Once again, I must apologize for leaving everything hanging for so long. Even though my new job doesn’t actually start paying me for another three weeks, I’ve been kind of buried by it already… lining up an audio mixing stage, getting bids from post production facilities, securing editing equipment… I’m very sorry, folks, I did not expect to be this busy so soon. Add in some water damage to the house from last week’s rain and a couple of sick kids, I really should have handed over the BDW reins to someone else last week.
But I’m back into it now, the worst is over, and together we’ll get through this. Thank you all for your patience and support, and most of all for keeping this thing fascinating and fun! I love what you’re doing. It has made my crappy little adventure into a tale and an experience that I’ll never forget.
Now let’s turn back the clock a bit. I’m dying to find out what happened to Junior and De’Ath before Mad Mel showed up at Warner Bros, and likewise I can’t wait to see what befell the folks at Paramount and Hollywood Forever before Bill and the Major discovered the Super Mutants’ prisoners down in the riverbed. But first, let’s venture far below the streets of Los Angeles, down to the catacombs beneath Fleetwood’s old Citadel, and beyond…
-“Christ, what a Gothic dump. Are we even in L.A. anymore?” whispered Balthar.
-“I had no idea these catacombs were so extensive,” said Cougar. “We’re not underneath the Citadel anymore.”
-“No shit. We’ve been driving for miles, and it feels like we’ve been down here for a week,” grumbled Channing. “Where the hell is all the loot?”
An eerie cool breeze blew through the tunnel, dry and ancient. This was nothing like the Los Angeles of the surface. A century of glamour and squalor, poverty and greed, fire and earthquakes, prosperity and desperation, apocalypse and annihilation, all had passed unnoticed down here in the depths far below the streets. The nuclear blast that felled City Hall just before its 99th birthday (and nearly thirty years after it was retrofitted to withstand an 8.2 magnitude earthquake) barely disturbed the cobwebs down here.
The engineers of L.A.'s long-defunct original subway bored their way down far below Bunker Hill, and broke through into these tunnels… briefly. Within a day they’d bricked up the hole they’d made, retreated back down the tunnel they’d spent the last month digging, flooded it with every sack of concrete they had remaining, took two weeks off work, and when work resumed it was with an entirely new crew digging in the opposite direction.
Almost nobody before the War knew of the existence of the Hollow beneath Los Angeles, and those that did perished with a grateful smile on their lips that it was nuclear holocaust that ended the world as they knew it… and not What Dwelt Below.
(in His† younger, much-smaller days from a long-ago century)
-“This is bulllll… shit,” exclaimed Rideword. “We went the wrong way, and we need to be heading back.”
-“I… uh… I’m not ready to go back through there yet,” stammered Balthar.
-“Where? The Citadel basement?” asked Channing. “You really thought that was worse than this place? Sure, it was creepy and atmospheric, but nothing actually bothered us.”
-“You weren’t looking around. You were staring straight ahead, concentrating on the floor.”
-“Hey, I’m a Driver. I’m supposed to watch the road, not rubberneck at all the pretty spectral lights flickering around us.”
-“So you did see 'em!”
-“Sure, but they didn’t bother us, did they?”
-“You’re right,” said Cougar. “They seemed… almost glad to see us.”
-“They practically lit the way for us,” noted Rideword. “And these aren’t supposed to be, like, friendly ghosts. Why do you suppose they guided us down here?”
-“Whaddaya mean, ‘guided us’?” asked Channing. “How many ways were there to go?”
-“You shoulda been lookin’ around more,” said Balthar. “They lit up the path they wanted us to take, and kept the other ways dark so we wouldn’t notice them.”
-“That sounds awfully paranoid,” said Cougar.
-“Doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, Cougar,” Rideword put in. “We’re lost down here, driving for hours, runnin’ low on gas, and we haven’t seen anything like what you said we’d find down here.”
-“Billy, what do you think?”
Billy Murray rode shotgun next to Cougar, resting his rump on the passenger headrest and leaning his elbows on the convertible’s windshield frame. His proton pack hummed softly, all dials green. He gazed comfortably at their surroundings, thoroughly in his element for the first time since he could remember.
-“I think your nervous and paranoid friends aren’t wrong. We saw plenty of your minor spooks, specters, and ha’ants back there, from the moment we descended below the kitchen. Nothing worth firing up the ol’ proton pack over, of course. Even with these fancy new shitty-smelling batteries, we have to conserve our firepower where we can.”
-“Hell, why’d we bother bringing you, Bill?” growled Balthar.
-“Because you’ll need me. These Class 3 spirits can’t do any serious damage to us. All they can do is confuse us or spook us if we let them. But we gotta watch out for poltergeists. Those are the ones that getcha.”
-“How do you mean?” asked Channing.
-“They can physically affect the material world. They’re the ones who knock over chairs, make clocks run backward, that kind of thing. They’re what we call Class 2 apparitions. My dad called 'em gremlins. They love to play hell with machinery and the works of humanity.”
-“Machinery. Oh, great.”
-“I expect they must have moved the loot, then the Class Threes started teasing and luring us deeper into the tunnels, maybe so the Class Twos can cause us more mischief before we get back out.”
-“All right, I’m calling it. We’re aborting this mission,” said Cougar.
-“Should have pulled the plug ages ago,” muttered Balthar.
-“Yeah, yeah, you were right, I was wrong. Now let’s move it. Which way is out?”
-“Aw, hell,” groaned Rideword. “We’re lost, aren’t we?”
-“Not to worry, kids. This is not my first rodeo, remember.” Billy consulted a dial gauge. “The proton pack always emits a weak positronic exhaust out the nozzle when it’s powered up. Think of it as a pilot light. We can follow the proton signatures back out. This thing’s gotten me out of many a subterranean labyrinth between auditions. There was that time beneath Wes Anderson’s gardening shed…”
-“What the hell was that?”
-“Best we should get moving kids. On the way, I should probably give you a brief description of the Class One…”
Billy trailed off as something caught his eye off to the right.
-“Class one?” asked Channing.
-"…Uhhh… nevermindtimetogojustdrivedrivedrive DriveDriveDrive ***DRIVEDRIVEDRIIIIIVE!!!***"
Billy swung round the proton pack nozzle and squeezed the trigger as the vehicles leaped back down the dark tunnel. The actinic glare of the positronic stream seared everyone’s retinas through their fully dilated irises, and only their long driving experience and telepathic connection kept them from crashing or getting separated as they blindly hurtled back the way they’d come. On a hunch, Balthar screamed “Go left!” and the convoy ducked into a side tunnel they’d missed the first time. A growing cacophany of unearthly shrieks and roars swelled in the corridor outside as Billy poured a merciless stream of atomic fire through the crumbling threshold at the ghosts behind them, baring his teeth and snarling like a bloodthirsty (if somewhat portly and balding and frankly past middle-aged) savage warrior. Balthar skidded to a halt, forcing Rideword and Cougar to swerve to avoid rearending his Cobra. Channing’s Hilux, once again cornered by her mates with no room to maneuver, banged into the Cobra’s boot with an undignified crunch.
-“God DAMMIT, Desmond! You can’t DO that when we’re running full tilt through tunnels barely big enough for…”
Channing trailed off as her eyes adjusted to the faint glow coming off what Balthar was staring at. A column of shoeboxes, three deep and six wide, rose up and up and up toward the vaulted ceiling until it was lost to sight.
-"…the hell’s that?" murmured Rideword.
-“Fleetwood’s sneaker collection,” said Cougar.
-“Didn’t he ever wear any of them?”
-“Never mind the shoes, we found his stash!”
-“No time to window-shop, kids,” growled Billy around an ancient stub of a cigar that had materialized between his teeth at some point. “Stuff your pockets quick and let’s go.”
Rideword began tossing full gas cans into the back of his Vanagon. As he slid open the side door, the door handle came off in his hand. “Son of a…”
-“That’s the Class Twos. Get moving before your ride falls apart completely.”
-“I don’t see anything…”
-“The Class Threes are the ones who put on the sound and light show. You’d never hear or see a gremlin at work until your engine quits on the on-ramp, or your brakes fail right before the hairpin turn. If your shit’s falling apart, get the hell out now.”
Everyone just threw whatever they were holding into their passenger seats and put their rides in gear. Just as they neared the last tunnel before the kitchen ramp, Channing’s Hilux died. She twisted the key to no avail. “They killed my battery!” she yelled. “Somebody give me a bump!”
And then there was that sound again. The ceiling boomed. A shower of gravel and dust fell.
-“The Class One!” bellowed Billy. He twisted the dials on the proton pack to their maximum setting. “Everyone get behind me!”
Cougar rolled behind Channing’s Hilux, dropped the gearshift into first, and eased out the clutch. Tires spun in the loose gravel. A rearview mirror popped off. Balthar’s Cobra developed a noisy exhaust leak. Rideword’s Vanagon started misfiring.
As Billy climbed over Cougar’s trunklid and stood to face what approached from behind, a flickering orange light illumined the ancient concrete columns. Spectral figures flitted about the cavernous tunnel from floor to ceiling, but even they parted respectfully for the Presence that strode forward out of the gloom.
Billy’s eyes narrowed and he hefted his nozzle purposefully. “Don’t turn around, guys. Don’t even try to sneak a peek. I got this.”
Cougar shoved the Hilux forward. The Toyota’s engine spun once, almost caught, died again. Rideword threw a tow cable to Balthar, who hurriedly hooked it over the Hilux’s front bumper.
-"You!! Shall not!!! Pass!!" bellowed Billy. The Class One took another step forward.
Cougar and Rideword shoved. The Hilux lurched, then its engine roared to life.
-"Smile, you son of a bitch!" hollered Billy. The Class One grinned, then pointed a fat-knuckled prehensile appendage toward Cougar.
-"Get away from her, you…"
-“Shut the fuck up, Billy!” shouted Cougar. “Now get in!!”
But Bill Murray wasn’t about to take direction from a non-DGA amateur. “Tell Brian I love him, but he shoulda stayed away from sitcoms,” he yelled. He squeezed the trigger just as the vehicles began to move. The proton pack exploded in a brilliant display of self-contained thermonuclear fusion. Billy and the Class One Entity were utterly obliterated in the blast, their constituent subatomic particles mingled, and both learned to forgive and forget and in fact became quite fond of each other before the half-lives of their least-stable nuclei expired.
The proton pack’s casing welded itself to Cougar’s rear bumper, and the black convertible was engulfed in atomic flame for a few seconds before Rideword could free his extinguisher from its bracket and put her out.
Smoky silence reigned inside the tunnel. Other than the three remaining working headlights between them, the darkness was absolute.
But an hour later, they emerged into the predawn gloom of Los Angeles.
†Yes, “His.” Prehensile though they may be, those are not exactly tentacles.
Channing Hunter (gwwar), Escort:
You encountered 7584 ghosts, but you ain’t 'fraid of no ghost! But you did also encounter 69 poltergeists, which you are afraid of. With your EN they caused 0.62 damage each for a total of 42 HP, leaving you with 41 HP.
Rideword (Solomon), Mule:
You encountered 6320 ghosts, but you ain’t 'fraid of no ghost! But you did also encounter 48 poltergeists, which you are afraid of. With your EN they caused 1.11 damage each for a total of 53 HP, leaving you with 26 HP.
Desmond Balthar (Steampunk Banana), Scout:
You encountered 4698 ghosts, but you ain’t 'fraid of no ghost! But you did also encounter 29 poltergeists, which you are afraid of. With your EN they caused 0.88 damage each for a total of 25 HP, leaving you with 6 HP.