Having heard the slight sound of the “ocean” in the small hole near the floor amidst the few rocks at the back end of the tunnel, Seth, a begrudging, defeated, animal, straightens himself for a painful walk forward. The fear starts to come. He stops after his first step with a wince, bracing his head with his left hand; his right hand pillars itself against the wall. “Out, alive, walk.” The words appear like flashes in his mind. But his whole body quivers with nervous tension, and it feels like he is going to collapse from the inside. He is unsure. Discombobulated. He feels like the buzz of a toy train stuck on the tracks: there’s power from the battery flowing into the engine, but it stands there, lifeless, humming, not going anywhere. There aren’t any thoughts in his mind other than “Out, alive, walk.” The disorientation stifles him from cognitive recipes that draw out plans of action for escape and longing. Finally, it breaks: “Where am I?” His mind is working again. He can figure this out. The tunnel stretches forward and stares back at him. It bends to the right and darkens.
He lifts up his shirt investigates his body. The sores look better. He looks askance of himself, staring at the side wall, trying to think. Words and images flash through his mind as he ponders his wounds and there apparent quick healing: bike, Klugschreiber, yellow, mom, fence, tree. Tree. Grunting with a frustrated huff, he gropes forward step by step. There is still the multitude of painful pricks and holes in his body, but as he moves along now, he becomes numb to the pain. He gropes the walls. It’s damp, hard sandy dirt. It smells like earthworms, and decay, but with a mixture of minerals, and life. The walls are made of smooth corners of stuff, with small juts here and there that deceive the eye: these are not for climbing, but crumbling. A hairy mess of roots intertwines overhead and swims with grubs, webs and creepy crawlies with a disturbing number of legs. The walls and floor however, are paved clean and good for walking, groping and resting. He approaches the bend, anticipating the dark, but the light moves with him, just as fog disappears and retreats on the road but remains thick and foreboding up ahead. He notices that light stretches in tubes from the roots overhead as if they were hollow and a conduit from the sun over the world above.
He begins to think of himself as a dweller. The loneliness of the place replaces his fear of entrapment to that of comfort. There is a perfect silence in this place that drowns out the voices and noises of the real world. There are no cars, no hospitals, no schools, no bad people, no accidents. But there are no beds, no toilets, no stores of food. The fear remains in him then, but subsides and recedes behind the apparent solace of the tunnel. Its clean walls and floor and its hairy, odd ceiling guide him forward. He turns to look back. He’s gone more than twenty yards now. He must be fully under the dune above, entering into the heart of Duncan’s Woods. The tunnel takes a slightly upward slope. He’ll get out of here! Ha. This is no magical place, he thinks, it’s just an anomaly. Just a coincidence. It is a sheer, horrific event that he fell into a sink hole. It happens all the time. He’d read stories of that happening in the desert to the World War II soldiers fleeing from the Nazis in the deserts of northern Africa. Sometimes, they would fall into great caverns and find water and shelter and respite. Other times…
Stepping along the upward slope it begins to get lighter. The roots seem like thick vines piping sunlight into the cavernous tube. Along his right hand side on the wall, there is a tangled mess of roots, although they look like two hands forming a cup, as if to hold water. Inside the hands lies a box. The box is made of old, blackish gray metal, with decorative webelos on the corners. It reminds him of the patches from his Boy Scout days. He had quit the scouts, because the leader was an old crabby woman, called a den mother. The other scouts got to build fires, shoot guns and find snakes in the swamps, but his clan raked lawns of people he never even saw. So he quit. But this box made him think of men, like soldiers who had traveled to exotic lands and seen ancients temples and had experienced the horrors of gunfire, and death. The box had no design on the cover. It’s just blackish gray, flat, and waned of a shine long since gone of ages past. It has smooth, rounded edges that retain a partial sheen, and there is a clasp on the front. Just a normal, metal box with webelos on the corners for quaint decoration. He picks it up, out of the cupped hands, and as he does so the roots retreat, spreading out like spider webs along the wall. He opens the box with a flip of the clasp, and peeks inside.