“Stairway to Hell” – Sneak Peek #2

 

Stairway to Hell, the second Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigation, goes live Monday, February 26. Three weeks ago I gave a sneak peek into the story and I thought I’d do the same this week.

Pierce Mostyn and his team are in rural Oklahoma investigation an ancient stairway, accidentally uncovered, that leads deep into the earth. Construction workers have disappeared, and some have been found with their entire personality gone.

This is definitely a job for the Office of Unidentified Phenomena, but something doesn’t want Mostyn and his people to come anywhere near the stairway. Here’s today’s sneak peek.

***

Shortly after sunrise, Mostyn and his team were peering into the excavation site. At the bottom, on one end, was the uncovered stairway.

“From here, the workmanship of the stone looks to be pretty advanced,” Zink said.

Baker took several photographs of the stairway, the large pit, and the surrounding area. The staircase was about twenty-five feet below the surface of the ground.

“Let’s go down and take a closer look,” Mostyn said.

On one end of the excavation, was a ramp leading down into the large hole in the ground. The team walked down the ramp. Four Rangers and two military police remained above. There were no construction workers. They’d been sent home pending the outcome of the investigation conducted by Mostyn and his team.

“What was that?” Doctor Slezak said, her voice betraying a trace of fear.

“What was what?” Kemper called out.

“I felt something push against me,” Slezak replied.

“That was Jones trying to get into your panties,” Kemper shot back.

“I felt it, too,” Doctor Beames said. “Perhaps there are spirits here.”

“Ghosts?” Kemper said, her tone of voice taunting.

Beames stopped. “Don’t you feel it?”

The others stopped and looked at her.

Beames continued, “The evil, the malevolence.”

“Yes,” Slezak said softly.

A wind sprang up, swirling dust and dirt around the group.

“Something’s pushing me,” Slezak cried out.

DC Jones rushed to her side, and the wind ceased as abruptly as it started.

“This isn’t normal,” Beames said, “There are evil spirits here.”

Kemper guffawed. “Evil spirits. You can’t be serious.”

Beames was angry. “I am serious, Doctor Kemper. There is something very bad here.”

“Alright, ladies, now is not the time to argue,” Mostyn said. “We have a mission to accomplish.”

Mostyn started walking towards the opening where the stairway was located. Almost immediately a wind sprang up.

“Good God,” Zink blurted. “It’s as if something’s trying to deliberately stop us from going to the stairs.”

Kemper muttered, “Superstitious twits”, charged ahead, pushed past Mostyn, and suddenly fell backwards.

He rushed to her side, and at the same time a shot rang out. Behind him he heard, “Did you see that?” And, “A ghost. I saw a ghost.” Mostyn stood and looked up at the MP with his rifle trained on the stairway opening.

“What the hell is going on?” he demanded of the soldier.

“I saw a white shape, sir. It pushed, or seemed to push, Doctor Kemper.”

Dirt and small stones were swirling about the opening. And then Mostyn himself felt as though something took hold of his wrist and was pulling him away, pulling him back the way he came. He shook his arm and took a step back. Dotty stood and went to his side, where both felt invisible hands, as it were, pushing against them. They looked at each other and then Mostyn gave the command to fall back.

Slezak and Beames ran up the ramp and out of the excavation site. Zink and Baker followed. Jones waited, pistol in his hand, until Mostyn and Kemper were halfway up the ramp and then he, too, followed, walking up the ramp backwards. Once everyone was at the top of the ramp, the wind in the hole ceased.

***

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into the next Pierce Mostyn adventure. Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

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The Worlds Beneath

Katerloch Cave in Austria

Google maps is a wonderful thing. I can get a look at just about any place on this planet. There are few unexplored, or little explored, places left on the globe. However, as my friend Jack Tyler noted last week, “Step into any cavern anywhere… and anything is certainly possible.”

Google has yet to picture what’s beneath our feet. That territory is fair game for the fertile mind of any novelist.

And I am glad it is. Caves and caverns are fascinating places. Although I don’t think I have it in me to be a spelunker, a touch of claustrophobia puts the damper on pursuit of the hobby, I can enjoy the pastime from the comforts of my armchair.

The internet is ripe with photos of our subterranean world, both natural and man-made. Real places that exist below ground.

Actionsquad.org is an absolutely fascinating site to see what lies below the surface of Minneapolis and St. Paul. There’s also gregbrick.org and Brick’s book, Subterranean Twin Cities. Along with scores of articles and blog posts. And that’s just for what’s beneath Minneapolis and St. Paul.

I used Actionsquad.org and Brick’s book to create the underground world of the neo-Aztec cult in Festival of Death. But what’s even better than a simple adventure in a cave or cave system, is an entire subterranean lost world. I think that’s what makes A Journey to the Center of the Earth so interesting. And enduring.

Bulwer-Lytton’s 1871 novel, The Coming Race, which had a profound impact on occultists during the 1920s and 1930s, is set in a subterranean world inhabited by a race of beings who call themselves the Vril-ya. These beings have harnessed an energy source they call Vril. The book is about the accidental visit of a young man to the land of the Vril-ya and tells of his adventures there and his return home. The book ends with a warning that the Vril-ya are running out of space underground and they see the surface as fair game. Knowing the secrets of how to use Vril, the Vril-ya will make us their slaves.

Supposedly, there was a Vril Society in Weimar Germany. Vril was also claimed to be the power source for the UFOs spotted after World War II. And it is thought the Thule Society conducted a search for sources of Vril energy, and later had an influence on the supposed occultism of National Socialism.

I wonder if Bulwer-Lytton ever thought his imaginary subterranean world would cause such hoopla?

In the March, April, and May 1935 issues of Wonder Stories, Stanton A Coblentz’s novel, In Caverns Below, was published. It’s the story of two men who are exploring a mine shaft and become trapped below ground due to an earthquake. They find themselves in a vast subterranean world inhabited by two countries, Wu and Zu, which are locked in perpetual warfare.

These countries are technologically far advanced compared to 1935 America and Europe. They have death rays and land ships capable of tunneling through the earth.

The novel was republished in 1957 as Hidden World, and was seen as a satire on the cold war between the West and East. Coblentz, however, most likely used the novel to warn readers of the waste warfare generates, the massive destruction it causes, and how it keeps people in a perpetual state of enslavement to the state. Something along the lines of Orwell’s perpetual war for perpetual peace. Coblentz also raised awareness that the only ones who really profit from war are the large corporations because of their obscene profits. A warning about the military-industrial complex long before Eisenhower.

Beneath the earth’s surface is a great place to put prehistoric worlds. Jungles are disappearing and by means of satellites we see everything. So what better place to discover dinosaurs and cavemen than underground? It’s what makes Pellucidar so exciting. Sword and sorcery, sword and planet, and planetary romance — all right beneath our feet, instead of out there among the stars.

And because Pellucidar proved to be so popular, Burroughs had lots of imitators.

HP Lovecraft created his own subterranean world in The Mound, ghost written for Zealia Bishop. It is the world on which I based Stairway to Hell, which will make its publication debut on 26 February.

Lovecraft’s world of K’n-yan is advanced far beyond us. But their pursuit of pleasure, coupled with exceedingly long lives, has led K’n-yanian society to intense ennui and cruelty. Toss in the Cthulhu Mythos, and we have an evil world par-excellence. Or more accurately, a world in which nothing remains of significance.

Subterranean fiction it is alive and well. From primitive worlds to advanced races to the Cthulhu Mythos, there’s something for everyone — right beneath our feet.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time — happy reading!

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Subterranean Terror And Adventure

From “The Subterranean World” by George Hartwig, 1872. From the MIT Library website.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a story or novel set somewhere beneath the earth’s surface. I suppose I can lay this odd predilection of mine squarely on Jules Verne’s doorstep.

After all, what kid, especially a young boy, hasn’t read A Journey To The Center Of The Earth? My first exposure was a comic book version. Then I read the novel, and afterwards saw a movie version. I was hooked.

When writing my first novel, Festival Of Death, I discovered there are caves beneath Minneapolis! That was all it took. I just had to set part of Tina’s and Harry’s case in the labyrinths beneath the city.

There’s something about subterranean worlds and settings that captures our imagination in a way no other setting does. Perhaps it’s the idea of the hidden and mysterious right beneath our feet. There’s also the notion that below ground is associated with death, and by extension evil.

I suppose it all started with Hades — the land of the dead in Greek mythology. A mysterious realm prohibited to the living with but rare exceptions.

Of course we can’t forget Dante’s Inferno. Another portrayal of the realm of the dead. And equally as forbidding as the pictures portrayed in the Greek myths.

It was in the 18th-century that subterranean fiction really got its start as something separate from portrayals of the land of the dead.

There’s Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Klimii inter subterraneum, published in 1741. Nicolai Klim spends several years exploring an earth inside our earth.

In 1788, Giacomo Casanova (yes, that Casanova) published the 5-volume Icosaméran. The “book” is an 1,800-page story of a brother and sister who discover a subterranean utopia.

The 19th century saw a proliferation of novels and stories with subterranean settings.

  • The 1820 sci-fi novel Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery
  • Poe’s 1838 novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
  • The above-mentioned novel by Verne, published in 1864
  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, published in 1871
  • In 1881 there appeared Mary Lane’s hollow earth novel, Mizora, complete with feminist themes!
  • William R Bradshaw’s 1892 sci-fi novel The Goddess of Atvatabar (Avatar?)

The above are just a few of the many novels making their appearance before the reading public during the 1800s.

In the 20th century, subterranean fiction continued full-steam ahead. Burrough’s Pellucidar series. Rex Stout’s Under the Andes. Charles R Tanner’s Tumithak of the Corridors. Sean O’Larkin’s Morgo the Mighty; Otis Adelbert Kline’s Tam, Son of the Tiger; and Stanton A Coblentz’s Hidden World. To name just a few.

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis have subterranean worlds, as does L Frank Baum. There was even a Choose Your Own Adventure hollow earth book: The Underground Kingdom (1983).

And the above are only a few of the 20th century’s offerings. The outpouring of novels set in subterranean worlds hasn’t abated. It’s a setting that continues to inspire.

HP Lovecraft made use of the theme in at least 4 of his stories:

  • The Beast in the Cave
  • The Transition of Juan Romero
  • The Festival
  • The Mound

And I make use of a subterranean world in my forthcoming Pierce Mostyn adventure: Stairway to Hell.

Life below ground was never so good. If you have a favorite subterranean novel, let me know in the comments. Until next time, happy reading!

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