Séance in the Catacombs

by Scrappy LeMonte


 “Oh, my God,” said Renè as she pressed her palm to her forehead. “I’m going to have to stop for a minute.” 

She lowered the lantern she’d been holding aloft and leaned back against the tunnel wall. 

“What’s wrong?” asked Joel, holding his lantern closer to her face. The light struggled to cut through the thick, heavy darkness of the tunnels so close to the Catacombs. 

“I feel sick,” she answered.

“The air down here is stale,” said Audrey. She and Renè were sisters, she 16, Renè 14. They’d been born below and lived their lives there. As girls, they’d always been quiet, sweet and obedient; then they became teenagers. The former angels nowadays pushed the limits until their parents were distraught. The community did everything they could to help try to contain them, but the girls slipped past their defenses several times a month to enjoy adventures Above, usually ending in a pell-mell race to evade Topside law enforcement. When her mother tearfully asked her what she would do if she were ever arrested, Audrey lit a cigarette and snarkily said she’d hire Catherine. 

“Feels like it’s pressing down on us,” added Nathan. Nathan was 15. He’d been thrown out of his home upstate and was living on the streets when a Helper found him. He’d lived Below for three years. He was quiet and watchful. He never talked about where he’d come from.

“It’s kind of hard to breathe,” said Renè.

“We’re almost there,” said Joel. “We can rest until you catch your breath. You’ll feel okay in a minute.” He smiled at her. Joel was 16, handsome and charming; he was beginning to understand how those qualities could help him get the things he wanted. He had been born in the Tunnels; his parents had been runaways many years ago, escaping brutal physical abuse, when a Helper found them, and brought them Below.

Renè nodded. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” said Audrey.

“This is going to be so much fun,” smiled Nathan.

Renè felt sweat break out on her forehead, the back of her neck, and under her arms. She began to cool off. “I feel better.” She said.

“Ready to go?” asked Joel.

“Yeah,” she answered. “Let’s go.”

They raised their lanterns once more, and resumed their trek.


The Halloween Costume Ball was turning out to be a fantastic success. Most of the Tunnel Dwellers and Helpers came; the Great Hall was filled with people. William and his kitchen crew had provided a plethora of baked goods, candies, savory hors d’oeuvres, fruit punch, and hot spiced apple cider. Dozens of board games, dice, and cards were laid out on a table but, at this particular moment, every able-bodied person was on the dance floor.

The musicians played covers of most of the popular dance music; they taught each other the East Coast swing, West Coast swing, the Cabbage Patch, Lindy Hopping, Electric Slide, and break dancing. Everyone had to take a turn singing, but no one knew all the lyrics to any song, so there were gaps and a lot of la-la-la-ing, and lots of laughter.  

Everyone was dancing with everyone else; even Vincent and Catherine changed partners with every song.

And then the band struck up the introduction to Annie’s Song. Predictably, perhaps, but not uncharmingly, Vincent’s eyes locked with Catherine’s across the crowded dance floor. They moved toward each other steadily, a magnetic attraction whose force could not be denied. Just as he was about to take her in his arms, Mary approached Vincent, asking him, “Have you seen Joel? He promised me a waltz, but I can’t find him.”

Michael happened to approach as well. “Anyone seen Audrey?”

Father appeared with Narcissa; she was very upset. She had been persuaded to attend the Ball, and had been reading fortunes. “Someone has pilfered Narcissa’s bowl,” he said, smoldering.

“It is not just a bowl, Fadddah,” she mourned, “it is a sacred bowl that holds life-affirmin’ wahder, dat shows de mystery of de path--″

“Yes,” interrupted Father, unwilling to endure the Voodoo canticle he feared was to follow, “Narcissa turned her back for a moment, and it was gone.”  

Samantha came running. “Father,” she said, tugging on his jacket. “Didn’t you say we could play with the Ouija Board tonight? We can’t find it anywhere.”

“One needn’t be a Sherlock Holmes to deduce this mystery,” he pronounced, rocking back on his heels. “Renè, Audrey, Joel, and Nathan have taken the Ouija Board and Narcissa’s bowl and snuck down to the Catacombs for a séance,” asserted Father.

“That’s quite an accusation, Father. Why would they have done anything like that?” asked poor Mary, too sweet herself to suspect bad behavior of children she’d helped to raise.

“Elementary!” exclaimed Catherine and Michael. Catherine couldn’t help laughing, and Michael and Vincent smiled.

“Mary, really, after some of the business they’ve been involved in, this caper would be tame stuff indeed,” huffed Father.

“Oh, well, they shouldn’t be down in the Catacombs by themselves, it would be too easy for them to get lost. Vincent, would you mind going down to get them?”

“Vincent go? Let them find their own way back!” sputtered Father. “Why should Vincent be asked to sacrifice an hour of the festivities to save those hoodlums from themselves?”

“Yes,” agreed Catherine. She pulled Vincent’s arm to lead him out to the dance floor.

“Catherine,” murmured Vincent, resisting.

“We’re going to miss this dance entirely, Vincent,” she said, looking up into his eyes.

He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them, his eyes never leaving hers.

Catherine sighed. “Take me with you?”

“Yes,” agreed Vincent. “We can tell ghost stories on the way.” He allowed her to precede him toward the door and, behind her back, pulled on the streamer of a large orange balloon floating nearby. Holding it close to the back of Catherine’s head, he popped it with the poke of one sharp claw. Catherine yelped and jumped, spinning to face him; he caught her in his arms. They laughed ... and kissed.

Watching them, Father’s barbed remark was, “Now the only mystery will be if they make it back before the end of the ball.” Mary kissed the sardonic tug out of his cheek; he offered her his arm and waltzed with her very smoothly for a man with a limp.


Catherine and Vincent waltzed through the tunnels, laughing. He picked her up and spun them around. He set her down, raised her chin gently, and kissed her. Pulling away, his blue eyes twinkled above her; her green eyes glowed from below. They resumed their walk.

“Did you know about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?” asked Catherine. Ghost stories had given way to the history of tragedies in New York.

“Saturday, March 25, 1911,” answered Vincent. “It was almost the end of the workday when a fire started in the cutting scraps on the eighth floor.”

“It was the Asch Building, at Greene and Washington. The building was ten stories high, but the tallest ladders of the fire department only reached the sixth floor. There was no fire alarm, there were no sprinklers. The fire escape on the outside of the building might have been broken before the fire.”

“Twenty people died on it when it collapsed. There were two stairways, one down to Greene Street, the other down to Washington Place. The Washington Place stairway was locked, to guard against employee theft. The foreman with the key was one of the first to escape. The Greene Street stairway very soon became unusable due to the smoke and flames.”

“There were two freight elevators, and the elevator operators made three trips up to the ninth floor, but heat buckled the rails of one car. People pried the doors open and jumped down the other shaft trying to slide down the cables or land on top of the second car. The weight of the bodies warped the shape of the car, and it could no longer run.”

“Women started jumping out of the windows,” murmured Vincent. “Some were on fire when they jumped. Life nets held by the fire fighters broke under the impact of the falling bodies.”

“There was a couple, a man and a woman, who ran to a window, kissed, then jumped,” whispered Catherine. She stopped and looked up at Vincent. He bent his head down to meet hers, and they kissed for the lovers whose lives ended so tragically.

They resumed their walk, holding hands. “Did you know that two men owned that building, and two years later one of them was fined $20 for locking the doors of his factory?” asked Vincent.

“I didn’t know that. Did you know that the owners lost a wrongful death class action suit and had to pay $75 per victim? But they had insurance and it paid $60,000 more than they lost, which worked out to $400 per victim.”

Vincent stopped, so Catherine stopped short. “That, I did not know,” he said.

“It’s true,” she affirmed.

They resumed their walk.

“Do you know the history of the 1896 Eastern North American Heat Wave?” asked Vincent.

“No. What happened?”

“For ten days in August, temperatures were 90 degrees or higher during the day, they didn’t drop at night, and the humidity was 90 percent or more,” answered Vincent, and in twenty-seven words, Catherine understood how terribly thousands of people suffered.

At the turn of the century, New York was home to many thousands of newly arrived immigrants, most of whom were very poor. Landlords then, every bit as greedy as landlords now, and less encumbered by government regulations, built multi-family dwellings, five stories high, with four apartments on each floor. The lot the dwelling occupied was usually 25 feet wide on the street side, by 100 feet deep. A ranch-style home built in the 50’s has about the same square footage, with three bedrooms. Put four families in such a house, and stack them five high, and you almost have a tenement, but you’d have to take out the windows first. In a tenement, the side that was 25 feet wide faced the street, and that was the side that had a window. A. Single. Window. It would be the living/dining/family/guest/sitting room. The kitchen would be behind it, the bedroom behind the kitchen. And your unit was half the 25 wide, half the 100 deep: 12 x 50, more or less.  In 90 degree heat, the temperature inside would certainly be well over 100, and in 90% humidity, sweat won’t evaporate off human skin.

“Fifteen hundred people died,” said Vincent.

“I’ve always felt that Dante should have put avarice on the ninth circle of hell. He has it only about half-way down,” said Catherine.

Vincent nodded. “Yes, it seems that greed is the motivation for some of the most horrible crimes.”

They hiked in silence for a moment. “I know an interesting story about the New York City Draft Riots,” Catherine began.

Vincent looked up and to the right, recollecting. “July, 1863. Congress passed a law mandating registration for the draft. Black men were not considered citizens, so they were excluded, and wealthy white men could pay for substitutes.”

“The riots started when the government started drawing draft numbers,” Catherine continued. “The violence was terrible; the mob targeted black men and abolitionists, and committed atrocities on innocent people. There was a free black man, his name was Andrew Morgan. He was married and had three children. The children were two, four, and six years old when his wife died of complications from diabetes. He intended to place the children in an orphanage while he resettled in California. He couldn’t find work in New York, and the racism was terrible, so he planned to go to California and get established as a farm laborer or tenant farmer, then retrieve his children.

“He was at the Colored Orphan Asylum with his children on Monday, July 13, 1863, when the rioters attacked. The police managed to hold back the mob while the children were led out a back door to safety, but the mob got hold of Andrew. They tortured him, lynched him, and then set his body on fire,” she concluded.

“The poor man,” mourned Vincent. “Lincoln pulled regiments out of the Civil War and sent them to help restore order. The final confrontation was near Gramercy Park.”

“Some innocent bystanders were killed in that battle, including two women. New York has some sad history,” remarked Catherine.

They walked in silence for a moment. Vincent broke it by saying, “I’m thinking of Evelyn McHale.”

“Wasn’t she the woman who jumped off the Empire State Building and landed on her back, on the roof of a car, and she looked so beautiful and peaceful? What year was that?”

“Yes,” answered Vincent. “1947. She looked like she was asleep. Her suicide note was odd, I think. It was very important to her that no one view her body, that no wake or visitation or funeral be held. She asked to be cremated. When she was a child, her mother had abandoned the family, and in her note she asked that her father be told that she felt she had too many of her mother’s ‘tendencies’.”

“She was engaged to be married,” added Catherine, “and she said in the note, ‘I don’t think I’d be a good wife for anybody.’” She sighed. “Poor Evelyn.”

“Yes, poor Evelyn,” echoed Vincent. They were silent for a moment. Then Vincent cocked his head, listening. “I think I hear the children.”

“Let’s sneak up on them and scare them,” suggested Catherine with an evil gleam in her eye.

“Catherine!” admonished Vincent.

“They ruined our waltz.”

“We had a lovely waltz.”

She smiled. “Yes, we did.” She paused. “It’ll be fun,” she coaxed.

Vincent was undecided, but tempted.

“C’mon, Vincent,” she wheedled. She laid her palms flat on his chest. “Let’s be a little bad.”

He joined the conspiracy with a smile. “What do you want to do?”

“You come at them from one side, I’ll come at them from the opposite direction. We stay hidden, and moan and groan, and say things like, ‘Who disturbs our rest?’ and, uh, ah, hmm……”

“The dead shall have revenge on the living,” suggested Vincent, to Catherine’s delight.

He pointed out a path to her, and followed one himself that would place him opposite her.


Audrey lit the candles. “Dear Heavenly Father, protect us from all evil and harm as we call out to those who have departed from this earthly life. Light the way for your pure spirits of truth and love to return to us, to share with us their wisdom. We pray in the name of your most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.”

“Amen,” the others echoed.

The Catacombs were a labyrinth, and they stood at the entrance. They were standing around a small, round stalagmite that rose waist high, with a smooth, flat top. Three candles ringed Narcissa’s sacred bowl. Audrey nodded to Renè, who filled the bowl with water from a canteen. She nodded to Joel, who lit the incense.

“Join hands, right on top of the left of the one next to you, and close your eyes,” Audrey commanded, and the others obeyed. She raised her voice. “We call on the spirits of those who have been laid to rest in these Catacombs to join us and impart to us their wisdom.” She lowered her voice to speak to those at the rocky table. “Repeat after me, and keep repeating, ‘Join us, friendly spirits, join us’.” They began to chant.

Catherine and Vincent could hardly keep from laughing out. They’d taken up positions behind rock formations, and it was easy to remain concealed and observe the teens. So long as the teens kept their eyes closed, Vincent and Catherine could move into the open enough to see each other.

As the others continued to chant, Audrey intoned, “If there are any spirits among us, give us a sign.” She paused, then repeated, “Give us a sign, friendly spirits, if you are with us.”

Vincent picked up a few small pebbles and threw them into the bowl of water, then he and Catherine dove behind cover.

The teens’ eyes snapped open as water splashed on the table. “Don’t break the circle!” cried Audrey. “No matter what happens, don’t break the circle. Spirits, are you with us? Rap if you are present.”

Catherine picked up a softball-sized rock and tapped several staccato beats on the rock wall close to her.

The teens clenched each other’s hands.

“Ohmuhgod, ohmuhgod, Audrey, whadda we do, whadda we DO?” prattled Renè, unable to contain her excitement.

“Mmm……muuuuuuhhhh………mmm……mmm,” Vincent moaned.

Renè shrieked, and Joel and Nathan yelled out.

“Mmmooohhhhhh……ooooohhhh……maahhh……ohohoh…mow,” Catherine moaned sorrowfully.

“Aaaauuuudreyyyyy,” whispered Vincent.

“Oh, oh……ohohoh,” Catherine began, making crying and gasping sounds, and continued through Vincent’s macabre stylings.

“Rrrennnnnne-ayyyyy……Joooooooelll……Naaaaaaaaaathaaaan,” Vincent half whispered, half rumbled.

Renè completely lost control. She let loose a long, loud shriek, yanked her hands away from the others, and bolted away toward Catherine. Instinctively, the boys followed her.

Thinking to reveal herself, Catherine stepped out from behind the boulders. However, she was still concealed in shadow, and therefore unrecognizable to Renè.

Terrified, Renè skidded to a stop, Joel and Nathan colliding behind her. She then reversed course, fleeing, panicked, in the opposite direction, with the boys following.

Audrey watched Catherine’s advance in wide-eyed horror. She fainted.   

Realizing Renè’s terror, Vincent stepped out from the rock behind which he was concealed, thinking, as did Catherine, only to reveal himself. His efforts, however, were met with the same tragic failure as Catherine’s, for the same reason. It was too dark for Renè to recognize him. The only other path was into the Catacombs, and she took it, the boys still following.

Catherine knelt down beside Audrey; Vincent ran after the others.

Mary’s fears that the youths would become lost were truly well grounded — the Catacombs were literally a labyrinth, a labyrinth that seemed to Renè very similar to the alleys and courtyards of Above. Comforted by the familiarity of running to escape from danger, she picked up speed. She pulled ahead of the others, and was lost to their sight. Joel, the faster runner, separated from Nathan in the effort to catch up to Renè. Vincent stopped as he rounded a corner and saw that he had completely lost track of the teens.


Catherine shook Audrey’s shoulder. “Audrey,” she called loudly, over and over. Finally, Audrey started to rouse, and opened her eyes.

“How do you feel?” asked Catherine.

“Okay, I guess. What happened?”

Catherine took a deep breath. “Vincent and I came to bring you home from the Catacombs. Audrey, I’m very sorry. I thought it would be funny to startle you while you were having your séance. You passed out, and the others ran into the Catacombs.”

Audrey sat up. “I gotta get Renè,” she said.

“Vincent is in there, he’ll bring them all out,” Catherine tried to reassure her.

“No, that’s my sister, I have to get her,” she argued, rising to her feet.

Catherine put a hand on her arm to restrain her. “It won’t do any good for you to get lost, too.”

Audrey yanked her arm away. Catherine put a hand on her shoulder. Audrey spun, and threw a right cross to Catherine’s jaw. Catherine fell down, and Audrey ran into the Catacombs. Catherine pulled herself to her feet and followed.


Renè eventually became aware that she was completely alone. She slowed, stopped, and sank down to the ground to catch her breath. 

Catacombs, eeewwww, dead bodies on shelves .... She noticed plaques underneath the shelves upon which the deceased’s name, date of birth, and date of death had been engraved. Abigal Morgan Bartlett, May 5, 1861 – August 17, 1946. Beloved daughter, wife, mother. The plaque on the shelf beneath read Andrew Morgan, March 10, 1833 – July 13, 1863. Beloved son, husband, father. Martyr.    

“Renè! Renè!” she heard her sister calling.

“I’m here! I’m here!” she yelled back.

Audrey came bounding around a corner, and the sisters embraced.

“Oh, god, Audrey, what did we do, what did we do?” sniveled Renè.

“It’s okay, calm down,” Audrey answered, patting her back. “It was only Vincent and Catherine.”


“And Catherine. They figured out where we were and thought it’d be funny to scare the crap out of us. More adult treachery.”

“The bastards.”

“But everything’s okay now,” soothed Audrey. She noticed a glow coming from the corpse shelves. Renè followed her sister’s gaze, and together they watched in horror as shades rose from the corpses of Andrew Morgan and Abigail Morgan. Their bodies were frozen in place, and they were helpless to move as the shades overcame them.

Audrey took Renè’s hands in her own, and spoke,

My daughter dear, my cherished one, how good

It is to take your hand, and precious time

This magic Samhain night. Just as you should,

You’ve grown into a woman, glor’ous fine.


Renè spoke,

Harsh was your life, cruel was your death, no crime

Did you commit. We shall walk together

Eternally, in peace as heav’n permits;

Your hand in mine, my dearest martyred Father.


Hand in hand, they turned to make their way out of the labyrinth.



Nathan slowed down, walked, then stopped. He put his hands on his hips, and concentrated on slowing down his breathing. He looked around and listened. Nothing was coming after him. Freakin’ maze, what a crappy idea this turned out to be. On the other hand, wait til we tell the guys ... we might be having séances down here all the time ... IF I can figure out how to get back ... I’ll try, and if all else fails, Vincent will find  me ....

And in so believing, Nathan remained calm. He first looked to see if he could follow his own tracks out. Hmmm, negative on that, he concluded. The soft dirt was covered with tracks going in all directions. He couldn’t distinguish his own from the others. He wondered if he could remember landmarks he’d passed on the way in. He began walking slowly, back the way he thought he’d come. Eewww, dead bodies on shelves, he thought, looking around. He stopped to read a plaque. “Peter Joseph Manzetti, born February 9, 1873, died August 14, 1896, Heat Wave Victim.” He gazed at the corpse. “Peter Joseph Manzetti,” he repeated, “you died of heat stroke, or something.” He did the math quickly in his head. “You were only twenty-three. You didn’t have much of a chance to live. You were only eight years older than me when you died; you could’ve been my brother, Peter Joseph Manzetti.” His eyes glazed over. He spoke:

Her lantern raised she solemnly implores,

‘Justice for all, give me your tired, your poor.’

But there’s hunger here, justice is a bust.

Yanks worship banks: in tenements we trust.


 He moved off slowly, unseeing, back to the mouth of the labyrinth.



Evelyn McHale, born September 20, 1923, died May 1, 1947, age 24. ‘Beautiful suicide,’” read Joel. “’Beautiful suicide’? What’s beautiful about suicide?” he asked aloud.

 “Let me explain,” said a female voice from inside the corpse on the shelf. She rose up, and stood to face him. She smiled and continued,

Sweet sleep of death, sweet final repose!

No more suffering ghastly life.  I chose

Release from pain. My frame was too small,

To carry it all, all my sorrow and shame.


She stepped into Joel’s body, and began walking it to the entrance of the Catacombs.


 “Susan!” yelled Vincent as he searched frantically for her.

 “Daniel! Daniel, I’m here! I’m here!” screamed Catherine.

 They raced toward the sound of each other’s voices, barely discernible above the roar of the flames surrounding them. To his horror, Daniel saw Susan’s skirt catch fire. He raced to her, and tore it off her. She started to sob and clutched at his chest. He put his arms around her, and as the flames drew nearer, guided her to the windows. 

She looked past his shoulder, and saw the window. “No,” she sobbed, “no, I don’t want to die, Daniel, Daniel, I don’t want to die--″ 

“Shh, shh, there, there, Susie ... Susie, I don’t want to die either. No one did.” He rubbed her shoulders. “No one came to work to die.” He pulled away from her enough to look into her eyes. “But, honey, this is our time. We’ve lived the time we were given. Susie, I love you so very much. I believe we will live forever, in our love. Do you believe it, sweetheart?” 

“Yes, Daniel,” she sniffled, “yes, heaven must have a special place for lovers, I’m sure of it.” 

The flames were too close now, the heat astonishingly intense. “If we jump, it’ll be over in a few seconds, my love. And I’ll hold your hand the whole time.” 

She nodded.  

He lifted her up to the sill, then climbed up and stood next to her.  

“Thank you for being brave for me,” she murmured, now composed. “I’ll be brave now, too.” She took a deep breath. “Pray for us, honey.” 

He nodded, his eyes filling. “Dear Lord God, thank you for the time you’ve allowed us, and we thank you for the love we’ve found in each other. We’ve been blessed in the happiness we’ve known. Please forgive us for our sins, as we now forgive those who have sinned against us. Please comfort our families and friends, and make room for us now, as we come to meet you. We give you thanks and praise for your most holy son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.” 

“Amen, sweetheart, that was lovely.” 

“One last kiss?” he asked. She nodded, even now, shyly. 

He turned his back to the flames and held her in front of him. The heat blistered his back, but he didn’t care. He kissed her with all the tenderness and love that was overflowing his heart. 

They pulled away from each other, content, and ready. They joined hands, and closed their eyes. 


Vincent, Catherine, Joel, Audrey, Nathan, and Renè lifted their heads and opened their eyes. They were standing around the stalagmite table that stood at the entrance to the Catacombs. They looked at each other, blinking, confused. 

“Did it really happen?” Renè broke the silence. 

“I think it did,” answered Nathan, and the others nodded. 

“We should get back to the Halloween Ball,” said Joel. 

“Yes, a lot of people put a lot of work into organizing it,” agreed Audrey. 

The teens all stood up at once. Renè picked up Narcissa’s bowl, and tossed the water out. 

“Thanks for checking in on us,” Nathan said to Vincent and Catherine. Then the teens lit their lanterns and set out, leaving Vincent and Catherine staring. 

“Who were they, and where are our kids now?” asked Catherine. 

“Perhaps the experience of seeing life through the eyes of another helped them to grow up a bit,” mused Vincent. He looked at Catherine, his eyes filled with love. “I know that I have a new sense of urgency, that we mustn’t waste the time we have.” 

Catherine smiled. “So true. I am of the opinion that we should withdraw to the hot springs for a soak. We wouldn’t want to waste the resource.” 

He pulled her close. “Beautiful and frugal. No wonder I love you so very much.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and they shared a sultry, sensuous kiss.