TW: racist bullying
" I dare you.”
The crowd fell silent as they looked at Cassie. She clenched her hands tightly and tipped her chin.
" Ok.” she tried to sound nonchalant but was sure there had been a tremor of fear in there. " I’ll enter the tunnel, I mean you are clearly too much of a pussy to do it.” She glared at Fran who returned the stare.
" I have been in there many times,” Fran replied taking a step towards Cassie.
" So you say, although no one has actually witnessed it…have they?” the crowd shushed again as they waited. Excitement and fear crackled in the air.
" Just go in the tunnel. I am sure a black girl like you will fit right in, down there.” The gaggle of friends surrounding her stifled giggles.
It was Cassie’s turn to step forward, two paces before she held her ground.
Grandmama always said ‘Never pick a fight with an idiot, they will surely win on the amount of experience they got’
“Whatever, I’ll go and you will see me come in, and you will see me leave. I am not afraid of what’s down there, because the REAL monsters are up here.” A few in the crowd had the decency to look down but nobody jumped to her defense. Cassie was used to being alone. She had spent most of her life in foster care. Another set of white kids making fun of her was nothing.
The tunnel however was something different altogether.
Urban legends filled the dank space beneath the town. If you were looking for demons and witches, the tunnels were where you would find them. Ghostly apparitions and even a local werewolf had knitted together a world beneath this one.
“Here.” someone shoved a torch into Cassie’s hand and she looked down at it.
" You want me to go in now?”
“Well, apparently you aren’t scared so why wait. All you need to do is go through the tunnels, take a picture on your phone of the far wall, you will know when you see it and come back. Easy.” Cassie didn’t think she had ever disliked anyone as much as she did Fran right at that moment.
Fran, popular, beautiful, privileged, and definitely a bit psychotic. It was clear she loved the fact that she was the queen bee. She didn’t care who she stung on the way to get to where she thought she was heading. She had this darkness about her that she couldn’t hide.
“Ok,” Cassie headed across the wasteland that led to the tunnel. She hoped her knees were not manifesting the knocking she was feeling. The crowd followed her. There was no way to back out now, she had to go through with it.
“Have fun.” Fran giggled, her entourage joined in her delight.
" You’re sick Fran Murphy. And I hope one day you know what it feels like to be alone.” Cassie said and stepped into the tunnel. The torch barely illuminated the darkness but she strode purposefully forward not listening to the whoops and hollers.
“Woohoo, look at her go” someone shouted followed by someone cheering.
Stones clattered around her as she walked.
The usual graffiti adorned the walls as Cassie stepped over the rubbish that had congregated in the opening. Cans, old bikes, and a settee were jammed into the tight space and Cassie, made her way around them, purposely keeping her head up and not looking back.
It was dark and cold, that dampness that sinks into your clothes and chills you to your bones. After a while, the graffiti stopped and only the slimy walls of the tunnel remained, water gathered in fetid pools, and Cassie saw rats scamper away from her intrusion.
But there was nothing else down there, except whispers and legends. Cassie felt her stride quicken. She would do what they wanted, take a picture, and go out. Maybe then they would leave her alone. Maybe then she could be like any other girl.
The tunnel curved slightly and Cassie felt a change in the air, a new smell, like old matches and rot. Something had clearly died in here recently, she knew the smell of death, they had plenty of rats die in their basement and the smell lingered for weeks.
But there was something else too.
Cassie came to halt. She was far enough away from the others that they wouldn’t know she had stopped. Her torch swept right and left but could see nothing different.
Hairs prickled on her neck and she shuffled forward trying to see around the slight curve.
Nothing looked any different. Swallowing deeply Cassie continued. The torch was not bright enough and the further she ventured into the tunnel the weaker the beam got. Like the darkness was sucking the light.
" Hello.” her own voice echoed back at her. " Who’s there?” her voice sounded distorted, tinny, and far away.
“Just move,” Cassie said and willed her legs to walk. It couldn’t be much further now, the tunnel only stretched as far as the village green, and that had to be soon. Cassie walked, her steps softer. Her confidence dimmed.
When she was scared Cassie sang, and right now she needed to sing so bad. But fear choked the words inside her throat. Strangling her. Reciting the words of the songs inside her brain wasn’t enough, her heart pounded and her hands, slippery with sweat could barely hold the torch. Why had she come down here? She didn’t have to prove herself to these people, she was who she was and that was Cassie Anderson. Beautiful and strong and sick of being treated differently because of the color of her skin.
Without noticing Cassie had reached the end of the tunnel. The brick wall was unremarkable and Cassie snapped some pictures of it, even a selfie. It was time to go home. She was done with dark tunnels and even darker people.
As she turned to leave she didn’t notice the shadow that filtered up through the dirt behind her. She didn’t see it turn to face her. Watching her with small yellow glowing eyes.
She didn’t notice it until a long bony hand reached out and touched her shoulder.
Swinging around Cassie came face to face, with something.
Its face was gone, only the eyes shone out.
Cassie found she had lost the ability to scream.
And yet, the thing didn’t attack, it didn’t speak or do anything. It simply floated there, waiting, looking at Cassie.
“Who… a-are you?”
The figure said nothing but pointed down to a bag that lay on the floor. An old satchel that had clearly been down there a few years. Cassie picked up the bag and rummaged through its contents.
Pulling out an old school book, she wiped the dirt from the front and read the writing printed on the front
“Francis Murphy, aged 13” the figure nodded and she opened the book. It was old school work. How unusual that Fran had left her book back in here, she had to have been here.
" I should take it back to her,” Cassie said understanding why Fran had said she would know when she had reached the end of the tunnel.
The figure groaned slightly shaking its head. Its bony finger pointed towards her chest and it looked at the book.
And then Cassie understood. A wave of fear pulsated across her chest as she realized the figure was saying SHE was Fran. She was Fran Murphy. and she was dead.
“You are Fran?” the figure grew darker, its eyes brighter. " But…I don’t understand…”
The figure moaned softly, a cry of anguish that filled the tunnel.
But that meant one thing if she was Fran.
Who was Fran who was waiting for her at the tunnel entrance?