The city I live in is one of those popular tourist destinations in Germany. It’s an old city with a rich history, beautiful architecture, and many sightseeing attractions. Most import of all, it is a clean city.
For the most part at least. People forget the dirty network of tunnels that make up the city’s underbelly: the sewers.
That’s where I work. Now, of course, times have changed. When people hear that you work in the sewers, they think you are wading through shit and sewage all day. You probably do too, but you’d not believe how far off you are. These days we are mostly working with machinery and robots. It’s rarely the case that we have to set foot into the tunnels ourselves.
About a week ago, my colleague, Andreas, and I had to go down there. Our equipment had shown us that there was a pressure issue in one of the tunnels. To find out what exactly was going on, we’d have to do a manual check-up.
I hate those days. You never get used to it. Wading through those dark, sticky tunnels is as disgusting as it sounds. The worst is the smell.
What you find most down there is shit, toilet paper, and fatbergs. If you don’t know what the third is, call yourself lucky.
You can find all sorts of other things down there as well. You’ve got no idea about the things people flush down their toilets. I’ve seen trash, dead animals, but also medication, clothes, batteries, and even an iPhone. The funniest thing I saw was a huge dildo that slowly swam past me.
On that day, things were different.
As I said before, our city is old. Various types of sewage treatment have been used throughout the decades. While some of the old systems have been modernized, others were abandoned. Because of this, there is a whole second network of old, abandoned tunnels.
Where we had to go that day was a tunnel right under one of the major sightseeing attractions. Without looking at the plans I knew what it meant. There was no way we could enter the sewers right there. No one wanted to see dirty sewage workers on their fancy sightseeing trips. Instead, my colleague and I would have to use an entrance a couple hundred meters away. From there we’d have to make our way to the problem area underground.
Our map showed that we’d have to circle around the area. It would take us almost half an hour. Another way was to use the old sewer tunnels. I know our boss had declared them off limits due to safety issues, but it would cut our trip in half.
We’d barely entered the old tunnels, when Andreas got quiet. He crouched down and picked something up.
“What are you doing? Found something you like?”
For a moment he was quiet, then he came back and held up a kid’s baseball cap. I was serious instantly. It had most likely been flushed down here somehow, but you never knew.
There was this horror story about kids going missing down here a few years ago. Since then, we took these things much more serious.
There might be a chance that the cap belonged to a kid who’d gotten lost. God knows that these old, half-hidden tunnels held some weird fascination for the kids.
We continued on our way but kept our eyes open for clues.
A couple of minutes later we ended up in front of a metal sewer gate that kept us from going any further. I was a bit confused. Why was it down here? Hadn’t they stripped the old tunnels back in the day? It also looked kind of… new.
I went forward to have a closer look at it, but I’d barely moved forward at all, when something touched my leg. I jerked back.
“Shit! There’s something down here.”
“What do you mean?” Andreas asked.
“No clue, bumped into something. Hold on,” I said and took out my flashlight.
The moment I pointed the beam at the water in front of me I saw what I’d bumped into. It was the bloated, half-rotten corpse of a child. I stumbled backward before I crashed into Andreas and brought us both down.
“What the hell are you doing, man?” he yelled at me.
“It’s a child! There’s the corpse of a child down there!”
I got back up and pointed the flashlight at the spot ahead of us again. There it was, rocking back and forth in the water.
“Jesus Christ,” Andreas whispered.
He went forward and carefully tried to lift the corpse from the water. He barely got to raise it above the water level before the small body broke apart and vanished again.
For a moment he stood there, looking down at his hands in sheer shock, before he started to retch and vomit.
I moved towards him, the flashlight still on. I stopped after only a few steps. My eyes grew wide.
“There’s more,” was all I could press out after a few seconds.
As I kept shining the beam of the flashlight further ahead, I saw dozens of corpses behind the gate.
“What the fuck,” Andreas said looking after the beam. For a moment he was frozen in place, then he looked at me, his face a mask of despair and terror.
“Maybe a graveyard or something,” I started but broke up as I heard something. It sounded like footsteps. They were getting closer!
I quickly motioned for Andreas to be quiet and turned off the flashlight as well as the headlight on my helmet. He did the same a few moments later.
We couldn’t see a thing but heard something getting closer from the other side of the gate.
I looked around for some sort of hiding place, but there was nothing. Finally, I crouched down in the sewage water as Andreas had done. The smell was almost unbearable and I had to fight the urge to vomit as the sewage water splashed against my lips. I tried my hardest to not think about the corpses in the water ahead of me.
“… Rats should take care of them,” a deep voice ahead of us said and then started laughing. There was light, but it was too far away to make out anything.
“There’s too many for fuck’s sake! You really think the rats will eat all this?” a second voice chimed in, followed by a splash.
“Well, we could just throw a bit of that stuff in and cook ’em all up.”
“Nah, the boss told us not to use that shit down here. The sewer guys will notice and then we’re in even bigger shit than we are now.”
“The boss can go and fuck off! Takes no genius to see what will happen. With all that food down here, the rats will start breeding like crazy. We’ll be back at square one. Only that it won’t be the hobos, but the rats this time.”
“Shut up, idiot! If anyone hears you talk like this…”
“No one will know if you keep your mouth shut!”
The two voice kept talking like this, while the splashing continued. I was frozen in fear and disbelief. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Jesus Christ, what the fuck.
I don’t know how long we waited there. It had been minutes after the voices and the light had vanished that we dared to move again. Slowly and quietly we waded back in complete darkness. We were both scared shitless because we knew what we’d seen.
Ours is a nice and fancy city, a beautiful and clean one.
In the past years though, the rents had gone up all over Germany. In my city, the prices had skyrocketed. Many people struggled with the high costs and even more lived only barely above the poverty line. There is only so much the German social system can do in that situation. The number of people who had to rely on government support rose, and so did the amount of homeless.
It started to become a problem for the city’s image. The wealthy tourists coming here didn’t want to see beggars in the streets nor the homeless lingering around the central station.
There had been no real solution to the problem until the new mayor was elected. He’d promised to take care of the homeless problem. He’d held long speeches about housing projects and new work opportunities.
It seems he’d found a simpler solution.
You might wonder how no one notices dozens or even hundreds of people going missing. Think about it. In a snobbish and vibrant city like this one, no one cares about the homeless. They are a nuisance. No one is going to think twice about what happened to a missing beggar or that annoying group of drunks. No, the only thing they care about is that they are gone.
We didn’t finish work that day. We both made excuses and left.
That evening the two of us got together for a long talk.
We argued what to do for the whole night. I still remember Andreas’ face, the anger on it. He said we’d have to make this entire thing public and go to the cops. We couldn’t let them get away with this!
I told him to stay quiet for the time being. We didn’t know who was involved in this mess. What we needed was evidence.
In the end, he nodded and agreed with me.
Two days later, when we were scheduled on another shift together, he didn’t show up. I tried to convince myself that nothing had happened and that he was sick, but I had a strange feeling about it.
I called Andreas’ wife some time after my shift and she confirmed my suspicion. She had no idea where her husband was. She’d gone to the police, but so far they had no leads.
You have no idea how afraid I am. I don’t know what Andreas did. Maybe he went to talk to the cops after all, or perhaps he went down there alone. I’ve no freaking clue. Either way, I’m sure that something happened to him.
It gets worse though. We sewer workers always go down in pairs. It’s common procedure. Whoever took care of my colleague knows that he wasn’t down there alone.
I’m sure that they know already who was down there with him that day.