The doorbell chimed. On the front porch stood a man in uniform dripping wet from head to toe.
“My name is Earl. I’m here about your hot water heater.” He produced a service request too smeared to read.
“I’m Mrs. Simpson. Come right in. Don’t mind the mess. We’ve been moving stuff in and out today. Too bad it rained, huh? The light blew in the basement so I’ll get you a flashlight.”
He glanced at all the muddy prints on the floor. The bigger ones resembled large boots. “My wife would kill me,” he murmured.
The funny-shaped prints caught his eye. They were grouped in sets of four. The front ones looked like paw prints but the dirt was too packed to be sure.
The back two were larger. He couldn’t make out toes, just four points. They reminded him of three “C’s” joined end to end. The back, where the heel should be was a "V" shape.
“They’ve got one of those things like on T.V. It’s a duck but not a duck. A duck and something else….”
Mrs. Simpson walked towards him. “Here’s the flashlight.” She noticed him staring at the floor. “I know it’s a sight but with kids and a husband, what can you do? If I clean it up now, they’ll just come back and muck it all up again.”
Without missing a beat, she opened a door under the stairs. “Make sure to watch your step.”
Earl peeked down the steps into the inky blackness. He grabbed the railing to catch himself as Mrs. Simpson’s voice interrupted him in mid-step.
“I almost forgot. If you hear anything, it’s only Muggsy.”
“He is the easygoing member of our family. I wanted something smaller but I was outvoted. What can you do, huh?”
“You mean…..” He pointed towards the muddy tracks on the floor.
She nodded. “My husband and kids went to get a bigger cage for him.”
He started to say something else, but Mrs. Simpson had vanished into another part of the house. Pointing the light at the wooden steps, he began his descent.
At the bottom, Earl swept the immediate area. There were a couple of couches and a pool table to the right. Around the wall to the left sat a washer, dryer, and the hot water heater in the corner.
He took a deep breath and walked over to the hot water heater. A scraping noise made him jump as he leaned in for a closer examination of the heater. The thump of his heart sounded like thunder in his ears.
How big is one of those duck things? They seemed quite tame and manageable on the television program.
There was nothing on the floor near him, but the light glinted off of something on him.
“It must have been my tools I heard against the heater.”
A bit calmer now, he finally got to work. “I’ll get this fixed and get out of….”
The sound of something dragging across the floor stopped him cold. He let out a breath. There it went again. He scanned the area, but the light jumped too much to see anything.
“Get a hold of yourself, Earl.”
He shuffled over towards the pool table. There was no duck thing over there. On the other side of the heater, the basement continued around. The sound could have come from there.
“Are you okay down there?” Mrs. Simpson’s voice shattered the silence. When Earl peeled himself off the wall, he ascended the stairs two at a time.
“I…I took care of the problem.” Sweat poured down his face.
The front door opened. In walked a child dressed in a rain slicker, manhandling a large cat. Both were covered in mud.
The cat tried to wriggle free but only managed to liberate its front paws. They touched down and further soiled the floor. It was then that Earl noticed the young child wasn’t wearing galoshes, but swim fins.
“She just loves to wear them in the rain. I don’t know why.”
So much for the creepy duck thing. That’s the last time I watch the nature channel, he thought.
Before he could leave, two men came through the door carrying a long glass tank.
“Muggsy will be glad to see his new home,” Mrs. Simpson said.
Earl scratched his head. “You put your cat in a fish tank?”
“What? Oh, Muggsy’s not the cat. He’s our twenty-five foot python.”
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