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?