The Death of Mr. Donovan

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Recent Research: Networks of the Dead

It would be irresponsible to give my report in an itemized fashion. As shall be clear, this incident has left my memory no longer with me in its entirety.

I pulled up at the new dig site with some spelunking gear ready. Stepping over through the door frame, I slipped on my dust mask with a nod at Donovan. I was a bit later than expected, but our subject wasn’t going anywhere. We lugged both of our cases of supplies through the silent interior. The wooden skeleton of the house was stripped bare. I wove my way through the debris to the proper dig site—a room not marked on the floor plan, going back almost a century. The room was untouched by most of the machinery around it. The solitary desk, still coated in gray dust, was pushed against the back wall of the house. We followed the tracks with my equipment and hat with a flash light, stepping over to carefully open the central object of the room: A lone trap door, with a rusted chain wrapped around a lock. The chain had already been cut, left in case it became important later.

So, what do you think is down there?” Donovan asked, flicking his head light on.

Bodies, probably. What else do you bury under the floor board?” I said, turning on mine. “Or secret passages to some rally point.”

Smuggling maybe.” Donovan nodded, lifting the door open. There was the rotted remains of a ladder on one side, our own metal and modern one sliding beside it. Slowly we descended, into the cold and yawning tunnel. The flattened stone floor and walls, despite occasionally irregularities, were still evidence of some ancient architects hand and measure.

There were no protrusions for a time, no markers. There were faded colors on one part of the wall, no doubt some lost paint or signal. The darkness swallowed sound as we followed the path, a rope leading back to the surface. Should something unthinkable happen, the crew was a few tugs away, to get us back up.

Working my way in and across for hours according to the timer, I came across our first discovery—a set of heavy iron doors, with neatly interlocking teeth. There were a pair of handles to force it open, but the teeth were holding it in place and a large metal wheel. Turning it some, the doors rolled open with the girding sound of rusting iron. As it clattered apart, the other side was revealed as a collapsed cavern. A broken down exit.

In the darkness I retraced my steps, echoing slightly for the length of the tunnel. Eventually my flashlight caught the flickering reflection of something else. A bit of glass buried in the mess and mass of the underground. Drawing cautiously closer, and stepping over some broken bricks, more light seemed to pour in.

There was a door of glass and some strange almost plastic material. The glass was shattered, broken shards catching the light and reflecting it back up. Within I saw the dim flicker of lights, abandoned in the dark. Holding back an exclamation I pulled at the rope three times, indicating a withdraw.

CatacombDoor edited.png

Lighting? A door? What, we found a bunker beneath this old house?” Donovan said, as I drew out my crude map on the black board we had set up.

Something like it, yes. A very sophisticated one—must have some sort of generator. Or the tunnels are newer than they seem—they could be siphoning power from the city’s generators. But still…our tunnel, it bypassed a sealed door. So, the trapdoor must be more recent then the door….especially since there was nothing obstructing our entrance down…”

So, what, someone built an iron door and lighting a hundred years ago and somehow kept it running, with no one noticing?”

Well…maybe. However, the other structure might also be more recent—the iron door having been navigated around, and the room refurnished in the mean time. Hell, they might have used this entrance to get things around the iron door and then walled it up.”

Alright, so we go back down, and what? What do–”

It’s got lights on still. It might have people in it. Hm. This…okay. We could alert authorities…”

But…?”

Well, I’m thinking who exactly builds strange bunkers beneath buildings and what sort of shit we’d be in for finding an abandoned one.”

Abandoned?”

Glass was broken, and I didn’t here anything back there. So probably. Must have left the lights on when they left. I think we could make some headway…at least know a bit more about what we’re getting into before diving in or running off to warn the authorities. Delve a bit deeper.”

We worked out a plan. As I had made the initial voyage down, Donovan would take the lead this time, moving forward with a twenty foot length of rope between us. I would remain stationary, until the rope was near taught. Two pulls then would indicate a safe approach, three need of assistance, and four a withdraw. Back down we went, with a longer length attached to the surface. We had conscripted a workman from a part of the construction, and informed him likewise of the signals. This way, should we both be incapacitated, we had a life line to the surface.

Outside the entrance was only some broken glass, smashed out from within. Pushing open the door, with some difficulty, we went into the blinding light of the interior. The lights were that dim pulsing blue of bio-luminesence. Small lines ran between them, and brown moss clung between the crystals. The ground was smooth and without breakage, like a single slab of limestone extending out from underneath. There were some veins where water had warn things down over the years, but not much else. Tracing these lines back, Donovan went ahead.

After a couple tugs, I followed and found the small pool, damaged slightly so that it overflowed onto the floor. It still gurgled around a translucent orb, rolling the orb over the fountain over and over. The room around it was more open, with benches along the wall. Some sort of communal area it seemed. Bits of plant life had made their way here as well, algae floating on the top of the water. Donovan moved along through one of the nearby rooms as I inspected the wall mosaics.

Geometric patterns ran along the wall, fractal triangles spreading across and colliding, interlocking into one another. Small waves ran along their bottoms, creating rivers pouring down into a sea below or sky above. I wondered if they were just artistry or if they had clues to the means that this fountain, made by unknown hands, was still functioning.

Catacomb Wall Drawing 1.png

I didn’t tell Donovan my suspicion before we descended, a suspicion that was growing as I examined the work in the fountain room. That we had found something truly impressive. A relic not only of an earlier age, but…perhaps of a different kind. Of strangers, of things long dead that had raised some civilization before us. Some antediluvian race had raised these tunnels. At Donovan’s two tugs I started to follow the rope—when another two came, I picked up speed.

Well, would you look at that…” Donovan said, gesturing at the glass panes before us. They were fogged with mist, but green shapes could be seen within. A greenhouse, separated by a star shaped wheel. A seal no doubt to keep the warm air in, keep the moisture in, keep the greenery in and healthy. It took both of us to turn the seal, but with some effort we got the door open. Donovan again took lead, as I examined the exterior panes.

They made curious colors, the two panes ever so slightly off grain from each other. On the outside was the carving, something like a star shape—but bent at the edges and points, so that it was more a spiral then a star. They repeated on the inner pane as well, if distorted more so to be a galaxy of glimmering glass. There was something about those stars, an overlay as it were. Something…unsettling about their arrangement. The angles seemed to be carefully placed to conceal some facet of the glass and the interior. It couldn’t be hiding anything bigger than a few feet on the other side. Not even that, no, it was only that big when I got close. No, if it was something that big I’d see it. It must be meant to hide something far smaller, maybe even between the glass—not the presence, not the color, but the details of something in the stars.

And then the rope tugged once—twice—and, as I felt the third, it went limp. There was no sound as I looked down into the green house of the abandoned bunker. Nothing but the dripping of water. I backed away slowly, pulling the rope back as I backed down the hall, refusing to look away from the depths. For a moment I saw motion in there. Something in there. I saw leaves rustle as I walked backwards. I looked down when I pulled the last rope up, to see a branch broken off.

I do not know yet what became of Donovan’s body. I have not ventured down there in the week since. But I worry, what things laid those long forgotten foundations. I wonder, if they have had their own revelation. That, the world they retreated from has now again become inhabited. Or perhaps, that whatever end of the world they feared has passed unobserved. I wonder if they too now are planning on going on an expedition to an unknown world. Or worse, if such ventures have passed unnoticed by our eyes. We must find that catacomb again, that passage in the depths—or we shall be found by it.


This story is a bit rushed. I have not much else to say. Mostly I just couldn’t get enough of a plan going, even with the fertile material. I latched onto the idea of layers of discovery—a new catacomb, a new bunker, and then at last the inhabitants. I don’t think that was the right idea. Maybe a more modern secret society hidden inside the unseen catacombs? Or more characters, and more dialouge in the venture to the dead? I think my writing needs to return to the roots of horror I’ve drifted away from in some of these stories—taking character conflicts and enhancing them with the supernatural. That will be for next time, when we go to an abandoned city and mysterious horses.

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.

Networks of the Dead

This Weeks Prompt: 66. Catacombs discovered beneath a city (in America?).

The Resulting Story: The Death of Mr. Donovan

We delve deeper now, from the cemetery and undertaker to the ossuaries and catacombs of the dead. A catacomb is an underground tomb, constructed for resting the dead. Generally these forms in cities, often in cases where graveyards simply will not due anymore. The famous catacombs of Paris were made after the cities cemeteries were flooded by rain, pushing bodies and skeletons to the surface and onto city streets. The catacombs of Rome likewise began due to overcrowding and land shortage, the grim reality that there were to many dead and not enough tombs. And then there are American catacombs that imitate these sites, strange tourist attractions. But we will return to the strangeness of the subterranean landscape of America in a moment.

Catacombs Rome.png

For now, let us focus on the old world. Beginning in Rome, catacombs were constructed by members of the Jewish community as well early Christians, both who preferred burial to the more common method of cremation. The tombs thus give artistic insights into traditions of the era, and have an air of mystery about them. A number of saints are buried there—who are by definition holy individuals and beings—and at least one fringe archaeologist has suggested the grail might be buried there. As the catacombs are under Vatican control, the possibilities have not been fully explored.

The catacombs of Paris have a more infamous reputation. Built out of an old mine, the catacombs here are full of bones from the 1800s. Only partly open to the public, the catacombs have attracted rumor of conspiracy as long as they have been around. The mines they were built out of are rumored to have been the location of black masses in 1348. Bandits and revolutionaries hid in the sprawling labyrinth, as did in more recent years Nazi bunkers and French Resistance members. Even more recently, daredevils and thrill seekers have built an underground art society around the catacombs and mines. Secret pools, murals, and even a cinema have all been found by authorities beneath the city of lights.

CAtacombFrance.png

With walls lined with skulls and bones, the catacombs of Paris certainty have an atmosphere of horror and the macabre, yet somehow still alive and changing and reshaping. It is here that the Phantom of the Opera lived, that Jean Val Jean made his escape, where monarchists and fascists were killed, where black mass and plagues were born.

So, are there any such catacombs in the American cities, locales and lacuna of horror waiting beneath our feet?

The short answer is…not exactly, but something similar. There are catacombs in the United States(Which is likely what Lovecraft means by America, as opposed to Americas). One is a replica of the Roman catacombs in DC. Another is the catacombs near New York, in St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral and other churches. Another underground locale, that I have little knowledge of, is found in Waterbury, Connecticut documents the life of Jesus Christ. So there are some overt underground burials. But more interesting are those sorts of places that resemble the catacombs in life. Abandoned routes and work ways under a large living city, still mysterious and without exploration being complete.

AbandonedNewYork.png

In New York City, there are large abandoned subways that are not immediately accessible. While trains sometimes run down here, and there are inhabitants, they resemble the catacombs in many ways, with continuous habitation and dangers around every corner, from trains to small spaces. The danger of police and others down in the depths are a continuous problem for those urban explorers who go down there. Images can be found here.

Another set of abandoned works exists in LA, the remains of the trolley system that was shut down in the 1950s, which later on was host to disaster shelters during the Cold War. Since then, development has divided up its remains.

Cincinati.png
The biggest of these abandoned networks of tunnels is beneath Cincinnati. These tunnels run two miles in length and are mostly intact, if sealed. The construction began in 1920, abandoned in 1925, and at last closed in 1950s after being considered for a bomb shelter. The tunnels have some rumors around them still—hauntings, mainly. A connection to catacombs thats more direct than most, as the catacomb is often just that. A realm of the dead that exists in a material form. Its a small demesne of Hades.

A more mythic connection is the sorcererous lair of Afrasiab. While not obvious comparison, it is Afrasiab is a destructive force who holds an advanced and luxurious underground bunker with layers of steel several men thick. It is host to an artificial sky, and four rivers—one of wine, one of milk, one of sour milk, and one of water. Like many of the other catacombs, the abandoned remains of such ruins could be come

Lovecraft, for his part, presents something like those above. The Vaults of Zin—a connection between the Dreamlands and the waking world—are likewise underground remains of a great civilization that connects to the ultimate fate of the dead, and inhabited by the monstrous and cannibalistic ghasts. These tunnels, that make the world between the here and the bizarre less clear, are a place of possibility and disruption. They mark a boundary that we can traverse to a strange and secretive realm, where societies of the living transgress among the dead. More importantly, the catacombs are a from an earlier and abandoned age. Yes, at some point someone was digging the ones in Rome, those in Paris are the remains of old mines, those in the United States re abandoned subways, and even in Rome these catacombs are out of use by now. Catacombs are re-purposed remains of a long lost civilization or time.

I bring this up because, if I were to speculate on the catacombs here, the surprise of their discovery is important. The catacombs are discovered recently, and therefore are previously unknown. This means, unlike the ones we’ve discussed so far, the catacombs are not connected to the current inhabitants. This lays into the United States twice over: Not only is the United States a young country—relatively seeking, of course,–and thus any catacombs would be something of a surprise but it is…how was it once put….built entirely on an Indian burial ground. While catacombs may not be widespread, there are discoveries in the last few decades that indicate intense burial sites at the least.

Building on this, as some archaeologist discovering the remains of a long lost nation and catacomb is…well, a start. Where it goes I’m not sure. There are themes to explore but I’m not sure what to do with a meeting of a forgotten past and the modern present. A lost history might be found, in the images of the catacomb, that belies some history that the modern world denies. But …I must think on what sort of discovery that would be.

What about you? What horrors or wonder discoveries in an abandoned underworld might you find?

If you’d like to support the Society, receive more stories or research, or are feeling generous, please check out our Patreon here.