta Suzuki took a shower in the shower cabin and after that she sat down on the toilet.
When her husband came home that evening, she was nowhere to be found. Another disappearance in a locked house had taken place, but this time there were signs of something that could be described as a kind of clue. There was a lot of water and some blood on the floor.
The idea that some horror had come up through the toilet was now considered as possible. But Mrs. Uta Suzuki was most certainly too big to fit into the narrow pipe of the toilet that was connected with the sewage system of the town. Not even the two children could easily have been swallowed by the toilet hole. But the connecting sewage system was the only common denominator to the three toilets involved in the disappearances.
* * *
Police investigator Anaïs Darling recalled that she had heard about rats and snakes coming up through the drain in toilets.
“I can see that a rat could bite a human, and I can understand that a snake can be poisonous, but just imagine a rat or a snake devouring a child or a grown-up woman and then returning down through the toilet without almost no trace at all,” she said.
She was leaning back with her hands clasped and most decidedly put on the black hair of her head.
Her colleague Albert Sandstrom shrugged his broad shoulders.
“How about alligators?” he said.
“You mean the rumors about alligators in the sewage system of New York City? They were proven to be urban legends long ago,” Anaïs said. She unclasped her hands and put them on the table.
“Well, that’s for sure. What about an octopus?”
“About one thousand eight hundred years ago in ancient Rome, we are told by Claudius Aelianus that an octopus at night used to enter a house via the drain to eat the pickled fish stored inside.”
“Oh, come on,” Anaïs protested and shook her head. “That must be another urban legend.”
“Not necessarily,” Albert said, twirling his yellow moustache.
“Is there any other story like that?”
“No, no. I’m afraid that this Roman tale is the only one about an octopus in a sewage system for the past one thousand and eight hundred years.”
“Everything seems to point at something coming up from the sewage system,” Anaïs said. “But maybe that’s an illusion? The solution is perhaps to be found somewhere else! But where, where?”
“I think we should stick to the sewage theory for the time being,” Albert said. “They disappeared in the bathrooms...”
“We don’t know where they disappeared!” Anaïs cut him short. “In the one case, we only have the words of the babysitter. In the other case, we have the statement of the mother. They could both be lying. They could both have killed the children and disposed of the bodies.”
“They had enough time for that. Inspired by the first case, the mother of the boy could have found a way to get rid of him, convinced of that his disappearance would look similar to that of the girl’s disappearance. When it comes to Mrs. Suzuki, well, what do we know? That she was gone when her husband came home that evening. She could have left the house at any time during the day. And how do we know that he is telling the truth?”
“Remember that the door was locked from the inside with the key left in the lock and that there was no other door and no window that was not locked from the inside.”
“According to her husband, yes. I remember that, but she could have found some method to leave the house anyhow? Maybe he disposed of his wife?”
“Nevertheless, you must admit that if that mother killed her son, then she must have been hiding her disgust for the boy very well, since all people who know her testify that she loved him.”
* * *
Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk