I don't usually post my fiction here 'cuz some day I might wanna un-lazy myself enough to submit it to some magazine or something, but considering the horror short story market is shrinking like GG Allin's dick in an arctic breeze, and since we're lucky if we get an audience of a dozen here, anyway, I figured I'd put this story up for Halloween. Unfortunately, my computer's hard drive decided to go tits up and so I've been computer-less for a couple of weeks, hence this story and the other horror-movie-review post I'd intended didn't get done. But, better late than never, I guess. This thing isn't perfect and could probably stand some more revising (I have a tendency to overwrite and add when I should be trimming... just like Stephen King!), but hopefully I managed to make it scary enough. It ended up being kind of a dry run at - Signal 30 -, a horror novel I wrote that was also set in a storm drain. I have a weird fascination for urban exploration even though (or maybe because) I'm too chickenshit to actually do it. Anyway, enjoy the following fuckedupedness...
THE DAMP BASEMENTS OF HEAVEN
Dan couldn't quite remember if the aged-to-rubber pizza had been sitting on top of the television for one day or two, but he wished he hadn't eaten it before class. It combined badly with a blatant disregard for sleep, and he'd felt logy all day, almost nodding off during the geometry exam he'd just finished. So much for all that late-night studying he'd done. Studying, hell, when he got his grade back there’d be plenty of evidence that it hadn't been studying: staying up late getting into an old Judas Priest album he hadn't listened to since high school, that's all it had been. He'd intended to just use as background noise for his studying, but oh well. Dan supposed he was one of those "poor study habits" people they were always talking about on those come-to-this-seminar-and-we‘ll-fix-you fliers that were always showing up on the bulletin boards around campus. Maybe he should look into those next time, and too bad math teachers didn't give points for creativity.
It was more fun to shift the blame to the bad pizza and the lack of sleep, though. And maybe even more accurate, because the whole world seemed disoriented today. God was doing some funny math of his own.
Leaving the building, his own ghost startled him, walking in as he was walking out. The custodians must have just washed the glass door for the first time, because he couldn't remember ever seeing his reflection before. The ice from the encounter was just starting to settle inside when it was stirred up again as he almost tripped over some guy who was sitting on the steps, lost in his cell phone. "I told you Timbo was going to buy that propane grill," he was saying. "Cindy... Cindy, that boy didn't spend as much time flirting with his last girlfriend as he did at Sears, flirting with that thing." The guy - a bandana-wearing skate-punk-looking guy, the kind of guy who looked like he should hate cell phones - laughed too loudly, hopefully at something Cindy said and not his own faux-clever comment. Jerkoff. A punker with a cell phone was like a hippie with a gun : in-goddamn-sincere. Dan winced and dodged him.
As he passed a tree, the grass beneath it burst into flame, and Dan jumped again. Only a pair of cardinals, flapping at each other in a sunbeam. Probably a mating ritual. Fires of passion. Dan laughed at himself. Bad pizza, bad bad pizza. Must’ve had shrooms growing on it already to put him so far off-kilter.
A pretty girl, almost like a Barbie doll come to life, was coming toward him down the sidewalk with confident leggy strides, smiling about something. The smile made her look gorgeous but stupid, and Dan thought about reaching out and touching her, maybe even kissing her to see what would happen to the smile. Rock through a window effect, he bet. The good slap she'd give him might just wake him up, make him stop seeing ghosts and fire. She was terribly pretty, really, pretty enough to objectify, Dan thought and had to choke back laughter. Maybe that's why she was smiling; maybe she had a private joke going, too. Maybe about him jumping at cardinals, but he doubted it, since her sparkling turquoise eyes didn't even seem to pick him up. Too pretty for a guy like me to even be a blip on her radar, he thought, and felt less guilty about his objectification joke. Now who’s an object? If even that.
As she passed he got a stinging whiff of formaldehyde, instead of the fruity perfume he'd been expecting, and he missed a step. That was a buzzkill. Plastic, yeah, but was she embalmed? He looked back at her tight, high-riding little Hasbro ass working under her skirt.
Probably just come from a biology lab, he reasoned. She wasn't dead. Couldn’t get that kind of hip action with rigor mortis.
Another girl, cute from the back but too human to objectify, was trudging along in front of him, burdened by a book bag too large for her. She was wearing an army jacket and looked like a soldier marching away from battle, holding a compress to a head wound. But she was talking into it. Another cell phone. She couldn't even hear him coming. Good thing he didn't want to grab her, because he could, easily, stupid girl walking around in public with her guard more than down but actually gone, oblivious to everything around her. No, she was definitely no soldier. As Dan got closer he could overhear her conversation:
"So are you going over there later? I might. Probably going to be hot dogs, though. I don't think Timbo can afford steaks. I mean, I don't think he can really even afford the grill!"
Dan glanced back at the math building, saw the tiny shape of the skatepunk still sitting on the steps, cellphone to his head, waving one hand while he talked.
Pondering the odds, he looked back at the girl. I know your name is Cindy. Now I really feel like a stalker. I could abduct you and send ransom notes to this Timbo guy.
Nah. No good. Timbo spent all his money on that grill. At Sears! I even know it came from Sears. I know who your friends are. Instant crash-course in stalking. Wow.
Cindy’s hair was brown and very clean, shiny with products that made it look like the grain in polished wood. He could even smell her shampoo now, and he liked it, like candy flowers and fuck-me pheremone. He had to force himself not to stare at the back of her head because he was really starting to feel like a creep.
But when he looked away, there was a giant penis in the sky. A cloud, but a nearly perfect sculpture, so accurate that Dan was embarrassed that Cindy might see it. If she didn't notice it, the skatepunk across the grounds would alert her to it on the phone, the nasty bastard. Dan couldn't believe the realism of the thing, a big cumulocock, even trailing some cirrostratusemen into the sky's great blue womb. He thought about jumping ahead of Cindy and yelling, "Behold the coming of the lord! Boy, I hope that thing doesn't rain down our necks!" Then he could snatch away her cellphone, yell "Lose the bandanna and pull up your pants, you goof! Prepare to meet your maker! Or at least your maker's wang! Look in the sky!" and then hang up.
Dan couldn't stifle a laugh. He didn't want Cindy to hear and think he was crazy - she had pretty hair and a nice smell - so he quickly ducked into a little cluster of trees beside the engineering building. It would be a short cut to the parking lot, anyway, it was okay.
And that's where he saw the storm drain grate in the ground, and the eyes peering up at him through the bars.
They were a very light blue, bluer than eyes, really, as blue as the most faded jeans in the world, and in the stripe of sunlight wedging through the bars they stood out even more than the end of the cigarette the guy was smoking. Another stripe of sunlight showed the guy's short, moussed hair, blondish and bristled like thorns growing on his scalp. Dan stopped and stared but the guy quickly walked away under the ground, leaving only a wet echo and a hint of tobacco smoke to prove that Dan didn't just imagine the whole thing.
He rubbed his eyes and kept walking - Cindy might be watching him and think he was weird - and went quickly to his car. He wanted to go home, throw out whatever was left of that infernal pizza, and catch up on some serious sleep. He needed it.
His plan didn't go so well, though. Lying in bed, all he could think about was the guy he'd seen walking underground, wondering how he'd gotten there. Where did those tunnels go? He'd noticed storm drains all over campus and usually looked down into them as he walked past, just curious, but he’d never thought people could really get down there. Now he wanted to know everything about them, wanted to know where they went and what there was to see. They must link up all over campus, as many drains as he'd seen. That guy could have been walking across the same field as Dan and nobody would have even seen him because he was under the ground. In another parallel world.
He felt jealous and left out of a great secret.
If he got down there, I could get down there, too, Dan thought.
He lay there, trying to count the number of storm drains and gratings he'd seen on campus. Dozens, easily. He tried to mark their locations and connect them with lines, mapping out a huge underground web in his mind, picturing the sub-campus, wondering how that guy got in, wondering how many other people went exploring down there, and how often, and who they were. A sub-culture. Maybe they'd found shortcuts to class, private sidewalks they didn't have to share with the skatepunks and the Cindys and the formaldehyde Barbies, places they could laugh out loud at their private jokes without having to worry about anyone thinking they were crazy. They could get out from under God’s dick.
He could probably find a way in. There were probably lots of ways in. He'd just never thought about it. Who did?
He couldn't sleep. And he knew that he wouldn't be able to now. Once he got something in his head, he had to explore it fully. That's why he'd sat up last night listening to Screaming For Vengeance with his eyes closed and concentrating instead of studying his geometry. Now he was thinking hard, instead of sleeping.
He never did what he wanted, did he? That was the problem, that right there was the whole damn problem. While other people were having cookouts and such, he was always planning things that fell through.
He wanted to know what those storm drain tunnels were like. And, damn it all, he was going to find out.
First he hit the internet, running the name of his college and "storm drain tunnels" through several different search engines. He found plenty of websites on "urban exploration" and found out that there was, indeed, a subculture, organized clans of people who snuck into abandoned buildings, subways, steam tunnels, storm drains, and even old missile silos. But there was no info about the tunnels on his own campus. So much for living vicariously.
He lay down again and tried to talk himself out of it for another half hour, hoping sleep would just settle the whole argument for him, but sleep didn't come and the desire to go underground didn't go away, so he finally got up, got dressed, and grabbed a flashlight. He shoved a couple of extra batteries into his pocket, just in case.
The internet had given him tips on where to find entrances to storm drains, so he
set out, looking for any creeks or ditches. He knew there was a concrete trough running behind the residence halls, so he started there. The wind had emasculated the sky, but there were plenty of other clouds up there now, nothing-special shapes that made the concrete ditch look even lonelier. Campus ground crews didn't bother landscaping here, and the banks of the ditch were thick with weeds. Nobody came here, so he was already seeing things that most people never did. He was on the right track.
Opening into the ditch behind the school's physical plant was a dark rectangular opening, like a World War II pillbox. Below it was a swimming-pool-like basin of green water, bugs dancing above it. Dan studied it for a minute, then carefully walked around the bank, tucked his flashlight into his waistband, then lowered himself down onto the lip of concrete at the opening. He scraped his elbows a bit but managed not to fall into the green pond. The water looked capable of dissolving him, and he wondered if this was a storm drain at all, or some kind of outflow pipe from the local mortuary, where they poured dissolved cadavers.
"Stupid," Dan laughed to himself and crouched, shining the flashlight into the darkness. The floor and parts of the walls were stained algae-green, and drifts of blackened dead leaves and pinestraw were plastered here and there. A shallow stream of water ran down the middle. It smelled like a dirty tee-shirt, but not overpoweringly so.
Definitely a storm drain.
“Off I bravely go on my bad decision,“ he whispered, and went into the dark, stooping. The ceiling was low, but would get higher, Dan knew; the blue-eyed guy had been so far under that he wouldn't have been able to jump and grab the grate. Dan moved quickly, hoping to make some time before his neck started cricking up. Moving fast also helped him outrun his second thoughts; it was creepy down here, and if he was caught he would probably get expelled or at least humiliated. What would Cindy think of him then?
He wished he'd brought some company, but Dan didn't have any really good friends on campus, just classroom acquaintances and such. Certainly nobody he'd feel
safe asking on a crazy spelunking expedition. They'd just turn him down and think he was nuts and tell everybody else.
He hoped this would be worth it. How far had he gone already? He looked back and the sunlight he'd stepped in from looked about the size of a playing card. Not too far.
He kept going, listening to his own footsteps amplified and reverbed and moistened around him. It was monotony, endless. The sunlight behind him halved in size. He was deep in now. Far up the spider's ass, he thought, and snorted. The darkness snorted around him and he decided to try not to make any more noises.
The sound of his footsteps were changing subtly and the ceiling sloped upward, and the floor went gravelly. In front of him the tunnel took a curve and he followed it, leaving the sunlight behind completely now. The view was the same front and back, like being far out at sea.
In front of him, three rectangles of darkness were starting to make themselves clear on the outskirts of the flashlight beam, and he slowed down, a little unnerved. The tunnel forked into three openings at the end of a small triangular room. The floor here was muddy gravel and dead leaves and the wet-furred skeleton of what looked like a possum. Dan winced. He hoped he didn't meet any wildlife down here. He wasn't fond of possums or rats or raccoons, and it'd be dangerous to try to run from anything down here. There could even be bats; it was definitely cave-like.
He stood and rested a minute. The air was cool and smelled clean somehow, air that nobody'd been breathing. He felt calm now, and even turned off the flashlight for a minute to experience the total darkness.
A little of that went a long way. The darkness had a presence that pressed against him, and the pictures in his mind made him snap the light back on. He'd been able to feel the place breathing around him, and remembered reading about how the pressure in large underground spaces did work a little like respiration. He was a germ in the lungs of the campus! Grinning at the idea, he examined the three tunnels, trying to decide which to take.
They all looked dark and pretty much the same, but the leftmost one had some graffiti on the wall, so he decided on that one, since someone else had picked it first. Besides, he wanted to see what it said. Big green and blue spraypaint blobs spelled out “LUBMA." The B was backward, and the lettering was sloppy and nearly washed away. He didn't know what "lubma" meant, probably somebody's weird nickname. Maybe it was even LURMA or LURMH, or even LU8MB. Clever, writing something so indecipherable, just to make it stick in his mind. Dan didn't have a very high opinion of graffiti, but he supposed that vandalism was harmless in a storm drain. Messages up the spider's ass, just for the few brave enough to read.
The tunnel felt like a hallway in a castle somewhere, and he didn't even really feel underground. He could be down deep or high in the air; it was hard to tell. Nothing but concrete and darkness and cool air, no points of reference. He wondered where he was in relation to the campus above. Under a building? Crossing a street? Under a field? If the ground became clear would he be looking up Undead Barbie’s fetching little skirt?
The tunnel T'd out into two tunnels. He took the right one, and a winking smiley face sprayed on the wall conspired with his choice. Ahead some sunlight formed a pillar of dust, beaming down from a grate in the ceiling. He walked to it quickly and looked up, seeing only grass around the edges and a cloudy sky.
He couldn't tell where he was; it was disappointing.
He kept walking.
The tunnel forked again, one tunnel still smooth, the other looking older and lined with unfinished concrete, the ceiling a little lower but still not low enough to require stooping. Dan stayed on the smooth path, but it turned a corner and something loomed out of the darkness, ragged and filthy, and he caught his breath, creeping forward and
squinting as he played the flashlight over it. A big tree limb wedged between the walls, draped with dead leaves and plastic bags that had snagged there during floods. The floor past it sloped downward into shiny water. Some kind of lump was floating in it, and something smelled bad. He wondered if some other student had explored down here and died of a heart attack or a drug overdose and had gotten hung up in a flood and was still here, greenish with algae, half wet-rot, half mummified like a dog’s rawhide chew-toy.
It was a stupid idea, ridiculous and infuriating, and he frowned at himself. He wasn't going down that tunnel, anyway, not if he'd have to slog through stinking water. He backtracked and took the rougher tunnel instead.
This one seemed old, and sections of the wall looked like raw stone, as if they'd adapted a natural cave into their waterworks. They did that sometimes, he thought. Why not? Save some money. Let God earn his keep if he was going to shake his cock at you, he snorted. It also led downhill, and the loose gravel made walking treacherous, especially since he had to pick his way around puddles. His flashlight picked up more graffiti, this time not painted but instead carved into the chalky wall, crude little stick figures and a looping arrow with "GOING DOWN?" chipped into the wall next to it, smiley faces in the O's. A few yards later was a dropoff of two or three feet. Dan sighed and sat down, cutting off the flashlight to save the batteries. They were still new, and he had spares in his pocket, but he still wished he'd brought an extra flashlight. If he dropped this one and broke it, he was screwed. He really hadn't planned this well at all, and the sudden thought of getting stuck down here in the total darkness scared him.
He'd have to turn back soon, anyway. He was feeling really sleepy now and was tempted to find some place to lay down and nap, but the idea of sleeping down here - wherever here was - was disturbing. The darkness was too deep, and he felt strange, alone yet accompanied by something intangible, some crazy imaginary friend out to get him in trouble.
He reached for his wrist to check the time, but he'd forgotten to bring his watch. At least an hour had passed, he felt certain. Maybe two or three. It was hard to tell. The adrenalin rush of going into the tunnels had blurred into a sensory-deprivation numbness, a small grey world of close walls and stretching darkness and no sound but his own noises echoing back on him. It was hard to believe that this was part of the same planet as the world above; they seemed polar opposites. Yet this was the bowels of that. He was in the guts of the campus. Maybe being digested. He laughed, and the tunnels laughed with him, and he cut the light on again and lowered himself the few feet into the next passage. It was low and wide and had a muddy gravel floor, like a riverbed. Water was trickling along the floor, making patterns in the silt that pointed toward the center tunnel of another three-way fork.
Dan went the other way, stooping slightly, following the wide track. In a few minutes he stopped, thinking he heard something mixed in with the crunching of gravel underfoot. Water pouring in, ahead.
Two large tunnels forked away, both big enough to drive trucks through. The water sounds were coming from the one on the left, so he took it, even though it looked dirtier than the other. Large graffiti spraypainted on the wall greeted him with the promise that someone had been here before, someone who had weird ideas about sex, judging by the rather elaborate pictures. The artists, apparently, were someone called the "BLACKTOOTH TRIBE"; their logo ran in six-foot letters down the wall. He didn't like the sound of it, and the pictures bothered him. What did people do down here? Did this place serve as some weirdo nightclub for somebody?
After maybe fifty yards the tunnel opened out into a huge room, with fading daylight beaming in from gratings and vents high in the ceiling and walls, probably thirty feet up. From their placement, Dan guessed he was under one of the big parking lots on campus, and felt certain of it even though he couldn't hear cars driving around.
Most incredible of all, though, was the iron bridge. That stopped his breath and made him afraid to walk closer to it. It was narrow and thick with rust that filled the room with its bloody smell, and it traversed a huge pool of dark water. A large stream of water was gushing out of a big pipe high in the wall, splashing loudly into the pool, echoing wildly and keeping veins of reflected sunlight squirming all over the walls and ceiling. It was bright enough in here that the flashlight didn't have much effect, so he turned it off and sat down again.
He was bone-tired, and he was still going to have to back-track his way out of here. He wasn't sure he could find the way, all those forks, his memory sleep-numbed. It would probably be a lot easier to keep going and find another way out; a system this big would require dozens of outflow pipes. The concrete ditch he'd followed to find the first one had stretched on past the entrance, after all. Besides, he wanted to see where the blue-eyed guy had been.
The iron bridge was ominous, stretching across the water into darkness. It had probably been pretty ordinary when it was built, but rust and corrosion had re-sculpted it into an ornately-horrible gothic masterpiece. It looked to be over a century old, and Dan wondered how many impressive works of art had been constructed in the buried places where no one ever saw them. He couldn't believe he was seeing this thing, when very few people even knew it was down here. They drove above it every day, never suspecting.
Green watermarks high on the yellow tile walls showed that at times the water got deep enough in here to completely submerge the bridge, and the image of that massive thing being buried under swirling water was almost too much for Dan to stand. The pool of water was also bringing to mind scenes of Lon Chaney in the silent Phantom of the Opera, and he decided the whole expedition had been a really bad idea. He was scared.
The sound of gushing water folding and refolding off the walls was starting to cut into his brain, and he stood up and started carefully across the bridge. It groaned and clanged and rained rust into the foaming water below, but it held, no problem, too massive to be brought down by him, an ant on a twig. Still, he went across as quickly as he dared.
The tunnel beyond it was smaller, made of mossy brick of obvious great age, an older style of architecture. These must be original storm drain tunnels, added onto later when the campus grew larger. Some of the graffiti on the walls had become obscured with mildew and algae, but he could make out dates like 1972, 1954, 1951, 1968, 1986. Deep in, he found a message that read, "LOOK OUT FOR THE CLOWN!" Another hand, in magic marker, had written what looked like "he'll scratch you up his fingernails so long." On the floor was a set of Walkman headphones, split at the top, as if the wearer had taken a hatchet in the head. Stupid. They were flimsy things, broke easy. That's why more people used the little earbuds now.
Ominous as they were, Dan hoped the presence of these things meant that he was nearing an exit. Surely no one else had gone this far before from the place where he'd come in.
But the tunnel went on and on. Unobligingly, it forked, then forked again, funhouse teasing. Here and there were gratings in the ceilings, but often the tunnels trailed on in total darkness, and the flashlight was noticeably less bright now.
At one point, Dan emerged into a round brick room with a grating high above, and the sky past it was late twilight. And, worse, he could hear thunder rattling in the passages, and silver trails of water were coming in. Rain.
What if the tunnels flooded? And it would be harder to find a way out without sunlight making the exits stand out. He'd have to push himself. Forced march.
There were four openings into the round room, and he didn't even know which one he'd come in from anymore. The hours in the tunnels had given him a kind of white-line-fever and he felt disconnected, drunk, watching himself wander in the dark.
One tunnel had "Welcome Home!" written above it in white paint, possibly Liquid Paper. He took that tunnel, even though the bricks were black and looked burned. He remembered that in the late 19th century, there'd been a dorm that burned down, killing a lot of students, and he wondered if they'd recycled the bricks in some awful secret project. This tunnel wound around and even led down in a brief spiral. Silver spray paint read "HIDEOUS GHASTLY!" Dan wanted to turn back because downward didn't feel like it would lead out.
Strangely, he came to a metal door, grey paint bubbling off of it from rust underneath. Scratched in rust-fattened letters was "this is where it happened."
Dan pushed at the door, but it seemed locked. He banged on it, making horrible echoes, and finally itmoved a bit. It had just been rusted shut, not locked. It must lead to some old maintenance tunnel, maybe a civil defense shelter left from the Cold War days. There was no other reason for a door down here.
The door grated open a little, a little more, horrible crypt-breaking sounds, screeching like a tortured rat before it stuck fast. Dan sucked in air and squeezed through, covering himself with stinking rust, scraping his back raw on the bricks behind him.
He wouldn't be able to get out the same way.
No going back anymore. Committed.
The flashlight was a pitiful amber now, and Dan decided to swap out the batteries. He sat down and carefully opened the light and removed the batteries. He didn't like the complete darkness. It was too smooth, too fitting-in with his increasing panic. He could hear his heartbeat.
At least he hoped it was his... He remembered Lon Chaney, fumbled with the batteries. The others were hard to get out of his pocket, and he almost tore his pants. He couldn't remember which way they went in. He put them in nipple-end first and screwed the light together.
Nothing. He opened it, reversed them.
The spare batteries were dead.
So was he. Oh shit, oh fuck.
He reached too quickly for the other batteries and knocked one over, and it rolled. Dan sobbed, stuffed the other battery into the light, and carefully started feeling around for the other, crying and sniffling. The darkness joined him, sympathetic or maybe mocking.
The battery couldn't have gone far. Maybe somebody took it. Lon Chaney, with his mask off, grinning and pantomiming in his lonely madness, that’s what he’d see if he got the light back on. How’d you like my little joke? I’ve got a million of ‘em! I’ll show you more as the night wears on. We will laugh and laugh!
Minutes. More minutes. Slimy-gritty damp floor, and plenty of it.
Finally his fingers found the battery. It was in a small pool of water. Would that ruin it?
Dan gasped and sobbed. Around him a chorus of somethings gasped and sobbed with him. “Shut up!“ he said, and so did the echoes. He rubbed the battery on his pants and rubbed it in his shirt, hearing thunder and rain trailing into the tunnels around him. It was really raining out there now, serious storming. The TV was probably flashing with tornado warnings. Oh, TV, if only he could be watching TV right now. Even Phantom of the Opera would be welcome, on TV, not scary at all.
Coming from somewhere down the tunnels were the echos of a roaring, gushing river, and his blood felt like ice.
The battery finally felt dry and he stuffed it back into the flashlight and screwed it shut, clicked it.
It worked. A little brighter than before.
Dan began to run, breathing hard over the thunder and rain and roaring water.
A grinning face went past him, painted on the wall. The devil, he thought.
The words "RATS! STARS!"
Some letters that didn't look like English, or any other reasonable person’s language.
A scratched-and-chipped sentence: "I lost my hand down there, if you find it, give a holler!"
Something down a side tunnel stank mightily, stench rolling out on a wash of cold air, loud with wet death. He kept running, chasing the browning light on the walls, the blackness beyond. He fell and skinned himself up, but got up, limped on.
A pentagram was sprayed on the floor, mostly plastered over by slimy leaves, candle wax at its points. His steps were sloshing now, and the floor was slippery.
"LAMB ROOM" some graffiti read, with an arrow. Dan limped after it. On a bricked overhang someone wrote "Scalps may clog drains. Mind the drains!" Dan ducked under it and found himself in a huge room, an iron stairway leading down to a narrow strip of concrete with rapids on either side, foaming, roaring water. Part of a treatment plant? It was absurd. He couldn't make out the whole room because the flashlight was really dying now. He slapped it, and it strobed, showing that the little catwalk led to a tunnel in a tile wall, and then the light died completely, and wouldn't start again, even when he tried switching the batteries around. He yelped, and it echoed with the roaring water.
He started down the stairs and it sounded like someone else was coming down stairs at the other end; were there stairs there? He didn't know. He felt his way down, felt his way to the strip of concrete. He didn't dare walk it in the pitch blackness, so he got on his skinned hands and knees and started to crawl.
The river went by on either side of him, and lightning lit grates in the ceiling high above. Ridiculously a clear thought floated through his terror like a balloon: Poor Timbo's cookout was being ruined!
Dan laughed and multitudes joined him, calling to him from the tunnel ahead. He kept laughing. He couldn't help it. All he wanted was to be out of here.
Up there. Nothing better than up there. Nothing better than a ruined cookout above the ground. A long walk home through tornado weather, pure heaven!
There were walls around him now. He was in the tunnel. He stood up and walked, slowly, toeing for dropoffs around him. Somewhere behind him spillways opened up and a wash of chilly water overswept the catwalk and rushed behind him, knocking him down. He crawled in the water, screaming, finally struggling to his
feet and standing waist deep in it.
Thunder crackled and everything was lightning-lit in a grate directly above him. He could see old watermarks on the walls, high over his head. Past the grate was a trace of electric light, probably a utility pole. He was beside - and below, of course - a building.
Someone was up there, too. He could see them, leaning against the building.
"Help!" Dan yelled. "I'm stuck down here! I can't find the way out! Help! Get somebody!"
The shape stepped away from the building. Dan tried to jump for the grating, but it was at least two feet out of reach. Jumping made the water push him against the walls, so he stopped. The shape crouched over the grate and peered down into it, and hope flushed away the panic.
"Thank god! Help me! Get somebody to get me out of here! Please!"
The shape just kept looking. It moved around a little bit, then carefully leaning down to shield its face from the rain, it struck a lighter and lit a cigarette. In the flame, Dan saw spiky blondish hair, like thorns, and blue eyes, as blue as the most faded jeans in the world. They were squinted up with laughing.
Dan screamed, no words, just screaming.
And the shape stood up and walked away into the downpour while another surge of water broke through the spillway and carried Dan down the tunnel into the dark, away from the sound of the blue-eyed guy's laughter and the hint of tobacco smoke that were the only proof that he existed at all.
Copyright 2009 by me.