It purred, with a rythmic sound between a thud and dull click, quiet very quiet as it rolled on. It was over a hundred years old; built to replace a much older device that fulfilled the same function. The constant sound was like wheels feeding carpet through endless corridors, soft and constant, muffled although emanating from the steps themselves. Age had made the copper fittings green and the brass ones dim like the memories of those Above.
No guide stood on some shadowy landing to explain or illuminate. No map showed ways below and the tunnels from the Torrens River and Parliament House. Does anyone think those mouldering tunnels exist any less for escaping the attentions of cartographers and town planners? Or did they escape the town planners, the engineers? Surface men constructed the Escalator; they had help from pale hands not often seen Above, to be sure, but it was Surface-dwellers who worked to reclaim the ancient tunnels.
They put them to the use that the children who walk the surface always put the old things to; they incorporate them into their games. The game of smuggling; the game of ritual murder; the game of dabbling with the crafts of their elders.
The Escalator was as brutal to the senses as the discovery of a murdered child's skeleton in the Bush; as provocative as the pyramids of Central Australia, far from the calculated disbelief of governments and the hostility of the less recent immigrants, the so-called Aborigines. Ironic, the chalk-white men who taught fear to the black hunter gatherers, thus preparing the way for two centuries of ignorance a long time after, hiding in plain sight as stories and legends.
I was at the flat of a close friend. He and I had, as usual with us, teamstered our way through a gauntlet of sterile parties and bars, embraced by the unloving drizzle of an undecided June night each time we rang the changes at a social event and made tracks for the next.
Eventually we arrived at my friend's flat, with ten or so other slightly less close friends in tow; I had my girlfriend with me, my friend immunised himself against the chill of the night in other ways.
That flat was art made real. One wall was dominated by the Egyptian Book of the Dead prayer number 121 blazoned across the features in gold, cobalt blue and black poster paint. That prayer was a feature of any place my friend stayed. It made him feel safe. Once, he had explained the weird compulsion to paint it to me,
"In some future time when you're a big deal asshole in the Law world and I'm still chasing after Wilderness chicks, what if I become an asshole too? I might forget the prayer or fuck with it instead of respecting it. This way, it's painted for good right on my bloody wall - if I do asshole my soul, I won't have the energy to chisel it off."
"Wouldn't you just move, Peter?"
"Thanks a lot for pissing on my parade."
Pete had a talent for attracting people who were Bohemian only in the kindest use of that term. We both knew that the majority of the paranormal was a fact of life, and loved to collect living technicolour examples of manifested world weirdness. We interviewed these spiralling souls and tried to touch them to see if their otherness was still wet.
Well, that drizzling dark night, we had an all-time classic poured right over our heads.
(to be continued)
(c) Jonathan Nolan 1992, 2011 all rights reserved worldwide.