When you spend your life wading through human waste and destroying giant monsters made of baby wipes and chicken shop fat, you would not be surprised by much. But there’s a sewerage worker in west London who saw something that changed his world. One night, the worse for drink, he shared his story in a Kilburn pub and I record it for you here as a near verbatim entry to the Maps of the Lost - although the precise directions are uncertain, as I will admit to some large measure of drink being taken.
“I’d been tasked with checking some damage reported in an obscure off-branch of the Kilburn to Wick Lane mid-level that runs into the Northern Outflow Sewer. One of the main passages was getting reports of a leak coming down from above, and we were pretty sure it was a disused minor sewer running about thirty feet off the main - one of those that you had to go back to the old maps to find. I was meant to take a look along the old route with Eddie, but surprise surprise he’s on the sick again, knows just how much you can take for the year before they start making noises about getting rid. He’s a sharp one, he is.
They don’t like us working alone but there was a backlog of jobs and too few people to do them - same old same old story. So off I went. But I think I took a wrong turning heading north in the old network, and found myself in a small branch I didn’t recognise - some of the older maps aren’t what they should be. It was dark, and there was just a foot or so of water, standing, no flow. I carried on along because if I had worked my bearings out right I’d reach a gate after five hundred yards or so which would let me scramble into one of the feeders in the new network and back where I ought to be.
So I’m splashing along, cursing myself for going the wrong way and wasting time when there’s a backlog of jobs and too few - well, I’ve said that, haven’t I - and then I hear voices. Or at least, I think I hear voices. You often do down there, and you write it off as acoustics, you wouldn’t believe how it carries sometimes. Or you write it off as your imagination, not that the kind of bloke who works down there is prone to much in the way of imagination because you’d not last an hour if you were, but we’re all human.
Anyways, I turn a bend and see light, in one of the tunnel walls. Not like daylight, or the kinda light on my helmet, but a soft yellow square. I get closer and see there’s a hole in the wall. Square, like a…window.
So I did what anyone would do. I looked through it.
And there on the other side…
Well, you’ll think I’m mad. Or drunk. Well, I am drunk, but I wasn’t then, and I’m not mad. I know what I saw.
I saw a room, big, big as one of the main chambers but not one of the main chambers, this was…decorated. Hangings on the walls. A long polished table, dotted with candles that gave off that soft yellow light, candles and dishes and silver bowls and around the table, dressed as if at a society ball…people. Well, *like* people. There was something…but no, must have been people. Must have been. It’s just…the clothes didn’t look as if they fit their shapes right.
Then there was movement, swift and sudden, eyes glaring at me through the hole and then a stone slammed into it to close it. I don’t mind telling you, not much bothers me but those eyes did, those eyes and the thought that there would be other entrances to the room and some of those in it might be leaving those to find me. So I ran and I ran and I fell and I ran and I hit my head - see, can still see the bruise - and I scraped my shins - and I don’t know how but I found my way to a main, and out. I told them I saw no leak. Then I took a leaf out of Eddie’s book and have been on the sick. My back, I said. Which is kind of right. Because I can’t see myself going back. Not down there. Not ever. Nowhere those eyes might be. Now, you owe me another pint for that.”
I went back the next week with a book of old sewer maps I’d bought from a particular bookshop in Bow so I could chart this entry properly, but the man was not in the pub and no one had seen him for a couple of days. An old man propping up the bar was the last to see him; he told me he’d been standing in the pub doorway when the man left for the last time. The old man had bent his head to light a cigarette against the wind, and when he looked up the man was gone.
The old man knew the sewer worker must have taken the road towards the railway bridge because while he lit his cigarette he heard what must have been the clank of him stepping on a loose manhole cover. Must have been a hell of a fast walker, the old man said. It’s a long old street.
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