Walking through the tunnels made her skin crawl. She focused on the light at the other end and just kept moving.
The echoing sounds of her own steps made it seem as if she were being followed, but she knew that was not possible. Everyone else in the world was dead. There would be no oncoming cars, no marauding miscreants.
Still, from time-to-time, she thought she could hear something. Echoes – just echoes. She stopped and turned to confront her fear. From the blackness behind, the sound of footsteps continued…
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13 thoughts on “Flash Fiction Challenge: The Tunnel”
She froze. The echoes continued. She raised the half broken display sword and loaded semi-automated handgun. She wasn’t stupid. She’d only used the weapons for hunting. She’d use it on another if she had to.
But what if they were friendly? She hadn’t seen anyone since it had all happened. Was it possible someone survived?
The footsteps continued. The mist in the tunnel swirled hiding the maker of the sound. She squinted trying to make out the dark figure approaching.
“Who is it? Who’s there?”
There was no answer. The footsteps stopped.
She kept her gun trained at the sound. “Come out so I can see you. I’ve got a gun pointed at you. I’ll shoot if you don’t talk to me.”
The sound of his voice made her knees buckle. She lowered her weapons. “Josh?”
She heard the footsteps pick up to a run. Through the mist he came, and she ran into his arms. She felt him pull her close, and whisper, “You’re mine now.”
It was too late to avoid her mistake. The bite took her by surprise. Her last thought was they must have learned to mimic, damn it. She slid to the ground and saw the grey form of the creature. Then nothing, but darkness.
“Dr. Miller…Dr. Miller…? She’s gone.”
Nurse Andrews wondered…why couldn’t he accept reality.
“She’s gone, we’ll all go. Let it go.”
“There’s nothing lovely, nothing noble, no redemption. It’s just DEATH. And the echoes of life.”
A shuffling of footsteps approached from the darkness. Not an even footfall, one after the other, but a rhythmic, clipped stomping. Frozen in fear she stood waiting, waiting for whatever was in the tunnel to reveal itself. She could hear her heartbeat, her breaths short and shallow. The dark seemed to close in, pressing against her. She squinted, trying to focus on anything other than the pitch of black. No utterance could be heard as she attempted to cry out.
The footsteps drew close and suddenly quieted. She felt its presence and then its warm breath. She shuddered. With eyes tightly closed she silently cried. The breathing was heavy and close to her ear.
Oh how she wished for even a prick of light. She waited. The breath warmed her cheek but she trembled, waiting for the pain, the slice of a knife or the crush of a weapon against her skull.
Inhaling a familiar odor of sun and warm animal reminded her of home. She opened her eyes to the darkness. The breath against her cheek, moist and warm, was joined by a brush of softness and a tickle of whiskers.
Light from the end of the tunnel brightened the darkness that had engulfed it. A glimmering ray of sunlight shone through.
A smile reflected in his large dark eyes. With a shake of his mane and a stomp of his hooves, he celebrated his finding her. No longer were they alone in this desolate world.
“They got Jaime,” Lisa said, her face twisted with grief. And fear. “It’s my fault!” Tears rolled over her plump cheeks. “I was so hungry…”
John squeezed her hand. “It isn’t your fault. Those damn machines killed Jaime, not you.”
“But you told her it was too dangerous to go above ground, that we’d find food somewhere. She should’ve listened. Now, she’s gone. Jamie was all I had left.”
“I know. But I won’t let them get you. I promise,” John wasn’t certain of that, but he wasn’t going to let Lisa know his doubts. Jaimie was, or had been, John’s girlfriend. When the machines attacked her home, their father ordered them to hide in the panic room.
No matter what you hear–stay there!
They’d heard their parent’s brief screams before the Hanumans ripped them apart, then waited another hour, to be safe. Then John hid them in the tunnel for three days. Without food and water. Jaime insisted they go above and scavenge for food.
But the Hanumans were stealthy. John didn’t see them until one snatched Jamie and crushed her body. John had grabbed Lisa and ran for the nearest tunnel entrance.
That’s when they saw the chalk-scribbled message: “Shelter, safe from the machines!”.
Just across the river.
Light from the Plexzine roof and a few tunnel lights cast a golden glow as they followed the road toward the lighted end. John was determined to get Lisa to safety. Jaimie would’ve wanted that.
Yesterday, as Susan sealed her helmet, Captain Sheridan warned her, “No one can help you in the Time Tunnels. We do not even know if there is air to breathe, but we do know that with the slightest wrong move there are an infinite number of side branches, for you to slip into. Please tread carefully. Remember, no sudden moves. You must succeed!”
This was of little consolation to her; she knew she would be alone in the tunnel. Nervously, she checked her antique Luger. Her mission is to provide a new history, to kill Hitler before he comes to power.
She stepped into the tunnel. With every foot step, she nervously agonized as she was constantly bombarded by millions of echoes of past worlds now dead. Methodically, she moved deeper through the past, unexpectedly the echoes came faster. She sensed all the echoes speeding past her, only to bounce off the blind future and hit her back from behind.
Slowly, she approached the bright light at the end of the tunnel. With every step she took, her own past echoes became louder. Just a few more steps, she would be in Munich. She was exhausted and sweating profusely. Beads of perspiration ran down her face on to the tip of her nose, which began to itch. She sneezed.
Today, a paleontology professor assured his class that the footprints in the Paluxy River bed of a dinosaur chasing a human female were fake. If he only knew the truth.
Shielding her eyes, she scanned the horizon. Her pack had been empty of food since morning. Her stomach growled with hunger. She’d been walking for days without seeing so much as a bird. The earth, what’s left of it, was desolate, void of life.
The highway tunnel seemed to be the source of many echoes that she hoped to identify. She feared the unknown but the desire for companionship was far stronger.
Stopping in the center of the tunnel she waited for whatever caused the sounds of swiftly moving footsteps to appear. Hoping for a friend versus foe. The foot falls were rapidly closing in on her. She felt a breeze as they passed her by and kept on going, leaving behind a reverberating echo.
Shrugging her weary shoulders, she continued to the end where the sun would warm the unwelcome chill away. The echoes grew strong but remained indistinguishable until she exited the tunnel where a new world was revealed. Earth the way she remembered. She was no longer alone. A large group of people congregated near a banner that said FINISH. A runner passed her and than another, creating a breeze she recognized from inside the tunnel. They didn’t see her, just as she hadn’t seen them, before.
She had crossed into another dimension. Should she return to the tunnel to find the dimensional doorway, returning to where she would likely be totally alone? Or should she stay where she was beyond the spectrum of light?
The fear struck her frozen for a few seconds, just long enough to flashback to the last human conversation she had. It was half a year ago, but she could still hear the familiar voice, giving the ultimate instructions, “find the tunnel and head toward the light.”
She encouraged herself, “just head toward the light.” She turned and struggled forward again.
The steps were louder – maybe thirty feet behind.
She was weary, but urgency pushed her forward.
The steps were closer – maybe twenty feet behind.
She mumbled, “How could this be? No one else is alive on this planet.”
The sound of footsteps blended into heavy breathing now. The sounds were just ten feet away.
She lunged toward the light, which was five feet away, but so were the sounds.
She started to climb a wall and reached for the light. Someone grabbed her ankle. She felt a pinch. This can’t be. She caused the destruction herself. She made sure there would be absolutely no survivors. She was so comforted by this certainty, that she stopped having conversations with herself six month ago.
She turned over to see who grabbed her ankle.
A woman smirked and said, “Put her back under. We can’t let this ‘super hero’ destruct anything. Give her the full dose again.”
There was no flash, no mushroom cloud. The chariots of Revelations never descended from on high. No national enemy marched over our borders. It was instantaneous, and quite honestly, beautiful. A swirling, silver mist formed over the Atlantic. As it dispersed across the globe, each human collapsed as if made of melting wax: unconscious, comatose and within days -dead. As a universal extinction, it was elegant.
Maggie watched everyone she knew die. After her son stopped breathing, she drew in deeply and invited the mist into her lungs. Two, then three inhalations. Four… She held the caustic cloud inside her for as long as she could, and released, coughing. Why was she still conscious? Could she really be immune?
She wandered through the streets of London, hoping to find another survivor. Everywhere she looked, rotting bodies were being torn apart by newly feral dogs. Neither animals, nor plants seemed affected by the cloud.
At first glance, It could have been any other Monday, with the western “pea soup” rolling in at dawn. But this smog wrought the wrath of angels. Earth was silent. There was no music, no hum of streetlights. Only the gnashing jowls of feasting fauna on fallen remains.
She entered the tunnel in the hopes of finding something, someone. As the footsteps approached, she saw her stalkers. The pack of dogs attacked.
As she bled out, she saw the tunnel’s light dimming in the distance. Rays of sunshine cut through the mist, leaving a faint, silver lining.
Dread and memory mingled; she no longer knew what was real.
“Another bottle?” worried her husband’s voice. “It’s only noon.”
She staggered forward. Recriminations clung to the mouth of the tunnel.
“Weiner, what did you say to Abrams?” her supervisor roared. “He’s pulling out of the deal.”
Fall deeper, farther from the voices. Flee the accusations.
“Can you hear me?” A paramedic pulled at her eyelid. “How much did you take?”
Plunge over the chasm, vision constricted to a star.
But there was no one there.
“Stop it,” she said to herself, shaking her head. “Just cut it out.”
Why are you talking to yourself? that voice inside asked. You know you’re all alone now.
“You cut it out, too,” she retorted.
Bundled up against the San Francisco chill, Margaret marched through the tunnel. In the past, cars had rushed up and down this road, but not anymore. Not since last June.
“Who, praytell, are you talking to?”
She whirled around once more. A man clad in a business suit, stood not twenty feet away, smiling politely.
“Wh… where did you come from?” she asked, backing away. “Who are you?” she asked, taking out the knife she bought but hadn’t yet unsheathed.
Get him, that voice said. Get him before he gets you.
“Stop it!” Margaret yelled.
“Who praytell, are you talking to?” the man repeated. His gentle smile contrasted violently to his suit and the gloom of the tunnel around them.
Margaret raised the knife, trembling.
Do it. Just do it.
In another time, in another world, Margaret wouldn’t have dreamed of flashing a knife at a stranger in a suit.
The stranger advanced.
Margaret lunged forward and stabbed, but…
Her knife cut through nothing. The man’s image dissipated, still with a smile on his face.
I told you you were alone. Silly girl.
Margaret stood still, before dropping into a crouch. The knife clattered to the floor, and her sobs echoed off the empty tunnel walls.
As she turned to look behind her, the overhead lights flickered and went to sleep. Dimming daylight from the open end of the tunnel caressed her back. Her eyes teared as they squinted, searching for what created the eerie sound of bodiless footsteps.
Suddenly, a distant explosion caused a momentary flash of flame to stream light in to the darkness. She was startled to see her shadow extend like a warped giant flow further into the tunnel chasing the fading light.
The footsteps grew louder.
Dozens of writhing, twisting shadows, brought to life by the dying flames, danced around her. She felt as though they were embracing her. She couldn’t move. There were no bodies to cast shadows or give life to footsteps.
The first voice she heard whispered softly “Come with us.” Like the footsteps, the voice was echoed by the shadows. “Come. Come with us,” they sighed. Her knees buckled. She slumped to the cold floor. They swirled around her numb body bathing her in a welcoming warmth. “Come. Come,” they pleaded. She felt herself being lifted, floating deeper into the black tunnel, a pinpoint of light beckoning at its far end.
“Oh. Oh, my. No,” she wept, realizing when she reached the light she would become just another mournful shadow leaving invisible footsteps in a cold, dead world.
A multitude of sounds resounded with each step Julie took. It had to be just her footsteps echoing through the empty tunnel. Either that or a year without companionship had finally driven her mad. Somehow she’d survived the plague that had wiped out the world in just a few months. Now she was alone, scavenging to survive.
Every noise sent shivers up her spine, imaginary demons haunting her solitude. Finally, she spun around and stared into the darkness. The sounds continued. A pair of inhuman eyes appeared. Julie tightened the grip on her walking stick, heart pounding. Feral dogs had attacked before. Last time she’d been lucky.
“Damn. You’re real,” said a voice.
A faint dog-shaped shadow detached itself from the darkness along with a young man. Tears stung Julie’s eyes. A human. An honest to god human. Only the large dog at his side kept her from throwing her arms around him.
“Tom believe Storm now.” The strange voice echoed in her head.
“Who else is there?” she said, looking beyond him.
The man pointed at himself, then the dog. “Just me, Tom, and Storm.”
“Not your dog. Where’s the other guy?”
Tom smiled. “You can hear him too? I thought I was going crazy the first time Storm spoke. He’s is a wolf, by the way. You got a name?”
Julie, she thought to herself, you’ve lost it.
Storm sniffed her hand. “Julie wolf talker. Join pack.”
“Well, Julie,” said Tom. “Welcome to our pack, earth’s future.”
As she started moving forward again the tunnel appeared to precipitously narrow. She feared claustrophobia was warping her senses. She breathed deeply, expecting to feel hot thickness like that permeating even ubiquitous underground dwellings the last several years. But the air was cool, like a midsummer’s shaded pool.
When the few remaining people had gone above ground recently to glimpse the rapidly changing galaxy in an ever-dwindling darkness, surging heat overwhelmed them. Scientists had correctly suspected the Sun would one day consume Earth, but they never thought it would be so soon.
Projections had been based on the Sun’s transformation into a red giant. But that was before The Merging—a violent collision of ultimate destroyers, black holes. The Sun was indeed about to consume Earth, but only after being knocked off course by cosmic revolution. Projections were based on status quo, not chaos. Now projections only revealed how little everyone knew.
As she breathed in the welcome coolness, disembodied footsteps filled intervals between echoes—increasingly faster, eventually coalescing into a gentle vibration that encompassed all sound. A gorgeous prism shattered the light and her earthly concept of time while unfolding the effects of every human interaction in her life. Billions of scenes like hers had already uncoiled all over the planet.
Black holes were returning human bodies to stardust, not to be molded again but to be transformed. She became lighter than air as an overwhelming sense of peace possessed her. She exhaled one final time
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