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Old 12-28-2011, 10:41 PM   #4
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: The First Interbellum (1918-1939)


Thursday 19 January 1871 (pre-dawn)...

"Hurry up and get everything ready," Chase ordered Tyler.
"We're going to take a look in that damned tunnel, but we're not
going to spend much time at it, it can't be
that deep, if they
dug it by hand. Hell, if they dug too far they'd have come out
the other side, that ridge isn't all that wide!"

"As soon as we're back, we're rolling out," Garley added. "I don't
want to burn more daylight than we have to, so have the wagons
ready to go as soon as we get back."

"You got it," Tyler responded.

The men had all been awake for over two hours, getting ready
for the return trip. Garley, for his part, had been awake all night
long, he had tried to sleep and had been totally unable to manage
it. The strange nervousness had not lifted, it had only been made
worse by the discovery of the abandoned encampment. That had
made the rest of the party nervous, but Garley's anxious mood
ran deeper, and it had been nagging at him since dawn the day
before. He somehow
knew that something was wrong, far
more wrong than any ordinary mishap.

The party had moved five wagons of supplies to the encampment,
they were planning to return with two wagons, leaving most of
the supplies they'd brought on-site. It was what they'd been paid
to do anyway, of course, but their primary motive now was simply
that they wanted to make some time. They retained some of the
supplies, the ammunition, the extra pair of rifles, and they
refilled their water supply from the barrels of water in the camp.
Garley remembered one of his employers mentioning that the
camp had a water source, but they wasted no time looking for it.

While Tyler finished these preparations for departure, Garley,
Chase, and another of their party, a tall, quiet man named Baker,
picked up lanterns, some rope, Garley checked to make sure his
pistol was loaded, and then they proceeded down the trench to
the mine tunnel (if that was what it was). Garley had no wish to
go down there, but he also knew he would never be able to look
himself in the mirror afterward if they did not at least check to
make sure nobody was trapped down there. It seemed unlikely,
but they had to at least take a look.

When Clive saw his masters going down the trench again, as the
sun edged up over the eastern horizon, the dog whined loudly,
ran up to them and tugged at Garley's pant leg, ran back toward
the wagons, then slowly returned as he realized Garley and Chase
were still descending. The dog whined pitifully at the top of the
trench, as the men descended Garley looked back up the slope
to see that the mutt was still standing there at the top, obviously
wanting to follow and wanting to run away and frozen by these
conflicting impulses, caught in pathetic terror at the edge.
It did Garley's confidence little good to see that the dog was so
scared, remembering as he did past incidents in which the dog
had shown almost a reckless disregard for danger.

"Let's get this over with," Garley said, and at the foot of the trench
the three men lit their lanterns and proceeded into the darkness of
the tunnel, tying a rope to one of the support posts as a guide. It
seemed unlikely the tunnel had many branches, but better safe than
sorry, was Garley's view.

The tunnel was utterly dark, save for the dim circle of light from
their lanterns, but there was plenty of air, and the tunnel was
adequately tall for all three, though they occasionally had to duck
under a supporting beam. They had gone about 200 feet when
they came to a turn in the tunnel, but it there were no branches
and the tunnel seemed structurally sound. Baker continued to
unroll the rope as they went, though, just in case.

Another fifty feet beyond the bend in the tunnel brought them to
a wooden wall, made of the same sort of planks as the long house
on the surface, with a shut door set into it on new brass hinges.
The doorknob also appeared, in the dim light of the lanterns to
be made of brass. As far as they could tell in the dim light, the
wooden wall and its incongruous underground door looked to be
fairly new, there was even a scent of sawdust in the air.

"What the Hell were they doing here?" Garley muttered. "This
isn't any kind of a mine, they were digging to get to something
specific, and they went to the trouble to put up this wall! They
had to drag the planks in to do it, too!"

"Not to mention digging all this tunnel by hand through this stuff,
and shoring it up," Chase added. "This makes no sense."

"Is the door locked?" Baker, ever-practical, asked.

"Might as well find out," Chase said. He reached for the door,
and Garley put his hand on his pistol...just in case.

The door was not locked, the handle turned smoothly and the
door opened smoothly on its hinges. A strange scent wafted out
of the darkness beyond the door, not unpleasant, just unfamiliar.
Garley held up his lantern and saw that the wooden wall did
indeed seal off an area at the end of the tunnel, which was about
thirty feet from the wall. The first thing that caught his eye was
a glittering sparkle of something or other, catching the dim light
and reflecting it, his dark-adjusted eyes made out a vague round
shape, like some huge gemstone half-buried at the far end of the
tunnel. There was a hint of something yellow-colored about it.

In the area behind the wooden wall there were also plentiful signs
of activity, digging tools lay on the dirt floor, there were some
chairs and a table to one side, and for a moment Garley thought
they had found the people who were missing from the encampment,
because there were figures sitting in the chairs around the table,
and what looked like some more lying on the floor. Then his
eyes made out the details, and he fought down a scream.

There were a dozen or so figures in the back of the tunnel, yes...
or rather a dozen suits of clothes, and in those clothes were bones.
Human bones, skulls, femurs, the bones of hands and feet.
From the look of the clothing lying draped over the contents,
Garley was sure that all the bones of the human skeleton could
be found covered by the cloth.

Garley, Chase, and Baker wasted no more time, and violated the
rules of movement in a tunnel by running, as fast as they could
manage, wanting only to see the outside again.

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