the Other Way
I first noticed something was wrong when I hit the arches I'd left glowsticks under at pump station #1. Each one of them was standing upright. I had dropped the sticks, so there's no way all three of them could have landed upright. I stopped to look at my chalk markings on the arches. I had put the markings on the left wall, and had marked them with the direction I was traveling, so that I could easily reverse them in case I got turned around. Someone had scratched into the brick, faintly with a rock, on the opposite side of the arches an arrow pointing back toward the outflow drain. The word: "SAFE" had been scratched in once beneath the arrow on one arch, "OUT", on the second arch, and "GO" on the third. I almost turned around at this point, but to my eternal regret, I didn't. I can't even begin to tell you why I didn't turn around. I hadn't even looked at the opposite walls of the arches, so I couldn't tell you if those words were there when I passed by them the first time or not.
Nothing else unusual happened while I walked back through the junction of the five tunnels, and reached the inflow canal. I was getting a little edgy at this point, and was walking a bit faster than was probably safe. My pace was picking up every time I saw one of my glowsticks standing upright. All of them. Every last one was standing. There were no further messages scratched into the tunnel. I was looking for it, but I never saw them. The first messages weren't threatening, but I kept asking myself: “Why is the outflow safe to go out?” as I moved quickly down the inflow tunnel. I didn't much care for the mystery of the glowsticks, and who was standing them upright.
Within five minutes of walking back down the inflow tunnel, something went wrong. I hit a branch in the tunnel. I immediately checked, and this branch wasn't on my blueprint. In fact, it wasn't part of the canal itself. There was no inflow here. It was a completely dry tunnel leading off and to my right, slowly curving out of range of my flashlight. As I was shining my flashlight down the tunnel, it flickered and died. I want to be clear here: the flashlight didn't dim. It just flickered twice, and died. I dropped my rucksack on the ground, and pulled out some fresh batteries. Before I could get them into my flashlight, I heard a sound like a woman's laughter. It was high but distant, echoing off the walls of the tunnel. I just about pissed myself when I heard it, as before this the only sound I had heard was the occasional drip of water from the ceiling into the still pool of the blocked inflow.
Quickly, I got my batteries into my flashlight, and dropped another glowstick, this time making sure it wasn't standing up. I stopped and listened hard for what seemed like forever, but I didn't hear anything else aside from my heart pounding in my ears. I didn't remember passing by this tunnel on my way in through the inflow tunnel. How could I have missed this? I decided then and there that I was being ridiculous. I wasn't leaving this place without having explored all of it. I set off down the unmarked tunnel. I was meticulous about marking with chalk on the left wall my direction of travel regularly. Since this wasn't on my map, I wasn't taking any chances.
I followed this tunnel for an impossible distance. It just wouldn't end. I thought I was traveling parallel to the canal for a while, but then I decided I wasn't really sure. I should have brought a compass, I thought to myself. Finally, after what had to have been a half of a mile, I reached another junction. This time, left, and right were my only choices. I dropped a glowstick, again noting it fell on its side, and marked on my copy of the blueprint of the tunnel system where I thought I was with a pencil.
I took the left turn, and quickly discovered that it led to yet another junction. Before I knew it, I had made five turns, dropping a glowstick and marking the walls with chalk at each one. My supply of glowsticks were dwindling, so I decided it would be best to turn back and try this path another night. I turned around and headed back to my last glowstick only to find it standing upright yet again. I checked the wall for my marking. It was gone. Had I forgotten to mark the wall on the last turn? I could see my next glowstick in the distance, so I headed toward it. When I reached it, it was standing too. My chalk mark was gone. I reached another glowstick. No chalk. I reached another. No chalk. And another. No chalk. Then a fifth, then a sixth, a seventh, an eighth. Finally, it dawned on me at the eighth junction. I was completely lost.
I had bought 24 glowsticks. I quickly counted in my head how many I had dropped while I had been exploring all night. Fifteen, is the number I came up with. I was sure of it. I dropped my rucksack again to count the number of glowsticks I had left. They were gone. A chill went down my spine. Someone was in this tunnel, and they were fucking with me. They weren't just writing shit on walls anymore, they'd followed me from the pump station into this tunnel. Either I'd dropped the glowsticks at some point in the tunnel, or they had gotten close enough to me to get into my ruck without me noticing while I was marking a wall with chalk. Somehow, they'd turned me around, and were using my glowsticks to lead me through this maze-like tunnel.
I got my pepper spray out and ready, and turned my flashlight down each of the four directions of the junction I was standing in. What was I supposed to do? Follow the glowsticks while this person gets me lost? Try to avoid the glowsticks and get myself lost? I stood there for a minute, and then decided it would be best to avoid the glowsticks. I'd take my chances. At some point, I'd have to find the three-way junction. From there, it was a matter of hugging the walls until I found the tunnel out.
I took a few turns, moving briskly, mapping the place out in my head, but within thirty minutes I was hopelessly lost. Then the glowsticks started showing back up. All of them standing upright. At first, the glowsticks would only be in one junction, so I'd avoid that one, but soon they'd be in two junctions. A few minutes more, and I found a junction with three. I turned around, and headed the other way. I was becoming increasingly paranoid. I was hearing things: voices, whispers, Scraping on the bricks. My imagination was in overdrive cooking up ideas of what could be just outside of the range of my light. I was now fully terrified. My skin felt clammy, and my stomach was doing loops.
After a few more minutes of desperately avoiding glowsticks, I realized that it was futile. I was being boxed in. I started to pick them up, and collect them. Eight... Nine... Ten... But I was still running into them everywhere. I was terrified of what would happen when I got to twenty, as my chances of finding this person were getting higher and higher. When I hit twenty, nothing happened. By twenty-two I was nauseous from terror. At twenty-three I had tears streaming down my face. When I hit 24 glowsticks in my bag, I stood there for a minute looking around. That was the first time that I was aware that I was standing in a junction, each of the four surrounding junctions with glowsticks shining dully in the distance.
How was any of this possible? What the fuck was going on? Something wasn't right. I was beyond fear at this point. I was absolutely broken. I had no other means of marking my path, and I was lost. Not only that, but I was being stalked by some unseen entity that seemed to be able to move undetected as well as produce more glowsticks than I had brought into this place originally.
I want to break here and say this: I'm a pretty hardline atheist. I'm skeptical about everything. Ghost stories are just that, stories. I don't believe in the supernatural, be it the wolf man, or be it angels and demons. Reality is the mind being subjected to electrical impulses and storing memories of those sensory inputs in chemical relays. Senses can be deceived, and memories can be false. Our memories and senses are not accurate representations of the world around us; they are merely a porthole to a subjective reality that we experience. I knew, even then, that logically, it was hard to believe that a homeless person living in this tunnel would have just decided to fuck with me in the first place. It was even less believable that any person without the intention of exploration, and with the goal of trying to prevent getting lost, would bring a pack of their own glowsticks down into a long-abandoned canal system. I knew all of this, but I had no explanation for what was going on. I felt perfectly sane. Overwhelmed by fear, yes, but I felt like my mind was working properly. I could explain away the missing chalk as hallucinations. I couldn't explain the glowsticks right now. Why were they standing? Why were they being placed randomly like this, and who was doing it to me? What possible motive could this person have? I only had one more test that I could perform to confirm whether I was losing it. I had to pick up, and count the twenty fifth glowstick.
I walked down the tunnel toward one of the glowsticks. I was moving slowly, looking for movement down the tunnel. In desperation to catch a glimpse of whoever was stalking me, I had started swinging my flashlight wildly from side to side. My ears were straining to pick up the slightest sound. There was nothing. I reached that glowstick after what felt like an eternity. I leaned down, and picked it up. I took off my ruck, and divided my glowsticks into five groups of five. I counted once, I counted twice, I counted three times. It kept adding up to twenty five. How could I possibly explain this?
I don't know how long I wandered those junctions. I call them the catacombs to this day. I tried in vain to find a three way junction, but eventually had to stop to eat again. The first time I stopped to eat, I wasn't really all that hungry. I had just wanted to take a break and enjoy a meal, but the second time, I was famished, so I knew it had been at the very least twelve hours since I got lost. I put my back against a wall, and ate with my flashlight in lantern mode. The closeness of the beam in lantern mode was unnerving. I felt like something was stalking me just outside of my line of sight, and it was reveling in my confusion and exhaustion. I didn't even bother to pack up my garbage from my dehydrated meal. I figured I could use it as a landmark, though with how the glowsticks worked, I probably wouldn't have much luck with that.
That's when I first started to hear the noise. I can't do it justice with words. It was like a low guttural humming sound, just at the threshold of my hearing. It echoed all around me as though it were nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I'm not sure if “hearing” is the right word for it. More like part feeling, part hearing. It was like the noise was extremely low to the point of being inaudible, but powerful enough that I could feel the sound waves washing over my body. Over the next few hours of aimless, exhausted walking, it kept growing louder/closer.
That humming sound began to get more distinct as time passed. I still could not find an outside wall for this catacomb. I was completely enveloped in this noise, but that's when I heard the first sounds aside from it and my own deadened footsteps in the pitch black catacombs. A mere twenty or thirty feet in front of me, I heard a sharp shuffle of what sounded like feet. Almost before I could react, I caught movement in the beam of my flashlight, and saw the outline of a man. He was wearing a dark jacket with the hood up, low over his face. I realized immediately that the sound was coming from his mouth. He opened and closed his mouth in a strange disjointed rhythm that deadened, but did not silence the humming sound. He didn't even stop the sound to breathe. In his right hand he was holding a long, heavy tree branch with what looked like nails in it. I got my pepper spray back out, and kept the beam on him for a minute, but heard another shuffle to my right. I instantly jerked my light off of the man and turned it down the corridor to my right. I saw the same man, only this time in his right hand was a pipe. He was humming in exactly the same way. I panicked. I couldn't keep my light on both men, and there was no way I could protect myself in the dark. These men didn't seem to need lights of their own to find their way in this maze. My only hope was to get away from them.
I moved quickly down another corridor, picking up the pace. Every time I saw this figure, I darted down another corridor. The sound kept growing louder, and I could hear the rapid pounding of feet moving in every direction around me. It sounded like there were a dozen people chasing me. They all looked the exact same. How was this possible? None of this made any sense.