The Tunnel

by jaywcoombes

His footsteps were the only sound on the road. Crunching over glass and stepping over debris, the lone walker picked his way towards the tunnel. Abandoned vehicles littered the road, strewn like broken toys and rusted with age. As he approached an overturned bus, its driver still clutching the wheel in a last desperate prayer, a booming noise broke through the air. Glancing at the sound behind him, the man saw an entire building collapse in the distance. A giant plume of dust rose into the sky, billowing in the breeze, whilst the bricks sighed their last to this world.

The harsh sun glared down at the man, burning his scalp and beading his brow with sweat. He took an old rag hanging from his belt and wiped the sweat from his eyes. Pausing, watching the cloud of dust rise ever higher, he opened his rucksack and took out a bottle. Years of hard wear had abused the plastic into contorted shapes, but it still held its precious cargo safely. These were his last drops of water. The brutal truth is that the bottle contained his last drops of life. He’d not found any new and safe water for a week, maybe more, and this was his last. Upturning the bottle, the man drained the remaining water, grateful for the brief satiation of his thirst. The man carefully tightened the lid back on and, with great care, placed it down carefully on the bonnet of the nearest care. Next to it he left his rucksack, nearly empty, but with still a few good years left in it. Other than the torn and dirty clothes on his body, his rucksack and bottle were the only things he possessed worth having, and they had saved him more times than he could remember.

With immense purpose, and the knowledge of a tired and doomed soul, the man straightened and began again to walk towards the tunnel ahead of him. He was under no illusions about what was about to happen. It had happened all the time at the beginning. But he was tired and worn. As he got closer, bleached bones replaced the broken concrete under his feet. The skeletal remains of countless people filled the road. They were hunched in cars, they lay on the ground, they were everywhere. Their grinning skulls made light of the horrific scene.

He reached the tunnel. The entrance was eerily clean of any decay or ghastly remains. It was the only way out of the hellscape he inhabited, the only way left to salvation. Shaking legs stepped into the welcoming dark of the tunnel, his quaking breath echoing off the walls. His breath quickened and a rage built up within him. The man’s chest heaved and he screamed into the abyss, a primal roar of anger, hate, and desperation.

A high pitched alarm sounded and a blazing light pierced the tunnel’s darkness, centred on the man. A voice, louder even than the screeching alarm, projected from what seemed to be the very walls of the tunnel.

‘Unauthorised personnel detected. Contamination level: high. Playing recorded message C dash 7 dash 4. It is over. We have won, and we will remain. Our glorious paradise is not yours to defile. You will pay the price.’

The man fell to his knees, sobbing and shrunken. A sudden blast rent the air, a bright flash of light, and the man’s body was blow out of the tunnel back onto the road outside.

His bones now lie with the countless others, and they will not be the last to rest there.