The Atlantean Tunnel System

The large hatch that faced them was battleship grey. It had a porthole, which was painted over. It had steel clamps at the corners, which Boz undid. It had a maroon wheel handle, which he turned. The heavy door swung back and Boz found himself teetering above an impenetrably gloomy void. Ahead was a polished, lightly greased, brass pole. Without thinking too hard he wrapped his arms tightly around it and jumped.

“Shi…!”

And the others followed.

“Geronimo!”

“Timothy Leary!”

As the pile of bodies at the base of the pole grew, they heard the steady clunk clunk clunk of hobnailed hiking boots on iron rungs. The voice from above belonged to Slasher McGoogs.

“Perhaps another time you may wish to give some consideration to your actions before leaping… and maybe have a look around for a less thrilling alternative.” He completed his descent of the cast-iron spiral staircase and began to help the boys pick themselves up and dust themselves off. Ferdy had friction burns on some of his wing-stub feathers, Phoebles had grazed his knee, Ginsbergbear had snapped his favourite pencil and they had all landed on top of Boz. There were no other injuries. Once composed they began to look around. They had arrived in one of the main linking shafts of Les Chats Souterrains’ subterranean domain – wide, arched and concrete lined. It carried a tarmacadam roadway and twin narrow gauge railway tracks. The artery and its subsidiary systems existed parallel to or even confluent with the cave system, just a tiny dimensional twist away, kept apart by a micron thin membrane of warped space-time. It was but a miniscule section of the Atlantean world-wide tunnel system, disused for eons and now usurped by the Lizard Kings, which honeycombs the earth’s crust, linking natural cave systems, accessible only under mystic circumstances from every mine, cavern, metro and catacomb; normally undetectable and gateway, some maintain, to the inner world of our hollow earth.

“Wow!” exclaimed Phoebles.

“Just come on!” insisted McGoogs. But they had not gone far when they heard the purr of a combustion engine. Scrambling as quickly as they could up a fall of rock and scree the boys gained a wide ledge, well above eye height, and cautiously peeped down. What they saw was the arrival of a lichen-grey painted Mini Moke Twinny, which halted whilst four characters, uniformly dressed in khaki one-piece overalls, got out. They had ghost-white, narrow faces, tiny pink eyes and overly large ears.   They were armed and they were searching.

“I’ve never seen them without their goggles before,” said Phoebles, “Ugly looking bunch.”

“I don’t think we should hang around here,” said Slasher, wrenching a grill off the wall behind them. “Boz, you come through last, and pull this grating back in place.”

They were in a small, square cross-sectioned shaft that carried a steady draft of warm air. It inclined gently and branched off at regular intervals. At length their somewhat randomly chosen route emerged into a gallery that overlooked a truly vast cavern. Ginsbergbear threw himself back from the edge and pressed into the cave wall. Ferdy and Phoebles gave out simultaneous gasps. This was Titan, the belly of Behemoth – one hundred foot of vault above them and an eighty-foot drop to the floor below. They were looking down into the mother of all chambers – and it swarmed with industry.

Ever Deeper into the Caves

Dimensional Shift Chamber SApproaching the back of the chamber the gang found that the stream issued from a low culvert.   The pathway had originally terminated at a small quay alongside which lay coffin-like barges in which recumbent adventurers were, in times gone by, pulled one at a time under the rocky vault and into the chamber beyond. Luckily, nineteenth century etiquette could not allow such demeaning transport for a visiting monarch and a relief tunnel had been dynamited through to the next stage of the tour. It is a low passage, for Queen Victoria was short.

The second chamber was even larger than the first, fewer stalactites, but their path, stepped in places, carved out from the natural rock wall, clambered over a tumbling mass of hardened mineral sediment that cascaded down to the stream in terraces filled with crescent moons of still, black water before veering to cross, high above the stream on an iron footbridge supported on slim, fluted, floriform columns. Passing a side gallery they could make out a derelict narrow gauge railway track to nowhere and a derailed, rusted and battered wagon. Beyond this their path descended through a straight, well-constructed tunnel with a brick floor, rust-red plumbing ran along the foot of the passage wall, old iron pipes, repainted many times, new aluminium pipes silver-gleaming in the light of their headlamps. The companions could hear rushing water ahead and at the bottom of the decline the track ended at a handrail; they were overlooking a wide, fast running underground river; the tourist trail ended here. However, the pipes turned to disappear into holes drilled through the rock wall and next to them was an old, weathered wooden door, blue-grey paint flaking, something indecipherable and worn stencilled in no-longer white letters.   There was a latch, but no lock.

Pausing only for a moment to quell their doubts the little group of nervous adventurers entered what was apparently a service tunnel. The pipes, now running along wall and ceiling, were joined by many others. Thick and thin, new and old, the pipes congregated, merged and parted, wove around each other. There were valves and junctions, U-bends and Z-bends, a labyrinthine tangle dreamed up by a plumber spaced out on something stronger than catnip. Heavy-duty cables sheathed in lead festooned the walls, fed steel boxes that buzzed and tiny coloured lamps that flickered. A socket, corroded by the damp, beside one such box, was joined by an outdated, frayed a twisted flex to a faintly glowing glass orb which seemed to hang in the air by its own will power. It sang – a wordless and disquieting song. They did not investigate, wanted to move on and as they progressed further a large riveted iron tank with a brass tap that dripped, almost filled the chamber.

“We’ll have to remove our rucksacks in order to squeeze past,” observed Phoebles.

Even holding their packs the going was tight for some of the stouter members of the group, heads got bumped, and clothing snagged. The tunnel was not straight – it snaked inexplicably; plant life thrived on the dank walls and the odours of rot and decay hung around every unscrubbed nook and neglected cranny.

“Great God!   This is an awful place…” quoted Ginsbergbear.

“We are very near the end, but have not and will not lose our good cheer,” responded Ferdy.

“I think the end may be in sight,” chipped in Boz.

Star Stone Trilogy: Book One – Yii Chapter Eight (cont.)

Desmond was very persuasive. Eventually:
‘Well,’ said Sarah doubtfully, ‘I suppose I could try, but I shall need lots of help; I don’t know how I shall manage. And anyway, I can’t cox as I am; how will I dress? Won’t we get into trouble for breaking lots of rules – a girl coxing a mens’ eight?’
‘I’m sure you’ll do very well,’ said Desmond. ‘And as for dress, we can borrow some kit for you to wear; and I wondered if we could put your hair up inside a cap or something.’
Perhaps, Sarah reflected, he hasn’t really thought this through; she’d be spotted at once with her fair hair in a cap. Then she remembered the dressing up box from their time at Christmas and how she had enjoyed putting on a wig and managed to look just like a man.
‘I know,’ she said, ‘I can get a man’s wig from the dressing up box and put that on over my hair. It could be fun.’ Sarah, thinking about the fun of dressing up at Christmas, was beginning to get enthusiastic, ‘But I shall need lots of help.’
‘Of course,’ said Desmond. ‘I have every confidence in your ability. I’ll go and get some clothes for you.’
So Sarah got the wig, let Aunt Caroline know that she was going down to the river with Desmond, and then found a way to put on the clothes Desmond had borrowed. Sarah was both thrilled and terrified. How would she manage to cox an eight, so long, so fast, and so hard to stop in a hurry? And would they be able to hear her? Would she be able to make her voice low enough to sound like a male cox? Her heart was beating very fast when they got down to the college barge.
They had to let George into the secret; he was highly amused – and more than a little concerned over his boat. Sarah, with help from Desmond, got the boat into the water, and the crew into the boat. Her heart in her mouth, she took the cox’s seat – quite different from the space and stability of the pair at Kingham. They pushed off

Into the Bowels of the Earth They Venture

With Boz in the lead and Slasher McGoogs bringing up the rear the adventurers wriggled and crawled down the narrow flu. Slasher checked regularly over his shoulder for any sign that they were followed and surreptitiously fingered his Mauser Red Nine, his security blanket; the rest of them would be furious if they knew he was toting a real and loaded weapon. The atmosphere was oppressive and damp, the hum grew louder as they descended and there was a definite breeze coming up from below.   Soon the tunnel widened slightly and Bozzy stopped.

“There is a large extractor fan fixed into the tunnel, blocking our way. Can I have that Swiss Army Knife of yours, please Ferdy?”

Using the Philips screwdriver attachment, Boz removed a small service cover and with the insulated wire cutting attachment snipped a brown insulated wire. The fan stopped. The sudden silence was not comforting.   He next undid the wire safety cage with the flat bladed screwdriver attachment and then used the adjustable spanner attachment to unscrew a large nut on the hub. With the fan removed and a large hole snipped out of the far safety cover, using the heavy-duty wire cutter attachment, the gang were able to squeeze through. Phoebles got a bit stuck due to an excessively generous breakfast, but a firm push from behind by Ferdy soon freed him. Slasher was the last cat through.

“We’d best press on. Someone might come to investigate why the fan’s not working,” he whispered.

The tunnel was still descending steeply, but from here on in it had been chiselled out to a reasonable diameter and it was paved. Moving quickly downwards they eventually came to an almost vertical shaft with iron rungs set into the wall. At the bottom they were in a sizeable cave chamber, part of the Peak Cavern system. There were stalactites hanging down and dripping, and rounder orange or yellow topped stalagmites reaching up. Occasionally mite met tite to form a thin column of almost gothic tracery. From oozing cracks in the walls green fingers of limestone deposit had dribbled over millennia, forming grotesque gargoyle guardians to terrorise the feint of heart. A narrow path wove through the natural hypostyle, between petrified forests of sculpted rock and a fast-running stream carved deep into the cave floor. They were in the dark – a creeping, all encompassing darkness that seeped into the soul; a darkness broken only by the narrow beams of their headlamps which cast menacing shadows about the interior, shadows of hideous beings that could only exist in such blackness. Not helping in any way to dispel their disquiet, the silence was total and they were entirely alone. The Peak Cavern had been closed to visitors since inexplicable, phantom, will o’ the wisp lights and unnatural humming sounds had terrified the tourists. Not that weirdness was unknown within the cave system. Excremental toilet odours bubbling up from the bowels and moans and farts amplified and echoing about the antediluvian orifice had led the pious medieval serfs of Castleton to christen this The Devil’s Arse – a name which stuck until a visit by the Queen Empress had required a less graphic appellation. For the next hundred years it became the Peak Cavern, an improvement to their address that was more than welcomed by the rope winders who lived and worked within the vast cave mouth.

Cave Dale

Cave DaleThe little group made for Bargate, winding up hill and out of the town, and soon found the claustrophobic canyon entrance to the jagged gash of Cave Dale which, carved by melt water at the end of a long past ice age, climbs south from the town to the moorland above. The narrow gateway, hemmed in by limestone cliffs had boasted a natural arch well into the age of industry, though it was now but a memory. The lower reaches of the dale are overseen by the glowering Norman cliff-top castle and Ferdy could make out white-furred and darkly begoggled faces under pickelhaubes and sallets peering down from the crenulated battlements at the jolly hikers so very far below.

Ginsbergbear broke into ‘I Love to Go A Wandering’ in a growly basso profundo.

“Try to look happy,” wheezed Boz; for theirs was a relentless, up-hill slog. The party hunched their shoulders, stomped down with their Leki poles and whistled along with the bear.

As they climbed, the dale widened. Where the steep rocky sides met the grassy bottom tubby, brown birds chattered, fed and fluttered. Gnarled and stunted trees clung to damp crevices in the moss-cloaked rock. Meadow flowers buzzed with pollinating bees. Soon the hiking party had rounded a bare pinnacle and were out of sight of the watchers on the keep. Pausing to peruse his map and check his compass Boz veered off along an indistinct track and with the gang following as quickly as they could, discovered a low orifice at the base of the cliff. On reaching the small cave mouth they found the apparently deep but restricted vent was secured by an iron gate that bore a yellow sign inscribed:

Danger of death!Cavedale Vent

A low frequency hum welled up towards the intrepid group from the depths of the dank cavern.

After a brief sit down and the partaking of a square or two of mint-cake, Ferdy produced his Victorinox Spymaster Multitool Swiss Army Ensemble and, utilising the magnifying glass attachment, examined the lock. He considered for a moment and then folding out two long thin lock-picking tools began to fiddle. After a fruitless few minutes he re-examined the lock under the magnifying glass, flicked out two more attachments with twiddly bits on the ends and began again. Several tense minutes of deft manipulation later there was a click, the gate swung back in well-greased silence and they had gained access to a steep ventilation shaft.

Pausing only to take out their Petzl Pathfinder 21 head torches and fix them firmly over their bobble hats they warily began their penetration of the realm of Les Chats Souterrains.

A Moving Story

How to feel at home

Last week, for the first time in over two months, we started referring to our new address as ‘home’. Until then we’d always called it ‘the cottage’ or ‘thatch’, as if this was temporary, a holiday home en route to a final destination.
But now we are beginning to establish new routines, finding a pub in which to sit quietly and finish the crossword, discovering the local hardware shop and garden centre, as well as the quickest route to Waitrose, we feel more settled. The garden is no longer a wilderness of unidentifiable shrubs, it is gradually revealing its secrets as we weed and plan and plant. We’ve found local tradesmen to rewire, plumb and insulate and can see that the home which will suit our needs will eventually emerge from these solid walls, nestling under a thick blanket of thatch.
We’ve also accepted every Christmas party invitation we’ve received, so we can get to know more of our sociable neighbours. Walking the nearby footpaths we’ve met the local dogs and their owners and become friendly with a lonely donkey in a paddock down the lane. And although the nearest church is not within walking distance, it is welcoming and friendly and adds to the feeling that we are making a permanent home here.
But maybe having our first Christmas here is what we need to make the cottage truly seem like home. We were thinking we would have a different Christmas to the many celebrated in our big old house, but this weekend I found our well-used Advent calendar, shaped like a Christmas tree. I had thought of throwing it out, along with an old wreath for the door, but suddenly that seemed wrong and I rescued them both. Now the drawers of the tree are filled with nonsense and the wreath has fresh greenery and tinkling red and white bells. We’re nearly ready for Christmas in our new home.

Star Stone Trilogy – Book One: Yii Chapter Eight (cont.)

Desmond was very persuasive. Eventually:
‘Well,’ said Sarah doubtfully, ‘I suppose I could try, but I shall need lots of help; I don’t know how I shall manage. And anyway, I can’t cox as I am; how will I dress? Won’t we get into trouble for breaking lots of rules – a girl coxing a mens’ eight?’
‘I’m sure you’ll do very well,’ said Desmond. ‘And as for dress, we can borrow some kit for you to wear; and I wondered if we could put your hair up inside a cap or something.’
Perhaps, Sarah reflected, he hasn’t really thought this through; she’d be spotted at once with her fair hair in a cap. Then she remembered the dressing up box from their time at Christmas and how she had enjoyed putting on a wig and managed to look just like a man.
‘I know,’ she said, ‘I can get a man’s wig from the dressing up box and put that on over my hair. It could be fun.’ Sarah, thinking about the fun of dressing up at Christmas, was beginning to get enthusiastic, ‘But I shall need lots of help.’
‘Of course,’ said Desmond. ‘I have every confidence in your ability. I’ll go and get some clothes for you.’
So Sarah got the wig, let Aunt Caroline know that she was going down to the river with Desmond, and then found a way to put on the clothes Desmond had borrowed. Sarah was both thrilled and terrified. How would she manage to cox an eight, so long, so fast, and so hard to stop in a hurry? And would they be able to hear her? Would she be able to make her voice low enough to sound like a male cox? Her heart was beating very fast when they got down to the college barge.