[Original Novel] Down in the Steam Tunnels, Part 4

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3

I don’t know when the curiosity consumed me. Just that it was now firmly in the driver’s seat and would not allow me to retreat as any sane person would. Instead, I called out again, then put my ear up against the gap, waiting for any reply.

Instead, a hot breath in my ear. This time I did recoil. Nothing visible through the gap except darkness. Over the sound of my pounding heart, I heard the metallic screech recede into the distance. Accompanied by the sound of hurried limping, one foot dragging behind the other.

What was that? Wandering those tunnels, peering out at me through the gap? What the fuck could still be in there? With all other avenues of investigation closed to me, although it frustrated me that he’d succeeded in arousing my curiosity, I returned to professor Travigan.

he cackled maddeningly. I’d played right into his hands, but could see no other possible direction left to go in. He could get me into those tunnels, and seemed to possess an understanding of their nature I would not find in any book, article or documentary.

I hung my coat on the rack inside the doorway and took a seat before his tremendous polished oak desk. , I sternly began,

He scoffed. As if to underscore the statement, he withdrew one of the syringes full of black syrup, rolled up his sleeve, then proceeded to inject himself with it. I gaped.

Drugs certainly would explain a great deal about this guy. I muttered. He puzzled over that before I spotted a flash of recognition.

As I studied his wrinkled face, I began to notice something off about his skin. Entirely without color. I could understand why he was pale if he spent all his time holed up in here, but not even his tear ducts or lips were pink.

I’d wasted enough time indulging his eccentricity. Time to get down to business. He raised his eyebrows. What? Too easy, I thought. Not like him to be so straightforward. There’s gonna be some kind of ridiculous-

Ah, there it is. A wry little smile crept over his face. I mulled that over, wondering what he could possibly be getting at.

I imagined I felt some distant vibration, and wondered at the source.

He clapped. Had I been drinking milk I would’ve done a spit take.

He only doubled down.

I agonized over how to answer in a defensible way, but finally gave up and rolled with it just to see where it was leading. I was cut off by a sudden earthquake.

Or what I mistook for one, anyway. The curios and various glass labware on the shelves rattled as did the entire building around me. professor Travigan exclaimed.

“That one”? He hurried me down the stairs to the basement where, to my absolute astonishment, there actually was a subway station. Not one like I’d ever used, though. All of it decorative tiles, polished brass and oak paneling. Stylistically resembling professor Travigan’s office, and the house itself for that matter.

The train itself consisted of a single car with no obvious motor. The exterior was as elaborately decorated as the station, every polished metal surface imprinted with reliefs depicting scenes from mythology.

I staggered about, taking it all in, still struggling to believe it was real. The inside was like a Victorian livingroom with plush leather seating, oil lamps and even floral wallpaper. I demanded. Professor Travigan, content to hang back and watch in amusement during all of this, shrugged.

As if that explained any of it. Zachary descended the stairs behind us, seemingly irate.

Professor Travigan beckoned to him from within the train car.

The two really are a matched set. While taking my seat in the train, I wondered if eccentric little old weirdos like professor Travigan are just what hippies like Zach eventually turn into.

The door slid shut with a solid, reverberating ‘kerchunk’. Zachary turned levers at the corners to tightly seal the door shut, though I couldn’t imagine why such measures were necessary for a simple train ride. , Zach called out from the rear as he completed preparations. Who, me?

Listen to them, talking about me like I’m not even here.

I felt some odd tension around Zachary. Couldn’t determine the nature of it. Not that I felt threatened, but that the way he speaks about pseudoscience and every other manner of transparent fraud as if I were the idiot for not buying into it makes me desperately want to punch him.

The professor is the same way. Worse, even. I just can’t stay mad at a feeble little pensioner. Who now hobbled excitedly about the train car, lighting the lamps, although they seemed to be included only for decoration. Electric lights lining recessed parts of the ceiling already did a serviceable job of illuminating the interior.

, the professor warbled as he began firing up whatever sort of engine propels this hulk,

I glanced over at Zach. Taking bong rips while reading a worn paperback titled “The Cosmic Serpent”. Rang true enough. I’ve learned to get along professionally with these kinds of people, but the way they carry on believing in the most absurd things truthfully does irritate me in the worst way.

Professor Travigan carefully slid the weighty throttle on the brass console before him, and the train lurched forward. I smiled. He’s crazy as a shithouse fly, but his excitement is contagious. Across from me, Zachary continued taking hits from what I now recognized was a bong shaped like the head of Skeletor, from the old He-Man cartoon.

There was no motor sound I could discern. Whatever propelled us was not steam, and perhaps not electric unless especially silent. Nonetheless, we were moving. I resolved to figure out how it all worked at some point. Just another elaborate trick of course.

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