Tunnels 01 tunnels, p.13
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Tunnels 01 - Tunnels, p.13

           Roderick Gordon
 

  As they stood there in amazed silence and surveyed this worthless treasure trove, they became aware of a faint scratching sound.

  "Did you hear that?" Chester whispered as they trained their lights in the direction of the sound.

  Will moved a little farther into the cavern, treading carefully on the uneven floor, now invisible beneath the water.

  "What was it?" gasped Chester.

  "Shh!" Will stopped and they both listened, peering around.

  A sudden movement and a small splash made them jump. Then a sleek white object leaped from the rippling water and streaked along one of the metal members, stopping still on the top of a huge gearwheel. It was a large rat with a glistening, perfectly white coat and big, bright pink ears. It wiped its snout with its paws and flicked its head, spraying droplets into the air. Then it reared up on its hind legs, its whiskers twitching and vibrating in their flashlight beams as it sniffed the air.

  "Look! It doesn't have any eyes," Will hissed excitedly.

  Chester shuddered in response. Sure enough, where there should have been eyes there was not even the tiniest break in the sleek, snowy fur.

  "Yuck, that's disgusting!" Chester exclaimed as he took a step back.

  "Adaptive evolution," Will replied.

  "I don't care what it is!"

  The animal twitched and arched its head in the direction of Chester's voice. Then, the next instant, it was gone, diving into the water and swimming to the opposite bank, where it scurried away.

  "Great! He's probably gone to get his friends," Chester said. "This place will be swimming with them in a minute."

  Will laughed. "It's only a stupid rat!"

  "That was no normal rat — whoever heard of eyeless rats?"

  "Come on, you big baby. Don't you remember the Three Blind Mice?" Will said with a wry grin as they began to move around the crescent bank, playing their beams into the nooks and crannies in the walls and up to the ceiling above them. Chester was stepping apprehensively between the rocks and iron debris, constantly peering behind him for an imagined army of sightless rats. "I hate this," he grumbled.

  As they approached the shadows at the far end of the grotto, Will increased his pace. Chester did likewise, determined not to be left behind.

  "Whoa!" Will stopped in his tracks, Chester bumping into him. "Just look at that!"

  Set into the rock was a door.

  Will's flashlight flicked over its dull, scarred surface — it looked ancient but substantial, with rivet heads like halves of golf balls spaced around its frame and three massive handles down one side. He reached forward to touch it.

  "Hey! No!" Chester fretted.

  But Will paid him no heed and tapped lightly on the door with his knuckles. "It's metal," he said, running his palm over the surface — shiny, black, and uneven, like burned molasses.

  "So what? You're not thinking of going in there, are you?"

  Will turned to him, his hand resting on the door. "This is the only way my dad could've gone. Dead straight I am!"

  With that he reached up, grasped the topmost handle, and tried to pull down on it. It refused to budge. He thrust his flashlight at Chester and then, using both hands, tried again, heaving down with all his weight. Nothing happened.

  "Try the other way," suggested Chester resignedly.

  Will tried again, this time pushing upward. It creaked a little at first and then, to his surprise, swiveled smoothly until it clunked decisively into what he assumed was the open position. He did the same with the other two handles, then stood back. Retrieving his flashlight from Chester, he placed one hand against the center of the door, ready to push it open.

  "Well, here goes," he said to Chester, who for once did not raise any objection.

  Part Two

  The Colony

  19

  The door swung open with a subdued metallic groan. Will and Chester paused for a moment, adrenaline coursing through their veins as they directed their lights into the dark space beyond. They were both ready to turn and flee in an instant but, hearing and seeing nothing, they stepped carefully over the metal lip at the base of the door frame, holding their breath while their hearts pounded in their ears.

  Their flashlight beams licked unsteadily around the interior. They were standing in an almost cylindrical chamber, no more than ten feet long, with pronounced corrugations along its length. In front was another door, identical to the one they had just come through except for a small panel of misty glass held within a riveted frame, like a small porthole.

  "Looks like some sort of air lock," Will observed as he moved farther into the chamber, his boots thudding on the grooved iron flooring. "Get a move on," he said unnecessarily to Chester, who had followed him in and, without being asked, was closing the door behind them, turning the handles so all three were engaged again.

  "Better leave everything as we find it," Chester said. "Just in case."

  Having tried to see through the opaque porthole with no success, Will cranked open the three handles on the second door and pushed it outward. There was a small hiss, as if air were leaking from a tire valve. Chester threw Will a questioning look, which he ignored as he ventured into the short adjoining room. About ten feet square, it had walls like the keel of an old boat, a patchwork quilt of rusting metal plates held together with crude welds.

  "There's a number on here," Chester observed as he locked up the handles on the second door. Peeling and yellowing with age, there was a large figure 5 painted on the door beneath the murky porthole.

  As they moved cautiously forward, their lights picked out the first details of something in front of them. It was a trellis of interwoven metal bars, running from floor to ceiling and completely blocking the way. Will's light projected jerky shadows against the surfaces beyond as he pushed on the trellis with his hand. It was solid and unyielding. He tucked his flashlight away and, gripping the damp metal, pulled himself as close as he could.

  "I can see the walls, and I think I can see the roof, but…" he said, twisting his head around, "… but the floor is—"

  "A long way down," Chester interjected, the brim of his hard hat scraping against the trellis as he tried to get a better view.

  "I can tell you there's nothing remotely like this on the town plans. Do you think I'd have missed something like this!" Will said, as if to dispel any self-doubt that he might have indeed overlooked something so remarkable on the maps.

  "Wait, hang on, Will! Look at the cables!" Chester said loudly as he spied the chunky matte lines through the trellis. "It's an elevator shaft," he added enthusiastically, his spirits suddenly buoyed by the thought that, far from being something inexplicable and menacing, what they had encountered was recognizable and familiar. It was an elevator shaft. For the first time since they had left the relative normality of the Burrowses' cellar, Chester felt safe, imagining that the shaft must descend to something as ordinary as a railway tunnel. He even dared to let himself think that this could mean the end of their half-baked expedition.

  He looked down to his right, located a handle, and, yanking on it, slid the panel across. It grated horribly on its runners. Will took a step back in surprise: In his haste, he'd failed to notice that the barrier was in fact a sliding gate, and he now watched as it opened before them. Once Chester had pushed it all the way back they had an unobstructed view of the dark shaft. Their helmet lamps played on the heavy greased cables running down the middle of the shaft into the darkness below. Into the abyss.

  "It's one heck of a drop." Chester shivered, gripping the edge of the old elevator gate tightly as his gaze was swallowed up by the vertiginous depths. Will turned his attention from the shaft and began to look around the iron chamber behind them. Sure enough, attached to the wall at his side he found a small box made of dark wood with a tarnished brass button protruding from its center.

  "Yes!" he cried triumphantly and, without a word to Chester, pressed the button, which felt greasy beneath his fingertip.

  Not
hing happened.

  He tried again.

  And once more, nothing.

  "Chester, close the gate, close it!" he shouted, unable to contain his excitement.

  Chester rammed it across, and Will jabbed the button again. There was a distant vibration, and a clank reverberated from deep inside the shaft. And then the cables jerked into life and began to move, the shaft filling with a loud, whining groan from the winching equipment, which must have been housed not far above them. They listened to the clanging echoes of the approaching elevator.

  "Bet it's the way down to a subway station," Chester turned to Will, a look of anticipation on his face.

  Will frowned with annoyance. "No way. I told you there's nothing here. This is something else altogether."

  Chester's optimism evaporated, his face falling as they both approached the gate again, pushing their heads against it so their helmet lamps flicked into the black shaft.

  "Well, if we don't know what this is…" Chester said, "…there's still time to go back."

  "Come on, we can't give up. Not now."

  They both stood listening to the approaching elevator for a couple of minutes, until Chester spoke. "What if there's someone in it?" he said, drawing back from the gate and starting to panic again.

  But Will couldn't tear himself away. "Hang on, I can't quite… It's still too dark… Wait! I can see it, I can see it! It's like a miner's cage lift!" Staring hard at the elevator as it inched ponderously toward them, Will found he was able to see through the grille that formed its roof. He turned to Chester. "Relax, will you? There's nobody in it."

  "I didn't really think there was," Chester retorted defensively.

  "Yeah, right, you big wuss."

  Satisfying himself that it was empty, Chester shook his head and sighed with relief as the elevator arrived at their level. It shuddered to a clangorous halt, and Will lost no time pulling back the gate and taking a few steps in. Then he turned to Chester, who was hovering on the brink, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

  "I don't know, Will, it looks pretty risky," he said, his gaze shifting around the car's interior. It had cage walls and a scratched steel-plate floor, and the whole thing was covered with what looked like years of oily grime and dust.

  "Come on, Chester, this is the big time! " Not for a second did Will stop to consider there was any way to go but down. If he'd been filled with exhilaration at the discovery of the grotto, then this surpassed even his wildest expectations. "We're going to be famous!" he laughed.

  "Oh, sure, I can see it now… Two dead in elevator disaster! " Chester rejoined morosely, stretching his hands in front of him to indicate the newspaper headline. "It just doesn't look safe… probably hasn't been serviced in ages."

  Without a moment's hesitation Will jumped up and down a couple of times, his boots clanging on the metal floor. Chester looked on, terrified, as the cage rattled.

  "Safe as houses," Will grinned impishly and, resting his hand on the brass lever inside the car, looked Chester in the eye. "So are you coming… or are you going back to fight the rat?"

  That was enough for Chester, who immediately moved into the car. Will slid the gate shut behind him, and, when he pushed and held down the lever, the elevator once again shuddered into motion and began to descend. Through the caging, interrupted every so often by the dark mouths of other levels, they saw the rock face slowly sweeping by in muted shades of browns and blacks and grays, ochres and yellows.

  A damp breeze blew around them, and at one point Chester shone his flashlight through the grille above them, up into the shaft and onto the cables, which looked like a pair of dirty laser beams fading into deep space.

  "How far down do you think it goes?" Chester asked.

  "How should I know?" Will replied gruffly.

  In fact, it was almost five minutes before the elevator finally came to a stop with an abrupt and bone-shaking bump that made them fall against the sides of the cage.

  "Maybe I should have let go of the lever a bit earlier," Will said sheepishly.

  Chester threw his friend a blank look, as if nothing really mattered anymore, and then they both stood there, their lights throwing giant diamond silhouettes from the elevator cage onto the walls beyond.

  "Here we go again," Chester sighed as he slid back the gate, and Will pushed impatiently past him into another metal-plate room, rushing through it to get to the door at the far end.

  "This is just like the one above," Will noted as he busied himself with the three handles on the side of the door. This one had a large zero painted on it.

  They took a few tentative steps into the cylindrical room, their boots ringing out against the undulating sheet-metal flooring and their flashlight beams illuminating yet another door in front of them.

  "Seems we only have one way to go," Will said, striding toward it.

  "These chambers look like something out of a submarine," Chester muttered under his breath.

  Standing on tiptoe, Will looked through the small glass porthole, but couldn't make out anything on the other side. And when he tried to shine his flashlight through it, the grease and the scratches on the ancient surface only refracted the beam, so that the glass became more opaque than ever.

  "Useless," he said to himself.

  Passing his flashlight to Chester, he rotated the three handles and then pushed against the door. "It's stuck!" he grunted. He tried again without success. "Give me a hand, will you?"

  Chester joined in, and with their shoulders braced against the door they pushed and shoved with all their might. Suddenly it burst open with a loud hiss and a massive rush of air, and they stumbled through into the unknown.

  Their boots now ground on cobblestones as they regained their footing and straightened up. Before them was a scene that they both knew, for as long as they lived, they would never forget.

  It was a street.

  They found themselves in a huge space almost as wide as a highway, which curved off into the distance to their left and right. And looking across to the opposite side, they saw the road was lit by a row of tall street lamps.

  But what stood beyond these lights, on the far side of the cavern, was what really took their breath away. Stretching as far as they could see, in both directions, were houses.

  As if in a trance, Will and Chester moved toward this apparition. As they did so, the door slammed shut behind them with such force that they both wheeled around.

  "A breeze?" Chester asked his friend, with a baffled expression.

  Will shrugged in response — he could definitely feel a faint draft on his face. He put his head back and sniffed, catching the stale mustiness in the air. Chester was shining his flashlight at the door and then began to play it over the wall above, illuminating the huge blocks of stone that formed it. He raised the circle of light, higher and higher, and their eyes were compelled to follow the wall up into the shadows above, where it met the opposing wall in a gentle arch, like the vaulted roof of a huge cathedral.

  "What is all this, Will? What is this place?" Chester asked, grabbing him by the arm.

  "I don't know — I've never heard about anything like this before," Will replied, staring wide-eyed around the huge street. "It's truly awesome."

  "What do we do now?"

  "I think we… we should have a look around, don't you? This is just incredible," Will marveled. He struggled to order his thoughts, infused with the first heady rush of discovery and consumed with the irresistible urge to explore and to learn more. "Must record it," he muttered as he hoisted out his camera and began to take photographs.

  "Will, don't! The flash!"

  "Oops, sorry." He slung the camera around his neck. "Got a little carried away there." Without another word to Chester, he suddenly strode across the cobblestones toward the houses. Chester followed behind his fellow explorer, half crouched and grumbling under his breath as he scanned up and down the road for any sign of life.

  The buildings appeared to be carved out of the very
walls themselves, like semi-excavated architectural fossils. Their roofs were fused with the gently arching walls behind, and where one might have expected chimneys there was an intricate network of brick ducts sprouting from the tops, which ran up the walls and disappeared above, like petrified smoke plumes. As they reached the sidewalk, the only sound apart from their footfalls was a low humming, which seemed to be coming from the very ground itself. They paused briefly to inspect one of the streetlights.

  "It's like the—"

  "Yes," Will interrupted, unconsciously touching his pocket where his father's luminescent orb was carefully wrapped in a handkerchief. The glass sphere of the streetlight was a much larger version of this, almost the size of a soccer ball, and held in place by a four-pronged claw atop a cast-iron post. A pair of snow-white moths circled erratically about it like epileptic moons, their dry wings fluttering against the surface of the glass.

  Will stiffened abruptly and, lifting his head back, sniffed again — looking not unlike the eyeless rat on the cogwheel.

  "What's up?" Chester asked with trepidation. "Not more trouble?"

  "No, just thought… I smelled something. It was kind of like… ammonia… something sharp. Didn't you notice it?"

  "No." Chester sniffed several times. "I hope it's not poisonous."

  "Well, it's gone now, whatever it was. And we're fine, aren't we?"

  "Suppose so. But do you think anyone really lives here?" Chester replied as he looked up at the windows of the buildings. They turned their attention to the nearest houses, silent and ominous, as if daring them to approach.

  "I don't know."

  "Well, what's it all doing here, then?"

  "Only one way to find out," Will said as they crept gingerly toward the house. It was simple and elegant, constructed of sandstone masonry, almost Georgian in style. They could just make out heavily embroidered curtains behind the twelve-paned windows on either side of the front door, which was painted with thick green gloss and had on it a door knocker and bell push of deeply burnished brass.

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment