Tunnels 01 tunnels, p.16
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       Tunnels 01 - Tunnels, p.16

           Roderick Gordon
 

  "But I don't know anything…"

  * * * * *

  Will was woken by the sound of a hatch being pulled back at the base of the door.

  "Food," a voice announced coldly.

  He was starving. He lifted himself up onto one arm, his body aching dully, as if he had the flu. Every bone and muscle complained when he tried to move.

  "Oh, God!" he groaned, and then suddenly thought of Chester. The open food hatch shed a little more illumination than usual into the cell and, as he looked around him, there on the floor at the base of the lead-covered ledge was his friend, lying in a fetal position. Chester's breathing was shallow, his face pale and feverish.

  Will staggered up onto his legs and , with difficulty, carried the two trays back to the ledge. He inspected the contents briefly. There were two bowls with something in them and some liquid in battered tin cups. It all looked terribly unappetizing, but at least it was hot and didn't smell too bad.

  "Chester?" he said, crouching down by his friend. Will felt awful — he, and he alone, was responsible for everything that was happening to both of them. He began to shake Chester gently by the shoulder. "Hey, are you all right?"

  "Urgh… wha…?" his friend moaned and tried to lift his head. Will could see that his nose had been bleeding; the blood was caked and smudged across his cheek.

  "Food, Chester. Come on, you'll feel better once you've eaten something."

  Will pulled Chester into a sitting position, propping his back against the wall. He moistened his sleeve with the liquid from one of the cups and began to dab at the blood on Chester's face with it.

  "Leave me alone!" Chester objected weakly, trying to push him away.

  "That's an improvement. Here, eat something," Will said, handing a bowl to Chester, who immediately pushed it away.

  "I'm not hungry. I feel terrible."

  "At least drink some of this. I think it's some sort of herbal tea." Will handed the drink to Chester, who cupped his hands around the warm mug. "What did they ask you?" Will mumbled through a mouth full of gray mush.

  "Everything. Name… address… your name… all that stuff. I can't remember most of it. I think I fainted… I really thought I was going to die," Chester said in a flat voice, staring into the middle distance.

  Will began to chuckle quietly. Strange as it might seem, his own suffering seemed to be relieved somewhat by hearing his friends complaints.

  "What's so funny?" Chester asked, outrage in his voice. "It's not funny at all."

  "No." Will laughed. "I know. Sorry. Here, try some of this. It's actually pretty good."

  Chester shuddered with disgust at the gray slurry in the bowl. Nevertheless, he picked up the spoon and poked at it, somewhat suspiciously at first. Then he sniffed it.

  "Doesn't smell too bad," he said, trying to convince himself.

  "Just eat it, would you?" Will said, filling his mouth again. He felt his strength begin to return with each mouthful. "I keep thinking I said something about Mum and Rebecca to them, but I'm not sure if I didn't dream it." He swallowed, then was silent for several seconds, biting the inside of his mouth as something began to trouble him. "I just hope I haven't gotten them in trouble, too." He took another mouthful and, still chewing, continued speaking as another recollection came back to him. "And Dad's journal — I keep seeing it in my mind, clear as anything — as if I'm there, watching, as their long white fingers open it and turn the pages, one by one. But that can't have happened, can it? It's all mixed up. What about you?"

  Chester shifted a little. "I don't know. I might have mentioned the cellar in your house… and your family… your mum… and Rebecca… yes… I could have told them something about her… but… oh, God, I don't know… it's all a jumble. It like I can't remember if it's what I said or what I thought." He put down his mug and cradled his head in his hands while Will leaned back, peering up at the dark ceiling.

  "Wonder what time it is…," he sighed, "…up there."

  * * * * *

  Over what must have been the next week, there followed more interrogations with the Styx, the Dark Light leaving both of them with the same awful side effects as before: exhaustion, a befuddled uncertainty about just what it was that they had told their tormentors, and the appalling bouts of sickness that ensued.

  Then came a day when the boys were left alone. Although they couldn't be certain, they both felt that surely the Styx must have gotten all they wanted for now, and hoped against hope that the sessions were finally over.

  And so the hours passed, and the two boys slept fitfully, mealtimes came and went, and the divided their time between pacing the floor, when they felt strong enough, and resting on the ledge, even occasionally shouting at the door, but to no avail. And in the constant, unchanging light, they lost all sense of time and of day or night.

  Beyond the walls of their cell, serpentine processes were in play: Investigations, meetings, and chatterings, all in the scratchy secret language of the Styx, were deciding their fate.

  Ignorant of this, the boys worked hard to keep up their spirits. In hushed tones, they talked at length about how they might escape, and whether Rebecca would eventually piece it all together and lead the authorities to the tunnel in the cellar. How they kicked themselves for not leaving a note! Or maybe Will's father was the answer to their problems — would he somehow get them out of there? And what day of the week was it? And more important, not having washed for some time now, their clothes must have taken on a decidedly funky aroma, and that being the case, why did they not smell any worse to each other?

  It was during one particularly lively debate, about who these people were and where they had come from, that the inspection hatch shot back and the Second Officer leered in. They both immediately fell silent as the door was unlocked and the grim, familiar figure all but blotted out the light from the corridor. Which of them was it to be this time?

  "Visitors."

  They looked at each other in disbelief.

  "Visitors? For us?" Chester asked incredulously.

  The officer shook his massive head, then looked at Will. "You."

  "What about Ches—"

  "You, come on, NOW!" the officer shouted.

  "Don't worry, Chester, I won't go anywhere without you," Will said confidently to his friend, who sat back with a pained smile and nodded in silent affirmation.

  Will stood up and shuffled out of the cell. Chester watched as the door clanged shut. Finding himself once more alone, he looked down at his hands, rough and ingrained with dirt, and longed for home and comfort. He felt the increasingly frequent sting of frustration and helplessness, and his eyes filled with hot tears. No, he wouldn't cry, he would not give them the satisfaction. He knew Will would work something out, and that he'd be ready when he did.

  "Come on, stupid," he said quietly to himself, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "Drop and give me twenty," he mimicked his soccer coach's voice as he got down on the floor and began to do push-ups, counting as he did so.

  Will was shown into a whitewashed room with a polished floor and some chairs arranged around a large oak table. Sitting behind this were two figures, still a little bleary to him because his sight hadn't yet adjusted from the darkness of the Hold. He rubbed his eyes and then glanced down at his front. His shirt was filthy and, worse still, specked with dried traces of his vomit. He brushed at it feebly before his attention was drawn to an odd-looking hatch or window on the wall to his left. The surface of the glass, if it was glass, had a peculiar blue-black depth to it. And this matte and mottled surface didn't seem to be reflecting any of the light from the orbs in the room.

  For some reason, Will couldn't take his eyes off the surface. He felt a sudden twinge of recognition. A new, yet familiar, feeling swept over him: They were behind there. They were watching all this. And the longer he stared, the more the darkness filled him, just as it had with the Dark Light. He felt a sudden spasm in his head. He pitched forward as though he was about to faint, and his left hand
groped wildly and found the backrest of the chair in front of him. The officer, seeing this, caught him by his other arm and helped him to sit down, facing the pair of strangers.

  Will took some deep breaths, and the light-headedness passed. He looked up as someone coughed. Opposite him sat a large man and, at his side but a little behind him, a young boy. The man was much like all the others Will had seen — it could easily have been the Second Officer in civilian clothing. He was staring fixedly at Will with barely concealed contempt. Will felt too drained to care, and numbly returned the stranger's gaze.

  Then, as chair legs grated loudly on the floor and the boy moved closer to the table, Will focused his attention on him. The boy was looking at Will with an expression of wonder. He had an open and friendly face, the first friendly countenance Will had seen down there since he had been arrested. Will estimated that the boy was probably a couple of years younger than he was. His hair was almost white and closely cropped, and his soft blue eyes shimmered with mischievousness. As the corners of the boy's mouth curled into a smile, Will thought that he seemed vaguely familiar. He tried desperately to remember where he'd seen him before, but his mind was still too cloudy and unclear. He narrowed his eyes at the boy and tried again to figure out where he knew him from, but it was no use. It was as if he were casting around in a murky pool, trying to find something precious with only his sense of touch to guide him. His head began to spin, and he clenched his eyes shut and kept them that way.

  He heard the man clear his throat. "I am Mr. Jerome," he said in a flat and perfunctory tone. It was clear from his voice that he was uncomfortable with the situation and very resentful at being there. "This is my son…"

  "Cal," Will heard the boy say.

  "Caleb," the man quickly corrected.

  There was a long and awkward pause, but Will still didn't open his eyes. He felt insulated and safe with them shut. It was oddly comforting.

  Mr. Jerome looked testily at the Second Officer. "This is useless," he grunted. "A total waste of time."

  The officer leaned forward and brusquely prodded Will's shoulder. "Sit up and be civil to your family. Show some respect."

  Startled, Will's eyes snapped open. He swiveled in his chair to look at the officer in amazement.

  "What?"

  "I said be civil" — he nodded to Mr. Jerome — "to your family, like."

  Will swiveled back to face the man and boy.

  "What are you talking about?"

  Mr. Jerome shrugged and looked down, and the boy frowned, his gaze switching between Will, the officer, and his father, as if he didn't quite understand what was happening.

  "Chester's right, you're all totally mental down here," Will exclaimed, then flinched as the Second Officer took a step toward him with his hand raised. But the situation was defused by the boy as he spoke out.

  "You must remember this?" he said, delving into an old canvas bag on his lap. All eyes were on him as he finally produced a small object and placed it on the table in front of Will. It was a carved wooden toy, a rat or a mouse. Its white painted face was chipped and faded, and its little formal coat was threadbare; yet its eyes glowed eerily. Cal looked expectantly at Will.

  "Grandma said it was your favorite," he continued as Will failed to react. "It was given to me after you went."

  "What are you…" Will asked, perplexed. "After I went where?"

  "Don't you remember anything?" Cal asked. He looked deferentially at his father, who was now sitting back in his chair with his arms crossed.

  Will reached out and picked up the little toy to examine it more closely. As he tipped it back, he noticed that the eyes closed, a tiny shutter counterbalancing in the head to extinguish the light. He realized that there must be a miniscule light orb within its head, which gave out light through the glass beads that were the animal's eyes.

  "It sleeps," Cal said, then added, "You had that very toy… in your cot."

  Will dropped it on the table as abruptly as if it had bitten him. "What are you talking about?" he snapped at the boy.

  There was a moment of uncertainty on everyone's part, and once again an unnerving silence descended over the room, broken only by the Second Office, who began to hum quietly to himself. Cal opened his mouth as if about to speak, but the toy animal, until Cal took it off the table and put it away again. Then, looking up at Will, he frowned.

  "Your name is Seth," he said, almost resentfully. "You're my brother."

  "Hah!" Will laughed dryly in Cal's face and then, as all the bitterness from his treatment at the hands of the Styx welled up inside him, he shook his head and spoke to him harshly. "Yeah. Right. Anything you say." Will had had just about enough of this charade. He knew who his family was, and it wasn't this pair of imposters before him.

  "It's true. Your mother was my mother. She tried to run away with both of us. She took you Topsoil, but left me with Grandma and Father."

  Will rolled his eyes and twisted around to face the Second Officer. "Very clever. It's a good trick, but I'm not buying it."

  The officer pursed his lips, but said nothing.

  "You were taken in by a family of Topsoilers…" Cal said, raising his voice.

  "Sure, and I'm not about to be taken in by a family of stark, raving loonies down here!" Will replied angrily, really starting to lose it.

  "Don't waste your breath on him, Caleb," said Mr. Jerome, putting a hand on his shoulder. But Cal shook it off and continued, his voice beginning to crack with despair.

  "They're not your real family. We are. We're your flesh and blood."

  Will stared at Mr. Jerome, whose reddened face exuded nothing but loathing. Then he looked again at Cal, who had now sat back despondently, his head bowed. But Will was unimpressed. It was all some sick joke. Do they really think I'm so stupid that I'd be taken in by this? he said to himself.

  Buttoning his coat, Mr. Jerome rose hastily to his feet. "This is going nowhere," he said.

  And Cal, rising with him, spoke quietly. "Grandma always said you'd come back."

  "I don't have any grandparents. They're all dead!" Will shouted, jumping up from his chair, his eyes now burning with anger and brimming with tears. He tore over to the glass window in the wall and pressed his face against the surface.

  "Very clever!" he yelled at it. "Nearly had me going there!" He shielded his eyes from the light of the room in an effort to see beyond the glass, but there was nothing, only an unrelenting darkness. The Second Officer grabbed his arm and pulled him away. Will did not resist — the fight had gone out of him for now.

  21

  Rebecca lay on top of her bed, staring at the ceiling. She'd just taken a hot bath and was dressed in her acid green robe, her hair up in a towel turban. She was humming softly along to the classical music station on her bedside radio as she mulled over the events of the last three days.

  It had all kicked off when she was woken very late one evening by a frantic knocking and ringing at the front door. She'd had to get up and answer it, since Mrs. Burrows, on the strong sleeping pills she'd recently been prescribed, was dead to the world. A drunken brass band couldn't have roused her if they'd tried.

  When Rebecca had opened the front door, she'd almost been knocked off her feet by Chester's father as he burst into the hallway and immediately began to bombard her with questions.

  "Is Chester still here? He hasn't come home yet. We tried to phone, but no one answered." His face was ashen, and he was wearing a crumpled beige raincoat with the collar askew, as if he'd put it on in a great hurry. "We thought he must've decided to stay over. He is here, isn't he?"

  "I'm not…," she started to say as she happened to look into the kitchen and realized that the plate of food she'd left out on the side for Will hadn't been touched.

  He said he was helping Will with a project, but… is he here? Where's your brother… can you get him, please?" Mr. Rawls's words tripped over each other as he glanced anxiously down the hall and up the stairs.

  Leaving th
e man fretting to himself, Rebecca ran up to Will's room. She didn't bother to knock; she already knew what she would find. She opened the door and turned on the light. Sure enough, Will wasn't there, and his bed hadn't been slept in. She turned out the light and closed the door behind her, returning downstairs to Mr. Rawls.

  "No, no sign of him," she said. "I think Chester was here, though, last night; but I don't know where they might've gone. Maybe—"

  On hearing this, Mr. Rawls became almost incoherent, gabbling something about checking their usual haunts and getting the police involved as he tore out the front door, leaving it open behind him.

  Rebecca remained in the hallway, chewing her lip. She was furious with herself that she hadn't been more vigilant. With all his secretive behavior and the skulking around with his new bosom buddy, Will had been up to something for weeks — there was no question about that. But what?

  She knocked on the living room door and, getting no answer, entered. The room was dark and stuffy, and she could hear regular snoring.

  "Mum," she said with gentle insistence.

  "Urphh?"

  "Mum," she said more loudly, shaking Mrs. Burrows's shoulder.

  "Wha? Nnno… smmumph?"

  "Come on, Mum, wake up. It's important."

  "Nah," said an obdurate, sleepy voice.

  "Wake up. Will's missing!" Rebecca said urgently.

  "Leave… me… alone," grumbled Mrs. Burrows through an indolent yawn, swinging an arm to warn Rebecca off.

  "Do you know where he's gone? And Chester…"

  "Oh, go awaaaay!" her mother screeched, turning on her side in the chair and pulling the old afghan right over her head. The shallow snoring resumed as she returned to her state of hibernation. Rebecca sighed with sheer frustration as she stood next to the shapeless form.

  She went into the kitchen and sat down. With the detective's number in her hand and the cordless phone lying on the table in front of her, she deliberated for a long time over what to do next. It wasn't until the small, predawn hours that she actually made the call and, getting only the answering service, left a message. She returned upstairs to her bedroom and tried to read a book while she waited for a response.

 
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