The Catacombs (A Psychological Suspense Horror Thriller Novel)

THE CATACOMBS

 

A WORLD’S SCARIEST
PLACES NOVEL: BOOK TWO

 

JEREMY BATES

 

Copyright © 2015 by Jeremy Bates

First Edition

The right of Jeremy Bates to be identified as
the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may
be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
any information storage and retrieval system, without the written
consent of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to
actual people, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

ISBN:
978-0-9937646-6-0

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The novels in the
World’s Scariest
Places
series are set in real locations. The following is a
Wikipedia “Catacombs of Paris” excerpt:

The
Catacombs of Paris
or
Catacombes de Paris
are underground ossuaries in Paris,
France. Located south of the former city gate (the “Barrière
d’Enfer” at today's Place Denfert-Rochereau), the ossuaries
hold the remains of about six million people and fill a
renovated section of caverns and tunnels that are the remains of
historical stone mines, giving it its reputation as “The
World's Largest Grave.” Opened in the late 18th century, the
underground cemetery became a tourist attraction on a small scale
from the early 19th century, and has been open to the public on a
regular basis from 1874.

The Catacombs are one of the 14 City of
Paris Museums that have been incorporated since January 1,
2013, in the public institution Paris Musées. The official
name for the catacombs is 
l'Ossuaire Municipal
.
Although this cemetery covers only a small section of underground
tunnels comprising “
les carrières de Paris
” (“the quarries
of Paris”), Parisians today often refer to the entire tunnel
network as “the catacombs.”

Prologue

They were dead. All of
them. Pascal, Rob, and now Danièle—dead.

I tried not to think about
this as I fled down the crumbling and rock-strewn hallway. I kept
the torch ahead of me and above my head so the smoke didn’t waft
back into my face. The flames bounced shadows off the stone walls
and filled the air with a sickening tar-like stench. The only sound
was my labored breathing and my feet splashing through the puddles
that dotted the chalky gray ground.

A passageway opened to my
left, a gaping mouth leading away into blackness. I veered into it,
hoping to zigzag ever farther through the underground labyrinth,
praying it didn’t lead to a dead end. If it did, I would be
trapped. My pursuers would catch me. Smash my skull into bits like
they did to Pascal. Set me on fire like they did to Rob. I couldn’t
fathom what they did to Danièle, but judging by her screams, I
suspect she got it the worse.

I wanted desperately to
believe that this wasn’t the case, that Danièle wasn’t dead, and
for a moment I allowed my imagination to run wild with fanciful
speculation, because I hadn’t actually seen her die…

No—I
heard
her. She
was gone, she had to be, and I was next, as doomed as the rest of
them.

Still, I kept running, I
kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was too afraid to
accept the inevitable and give up and die, too hardwired to
survive, even though there was nothing left to live for.

I opened my mouth and
yelled. I hated the sound of it. It was shrill and broken and full
of pain, what might come from a mongrel dog beaten to within inches
of its life. My disgust with myself lasted only a moment, however,
because seconds after the wretched moan tapered off, a riot of
savage cries erupted from behind me.

So goddamn
close!

The cries rose in a
crescendo of frenzied bloodlust. Terror blasted through me, but I
couldn’t make my legs move any faster. They were cement blocks. I
felt as if I were running in the opposite direction on a moving
walkway.

Suddenly the ceiling and
walls disappeared and a vast darkness opened around me. While
looking up to gauge the size of this new chamber, I stumbled over
unreliable ground, lost my footing, and fell upon a mound of
rubble. The torch flew from my grip and landed a few feet ahead of
me. I stared at the polished rocks illuminated in the smoking flame
until I realized they were not rocks but bones. Human bones. Skulls
and femurs and tibias and others. I grabbed the torch by the handle
and thrust it into the air.

Bones and bones and more
bones, for as far as I could see.

I shoved myself to my
feet, took several lurching steps, as if wading through molasses,
then sagged to my knees. A centuries-old femur splintered beneath
my weight with a snap like deadwood.

The sounds of my pursuers
grew louder. I refused to look back over my shoulder. Instead I
clutched at the bones before me, my fingers curling around their
brittle lengths, pulling myself forward, my legs no longer
responding at all.

Finally, beyond
exhaustion, I flopped onto my chest and lay panting among the
thousands of skeletonized remains as a sleepy darkness rose inside
me.

They don’t smell, I
thought, bones don’t smell, funny, always imagined they
would.

And then, absently, in a
back-of-the-mind way:
I don’t want to
die like this, not here, not like this, not in a mass grave, I
don’t want to be just another pile of nameless bones, forgotten by
the world.

That video
camera.

That fucking video
camera.

40 HOURS EARLIER
Chapter 1

I was seated at a pavement terrace in Paris’s
3
rd
arrondissement, waiting for my steaming cappuccino
to cool down and thinking that I was a long way from home. I was
born in Olympia, Washington, but my family moved to Seattle when I
was ten because my father was sacked from his job as a camera
technician at Canon and decided he could find better work in a
bigger city. He ended up selling used cars at a Ford dealership. He
was never very good at it, not a natural salesman, and took orders
from someone twenty years his junior until he retired. My mother,
the head librarian at a private high school in Olympia, found
administrative work with the King County Library System in Seattle.
Though she took a salary cut in the move, she didn’t complain.
She’d always been a team player, putting others ahead of herself.
This was especially true for family.

A lot of my adolescent friends went to
Seattle University or U Dub or one of the smaller colleges in the
state. They wanted to stay close to home so they could live with
their parents to save cash. Where’s the adventure in that? I’d
thought, and relocated across the country in New York City to study
journalism at NYU. I wanted the college experience, and for this
you had to get away from home. I remember my grade twelve English
lit teacher telling the class one day how college was going to be
the best three or four years of your life, so you better make the
most out of it. In my case he had been right. It wasn’t that
college had been ridiculously fun—though it did have its moments—it
was that things had been pretty shitty for me ever since my younger
sister, Maxine, died two years after I graduated.

As I braved a sip of my cooling coffee, I
decided the 3
rd
arrondissement reminded me of
Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood. It had a young vibe, with all the
pubs and designer boutiques and vintage shops and
brasseries-turned-hipster hangouts. The main difference, I’d say,
was that here nobody seemed in any real hurry to get anywhere.

The tables around me had filled up with the
after-work crowd, the men in dark suits, some without neckties or
blazers, the women in institutional skirts and plain blouses. As
seemed to be the fashion in this city, everyone sat facing the
street, nonchalantly judging the people walking by.

I returned the white mug to the saucer with
a delicate clank of porcelain and judged too. A woman dressed in
lipstick colors and high heels held my attention. She was willowy
with sharp cheekbones and a hooked nose, not the type of lady you’d
approach for directions. A pair of big sunglasses covered much of
her face. That was something else here. Everyone had great eyewear.
No cheap prescription Lenscrafters, or pharmacy-rack shades with
colored lenses and fluorescent frames. Only high-end designer
stuff. I bought myself a pair of Ray Ban Aviators a while back. I
also started wearing a lot of neutral tones. Nowadays I stuck
mostly to black, and I guessed I looked about as French as you
could get.

Just then I spotted Danièle halfway down the
block. She was riding toward me on a pink bicycle with fenders the
color of pearl and a wicker basket mounted on the front
handlebars.

I stood and waved. She pulled next to the
table, scissor-stepped off the bike’s seat, propped the kickstand,
then bent close for a double air kiss—social protocol for both
hello and goodbye. I haven’t gotten used to this yet, it wasn’t me,
but whatever. When in Rome, right?

“Sorry I am late, Will,” she said in her
French-accented English. “Do you want anything to eat?”

“I’m good,” I said, and retook my seat while
she entered the café. I watched her through the large bay window.
With her jet-black shag, pixie face, dark mascara, sooty lashes,
and pale lips, Danièle reminded me of Joan Jett in the “I Love Rock
‘n’ Roll” days. She wore a butterfly-print summer dress that clung
to her thin body as she moved, a silk scarf looped chicly around
her neck, and knee-high green suede boots.

How long had I known her now? I wondered.
Two months? Two-and-a-half? Something like that. I’d been in Paris
for at least a couple weeks then, got tired of pantomiming my way
around the city, so decided to give learning French a shot. I
placed an ad for a language exchange partner on the France version
of Craigslist. The site was used mostly by American expats.
Apparently the French haven’t taken to it because of their
difficulty pronouncing “Craigslist.” Even so, I received several
replies. I chose to partner with Danièle because she came across as
open and friendly in her initial emails.

We’ve gotten to know each other fairly well
since then. She was born in Germany to a German father and French
mother. They divorced when she was six, and she moved to France
with her mother and older sister. She graduated from L’Ecole des
Mines two years before. It was a prestigious engineering school,
the MIT of France. She could have interned at any company she
wanted. But, according to her, she wanted to take it easy for a
while, so now she spent her days working in a florist shop and her
nights exploring the network of catacombs that snaked beneath the
city.

We got together twice a week, usually on
Mondays and Fridays. She would teach me French one day, I would
teach her English the other. Actually, I didn’t really “teach” her
anything. She was pretty much fluent. English had been a
prerequisite for admission into Les Mines, and she’d studied it
extensively as an adolescent. She told me she just wanted someone
she could speak the language with so it didn’t get rusty on
her.

She liked me—romantically, I mean. She was
fairly obvious about it too. I should have been flattered. She was
good looking. I’d thought that the first time I saw her. But I
hadn’t come to Paris searching for a relationship; I’d come to get
away from one—at least the aftermath of one. My ex’s name was
Bridgette Pottinger. We’d met at NYU. In our senior year we moved
into a tiny flat together off the Bowery near Chinatown. I got a
job as a copy editor for the
Brooklyn Eagle
. She was
accepted to the law program at Columbia. I popped the question a
year later at the top of the Statue of Liberty. I know, cheesy, but
at the time I’d thought it was romantic. The wedding was planned
for the following July at a lodge on Lake Placid.

The night before the ceremony my younger
sister, Maxine, and my best friend, Brian, died in a boating
accident. The wedding, of course, was cancelled. My life was thrown
into chaos. My parents blamed me for the death of Max. My friends
blamed me for the death of Brian. Bridgette and I began to unravel
too, and we decided it would be best to take a break. I had moved
on from the paper to a travel writing gig, assisting with the
guides for the Mid-Atlantic states. I was close with my boss, both
professionally and personally. He knew what I was going through,
knew I needed a fresh start. He told me head office was looking for
someone to revamp a few of the European editions, and he put my
name forward. A month later I was in London, getting the lowdown
for a revised Paris guide. The other correspondents in Paris were
covering the cafés and restaurants and hotels. My brief was to
cover the nightlife scene. They wanted to jazz up the guide to
appeal more to the younger crowd.

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