The Exploration of Chateau Du Dragon!
“So, what ‘historical treasure’ have you found this time?” Vanessa followed her boyfriend around the small grove of magnolia trees and down the barely visible trail.
“Who says I found anything? I was just talking to some people at the bar, mentioned I was into urban exploration, and a guy popped up, mentioned he knew a place, and that I should check it out. That’s all.” He smirked.
“Carl, I know you better than that. You don’t just wander off to any ol’ place some stranger mentions. You’re not usually that stupid.”
“There was that one time in New Hampshire…”
“Never going to let me forget that one, are you?”
“You got us arrested.”
“Okay, okay. I did look the place up, did some research, and I think it’s clear. It should also really grab your interest when I tell you what it is and what it means.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes, but followed him. The ground was soggy underfoot, never quite deciding whether it wanted to be mud or underwater. Dead Spanish moss hung like streamers from Oak and Willow trees as they walked; typical Louisiana fare.
“So when are you going to tell me about it?”
Carl held up one hand as he pushed a bush out of the way. Then he motioned for her to move up and join him. “There it is!”
The house was ancient. Kudzu covered half of it, stretching down from the roof, but the front porch and the main entrance stood out. The weather-beaten wood contrasted with the green, giving an impression of a mummy’s skull, partially unwrapped from its lavish bandages. The glass from the windows was long gone, smashed through vandalism or by nature’s will. The curves of the architecture and the towering pillars still stood out to Vanessa, making a smile break out on her slender face.
“An early 1800’s plantation house. Not bad, Mr. I don’t know what we’ll find.”
“Actually, I read that it’s a late 1700’s, but you would know, I suppose.”
Vanessa elbowed him playfully in the side as she pushed past him, out from under the trees. “Anything else you read about this particular ol’ home?”
Carl smiled and took a deep breath. “Well, from what I could gather, they called it the dragon chateau. This was actually one of the early starts of the Underground Railroad that ferried escaped slaves to freedom. The story goes that out the back of the house, about two miles away is the Gulf of Mexico, with a large private dock, and that the owners of the plantation, who’s name nobody seems to remember, actually ran a tunnel from the house all the way down to the dock, where Spaniards would pick up the slaves.”
“Oh, so you’re saying there’s secret passages in here?”
Carl grinned and nodded.
“That’s why you insisted on flashlights, food and water, and some extra clothes?”
“You take me to the nicest places.”
The front porch became imposing up close. A gaping hole was all that remained of a large picture window, and the front door clung stubbornly to a single hinge. Flashlights surged to life, their beams bouncing off the walls. Anything of value was stripped ages ago. All that remained were bare walls and the remnants of rusty furniture frames.
“So, Mr. Bookworm, what happened to the slaves that went with the Spanish?”
“Honestly, if I had to guess, I would say the just ended up slaves somewhere else, like the Spanish colonies off in the Caribbean. This place was before the Underground Railroad really took off, though, and from the stories I found, not many slaves made it through here to be picked up.
“Oh? Was it a fake get-away?”
“Seems that way. Apparently the other local land owners came together, raided the place. Some claims of voodoo rituals, blood and virgin sacrifices, sex with demons and devils. You know, just all the usual fare. Some of them escaped, but the owners, all the slaves, and a group of Spaniards were all caught and executed, probably hung from one of the trees we walked under on the way here. ”
Vanessa held the flashlight under her chin, “You and your spooky stories.”
The tale stuck in her head as they continued through the house. She kept her eyes open for anything that might look like, or give clues to any kind of secret passage. Vanessa wracked her brain, trying to decide if the story sounded familiar. It was certainly true the Underground Railroad had routes that led south, as well as north. Could it really be possible that this house was such a stop?
Carl was standing near the far wall of what might once have been the den.
“Let me guess, Mr. Scooby-Doo, a fake wall in the back of the fireplace?”
He smirked. “Nothing so obvious. Check this out, though.”
He ran his finger along the lines between the bricks in the wall, starting from the floor, up, then over, and back down.
“There’s no mortar between this section and the rest of the wall. Also, check this out.” Carl ran his finger over the front of the brick just above the divide. “I don’t know if you can see it, but it says ‘dragon’.”
Vanessa stepped closer and looked. The face of the brick looked off, but she couldn’t read anything on it. Her fingers slid over the surface, feeling the bumps that were barely there. “Are you sure? I think it’s missing the ‘R’”.
“Probably just worn off.”
He grabbed a brick near the top and pulled. It came easily, a handful of others tumbling to the floor as well. Pulling out more stones revealed a dark space, and a set of stairs leading down into the earth.
He swept his flashlight back and forth. “There, that wasn’t so hard to find.”
Vanessa bit her lip. A thick, cloying smell rolled up from the passage; a scent of mold and moisture, of rotting fish and wet earth. The passage had been too easy to find. Carl was already crawling inside, exploring with his flashlight. He was practically shaking with anticipation. He turned back to her, and saw her lip folded between her teeth.
“Is it okay, you think? We do still have the rest of the house to check out, see what condition the second floor is in. Maybe see if there’s anything to raid in the kitchen?”
She forced a smile and shook her head. “It’ll all still be here when we get back. It’s sat this long, hasn’t it?”
Only the first steps were wood. After that they were cut into the earth itself, but as they moved deeper, the stairs turned to stone steps that were slick underfoot. The walls did the same, starting with wooden supports, giving way first to dirt, and then stone. Water dripped down, only to vanish between cracks. The stairs went on, further, and deeper.
“Yeah…I’m not sure, maybe there’s some kind of drain system behind these stones.” He tapped on the wall with his flashlight. The moisture on the surface was clearly visible, and they watched as a drop beaded up between two stones, rolled down, and vanished back into the wall.
“I don’t think we should go much further. It’s…strange…down here.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, as old as this place is, we don’t want to wander too far, trigger a cave in, or risk getting caught if the place floods with the tide or something like that.”
The sound started almost as a low rumble, bouncing back and forth up the stairs and between the stones. Vanessa suddenly felt sick to her stomach. The sound could almost have been speech, though what word or language, she had no clue.
“What the hell was that?” Carl was leaning down on the steps, trying to reach deeper with his flashlight. “Hey, I think I see the bottom of the stairs! It’s not that much farther.”
Before she could stop him, Carl had started down again. After just a few steps he was starting to disappear into the darkness, so she carefully followed after him.
There was another dozen steps, and then it opened into a massive, round room. The floors and walls were placed stone, the ceiling, a good ten feet high, was obviously part of a natural cavern; someone had discovered this cave and built into it.
They stepped into the cavern, their flashlights scanning the area as they stood in awe. Several hallways and chambers led off from the main room. Stone tables were the only furnishings in the main chamber itself. The smell, which had wafted through the opening at the house, was almost overwhelming. It waxed and waned, as if the source was moving. The strength of the stench made Vanessa cough, gagging at its worst.
The strange words rolled out of the side chambers, hallways, and reverberated through the stones of the floor, as if there were further chambers deep below. It was obviously a language, but the words were thick, barely recognizable as any kind of speech. There remained a pattern to them, a sense of powerful meaning behind each group of sounds. To Vanessa, it sounded like the last gasps of someone drowning, trying to talk through a throat full of water, past a tongue and lips numb from hypothermia.
There was a wet slop from one of the hallways and Carl spun to meet it. All his flashlight could find was two large, circular reflections from deep in the darkness. Then they were gone.
Vanessa crept over to her boyfriend, grabbing his arm as she pressed her back to his. Her flashlight ran from one hallway, to a chamber, to another hallway. More unrecognizable words. More wet slop sounds. More round reflections.
Eyes. They were eyes.
Large, glass-like, bulbous eyes.
Another slop. Then another, closer. Vanessa turned her flashlight towards it.
A man stood in the entrance of one of the chambers. His skin was grey and looked waterlogged. He was mostly bald, with small clumps of long, stringy hair reaching down to his shoulders. The sides of his neck were covered in folds. The nose was mashed, and almost seemed like it was melting into his face, and his lips were thin, almost nonexistent. He wore clothes that were impossibly old, torn, and stained.
Worst of all were his eyes; large and bulbous, like they didn’t fit in their sockets. They had no color, just huge pupils that made almost the entire eye look black.
She felt Carl’s gasp through her back, pressed against his. “What the fuck…”
More of them were slowly stepping out of the chambers and hallways, all of them similarly deformed. Some looked more human, some looked almost like fish.
Strange words again, the flashlight sought out the source, finding a more human creature with its half-lips moving.
It lifted an arm and pointed at her, the fingers all had thick webbing between them and no fingernails. “Breeder…”
Carl started to push Vanessa back the way they had come, towards the stairs. His bag swung down from his back, hanging from his forearm as he unzipped it and pulled out his gun.
Whether the creatures recognized the weapon and the threat it offered, they made no sign. Vanessa turned and shone the light back towards the stairs, only to find two of the fish-men had slipped in front of it, their bulbous eyes looking back at her as they whispered in their strange, thick throated language.
“Carl, we can’t go back…”
The gunshots echoed in the chamber. Then the space was filled with a cacophony of slops, chittering, Carl yelling, and unrecognizable words from the creatures. The power of the stench increased almost tenfold making Vanessa choke. One of the creatures lay on the stone floor, bleeding out, one large eye deflated from the bullet.
Cold, wet, hands grabbed at her. Carl was pulled away from her back and there was more yelling, more gunshots.
“Vanessa! Straight ahead! Fresh air! The bay! GO!”
She turned and saw him on the ground, four or five of the creatures grabbing him, holding him, pummeling him with their deformed hands. The gun went off again and one of their heads erupted in the thin light.
Another creature reached for her, and she swung her backpack around, swatting away the hand. The air swirled around her and for a moment, she got a whiff of fresh air. More of the creatures were coming at her. Carl was lost under a pile of them. A quick spin caught sight of the stairs, and she dashed away in the opposite direction.
The stench cleared as she ran down the hallway. Fresh air whipped around her, although the stench of the man-fish clung to her skin and in her nose. Behind her, Vanessa could hear the sounds of their feet on the stone. Slop-slop-slop. Further behind them came another gunshot, then a sharp snapping sound, borrowing the unnatural acoustics of the tunnels to reach her. It was all she could do to not imagine what that sound was.
The tunnel sloped upward, the stone floor becoming slick as she ran. Her lungs started to burn, but the feet behind her kept her pushing as fast as she could.
The water was ankle deep and rising, but a light further ahead gave her hope. The sounds behind her started to fade and then were lost as she burst out into the setting sun.
She collapsed onto her hands and knees into the salty water of the bay. Almost unconsciously, she started splashing handfuls of water onto her arms, trying to scrub away the memory of those cold, slick hands grabbing at her skin.
Then the sobbing started as the relief of being outside again reached her. With a deep breath, she lifted her face to the warmth of the sun. She willed it to wash away the experience, the memories. Then she looked out across the water, and saw the unmistakable shape of several human-like figures swimming around, breaching the surface.
Sounds started to come up from the tunnel again; footsteps in the water. The fish-men were still chasing her.
Vanessa crawled further out and started waving and screaming to the swimmers, hoping one of them would come to help her, someone that might even have a car parked nearby.
All the swimmers stopped and turned in the water as one. The fading sunlight glinted off their large, round eyes as they started to swim toward her.