"..and voices singing out of empty cisterns and abandoned wells." --T. S. Eliot

Jon and I were walking back down Strawberry Creek Road, having decided that the hills were too damp for hiking tonight, when I heard an odd sound coming from a storm grate.

At first it was a single, sustained note, very pure and clear. We thought it might be water or wind in the pipes, though it sounded almost human. Then another voice joined it, and another, mainly in harmony but with occasional moments of eerie dissonance. They did not sound quite human, but they were far too musical to be any natural phenomenon. The dominant note was held for achingly long periods; if these were human singers, they were talented.

We tried prying the grate up, but it was firmly set. We were casting about for another way down when a wild-haired young man came by; he looked at us in puzzlement, and I pointed to the grate. "Listen to that drain. Just try it."

"Human sacrifice," he said in an awed voice. "Secret rituals. Cool, man."

We pried up several promising plates, only to find shallow trenches leading to electrical wiring. A tributary stream proved to lead into the storm drains--we didn't hear singing any longer, but voices, strangely distorted and distant. For a time they had seemed to be approaching, but as we tried to open the grating which covered the stream-end they receeded into silence.

There was no way down that we could find.

I threw myself on the first grating, pressed my ear to it. Nothing.

"I'm Ken," said the stranger, mournfully, and shook our hands. "Guess we'll never know what that was, unless it's in the papers tomorrow."

With a last, unhappy look around, we started down the hill--looked up suddenly at the sound of normal voices close at hand. Half a dozen rather grimy people, five young men and a woman, were clustered around our grate, shining flashlights down it and arguing whether it was the right one.

I ran up, said breathlessly, "Are you looking for singing in the sewers?"

They stared at me in amazement for a moment, then broke into laughter. "Someone heard us!"

Their leader, a shaven-headed young man with a huge flashlight, explained that they had explored the entire length of the passage, starting from an inlet near the Faculty Club, where Strawberry Creek emerges from underground.

"And the singing?"

"We were practicing our Gregorian chant. So you heard us, hey? That's great!"

"I wish I could have been out here to hear us in there," said another. "Maybe a tape recorder...."

Apparently they were trying to retrace their route aboveground, though they never decided whether our grate had been the one they had seen.

Jon commented, afterwards, that in running around trying to get into the sewers--without even a light--we had acted in the worst tradition of bad monster movies. But I can't imagine doing anything else.

Mary Kuhner