There was a sound like a huge, viscous bubble bursting, and Mason fell upwards into a hole in space. He’d been in the evening rush-hour crowd, trudging drowsily through the pedestrian subway to his metro station after a long workday. His stomach lurched as he was pulled towards the ceiling, and he went "oof!" when he slammed into a flat surface in sudden, complete darkness. Groaning with pain, he sat up and turned on his smartphone’s flashlight. He seemed to be in the same place, but where did everyone go? The familiar dusty green tiles of the tunnel's walls glinted a few meters away. When he shone the light down its length, he could see no end, and no people. There should have been a right turn a little ahead. He turned around, expecting to see the stairs up, but they weren’t there either. There was only the straight tunnel. The overhead fluorescent lights were off. It was absolutely silent here; there was no rumbling of distant traffic, or even the slight hum of electrical equipment.
Mason started walking, shouting "Hello!" Nobody answered. Crossing the tunnel should have taken two minutes, but after ten minutes, he was still in the same straight passage. Deciding to try his luck the other way, he doubled back. Twenty minutes later, there was still nothing but a straight, unbranched tunnel. He checked his phone: no signal. What was going on? Was he asleep? He tried to wake himself up by yelling and punching the walls. It gave him only a stinging pain and bruised knuckles.
With no alternative, he traveled onward. Even after two hours at a brisk pace, he was still breathing in the stale, cool air of the straight tunnel. His lunch had been hours ago, and he was growing hungry and thirsty. He checked his briefcase for a candy bar he might have forgotten about, but there were only some pens, a legal pad, and a power bank for the phone. After a few more hours, he lost his composure. He raged, then cried, then collapsed morosely against the wall. In a stupor, he got up and marched until he was too tired. He slept on the tiled floor, using his briefcase as a pillow, and continued on the next morning. He found nothing but the same straight tunnel. After a few days, the dehydration made him first strangely euphoric, then delirious, and eventually it killed him.
Mason was walking through the tunnel with the other commuters when there was a sound like a huge, viscous bubble bursting, and he fell into an empty and seemingly endless version of the same subway. His flashlight revealed a figure sitting beside a rough hole in the wall. Close up, he realized the man looked exactly like him. He was dead, his emaciated body starting to mummify in the cool, dry air. The shoulder-wide hole went up at a forty-five degree angle and ended in dry, brown earth after about five meters.
A legal pad lay beside the dead man. With trembling fingers, he picked it up and saw his own handwriting on it: ‘There’s no way out. We are trying to dig up to the surface. Cut pieces off of me to eat and survive longer. The eyes are easy and full of water.’ Mason stood up, dazed. He saw dozens of dirty metal pens with worn tips on the floor. He had the same one in his briefcase. They'd been used as makeshift pickaxes. Bloodstained shanks made from keys (his apartment keys, he realized) lay nearby. Copies of his phone and his briefcase were strewn all around the dirt-covered floor. There was something else in the distance. It turned out to be more identical corpses, shriveled as ancient mummies. Hundreds of them lined the walls of the passageway. Some had been mutilated, with bits of meat cut out of their legs and buttocks. Many were eyeless, their sockets empty holes. Mason started sobbing and cried out for his mother.
Mason was walking through the tunnel with the other commuters when there was a sound like a huge, viscous bubble bursting, and gravity suddenly reversed. He dropped onto a pile of something soft. It felt, and smelled, like an old sofa that something had rotted on. Gagging and retching, he turned on his flashlight. He saw in the glare of the blueish beam that he was surrounded by mummified corpses that all looked like him. After he got a grip on himself, he noticed a hole in the wall. One corpse was lying on his back with the upper half of his body inside the hole. He’d placed a legal pad on his chest, arms crossed over it. Mason stepped over the dozens of bodies covering the floor and pulled the papers out from under the stiff arms to read: ‘We tried to dig our way out. The shaft just loops back to the opposite side of the wall, even though it's completely straight.’ Mason turned around. There it was: a roughly hewed hole in the floor near the opposite wall.
‘This can't be Earth. We keep being pulled into this other universe, or whatever it is. One Mason dies, the next arrives. It's happened thousands of times so far, at least. We don’t know why, or how. Will it end once the tunnel is filled top to bottom with dead Masons? Does one of us need to find some sort of enlightenment? Do we need to atone for our sins? Is the real Mason already home and enjoying a pizza, and we are just copies? I don’t know. None of us make it here for long. We die and go to heaven, or hell, or simple oblivion. All we can do is stay alive for as long as possible and maybe figure out how to make things easier for the next guy. Maybe the sensible choice is to choose a quick death rather than try to persevere. I don’t know. You make the call. I have nothing else to tell you. I only wrote this down because I feel like I at least owe you an explanation, just as the one before me did for myself. Good luck, brother.’ Mason stood alone in his small pool of light, surrounded by silence, darkness, and death, and contemplated his choices.