Pulp and Dagger Webzine Presents
Government Agent, Abram Donlevy in
Chapter Nine - In the Land of Shadow
IT WAS ALL ALMOST BEYOND BELIEF! If he had not been there, witnessing it, experiencing it, Bram Donlevy would have dismissed it as some drunken fantasy. Yet it was not that. Not at all. He and his three companions had been brought, unwillingly, aboard a bizarre locomotive -- for that was the closest man-made mechanism he could think of that was similar. But not only was it a locomotive that could travel upon the ground, without need of tracks, but to his shock, he discovered it could travel under the ground as well, burrowing many leagues, undetected beneath the surface of the world. It was commanded by a man who identified himself as Sir Humbert Terrest -- which told Bram very little.
The machine, The Charon, had been manned by strange, diminutive men that Bram subsequently discovered had odd, bestial visages -- they were not men at all, at least, not as he knew the concept.
Then when the Charon had finally come to a halt and he and his companions had sought to escape, they had discovered they were still miles underground. Terrest's home was an eerie, subterranean city, and they were still very much his prisoners.
Recaptured, they were ushered through the oppressive stillness, the all encompassing darkness, of Humbert Terrest's strange world. Ushered toward the main source of illumination -- a weird city.
Of the four of them -- Bram Donlevy, government agent, Miles O'Leary, would-be revolutionary and criminal impressed into acting as his aide, Father Forcier, local Jesuit missionary, and Mary Manyrivers, beautiful Indian maiden -- it was clear that Father Forcier was the most impressed by what he saw. He was afraid, as were they all, but he clearly had the Jesuit's legendary intellect, fascinated by these strange, new, discoveries.
"I don't believe this has been man-made," he muttered to Bram. Then, glancing at their diminutive, hirsute captors, he corrected himself. "I mean, artificially constructed. Certainly there is indication of these caverns having been reshaped and enlarged, but I think they must have existed naturally to begin with."
"How so?" asked Mary, her dark, beautiful eyes wide, but attempting to control her terror.
"It's nothing unusual," the priest assured her. "In ancient times, many places like these western Canadian prairies were under water -- this was, of course, many, many years ago. The water seeped underground, burrowing out pockets, tunnels, even vast caverns like this. Then, when the waters receded, they left these empty spaces to be filled with air."
Bram glanced behind them, where the fantastic machine, the Charon, sat immobile where it had first arrived. Little men scrambled over it, unloading the supplies and equipment Terrest had raided from the surface, and no doubt checking for damage. Bram doubted that journeying through the earth was not without its hardships for the great machine. Then he looked forward, toward their destination, the underground city which sat beneath a ceiling of earth like a child's decorative snow globe, the buildings oddly shaped and curved, resembling almost mushroom houses. "How long ago was this? When these caverns were formed?"
"Hard to say. I'm not an expert in geology. Hundreds of thousands of years, at least. Perhaps millions of years."
"And when would they have begun to occupy it?" Bram asked, nodding at their strange captors.
"A very long time, je pense," mused the priest.
"What?" growled Miles. "Don't be daft. These are just jungle men Terrest brought with him from some Limey colony down south. Polynesia or Africa or something."
"Men are men, sir," observed the priest. "Whatever their skin colour or origin. But these...these are something else entirely. Notice their big eyes, the enormous pupils? And how they covered their eyes with goggles when on the surface? No, these are most definitely men who have grown accustomed to this life over many, many generations."
In a barely breathed whisper, Mary said, "My people used to war with the Eskimo to the north, and from them we heard legends of a 'little people'."
Bram considered. Though taller than a midget or dwarf, these sub-terrans might indeed be regarded as 'little people' by men of an average height. But all of this speculation brought them no closer to understanding what was going on. Why had Humbert Terrest been raiding and sabotaging the railroad...and what was his ultimate goal?
Raman Singh, the bearded and turbaned man who seemed to act as Terrest's first lieutenant, and the only other normal looking man they had so far encountered among this bizarre group, walked at the head of their procession. What had brought these two men to this strange world? Bram wondered.
And would he like the answers to his questions when he received them? He rather doubted it.
"Where's Terrest?" he asked of any one. But none of his companions seemed to know. The man seemed to appear and disappear as readily, and as mysteriously, as his surface/sub-surface vehicle.
They were guided down a well trod pathway, until they reached the perimeters of the strange, perhaps ancient, city. The buildings were made of stone and clay, rising up like organic growths, with asymmetrical windows from which eerie glows bled a soft light into the cavern. Clearly the sub-terrans still desired light, but a light of a decidedly less harsh variety than that to which the surface dwellers were accustomed. Walking through the city -- well, a town, more accurately -- was a strange experience, with the buildiings rising up almost like natural stone save for the glowing orifices and the fur rimmed faces with their big eyes that peered out at them as they passed.
"What do they want with us?" muttered Miles. "I've heard tales of what the red savages do to their prisoners."
"We 'savages' are not alone in such brutality," countered Mary crossly. "I have heard tell of your own people's 'civilized' trials and punishments, when dealing with heretics and witches."
Despite their situation, Bram almost smiled. Obviously Father Forcier's lectures had been a little more forthright in detailing, not just the benefits of European civilization, but also its dangers as represented by a history of Inquisitions and Witch Trials. He doubted the Holy Office in Rome would approve of such unflattering frankness. What he said was, "Let's not start assuming the worst just yet...either of you. So far, Sir Terrest and Raman Singh seem to be in charge, and neither has demonstrated any overt cruelty." He stopped himself from adding 'yet'. "And even these...these mole people, for lack of a better word, seem more curious than ferocious."
"If anything, they seem frightened of us," observed the priest.
"I'll give them cause to be afeared," growled Miles. "First chance I get."
"You'll do nothing unless I say so," countered Bram sternly, though he was well aware that his control over the Fenian was limited, at best.
"If they are curious and frightened," said Mary softly, as though speaking almost to herself, "that must mean they are not used to strangers. If so, why were we made exceptions? Why were we brought here?"
And once again, Bram was left unable to answer.
"Notice the architecture," said Father Forcier quietly, changing the topic. "Much of it is very strange -- almost organic. The buildings look almost as though they might have grown out of the ground itself. Almost. But there is something familiar about some of the fundamental designs. The columns in some of the doorways remind me of something -- they're almost Grecian."
"When it comes to columns...they're all pretty Greek to me," Bram quipped.
The priest, missing the joke, shook his head, "No, no, there are certain distinctive characteristics that are, more or less, indicative of certain cultures and periods. Mind you, I'm not saying they are Greek, merely that they share certain principals, as though, long ago..."
Just then something moaned through the vast, dark cavern. At first Bram thought it was the sound of wind, sighing through distant tunnels. But he quickly dismissed that idea on seeing the reaction of their captors. The sub-terrans jerked, their little faces whirling about, snub noses twitching as though sniffing at the very air. The little men were clearly being thrown into a panic. Raman Singh drew the strange electric powered pistol from his belt, the mechanism repaired since Miles had accidentally damaged it in their earlier escape attempt (see previous chapter ~ the ed.). Then the towering Sikh began gesturing mutely, using hand signals the sub-terrans seemed to understand. Why he did not speak his words, Bram did not know. It was but one more mystery to be pondered.
Some of the mole people hurried off, as though enacting a familiar ritual. Others stayed with them and began ushering them faster down the open streets, as though hurrying toward a set destination before... Before what? Bram wondered.
"What's going on?" he shouted at Raman Singh, though he was unsure if the man spoke or understood English. "We have a right to know."
But the turbaned Sikh ignored him.
Still, an answer was not long in forthcoming, though Bram might well have wished they had been left permanently in ignorance.
As the little party of of captives and captors rounded a corner, it came to a sudden halt. The little mole men began hissing, half backing away. Mary threw a hand to her mouth, to stifle a scream.
Something was emerging out of the darkness of the surrounding cavern. Something as large as the Charon itself.
Except this...this thing...was very much a living creature.
It scurried out of the darkness, worming its way onto the city streets, resembling nothing but a centipede the size of a train, its multitudinous limbs hurtling it along the stony ground, a gaping, pinchered maw roaring its forlorn howl. It had seem them. And it was coming!
Next episode: To Battle the Beast!
Previous episode: The Devil's Master
The Terror of the Rails is copyright 2003, the author.