Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sewer Tour

Sewer Tour
By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 2,767

The entrance to the stormwater drainage system was dark, cold and covered with moss. Jagged cracks stretched out from the huge cylindrical concrete storm water pipe like lifeless veins on a corpse. The steel mesh security grate hung limply to one side, torn away by time and the occasional homeless person looking for somewhere to sleep. It was large enough for a six foot person to stand upright in, although there were stalactites of slime hanging from the roof of the drain that would run across their head like some hideous octopus tentacles. The pipe jutted out into the Bulimba Creek over a sharp rocky embankment, making it dangerous to enter, but that didn’t stop the small, highly illegal Brisbane business – Sewer Tours, from taking small groups of adventurous citizens in each night for a two hour guided tour.

Franklin McCall rounded up the twelve members of his tour group once they had all made their way into the entrance. The youngest were an eighteen year old Goth and his girlfriend and the oldest was sixty two year old lady, who looked more like a woman in her forties. The rest of the group comprised of mainly adventure seekers in their early to late twenties, all who were in top physical condition. Franklin knew it would be a fast paced tour, more of an adrenaline rush than some of the tours he previously conducted.

“Okay ladies and gentlemen, do we all have our light backpacks?”

Franklin would not let anyone commence the guided tour without the very specific pack containing two bottles of water, a strong Maglite torch with two sets of spare batteries, a walkie talkie, 1 dozen glow sticks and dried army rations for one day. It might seem excessive to some, but if anyone were to walk off at least they would have essential supplies to hold them over until Franklin could find them. He had never lost a customer yet, but knew from personal experience just how easily you could take a wrong turn and end up totally lost in the maze of tunnels and pipes. While the storm water system was not that far under the streets of Brisbane, it was a world away from safety and help if you lost your way.

“Yes.” The group said in unison, like a classroom of children.

“Let’s begin the adventure then.” Franklin said and switched on his 4D Krypton lamp Maglite flashlight and turned to face the dark, uninviting belly of Brisbane.
“We will keep to the left as we enter into this historic section of the Brisbane Storm Water system. This section was one of the first built in around 1788. Please keep close together and be careful not to step into the stream running between this walkway and the one to the right.”
“How deep is the water?” Janet, the oldest member of the group asked.
“Most of the water you will see is between one to four feet deep, but there are sections that can be as deep as six foot deep.”
“But this tunnel is not much taller than six feet.” Carl, the young Goth said mockingly.
“Well, it is a storm water drain and can be completely filled with water during a heavy downpour. The main reason for the deeper streams though is where the older pipes have crumbled over time and fallen through. Parts are now connected into natural underground springs.”
“Cool,” Carl said. “So any crocs been flushed down here like the urban legend goes?”
“’Fraid not. The only nasty you will come across down here is the odd rat or vagrant. I have taken groups on tour for ten years now and never seen anything bigger than lost German shepherd.”
“What about ghosts or dead people?” The Goth’s girlfriend, Eva asked.
“There have been rumours floating around since the collapse of the early tunnels back in the early eighteenth century, when the storm water system was expanded. Nine workers died in the cave in, and rumour has it that their ghosts still wander around looking for a way out.”
“Have you ever seen them?” Stuart Faulkner, a burly built, long haired bouncer asked.
“’Fraid not. I know it sounds quite dull, but you will see some great historical parts of Brisbane that you won’t see anywhere else. If you are lucky, you might also find some little trinkets or treasure washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet.”
“That’s gross.” One of the women groaned from the back of the group.
Franklin motioned for the group to start walking again. He shone his flashlight from side to side, pointing out various parts of the structure. Unlike the entrance to the system, many parts were made of brickwork, wood walkways and steel supports. The old style mixed in with the new and occasionally the tunnel changed into a solid concrete tunnel, then back into brickwork. The group walked briskly, swinging their own torches from side to side, hoping to see something weird or bizarre. One of the group saw a zip lock bag floating down the stream and thought it looked like a bag of weed. The Goth tried to fish it out but it speed away down the centre of the stream, out of his reach.
An hour into the tour, the group was right in the middle of the system, and tour. They were right under City Hall in a large circular junction thirty feet in diameter. A number of pipes and tunnels ran into this chamber and the stench of politics could almost be smelt above the occasional methane odour in the tunnels. Overhead, the faint sound of pedestrians walking across King George Square could be heard through the manhole. A series of ladders lead up to walkways and another level of the storm water system. The brickwork and metal supports were littered with a variety of graffiti and tags, not much by the way of talent in any of these markings though. This mindless act is comparable to a dog pissing on its territory to let other canines know to stay clear.
“Take five guys and gals. We will start on our way back after we rest for a few minutes.”
The group still into smaller subgroup, people clustering towards others they met on the first half of the tour who had similar interests. The Goths made their way up the ladder and on to the overhanging walkway. It was darker towards the ceiling and the group did not notice the bats covering a corner of the ceiling until Carl shone his torch around to take a better look at the structure. A few of the nocturnal creatures shuffled around and one or two left their upside-down perch and flew around to find a spot in the dark recesses of the roof.
“Hey, out that torch down, dude.” One of the group yelled. “You’ll piss the bats off and make the attack us.”
“Bats don’t attack humans you dick.” Carl yelled back at the muscle head.
“We might start to make our way back now,” Franklin said. “If you…”
With and ear piercing crack, the floor rumbled and collapsed in the centre, sending five of the group down into the darkness below. Franklin managed to grab hold off a steel support beam and save himself and Janet, who was standing next to him. The two Goths were still climbing down the ladder and managed to hold on, but the ground beneath the ladder was no longer there now. Carl helped Eva regain a sturdy hold on the ladder and they both made their way back up to the suspended walkway.
The other three members of the group lay on the ground on the same side as Franklin and Eva. The stood up slowly and rubbed their arms and heads; no one seemed to be seriously hurt.
“Everyone stay where they are.” Franklin yelled. “I’ll see how far down the others are.”
Before Franklin took a step forward he noticed a red dot moving around the chamber until it rested on the forehead of one of the three adventurers closest to the edge of the hole. It took him only a few seconds to realise what the dot was, by which time it was too late. The young man’s head exploded as a hollow tip bullet from a high powered rifle pierced the centre of his face. His lifeless body collapsed to its knees, then fell into the chasm.
“Everyone, away from the edges.” Franklin yelled.
The two who stood near the damaged floor didn’t register Franklin’s plea and the other male took a bullet in the chest, dying before he fell to the ground. The woman next to him fell backwards onto the hard concrete floor.
“There’s a bloody guy with a .303 down there.” Carl yelled.
Another shot rang out and sparks flew as a bullet hit the steel walkway Carl and Eva stood on. They both dropped down to their knees quickly, narrowly Eva from being shot in the forehead as another bullet ricocheted off the wall.
“You two, get down here before you’re hit.”
Franklin quickly moved towards the only remaining member of the group on the ground level. He helped her back towards the wall and then over to where Janet was crouched down against the buckled support structure.
“Okay, Rebecca, wasn’t it?” Franklin said to the woman, who was still in shock. “Stay here with Janet. You’ll be safe if you stay away from the bloody big hole in the floor.”
“People call me Bec. No one calls me Rebecca.”
“No worries, Bec. Just stay here while I help those two get down from there. They’re sitting ducks up there.”
Franklin looked up and saw the two Goths crawling along the walkway towards the side of the chamber he was on. He knew he had to distract whoever was down that hole taking pot shots at them.
Water was running into the hole in the floor and Franklin tried to think of someway to use it to his advantage. He grabbed Bec’s backpack and tipped out the contents. It had to be light but still hold enough weight to do what he hoped it would do. He opened one of the water bottles and squeezed the fluid out quickly. Franklin put the bottle back in the backpack and shoved a handful of rubbish from the floor in for good measure. Cracking one of the glow sticks, Franklin finished the last part of his plan and wedged it into the small pocket so it was half hanging out.
“Over here.” He yelled, tossing the backpack as high as he could across the gaping wound in the floor towards the stream of water running over the edge into the darkness.
A rapid fire of three shots rang out; two hit the backpack and knocked it off course. It landed in a torn pile of material and plastic a few feet to the side of the stream.
“Bugger.” Franklin said to himself. He hoped that it would land in the water and flow down into the hole, taking the attention away from the gunman long enough for the last two survivors to reach safety. Luckily, Carl and Eva took the opportunity to bolt across the walkway and slide down the ladder to safety.
“What the hell’s going on?” Carl yelled at Franklin.
“I don’t know, mate.”
Carl grabbed the tour guide by his shirt and shook him violently. Franklin was about twenty kilos heavier, and a lot better built than the Goth but Carl still managed to rattle him about like a rag doll.
Franklin slapped the pale, white hands away and grabbed the Goth by his neck.
“Settle down, mate. I don’t know what is happening but carrying on like that isn’t helping.”
He let go of Carl and patted him on the shoulder, like a football coach or perhaps a father would. Carl shrugged the hands off and took a step back.
“I think we should get out of here.” Janet said.
“What about the others?” Bec shrieked. “They might be alive down there.”
“If they survived the explosion that took the floor out, I think whoever is down there would have finished them off by now.” Franklin said, with sorrow in his voice.
Franklin led the way out of the chamber with the remaining members of the group close behind. He hoped that they would make the hour long journey back without encountering any problems, but knew this was not going to be very likely.
Ten minutes into the return journey, Bec stopped Franklin with an abrupt grasp on his shoulder.
Franklin turned around quickly to the shocked look on Bec’s face.
“What’s wrong, Bec?”
“Up ahead …, I thought I saw a red dot moving on the wall.”
Franklin flicked his torch off and motioned the rest of the group to do the same. Carl, Eva and Janet all switched their flashlights off in unison. Before Bec had a chance to turn hers off, an infrared beam drew a beam on her chest. She dropped to the ground seconds before the bullet passed through the position she stood. The bullet ricocheted off the wall and grazed Franklin’s right forearm.
“Everyone down.” Franklin screamed.
A rapid fire of bullets sprayed the tunnel, a number pierced Carl’s skull, killing him instantly. Eva did not see the bullets hit her boyfriend, but felt the warm sticky mass of his brain splash against her face. At first, she thought it must be a slug or some other hideous thing living in the sewage system. Unfortunately, the faint reflection of her multitude of silver necklaces against what used to be Carl’s head told her otherwise.
She screamed.
Bec scrambled to her feet and ran back to the chamber, hoping that it would be safe in there now that the gunman was in the tunnel. Without the torch on she stumbled and fell a couple of times before reaching the room. With skinned knees and palms she had arrived otherwise safely.
“What the hell is going on?” Janet whispered to Franklin.
“I have no idea, Janet. I don’t know who else is down here, or why they are shooting at us.”
Franklin motioned for Janet and Eva to follow him and they crawled slowly towards the junction chamber, and hopefully safety. Franklin had a plan now and he was hoping that it would work and the last living members of his tour would make it out alive. The ground was damp and covered with debris and rat faeces, making it hard not to vomit from the hideous methane stench.
Within minutes they were back at the entrance to the chamber. A bright light shone into the dank chamber, allowing the three survivors a clear view of the destruction and chaos from less than ten minutes ago. Franklin rose to his feet, holding his hand to his forehead and squinting from the sunlight coming through the open manhole cover.
“Look out,” screamed Janet.
Franklin looked across to Janet, noticing the red beam shining on his chest from out of the gaping hole in the ground. He dived to the side, hoping to avoid the oncoming rain of bullets, but they never came. At least not in his direction.
The three survivors heard the volley of bullets and expected the pain. It was not until they realised that none of the adventures were shot that they noticed half a dozen ASIO officer camouflaged and scattered across the chamber.
“Are you okay?” one of the officers called out.
“We are now.” Franklin replied.
The officer walked over to them cautiously, making sure that they were not armed.
“What the hell is going on here?” Janet asked.
“We have been tracking this terrorist group for weeks now. They planned on blowing up City Hall today when the prime minister made his speech and welcomed the five hundred new Australians as they became citizens. Almost a third of the five hundred were from the Middle East. They were going to send a clear message to Australia, and the western world that this Muslim faction did not accept our way of life and none of their citizens should accept it either.”
“They have killed nine people in the sewers; did they get anyone on the surface?”
“No, The Prime Minister and all at City Hall are safe. The charges they set must have gone off before they finished placing the explosives on this level.”

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