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  • Writer's pictureWalker Buckalew

Underground and Underwater

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Labyrinths and Tunnels

A lot of things – good and bad – can happen below the surface of the ground or of the water. In the novel I’m working on now, a labyrinth of tunnels under the city of Washington, DC will provide many opportunities for good or bad things to take place.

In other novels, I have already used underground and underwater settings at some length. To mention a few examples:

  • “The Lodge,” Rebecca and Luke’s childhood home in England and still home for their parents, has a complete underground bunker, constructed originally as a World War II bomb shelter, and modified by their parents to serve as an all-purpose shelter in times of emergency. The Lodge’s underground emergency quarters make their appearance in all of my novels and sometimes become the main site for the action.

  • The ancient Israeli fortress of Tel Megiddo guards the primary pass through the 20-plus mile ridge known from Biblical times as Mount Camel. The pass was used for thousands of years by travelers and armies moving to and from points south, including Egypt, and points north, including Damascus. The ancient fortress included a vertical shaft connecting to a tunnel that ran horizontally to a water source. This made the fortress less vulnerable to armies that, without the water source, could simply lay siege to the fortress until the inhabitants perished or surrendered. In my adult novel, Choose You This Day, (fictional) terrorists have expanded the underground tunnels for their own purposes.

  • Gareth Morgan’s entrapment below the waterline of a merchant ship in New York City harbor, in my young-adult novel titled Visioners 2, provides an opportunity for Rebecca’s daughter, Joanna, to assist with a complex rescue attempt of her boyfriend. Gareth’s captors had selected his place of captivity well, since a ship the size of this merchant vessel has dozens of spaces, small and large, below the waterline. A 15-year-old boy does not take up much space. Finding him would seem to have been impossible.

Now, I’m about halfway through my seventh novel (my fifth for adult readers). A good deal of the action is going to take place underneath Washington, DC. Many of us in the U.S. are at least dimly aware that Washington has quite a few tunnels. Some of them are for automobiles; others are for the DC subway system; and yet others connect government buildings to each other. Today, more than fifty miles of tunnels run beneath Washington and its surrounding jurisdictions.

Washington’s systems of tunnels have been developing since the year 1863, during the American Civil War. The original tunnels were aqueducts designed to deliver drinking water from the Potomac River into the city. The success of these tunnels led Congress to create other tunnels to ventilate the Capitol Building’s sub-basement offices. In 1896, still more tunnels were built to connect the Capitol to the then-new Library of Congress building. That was the first underground connection on Capitol Hill, making way for the extensive network of pedestrian tunnels that now helps lawmakers, staff, and visitors move through (that is, under) the Capitol complex.

In the 20th century and on into the current century, tunneling has continued as a major means of enhancing pedestrian, automobile, and train traffic throughout Washington. In my fifth novel for adults, we will find that both the good people and the evil people are going to try to make the best use possible of the city’s underground networks, each for their own purposes.

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