The Tunnel Run

December 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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It was 9:30 P.M on a Sunday night and I had only just left work. There was a mountain of paperwork sat at my desk that had to be completed for Monday morning, but I knew that it couldn’t be done. I’d already given up my entire weekend, so it was difficult to find the energy to worry. I had grown bored of my job now anyway, so I didn’t really care what my boss said; I just needed a beer. I wandered out of the office doors, through the car park and made my way down the darkened road. Then like that, I was free. I was 21 now and had reached the age when I believed I knew everything. I had long grown used to living on my own and doing what I pleased, so I assumed I’d eventually just find a new job and be fine. My only regret that night was making the walk home.

Seeing as there is only two ways to reach my flat and one of them is a longer trek than the other, I could see no reason for taking the ‘scenic’ route; so I set off along my usual path. The journey home usually consisted of trudging down a miserable, lifeless road in which various holes had seemed to swallow up parts of the ground; and it was the same old walk for a little while, well, until I noticed a cut-off. It was a street that I had clearly passed every day on my way home, but I had only just noticed now. Feeling slightly confused, I decided to wander over to take a better look and hopefully refresh my mind. Smiths Avenue it was called. With it being a small, homely street, I expected it to be somewhat pleasant; but it wasn’t. It was surrounded by rotting monoliths and huge trees, making it look centuries old. At the very bottom, there was an abandoned ice cream truck that had been absorbed by the plants, while next to it was a pitch black tunnel. There was no light coming from anywhere in the street, just a silver glow from the moon to guide my eyes. I didn’t feel scared, nor did I feel the need to run away; but the street seemed very familiar and that made me feel slightly uneasy.

I was about to turn and get back to walking home when I realised how I knew the street. Eight years ago, I had a friend named Eddie Burscough. We used to play in the same street that I was now looking at, but it looked a lot different when I was a child. Back then I lived with my mum and dad, a happy life as I recall; but I lost them at a young age and seemed to block out a lot of memories. Maybe that’s why I forgot about Eddie and the street? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that I had to go and take a look around.

Straight away, my mind was flooded with memories – mostly of looking out the window and seeing Eddie playing out. I remembered kicking a football around all day, eating ice cream in the summer, riding our bikes in the sun with no worries at all; but my strongest memories were that of the tunnel. Even back then, in the light of my mind, the tunnel was just as dark as it looked to me now. So with our childish minds, we took the opportunity to create a game. ‘The Tunnel Run’ we called it. The game was simple: we each took turns to run down the tunnel and see who could make it the farthest without getting scared and turning back. There was one catch though… neither of us knew how far it went. If I remember rightly, neither of us ever made it all the way to the very end either. Not long after I lost my parents, I was placed with a foster family and I never saw Eddie ever again. Judging by the condition of the street now, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t live here any more.

I made my way to the tunnel at the far end of the street and stood on the edge of darkness. I felt the urge to try the tunnel run; for old times sake. I took my phone out and dimly lit a foot or so in front of me as I made my way inside; I walked this time. There was nothing but silence with me in that tunnel and I think that’s what compelled me to keep moving forward. I carried on walking until I got so far inside I couldn’t see anything at either end; but I wasn’t scared. It seemed peaceful.

After walking for what seemed like twenty minutes or so, I was stopped in my tracks when I could see a dim red light at the far end of the tunnel. I had to reach it. Was this the end that I had never reached? That Eddie had never reached? I had to find out. I kept on walking and walking until the light slowly came into focus and looked a lot brighter. At this point, I could make out something standing next to it, shuffling about and breathing. Then the smell of smoke hit me and my body tightened; I stopped walking. I then began to step backwards so I could leave, so I could make a run for it. When out of nowhere I heard someone mumble “Beat you to it”. It was Eddie. It had to be him, I could just tell. I moved towards him and couldn’t believe my eyes. It was definitely him, but he looked different. Not just older, but scarier. His features seemed twisted and a wry smile sat upon his face. He was stood next to a huge metal door, almost like a bouncer at a night club. He stared for a moment, winked at me and muttered “Come inside”.

I needed to talk to him and he clearly needed to talk to me too; so I followed him through the metal door. My stomach was turning, this all seemed like a dream. Once I was inside, my vision blurred for a moment. When it came back into focus, I was sure that my eyes were deceiving me. We were in my bedroom from when I was a young boy. It wasn’t a place made to seem like my old room; it was my exact room. The smell, the warmth, the memories all filled my being. I smiled. That’s when Eddie turned to look at me “Do you remember what your childhood was like?” Though confused, I replied “Well I remember some of it. It was good”

“Was it?”

“From what I can remember, it really was. Playing in the summer, ice cream, footba-”

“So you remember everything being fine do you, everything was perfect?” Eddie snarled

“What do you mean? I remember what I remember. It wasn’t all good, no. I remember my parents dying and going to a foster home – never seeing you again, you just disappeared. Before all of that though, I had a great childhood. My teenage years were great too, even my foster family were nice people”

“Did you forget what your mum and dad were like? They were fiends, disgusting people, they used to beat you up and down; kick you, punch you, put cigarettes out on your arm. Did you forget all of that?”

I realised that I had. I had completely forgotten. Everything came back to me at that point, all at once like huge wave. All of the pain that my parents had put me through emerged from the darkness; and I knew then, exactly why I blocked out my childhood.

“How did they die?” Eddie said

I mumbled “I, I can’t remember”

“What do you remember? Take a look at this, it may look familiar”

My old bedroom suddenly changed and I was in another bedroom. I could tell that it was in the same house but it was completely charred; burnt to a crisp. I remembered that bedroom, it was very familiar, but for some reason I didn’t know why.

“That’s my bedroom” Eddie said “I remember, one night after we had taken our usual beatings, you came into my room and whispered to me that we needed to do something. We needed to get out of here. A moment before you left, you threw a box of matches on my bed and told me to set fire to my bedroom; you said that we could make it look like an accident. I was young and naive, so I agreed to do it. You told me that if I did it correctly we could leave and be happy with another family; but you left me. You ran out of the house and left me screaming in my bedroom. The fire spread so fast, I didn’t know what to do; I just called out my brother’s name but nobody came. You didn’t just leave our parents to die in that fire. You left me”

I could see the pain and sadness in his eyes as he told me the whole story. My little brother didn’t seem so scary anymore. I placed my head in my hands and cried more than ever. I just couldn’t believe it, I remembered everything. My abusive parents, my younger brother – the only good part of my childhood – all dead, because of me. I blocked everything out from my younger life but kept hold of the good memories. I got a new family, inherited every penny from my old life and changed my name to start fresh, nobody knowing what I had done – the authorities called it an accident. I lifted my head up with tears streaming down my face to apologise but he was already gone. At that moment I wanted to die.

I had tried to bury my past and move on but it didn’t work. It was bound to find me sooner or later. I didn’t deserve to start a new life; Eddie would never get to. I looked around at the empty room to see if he was anywhere to be seen, but he wasn’t. It was just me and my tears. I stepped forward and opened the huge metal door; then with a rush of light I was right back at the top of Smiths Avenue. I glanced down the street and it looked exactly the same as it did back in my childhood. Except for one house at the end which was completely burnt. I turned away and left that street, I don’t think I’ll ever go back there again; but I remember everything now and I will never forgive myself. I just wish I could speak to my baby brother again.

Credit: Jacob Newell

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A Change in Seasons

December 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM
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It had started in the farthest corner of my apartment; first as only the slightest hint of coppery red, before oozing from the ceiling and down the wall. I stumbled towards it, tripping over a laundry hamper and knocking it to the floor. It was funny looking, really. Against the yellowing wall paper, it looked almost like a rookie’s graffiti, still fresh and drying. I lifted a hand to touch it, but thought better. Up this close, the stench was overwhelming like when the sink clogs and you pull out the stopper to find an enormous glob of hair. A smell mixed between bile and ammonia, a nauseous wave swept over me attempting to pull up last week’s dinner. In a panic, I ran to the window and was alarmed when it wouldn’t open. Furiously, I scrambled to unlatch the lock and rattled it up for the first time in years. As I swallowed the tastiest air I’ve ever had, I could only think, At least I know where the smell is coming from now.

One month ago had been a party for me. I’d gotten home early from my job mopping floors at a hospital and had even had time to pick up a pizza on the way back. Now, I don’t live in the best of areas, I’ll admit; and whenever I pull into the unpainted parking space of my building, I always get that feeling that something bad might happen that day. The apartment’s at least two hundred years old and it shows. From the chipped red bricks to the way it tilts slightly towards the top, “The Queen”, gives a sense of both unreliability and experience. And I’m sure it’s experienced a lot.

I push though the front glass door, complete with a head-sized hole, and begin the solemn march to the eighth floor and my room – number 48. I say solemn march because that’s what it is; I don’t want to see or talk to anyone here and that’s best done by staring at the floor as I walk, my face suitable blank. The first person I come across seems to have the same idea. He’s wearing cheap plaid over a greasy t-shirt and doesn’t even look my way as he slips into number 9: The Queen’s nightly brothel, if I’m not mistaken. The Queen’s a classy place.

I cross up the stairs past a room that has smelled heavily of curry since I moved here, the same screaming rock music playing like a theme song. The door is open and I see a huddle of kids shooting up heroin or cocaine or maybe even bleach mixed with water. Who cares? I certainly don’t. The walls up here are covered with what could either be mud or human excrement and I try my best to guide the bulky pizza box up the stairs without touching anything.

I see old man Taylor wobbling up the steps ahead of me. He’s got his veteran’s cap on again and he’s humming some sort of oldie under his breath. I feel bad for him, I really do. It’s hard to watch as his arms shake each time he releases the railing to climb up another step; his legs moving slowly with arthritis. Luckily, I’m on my floor now so I won’t have to wait thirty minutes before getting to my room.

“You having a pardy t’night, boy?” His voice is raspy from smoking and muddled from time. I turn to have a look at him, hooking the box under my arm.

“Every night’s a party,” I remark, failing to come up with anything better, “Why, what are you doing tonight?”

“Not’ing, I just want to say hello. No one says hello an’more.”

I smile to him and nod, thinking about how cold the pizza must be getting. He smiles back, a toothless thing before returning to his journey upward as I jingle the keys into my door’s lock. Inside, I smile when I see the pile of DVD’s on the coffee table, the humming fridge with various appointments and magnets stuck to it and the window overlooking the sleeping town. I’d survived another day.

I throw the pizza down on the side of my mildew streaked couch and turn on the TV. The television is older than Christ and doesn’t have cable but none of that matters. I put in my favorite television series, “That 70’s Show”, and begin the party with my best and only friends.

* * *

My parents came for a visit three weeks later. The first thing they said when they walked in wasn’t about how messy the room was; it wasn’t about how I hadn’t called them since last Christmas or how they thought I could do better than this dump. They complained about the smell.

I blushed and pointed at the sink full to the brim with soap water and old dishes, but they were sure that wasn’t it. “It smells like something died in here”, they said. I fought back the urge to reply, “Ya, my hopes and dreams”. Honestly, I couldn’t smell anything. Needless to say, they didn’t stay long and I was alone again.

That night, lying in bed, I began yearning for the past. I vividly lived through my childhood for what must have been the eighth time. I saw all the mistakes I had made and all the chances I never took. I saw her again. Standing by the pool, waiting for me; but I’d never show up. I had told myself it was because I hadn’t wanted to get my hair wet at the time. Now, it felt like self-sabotage and I investigated every what-if scenario that could have happened if I’d gone.

There was a sudden crash above my bed as if a television or even a small bookcase had been kicked over. I was jolted out of my self-pity and back into reality. The crash was followed by a much smaller thump that was somehow more rattling than the first. That old man lived above me of course; he might have fallen over for all I knew. And yet, I did nothing. It all went downhill from there.

* * *

The next night I was haunted by what was the unmistakable sound of dripping. It was hard to hear, impossible during the day, but at night, when everything was quiet, that excruciating sound would begin. Like the ticking of a clock, getting louder and louder, never missing a beat. I envisioned a puddle of blackness being filled by an unnatural cloud; within, my loved ones were drowning. I would turn to my static strewn friends, but still the dripping continued, taking bits of sanity with every drop.

And the smell; that horrible yellow smell, like a portal into hell had been opened. I was reminded of when I found my parakeet trapped behind the couch as a child; its rotting flesh and fecal fumes leaping off its carcass. I had cried for my parents then as I did now. But what could they do? I was enveloped in this travesty and I had shut them out of my life.

Desperately, I searched my prison for the source of this evil. I pushed through all the toxins under the sink, scattered the mothballs under my bed, and checked the vents for dead creatures. That’s when I found something odd. It seemed as if the source was coming through the vents themselves and not from my room at all. Immediately I bought a roll of duct tape and sealed off every vent I could find with three layers of tape. Gradually, the air began to clear and I could finally begin to think rationally again. To finish the job, I sprayed air freshener into every corner of every room, and that’s when I noticed the spot.

A single, crimson red drip was gathering in the very corner by the window. Building in size like a blister, I watched as the bubble popped and streaked five inches down the wall. Several other red stalactites appeared and grew in size before following it’s comrade down towards the floor. It was bizarre; they began to take the shape of an upside down tree, its branches a glaring sea of blood. I felt dinner begin to rise up my throat and I hurriedly shoved the window open, gasping for breath.

I was even more shocked by what I saw below. There was a group of at least ten men in bulky, yellow hazmat clothing exiting two white vans and running into the apartment. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I pulled my head back inside to look at the growing red mark as it began to reach and soak into the carpet floor. I jumped back in surprise before the spot could reach my toes and headed for the door. Already I could hear the men as they charged up the stairs past my door, towards – my heart skipped a beat – old man Taylor’s apartment.

I slammed open the door and waived down an approaching hazmat man. I could tell he was out of breath without even seeing his face.

“Please, exit the building, sir,” he gasped.

He didn’t wait for me to reply and so I did the only thing I could – I walked down the stairs with everyone else into the cold night air; on the eve of winter.

* * *

Old man Taylor had been found dead, I was told later. It turned out he’d hung himself over a month ago; and there he had stayed, like clothes in a closet or beef on a meat hook. No one had even noticed he was gone. His family never called him, nor he them; he didn’t have any friends to speak of because he’d never speak a word to anyone. By all accounts of the few who knew him, he was a lonely man because he never took the time to be anything else; either he felt he was too busy or he just didn’t care. And he died that way.

After a month of hanging there, his head had separated from his body. The crash was the body hitting the ground and the following thump – the rest of him. Everything inside him had flooded out and dyed the white carpet around him red before soaking through the floor to repeat the pattern in my room. The only reason he was noticed missing was from the smell and a missing payment for his rent.

I look back on this and realize with horror that we really weren’t so different. I had shut myself off from the world into a cold loneliness I’m sure Taylor was very familiar with up until the bitter end. I’ve started going out more as a result. I’ve shut off the television and sold all my DVDs. I even called her again. I almost didn’t, at first. But during the past month, I’ve learned that life is too short and sanity too fragile to lock myself in my room anymore. In the search for change, I’ve put away my noose for good.

- Based on a true story -

Credit To: A.R. Scroggins

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