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Underneath (stylized as Undernëath) is a cosmic horror short story by Nathaniel J. Nelson. Set during the COVID-19 pandemic, it follows an unnamed narrator as he works through quarantine in Savannah, Georgia.

Plot[]

An unnamed narrator lives in Savannah, Georgia after dropping out of a "bourgeoise liberal arts school" and the more grounded Savannah College of Art and Design. He lives with two SCAD film students and works at the local CVS.

Over spring break in 2020, the narrator's roommates return home to New York and Fresno, respectively; when the government-mandated quarantine for COVID-19 comes into effect, they end up trapped at their parents' homes, leaving the narrator alone in Savannah. Due to the nature of CVS as a pharmacy, the narrator's job does not close down, leaving him and his coworkers to man the registers with no customers coming in. One day, while taking a smoke break, the narrator is accosted by a homeless man, who borrows a cigarette and vaguely warns the narrator that the empty streets are dangerous, that there are "old things" beneath the ground that were previously kept at bay by the humans' trampling feet.

While cleaning his apartment, the narrator manages to drop his cell phone into a floor vent. Fearing that this might be a fire hazard, he calls an HVAC technician, but they refuse to make house calls during quarantine. The narrator decided to retrieve the phone himself and crawls under the raised house. He soon finds himself lost and claustrophobic among the seemingly infinite air ducts. He continues crawling along on his stomach, fighting back panic and believing that the area underneath his house is somehow much bigger than he'd thought. Losing his way completely, the narrator touches an unknown material under the dirt that he realizes is a rubbery mass of skin; one of the HVAC tubes comes free and grazes his shoulder, revealing a tendril of some sort hidden inside. Panicked, the narrator crawls through the forest of ducting as fast as he can, finally popping out where he entered. He is greeted by his next-door neighbor, who wonders what all the noise was about.

The story ends with a warning from the narrator, regarding the Governor of Georgia's decision to end the quarantine: he believes that, despite the obvious threat of the global pandemic, the lack of people in the streets may unleash something even worse upon the world.

Background[]

"Undernëath" takes place during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. Its statements regarding the Governor of Georgia and his disagreement with quarantines and mask mandates are obvious references to Brian Kemp, real-life Republican governor of Georgia during the pandemic.[1]

The Savannah College of Art and Design, referenced often in Undernëath, is a real private art school with campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, France, and Hong Kong (though the Hong Kong campus was closed due to the pandemic).


Release[]

"Undernëath" was released in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is available to read on Nathaniel J. Nelson's website, where it is featured alongside a photograph of Forsyth Park in Savannah.[2]

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