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The Tunnel

Just past the railroad tracks and around the bend there is a stretch of road blocked off with gate. The road has been abandoned for years following a series of floods back in 2004. The road itself was fine after the storms, but the tunnel the road ran through was destroyed. The concrete came undone, and the streams on either side of the road rose and never fell down.

Since then this area has harbored the debauchery of local teenagers, graffiti tagged along the road and haphazard bonfires at the mouth of the tunnel. On autumn nights these activities took place, but during the summer the Road was without much company, and it was peaceful. Thus every other evening throughout June and July I strolled through, usually reading or bathing in the sun.

I did this without much thought of the land being owned by one of the locals, a farmer who lived near the road for many years. The only way one could know he owned the land was by noticing a rusted-out shack on the left-side of the embankment. The inside was shielded by a large sliding door—sometimes it was open, and if hay bales were inside you knew the owner was around. When the doors were closed, however, it meant the harvest season was over and the area would be without much interaction for a few months.

One day last month I walked along the Road and saw the door was closed, leaving me to freely move about and take in the scenery. As I approached the tunnel I heard a slam from inside the shack. The wind picked up earlier that day, so I shrugged it off as the door rocking with the breeze. But the slam came again, but I did not see the door move with the wind at all.

I stood for a moment and listened, waited. A succession of three hits against the metal, and then silence again. I figured a rat caught himself between the walls and thrashed to free itself, but I wanted to make sure. And I approached the shack, drawing nearer to it until I placed my palm upon the outside paneling. And the slams stopped. I put my ear on the panels and listened again, still silence.

Then gradual scratching, first from the far corner of the shack. Then running along the walls, around the corner, gradual and distant, closer then and I could feel the movement vibrating through the metal. The scratching came closer to the ground, and whatever it was was larger than a rat, possibly a raccoon then. I didn’t feel like getting bitten, so I moved away, just as I felt a final vibration directly beneath my palm.

I walked back to the gate and made my way to the top of the hill, where the railroad tracks run through. For whatever reason I decided to turn around, looked down from the hill back to the shack. I saw someone walking from the mouth of the tunnel towards the shack. The person was covered in black, I couldn’t make out their face, but as the wind picked up again their clothes blew over and flailed like garbage bags wrapped around their entire body. It shined with the sun, it had to be garbage bags. And the person walked up to the shack, slid open the door and entered, closing it behind them.

I heard the slams come again, and through the thrashing panels I heard a muffled cry, but the wind picked up again and the noise bled together so I couldn’t make it out anymore.

I returned a few days later. I stood atop the hill and observed the shack through a pair of binoculars. The wind died down the preceding days, replaced by a heatwave without a breeze. I wanted to get closer to the shack, but I had no idea where the person was, so I waited. A half hour passed without disturbance, but my nerves controlled me, kept me from approaching. Instead I walked along the railroad tracks until I reached the bend which rested upon the top of the tunnel.

A thicket of trees obscured my view, but at least I was closer. In the meantime I listened, and there came a soft drone from the shack. At first the sound was heightened, sustained, but gradually turned to sporadic bursts of calls. From below I heard movement in the stream, falling water, and footsteps. I looked through the binoculars, past the branches, and saw the person approach the shack. The garbage bags wrapped around their arms hung loosely, the skin was scabbed and reddish-brown—I can’t remember, something was off.

The person slid open the metal door and entered, sliding it shut as the rusted metal ground against the hinges. Then there was nothing. No sound, save for the passing water below. I waited and I waited; nearly an hour passed and the person stayed in the shack. Finally I heard the thrashing metal. The side panels thumped wildly for a moment. Then nothing again.

The door slid open, slowly, labored movement. I saw the person standing before the shack. They shut the door, even slower than before and walked back to the mouth of the tunnel. I noticed something dripping on the ground as they walked clutching the left wrist, now bound in a ball of plastic. It looked like grease, but it fell like water.

I waited until the person was out of view before I sat back up, walked along the tracks back to my house. I did not know if they squatted in the shack or somewhere in the area, but the person always wandered off into the tunnel, but I never heard footsteps on the opposite end.

So the tunnel became of interest.

I staked the place out the next day, around dusk when the sun loomed just beyond the hills. I planned to be there when light remained for at least an hour, thus I could shade myself in the brush if need be. I waited for any movement, any sound—nothing doing, must be gone. I made my way down the road. It felt changed since last I walked there. The stillness unrecognized, no calls from birds or wildlife. An unsettling peace.

When I past the shack I noticed charred stains alongside the pasture, circles of ash flecked, with one pile smoldered with white smoke. I neared the mouth of the tunnel, stepped over the broken slabs and sloshed through the stagnant waters on the inside road. The air smelled of wet leaves and moss, but mixed within a faint hint of sickly sweetness—I can’t place the smell, but it reminded me of burnt hair.

As I made my way through the road I stumbled across an encampment nested against the right wall of the tunnel. Makeshift, torn, moldy blankets draped atop pieces of concrete. Scattered medicine bottles without labels, tin cups and the remains of a campfire. Alongside the ashes there was an old-fashioned iron. When I picked it up, turned it over, fragments of something singed on the bottom fell to the ground. A sickly sweetness, no clothes around.

The sun began setting over the hills. I left the tunnel and walked back across the road, but as I past the shack again I decided to take a closer look. There had been no movement since I was around, at least that I noticed. I approached the side of the shack and noticed bullet-holes lined with rust, decades old. I peered in.

What appeared to be a workbench, the silhouette of tools scattered about. On the other side in the far corner I saw a medium-sized dog kennel, covered with a tarp, lined and chained with barbed-wire—I saw jagged ends, I assume barbed wire. The size of the kennel, from what I could make out, was larger than what I thought clawed the walls a few days prior. An X was crossed on the side of the kennel. On the ground before the kennel door the ground was moist. I tried to get a better view but the sun had nearly set, not enough light to make anything else out.

I could smell bleach from inside; I’m sure it was bleach.

There had been no movement or sound since I got there, and when I left the stillness remained intact.

Over the next few nights I returned to the tunnel, waited for the person to leave, entered and dug through the contents of the camp. Each night brought more prescription medication bottles, stockpiles of canned food, and a thick smell—the sweet sickness, body odor, and stale food. In the far corner of the tunnel I saw a heap of trash bags, and digging a stick through it produced a vapor reeking of iron.

But on the last night I went I found a notebook by the campfire. Leather-bound, broken spine, pages torn and mended with layers of tape. I did not take it with me, rather I tore out some of the looser pages and stuffed them in my pockets. No trail, no way of knowing. When I returned home I looked over the pages:

Diagrams of the human body, crudely drawn with incisions over specific parts, dates next to the dotted lines and measurements. One near the right ear read, ‘March 3rd, 13, 12:27 AM.5 oz’. Another on the right arm, shaded in, ‘December 11th, 12, 5:43 AM, 1 lb’. It went on throughout the entire body, but I noticed the left hand crossed out, no dates or figures. Just gone.

The other pages consisted of to-do lists, shopping lists: more meds, more bags, sharper tools, food.

A couple nights ago I decided to look around the shack. I wandered the tunnel too many times to come up with anything new, only more empty tins of food and empty bottles. I had not seen the squatter since the time I watched him from the railroad tracks. The noise from the shack died down as well—it seemed I was the only one standing there in the dark. I needed to know if the person finally left.

I edged towards the giant metal door and pressed my ear against it. I heard the pulse within my head, but nothing more. So I slid the door open and entered, immediately hit with a wave of heat. The air smelled of bleach, rancid, almost surgical. Before me stood a workbench littered with various tools.I saw a silver tray holding makeshift knives, dulled, some serrated, worn and stained with copper grime. A fillet knife rested at the edge of the workbench, and in the poor lighting of the dust-covered bulb I made out blood, still wet.

Beside it was a bucket filled with bleach, cleansing other tools like claw-hammers, pliers, a handsaw. Fragments of grey meat carried to the surface. Some rays of the sun shone from the right of the shack through the bullet holes I peered in weeks ago. I turned around and saw the kennel to the left. The tarp was torn, and the barbed-wire shredded into metallic threads. It looked larger than last time. Above it nailed to the wall were three feathers, grey and white--they looked singed at the tips. Bits of meat hung from the grates on the side, some on the door, something pooled from inside. I thought I saw the cropped tip of a finger—I think, it was dark.

Then I heard the mumbling. Foot-steps approaching the entryway, and I forgot to close the door. The foot-steps stopped, and for a moment there was silence.It turned to running, and I looked around for a way out and saw a small opening on the back wall, and I jumped out.

I ran through the pasture out back, and as I did I saw within the tallgrass dog kennels of different sizes littered, beaten, some torn apart, and one had an X crossed on the side, and it was the smallest. I kept running, and once I turned around I saw the person standing in the pasture, watching me go, and it peeled off the layers of plastic surrounding its head, but I kept running and couldn’t see.

From my room I hear the faint sound of the metal panels thrashing with the wind. When harvest season begins the doors will open.

Written by Spadezy
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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