(Start your story with the line, “By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire.” (Whether this is a literal fire is up to you.) )
By The time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire….but WAIT, I’m getting ahead of myself, a tale this fine needs to be told correctly!
The passage of time is agonizingly slow or is it so fast we cannot comprehend. That is the thing about the tunnels of time and terror. They are different for each man or woman, each creature who enters. If there was but one defined nemesis then a plan could be devised but each being must endure the cruel and deadly trials created first by their own mind and then exaggerated a thousand fold by the tunnels themselves.
I speak of the tunnels as though they are living things instead of twisted and turning passages through solid rock. Ah, but there you have the crux of the problem, they might be solid rock if that fits your fear or they might be hot molten lava rock if that is what terrifies you and yet to others, the rock is just rock and the maze they create is the problem.
I stand at one of the smoking openings into the earth’s core, the acrid smoke burns my eyes, my nostrils flare at the odor belching forth. I adjust the wide straps of my pack, the weight is no burden, I am young and fit but I wonder why I bring so much. Maybe my greatest fear is to be without my many conveniences or maybe just relying on the other accounts of the few who have made it through. I say accounts but that is an overstatement, more correctly said, wild rambling rantings of jumbled facts, snatches of vision, momentary clarity in a morass of gibberish. Are they now visionaries or lost souls whose minds have been left inside the tunnels.
But here I stand, my whole life ahead of me, and why do I think I must do this thing?
I know of no beautiful maiden to be rescued, no fortune to find, no enclave of enslaved beings to be freed, no one ring to save the world….no, none of these things, just a dream so intense I know it was from another world and I have been chosen.
One cannot just stand rooted to the spot, crippled by indecision, no one must shit or get off the pot. I step forward, one step, and then two. I turn to look back one last time at the world I am leaving, a world of new flowers, cool breezes and the promise of spring.
Suddenly, with an enormous whish sound, I am sucked backwards into the mouth of terror!
Tumbling and turning, head to foot, right to left, spinning and jerking I move deeper and deeper into the unknown. It is strange to know that while my body has become an object hurtling through this inner space of rock, my mind seems clear. I can almost track my passage as though on a screen showing the maze and I am a flashing red dot as I speed through the vastness, but to what purpose? Is this it? Just to watch myself as a flashing light moving through the twisting tunnels?
“THINK you oaf,” I yell at myself, “think for God’s sake or you are lost!”
The next knee jerk reaction of a human mind is to demand, we are a demanding race of beings and so my next impulse is to yell loudly, “STOP”!
And the reaction is immediate, my outer body movement stops so suddenly but my brain and blood slosh around, my very bones clang against one another, my ribs are twisted one way and then another.
Again I yell out, “CEASE!” And all movement stops. My eyes bulge and my breath comes in ragged gulps. But I am quiet of body. Slowly expelling my held breath, I try to see the screen showing the maze but it is gone from me now. I am no longer a flashing red light. I am alone. The walls are walls of stone. I reach out, they are cool in one place warm in another and the only thing that is consistent is they hum.
I believe if I hesitate, decisions will be made for me and I will be in the control of something unknown. My only hope is to keep issuing directions! Try to reason out a plan! Find the maze screen again. I try now to envision what the screen last looked like. Was I half way through? Was I just at the beginning? Had I gone laterally or had I gone vertically to the depths? I find no clear recollection but a vague impression of half the journey is over.
I grip the straps of my pack tightly and I yell out, “PROCEED SLOWLY!” And as if on a treadmill, I move without moving my feet. I look again for the monitor but I see nothing.
I feel such extreme fatigue, my burning eyes tired beyond sight. I close them momentarily and then just blackness and suspended floating. Time elapses but it is immeasurable. I slowly become slightly aware, aware enough to try to remember the dream that brought me here. What was in the dream! I need direction, I need to know why so I can find my way out. The dream lurks just outside of my awareness. Just beyond my mental reach.
Panic begins to invade my mind and in desperation I yell out, “DREAM, SHOW ME MY DREAM!”
As I lay on the humming stone floor of the tunnel, my eyes watch the dream scrolling as a newsreel film on the tunnel ceiling. There are no answers here, just the distinct command to go forward.
I get up quickly now while I still may have some control or command and think frantically of an order to yell out that will help me survive.
With a hoarse and almost just a loud whisper I try to yell out, “OPENING, TAKE ME TO THE EXIT PORTAL!”
Again I am moving forward, my legs carrying me again but with a certain knowledge that this was the way out.
Confused I shake my head, I draw my hand across my eyes, I haven’t done or accomplished anything, how can I leave yet even if I find the adit. I pass many winzes, some ascending, others of the sump variety. Do I take any of these?
With desperation in my voice I yell out again.
“IF MY PURPOSE IS JUST TO COMPLETE THE JOURNEY, LET ME CONTINUE!”
I begin to walk again feeling the confidence of some sort of knowledge. But my gut nags me to look deeper, find the reason for the quest, do not let fear or tiredness distract my mind.
Fear now has me in its grips. I fear going on to the exit portal and missing the true purpose of this ordeal and I fear even more stopping to delve into the dream and finding a more dangerous purpose. It is a conundrum!
Finally in desperation I say loudly but with conviction, “I TRUST! I TRUST YOU TO BRING ME FORTH, SAFELY TO THE EXIT, MY MIND STILL INTACT, MY LIFE SPARED TO DO GOOD WORK!” “I WILL PAY THE PRICE WHATEVER IS DEMANDED!”
I stand, I remove my heavy pack, somehow I know I will not need it. I go forward much more slowly but with a certain knowledge that all is as it should be.
Do I feel enriched? Have I gained anything? I have no idea but forward is the way!
Ahead I see a pinpoint of light in the darkness, my eyes flood with droplets of relief. Tears wet my shirt front and my shoes begin to drag on the stone path. The journey has extracted its toll on my body.
The point of light grows larger and the dim light of the tunnel becomes grey and light beaming in through rough cracks and openings are full of smoke and dust. I crave fresh air, I crave the open sky. I try to hurry now but I stumble in my meager attempts at running so I just take the time it takes...each step closer and closer to the light.
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Oranges and reds, yellows and all rusty shades in between .
I left in spring and now it is the warm colors of fall.
So much time has elapsed while in the tunnels, again my eyes fill with tears and I want badly to wash the filth from my face. Kneeling now at a small lazy flowing stream I gather water in my hands, I splash handfuls of water on my face. Cool and refreshing the water so appreciated now.
I look into the water, my reflection is that of an old man, eyebrows white and bushy, a scraggy grey beard and wrinkles beyond understanding and yet somewhere in my mind I see the screen with the tunnels and they match perfectly with the marks on my face, my wrinkled face has become a map of the tunnels. Each time I see myself I will remember this journey.