Part 1. of submissions for the February writing challenge:
As we entered the tunnel
I am posting the submissions in group`s of up to 10 (in no particular order) to aid reading and review. I hope you enjoy them. If possible it would be useful if you could read some of the submissions, provide constructive feedback to the author and make any general comments over on our Facebook page. If you comment please tag the author and the title in the comments below or contact them direct via the Facebook page.
Tom Maris – Flash lights
As we entered the tunnel I glanced at my right. He seemed alright. Or was that blink a first sign? I had no idea what to look for. The pounding of my heart annoyed me. I tried to concentrate on the road, but there wasn’t much to concentrate on. There were no other cars in sight.
I was driving into a straight, dark bowel, carved out of the rocks of the Sueve mountains. Lights at every ten meters or so. I imagined that the monotony could bring you into a trance. It was almost as if we were standing still and the lights were flashing. We were swallowed by an endless bowel. It was stupid of course, to go straightaway for the largest tunnel on the A8.
Suddenly I felt his hand on my arm. I gasped while he squeezed it.
‘Stop!’ he screamed.
I didn’t look at him. I held the steering wheel firmly in both hands and tried to concentrate on the road. My mind raced. The major part of the tunnel was still ahead of us, but it would be insane to turn around and drive back. I decided to step on it.
‘Stop! Stop!’ he screamed again.
I felt a droplet of his spittle landing on my earlobe. While still squeezing my right arm he put his other hand firmly on the dashboard as to brace himself. I put the pedal to the metal. The lights started to flash faster.
‘What are you doing?’ he yelled with a cracking voice, ‘Stop the car!’
‘I can’t stop in the middle of a tunnel!’ I yelled back.
I saw the meter climbing to 180. The car roared. The lights of the bowel were flashing rapidly. The steering wheel started to vibrate. A car showed up ahead of us. It still seemed far away, but we were approaching it with a dazzling speed.
He started shouting. No words anymore, just a chilling voice that went to the bones. The lights kept on flashing. The tachometer shrieked. Suddenly he vigorously pulled my arm. The car made a jerk to the right.
‘Let go of my arm!’ I screamed. ‘You are going to kill us both!’
He released it. I felt a sharp pain when my blood started to run freely again. From the corner of my eye I saw him quickly folding down in a brace position. His elbows on his knees, his hands ons his ears, still screaming continuously.
Then I saw the car. I hit the brake and steered to the left at the same time. The tires squealed. I missed the car by a nose. A fraction of a second later I saw it disappearing in the rearview mirror. I glanced at my right. He was banging with his head, his voice getting hoarse.
Then I saw the hole. It was filled with light and it wasn’t flashing. I accelerated again. It was seconds away, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… I squeezed my eyes.
He raised his head and started laughing. A hysterical laugh. He slapped with his hand on his leg.
‘High five!’ he said, raising his left hand.
I started laughing as well, nervously.
‘High five,’ I said, hitting his hand with mine.
A jolt of pain went through my arm.
‘You made it,’ I said.
‘Next time I will do better,’ he said.
Geoffrey Odgers – As we entered the tunnel
As we entered the tunnel, the usual forebodence associated with a journey into the darkness, is swept away and replaced with optimism and a feeling of sweet anticipation. This tunnel odyssey is an unusual marriage between myself, the great solitary being, and my old acquaintance Soren Kierkegaard.
Soren has been whispering in my ear, indeed he began when I read his book “The Seducer’s Diary” in the very early seventies. The life of this book suffered the fate of so many of its kind, lent with the understanding that the book was extremely important to me and I expected it back. During my life in the 70’s alcohol and dope were the mainstay of our lifestyle, so I really should not have been surprised the a stoner’s promise to return it meant so little.
If only I could have spoken to Soren then and sought his guidance regarding the either/or conundrum with which he became so widely known and quoted, my books and cynicism may well have been rewarded with a more comprehensive library of learning, stimulation and enlightenment.
I mention my quandary to him as we traverse the deeper void and eerie light of the tunnel. He is ever patient listening to my, “ but what if…”, “why couldn’t I have thought about the trust issue”. Before I can berate myself any longer, he reminds me of the purpose of entering and continuing our tunnel odyssey, “either we continue our journey of discovery, sharing the tandem reassurance of lifelong respect and understanding, or we stop our journey and sit down and discuss your obsession with lent books.”
This obsession is relevant today as it was all those years ago. The perennial poverty of the life of a practising artist is a constant battle between what to keep and what to destroy to keep moving costs down.
I am jolted back to reality. The tunnel odyssey has taken a new meaning and significance. My existentialism is orbiting above and beyond the tunnel metaphor and I am beginning to respond to stimuli as I did those many years ago.
The either/or never entered my mind during my early hedonistic twenties. Fatalism was a precursor to all actions I took. How I lived and thought was in the now, there was no time for the other. Either I lived and confronted life to the max, accelerated by far too much rocket fuel and despair, or I became ordinary. If that was the case why bother.
Soren laughs a deep throbbing chuckle and ruffles my hair. “If you are to live based on your concept of self determination through acts of will, then is the either/or relevant at all to your journey”?
I wondered if indeed I could forego the either/or attitude. Either I continue onwards into the tunnel and find fulfilment, reason and heightened awareness, or I turn around and stumble back to my accepted knowledge and achievements, reviewing my life with the hindsight of age, suffering and great pleasure.
Matt Dolan – As we entered the tunnel
As we entered the tunnel, I prayed that this is where it would end. I could not keep going much longer and this realisation began to overwhelm me. It did not engulf me with a crashing wave of despondency, nor, as lightning, did it illuminate everything with one clear strike, instead the doubts crept in through my toes and, cell by cell, overtook my body with a trudging, cloying inevitability.
As this sensation spread, I felt as if I were wading through setting cement. My shoulders screamed as the burden dragged them to the pit of the sockets. My ribs pressed against my chest as the hawking breaths I self-pityingly hauled, expanded my lungs. My back arched as my chin jutted forward and my eyes fixed on an elusive spot in the gloom ahead.
As I lurched forward again, one agonising step after another, the light faded and the dark enveloped me. The radiance of the outdoor sunshine remained only on my back and caused rivulets of perspiration to flow into the crevice above my buttocks. I dared not stop, dared not redistribute the weight in order to alleviate this unpleasant sensation, which, I had to admit, was not the most pressing complaint I had.
I urged my body to stay upright, was determined that I keep as much dignity and human spirit as I could in these last moments. My quads declared their opposition again as I raised one exhausted thigh to achieve one more step. And then another.
In almost total blackness now, apparitions danced in front of my eyes – awful mirages of sloth and apathy and waste. Why did I not use that gym membership? Why do I always order dessert? Why is my heart screaming silently against the inside of my chest?
As my eyes drooped shut, I tried to maintain the momentum that propelled me forward to the culmination of my mission. In my mind’s eye I saw Jesus, bent double under the weight of the cross as he staggered to his untimely demise, the instrument of his torture branding indentations into his skin. I saw myself as him, the torment of my burden crushing my spirit as well as my physical body. I watched as hallucinations of burst arteries, exploding cranial matter and a circle of black-clad observers who shook their heads as my casket lowered into the ground.
A glaze formed across one eye and collected, then dripped down my cheek. My agonising toil meant my body could force just one tear at a time. What would my wife say? How would my sons recall my life? I haven’t written a will. Who will tell my boss? How did I end up here? I just can’t keep going anymore. My body has expired. How will…
“That’s OK, dear, you can put the bags right there. The light’s broken but the lift still works.”
I would never, ever again offer to help Mrs. Lacey’s mum with her shopping.
Rieke Schroeder – Conquering the darkness
As we entered the tunnel ..immediately the darkness was heavy. “Come closer!”, said the guide and in the invisibility, we heard the tsss… of the match. For an instant the interior of the entrance to the cave was illuminated. We had reached this point after a while walking on all fours. My hands and feet were covered in mud. The guide lit his candle, the flame was the only source of light. Each member of our group had a white candle in his hand, still unlit. One by one we approached him, bending the candle into the fire. The smell of mud and water was accented in my nose, I did not dislike it. “Let us begin the route”, said Angel, our guide and guard of this group of adventurers.
With the candle in one hand and the rope attached to the rock in the other, I entered little by little into the tunnel. A few meters away my feet touched the water and in a moment the water covered me up to my chest. I could see absolutely nothing but Angel’s shadow right in front of me and the surface of the water around me. I could feel the tension of the group and I could hear the breathing of my partner who was in the next position behind me.
Suddenly I heard a scream and the sound of something falling into the water.” My candle!” I heard a female voice shouting. “It’s your turn now to follow the light of your companions” , said Angel to the voice in the background.
We advanced in silence a few minutes into the cave until Angel turned and said: “We have arrived. From this point we will only be able to move forward by swimming. You have to raise the candle as high as possible so that it does not turn off, if it falls, we will be in the dark and you will not be able to see your own hand.”
My breathing was closing a little and I could feel my pulse elevated. “Ready?” he asked me, and I shook my head. I dropped the rope and started swimming with one hand, the candle stretched over my head. It was not easy and with the vest on, my body was heavy. I had to make an effort to keep my hand on the sail. Although I could not see anything, I heard the movement of the water and suddenly I had this thought: What if there is something in the water?! I swam as fast as possible, a few meters ahead I saw the small light of the guide, trying to push this uncomfortable idea away.
What a relief I felt as my feet touched the ground. With a push I got up and quickly followed the guide who had already gone far away, and I could only see the shadow of the flame ahead of me. A spectacular sensation, a hidden subterranean world formed over thousands of years.
We continued walking for a few more minutes and the tunnel made a sharp turn. I would have almost bumped into Angel when he stopped a few meters away. Here we are. We waited until the rest of the group reached the same point and formed a circle. “For all who dare, we have reached the black hole jump. You must climb up to this ledge and jump forward. At the end you will fall into the most spectacular cenote of Semuc champey. Go for it!”
I climbed the few steps to the surface, I have never liked heights in my life, but like everything else on this trip one more step to overcome. my heart began to race, I felt the pulse in my chest.
I could not see even the slightest thing at the end of the hole, but I overcame my fears, and I was confident in my ability. I exhaled loudly and with a scream I jumped into the darkness.
Dika Guis – Fool woman me
As we entered the tunnel I knew we would never come back this way again. I wasn’t psychic or anything. The grating sound that the thick steel doors made behind us, as they were being forced back in place, made it glaringly obvious. Oh, they had promised to open the door twenty-five days from now, at exactly eight o’clock in the morning, for five days straight. To let us back out. But nobody was expecting us to be there.
This tunnel had been closed for a long, long time: seven hundred and twenty-three years to be exact. The air wasn’t bad, but then the entrance had been open since last night. NOT according to plan. The gates were supposed to have been opened yesterday morning, after which we would have entered and the gates would have been immediately shut again. For fear of what might come out. Possibly. Or maybe they were afraid we would change our minds. They hadn’t taken the amount of rust into account, which had effectively welded the doors shut. It had taken the blacksmiths hours and hours to pry open the doors and as a result we didn’t leave until this morning. Really, we could have entered as soon as the doors opened late last night, it’s not as if daylight is going to be a factor in this tunnel, but the doddering Pastor Emeritus, who was to bless our mission, had gone to sleep before the doors were open. And so, we had waited until this morning. For without his blessing we would surely be doomed. Surely…
The tunnel smelled… uhm, well… stony. A cold, damp, grey, sharpish kind of smell. Aside from the stone, I could smell wood smoke, from the fire we slept next to last night; the rose oil that my nan had given me and of which I had spilled a little on my pack; and this musky, salty, man-smell. That smell, of course, came from my companion; Lutha. It wasn’t that the 37-year-old ex-sailor lacked in personal hygiene. It’s just that I´ve got a keen sense of smell, and man-smell isn’t my favorite. My nose crinkled.
He wasn’t a bad sort of companion. Calm and centered, as if he could weather any storm, which he very well may have to. Though of course there is no actual weather in tunnels, I’m being figurative; poetic.
I would rather have had the company of Esramai, my best friend and sometimes lover. She was, however in a tunnel of her own, about four hundred and fifty miles southeast of here. She and her partner Twohands had entered the Rosgarath tunnel. Me and Lutha had entered the Adonai Tunnel. In total nine pairings of two were sent into the nine known tunnels. All tunnels had been closed since The Event, and all tunnels supposedly led to the same destination…. Our only and last hope of salvation.
So on and on we went, the tunnel slowly heading down, with our packs filled with food, clothes and camp gear. We also had a drum of precious daker nut oil each, to fill our lanterns and light our way. The old maps, from the royal archives, indicated that this tunnel, named after prince Adonai, who was killed in The Event, was approximately two hundred and fifty miles long. With an average pace of twenty miles a day that would take us roughly twelve days to get to our destination. That is, if we didn’t meet our doom before then. It would also make us the first of the nine to reach our destination, as our tunnel was supposedly the shortest. Oh the honor! Be still my heart!
Who knew what roamed these tunnels; aside from the beings we were sent in here to locate. The ones that would probably incinerate us before we ever even laid eyes on them. That is if they even still exist. Talk about a Hail Mary.
I don’t really know why I volunteered to enter the tunnels. I’m usually smarter than this, I think. Of the twenty three million souls on this planet only two hundred and twelve had volunteered. Two hundred and twelve fools, and only eighteen had been selected. I was selected because I am a great, GREAT warrior. Kidding. With my five foot one and slight build I was nobody’s idea of a warrior. In fact I looked more like a dark haired, pixie ballerina. I was however very good at talking (maybe you have noticed already) and in various languages too. Especially old languages. Dead languages. Which is what got me here. That and my infatuation with Esramai. Fool woman, me. Fira the fool. That’s me.
Bethsarim Brinez Albertsz
As we entered the tunnel the pitch black darkness envelopped me. I could feel the wheels grinding over the slabs of road line up ahead of us. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Ignoring the pit in my stomach and the wheeling thoughts about me.
Here I was, miles and miles in every direction and not a soul I could trust or turn to, let alone enough bars to use my phone. Plus it’s not like I have network coverage here.
I looked down at the dimly lit screen. Two percent.
Home is a 4 hour flight, across an ocean and I have no way to update my husband of my whearabouts.
“It’s another 2 hours drive to Orlando, we’ll be stopping at the next gas station for supplies if you need anything,” I hear the driver tell the woman three rows ahead of me.
A lot of good that will do me, fuck!
I close my eyes again, but not for long. The car seems to swerve violently to the left and bounces forward. I hear a scream coming from the front.
“AY DIOS MIO!” I hear a woman scream in horror.
The car swerves again, followed by a loud crash and thud. I hold my breath.
That’s it! We’re fucking dead in the middle of nowhere.
I feel dizzy and just keep my eyes closed. Maybe I won’t feel the pain I am certain is coming.
I stiffen. Then, I notice it.
We are still moving, I still feel the even grinding of the wheels over the road. The passenger next to me slowly stirs, then he pushes and shoves the bag that is wedged between us.
I reach for it and reluctantly start to open my eyes and lift my hoodie.
As he is stretching his arms and legs, he says under his breath, “Fuckin’ truckers…”
And I turn and look out the back window, and there’s a fire the size of a 2 story building lighting up the exit of the tunnel. I can hardly make out anything else as we quickly leave it further and further behind.
My eyes glued to the spot where the orange glow remained, rising still, I feel the car slow down and make a right turn. We stop at a brightly lit gas station, except I don’t register.
What just happened.
In a daze I get out, taking my bag with me. Part of me wants to find th driver to ask what happened, but I don’t have time.
I have to find an ATM that would take my foreign bank card and a charging station, ASAP.
I run over to the convenience store.
“We leave in 20 minutes, be back by then,” I hear the driver announce at the entrace.
Lucky this is one of those tourist stop type gas stations with a large convenient shop. I find two different kinds of teller machines next to this large red coffee dispenser and baked pastries machine. I shove my card in. Agree to the terms, knowing full well I will pay crazy fees.
I was so so stupid to check in at the airport back home with literally zero cash on hand. 3 airports, a taxi central and this harrowing near death drive later and finally I had a hundred dollar bill in my hand.
I walk up to the cashier to pay for candy bars, an energy drink and a burger when she points up to a sign behind her.
No $100 bills. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
“Can I swipe?”, I ask. She signals me to try. I put in my pin and hold my breath. The machine beeps. The cashier looks at me side eyed and clicks with her teeth. She taps the machine.
I try to contain myself. “What’s the matter?” I ask cautiously.
She taps it again. And signals me to wait a minute.
“OK, dear. We are out of printer paper, you mind?”, she says nodding.
I see the woman who was sitting in front in the van jump forward to the door waving and muttering “No, no… no..”
She bangs the glass window, “Wait!! Espere carajo!!”
A few other passengers rushed out from the bathrooms, dropping things on the floor they were going to buy.
My whole body trembling I mumble in disbelief, “How the hell am I getting to Orlando now?”