Shades Below Setting Notes: The Columbarium
The stern neoclassical building looked distinctly out of place in the pastel-hued residential neighborhood.
It sat in all its somber glory at the end of a small cul-de-sac, surrounded by neatly-trimmed hedges and small, geometric patches of grass. Purple-leaved trees shaded a small parking area just inside the wrought-iron gate.
Georgia eased Dolores into an open space, and turned off the engine. The Valk's final throaty rumble echoed off the surrounding houses. She dismounted, carefully rearranged her skirt and tugged off her helmet. She cast a quick eye around the neighborhood, then laid it on the seat. "All right. We're here."
Darius dismounted, too. She could feel his suspicion growing as they walked up the sidewalk to the building's pillared entrance. Georgia glanced at his face. His forehead tightened with each step they took. The line of his mouth drew steadily thinner.
His senses had to be on high alert by now, even if he still didn't realize where they were. Georgia cleared her throat. "How do you feel?"
The glare he gave her confirmed her suspicions. "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what this is about."
"You'll see." If she told him her plan now, she'd never get him inside.
They came to the doors. Darius reached out to open one for her. Georgia beat him to it. She ignored his disgruntled expression and motioned him inside. Darius gave her a hard look, then stepped over the threshold.
Georgia scarcely had time to join him before he doubled over.
She caught him and helped him to the wall. He sagged against it, pinched the bridge of his nose so hard his fingertips turned white. "What the fuck is this place?"
"It's called The Columbarium." Her fingers were still curled around his arm. Georgia forced them to unclench, and stepped back. "San Franciscans have been interring the ashes of their loves ones here for over one hundred years."
Darius dropped his hand and gave her an incredulous glare. "Are you serious right now? You brought me to a goddamn charnel house?" He shook his head, winced. "Where do you take guys on the second date, the city morgue?"
Georgia tipped up her nose. "Don't be silly. Morgue is the third date." She took in the look on his face, and sighed. "Look, if we're going to work together, we can't have a repeat of the other day. I need to know you're not going to lose your shit if there are spirits around."
- Season Of The Witch (Shades Below, #1.5)
One of my favorite things about San Francisco is that just about anywhere you go, there exists the possibility you'll stumble across something fantastic.
The Neptune Society Columbarium is something fantastic.
Turn down a nearly invisible little street in The Richmond District, and you'll find yourself in a comfortable, tree-lined residential cul-de-sac. At the end of the cul-de-sac is a set of heavy, wrought-iron gates, behind which lie a building wholly out-of-step with the rest of the neighborhood: The Building That Time Forgot.
The Columbarium was built in 1898 by cartographer and architect Bernard J.S. Cahill, in the ornate neoclassical style that was all the rage in San Francisco at the time. Originally part of the 167-acre Odd Fellows Cemetery, it is the oldest of the five columbaria that currently exist in the City of San Francisco. It's also the only one that is nondenominational.
San Francisco has a somewhat wonky history when it comes to the care and keeping of its dead. In the early 1900s, real estate demand prodded the city to ban further burials within city limits. In the 1930s, it did away with all its cemeteries entirely, and evicted the vast majority of its graves to the nearby city of Colma (which is now known far and wide as "The City of the Dead").
The Odd Fellows cemetery surrounding the Columbarium was exhumed, its residents shuttled off to Colma. Many of the headstones were used to build a seawall at Aquatic Park (not kidding), and while the Columbarium building itself survived, it fell into severe disrepair.
Forgotten by most, it was allegedly used by bootleggers during Prohibition. From approximately 1934-1979, it was looted and vandalized repeatedly. Even so, when The Neptune Society of Northern California finally took stewardship in 1980, they discovered to their astonishment that many of the niches still contained the ashes and effects of their original occupants.
You can still see these niches. Today, the Columbarium is fully restored and open to the public, and let me tell you, it is glorious. Step inside, and its unique combination of baroque and neoclassical features is on prominent display. The building doesn't look particularly large from the outside, but inside, its impeccable design makes the entire space expand. Soaring balconies ring a light-filled atrium, capped with a stained-glass dome you have to see to believe.
The ground floor rooms are named for each of the mythological winds of classical mythology, and six of those rooms feature gorgeous stained glass windows. There are four stories total of passageways, each lined with niches that chronicle the history of San Francisco back to the 1890s.
The Columbarium contains more than 8,000 inurnment spaces altogether. People are still being interred here, proof that in a city like San Francisco, history never truly dies.
L.J.K. Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva. She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody. L.J.K. likes monsters… and knows the darkest ones don’t live in closets.
Find L.J.K. Oliva and her books
Season of The Witch
Shades Below #1.5
Something wicked this way comes...well, more wicked than usual.Excerpt #1
Georgia Clare needs help, and fast. As the lone survivor of—and witness to—her coven's brutal massacre, she's felt the killer hunting her. There's just one problem: the rest of San Francisco's witching community wants nothing to do with her, and the one man she can turn to doesn't do witches.
Darius deCompostela has done his best to steer clear of subversive affairs. A private investigator and reluctant medium, the last thing he wants is to advertise his existence to the things that go bump in the night. But then Georgia knocks on his door, and try as he might, he can't turn her away.
It's just one case, after all. It's not like it's going to change his life…
It was her third night in a row of frozen pasta for dinner. Not that she was counting.
Georgia popped the top off yet another bottle of Corona and took a long draw. She leaned back against the counter. The microwave hummed behind her. She glanced over her shoulder at the digital clock on the unused stove. Sighed.
Nearly six o'clock, and still no sign of deCompostela. The pang of disappointment in her chest chafed at her pride. She should have known better than to believe he would stop by. He'd already made it abundantly clear he thought she was out of her mind.
Truth be told, the possibility had occurred to her. It had been a week since the new moon, and she hadn't seen hide nor hair of...it. Whatever it was. If not for the lingering scent of blood in her nostrils, she could almost believe she'd hallucinated the whole thing.
The microwave beeped. Georgia took one last drag of beer, then set her bottle down next to the two that had preceded it and opened the door. Fragrant steam rushed out; a heady blend of tomato, basil, and MSG.
Georgia reached in and grabbed the microwaveable plastic bowl, hissed and yanked her hand back again. She scanned the kitchen for something she could use as a potholder. Finally, she settled on a bunched-up paper towel.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled as she pulled out the pasta bowl. Georgia tensed, turned...
...Just in time to see her living room window explode inward in a hail of glass. She let out a startled shriek. A massive, dark creature suddenly occupied the space where her coffee table used to sit.
Everything else seemed to happen in slow-motion. The creature straightened, shaking shards of glass off its dull black fur. Its ears twitched towards her. Its lips peeled back from its razor-sharp teeth.
Georgia's chest seized. Recognition slammed through her. The creature snarled. Any lingering doubts she'd been harboring instantly evaporated.
It was here.
Georgia blindly hurled her steaming pasta bowl in the direction of the living room and bolted from the kitchen. She looked over in time to see it connect with a loud splat squarely between the intruder's eyes. The creature howled and clawed desperately at its face.
Georgia didn't wait for it to recover. Her altar. If she could just get to her altar, she could banish the ugly fucker and buy herself some time.
The creature was planted in the dead center of the straightest path across the living room. Georgia veered wide. She had almost cleared the front door when it flew open in a barrage of splinters. Someone barreled into her. They both sprawled to the ground.
The new intruder landed on top. Georgia hissed, bucked, clawed at anything she could reach. Her mystery assailant scrambled off her.
"Jesus Christ, would you calm down, you crazy—what the f*ck?"
deCompostela. Georgia didn't let herself pause to feel relief. She rolled to her feet, grabbed his hand and dragged him after her. They dove behind her sagging couch just as the creature regained its bearings. It threw back its head and let out a roar that shook her remaining windows.
Darius sniffed. "Is that tomato sauce?"
Georgia didn't answer. Her focus was squarely on her altar again. It was still too far away. "Wait here."
She leaped to her feet. The creature's eyes locked on her. Georgia swallowed the terror that welled in her chest and sprinted for the altar. She skidded to the floor in front of it like a baseball player sliding into home, yanked open one of the drawers and fumbled for the first items that came to mind.
The creature roared again. A blast of superheated air hit the back of her neck. Georgia braced for the feel of teeth around her throat.
"Right here, ugly!"
She turned in time to see Darius' massive fist catch the creature square in the nose. The creature yelped, then retaliated with a swipe of an even-more-massive paw. The blow swept Darius clear off his feet. He flew backwards and hit the wall with a dull crunch, then sagged to the ground with a wheeze. Flecks of paint and drywall fluttered to the floor around him.
But he'd bought her the time she needed. Georgia held up her black candle and flicked her Bic lighter to life. She touched the flame to the wick. The creature's eyes widened.
"Black, the color of protection. Black, the color of night."
The creature snarled. Darius heaved himself to his feet and surged forward. He wrapped his arms around the creature's hind legs and held tight.
"Black, the color of silence. Black, the color of stillness."
The creature swiped at Darius again. Its paw caught empty air where his head had been just seconds earlier. It tried to move. Darius' arms visibly tightened. Muscles bunched under his suit jacket.
"With black I banish thee. With will I banish thee." Georgia poured intent into her words. Her voice grew heavier, fuller. "Return to the night. Return to the silence. Return to the stillness. Be gone from this place."
The creature let out a strange yelp-hiss as invisible forces compelled it to obey. Darius released it and scrambled backwards.
Georgia lifted her chin. Magic crackled through her veins, tinged her vision black. "Be gone from this place," she repeated. "With black and with will, by my power and by the power of the Lady, I banish thee. So mote it be." She blew out the candle.
The creature vanished in a swirl of acrid black smoke. Its final, infuriated roar echoed through the small apartment.
Georgia finally allowed herself to breathe again. For the first time, she realized she was coated in a fine film of glass and wood slivers. She reached up to dust herself off, at the last minute thought better of it.
Instead, she turned to Darius. He had hauled himself onto her sad excuse of a sofa. His hands were planted on his knees. He stared at the spot where the creature had last stood.Georgia crossed her arms and cleared her throat. She waited until he looked up at her, then arched an eyebrow. "So. Do you believe me now?"