The Tunnel

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story about a prisoner and a tunnel

Submitted: August 20, 2016

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Submitted: August 20, 2016

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The Tunnel

The inmate stared up at the solitary light at the top of the cell. Trying to view the whole thing at once he sharpened and blurred his view so that the light and its hovering cloud of dust formed a cohesive image. The light stared down like the eye of god while a million disconnected glimpses of the past swarmed in his mind like fireflies. In total captivation he watches the emanation of a single speck of dust as it appears from the brilliance and descends into obscurity, imagining it as its birth and death. Hour after hour this is his occupation.

A relic from the past sits in the corner of his room. It is a book, his sole possession. In the middle of the cover, a lone silverfish is tunneling its way out. The sight makes his suspicious, and so he moves the book hoping to find some gateway underneath. Nevertheless his only discovery is the old stone ground. Loosened, the sheath of dust that had enveloped the book spiraled on its slow trek down. He reached out, feeling the grains in his rough, wizened hand. And then, whispering to the tiny mountain lying on his palm he says, “Do you know the way out?” Silence …. Nothing. A closer observation of the room reveals other such hills where he must have relived the same moments, performing the same ritual. After a lifetime of staring at the book and wondering where it came from the man decides to inch over to it and investigate. “Hmm … I would rather not have anyone see I’m reading” he thinks. Looking over his shoulders at the bars behind jolts him back into a greater consciousness. It was thin and almost unnoticeable, but the slit could not be ignored. Relief, like that at the end of a long journey made his chest heave, and draw in great breaths laden with exuberant air. Before lifting himself up, the man checked his mind for faulty thoughts. Everything had gone as it normally did. The lamp, the book, the swells of dust; all of it was in its place. More importantly, he was in his place. From where he or any of it had come or why was beyond his knowledge. So, like a tower racing through time he slowly raised himself. Feeling his face was the first thing he decided to do. It was slimy and wet like the underside of a rock. He shook the dust out of his hair and stepped forward, thrusting the bars backward and prowled bare-footed out into the corridor. Others, reading novels in the overpowering darkness of their cells as if it were the light of day lined the walkway one after the other. The man passed them by, numb from the realization that there was a realm outside of his own. “That must be an exit” he exclaimed, throwing his hand out toward the rotting door at the end of the hall.

The climb up a short flight of stairs was only delayed by the nervous attention he paid to the ever-present silverfish and their migrations. He came out upon a dimly lit room filled with the familiar shapes of office furniture. Across the room on the other side was a series of screen doors, exposing the moonlit night and the outside. “Why am I in an office building … and why is the cellar an abandoned jail?” he pondered painstakingly. As his mind ascended toward the moonlight, his body crawled slowly like a snail through the shadows. With both hands he communed with the smooth surface of the glass and ensured it was indeed unlocked. The door yielded and let him through. “What a dark night” he mused. The man jumped down onto the ground from an indisposed, moss eaten platform rich with fissures amidst the concrete. He looked behind himself up at the building. Above the entry is a sign arrayed in bright neon

“Reality Prison”

“What the hell does that mean?” he wondered. The world is totally dark as he roams through a forest until he reaches the end, where the land seems to descend into an abyss and the world in front of him is darkness. Then suddenly he sees that the trees surrounding him are crowded with luminous birds. The birds congregate over the abyss, forming a bridge as time seems to slow. The birds flap their wings in place and in slow motion. In front of the bridge he sees a sign planted in the ground which reads

“Province of Zeroreal”

Not thinking twice, he crosses the bridge to the other side. Throughout the void drifting islands of landscape constantly break off and drift aimlessly, joining in other locations. The stars disappear and reappear maddeningly as he focuses on each one, just like a scintillating grid illusion. Around his feet the roots of trees mingled with pulsating circuits, decaying toys and living game boards. “This must be … the real world” the man thinks to himself, contemplating the phenomenal freedom. Vaulting from drifting island to island and across glowing bird bridges he finally alights on a more substantial chunk of existence. In the distance hidden by snaking mist is a hamlet. Fearless, he dashes towards the glowing sign of a tavern and trips through the swinging saloon door. The words “I need a drink” transmuted into gibberish and melt like wax onto his tongue. Inside crowds of rowdy constellations guzzled down mugs of glittering golden beer. Each and every one was sculpted out of stars. Some were shaped like heroes and hunters. Others were flamboyant like the wild beasts of old. A few, deities of a younger age, rested their heads against the bar or played chess. There were other creatures as well, mediocre and macabre singing the same tunes and swinging arm in arm. There were humanlike figures cast by living shadow puppets, hovering heads of moss, and tall, rippling rainbows. The man pushed aside Orion and sat down at the bar. Behind a row of bubbling brews stood the bartender, who spoke intermittently as a miniature man revolved on a Ferris wheel attached to a torso.

Bartender: You must be new to town

Man: I sure am

Bartender: What’s your name son?

Man: Don’t know. All I know is this. I woke up, and I was a prisoner. There’s this place called the reality prison, have you heard of it?

Bartender: I’ve heard rumors. The Mad Warden imprisons folks there. He casts a spell on them, makes them believe in a place called reality

Man: I thought so. Everything was wrong then … the book, my memories.

Bartender: That’s all an illusion. He uses the books to cast it

Man: I have these pieces of dream dancing in my head. They show me a place where things are more … sensible. There things are different.

Bartender: Take a look around. We’re all here in Zeroreal. It’s a wonderful province and a great place to live if you know how to party

Man: I’m going back. I’m going to free everyone. That’s my destiny

Bartender: Now wait just a second … you need more than just a plan

Man: What do you mean?

Bartender: First off, you need to know this. The Mad Warden hides by wearing a mask. That’s how he catches his prisoners.

Man: I’ll take down the warden and tear off his mask.

Bartender: Yes, but don’t place it on your face, no matter the temptation. It will make you just as mad as him.

Man: I get it, but how do I get it?

Bartender: Tunnel in, I have a shovel out back to give to you

The bartender takes the man out back where there is a shovel levitating in air. When the wind hits it, it spins around and points towards him. Atop it there is a mound of pebbles and soil that reminds him of a conversation he had with himself just hours earlier. As he reaches forward to brush off the earth a subtle color reveals itself. It is a small scrap of paper, rolled up and tied with a blue ribbon. Inside are scribbles and a lost memory of an old poet. It tells of a night spent trying to decipher the stars, to summon the stories hidden within. The poet wishes the night to last forever, so he can read the sky until his final breath. The man throws the scrap aside and takes the tool. Behind him the bartender’s head spins to the sound of a lullaby. He cries out the path the man must take to return to the prison, but is drowned out. Desperate for vengeance against the warden, the man sets out across the fog bleared plain towards the abyss of islands. In the distance, a scorpion stings a tree, making it grow. He tears off a strip of bark and rides it across to the first island. Around him rabbits roll like bowling balls through the grass and flocks of umbrellas hop across hovering rocks. Not wasting time he makes his way across one island after another. The glowing bird bridges feel soft and warm under his feet. And then suddenly, a strange monster tries to eat him. He dispatches it with his shovel and presses forward. Lighting shoots out of the gashes that he carved, arcing across the platform and summoning the strange animals that abound. When hit by the lightning, the crowds of critters burst into a whirlwind of confetti that threatens to overtake him. Fleeing now, he bolts across a small island and leaps onto its neighbor. “Whew, that was close”

The man finally reaches the outskirts of the prison and begins digging a tunnel. The clay is soft and easy to move through. With the shovel, it seems like mere moments before he is deep within the earth making progress towards his destination. On the ground next to him is a glowing bird he brought to light his way. With the clang of shattered rock, a partition between two tunnels crumbles and gives way. The man finds himself facing another runaway. His face is obscured by the darkness, and he can hardly see the vaguely familiar outlines of his face from the soft blue glow. “What a coincidence!” he exclaims to the other man, “I was just digging to find you!” “What do you mean” asks the other man, “Where did you come from?” After relaying the long and unbelievable story the man seems stunned, “I don’t know about any prison. I am tunneling from a place with a blue sky, green trees and people just like us”. “That is just the illusion” he insists, trying to convince the man. “I don’t have time for this” he spits angrily, crawling around him and deeper into the darkness. Happy that the way is clear, he quickly scuttles through the tunnel to the other end. Emerging within a nondescript cell he quietly checks the surroundings for the presence of the warden and his guards. Hearing nothing he breaks free again and charges down the corridor, throwing back all the bars. A rabble of musty and disheveled figures filed out and scurried up the stairs.  The man followed the stampede up the stairs. “That’s funny; I don’t remember the time flying so fast”. Beyond the screen doors he could see daylight. The crowd dashed along rows of bookshelves, piling up the books in their arms and departing into the light. The man followed them. Above him the sky was as blue as a robin’s egg. Fresh green trees lined stone walkways. Turning around he saw the sign atop the entrance.

“Public Library”

At that moment he reached up to his face and tore the mask off. As the mask passes over his eyes he can see day turn to night. “I am the Warden, and I must have gone mad”, he realizes. Then, he vomits. The other man who was tunneling shoots out of his mouth in a spray of dirt and spit. Seeing the face of the runaway his memory rushes back in a wave of ecstasy and awe. He was once a librarian who created a plan to reach immortality. He would have to write a book and then travel into the book itself. Inside the book he would have to write another book and continue this process indefinitely. In this way he would travel deeper and deeper into the Fictional Ad Infinitum and come to a place far removed from reality where anything is possible, even immortality. To perform the transfer he would first have to write a fictional version of himself as well as the book. Then he and the fictional version of himself would merge when he transferred into the book. Whatever literary world he created, the library was the common element. He would store each version of the book in the library until its shelves were full.  One day he had attempted to do another transfer but the transfer botched. He split into two, a fictional and non-fictional version. He created and put on the mask, hiding his identity in order to capture himself. The crisis caused by the conflict caused the amnesia, and so falling asleep within the cell his memory must have slowly faded. He slowly went mad, but managed to capture his real self along with others, mere echoes let loose by the failed ritual. Wait … no. What had happened was no accident. This is the end of the road, the deepest terminus of the Fictional Ad Infinitum. He would have to tunnel not only out of reality, but out of the reality that was him own self to reach the end. It had been a long journey. Around him the other echoes created a big pile of books and began burning them, and dancing around the fire. “The other editions” he recalled. Behind him the reality prison began to burn as well, framing the bright neon letters with flame. The man in front of him reminds him of the final task. And then he is the man, telling himself the task. The other vanishes in a rising coil of dust. All he must do to complete the ritual is to break the pen he wrote the book with. Looking down he sees what was a moment ago the shovel in his hands. The man holds it high and breaks the pen in two. As he closes his eyes the ink spills out and covers him. The dark ink rushes over his body, transforming flesh. The man opens his eyes and sees himself, a constellation, sculpted from stars.


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