139: The Necropolis Lake

In the east of Glasgow there is a grassy hill, covered in graves, tombs, sepulchres, burial chambers, and mausoleums – this is the Necropolis, the “City of the Dead”, and it is here that so much of Glasgow’s bloody history is interred – dead, or asleep. The acolyte that seeks truth will eventually make a venture into the Necropolis, to find that thing that sleeps in the soil beneath.

Construction of the Necropolis began in 1831 by the Merchant’s House of Glasgow due to a high demand for burial space within the city thanks to a rising population and thus its rise in death toll. Before long, many prominent structures had arisen inside the extensive cemetery, such as monuments to prominent members of society who had passed on, mausoleums for wealthy families, and ornate statues of grieving angels. The Necropolis is accessed by walking across The Bridge of Sighs, which once spanned the river that Glasgow was founded upon, now hidden away underground.

The Necropolis is quiet, like all graveyards, but its location on a hill, elevated above the heights of the city, gives it an air of liminal seperation, a chill of isolation that is remarkably prevalent in the winter months, when fog obscures the rest of the city from view such that the only buildings that can be seen are those erected for the dead; the sounds of the city below fade away into the white shroud, and one can hear what sounds like the breathless whispers of the city of the dead – this is, in fact, the rushing of water deep beneath the soil of the cemetery, and it hints at one of the city’s best-kept secrets: a secret that the acolyte that seeks the truth will find.

At the entrance to the Necropolis, immediately opposite the Bridge of Sighs, is a large stone facade, with doors that were initially designed to act as entrances to a tunnel with vaults inside the hill the Necropolis is built on, largely to prevent bodysnatchers from gaining access to the recently-buried; however, the tunnel was not completed, as frequent flooding inside the vaults made it difficult to build a safe, sanitary means of travelling through to the vaults. The doors of the facade were locked.

There are other doors in the Necropolis, however, that remain open. The extent of the construction in the Necropolis was never fully documented or discussed, and the most wealthy men in the Merchant’s Guild, eager to build tombs that would serve their families for generations (as well as keep them safe from graverobbers), secretly dug deep down into the living earth to build colossal vertical vaults. These vaults can be accessed from certain surface-level mausoleums dotted around the graveyard: simply look for the monuments that bear curious insignias that hint at hidden passages inside their stone crypts. The Egyptian Vaults, for example, are decorated with upside-down torches with the flames still lit, hinting at a shaft that stretches down into the earth. Once inside (by working the lock of the mausoleum door, or climbing down through the roof), find the entrance; in most cases, this is as simple as sliding off the stone atop a tomb and climbing down into the vacant space below – in many cases, previous acolytes do not slide the stone lids back across once inside, hence the many mausoleums with disturbed crypts.

The catacombs under the Necropolis are dank, damp, and intensely claustrophobic – the air feels heavy and oppressive, and drawing breath is difficult in the deeper levels. The architecture of the vaults is difficult to maneuver; some of the passageways are permanently flooded, some have collapsed inwards, and some were never finished at all; it is said the merchants who built the catacombs felt they had disturbed something deep down amidst the gloom. The catacombs are rarely silent – the rush of water is never far off, as the river above the vaults (but below the streets) continually flows down through the stone. The dim roar of distant, crumbling corridors occasionally punctuate even the dry corners of the vaults; in the dark, it is easy to imagine these roars as laments of the anguished dead who line the walls of the abyssal tombs.

The acolyte that seeks the truth must venture into the water of the catacombs – there is no other way to access that secret that lies sleeping in the amniotic waters of the earth’s womb. Danger is omnipresent – damp clothing and strong currents can drag the acolyte under the surface forever; the roof or floors of passages may collapse and pin them down under rocks, soil or water; passages may suddenly flood, or air pockets fill up and disappear entirely. Only a few times must the acolyte dive below the surface of the water and swim down under a solid surface overhead, but these few airless moments in an area already starved of air is harrowing. The reward, however, lies at the end of a long, earthy tunnel with a strange, broken luminescence at the far end. The tunnel is littered with bloated, fleshy masses – the remains of previous acolytes who, looking towards the end of the tunnel and being gripped by fear, inadvertently took a breath of stale water – no air pockets exist in the tunnel. Only when the acolyte clears the tunnel and rises to the surface of the underwater lake they have swam into can they gasp for air. And gasp they inevitably will, for they will have been able to see that thing as they swam down the tunnel towards it – that thing that had so terrified the previous, failed acolytes.

Deep in the lake, some way below the acolyte’s feet, is a colossal entity of indistinct amphibian anatomy, sleeping with giant, stark-white eyes wide open and staring, interminably still – not even a bubble arises from it. It is impossible to tell if it is alive, or merely some work of insurpassable craftsmanship – the eyes are dimly luminescent, providing the only light in the underwater cavern, but they barely illuminate the vast bulk of its body, which is visible only as a cyclopean murky shadow hanging in the center of the lake. Swimming towards it through the tunnel – the fear that comes with the sudden acknowledgement that the light at the far end is actually the gaze of something enormous towards you – is nothing compared to the vulnerability you feel when treading water above it; moving your arms or legs too quickly feels far too dangerous. The entity’s stare is gripping – even as small a gesture as glancing away from it seems like too much of a movement to make, too vital a defense to lower in front of its gigantic frame.

And the acolyte who has found the truth must now turn away from the staring monstrosity; dive deep down in front of its unlit body, straight into the center of its unwavering sphere of vision, to swim back through the tunnel of the dead to the catacombs above, the weight of its gaze now – and forever – on the acolyte’s back.


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