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“The whole underground installation gives one
of shaky nerves the creeps. The gloom is like a weight on one’s
shoulders, and our flashlights and candles only make the darkness blacker.
Imagination can revel in conjectures and ungodly daydreams back through
the ages that have elapsed till the mind reels dizzily in space.”
“May 3rd, 1963. 3:15 pm. My name is Theodora Kincaid, 22 years of age, and I’m about to commit the crime of trespassing on federal property. My crew and I are on a boat in the Colorado River as I speak, journeying between the sheer cliff walls of the Grand Canyon. Our destination is a remote and nearly inaccessible cave entrance that my great uncle, G.E. Kincaid, discovered in 1909. News of his original exploits reached the press, but what the newspapers neglected to print was that he made a return trip to further excavate the cave several months later and never returned. Within the year, this area of the North Rim was closed off to the public for good.
“My purpose, made clear for whoever listens to this tape, is to see what the government is covering up in the Grand Canyon, and to solve the mystery of what happened to my great uncle. I have the notes and maps he made prior to his final excavation, and it says we should be…. Wait! There, Sahil—to the right!”
There is a sloshing sound—paddles in water—and some muffled voices. One with an Indian accent says, “Paddle on the left or the current will take us too far.”
Theodora’s voice returns: “We see it, we see the cave entrance! It’s a small, dark opening fairly high up, set right into the cliff. We’ll need Russell and Sahil’s climbing equipment to reach it, but we’re almost there!”
“Okay, we’re on the bank of the river. Lloyd, Russell, Sahil, Mark, and Ziggy are preparing the rope while I look over my great uncle’s maps. I’ve also got his notes on the unknown hieroglyphics inside the cave. It looks like he…” A papery whisper, as of pages turning. “…decoded most of it. I’ve studied it, and I bet I can translate some of what’s in the cave. His notes are confusing… He mentions an ancient star-people from the constellation Orion—I believe that’s a Hopi Indian legend; they also translate ‘Orion’ to mean ‘ant’—and the migration into the Fourth World.”
A male voice: “What does that mean?”
“Well, the myths of the Hopi Indians around Arizona involve various incarnations of the world. They believe we’ve already gone through three, and their ancestors emerged from deep underground, where the Third World is, to get to this one. That underworld, they say, is located in the Grand Canyon. The lost city in the caverns might have been….” A male voice shouts for her to come over. “Oh. It’s time.”
“4:52 pm. I’m standing in the entrance of the cave. The climb up was treacherous, but we all made it. This passage looks like it goes on a long way. As we walk through, I feel we are now great explorers on our way to discovering the secrets hidden in the bowels of this ancient underground city.”
There is a long silence, broken by the patter of footsteps and the rustle of movement.
“Oh my god, there it is!” Quickened footsteps. “This is it, Lloyd—get out the camera! I see the shrine. There’s a statue of their god sitting cross-legged. Facial features look to be of oriental descent. There are other smaller statues… awful looking ones, some of them—twisted. Representations of evil, I think. And the hieroglyphics. The ones over here are pretty clear; I’ll see if I can translate them.”
A male voice says, “It looks like Buddha. What’s Buddha doing in the Grand Canyon?”
“Isn’t it obvious, Lloyd? Aliens,” says another voice, and laughter echoes eerily on the tape before Theodora returns with her translation.
“’In the dwelling of the underworld—’ Hang on… ‘In the dwelling of the underworld live the Annunaki… keepers of the Third World. In the changing times, the good—moral? He says it might mean obedient, too—rise to the Fourth World, and we keep the wicked and the dead. None…’ I don’t know that symbol. Something, something, ‘enter into our world but the wicked, who are the sacrifice of the gods.’ After that, it’s scratched off.”
A voice in the distance asks an indecipherable question.
“Russell just asked who the hell the Annunaki are. Annunaki is another name for the legendary Ant People who were said to dwell here. They were gray creatures with antennae and oblong, antlike heads. Some people claim they’re an ancient alien race, or an extinct native creature, or just something the Indians made up.”
Another voice snorts and says, muffled in the background, “See? I told you, man: aliens.”
“Shut up, Ziggy.”
“We’ve found the burial chamber. All around, there are tiered walls with mummies. It’s hard to tell they’re even human—they’re mostly just skeletons wrapped in rags by now. I’ve never seen so many dead bodies before. It’s amazing. They’ve been here for thousands of years, undisturbed.”
Her voice is a mere whisper now.
“I’m feeling a little unnerved. The darkness here is so deep—if we didn’t have our lights, we would be blind. There’s a ventilation system in the passageways, but the air smells stale and old, and the quiet is almost absolute. There’s an intense loneliness here. We’re standing in the ghost of an ancient city, abandoned by its 50,000 residents and left dormant for all these years….”
“7:12 pm. We’ve reached the large spider-shaped chamber that my great uncle described. It has all of these tunnels branching from it, like legs. Maybe there’s a connection to the Hopi Spider Mother, who was said to have created man. The sheer amount of tunnels is dizzying. We’re laying wire so we can find the way back, but already I feel disoriented by the lack of daylight. We are now deep inside the cave. We’re going to pick a tunnel and see if we can find where the people lived, which must be farther in—but why would they live so far away from the entrance? Did they ever come out, or did they spend their entire lives here in the dark?”
“Sahil found more hieroglyphics. I can’t read these, but there are also pictures drawn on the wall. Hey—Mark, take a look at that. Does that look like…? I think these are pictures of the Ant People. No, no, hold the light up like that. See? That’s not a human. Look at the head. And there are more, all over this wall. It looks like the Ant People are carrying the dead to their tombs. Was this chamber used for preparing the mummies? From the pictures, it looks like the Ant People taught them these funerary rites. Where are we? Russell, take the tape recorder for a minute—yeah, keep it rolling.”
There is some fumbling as the tape recorder changes hands, and then a male voice. “Theodora’s checking out the hieroglyphics, but I think Lloyd’s spotted another chamber farther down the passage, so she better hurry her ass up.”
Laughter, and an annoyed grumble. More fumbling, then Theodora’s voice again.
“Fine, we’re moving on. Lloyd!” Her shout echoes on the walls. “What have you found?”
A muffled answer, and some footsteps.
“Everything is preserved. There’s what looks like a stone table, maybe where they prepared their food. Utensils, even… crude, and I think they’re made of copper. There are several urns, a little chipped and cracked but otherwise intact, with similar pictures on them as on the walls.”
Another male voice: “Man, could you imagine living in a place like this? Deep in a cave?”
“Come on,” says Theodora. “Let’s keep looking.”
“9:45.” Whispery and trembling. “We found… something.” A jagged breath. “It’s… just a skeleton now. We kept going through the tunnels. They got narrower and narrower… I’m getting a little claustrophobic. We found another chamber. And this… thing. The bones are… pretty well intact. And its head is… oh god… I can’t even describe it. It’s one of them. There are pictures all over the walls here. Of them. I can’t…”
A voice with an Indian accent: “We should leave it here. Let’s go. We were not meant to find this.”
“No, Sahil,” says Theodora. “No, we have to keep going. I promised myself that I would find out what happened to my uncle—”
“Your uncle probably got lost in the cave, couldn’t find his way out, and starved to death!” shouts another voice. “Forget your uncle. Jesus Christ, Theo, we’ve found a fucking—I don’t know what, and you wanna keep snooping around?”
“I didn’t come this far just to turn around,” snaps Theodora. “It’s dead. It’s been dead a long time. Whatever it is, it can’t hurt us. There’s nothing in here that can hurt us. You’re freaking out because that’s what happens when people wander down dark tunnels in underground caves with no immediate exit. We just need to calm down.”
She takes a breath, then says into the tape recorder, “We’ve found evidence that the Ant People existed. Its remains lie on the floor of this chamber. Hopefully we can find our way back again if we need to lead another team down here for proof. Hopefully… we can find our way out.”
“10:17. We’re in a tunnel. I don’t… I don’t know where we are. Ziggy lost the wire. We have to retrace our steps if we want to find our way back out. We’ve gone so far into the cavern, but there’s still more ahead of us. It seems to go on forever. We found a chamber with bones in it, scattered all over the floor. At first we thought it was broken rocks that had fallen from the ceiling, until Lloyd stepped on one and it cracked. There was one identifiable skull. The bones weren’t human. We kept going, and now we’re so far in. I…”
There is a choked sound, and some hysterical whispering. Then a distant scuffling, as of something moving far off.
“Who were the people who lived here?” she whispers. “Were they even human?”
“10:39. This is the underworld. There is no way out. It’s the Third World, where only the dead remain.”
“I think I recognize this area. I think we’re heading back towards the entrance. Thank God. This city is like an anthill… tunnels weaving in and out of the solid rock, low ceilings and narrow passageways… you get completely turned around, have no idea where you are or where you came from… after a while it all starts to look the same. This isn’t a city, it’s a necropolis. The people who lived here must have gone insane. I keep thinking I hear sounds in the distance, but I know we’re alone. I think. We have to be. This place has been abandoned for centuries.”
A scuffling sound.
“What was that? What was—”
“I saw something. Something moved. Did you see that? I—”
“11:23. This is the tunnel my great uncle talked about. It’s the only unventilated tunnel in the whole system, as far as I can tell. It smells… god, it smells awful. Like rotting snakes. We’re shining our lights inside… but they can’t seem to penetrate. This tunnel is a black hole. I can see a few feet in, but beyond that—nothing. We’re going to see how far we get… the smell is overwhelming. It’s…
“SHIT! Oh god, oh god, turn it back on, turn it back on! I can’t—where are you? I can’t see anything. I can’t find my flashlight. Turn the light back on, damn it!”
Footsteps. Scuffling. A bloodcurdling scream that echoes and is dragged away into the distance until it is silenced. Heavy breathing.
“I’m here. Are you there, Mark?”
“Yeah. Are we all here?”
“I can’t see anything. Russell’s gone. What happened? Why did he scream? Can you get the… yes, finally, I can see. OK. What happened there?”
“I don’t know. I think the batteries are going.”
“Can you see any farther down the tunnel?”
A pause. “No.”
Theodora speaks into the tape recorder. “Russell is missing. We’re a little ways into the tunnel. It still smells like… like old fish. The air is thick with it. I don’t know where we’re going, or what we’ll find on the other side. Whatever this is, it was not meant for people. The Hopi left this place for a reason. This is a dead world.”
In the silence, there is only the sound of footsteps hesitantly moving over the stone floor.
“The passage is getting narrower… the ceiling is almost too low for Ziggy, he has to hunch over… it must open up at some point… I can barely breathe, the smell is getting stronger…”
There is a full three minutes and twenty seconds of tape filled with nothing but the muted sounds of movement as the crew struggles through the ancient tunnel. Then a sharp gasp moves the air, and Theodora’s voice returns.
“We’re entering a massive chamber… the light doesn’t reach far enough to reveal the full width of the room, but based on the shallow curve of the wall and the way everything echoes now, I’d say it’s around the size of a football field, maybe bigger. The stench is… almost unbearable. There must be something in here… Sahil. What is that?”
There is movement. Someone whispers Russell’s name, barely audible.
“It appears to be the base of a pyramid. Look how the stones are put together. Shine the light up… Oh my god. It’s huge. The stone is old but well-preserved, only crumbling in a few places. The pyramid stretches up into the darkness. We can’t see the peak because the light can’t reach the ceiling. We must be very far down for the cave to go this high. There are some hieroglyphics etched into the stone, but they’re too faded to read. I wonder who built this. It could either be a temple to a god—maybe the Hopi god of the underworld, Masau’u. Or it could be the tomb of a ruler, like the Egyptians’ pyramids. It’s weird, there are all of these inexplicable Egyptian influences down here, all the way on this end of the globe—”
“RUSSELL!” Someone shouts. The voice echoes on and on. The response is movement: a scuttling sound like quick, light feet.
“What is that?” Theodora whispers. Then—“Ziggy!”
There is another scream, right in front of the tape recorder, and a female shout joins in.
“OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, IT’S THEM—”
There is stumbling, and an insectile screeching as the feet below the tape crunch over something hard. “Oh god, there are bones—bones of people, human bones—oh god, they ate them, the smell—”
Theodora is panting now, the sounds swinging around the tape recorder as if she’s forgotten that it’s even on. There is a faint click—the button of a flashlight? “The pyramid, the pyramid,” she whispers manically to herself as someone else screams in the distance. “There has to be… I have to hide… here…”
The footsteps stop dead.
“Oh my god.” Her voice is barely above a whisper. “It’s monstrous.”
Another screeching sound, louder than the last.
“Masau’u,” she breathes.
“Theodora!” The voice has an Indian lilt. The sound of flesh smacking flesh, sharp like someone grabbing onto a bony wrist.
“This is Hell,” she mumbles as their footsteps pound upon the stone. “We’re in Hell.”
A loud crashing sound like hard stone slamming into the tape recorder, which skitters away. Theodora shouts at Sahil to grab the recorder, and it is again in the air, nearer to their panicked voices.
“Russell is dead,” whispers Sahil. “Ziggy is dead.”
“Mark!” shouts Theodora as the sound of tearing flesh rends the air, and then a wet splattering sound as of paint on concrete, and then an inhuman sucking: raw meat being pulled through a straw. Theodora is sobbing.
“We have to get out of here,” says Sahil.
“I can’t see. I can’t see. My flashlight’s dying. They’re dead. I can’t see. Where are they?”
“Where’s the exit?”
Pounding footsteps, then another scream—this one female, half-sobbing and shrieking Sahil’s name as the sound is pulled away from the recorder. Sahil shouts for Theodora as the echoes of her screams fade into more of the unearthly feeding sounds. There are footsteps, panting. The running continues steadily away from the echoes, the sound dulling for a long stretch, then changing in timbre as the feet move through different sized chambers and passageways.
The breathing is uneven as the footsteps slow marginally, then stop. Sahil whispers deliberately into the tape recorder, “I am alone in an endless sea of darkness. The underworld is a place for the blind.” Then the telltale click.
When the recording starts again, the background is filled with the sound of gentle waves sloshing against the riverbank. Sahil speaks into the tape with a deadened voice.
“5:45 am of May the 4th, 1963. I am the only survivor of our expedition into the lost city of the Grand Canyon. I saw Mark torn apart before my eyes. I saw the mangled bodies of Russell and Ziggy. I saw… I saw them feeding. Lloyd’s whereabouts I do not know. Theodora was… was ripped from my grasp by one of the creatures.
“If anyone dares to listen to this tape, I urge you not to venture into the caverns to seek the mysteries of the lost city. You will surely not survive the hideous beings who dwell there.
“And if you do, only madness is the reward of escape.”
The tape ends, and Sahil’s last words resound in the silence. The man himself is staring blankly into the distance on the other side of the two-way mirror. He pays no attention to the handcuffs around his wrists or the cold metal table on which they lay or his own haunted reflection in the mirror. I watch him, though he cannot see us standing here.
Ever since the authorities picked him up as he was rowing himself to the edge of the North Rim, he has not said a word, or made any response to our questions.
“Shit,” says Don as he turns off the tape recorder. “We gotta make sure this doesn’t get out. We can’t release him. We’ve done a damned good job keeping that place quiet until now.”
“He won’t say anything,” I reply. “We’ll put him in an institution. Look at him.”
Sahil hasn’t moved. He looks as if the real world has become too much for him and he has now retreated entirely into his own mind.
Don gingerly places the tape recorder into a plastic bag and seals it shut. “Send this to the facility. New Mexico can do what they want with it, as long as it’s the hell away from me. Honestly, that tape gave me the goddamn creeps.”
I take the innocuous black tape recorder from him as he turns and walks out the door, and I am left alone, staring through the two-way mirror into the depths of Sahil’s empty eyes, like two black holes leading straight to the underworld. And I wonder exactly what those eyes have seen.
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