Each one of us knows an urban legend or two, right? Just think back to your childhood, I am sure there are bound to be some. They often talk about evil people, monsters or simply supernatural things.
In my home area one such urban legend persisted for a long time. It was about the so called lizard man. At least that’s what he’d be called in English.
I am not going to tell you where I am from exactly, let’s just say I am not from a first world country. The part of the city I grew up in was a dump. Now it wasn’t the slums, but it wasn’t much better either.
The families living here were simply too poor to afford video games, entertainment or even normal toys for their kids. Sure, there was the local arcade, but it cost money. If you’d go there just to watch, it wasn’t long before the owner would drive you out.
So instead my friends and I spent most of our time playing outside or finding out which of the many local legends and myth were true.
I have no idea where exactly his tale came from or who started talking about lizard man. All I remember is that the older kids were talking about it one day. They said there was a humanoid lizard who lived somewhere in these run down areas and who’d come and take little kids away and eat them.
When we asked around though, we found out that the story of lizard had been around for quite some time already. Many other people, even adults recognized the story when we asked them.
For my group of friends and me it meant that there obviously must be an actual lizard man.
Urban legends like this one were a call of adventure to us. We just had to find out more about it.
Our group consisted of five kids. There was me, my best friend Samuel, Gabriel, David and Tomás, who we called Fat Tom. I am sure you can guess where that nickname came from.
At first we were a little careful and only explored the area around our homes and those we used to play at. It became obvious though, that we wouldn’t be lucky enough to find lizard man there. Soon enough, we started to search everywhere in our entire neighborhood.
We almost got into some serious trouble once, when we were rummaging through an abandoned building. Instead of lizard man, we found a group of thugs, who weren’t too happy that we found them and who told us rather clearly that we’d best get lost as quickly as possible.
Let’s just say it wasn’t the nicest of neighborhoods.
After the above encounter and not having found any hints about lizard man we were close to give up. We started to think that the whole lizard man story was just a big joke.
“Oi, Felipe.” I heard someone call out to me on my way home. I could see a group of teenagers who sat together in a group, smoking and drinking.
“Hello Andrés.” I greeted the one who had called out to me and wanted to continue on my way. Before I could, he made a gesture with his hand for me to come over to him.
“What’ve you been up to, Felipe? Still hunting lizard man?”
The rest of the group started to laugh a little as he mentioned the urban legend. I bit my tongue to not give a snarky reply. I knew I’d be in for a beating if I’d mouth up against Andrés and his group.
“We have, but we can’t find anything.” I replied after a few seconds.
“Where’ve you been looking at?” one of the others asked.
“Everywhere!” I exclaimed throwing my arms into the air.
The group started to laugh anew. Andrés brought his face closer to mine.
“Wanna know where he lives?”
I nodded vehemently.
“In the old sewers.” Andrés simply answered.
“But how do we” I started to ask, but Andrés simply turned away. He had seemed to simply have lost any interest in continuing to talk to me. I just stood there awkwardly, not sure if I should stick around or leave. Finally one of the others flicked a cigarette butt at me.
“Oi, beat it.” he yelled.
That night I thought about what Andrés had told me. Lizard man lived down in the old sewers and only came up every once in a while, most likely at night. Now it made sense, that we never found even a hint of him.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I lay awake in bed thinking about lizard man, imagining how he hid in the sewers and what sort of things he’d do down there. When I finally fell asleep, I even dreamt about lizard people living below the town in secret hideouts.
Looking back I might have gotten a little too excited about this whole thing. I guess it is to be expected of an elven year old, though.
“That’s so dumb.” Samuel complained. “I don’t wanna search for stupid lizard man anymore, Felipe.”
“But Andrés told me”
“You always talk about Andrés and the things he tells you. That guy’s a liar. Why do you even believe him?” he went on to complain.
I was shocked at what he said about Andrés and quickly took a few glances around, to see if anyone might have heard what he said.
“You can’t say that.” I scolded him.
“Sure can. I am not afraid of him or anyone.” Samuel said, putting his hands to his waists, raising his chest.
He was always a troublemaker and let no one tell him what he was supposed to do or not to do. It had caused him a lot of trouble already.
“If he hears you, he is going to beat you up.”
“I don’t care, he can try if he wants to.”
I sighed. I had enough talking about this topic and was happy when I saw Gabriel and Fat Tom arrive.
Gabriel was as enthusiastic as always. He almost jumped of his bike and came rushing towards us.
“What’s the plan for today?” he not only asked, but yelled.
Fat Tom was following behind on his bike. I could see how exhausted he was. It must have been tough for him to keep up with Gabriel.
“We are going to make preparations to go after lizard man again.” I told them. “As soon as David is here, I am going to tell you all about the news I found.”
“You mean the lies Andrés told you, right?” said Samuel laughing.
I shrugged. “We don’t know that yet.”
It took yet another half an hour till David arrived. He was quiet and kept his head low.
“Hey David.” I called out to him.
He looked up and smiled a little. I could see his read eyes and his split lip, but didn’t say anything. The rest was quiet too. It had become a normal sight to us. Ever since his mother ran off, his father was constantly drunk and blamed David on everything.
He greeted us with a little nod, but didn’t say anything.
“Since everyone is here now, I have some news on lizard man.”
The enthusiasm of our little group remained within limits. It was only Gabriel who was overly happy to hear about lizard man and he was always happy about anything we did. Samuel just stood there, arms crossed over his chest, still annoyed at the topic. Fat Tom just shrugged and David still kept his head low and was busy kicking tiny stones away that lay in front of him.
I sighed as I looked at the group in front of me.
“Well guys, I did my own research and looked for hints and information on lizard man and”
“Liar! You just talked to Andrés about it.” chimed in Samuel.
“Whatever, be quiet.”
I had lost my momentum and had half forgotten what I wanted to say.
“Ehm yeah, lizard man is down in the old sewers.” I finished saying in a more or less annoyed way.
“So we gonna go down there to find him?” asked Gabriel looking at me with a big smile on his face.
“You betcha.” I answered and gave him and the rest a thumps up.
I was surprised when even Samuel nodded. “I’ve always wanted to go down there. Why didn’t you tell me he is in the old sewers?”
“You didn’t even let me finish when I was about to tell you.”
“I am coming along too.” said Fat Tom.
That only left David.
“David, are you coming as well?”
He looked up for a moment and simply mumbled a “Yeah”, before he kicked yet another little stone away.
In the end we didn’t go down right away, instead we spend the rest of the day talking about lizard man and planned our descent. We agreed that the best day would be Saturday, because then we’d have the whole day to explore the sewers.
We spend the rest of the week by making up scenarios about lizard man, talking about the sewers or gathering supplies. We spent hours at the old garbage dump, searching for anything that might be useful. I was even lucky enough to find a used pair of rubber boots.
When Saturday finally came I rushed off first thing in the morning right after getting up. My dad cursed at me, but I was out of the house too quickly for him to have any chance of getting me. I simply ran off to our meeting place and went through all the supplies I had deposited here. There were the rubber boots and a self-maid rain coat to protect me from the sewer water, a flashlight I had secretly taken from home, a backpack filled with snacks and drinks so I’d last the whole day and finally a large stick.
The rest arrived soon enough. They too had prepared themselves in a similar manner. Looking back, we set out as a rag tag band with an assortment of tools and weapons that were almost completely and utterly useless.
We’d found a hidden entrance to the old sewers in an abandoned industrial area nearby. The plan was to go there as quickly and secretly as possible. We knew that if our parents found out about what we were up to, we’d get into trouble. The sewers were off limits for us kids and many times we’d been told never to play down there. It was too dangerous they all said.
A few people who saw us, gave us an odd stare, but we were mostly ignored. There were many strange things going on in this area, so seeing a group of kids like us wasn’t as weird as it would be in a more normal neighborhood.
When finally reached the entry, we had made sure no one was around. Then we made our way down the ladder and descended into the old sewers.
The smell was almost unbearable.
“Smells like your room, Tom.” Samuel yelled at Fat Tom as he made his way down.
“Yeah, or your mom’s you know what.” he replied back to him.
We all started to laugh.
“You guys, I wonder if we can really find him.” Gabriel said as we started on our way.
At first there was still daylight shining down from the open manhole, but as we started walking, the light soon started to diminish.
At first we were still talking and cracking jokes, but as it got darker and darker, we got quieter. The place was really creepy once we were in almost complete darkness. The noises of small animals were all around us. At one point I used the flashlight to illuminate the area around in front of us and saw a muskrat scattering around. It was huge and we were scared it might attack us. To our relief it only squeaked at us before rushing of.
Looking back it is hard to believe that with all the preparations, none of us thought about any means of orientation. We didn’t even bring anything to mark our way to know where we had come from. I guess it was because we were all just dumb kids.
It was after we’d been down there for about half an hour that we found something.
It was a small dirty tent, a fireplace and a variety of weird tools and other things that made no sense to us.
“We found something.” Gabriel exclaimed loudly.
“Be quiet, dumbass.” Samuel shushed him. “We don’t know if anyone is around.”
“Do you guys think this is lizard man’s home?” I asked them in a whisper.
“Could be.” David said in a low voice.
“Look at that guys, boobies.” Fat Tom exclaimed as he held up a nude magazine that he had found next to the fireplace. He was quickly joined by Gabriel and the two started to go through the pages.
I looked around and used my flashlight to illuminate the place to see everything that was around us.
“Hey Felipe, come over here, do you think lizard man is a scientist?”
I didn’t know what Samuel meant, but as I got over I could see a variety of glasses, bowls and tools that reminded me of the chemistry lab at school.
“I don’t know, it looks weird.” I said.
“Hey you guys, take a look at that.” I heard Gabriel say who had started to go through all the stuff in the tent with Fat Tom and David.
Most of what I could see where just dirty rugs, old cans and empty bottles. Gabriel held up a big plastic bag containing some sort of powder.
“No way, that looks like the stuff my brother sells, only much more.” Samuel said.
His brother was almost twenty and earned some money as a part time drug dealer. I later heard he dealt mostly in cocaine and similar substances. Looking back I don’t know what exactly it was, but I am damned sure what Gabriel was holding were drugs.
“Give it to me.” Samuel said, taking the bag from Gabriel to have a better look at it.
While the guys were still busily going through the tent, I wondered if it really was lizard man’s home and what I’d do if he appeared out of nowhere. I anxiously illuminated the area around what we thought was lizard man’s home and suddenly I really saw something moving further away.
It was no animal this time and neither was it lizard man. Instead it was a dirty older man, covered in rugs. For a moment he looked at me as surprised as I was, but then he started to scream like a madman.
“What the fuck are you doing you little pieces of shit?”
This place must be his home, I realized.
“Run!” I yelled out and we all started to rush away.
“You won’t get away.” I heard the man scream behind us. I looked back with my flashlight in hand and saw he was waving something long and shiny. Then he ran after us.
“I am going to cut you up you little fucks!” he screamed, followed by a variety of other similar threats, as well as the worst profanities I had ever heard in my young life.
We kept running, hoping he’d give up, but it seemed this guy wasn’t just satisfied scaring us off or chasing us away.
We all kept running, going left and right randomly, just trying to get away from the madman behind us. There was no need to turn around to know that he was still after us. We could hear him yell and scream after us.
I don’t know how long we ran, but after some time I noticed that there was no sound except that of our footsteps. When I looked back over my shoulder, there was no trace of him. I have no idea if we managed to outrun him, or if he simply gave up.
As I came to a stop the rest too realized that we were alone again. The first thing I did was to make sure all five of us were still around. I held up the flashlight and counted my friends. They were all there. I could see Fat Tom laying on the ground, breathing heavily. Samuel and Gabriel were leaning against the wall and I could see tears streaming down David’s face.
The rest looked as scared and terrified as me. I couldn’t stay still. I moved the flashlight around trying to see if the madman was still coming after us.
“I wanna get out.” David mumbled to himself.
I could see Fat Tom getting up, standing there hands on his knees, huffing and puffing. It was Samuel who spoke up next.
“So where is the exit?”
“I think, maybe” I started, but broke up. I had no idea where we were. We simply ran away from the crazy guy without thinking at all. We could be anywhere in the old sewers by now.
“I don’t know where we are at all.” I finally admitted.
The rest had gotten closer to me by now.
“I want to leave.” David did repeat.
“We all want, idiot.” Fat Tom told him. He seemed to be really annoyed and on edge.
“But what about lizard man?” Gabriel asked.
We all turned towards him wide eyed.
“Are you dumb?” Samuel asked him.
“We almost got killed.” I yelled at him.
“He might come back.” Fat Tom said while looking over his shoulder at where my flashlight was pointing.
Gabriel’s smile finally vanished as if only now he realized what had just happened to us and how dire our situation was.
“Yeah, fine then, I guess.” he said in a low voice.
No one made small talk or chit-chat anymore while we searched for an exit. We were all huddled together in a group, listening to the sounds around us. Lizard man was all but forgotten. I told myself that we shouldn’t have come down here and that Andrés had most likely played a trick on me. I had to force myself to keep the tears back and to not start crying.
Every time we saw something move we almost jumped, thinking it was the crazy man who had come back to get us. It turned out that it was just more of the small animals that lived down here.
We had walked on for quite some time when we noticed that the area itself had changed and that we must have come to an even older part of the sewers. Everything was dirtier here. Tunnels ended up leading nowhere and it started to feel like we were in some sort of labyrinth. I could hear that not only David, but also Fat Tom was sniffing every once in a while. I couldn’t blame them, we were all scared and sick and tired of the sewers.
As we kept going from one direction to the next, I illuminated the area behind us, trying to see if there might be a different direction we could go to.
I still remember every last detail of what I saw. It was a humanoid figure, covered in rags that looked straight into our direction. I gasped and first thought it was the crazy madman from before, but then I noticed the terrifying differences.
The whole face seemed to be wrong. It was too wide and the skin looked different, almost like leather or scales. The hand of the thing seemed to end in long claws and the arms looked weirdly twisted. I screamed out in surprise and saw the eyes of the creature focus right on me. I stumbled back a few steps. The rest didn’t understand what was going on, before I pointed at what was behind us. By now the thing had taken a first step towards us and I could see the claw-like hands reaching towards me.
By now my friends had turned around as well and I heard Gabriel scream “Lizard man!”
We almost tumbled over one another in shock and only managed barely to not fall into the sewer water. When I saw lizard man hasten into our direction, I started running again. The rest did the same.
Most of what happened then was a blur to me. We had been exhausted from running away before and what must have been hours of exploring and searching for an exit. I don’t know for how long we ran from lizard man, but at one point I saw daylight coming from ahead.
“This way!” I yelled while rushing onwards.
It was a huge sewer exit pipe that lead to the bank of a river that ran through our city.
We jumped out, yelling and screaming and fell to the ground only meters from the exit. When I saw that nothing was following us, I was finally able to calm down.
After a while of laying on the grass, I noticed something. There was only four of us: Samuel, David and Fat Tom. Gabriel was missing.
To make a long story short: Gabriel didn’t come out. We waited there for a long time, checked the exit pipe and yelled out his name. However, there was no trace of him. We were also way too scared to go back inside to search for him. We were simply terrified because of the events of today.
On the long way home we finally started to talk.
“You think lizard man took him?” Samuel asked and when I didn’t answer he bumped me with his elbow. “Oi, Felipe.”
“I don’t know.” was all I could say, but deep inside I thought it was exactly what had happened.
“Maybe he ran into a different direction.” David mumbled.
“Yeah I am sure he is fine.” Fat Tom said out loud from behind.
“How do you know, fatass?” Samuel yelled at him.
“For all we know, he was eaten by now.” he continued on. “We shouldn’t have gone.”
“I know.” I said feeling down. “I just thought” but I didn’t continue. I was really scared now. It was me who had come up with the whole idea to trace lizard man down. Only now it was clear to us just how dangerous those sewers actually were.
We walked on for ten more minutes without saying anything.
“So what are we gonna do now?” Fat Tom asked.
No one answered him.
“Should we go tell someone?” I asked.
“No one would even believe us.” Samuel said.
Again no one said anything. We had no idea what to actually do. In the end we all just went home, pondering on. We all hoped Gabriel would just turn up by himself. We hoped he’d come home a few hours later, happily smiling as always and telling everyone about lizard man and our adventure. That was not what happened though.
What happened instead was that Gabriel’s parents started to ask around if anyone had seen him. It wasn’t long before someone remembered seeing him with us in the early morning. After we were confronted and finally told everyone what we had been doing, we got into lots of trouble.
At first we only told them that we had been in the sewers and had gotten lost. Soon enough we told them about all about our encounter with lizard man.
Gabriel’s parents went to the police right away. Not long after an officer arrived and asked me and my friends some more questions, but in the end it didn’t seem like he took it too serious. He thought the kid would turn up eventually and that’d be it.
When Gabriel was still missing after a few days, his family started protesting and yelling at the police to finally do something. In the end the police conducted a search of the nearby sewer areas. It was a halfhearted effort at best. Only a couple of officers actually went down and it took them almost another week to find Gabriel.
He was alive when the found him, but in a terrible condition. He was malnourished and dehydrated. He was sick and suffered from a fever. It became clear that he must have drank from the sewer water and eaten whatever trash he had found down there.
What was the worst thing though was his mental state. He was completely out of it. He had apparently tried to get away from the police with all of his remaining energy. When they brought him up he didn’t say anything and didn’t even recognize his parents. He was dirty, naked and covered in signs of abuse all over.
When they later did a thorough checkup at the hospital, they found severe signs of sexual abuse done to his body. It was obviously not something that they told us kids. I only found out about this part of the story years later.
The whole case was pretty much swept under the carpet. It never made the news. The police ended up talking to some people around the neighborhood, but their efforts were never much more serious than before. It seemed like they didn’t really care about a kid going missing or being abused in a neighborhood like ours.
It wasn’t even a week after Gabriel had been found, that they blamed the whole thing on some homeless guy. They said he had kidnapped Gabriel during our escape from the sewers and abused him for almost a week. There was no trial or anything, they just threw him into prison and with that the whole thing was over. I don’t know if it was the crazy old man that had chased us, but it was definitely not lizard man. If it had been, there would have been much more talk about it, I am sure.
No one believed me and my friends when we talked about lizard man, though. Everyone just thought we were trying to make up a story or that we couldn’t have seen things right in the dark sewers.
The thing is, that I know exactly what I saw. I still remember the leathery skin, the claw-like hands and how they reached out for us. I have seen this creature so many times in my dreams, that I can’t believe it was just a figment of my imagination.
For the past decade this is where the story would have ended. A lot of things have happened over the course of this past week though.
It was two weeks ago that Gabriel died and with that a whole new chain of events started.
When they had found Gabriel, he was put into the mental ward of a nearby hospital. He never left it again. He was paranoid, suffered from severe trauma and hallucination. Whenever he was questioned about the events he would freak out. I heard he suffered from a variety of mental issues and had a number of break downs over the years. He tried to commit suicide more than once.
It was his last attempt that succeeded.
I haven’t been living in my home area for several years now. I was one of the few lucky kids to get something that can best be described as a scholarship. Because of this I was able to finish my secondary education at a way better school and even able to enroll into college.
It was my mom who had called me and told me that Gabriel had died. Considering his state, it was unfortunately only a matter of time before something like this happened.
I decided to take the long trip back home and attend the funeral. To be honest, I had often blamed myself for what had happened back then. If it hadn’t been for me we’d never went down there.
It wasn’t a big funeral. It was attended by only his parents and a few other relatives. They all didn’t give me much attention and probably didn’t even recognize me. Other than me two other young men attended the funeral, who seemed as lost as me.
One of them was an awkward young man who was fidgeting around with his hands. His eyes showed that his last drink couldn’t have been long ago. He smiled at me shyly and at that moment I recognized him.
“David?” I asked as I walked over to him.
He looked at me and in his state it took him a few seconds before he extended his hand to greet me.
“Felipe.” he exclaimed, slurring part of it so it came out more like a “Feip.” I could tell right away that he was far from sober.
The other guy watched us from afar for some time and at first I didn’t recognize him at all. It was a young muscular man, who carried himself in a pretty confident way. When I finally recognized his face my jaw dropped. It was Fat Tom. Just that he wasn’t fat at all anymore.
“Tomás? Is that you? Holy shit, what happened?” I went over to greet him and he gave me a big hug.
“Felipe. Good to see you. How long has it been?”
Too long.” I answered and smiled mildly.
He nodded and for a moment he looked over at the grave.
“Not the nicest reunion.”
David and I both agreed.
“How about some drinks?” Tomás asked.
Ten minutes after we had said our condolences to Gabriel’s parents, we found ourselves in a small local bar not too far away from my old neighborhood. Tomás had told us he knew the owner and the guy got each of us a beer ready as soon as we had stepped in.
We started doing a little bit of chit-chat and about how life was going for us. I found out that David’s father had drank himself to death when he was fourteen. After that David wasn’t able to go to school anymore and started to work at one of the local factories. I noticed how greedily he gulped down his beer. I felt sad about it, but didn’t say a word.
We also talked about Samuel for some time and reminisced about the time when we had all still been friends. What happened to him is a story of its own.
As he got older he started to hang out more with his brother as well as Andrés and his group. From there it all went downhill with him. While I was busy in school, he was busy doing other things. I never directly asked what exactly he did. Didn’t have to. As time went by though, I went to a different school further away and I only heard the occasional stories about him. One day, word about him simply stopped. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he died, maybe he simply went away.
The only thing I can say is that he was always a trouble maker and it was only a matter of time till he’d go down the wrong path.
The one I was most surprised about though was Tomás. I still couldn’t get over what he looked like now. I remembered him as the fat kid in our group and now I had to admit that he was in way better shape than me.
“Something the matter?” he asked me with a grin on his face as I kept staring at him.
“It is just that” I started, but couldn’t find the right words to finish.
“That little Fat Tom changed so much?”
I smiled at him and nodded.
“Can’t use that nickname anymore.”
All three of us started to laugh.
“Terrible what happened to Gabriel.” David suddenly said and with that we were brought back to reality.
“Yeah.” I said. “They should have done so much more though.” I continued on.
“Like what?” Tomás asked.
“Well they could have sent out more people and looked into it more.”
Tomás laughed a little.
“Honestly man, the cops don’t give a shit if a kid goes missing around here.” and after a short break to take sip of his bear, he continued on.
“Everybody knew the whole thing was bullshit. The perpetrator, the way they handled it and also what they said happened.”
“True.” David said.
“I wonder what it really was we saw that day.” I thought out loud.
“You mean that thing that chased us?” Tomás asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, lizard man.”
Tomás started to laugh. “You’re still using that name.”
“Well, what else should I call it?”
He shrugged. “No idea.”
It was at this point that David got up from his seat. He quickly downed the rest of his second beer before he looked at us awkwardly.
“Well, sorry guys, but” he looked at the clock in the bar “the wife is gonna be mad if I am not home and”
“It’s fine, David.” I said. Tomás simply nodded.
We both gave him a hug that he awkwardly returned. He smiled at us again before he made his way out of the bar. We could both see that he wasn’t even able to walk in a straight line anymore. We both said nothing. It was not ours to judge him.
After we had gotten ourselves another beer, Tomás told me that Gabriel’s story wasn’t such an uncommon one in this area. There are many cases that are never solved and that are simply swept under the carpet.
“How do you know” I was cut off by him putting a police badge on the table.
For a moment I was even more surprised and looked at him wide eyed.
“Guess no one would’ve expected Fat Tom to join the force, right?” he said with an even bigger grin on his face.
“Hey I didn’t mean it before, you know.”
He wave his hand to show me it was fine.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“How did you end up becoming a cop?” I asked him.
I never remembered him talking about becoming a cop. He had always talked about becoming a baker, a chef, a restaurant owner, anything related to food.
“Well after that whole thing with Gabriel happened, I couldn’t help but to blame myself, you know Felipe?” I nodded in agreement. I had to fight my own demons for that one.
“I just couldn’t forget about it and go on living as if nothing happened. Or simply move away like you did.” I could hear his tone of voice became a little reproachful for a moment, but I simply shrugged it off. He was right about it.
“I wanted to do something, you know?” he said looking at me.
“Yeah I know what you mean.”
For a moment he just eyed me, to see if I was just saying it, but then he nodded.
“Tell you what, I think they never got the fucker who did it. It is all bullshit. Just recently a young girl was found, no older than fourteen. Same thing happened to her. Sings of abuse all over her body and brutally raped, only for her it was too late.”
I stayed quiet. Tomás was getting mad by now.
“It happens all the time and no one cares. They all suffer and” he broke up and instead ordered himself another beer.
Time went on. We kept talking and as it got later beer was replaced by shots.
I don’t remember how we came up with the idea anymore. It was either while we were downing shots or after that.
We made plans to go down into the sewers once more and find lizard man again.
I woke up the next day with a pounding head and feeling like total shit. I didn’t even know how I made it back to my parents place. I was relieved when all my belongings were still around.
I decided to take a couple of pain killers and flushed them down with a bottle of cold water. I didn’t feel great, but at the pounding in my head subsided and all that was left was a low humming.
It wasn’t long before my phone started to ring. I had no idea what number it was, but I answered anyways. I was greeted by a somewhat familiar voice.
“Is the plan still up, Felipe?”
It was only after a couple moments that I remembered that the voice belonged to Tomás and a few more to remember what we had been talking about.
I had heard the determination in his voice and finally my own curiosity got the better of me.
“Yeah, I am in.” I heard myself say.
We met up soon after at the old meeting place of our childhood and set out towards the riverbank with the exit pipe. This time it was not by foot, but instead in Tomás’ police car.
I felt a shiver running down my spine as we got closer to the pipe.
This time we were prepared though. Tomás had gotten a map of the sewers, two police flashlights, a Taser and a couple of other things, including a gun.
As we stood in front of the dark entry to the sewers, he handed me one of the flashlights and made eye contact with me for a few moments. Finally I nodded and we descended into the sewers once more.
The smell hit me right away, it was worse than I remembered.
“Jesus.” I cursed, putting a hand in front of my nose.
Tomás was walking in front of me, not showing any reaction to it at all.
“How can you just … with this smell?” I question him as he simply walked on.
“I have smelled worse.” was the simply answer I got.
I didn’t ask what he was talking about. I had heard some of the horror stories regarding my old home, but only once I was far away at college. Stories about rape and murder, poverty and prostitution as well as child crime. I guess if you live right in the middle of it, you simply don’t see things for what they are. I didn’t want to know what Tomás had to handle on a daily basis.
As we ventured deeper inside a sense of Deja-vu came over me, as the daylight got weaker and weaker before it was almost completely gone again. I felt the hair stand up on my arms as we turned our flashlights on.
Step by step the memory of more than a decade came back to me. It is surprising how deep certain images can be burned into your mind.
Tomás showed me the map and pointed at a specific area.
“That’s where we are right now. This used to be one of the first sewer complexes built around here. Must be decades old. The bastard probably lived here for god knows how long. Chances are he is still here even now.”
I nodded. It made sense. The whole place looked almost abandoned. When the factories and industrial areas above died, so did the sewers. I guessed no one ever came down here.
As we made our way the sound of our footsteps echoed from the walls around us. The only other thing we heard was the familiar noise of small animals. They were always close buy, without a doubt, but too far for us to see them. It felt almost the same as it did a decade ago. We found some trash and a newspaper laying around, but that were the only indications of any human activity down here.
We were down there for almost two hours, when Tomás started to curse.
“Fucking hell. There is no hint or anything.”
“What if we continue on over there?”
He turned around and looked right at me.
“We have been through this whole complex twice already and nothing.”
“Wait, are you serious?”
He nodded and held up the map that was now covered in marks.
“Marked every little turn and every dead end. Twice.”
“What you wanna do now? Search the rest as well?”
He started to laugh.
“How much time you got, Felipe?”
“What do you mean?” I asked him.
“How big do you think those sewers are? It would take days, hell even weeks to check all of it.”
“So, that’s it then?”
Tomás spit on the ground. He illuminated the area around us one last time, just to make sure, before he nodded.
On our way back, I started doing the same thing he had done. I illuminated the area around us.
At one point I noticed something and put my hand on Tomás shoulder. There was a small little ditch on the other side that allowed some of the water to triple away downwards.
“What’s that?” I asked him and once he saw it, he started to go over there.
Once we both reached it we saw that it was more than just a hole in the wall, but instead it was a sort of tunnel. When I illuminated it with the flashlight we saw that there was a small walk way next to it. Tomás checked the map to see if it was some sort of old sewer maintenance tunnel, but he couldn’t find anything on the map.
“Might be nothing, but” I nodded before he even finished. I understood what he was about to say.
We almost had to crouch alongside the wall and duck our heads as the small tunnel lead downwards. It was by pure luck that we had found this place.
What we found at the end was a wider area. It might be an even older part of the sewers or it might be something else entirely. I had no idea.
The little waterway continued on into one direction and soon vanished, leaving nothing but a small puddle behind.
I felt the hair on my neck stand up as we stood in this wider, open area. I carefully took one step at a time, listening to the sounds around us.
“What in the” I wanted to start, but Tomás turned around, placing a finger over his mouth, indicating me to be quiet. Then he kept on walking into the darkness ahead of us, almost unfazed.
It wasn’t long before we found the first signs of human activity. There was a stack of cloth here, a fireplace there, a sleeping bag and even a stack of old, dirty books. As we started exploring we found even more things. A rather big tent was built against the wall that housed a variety of stuff. There were stacks of food next to it, much of it still in edible condition, at least as one could tell from the looks of it. Tomás got out his gun. It was clear that someone was living down here and he didn’t want to take any chances. He moved his flashlight around carefully to not miss anything. Soon enough he illuminated a figure that was a good ten meters in front of us.
I recognized the skin and the claw like hands right away and gasped for air.
“Don’t move.” Tomás yelled at the figure, his gun raised.
To my surprise I saw it nod and raise his hands. I was completely perplexed. I recognized everything about lizard man and noticed how a “holy shit” escaped my mouth.
As the creature stood there in the light, I was able to get a closer look at it. I saw the hanging shoulders, the leathery face covered in deep wrinkles and the bushes of gray hair on his head. With tired eyes he looked first at Tomás, then at me, then back at Tomás and the gun in his hand. Suddenly I heard a voice.
“You can put the gun down boy, you are not in danger.”
I looked around further and frantically moved my flashlight to find the speaker. Only after a few seconds did I realize that the voice must be coming from lizard man himself. I was totally dumbfounded.
“Did you hear something just now?” I asked Tomás. He didn’t get to answer, because we both saw lizard man’s mouth move again.
“Not going to do anything to you, boys.”
“The fuck you are, freak?” Tomás asked.
The creature in front of us started to laugh, at least if you can call it that. It was a sickly, thin laugh that reminded you more of a whistle.
“You are right, I am exactly that. A freak. Still a human being though, even if it is hard to believe.”
“Then why are you looking like that?” I burst out.
Lizard man started to explain to us that he was suffering from a rare skin condition. It start as a simple rash, but soon it started to transform your skin into something resembling leather and even scales. I noticed now that his way of speaking was that of a normal man.
It was at that point that Tomás lowered his gun but kept it in his hand and ready. The weird old man in front of us seemed to relax somewhat.
I am honestly not sure how much of his story was true, but he started to tell us more about himself and how he was driven out by society.
“I was once normal, just like you. Had a normal job, a home, friends, all that. Once this started though” he pointed to his face “I was kicked out of work. Said I was contagious and other things.”
“After that things went down quickly. Friends ignored me. Got no more work. Without money I couldn’t afford a home.”
“Well that’s when I ended up on the streets, but that only made everything worse. Was regarded as a monster by everyone. Called me leather face, lizard man and what not.”
I suddenly started to feel sorry for this guy in front of me.
“I was in my forties when I finally went down here. Had enough of everyone up there and no desire to go back up. Must be a good twenty years by now. More than enough time to get used to it.” he said laughing.
“How do you know how long it’s been?” Tomás asked him.
“Well boy, can’t get no food down here. Have to go up every once in a while. There are newspapers in the trash and at the garbage dump.”
“Why don’t you go back up? By now there might be a cure for you. You could”
I was stopped in my track by him raising a hand.
“There’s nothing up there for me anymore. No friends, no family, nothing. Most importantly though” he began and I could see the sad look on his face. “There is no compassion up there between the humans.”
He shook his head.
“Down here, I am all by myself at least.”
Tomás had gotten impatient and he had given me a few angry side-glances as I kept talking to the guy. As soon as he had finished this time, he held up his hand to indicate that I should be quiet.
“What happened back when we were kids, old man?” he asked.
Lizard man stayed quiet, not sure what Tomás was asking of him.
“Five of us. Eleven years old. One of us got lost. It was more than a decade ago.”
Instead of answering right away, lizard man started to laugh.
“I might be living alone down here boy, but you’d be surprised how many people venture down here. There is no way, I might remember every kid or teenager I saw.”
At first I thought that was all he was about to say, but then he started to think and got more serious.
“A decade ago you said, right? Well, back then it wasn’t only me down here. There were others. They were dangerous, organized. Sure they looked the part, but they were down here for other reasons.”
“Drugs.” Tomás whispered knowingly. “A common thing back in the day. No one gave a shit what was going on down here and no one would check on a couple crazed hobos.”
Lizard man nodded.
“These sewers were dangerous back then, that’s what I can tell you boy.”
“I am sure you’d remember a group of kids,” Tomás voice changed before he continued “especially if you chased them.”
“Never chased anyone, boy. Most who see me just run away. Surprised you didn’t do the same thing.” he defended himself.
“What happened to our friend, old man?” Tomás asked, now seemingly angry. “He got lost down here, right after we ran away from you, as you call it.”
The old man’s eyes grew wide. “Don’t tell me” he started.
I looked up as he started.
“So you were that group, then.” he said to himself.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Well, I was surprised to see you. As I said it was dangerous back then, wanted to warn you, but you freaked out. I tried to calm you down, but nothing helped. Then one of you tripped and fell.”
“What did you do to him?” Tomás asked, raising the gun.
“Couldn’t do anything, boy. He fell right into the water. Tried to get him out, but he was completely out of it, panicked and didn’t take my hand. In the end he was washed off. That’s the last I saw of the kid.”
I informed lizard man of what had happened to our friend and for what reason we had come down here. He shook his head and looked straight at me right then.
“Is this the world I should go back to, boy? One in which kids are abused and mutilated without anyone caring?”
I couldn’t answer him.
It was at this point that I noticed that Tomás had gone off and was having a look at lizard man’s belongings. After a few moments he came back and held something up in the air.
“Care to tell me what those are, old man?”
At first I didn’t understand what Tomás was doing, but then he illuminated woman’s underwear with his flashlight.
“What you think those are, boy? It’s rags, things I found and took down here.”
Tomás raised his gun again. I remembered right than what Tomás had told me about the young woman. I gave the old man a hard look.
Lizard man started laughing at us.
“Course it was me, right? Who else but old lizard man would crawl up from the sewers and do whatever it was that happened.”
Tomás didn’t say anything but kept his gun pointed at him, watching him closely.
“Don’t make a fool of yourself boy! Those there are woman’s things, right? You think I did something to a woman? Wanna see prove that it wasn’t me? Wanna see it?”
The old man was clearly agitated and a second later, he put his hands inside the rags covering his body. It was right then that Tomás unloaded his gun right into the surprised old man.
I was standing there in completely and utter shock, pressing my hands to my ears, to dampen the sound of the gunshots.
“Why did you do that?” I screamed at Tomás over the ringing in my ears. It took some time for me to understand his answer.
“He might have had a gun. There was no other choice.”
Slowly I walked over to lizard man. For a second the thought of him being an actual monster and coming back to life popped into my head. None of that happened though. The old man stayed dead.
I illuminated him with the flashlight, trying to see if he was really carrying a gun. Only when I moved the rags aside, did I find what it was he really wanted to show us. It was his crotch. The whole area was nothing but overgrown layers and layers of leathery skin and scales.
“Holy fucking shit.” I pressed out.
I turned to Tomás.
“There is no way it was lizard man who did the girl.” I called out to him.
The full irony of the name lizard man only hit me now. Lizard man didn’t have a tail.
I had a “You didn’t know. It is not your fault” on the tip of my tongue, when Tomás came to look at what I had found. Before I could say anything, he just shrugged.
“Whatever. No one needs to know about that.”
“Wait, what do you mean?” I asked.
“All that people need to know, is that he did the girl, so we can close the damned case.”
We left the sewers soon after and I went home without saying another word to Tomás. On the way out he called for backup and when we returned outside I saw more cops arriving.
There was never an article in the newspaper about the whole thing. It was simply done and swept under the carpet. It was the same as what happened with Gabriel`s case back in the day. If I wouldn’t have met up with Tomás I would have never know about the case, let alone that it was done and closed.
That same night, as I couldn’t sleep, I sat at the window of my old room and looked outside at the neighborhood I grew up in. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened.
Finally I got out my phone and dialed Tomás number.
“What do you want, Felipe? It’s late.”
“The fuck was that today?”
I got no answer from him.
“I know the truth, Tomás. The old guy was innocent.”
Again I got no answer.
“What if I come to the station tomorrow, Tomás?” I confronted him.
“And then what?” he finally asked.
“So we can reopen the case? So the parents know that the guy who did this to their little girl is still out there? Continue to search for someone that we won’t find anyways? No one gives a shit about the whole thing anyway. If they do, they will just bring in another hobo and put the whole thing on him. What do you even know?”
“I know that you shot an” I started.
“You don’t know a fucking thing!” he cut me off.
“No one gives a shit.”
Then there was a short break to his outburst.
“You have to realize it Felipe, no one gives a shit about any of this here. No one. Not here.”
With that the phone went quiet.
I told myself I’d go to the police and that I’d tell the truth of what had happened, but in the end I never went.
It might have been my own doubts I had about lizard man and his story. It might have been what Tomás told me. Or it might have been the way his voice almost broke during that final, last sentence he told me on the phone.