12 Aug I’ve Plumbed This Whole City
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"I've Plumbed This Whole City"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
It’s so easy to forget about what lies beneath the streets of the modern world. Towers that scrape the sky and estates that stretch on for miles, the urban sprawl we know so well. But a man who has seen what lies beneath the concrete can’t ever forget.
Sewers. The catacombs that snake through the underground. For every avenue there is a black tunnel that runs beneath it and for every house there is an allocated network of hidden pipes. Streets that bear no names. Only someone who has been there can truly appreciate the absolute and final darkness that inhabits this world below the world. Where the only sound one can be sure of is the flowing streams of waste where all manner of creatures not touched by the light fester and grow. This is the place where every footstep haunts the cavernous and silent halls and where every person subconsciously dreads to be, yet lives unknowingly above.
This is the place where I have worked for most of my life. The sewers of London were built in Victorian times, and the tunnels I spent my time in were well over one hundred and fifty years old. Built from a dull red brick and completely devoid of all modern comforts such as ceiling light bulbs. This was a subterranean world like no other, weaving shafts of stone built in arches, supporting pillars of the same brick dotted along the channels like sentinels guarding the ancient paths. The sewer was a network of smaller tunnels that all led off from the long and straight main shaft running underneath the centre of the city. This resulted in a labyrinth-like situation where one only had to make a wrong turn to be lost amongst the alleys and streets of the system. There were vertical pipes cut into the ceiling that led to the grates you see on the side of roads, put there to drain excess rainwater, but any light that attempted to enter through these was soon dispersed and beat back out of the sewers. This resulted, of course, in an almost pitch black environment as the only light present was the frightened white beam that struggled from the lamp on our hard-hats.
One of the company rules was that nobody could enter the sewers alone so I always did my rounds with a friend and colleague of mine, Oscar, or ‘Oz’ for short. For nine years me and Oz traversed the maze together, fixing leaks, directing waste flow and we became pretty good friends over this period. We drank together on weekends and regularly watched football games since we both had the same team. But the heaviness of the sewers made it hard to crack jokes or make decent conversation so most of our work was done in silence.
Silence was what predominantly made the sewers so unnerving. If you dropped a tool you would hold your breath as the metallic clang charged through the tunnels. You would look into the dark and half expect to see some unearthly fiend come crawling towards you, curious as to what had disturbed its quiet. But worse than this was hearing a sound you didn’t make. Over my time in the sewers, I always thought I could hear some kind of scuffling just behind the walls. Not like something was trying to claw its way out, but like it was moving around, just living. I always put these occurrences down to the silence playing tricks on me,but I could never shake the thought that there was more to the sewers than just an eerie feeling.
But how could I forget the smell. It never frightened me in the same way the darkness or silence did, but it was always there, the unmistakable stench of human waste clinging to you always. It made the air heavy and clogged your nostrils and throat.
However, the reason I write this is to document the occurrences of the fourteenth of June, year two thousand and fourteen.
Me and Oz were heading down into the sewers for the daily inspection. We had been down there for around three hours when we came across a damaged wall, a few turns off the main tunnel, along a minor shaft. The section of the wall had fallen in, almost as if it had been pushed from the outside, not a particularly strange occurrence since sections of the walls were always crumbling apart. The bricks had fallen but remained intact so I thought it would be an easy fix. I sent Oz away to the closest store room to return with some cement filler to reseal the wall with. I began to stack the bricks back into the hole, staring at the void behind. There seemed to be quite a large space there, which was unexpected since I had always believed that it was solid earth behind these walls, but I disregarded it as a small enclave in the rock and continued piling the bricks. But I could not disregard what happened next. I heard the scuffling again. Just a small scraping sound resonating from inside the void. I put down the bricks and listened. It lasted for about thirty seconds and then stopped. I was motionless and the air seemed to press down on me. Slowly, I built back my confidence and began once again to carefully stack the bricks, the knocking of the stones was a whimper that cut the atmosphere.
At this point in time, two things happened. Firstly I saw something. It was undeniably a face, it lifted its head from behind the wall and stared through the hole face to face with me, it made a sound, shuddering noises that sounded like a foreign language, but spoken in a way completely unlike any voice I’d heard. Next, my light cut out. I jerked backwards, fumbling for my spare batteries in utter darkness. Images of the creature raced through my mind. It was not a face unlike a human, the same size and shape. But it was bald and lacked any sort of eyebrows. Its skin was pulled taunt on its cheekbones and it was pale. Not pale as in the snowy white pale but as in monochrome grey, bordering on a sickly purple, almost translucent in its lack of colour, laced with dark veins. But its eyes were what caused me to panic. Small and pale they were, lacking any distinguishable pupils and filled with an empty and frightening aura.
The scuffling was back, but now, it was more like a heavy thumping. It came from all around me like a thousand of the creatures were beating their spindly hands against the brick. I abandoned my search for the batteries and instead ran backs though the shaft, sticking close to the damp wall. I turned the first corner and was blinded by the light atop Oscar’s helmet. He had come back from his journey to the storeroom when he had heard the pounding, which was now resonating from behind me, smashing the silence like a hammer against the anvil. I knew well that the exit we always took was down past the hole yet the thought of going back that way was too much to bear with only one lamp. I checked my pack only to find it gone, loosened from my belt when I had fallen at the hole most probably. Oz was staring wide eyed at the passage behind me and when I turned I could see why.
The creature must have attracted attention because the passage was filled with them, crawling and shambling towards us. By the light of Oz’s torch we could see them clearly. They were human sized and all looked very much the same, Lanky limbs and pale skin with those small eyes piercing the gloom.
I felt sick at the sight of them, but there was no hesitation. We both turned and went quickly towards the main tunnel, which we knew would eventually lead us towards an exit if we followed the waste flow upstream. In the glances he stole backwards I could see that Oz had wide eyes, his shallow breathing drowned out by our footsteps. On we went, pursued by the beings now whaling and screaming their protest at our presence. I was now breathing rapidly too as I followed Oz, leading the way with his torch, rambling under his breath as he went, swearing and trying to think about what sort of animal these things could be.
But we both know these were no animals.
We continued down the passage, blackness behind me and a feeble, dying light ahead. We dare not run, not wanting to provoke the creatures into a full speed chase. By this point, we had been working down in the tunnels for what must have been just under four hours. The life of a cell powering a high wattage headlamp was only about three and a half. The torch began dimming rapidly as we quickened our pace. It finally guttered out and all light was gone from our world. The blackness seemed to amplify the sounds coming from behind us, the ensemble in our pursuit was still there. With no time for a battery change Oz decided to take out his ‘Zippo’ lighter. Open flames were not permitted in the sewers due to volatile gases such as methane being potentially present. But a gas explosion would be a welcome relief from our current situation. With a flickering lighter to guide us we continued to move along the arched tunnel. A stolen glance behind me revealed the direness of our predicament as I was met with an army of small, white eyes, still steadily pacing after us.
Oz stopped. I ground to a halt and was met with a horrifying sight. Red bricks barred our way as a dead end presented itself. We had taken a wrong turn somewhere down the line, veered off into one of the many shafts on the left or right from the main tunnel. I turned, my back to the wall. The eyes came closer, but slowed and eventually stopped. Just outside of the lighters glow they stood, both of us staring each other down. I shuddered, ragged breaths escaping me as I wondered what would come next.
One came forward. It shambled toward us and stopped about three feet away, the firelight illuminating its features. It looked almost extraterrestrial in this view, a taller version of the classic little green man, with smaller eyes. A horror cliché in hindsight, but trust me when I say it isn’t any less terrifying in reality.
It looked me up and down. Deliberately perusing my white hard-hat, down to my steel capped boots. Searching me. It continued for what seemed an eternity as I pressed close to the wall my breathing shallow and ragged. It stopped and turned. Slowly walking back into the darkness from where it came. The others followed it back into the gloom. Leaving the lighter’s aura and entering the unknown blackness before us.
Me and Oz just stood for a while, not knowing whether to believe what we had seen or not. Eventually we came to and mutually decided it would be best for a fast battery change in Oz’s headlamp. We both agreed that getting out of the sewers was our next move, fleeing this place as quick as we could back toward the daylight and clean air. But leaving the tunnels would mean walking past the hole, towards the exit steps.
My chest tightens at the thought of encountering the fiends again. Obviously these were not malicious or violent beings, if they had wanted to harm us they could of done so already. So what made them so frightening? And what caused them to chase us as they did? I could not tell you, nor could Oz. Simply knowing that these things exist was what scared me. Were they some sort of undiscovered primates who lurked underground? Maybe some evolutionary offshoot of humans, adapted to dwell in the subterranean gloom, or perhaps, most disturbing of all, they were humans. Men or women somehow drawn into the dark, hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. Breeding and mutating until they lost all recollection of the outside. We didn’t know what they were or whether they would hurt us or not, but we certainly did not want to encounter them again.
I searched my mind, trying to think of another exit, but we had only ever used this one, if there was an emergency exit of sorts, it was lost to both of our memories and neither of us was risking getting lost. The only way out was the way we came.
Oz goes ahead, he has the light. I brandish a wrench in my right hand whilst he grips tightly to some piping, feeble weapons if the creatures decide to attack, but better than our fists. The walk back reveals how far the things had chased us, and both of us become weary at where we are exactly. We keep walking back through the tunnels, trying our best to retrace our steps. The air around us seems to stink worse than usual and every footstep seems to reveal our new position to all throughout the caverns. I swear that I can hear the scuffling not only in the walls, but behind and in front of us, little scratches that sound like nails being scraped against the brick wall and soft padding sounds that could only be the footfalls of someone bare footed. I look down at the cement floor, it is the usual dull grey although now it is spotted with dark marks in the shape of footsteps, abnormally long toes stretched out and bent as they ran. We picked up the pace.
We eventually arrive at the hole, gaping out into beyond, the bricks I had stacked had fallen back down, presumably due to the creatures all climbing out and spilling out into the tunnels. I shudder at the imagery. Were they back in there? Could they be staring back right now? I drop my gaze and turn back to Oz. He is not there. Oz hadn’t noticed me stop and kept walking, he was now around fifteen metres down the shaft, a small flickering orb of light. And I was in the darkness. This is when it happened, if I had just kept walking, suppressed curiosity and not stared into the void perhaps it wouldn’t have.
I feel a rush of air from the hole and a spindly pale shape bolts out of the black, the outstretched nails raking my arm, fingernails rip though my overalls and pierce my skin. I jerk away and swivel my head toward the hole, surely enough the same haunting eyes as before meet my gaze. I bolt down the tunnel after Oz, hearing the creatures dive and crawl through the wall after me, screaming louder now, angered that I dare disturb them again. I do not look backwards, the sounds of slapping feet fuelling me towards the light in front. When I come up on Oz I shout to him telling him to run, he turns to look backwards but is met with my force as I shove him on. We both sprint for the exit doors and Oz barges through them.
Up now, dim electric lights illuminate the stairs casting a grey film across the scene. My legs begin to ache as we round yet another flight but the noises below have not ceased so I cannot either. Finally we reach the summit, and we know to turn left immediately, through more doors and up a final flight of stairs.
We stand in the street now, a narrow alleyway joining two larger roads. The sun is just rising which creates an eerie not quite night yet not day either feeling, as if we were in some sort of limbo. I glance behind. The creatures burst through the doors and charge up the stairs. I stumble backwards and fall as they reach the top.
Oz is trying to get me up again and I watch like a spectator in a theater. As the creatures come out of the darkness they squeal at the now emerging sun. They disperse immediately, some fly back down towards the gloom whilst other dash for the shadows on the street. Some climb up the metal staircase and shelter amongst the gloom at the top whilst others disappear across the buildings roof, but they all melt away, slipping into darkness wherever they find it. This is where I black out, my arm bleeding profoundly and my head spinning.
I awoke in a hospital bed. They tell me I have flu like symptoms but they can’t say what is causing them. My arm is in a bandage and I’m told the wound is bad, congealed and black like someone had burnt me whilst slicing it open. I type this now from my hospital bed, I grow sicker everyday and my arm is coated in searing pain day and night. I am sure the creature did this to me, positive but I dare not tell the doctors, I’ll make up some story when the time comes.
I have not seen Oz since the event.
But what haunts me most is that the creatures are now on top as well as below. Sure, they can only come out on the darkest of nights but this is still a disconcerting thought. Believe me or don’t believe me I do not care, but I’ve plumbed this whole city and I know what I saw.
Credit To – D Jones
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