The Tunnel

Image: Crumbed chicken and chips.  Text: another meal, crumbed chicken and chips.

The Tunnel

Short story by Iris Carden

My head feels fuzzy.

I have just woken up. I’m in what seems to be a tunnel or large hallway, with concrete walls.  There’s no doorways I can see.  There’s overhead fluorescent lighting. The tunnel goes on for maybe 500 metres in every direction.  I’m not much of a judge of distance, and everything looks the same, so it’s hard to tell.

I get up off the floor.  I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, or how I got here. I go to check my watch, but it’s missing.  My handbag isn’t here either so I don’t have my phone.

From here, it seems that whichever direction I go, this tunnel ends at a junction with another that looks exactly the same as it. 

So what do I do now?  Do I just stand here and wait for something to happen or someone to find me, or do I choose a direction and walk, and hope to find myself somewhere I recognise?

I turn to the left, and start to walk.  My stomach feels queazy.  I vomit.  Gross, but I feel slightly better, and I continue walking. I am still a bit unsteady on my feet and am keeping a hand against the wall for balance as I walk.

I reach the intersection with the another tunnel, and again have a choice, right or left?  What if I choose the wrong way? What if I end up going around in circles, and not getting anywhere? I could do with Ariadne’s thread right now. 

I choose left again.  This tunnel is identical to the previous one. Industrial grey concrete. Fluorescent lights.  I guess if I find myself going in circles, the vomit will be my landmark.

I walk on.  The woozy feeling has gone, and my stomach has settled.  I don’t need to lean on the wall anymore.

Left again, and left again.  I should have come full circle, but the vomit isn’t there so maybe I haven’t.  Or is that disinfectant I smell? Has someone been in here and cleaned up? Where could they have come from? Where could they have gone?

I’ll try right, maybe there’s a way out of here if I go right at the end of the tunnel.  I walk to another intersection. Right again? Left?  I take left.  I’m definitely not going in a circle this time. There’s something in this corridor.  It’s a portable toilet, with a toilet paper roll and a pump bottle of hand sanitiser beside it. I look around.  There’s still no sign of any human beings, but actually, this is a welcome sight.  I use the toilet and sanitise my hands.

Now what? Is there someone actually watching me? Someone anticipating what I need? Why? Why would anyone do this to me?

“Hello!” I call out. “Is anyone there?”

My voice echoes around the tunnels, mocking me.  I walk on.

Right or left? I take left.  Then I take right.  Tunnel after identical tunnel.

Then I have another find.  A lunchbox and a bottle of water.  Inside is a sandwich and an apple. I’m a bit wary.  I check the texture of the bread and take a small bite.  Yes, gritty, tasteless, dry bread that breaks apart when I try to hold the sandwich properly.  It’s gluten-free. I can eat it. It’s ham and salad. Despite the bread, it’s an OK sandwich.  I was hungry, and thirsty.  

Whoever has put me in here seems to have some interest in meeting my basic needs.  My physical needs, anyway.  I have an increasingly strong emotional and intellectual need to know what the hell is going on and if I am ever getting out of here.

I keep walking, keep making random choices, left, right, left, left.  

I am exhausted.  

I sit on the floor, and ponder this weird situation.  If only I could remember how I got here.  

The last thing I remember is leaving my house to go to college.  I had a Literature lecture at 9am.  Did I get to class? I don’t remember.  I remember checking I had the right folder in my bag, and putting in a couple of new pens, because I’d run out of ink yesterday.  Was it yesterday? Was it this morning that I left home for my lecture?

I don’t know how long I was asleep.  And I now realise I have no idea how long I’ve been here.  I not only don’t know where I am, I don’t know when I am.

Do I get up and keep trying to find a way out? Do I give up and just wait here until whoever has put me here comes to explain what is going on? Will they come and explain what is going on?

I don’t like just waiting for things to happen.  I get up and start walking again.  I haven’t been able to create any kind of map of this place in my mind.  My only chance to get out is to just dumb luck.

I need the toilet again.  How do I find my way back to it?  I don’t know. I just have to hope I find it again.  

And there it is.  Just around the corner, not in the middle of a hallway this time, but at the end right near where I turned in.  So it’s not the same place as before.  I can’t use it as a landmark. It’s as if whoever it is knows what I need and when I need it. I need it, so I use it.  But I am wondering more about the person or people who have placed me here.  

I keep walking.  I have serious questions for whoever this is.  I am pretty sure I have done nothing to deserve this treatment.  I’m just an average student, not someone who stands out in any way.  I don’t have enemies.  I don’t do things that would attract attention to me. 

Around the next corner, hardly believable, is another meal.  Crumbed chicken and chips.  It’s warm, so only just placed here, but I haven’t seen or heard anyone, or any movement.  The bread was gluten free, so I trust the crumbs on the chicken are too. There’s another bottle of water, and a flavoured milk – soy milk.  They, whoever they are, absolutely know about my dietary issues.

I eat the food and drink the milk.  I carry the water with me for later.  This is utterly insane.

I keep walking.

I don’t know how long I’ve been in here.  I am utterly exhausted.  I need to sleep, but that means sleeping on the floor.  I walk to another intersection, then another.   Eventually, I can’t keep going.  I lay down, drink the last of my water bottle and sleep.  

I wake, stiff and sore.  There’s an apple and a water bottle beside me.  How did they not wake me up bringing them?

“Thanks,” I call out to empty air. I eat the apple and drink half the water.  

I walk the tunnel, another intersection, another tunnel, another intersection.  The portable toilet reappears just as I most need it. 

Another meal magically appears, but no explanation does.

I walk and walk.  It feels like I’ve been walking for a week.

Suddenly, a panel of the wall simply opens.

“Time’s up,” a woman about my own age says.

“What the hell is going on?” I ask.

“How long do you think you were in the maze?” She asks.

“Why was I in there?”

“How long do you think you were in the maze?”

“I demand answers!”

“How long do you think you were in the maze?” No inflection, no emphasis.  Just the same question.

“I don’t know! Two or three days maybe?”

She writes this down.

“How did you choose which turns to make?”

“What?”

“How did you choose which turns to make?”

“You know kidnapping’s illegal, don’t you?”

“How did you choose which turns to make?”

“I don’t know.  I just got to a corner and turned.  I didn’t think about it. I didn’t have a strategy.”

“You were in the maze 12 hours, and were one of only ten percent of subjects  so far who have failed to find the exit in that time. At no time were you in danger. You were not kidnapped. Everything that happened to you was covered in the consent form you signed.”

“Consent form? What consent form?”

She handed me a form. 

Yes, for $500, I had consented to be drugged and left in a maze, for a psychology experiment. It was called Rat Run Test.

“I don’t remember this.” I said.

“Of course you don’t,” she said.  Her voice had softened.  “The drug to put you to sleep also wiped your short term memory.  The experiment wouldn’t have worked if you knew why you were there.  Dr Hill says maze experiments were much easier when we were allowed to use rats instead of people. Rats could just be dropped in without any anaesthetic, because they didn’t know what was happening anyway. Humans are difficult.”

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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