Cold, crisp morning air sweeps over the lake in fine, crystal mists, bringing remnants of fog burned away from the rising sun. The air alerts his frontal lobe and nasal passage, burning it with a call to attention, and the hairs on his bare arm stand up frigidly. The faster he moves on his bike, the colder his arms feel. But he'll work up a sweat. And besides, it's late Spring; it's May. The sun will warm the day in the amount of time it takes the boy to gallop his once-a-week treat: sweet cereal in gulps of syncopated horse hoof beats--just as he huffs and "hoofs it" on his red Huffy banana seat bike. (The only break is a backward slam of the feet and a sideways swipe and skid--he can stop on a dime).
Just a pair of jeans and a yellow T-shirt, double cotton thread with prominent vertical lines on the face of it is all he has. Plus the favorite "tennis shoes" and white socks with the colored stripes at the top with his favorite team cast of blue and gold. Standing up and pumping like the steel rails on a locomotive engine, he smiles straight ahead, his shiny blond hair puffing in waves behind him with each thrust of the pedals and crank. "We're going to the tunnel!" one of the other kids shouts. "What's that?" another asks. Sidewalks and parked cars whizz by in a blur, watery tears form around the edge of the boys' eyes as they traverse small hills in the quiet neighborhood that undulates like a series of calm waves on the lake just to the west of their northern trek. "The tree with the tunnel under it," the first boy replies matter-of-factly. "A tunnel?" our boy asks. His voice is high-pitched and curious. He's heard of tunnels before. Tunnels are secret places of which only certain people know.
"I knew a guy who said there was a tunnel from his house all the way to Duncan's Woods," he says. He tails off his comment with a twinge of embarrassment, because he was also told that there were stores and stores of bubble gum in there. It's just like the time when the girls down the street promised him and Kimmie a grocery bag full of candy if they would run in slow motion like movie stars in the soap operas and end with a kiss. "No way," he said. But the colorful cornucopia of candy in that endless, big brown bag beckoned him....
"No one could build a tunnel like that," one boy says. "How do you know?" another retorts. "Because," the original replies. "They just don't do it." As the oldest, his word is bond. In a communal response, the others, five in all, slow down as one man, and coast to an easy glide through the quiet, clean, empty streets. Church bells clang ahead as they approach Taylor Street. The church sits on top of the hill like a citadel, with its school to the west of it sloping its way half way down and resting there like a watcher of would-be fools who dare to speed carelessly in red alarm, fists fastened to the handle bars, teeth clenched and lips moving from the pounding wind screaming its clarion call in their ears.
"Watch for cars!" one shouts as he looks back, giving orders. At the top, the road slowly moves underneath them, revealing more and more open space below and widening into a grand, unknown chasm at the bottom of which lays, no one knows. The road is a rolling ball upon which they circle down, the bottom of which is unseen, unknown. Long, yellow lines approach, disappear, and come again in repeated warnings; whirling wind sirens in their ears, clamoring for screaming alarm, wooing for pain of death! til looking to their left, a moving metal box screeches in a lurch and blares a honk! as they whiz through the intersection, one by one, in a parade of wistful fools.
Coasting now, with exhilaration and freedom, they pass the hospital on their left, that ironic iconoclast of healing enterprise to which they are completely agnostic, save future unsuccessful endeavors in this paved artery. Stopping now, and resting, there is a ball field, an old backstop, and a lousy drinking fountain. But at least it works.
The craggly tree lay ahead, roots exposed like a swarm of snakes arising out of the sand in search of something upon which to latch. In silence, the tree stands, arms aloft, gazing into the distance with annoyance and contemplation, looking askance at the visitors 100 yards away. Heads down, but determined, the boys saddle up and slowly approach the hill wherein lies the tunnel under this serpentine sentinel.