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”
“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