Monday, August 24, 2009

The Underground (version one)

“We should get started.” I said.

Mole looked at me as though I was crazy.

“We can’t start, boy,” Mole said. “Site manager isn’t here yet.”

Mole, real name Mike Burrows, had been with London Underground through a lot of re-shuffles and changes in management. Like most labourers his age, he’d embraced the metaphysical concept that a job only existed when someone in authority was observing it.

I’d never meant to still be working here, two years on, but I knew one thing for sure, and that was when I was Mole’s age I’d have a job I wanted to do. I headed down the tunnel, shining my torch to see what the damage was like. The Tube is riddled with disused passages, some dating back to the early 19th century when the massive undertaking was started. There are a lot of routine inspections carried out and often work needs to be done to keep things safe.

We had word there was a large crack in one of the tunnel walls.

“Best be careful down here, boy,” Mole said. “When I was about your age, my crew was working down here and two men went missing. Never found them. Ghouls took them.”

“Ghouls? Talk sense, Mole.”

“It’s true, some of these tunnels cross next to their warrens. They’re ancient beasts that serve the old gods. They only surface to snatch stray men to eat, or grab a woman, if they can get one, for some you-know-what. You’ll be all right with me boy. I’ve got ghoul blood in me, on my father’s side.” He lurched at me, shining the torch up at his face, cackling like a madman.

That was when the crack in the tunnel wall crashed open in a shower of masonry and rock. A fist sized lump struck my head, dazing me, but a large section of the wall had fallen across Mole. I crawled to him on hands and knees, shining my torch off to one side of his face to check on him. He was breathing in short bursts and his eyes were glazed. A dark reflection in his eyes made me glance behind me, and the torch fell from my nerveless fingers and my whole body went rigid.

The thing emerged from the hole in the wall on all fours, like an animal, but stood once in the open. It had a body about the size of a man’s but it’s limbs were longer, with stringy muscles and spindly hands that ended in wicked claws. There was nothing about it to suggest reticence, or caution, as it regarded us with it black saucer eyes, it showed no more fear than any hunter has for his prey.

I was powerless to move as it leaned its face into mine and I could clearly see the ugly slash of a mouth settled in mottled brown-green flesh. It opened this terrible maw, and my face was bathed in a sickly sweet stench. Impossible thoughts of flight hammered in my head, as it drew its warty tongue along the side of my cheek. Then it turned, casually grasping Mole by the head as it returned to its dismal burrow, pausing only long enough to snap off one of his legs at the knee where it was lodged in the rubble.

It was many months later before I could think clearly again, and when I did I dwelt long and hard on Mole’s fallacious claim to a ghoul ancestor. But more insidiously than that, I kept returning to my own mother and her persistent refusal to ever speak to me about my own absent father.

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