Through a Tunnel Darkly
The tunnel was dark. For a moment she stood still, unsure where she was or even how she got there. Waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, she trembled. She did not want to be here, not at all, and for a moment she considered turning around and going back…where? Could she even get back? Or should she move forward through the tunnel? Looking behind her, she saw only more darkness. She was torn: take a chance on going backwards toward…? The last thing she remembered was climbing into bed and drifting off to sleep, was in fact still in her nightgown and robe. She was afraid, but overriding her fear was a compulsion to continue to follow wherever the tunnel led her. For a moment, fear almost won out and she turned, hoping to find her way back to her bed.
Then she heard it: a sad, mournful sound, as of someone in pain. Instinctively she turned toward the sound, listening for it to occur again. A moment later, it did, and somewhere ahead, far in the distance, she saw a small pin-prick of light. So she walked toward it, despite the pounding of her heart and the voice in her head begging her to turn around and run away, promising her that she would not like what she found at the end. Fighting herself, she continued moving toward the sound and the light, her pulse and breathing quickening with each step, her arms extended so that her hands, touching the cold, damp walls of the tunnel, could guide her.
The further she went, the colder the air in the tunnel became, and she began to shiver. She wondered if she had somehow wandered into an underground sewer system. That didn’t make sense, some part of her brain thought. The floor isn’t wet, there aren’t any vents in the ceiling (wherever that was), and besides, she had been in bed only moments before. How had she come to be here? She stumbled then, and focused on where she was, instead of how she got there.
The moaning was becoming more mournful, more pitiful. As she moved closer to the dot of light ahead, the desire to turn around grew even stronger, yet she continued on. Her breathing became shallow, her heart was racing, and she could feel the sweat running down her back. The closer she got to the sound, the worse she felt.
After what seemed an eternity, she could sense that she was nearing the end of the tunnel. Oddly, while the moaning became louder, it also somehow became…lower. Deeper. More pain-filled. She was listening intently to the sound, attempting to figure out what it was about it that seemed so familiar. So intent was she on the moaning that she did not notice the thick piece of glass into which she walked. It was shaped like an arch; it was thick, greenish, and difficult to see through; like looking through the bottom of an old-fashioned Coke bottle. She stood there, confused, trying to see past the glass. She used the sleeve of her bathrobe to wipe at the barrier before her. Dust and dampness covered her sleeve, but she could at least see a little bit of the room on the other side of the glass.
She was looking into what appeared to be a kitchen. There was a table and four chairs, a sink, wooden cabinets, and a refrigerator. No lights were on in the room and she realized that the tiny bit of light she had glimpsed and then followed actually came from a street light outside the window above the sink. Using the left sleeve of her robe, she swiped at the glass one more time, hoping to enlarge her view of the room. Now she could see there was someone slumped over the wooden table. It was a man. His head was down on the table, and he was muttering to himself. The thickness of the glass muffled the sound so much that she couldn’t make out what he was saying, only occasionally catching the words, “No”, and “Please.” Then he began moaning again. Moaning and shaking his head in the negative.
Confused even more than she had been, she watched him sit there, wanting to offer assistance, to find out who this man was and what was wrong with him. Who was it? Why was she here? What was going on? She tapped on the glass to get his attention but he was oblivious to her presence.
Suddenly he got up and lurched to the sink. He turned on the water and splashed his face, shaking his head afterward, the water drops flying from his hair like those coming off of a wet dog. Then he looked out the window towards the street light. When she saw his profile, she recognized him: it was Nick. HER Nick. Nick, whom she had not seen in more than twenty-five years. She reached out to the glass, tracing the outline of his face. Nick. After all this time. How had she come to be here? What was wrong with him? Why was he in so much pain?? How could she help him?
She began to bang on the glass in earnest, now, and screamed his name, but it was all in vain. He didn’t seem to hear her at all. Tears were running down his face and he continued his low moaning. When he turned away from the sink, he seemed to be staring at something she could not see. His face, now hidden in shadow, was difficult to see, but his eyes were open wide with fear, the whites standing out in the darkness. She looked wildly around the kitchen, trying to see what he could see, to understand why he was so afraid. And then she saw them: The Shadows. Even though the room was dark, she could make out shadowy shapes in the room, all of them moving toward Nick. Surrounding him. Nick covered his ears and shook his head no, begging, pleading with them to leave him alone. Although Nick’s voice was difficult to understand, the voices of the shadows came to her clear as crystal.
“Go ahead, Nick.”
“This is the best thing you can do for your family, Nick. You know you’re nothing.”
Nick continued to shake his head, hands clamped over his ears. The shadows moved closer to him, hemming him in as they made a circle around him. He was sobbing and shaking. The Shadows danced around him, taunting him, encouraging him to…to what?
Then she knew. They wanted him to kill himself. A bottle of pills suddenly appeared in his hand. His head continued to move from left to right and tears continued to stream from his eyes. Trying to distract him she banged her fists into the glass over and over, screaming his name with each blow. He never looked up; instead he seemed to fold into himself and she knew he was giving up.
“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!” She screamed again and again, watching in horror as he opened the bottle and swallowed every pill. Nearly hysterical now she pounded incessantly on the glass, screaming his name until her voice was nearly gone. He still never looked her way. She watched as he began to lurch around the room, his balance off. Crying, she could do nothing but stare as he slid to the floor. The Shadows joined hands and danced around him in glee as his body fell to the floor with a thud, onto his back, his arms spread wide. As he fell to the floor, she slid down the glass, pressing against it as hard as she could. Wiping her hair out of her eyes, she realized that her hands were covered in blood from beating on the glass so long and so hard. She was sobbing uncontrollably and slid, herself, to the floor.
All at once, there was someone beside her: her son Richard. He knelt down and pulled her up into his big strong arms, patting her hair and making little shushing noises to calm her. She grabbed onto him and tried to explain what had happened, though she was difficult to understand through her tears and her hiccupping sobs. He glanced through the glass to the dead man on the other side.
“Come on, mom. We have to go now.” He started to pull her back down the tunnel, back the way she had come.
“No, Richard! We have to do something. We have to help him –“, she sobbed, screaming, “Nick!!!” again.
Richard was relentless in his pull. “No, mom. We have to go now. It’s too late. Dad just couldn’t live without us anymore. C’mon.” He continued to pull her back down the tunnel, back towards her bed.
She struggled against him, trying to get back to the glass, but she was no match for his size or his strength, so she finally gave in and let him pull her along, glancing back frequently. Now there were red and blue lights flashing in the kitchen where Nick lay dead. Her body was shaking from her sobs, her head was pounding, and she was surprised to look down and see that she was leaving a trail of blood behind her.
Richard just held onto her tighter, half dragging her back, away from the horror she had just witnessed. “He’ll be okay mom, I promise. And he will be back. Now just isn’t the time. Sh, it’s okay.”
She quit struggling against him, then, and let him lead her back, back, back… until she was at last back in her own bed, where she fell into an exhausted sleep.