Friday, March 26, 2010

[Mythos V] The Hunters in the Darkness of Doomed Days

Perhaps you'd like to read the introduction and beginning of the story, or perhaps Part II, or perhaps Part III, or Part IV?

I used to love the night. To some degree I still love the night, but not in the way I once did.

When I was a kid, the house used to be pretty much on the outskirts of town, and such streetlights as we had were large incandescent bulbs. They were pretty inefficient, and didn't produce much light, and what light they produced tended to be useful only when directly below them.

In the modern day, the sodium arc lighting is far more useful, and it's useful illumination farther from the light... for some values of "useful". If your deepest desire was to stand out on the sidewalk and see the stars, or follow the planets, the sodium lights are less than useful. The sickly orange glow they cast everywhere washes out all but the brightest sky features.

But I did so love the stars -- when I was a child, I was intensely excited by the burgeoning space program, I made it one of my life goals to get as close to the stars as technology would permit -- that when the stars were taken from us, still I managed to love what once held them, the night. And who could say this was wrong? For perhaps someone would develop a new form of street lighting, and the streets would be visible, if not exactly safe, but the sky would not longer be washed out by that sickly glow. I could then again marvel at the stars.

I can have no better proof, as I do know what are those stars, than that something greater than great has been at work here, and everywhere, and for all time past and all time to come. I am but a small man standing in a thin veneer of life on a small and insignificant planet, circling a small and insignificant star, one of 100-million in this galaxy alone, with that galaxy itself of 100-million or more. It helps to have some sense of perspective.. To that which created the stars themselves, all of the space to contain them, the time through which all moves, and the laws by which all are governed... to that alone do I extend my worship, and my thanks for letting me be a part of it all.

I really dislike those sickly orange sodium arc streetlights... they are preventing me from seeing and admiring the clear handiwork of the creator of the universe.

Yet in recent years, the passage of time has to some degree restored to me a sight of the night sky and the stars therein. Spotty maintenance of public infrastructure allowed a lot of trees to grow up and over and around the streetlights. Night falls, and what's visible is a sickly orange glow wrapped up in leaves.

And while the stars wheel overhead, though they bespeak the presence and business of an almighty G_d, still one does well to keep an eye on the surroundings. For the stars are cold and distant, but they are your friends for all of that. All else may come and go, but the stars will always be there for you.

It is what is far closer that should be the object of concern, and potentially cause for alarm.

Once upon a time, I had too much money kicking around in the bank account, but not enough of a chunk to invest, and I was surfing the web from work and saw a spiffy product and I pulled out my debit card and placed an order.

It seems that when the USSR fell, some of the few really functional businesses remaining were those which produced hardware for the military. Of course, most of these items were not for sale in the US, not by mail order with a handy web-based ordering system. For a while there, the market was suddenly flooded to saturation with "surplus" Russian military technical toys. For example, the Russians made exceptionally good optics and their field binoculars gave high quality at a price nobody else could match. Their nightscopes were also quite good.

One beautiful and dry and very clear spring night, a cool night from the time before the insects emerge from their winter sleep to feed on mammals, a night before the endless drone of thousands of central air-conditioning units saturated the environment, I was sitting on my porch testing my "surplus" Russian nightscope. Of course, in most directions I didn't need it much, though it had built in magnification that made it useful as a spotter scope without even needing to energize the photomultiplier, much less to activate the high intensity infrared LED spotlight. For the darker recesses of the back yard, however, energization of the photomultiplier was required, but when the IR LED was on, things really came to light, almost brighter than the day, it seemed. Looking into the eyepiece left that eye dazzled.

There's only so much interest that can be held by a device that lets you see at night the exact terrain you've seen so often by day. So I was simply enjoying a clear spring night, which I should mention had a lot of planets lined up. I was drinking beer, and enjoying the quiet and the absence of bugs, and I was smoking cigarettes, pretty much all by myself as best I could tell. A weekend night doesn't get a lot of traffic, or at least not on that night.

Yet a car did come rolling up the street. It was small, and ran quiet, and it had two guys in ballcaps riding in it. And there was a fascinating green glow in that car, and that glow was the exact color of the emissions of the photomultiplier tube in "surplus" Russian nightscopes. My own nightscope was powered down and fitted with lens caps, and standing on its end on the porch.

In the quiet of the night, once of the riders' voices carried to me. "What's he got there, a bong?" Suddenly the intensity of the green glow in that car grew, and I knew that the observer had re-energized their photomultiplier tube in their nightscope. I took another swig of my beer. I was tempted to pick up my own scope and power up the IR LED and beam them with it, which would have looked like a flashbulb going off in the observer's eyepiece. I resisted the temptation. "No, he's just getting drunk," said another voice.

They made a U-turn in the intersection, and drove back the way they came.

This wasn't my first observation of paramilitary organizations operating in Aspen Hill, Maryland. It was just one of the most blatant and obvious cases. At least these guys spoke English.

I'd been seeing that green photomultiplier glow on a lot of faces since I got back into town in the late mid-1990s. I did say that the market for such nightscopes was pretty saturated, didn't I? Besides... Aspen Hill was home to a fairly significant player in the international arms business. BAE Systems, at one time Vitro Labs, had both a very large office building and a lot of locally resident employees. Long long ago, I was one such. I am not at liberty to discuss it other than to say that "stuff happens". If you've ever seen those spy movies where totally ordinary people take one step off of the beaten path and find themselves whisked away into a world of weirdness and spend the rest of the film desperately hoping to become sufficiently less clueless in order to survive, you get some idea about what the life of people working in the military-industrial complex is not like. Well, for most of us.

One of the reasons that you don't have a lot of weird spy stuff happening to most folks is that everyone understands the situation. Most everyone does, anyway. There are workers, and there are spies, and the people who provide security at the workplace know that there are spies and take measures, and the spies take countermeasures, the security people take measures against the countermeasures. Eventually the whole situation becomes several layers of abstraction removed from the commonplace reality inhabited by most people, and the so-called 'intelligence community" becomes practically a culture apart, or maybe just a cult.

Imagine, in a totally unrelated example, that you live in a certain part of Aspen Hill which happens to be within the scripturally mandated allowable distance to walk on Sabbath. You might be an average Sunday-go-to-meeting Christian and so are half of your neighbors. The other half of your neighbors are Sabbath-go-to-meeting Jews. Anytime other than the weekend, probably anyone driving through your neighborhood is going to think that everyone there is probably pretty close to the statistical abstract of "average American". Such expectations based on inexact and superficial observations might be bolstered if you drive through again on SuperBowl night. From every house comes a lot of yelling and the sound of parties. Yet drive through that neighborhood sometime when there has been a flare-up of tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis. You might see a lot of the Christians out doing their yardwork, but suddenly half of the neighborhood seems to be nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, if you are driving around like this at such a time, and you look like a Palestinian, things could get very strange for all concerned. But my point is that the majority of the Christians who live in that neighborhood might not care, and surely would not notice, that a significant portion of their neighborhood had gone into a high-security lockdown. If you lived in that neighborhood, you might know and understand. But if you lived in the next-door neighborhood, you might notice nothing, and if you did notice, you might never figure out the real reasons... you might easily come to the conclusion, however, that the next-door neighborhood was full of cultists.

You might definitely think so if you decided to take a walk in the neighborhood, and the second you stepped over an invisible line, suddenly appears a car full of healthy young men trying to keep a discreet distance from you and narrating your every move into a handheld two-way radio.

There is an explanation, of course, and it doesn't involve cults, but you don't know that. What you have here is a "neighborhood security committee".

And that's what I had drive past my house to take a look at me, one clear spring night when I was watching planets align in 2001.

The thing is... I don't look the least Palestinian, and I was miles from the nearest Eruv.

So who the hell are these guys?

Let's take it from the top.

There are spies. There are people who spy on the spies. There are people who spy on people who spy on spies. The spies are probably all spying on each other. Everyone else is probably wondering who is a spy, who is spying on spies, who is spying on spies spying on spies. This shit can get confusing and it's sort of like the opera, unless you're part of the production, you probably can't figure out what's happening unless you've bought a copy of the program.

I previously mentioned that I was once a Boy Scout. Obviously, being helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent, I was not involved in an ongoing organization of continuing criminal conspiracy. No, as minors, we Boy Scouts left that all up to the adult phase of Scouts, the Explorers.

In the modern day, some people might get a little weirded-out if someone mentioned to them that the woods over yonder was crawling with tweens and teenagers dressed up like little soldiers.

Back in the day, if you pointed that out to someone, they'd look at you like you were some sort of Commie for not knowing that it could be nothing but the Boy Scouts on excursion. Having a scavenger-hunt, most likely, dontcha know.

Just about every boy in my age group was at some time a member of the Scouts, or a comparable organization. Generally speaking, it was pretty egalitarian and non-denominational; there was little or none of today's bizarre mis-association with traditional Americanism patriot sentiment and Evangelical Christian ideology. No, we were learning to cherish and defend America and our great American way of life, and not incidentally to get and stay ready for the damn Communists who were clearly out to get us. See also Khrushchev and his "we will bury you" speech.

Of course, in the modern day, there is almost no wilderness to defend, little of Nature which is natural, campsites everywhere are overrun with the homeless and other drifters, and you can't see the stars through the sickly orange glow of the streetlights. Rather than Scouting, teens play video games or txt each other or experience timesuck from FaceBook or YouTube.

Yet doubtless there are some kids who feel a need to associate with others towards a common goal or set of goals, and some will want to have these goals lead towards a future career. For some, that career is in fields related -- directly or tangentially -- to law-enforcement.

For some, it will be police work. For some, post-graduate careers in military intelligence. For some, it'll be in private security and/or private investigations.

For some, they'll eventually have acquired all of the skills and will have been on all of the field trips, but their association will increasingly take criminal turns.

And they will look just like, and act just like "Police Explorers", except that at least some of their organized activities will constitute major crimes.

They'll look and act just like junior field operatives of the intelligence community -- meaning probably like clean-cut frat boys home from college on vacation -- but they will in fact be particularly dangerous gangsters in a very well hidden but extremely active gang.

And if anyone catches them at it, they'll probably just say "we're helping keep the community safe"... but how, and for which community, and from whom do they keep the community safe?

And are there even any laws against this?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

[Mythos IV] Who Seeks May Dread What They May Find

Perhaps you'd like to read the introduction and beginning of the story, or perhaps Part II, or perhaps Part III?

Underground lifestyles are nothing new.

Way back in the dawn of time, Neandertal and anatomically-modern human beings both spent a lot of time living in caves. Some of the better known sites were inhabited for hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of years. Even in Wisconsin, North America, we find "deep cave art", although it's generally accepted that no Neandertal were native to the Western Hemisphere. In any case, no cave art is accepted as being of Neandertal origin. It seems that only anatomically-modern humans ever did cave art, and even then, only since about 30,000 years ago. Before that? Nobody did it. Since then? You just try to keep people from drawing graffiti. Good luck with that.

Even in the modern day, graffiti can be found far underground. A friend of mine reported, some years ago, that as a teen he had been exploring the storm drains in a part of Washington DC best described as "sort of Chevy Chase". He came upon a large underground brick chamber, a confluence of large concrete drain culverts. There were signs of habitation; a desk, and a chair... and graffiti. He claims the sign read "Welcome to Rat City".

Then again, he also claims that he was looking for new systems to explore, and was poking around at the end of a large storm-drain culvert way down towards the "R Street Cemetery" along Rock Creek. He said he stuck his head into the culvert, turned on his flashlight and started to enter, and heard a voice fiercely whisper in a tone of clear threat: "Get out. This is mine."

I used to think that this was just so much unadulterated bullshit, but a good spooky campfire story nonetheless. I still think it's spooky, but whether I doubt the details of my friend's tale, I don't at all doubt the concept of extremely territorial people living underground in the storm drains.

Once, in Austin Texas, I had been miserably homeless for a while, due to a misdiagnosed medical condition that sent me over the brink into incompetence for a while. Yet, with a proper diagnosis, proper medication, and a stipend, my recovery was progressing quickly... but I still found myself floating around on the upper strata, as it were, of the society of outcasts, drug abusers, alcoholics and actual Sterno-drinkers, assorted deeply psychotic veterans of foreign wars, the down-and-out, the illegal migrant worker drifters, general ne'er-do-wells, scamps, scaliwags, and other people best described as more or less "sketchy". As in, "awfully thin file folder on this guy/gal".

Somewhere in the vicinity of Red River Street and East 8th Street there is a park with a stream in it. Like many of the streams in this part of the Texas Hill County, such water as was in it was mostly seasonal, and ran in a bed of white chalk or limestone, which looked a lot like very old eroded concrete that had been bleached bone-white by the merciless summer sun. Yet joined to this natural watercourse was a massive man-made storm drain tunnel, mostly dry for much of the year, yet capacious enough to vent the massive deluges that occasionally descend, not to mention the endless drizzle that passes for weather in the miserable south Texas winters. The corrugated galvanized metal pipe was oval, about 8 feet high, and about 15 feet wide. Downtown Austin is a huge pile of very large office buildings, mostly not quite skyscrapers, built on a jumble of fairly small but rather steep hilltops. Thus, this tunnel ran fairly flat and straight back for at least a quarter mile, and was fed by smaller pipes from various drains which themselves might be rather lengthy.

The place was practically packed with "sketchy types", most of whom had dragged fairly large pallets into fairly large arrangements of decking that left a dry upper surface suitable for their cardboard-box huts, for those that were lucky or competent enough to find suitable cardboard, or mean enough to steal it from other undergrounders. There were some sad cases in there, from the guy who had stabbed himself repeatedly in the ear with an ice-pick trying to get "the chip out my brain", and who was nursing an astonishing ear infection compounded by a constant weeping of cerebrospinal fluid from where he'd managed to penetrate his own skull. There was the Sterno drinker, and the 'Nam vet in his wheelchair, oxygen tank and all. There had to be easily 60 or so people in there... and that was just the ones I could see in the last glimmers of natural light coming in from the entrance some 250 feet distant. Reflections and flickerings of cigarette lighter flames from farther in let me know that I might be seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

But please don't think that it's only the down-and-out of Austin that live a life underground! The Texas Capital Extention is "a four-level underground structure which was completed in 1993. It was built to provide the Capitol with much-needed additional space without detracting from its appearance and historical importance. It is connected to the Capitol by three pedestrian tunnels. [[... ] Carved out of solid rock, the 65-foot-deep site provides the Capitol with four floors and approximately 667,000 gross square feet of new space. The Extension includes state government/legislative office space, conference rooms, 16 Committee Rooms, an Auditorium, a large Cafeteria and a Gift Shop."

Interestingly enough, if you plot out the course of the massive culvert full of derelicts, one end of it is probably right at the edge of the Capital grounds... maybe even right at one wall of the Capital Extension.

Think about it... that chalky limestone is tough, but easy enough to excavate with a pick-axe and shovel. Can you imagine the madness of the scene that could erupt if a bunch of the deep-tunnl derelicts were trying to carve out a refuge above the reach of any sudden inundation by flash-flood, and broke through into the Capital while the Legislature was in session?

Well, evidently Austin wouldn't be the only US city where this might reasonably be a concern.

New York City, evidently, is concerned about an eruption of CHUDs.

From "The Coming C.H.U.D. Wars", New York Press, August 2005:
f you think all the security measures the city has instituted in the subways these past months are simply about the threat of Islamic terrorists, you're dead wrong. New York is at war, yes, but what exactly we're battling is something city officials refuse to admit, be it out of ignorance or fear. My guess is the latter.

In 1984, writer Shep Abbot, producer Andrew Bonime and director Douglas Cheek made a docudrama concerning the federal government's role in the accidental creation of a race of mutants living in the sewers and subway tunnels beneath New York City. "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers," they were called—or, as they were known more colloquially in the New York of the late 70s and early 80s, "C.H.U.D.s."

Although a quarter century ago C.H.U.D.s were publicly considered little more than an urban legend, a number of eyewitness accounts and a growing amount of physical evidence quietly convinced most people that they were much more than that. Dozens died or simply vanished underground—some yanked right off the street, through manholes.
[ ... ]
"Walking down the tracks at Delancey," one of them said, "you know where they open up?" The other cop nodded. "Well, over to the left, there's a hole in the wall. That's where they hide."

It was immediately clear to me that he wasn't talking about rats, albino alligators or track workers. There was something in his voice, an undercurrent of fear, that made it obvious that something evil was down there. And although the word "C.H.U.D" came to mind, I dismissed it. After all, the MTA had killed them all off in 1982.
[ ... ]
Yes, the spike in the number of dismembered bodies found in the tunnels shows that they're not averse to the "snatch-and-maul" techniques of the old days. But there is also increasing evidence that they have come to a better understanding, not only of their subterranean environment, but of our world as well—and they didn't like it. Nor did they like our continual intrusion into theirs.

The annual number of people who "jumped" or "fell" on the subway tracks continued to climb through 2003 and 2004.

In January of 2004, Jodie Lane was electrocuted by a manhole cover while walking her dog in the East Village. People blamed Con Ed's incompetence and a collapsing infrastructure, but it was clear that at least a few C.H.U.D.s were not only gaining an understanding of the city's electrical power grid—they were also venturing closer to the surface.

It was only after the A and C lines were shut down for 10 days that city officials admitted, in their backhanded way, that they were confronted with an increasingly organized and militant C.H.U.D. population.

Initially, the story was that a homeless man in the subway had started a bonfire in a shopping cart. The fire spread into a control room, destroying a switch box.

During a press conference in which he dismissed that story, claiming the whole thing had resulted from a simple short circuit, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, for some unknown reason, felt compelled to make the following statement:

"There's some notion floating out there that there are communities that live in the subway… That's simply not the case. There may have been 10 or 15 years ago, but that's not the situation now."
[ ... ]

Well, the article is more than a bit satirical, but the fact is, the Tunnel Dwellers are real enough to have documentary films made about them.

There are even well-received and scholarly books about them, such as The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City (Toth, Jennifer, ISBN-10: 155652241X, Chicago Review Press, 1995). From one reviewer:
It's amazing how much space there is belowground. So many abandoned tunnels for trains, gas lines, and water. One can still wire electricity, and some abandoned subway stations still have working bathrooms. Cubbies built to house maintenance workers now house the homeless. One community got water from a broken pipe where they showered and washed their clothes. Another even had a microwave. One wonders if any of them have Internet access.

Of course, in the modern day of 2010, fifteen years after this book was published, they most likely do have internet access, on their 3rd-generation cellphones, though how many bars they have on their network link display is anyone's guess.

In 2007, the FOX News local station broke a story from right across Veirs Mill Road from my neighborhood. You can see a video clip of it entitled Mole Man Living in Mud Hut in Wheaton.

Yet this wasn't the first such in this neighborhood or vicinity. Local underground "party places" are something of a tradition hereabouts, though nobody -- so far as I know -- actually lived in those.

In the early-mid 1970s, there was one such in the vicinity of the infamous Cloverleaf to Nowhere in Aspen Hill, which had a room about 8 feet by 8 feet by 8 feet, with the roof being about 6 feet underground. Additionally, off of Georgia Avenue across from the intersection with Heathfield Road once stood a house known to locals as "the House on the Hill". It was razed, or burned, sometime in the late 1960s, but I have heard rumors that the basement had been at least partially excavated by local kids and turned into a "party place".

Further, in addition to the previously-mentioned "wind tunnels" under Parkland Junior High, there was the sub-basement tunnels under the former Robert E Peary High School, now the site of the Melvin J Berman Hebrew Academy. The Hebrew Academy people took over the building a decade or so after the County schools closed it down due to declining attendance, and by the time they secured the lease and then completed renovations, the place had been infested by vagrants and homeless for most of that decade. I should note in passing that since the restoration, the place looks better than it ever had, since 1970 at least. I should also note in passing that the renovation was significant; they had lots of damage from both neglect and vandalism to repair.

The sub-basement tunnels were extensive; you could get from one end of the school to the other, and there were a variety of entries and exit points to both the interior and exterior of the building. One presumes that by now, the very security-conscious Academy people have long since festooned these areas with alarms.

Then again, there had been alarms there "back in the day" and they were easily either avoided or defeated while being left in a condition that would indicate they were operative but not detecting anything. That was then, and this is now; alarm technologies and sensors have evolved, but then again, so have the skills of burglars. I realize that the following idea is less attractive to the Academy staff than would be a nice dinner of lobster au-gratin with a bacon milkshake, but until they've checked their alarms on the sub-basement and the sub-basement itself, for all they know they are trying to keep kosher one floor above a lair of homeless Salvadorans and their Santaria shrines. Hell, they might go down there and find out it's been excavated and enlarged to where it looks like the crypts of Castle Dracula.

Lord knows there's enough homeless encamped nearby, and probably most of those are former construction workers.

Friday, March 19, 2010

[Mythos III] Beneath Pleasant Streets, A Honeycomb of Rotten...

Perhaps you'd like to read the introduction and beginning of the story, or perhaps Part II?

Once, I was a Boy Scout.

I think I am about three Merit Badges away from being an Eagle Scout. I know I made Life Scout. That took a lot of Merit Badges.

One of the Merit Badges was for spelunking, or the exploration of caves. We explored a place called Moler's Cave somewhere way out in the boondocks of West Virginia.

The fascinating thing about Moler's Cave is that it goes on, and on, and on, and on, and once you reach the limits of where a human being can go, it still goes on, and probably on and on and on. Yet above Moler's Cave are fine fresh fields, a working farm, where the farmer drive a tractor to plant and a "combine" to harvest. The world of the underground and the surface world are effectively unaware of the existence of the other... except for the creatures that are denizens of both domains... the occasional spelunker, and the resident bats.

Did I mention that I have a dread of bats?

As to West Virginia, nice place, don't know that I'd want to live there, but who knows, it might be okay.

Just don't go making any jokes to them about inbreeding, they've heard about enough of it. If you make one of those jokes about inbreds, and one of them sees your out-of-state tags, you might very well get some remark to the effect of "you know, we banned that two generations back... but I wouldn't talk if I was you, ya damn Marylander. Y'all still allow it."

It's true. As of this writing in early 2010, Maryland is -- so far as I know -- the only State in the Union that still allows marriages between First Cousins. I was only recently apprised of this when I read an article quoting a Representative to the Assembly from my district, one Hank Heller, who introduced a new bill amending the marriage and consanguinuity laws with the remark "with the passage of this Bill, Maryland would join the ranks of such states as Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas, in prohibiting marriage between first cousins."

Hmmm, let's see. I live in a State where apparently they've always been marrying people off to their first cousins, probably for generations at a time. I have an infestation of cave crickets in my basement, and every time I manage to get rid of the last one, all of a sudden they're back, by the dozens. And then there's that thing that flutters and scrabbles and gnaws between the joists on the far side of my ceiling.

I'm starting to think that in the same way that extensive cave systems lie hidden and unknown beneath the fields of West Virginia, only to be discovered when a sinkhole opens up and swallows a horse (how Moler's cave was found), maybe extensive caves permeate the earth where I live... and they'll only become public knowledge when someone notices all of the cave-type lifeforms starting to infest nearby basements.

There's also an interesting phenomenon I have observed for many years now. There's a spot on the sidewalk in front of my house which is the first to thaw, the first to dry, and the first place to stay ice-free after winter storms. Cave systems have very stable temperatures, about 55 degrees Fahrenheit in these latitudes. A cave fairly close to the surface soils would tend to keep those soils warmer. A fast-melting patch of snow where all the rest remains frozen might tend to indicate a cave opening, perhaps one that's covered over, but perhaps by little more than a few feet of dirt on top of fallen branches. That would be strong enough to walk over, but perhaps something as heavy as a car would fall through a sinkhole.

We know that there is a ridge of underground rock that runs through the neighborhood, running north to south, with that ridge closest to the surface about half a block to the west of the house. It's of very ancient volcanic origins, like the rest of the surrounding massif of the Appalachians and related geologic structures. Something that old could definitely be honeycombed with caves, and such geologic formations are the homes of countless caves in West Virginia, Virginia, and probably other parts of Maryland as well. So, there could be a cave system.

And then there's Vitro, or at least there once was Vitro.

Vitro Laboratories was a contractor for various other contractors, and all were generally doing things for the military and space programs, with Vitro starting up in the late 1950s. They were a pretty large company, at one time the largest civilian employer in Montgomery County, Maryland, with over 5000 employees. They had several nearby buildings on one sprawling campus a mere stone's throw from here... and rumor had it that they financed the construction of a lot of the homes adjacent to their campus. Further rumors had it that they were fond of building underground, in secret, masking massive underground construction beneath somewhat smaller construction at the surface level.

Nearby, Parkland Junior High School was built with an extensive underground area, some of which was the obligatory Civil Defense fallout shelter. There was also a set of structures called the "wind tunnels". People who had cut class to go exploring reported that these tunnels were the size of large concrete underground piping, and that wind blew through them as if impelled by giant fans. In a recent (2008) renovation of the school, which involved a total razing of much of that building, a large underground area was finished and added to the accessible parts of the school.

Where did the wind from the "wind tunnels" go? Did Vitro really have a few rather large surface buildings on top of more extensive underground facilities? Perhaps we'll never know... in 1995, an immense parking lot was removed, and replaced with a large storm-water storage and cooldown pond... that was just about the size and shape of a widely-rumored underground building supposedly beneath that parking lot. At the same time, the original building was renovated to become a Home Depot... but nobody knows whether or not the basements are still there, still in use but as part of the Home Depot operations. Or, like a tunnel that once connected the remaining "original Vitro" building, at 4115 Aspen Hill Road (or 13900 Connecticut Avenue, depending on how you look at the corner lot) to satellite offices at what is now the Acorn Self Storage across Connecticut Avenue, was it decommissioned and filled in?

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that while there may have once been a thriving and intentional underground community here, carrying on the business of national defense buried deep in both secrecy and the earth, also the more convinced I am that perhaps that underground, in whole or in part, is still there, and still active. That activity might be limited to the "Cave Crickets" that seem to appear in our basements out of nowhere, and perhaps bats have found it, and when one got lost trying to get back there, it wound up as the Thing Which Scrabbles Behind the Ceiling, going "flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump gnaw gnaw gnaw" while I am trying to sleep.

But what can explain the occasional whispering?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

[Mythos II] The Doom That Comes A-Sleeping

(copyright 2010, all rights reserved, by Thomas J Hardman, Jr.)

Perhaps you'd like to read the the introduction and beginning of the story?

Rabies, or so I've heard it said, isn't the worst possible way to die. I seem to recall the voice of a young woman -- perhaps just a girl -- just outside the door of my bedroom, asking "Why's he so scared of rabies? I mean, you just go to sleep, right?" No doubt I was dreaming. And no doubt I am only dreaming of the scrabbling, the scrabbling in the walls, that goes flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump gnaw gnaw gnaw long after I've sat up and turned on the lights. I couldn't see what was making that noise, so I guess the noise is just my imagination. In the same way, I couldn't see the young girl, so she's just my imagination, too, talking about rabies.

It's true enough that it's just a viral encephalitis, and indeed far more young adults -- mostly college students in cramped dormitory environments -- die of other encephalitis or meningitis strains in the US alone, every year, than die in all of North America from rabies.

Dr Pasteur's discovery of immunization against rabies ranks as one of the earliest triumphs of the distant beginnings of modern medicine. The body reacts very strongly indeed to even the slightest hint of exposure to the virus that often people who have been bitten by a mad dog report almost immediately that any other infections they had have gone away.

The body is desperately trying to so flood the system as to exhaust its immune response, because the virus is easy to kill in almost any tissue that will allow the passage of antibodies. Some tissues, however, just won't pass antibodies, and if the virus reaches those tissues, it is beyond the reach of the immune system and freely reproduces at an astonishing rate. Which tissues are these? The nerves, and to a lesser degree, other tissues with the same embryonic origin, such as the living layers of the skin.

Ultimately, the victim does just "go to sleep", but that's only after hours or days of profound changes in consciousness, dementia, varying stages of paralysis, and occasionally of insane fits of rage and aggression.

Only one person has ever survived, unvaccinated, and had a full recovery... of whom science is aware.

There are a variety of opinions on the efficacy of the "post-exposure protocol". It's clear that nobody who received "PEP" in time succumbed to rabies from the bite that infected them. Less clear is whether or not the virus is ever completely cleared of the virus. There's one minority camp with the opinion that although the body is fully primed against the virus, and that immunity prevents the virus from reaching the nervous system tissues that propagate it to the brain, that the other tissues in which the virus can grow -- the living cells that produce the layer of dead cells we call the 'outer skin" -- might continue to harbor it. This would constantly re-stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, and the person would remain healthy. Whether anyone else whose broken skin contacted the survivor's broken skin would remain healthy remains obscure. On the outer skin, simple soap and water easily destroys the virus, which is evidently rather weak compared to some viruses such as the ones that cause influenza and the common cold.

The scrabbling in the walls isn't an entirely new phenomenon. Indeed, this has been going on, semi-seasonally, for the last few years. Usually it's a phenomenon of late winter, as best I can recall. This leads me to believe that it's most likely a rodent, rather than a bat. I know that there are day squirrels galore in the yard, and as many nocturnal flying squirrels. There are also chipmunk; I've seen them and the day squirrels fighting. Chipmunk are definitely fond of burrowing and can create large and complex burrow systems, and are apparently known to burrow as groups into stone walls which can become undermined and destroyed.

Chipmunk would explain the scrabbling, and probably the gnawing, as well.

But what about the fluttering?

It's too early in the year to explain away the fluttering as some sort of errant insect; it would have to be awfully large. There are insects in the house, the inevitable ants for example. They mostly stay in the walls as it's easy to clean up after eating in such a way that there's nothing to attract them into the area where people live. The ones who venture in anyway quickly encounter poison baits.

Then there are the "camel crickets"... but they don't flutter, not from one side of the room to the other. Admittedly the walls are probably full of them, they definitely are present in the basement, lurking in the darker areas. We used to call them "cave crickets", although they aren't the true cave-adapted blind kind. They know when the lights come on, but they do have these huge long antennae that aid them in navigating the dark. Not truly cave-adapted, nor are they comfortable in the light. They're... transitional.

Their population rises and falls along mysterious cycles. I'm not sure if they have a breeding season or not, since they are present in all sizes all year long, here in the basement.

Perhaps the population in my basement is being continually replenished from a larger habitat... Perhaps a cave. And where there are caves, there are bats. Where there are bats, all too frequently, there is rabies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

[Mythos I] The Things That Scrabble Within the Walls

Every now and then, I feel like imitating the style of the really quite inimitable H. P. Lovecraft, a master of the macabre and a prose stylist if ever there was one. I mean, who can top this as an opening paragraph? From the Cats of Ulthar:
It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

Alas, no HP Lovecraft am I, though my own prose has been known to be more than a trifle purple at times.

Most people think I'm just some crazy dude who sits at home trolling the InterNet and skirting the edge of "acceptable use policy" at the Washington Post website comments sections. Well, all of that may be true, as well, but I also have written considerable fiction. Yet I grow tired of seeing some of my best ideas resurfacing as bad adaptations skirting the edge of copyright violation, though I have to admit that some of it has been recycled in ways that I thought to be not too bad. I mean, who would ever have suspected that Yours Truly would in fact be considered infamous and original within the (thankfully) underexplored sub-sub-genre of scene-exploitative Gothic Lesbian Realist Vampire Fiction?

Well, that sort of stuff is not hard to write, don'tcha know; lots and lots of endless protestations of love, almost nothing that remotely resembles actual porn as most men would understand it, but inevitably involving one partner who goes off of the deep end while dragging their unfortunate partner into a maelstrom of bloody murder of foolish or abusive males, running from the law, and ultimately coming to no good end. An exceptional example of this genre, drawn from real life, won an Oscar for Charlize Theron, for her dead-on portrayal of Aileen Wournos in Monster.

But frankly, as easy as that stuff is to write -- I bet you didn't know I was a romantic, eh? -- I'm dead tired of even reading, much less writing, Tawdry Inter-species Romances between Hapless Victims of Love and and their Romantic Reluctant Predators. Besides, I can generally only ever write that schmaltzy schlock when I'm at one stage or another of my own hapless romance, and the closest thing I have had to a romantic relationship in nearly two decades consists of occasional wrong numbers dialed to my home phone, generally looking for some guy named "Julio".

What I can write about is dread and disgust, as per Steven King's advice to the effect "if I can't muster up the chills, I just write a nice gross-out".

Sleep is a lovely place, a place wherein things can seem so real that they are more realistic than reality. Yet sometimes reality and dreams sometimes mesh, and that's when I come hard awake.

I've been lucky in recent years, lucky enough that I make my own business hours, and wake more or less when I want. Sometimes I do set the alarm but that's really quite rare, and in such cases I set it for a time well before I wish to actually get out of bed and face another day. That way I can hit the "snooze" button and complete my latest dream, or do some lucid dreaming.

Ah, sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, as the Bard said. We all know that it's essential to get enough sleep, and modern science shows that too little sleep has a distinct physical effect. The shift from Daylight Savings Time to Standard time has been shown to create a statistical spike in heart attacks, for example. So I like to get my sleep and I like to be less stressed about it than most people. You could say that I like to be relaxed about sleep. I've found that you get more rest that way.

In a quiet room, noises you don't expect will wake you up pretty fast and hard, depending on what those noises might be. If I wasn't sleeping alone, a voice whispering "honey, do you wanna..." would wake me only enough to rise to the occasion, as it were. But that isn't what I heard in the wee hours that first time I heard them scrabbling. Scrabbling in the walls.

Rats, maybe? I don't know, I don't even know for a fact that I've ever heard rats in the walls, or mice for that matter. Whatever this was, it was as rapid as the rattling of a viper, but somehow softer. You could almost call it fluttering.

What the hell flutters in the ceiling? And not exactly quiet about it, either.

I wasn't at all ready to wake, it being all of three in the morning, so I tried to get back to sleep.

I have rather good hearing, and sleep wasn't possible, not much anyway; it's bad enough that I'm hearing fluttering overhead, but it's fluttering from one side of the room to the other. While fully awake, I can tell myself that it's on the other side of the ceiling, and thankfully it actually is. But with my eyes closed and drifting off to sleep, my ears are perfectly reporting the direction, but not the distance.

The fluttering isn't non-stop, but rather intermittent. Silence for minutes, I start to drift off, and then it starts again. From one side of the room to the other, taking about a second: "flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump". Between my ceiling and the upstairs are joists of 2 by 10, with assorted plumbing and wiring and insulation, no doubt. And, perhaps, at least one bat.

I have an absolute dread of bats. No, I don't see a picture of a bat and then faint, and I don't think they'll get tangled in my hair. I do know that if you ever wake up and there's a bat in the room with you, you should immediately seek out a physician. You need to get prophylaxis against rabies.

Nowadays, rabies shots aren't a horror of abdominal injections, but they're quite expensive and they aren't optional. If you don't get them, you will die from a disease that is 100 percent fatal but also 100 percent preventable.

This, more than anything else, is what keeps waking me up every time I hear that fluttering. "Flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump." My eyes pop open, and on go the lights. The fluttering continues and my hearing locates it -- I'm not quite as good at this as a bat would be but my hearing is pretty accurate -- and as it moves from one side of the room to the other, I can see that there's nothing there. The bat or rat or whatever is behind the ceiling. But what if it gets out into the room?

How could it do that? And this is why I am less certain that it's a bat, and more open to the idea that it's a mouse or rat. Sometimes it's just the fluttering and a thump... and sometimes I hear gnawing.

Whatever is in the walls is trying to get out.

Out into my room... while I'm asleep.

Flutta flutta flutta flutta flutta thump gnaw gnaw gnaw gnaw flutta flutta thump gnaw.

Eeeeew. I gotta do something about this.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Punk's Not Dead! It's Speaking German!

(March 6 2010 updated, corrected my interpolated translation at bottom)

Punk's not dead, but it's speaking German. Perhaps you'd like a Google Translation? Although actually, I think the energy speaks for itself. I must admit to a great deal of temptation to go blast this loudly in the parking lot at the Dutch Country Market just to see the looks on the faces of the teen Amish Girls. Then again, they might have already got them booked for their next rumspringa party...

(Debbie Rockt, "Ich Rocke")

Here you stand with your life before you
All alone in Labyrinth
No one says, but you know it
That's Reality

Anyone pretending false faith
For your future you'd believe
But you're not captured
I write future history.

Because I rock!
For nothing holds me here
For nothing's better than that
I rock and I know it

Because I rock!
For nothing holds me here
Nothing's better than that
I rock and I know it

You know how I feel

Standing here now backed up by my band
Feeling adrenalin in me
We cannot stand
And wait
Let's all stand

The countdown runs
We'll play ecstatically
You'll be swept away in time
As in a wave
Breaking over all herein

Because I rock!
For nothing holds me here
For nothing's better than that
I rock and I know it

Because I rock!
For nothing holds me here
Nothing's better than that
I rock and I know it

I know you think like me
I know you feel like me
I know you know exactly
What is going on in my head

Even it we can't know
The duration of this path
The force comes through
Not just to us but to you
A strange appeal
Let us propel you
Perhaps alternate explanations
Perhaps we are too self-deluding
But still can feel what's going on here
But we rock, and it rocks, and you're all rocking too

We rock it!
No stopping us here
For nothing's better than that
We all rock and I know it

We rock it!
We're not stopping here
Nothing's better than that
We all rock and I know it

We rock, ...