by Jake Kale

The foul stench of urine, faeces and God knows what else invades Daniel Murray’s nose, and he struggles to keep his bile from rising. He tries to breathe through his mouth to cut out the smell, but the effect is minimal and does nothing to combat the confusion and terror that has locked his thought processes in a vertiginous spiral. He closes his watering eyes tightly shut, trying to isolate his mind from all forms of sensory input so he can make sense of what has happened. But there is no sense to make, not now, and in any case he cannot isolate himself from the sounds. Understanding will get him nowhere anyway. All he needs to understand is if he doesn’t control himself, if he doesn’t keep still and keep quiet, he is a dead man.

*          *           *

Strange how things could change so quickly, how your entire concept of what is and is not possible can be completely inverted in such a short space of time. Just two hours ago he’d been standing outside his house in Kilborn, checking his watch impatiently and feeling distinctly uncomfortable in the muggy July air. He’d been trying to make sense of things then as well, as he waited for his friend Will Lloyd to arrive. He’d received an excited phone from Will earlier that evening, telling him to be outside at eight o’clock sharp and to be ready to leave immediately. No details, just be there and be ready. Dan had gone outside to wait for him a good ten minutes before the arranged time, which gave him a while to mull over the possibilities. He’d been well aware that his son was watching him from the living room window, and God how he wished now that he’d gone back inside to help him with his homework! How he wished he’d told Will he couldn’t go out that night. But he hadn’t. Instead he’d waited outside until he saw his friend’s Alfa Romeo hurtling down the street and swerving into the curb so fast he’d thought he was going to mount it.

Dan opened the door and saw Will staring straight ahead through the windshield, his lean body rigid, his tan face beaded with sweat and taught with impatience and excitement. Dan climbed into the car, and he didn’t have time to put on his seat belt or even shut the car door before Will drove off again. Dan braced himself. He didn’t even have time to wave goodbye to his son.

“Why the hurry?” Dan asked once he’d got the door shut.

“I had an interesting call from Harry Hudson earlier today,” Will said as he careened around the corner of Dan’s street at a ridiculously high-speed. Harry Hudson was a friend of Will’s who worked for the borough council in Cranford, a largish town to the east of Kilborn. “I take it you heard about the earth quake last night?”

“Heard about it? I felt it!” Dan told him as he wrestled with his seat belt. Though it had only lasted a couple of seconds, it had sounded like a crowd of people hammering at the walls of his house. Dan’s wife had worried the ceiling would cave in.

Will swerved again, sharply, and Dan felt his entire body being forced into the passenger side door. Though he’d now got his seat belt on and was sure he’d closed the door properly, he still experienced a terrifying vision of falling out of the car. Will continued, “Well, you might be interested to know that the epicentre of the quake was Cranford Village. The damage was mostly minor—the chimney of the Black Cat Inn collapsed, and part of the roof of St. John’s Church fell in, stuff like that. Nothing major—apart from a huge hole opening up in an alleyway near the old grammar school.”

Despite his concern over Will’s driving that sentence caught Dan’s immediate attention. “Are you saying one of the tunnels has been exposed?”

Will grinned appreciatively, though much to Dan’s relief he kept his eyes on the road. “According to Harry, that’s exactly what’s happened.”

Dan suddenly understood Will’s urgency. This was incredible news, and completely unexpected. “Where?” Dan asked in something of a daze.

“According to Harry it’s right between the school and the doctor’s surgery, on Stansfield Street.”

He knew exactly where that was, though he still couldn’t believe it. “My God, Will, this is unbelievable!”

“I know! But there’s a problem. Harry seems to think the council are fast-tracking the repairs,” Will said, his tone conspiratorial. “Which in and of itself is an interesting development, wouldn’t you say?”

Dan had to agree—given the sluggish approach Cranford Borough Council generally took to public maintenance, it certainly seemed suggestive. “How long will we have?”

“Probably just tonight. You’ve brought the camera, haven’t you?”

Dan opened the tattered Rosewoods shopping bag he’d brought with him and aimed it in Will’s direction. “One camera present and correct.”

“Good man,” Will said. “I’ve brought a couple of torches and some rope. How long can you stay out for?”

Dan grinned. “I’ll call in sick tomorrow!” he said.

They both laughed at that. God, it was so exciting! They spent much of the journey discussing how they were going to go about this, exactly how long they’d spend exploring, what they’d do if they found anything interesting. In due course they’d left Kilborn and driven along the dual carriageway into Cranford. By then the perennially overcast sky had grown dark, moonlight glowing faintly through the clouds. They turned left into Loughborough Road, and from there it was a short journey along Elwood Road and finally left again into the sagging Cranford Village High Street. Dan knew the area well—he’d spent a significant portion of his childhood wandering around Cranford Village, and had grown to love it deeply. He was also very familiar with its mythology. The village was the oldest part of the town, the original settlement dating to Roman times. Over the centuries it had cultivated a rich and distinct folklore involving mysterious lights, secret ceremonies and numerous unsolved deaths and disappearances. The strangeness had continued into modern times—during the fifties the village had played host to a local variation of the Cornish Owlman, and in the late seventies Dan and a friend of his had run a fairly profitable ghost tour there.

But by far the most well-known local legend involved a network of underground tunnels, crypts and vaults said to connect a number of noteworthy sites in the village, including St. John’s Church and the now derelict Stansfield Grammar School For Boys. There were similar legends associated with other parts of Cranford, Sunset Hill for one, and these tunnels were believed to have been constructed sometime around the 17th century and used as a refuge by the town clergy during skirmishes with the monarchy—at least, that was the conventional theory. The entrances to the tunnels had long been lost or blocked up, and their very existence had been strenuously denied by the town authorities. Nevertheless the rumours persisted, and had given rise to an odd subgroup of local folklorists, called “diggers”.

Dan had first heard about the Cranford Tunnels from his grandparents. They’d lived in the village for most of their lives, and Dan used to visit them every Sunday. He’d sit and build Airfix model airplanes with his Pap, and enjoy his Nan’s patented Sunday roast. Then he’d spend hours exploring the village with them, and learning about its macabre history. While his mother had understandably expressed some concern about this, Dan had delighted in the tales of the dark, silent passageways where his Nan and the other villagers had eluded the Blitz, of the ghostly children said to lurk in the bowels of the grammar school, and of the unsolved disappearance of the local vicar the very year Dan was born. And as he’d entered adulthood Dan had naturally fallen in amongst the dedicated locals who spent most if not all of their free time researching and seeking those mysterious hidden tunnels.

Diggers such as Will Lloyd.

Dan had first met Will when he’d taken part in one of Dan’s ghost tours. The two of them had started talking, and realized they had a shared interest in Cranford Village’s history, and particularly the tunnels. It turned out Will’s family had quite a pedigree, and had at one point owned much of the land in the village, in addition to plots in other parts of Cranford. Supposedly, although Dan himself had seen no evidence of this, they were even mentioned in the Domesday Book. There were also rumours of a considerable fortune hidden beneath the manor house the Lloyd family used to own, and Dan had often wondered if that was what had sparked Will’s interest. Regardless, over the course of the last five years they’d met up regularly to compare notes and discuss their mutual obsession, in addition spending most weekends wandering around the village and chatting to locals.

They’d never been there at night before, though, and that added at little frisson to this adventure.

After a short while they reached the end of the High Street and turned right, allowing Dan a good view of the eerie lighted edifice of St. John’s. Then they turned right again into Stansfield Street, and Will said, “We’re here.” Looking past him Dan spotted the high wall that surrounded the abandoned grammar school. He was unable to see the building itself due to the trees that lined the inside of the wall, but just knowing it was there and thinking about the spectral children rumoured to inhabit its subterranean vaults sent a chill down his spine. Will slowly drove past, and they both turned to watch the trees recede before Will pulled in to park right in front of the doctor’s surgery. “Well, here we go!” he said excitedly, and with that the two of them exited the car.

Despite the sun having set some time ago the air had not cooled much, and Dan felt a trickle of sweat running down his neck. He waited while Will retrieved the torches and rope from the car boot, then they made their way along Stansfield Street to the alleyway. Even before they reached it Dan saw the traffic cones and the low metal barrier left by the borough council to deter entry. It didn’t look a particularly effective deterrent, and it certainly didn’t obstruct their progress into and down the alleyway, the grammar school wall to their right, the metal railing that bordered the surgery on their left. They walked maybe ten feet before the hole appeared before them—it was much larger than Dan had expected, a deep black fracture about six feet in length and encompassing the entire width of the alleyway. There was no sign of any repair work, and no attempt had been made to clear the area. The interior was hidden by shadow. A warm wind blew at their backs. Will, who’d been leading the way, turned to Dan, beaming like a child on Christmas morning. “We’ve found it, Dan! We’ve finally found a way in!”

Dan smiled back, not quite able to believe it himself. After all these years of searching, after all the denials and dead ends, they’d finally found an entrance to the infamous Cranford Tunnels! And yet, while he shared his friend’s excitement Dan also felt a touch of apprehension. Perhaps that was only natural after hearing all the strange and disturbing tales associated with the tunnels. Putting those thoughts to the back of his mind, Dan watched as Will grabbed the railing and leaned over the edge to flash his torch into the hole. Moving close behind him, Dan craned his neck awkwardly to see over his companion’s shoulder, watching as the torchlight revealed sizeable chunks of cobblestone littering the floor below, the debris forming a crude slope. Beyond that the tunnel itself was clearly visible, heading east in the same direction as the alleyway. Dan turned back to Will, saw the other man’s mind at work. “You know, I think we could probably climb down there,” he said eventually.

Dan looked back into the hole. “You might be right,” he agreed. “Then again it might just collapse underneath us.”

Will shrugged. “He who dares, wins.”

That minor safety issue dealt with, they set about preparing for their descent. They tied the end of the rope around the metal railing, then Will went first, holding on to the rope tightly as he inched down into the tunnel. The slope that had once been the alley floor dipped at a roughly forty-five degree angle, and about three-quarters of the way down Will let go of the rope and made the rest of the journey unaided. He did quite well until he got to the bottom, at which point his feet slid out from under him and he landed on his backside. Dan shouted down to see if he was OK, but instead of replying Will simply stood and brushed himself off. Dan resisted the urge to comment, knowing it was his turn next and suspecting he’d make an even bigger hash of it. Turning away, he grabbed the rope and manoeuvred into the hole, then carefully began to lower himself down. The surface of the slope was more slippery than he’d anticipated, and combined with the effect his sweaty palms were having on his grip this made his descent quite treacherous. He risked a glance to check Will’s position and saw the other man waiting to catch him, and that brief distraction was enough for Dan to lose his concentration along with his grip. The rope fell out of his hands and he began to slide down the slope, grazing his cheek on the cobblestone, and before he had time to register panic his right foot hit a solid pile of rubble while the left one kept going, and he tumbled backwards and landed with a jarring thud on his back. He lay there gasping, the wind knocked out of him. Bright light flashed in his eyes, and he thought for a second that he’d hit his head before he realized it was the beam from his friend’s torch. Above him, he heard Will say, “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, fine,” Dan croaked when he was able. “Good thing we brought the right equipment.” Will chuckled at that as Dan struggled to his feet, wincing at the shooting pain in his spine.

Ahead of them the tunnel stretched into deep shadow, its end completely swallowed up by the darkness. He and Will checked their torches—both had fortunately survived their respective falls undamaged—and flicked them on, but the bluish cones of light they produced just barely penetrated the gloom. Still, it was enough to make out a T-junction about twenty feet in front of them. Dan glanced back up the rubble ramp at the starless night sky above the hole, the top of the high wall still visible to the left. Another warm, clammy breeze blew down into the tunnel, funnelled towards them by the position of the debris. The wreckage completely blocked the passageway leading west—they certainly wouldn’t be going that way. Taking in the damage it suddenly occurred to Dan the danger they were putting themselves in. He turned to Will, and speaking in an even tone that thankfully masked his nervousness, he said, “Shall we?”

Will looked so energized Dan almost expected him to jump up in the air and shout, “Yahoo!”, and his friend’s obvious zeal did wonders for his own nerves. He couldn’t have imagined when he’d picked up the phone earlier that night that within a few hours he would actually be walking through the Cranford Tunnels! The two of them set off down the subterranean passageway, pausing intermittently so Dan could take pictures of the walls as they passed. The brickwork looked damp and smelled strongly of mould, and Dan wondered uneasily if that might have contributed to the collapse of the alley. But in spite of, or perhaps because of the undercurrent of danger he carried on. They soon reached the T-junction and stopped to check both directions. Here their torches had very little effect, the light being extinguished after only twenty-five feet or so. Dan took more photos of the junction, and another of the wreckage behind them. Then he said to Will, “So which way now?”

Will thought about it. “Are you right or left handed?”

“Right,” Dan replied.

Will nodded. “Right it is.”

Taking some chalk from his pocket, Will marked the wall just in front of the turn with a large “X”, then they continued along the tunnel. Ahead the darkness seemed to go on and on, no sign of an end in sight, and Dan thought they must be under the High Street. Right next to the old grammar school. Dan felt his pulse quicken as he thought of those ghostly children, and he imagined he could hear their giggling voices. He thought too of Lady Stansfield, who according to local legend had hung herself in the playground, and was laid to rest in a vault beneath the school. Dan realised Will was pulling away from him and quickened his pace. Then he felt something crunch under his foot, and stopped to shine his torch at the floor. Shards of what looked like broken glass fluoresced under the beam, and Dan bent to examine them.

“Will, take a look at this,” he called to his distant companion.

Ahead of him Will shouted, “What is it?” Then he heard his friend’s footsteps heading back to where he’d stopped. Stooping beside him, Will repeated the question. “What is it? What did you find?” Dan examined one of the larger shards, rubbing along it with his fingers. It had a faintly rough texture, and Dan realized it was plastic, not glass. He picked it up so they could both see it. Its bottom edge was smooth and slightly curved.

“I think this is from a torch,” Dan said. And judging by the degree of the curve and the amount of glass on the floor, it had come from one of the big high-powered ones.

Will sounded nonchalant. “The council workmen must’ve come down here. Probably one of them dropped it.”

That sounded unlikely to Dan. Those torches were tough, the lenses manufactured to withstand such minor impacts. But Will had already stood and started marching back up the tunnel, and Dan had to leave his discovery and move quickly to keep pace with him. They continued in absolute silence, interrupted only once by the dull mechanical throbbing of a car passing by above. Dan felt the breeze again, cooler than before, and it took him a while to realize that it was coming from in front of them rather than behind. A little further on the tunnel turned right again, and while it was impossible to know for sure Dan was fairly certain that they shouldn’t have reached Rectory Road yet. In fact the disquieting thought occurred to him that the tunnel might be leading directly beneath the school. Will marked the turn with another “X”, and without saying a word he started walking again, Dan trailing behind him. The breeze was stronger here, as was the smell of mould. They passed an offshoot on the left wall, Will pausing momentarily to shine his torch down it before continuing past, until at last they reached a dead end.

And saw above it another gaping hole in the ceiling.

Here the damage was far more extensive than where they’d entered, taking out a good chunk of the wall on the left in addition to the ceiling. Through the hole Dan saw more darkness, no sign of the overcast sky, and next to him Will laughed shrilly, making him jump. “I don’t believe it. We must be under the school!” And Dan knew he was right, that they couldn’t have been anywhere else but beneath Stansfield Grammar School. But Dan no longer shared his friend’s enthusiasm. Clearly the earthquake the night before had only been the final straw, and the real reason for the collapse of the tunnel roof had been the decay that had been running rampant down here for years. Dan had a sudden, terrifying vision of the entire tunnel falling down on top of them, and realized coming down had been a bad idea. To Will, he said, “I think we should go back.”

His friend turned to stare at him quizzically. “What?”

The way he’d phrased that made Dan feel even more uncomfortable. “I’m serious Will. I don’t think it’s safe.”

“Oh, come on!” Will said. “This is what we came here for, isn’t it? We can’t just leave.”

Dan knew what he was really thinking was, Don’t lose your nerve now! But it wasn’t a case of cowardice—they were putting themselves in physical danger here, and Dan couldn’t help but advocate caution. “I’m just thinking of our safety. What if the tunnel falls down on top of us?”

But Will would not be moved. “OK, Dan, if you want to go back, you can go back. But this might be the only chance I get to explore these tunnels, and I’m not gonna pass it up.” And before he could voice any further objections Will strode over to the crack in the wall and climbed inside, and against his better judgement Dan followed after him.

Beyond the crack Dan saw what looked like a brick cellar, and he made his way inside cautiously, keeping an eye out for loose brickwork as he did so. The cellar was about ten feet by six, and the sickly stench of mould was overpowering. He could actually see it growing out of the cracks in the wall, a network of fluffy spores threading through the damp masonry, and he tried not to think about what inhaling those spores might be doing to his airway. Opposite the hole were three corroded metal shelves, each lined with books half-hidden by cobwebs, and to the left of those was what been once been the solitary entrance to this long forgotten space—a tall wooden door which looked about ready fall apart. That was where Will was standing. The knob was missing, so Will leaned into the door with his shoulder and shoved hard. The door creaked but amazingly it didn’t budge. Will shone his torch through a split in the wood. “It’s been bricked up from the other side,” he said with astounding casualness. Standing back, he brushed his shoulder where it had touched the rotting wood. “Pity. I would’ve liked to take a look around the school.”

Defeated, he went to examine the bookcases, and Dan joined him. He followed the beam of Will’s torch as it passed over the binders, illuminating rows of thick textbooks on biology and suchlike, as well as titles in what he presumed were German and Latin—he almost expected to spot a copy of the Necronomicon. Given the state of everything else in this room Dan doubted these tomes had held up particularly well. He turned to his companion, and noticed an intensity in his eyes that worried him. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

“Something that might explain why they chose to seal this room up,” Will said.

“Such as?” Dan enquired.

“I don’t know. I suppose we’ll know it when I find it,” Will replied curtly. Stung, Dan left him where he was and went to explore the rest of the room. The other shelves were filled with more decomposing books like the first one. Again they were mostly academic, dealing with history, chemistry and geology. They looked inoffensive enough to Dan, and he wondered why anyone would go to the trouble of hiding them away down here. He took several pictures of the bookcases, the blocked door and even the weird fungus, and once again his intrigue started to supersede his fear. He wondered what other surprises might await discovery in the tunnels. But whatever they might find later on, Dan realized there was little else of note in this room. What remained of the wall they’d come through was bare except for more mould, and the concrete floor looked clear of any debris. Dan felt a little disappointed.

He decided to check out the third bookshelf, and as he approached it he noticed the air was thicker here. In fact the closer he got the thicker it became, a condensed miasma so conspicuous he imagined he could actually see it swirling around in the torch’s beam. He pinched his nostrils and tried to breathe through his mouth as he turned the corner, and as soon as he saw what was at the end of that aisle any remaining interest he had in mysterious tunnels under Cranford Village vanished for good.

Quietly, he said, “Will.”

Dan’s companion either hadn’t heard him or more likely was ignoring him. Going against every rational thought, Dan raised his voice. “Will!”

“I’m busy!”

“Will, just get over here!”

He heard an exaggerated sigh, followed by the flat clipping of Will’s shoes on the concrete. Then he was at Dan’s side, and Dan put his hand to his companion’s mouth before he had the chance to speak and pointed to the object that had caught his attention—a pile of rumpled rags lying on the floor at the end of the aisle, forming what had obviously been an improvised bed.

Leaning close to Will, Dan whispered, “Someone’s been living down here.”

Will stared at the pile, then looked back at Dan, and Dan was relieved to see the worried expression on his friend’s face. Together they edged a little closer, and Christ, did those rags stink! They’d been made from old tattered clothing, the odd sleeve or trouser leg poking out here and there. The paler garments were covered with stains so deep the cloth looked rigid, and the stench of stale sweat and faeces was so strong Dan could almost taste it. He held his nostrils shut again, but it didn’t help much. His eyes were watering, so he rubbed them with his free arm. Once they were clear he blinked and tried to focus, and noticed the corner of a jacket just sticking out from the pile, the material a bright reflective yellow. He realized with growing horror that it was a safety jacket.

The kind workmen wear.

From outside came the crunch of gravel underfoot, and for the second time in a couple of minutes Dan near-enough jumped out of his skin—there was someone in the tunnel outside. Audibly trying to maintain control, Will said, “It’s probably just some tramp. Wait here.” And before Dan could stop him he headed back to the crack in the wall. Holding his torch up presumably to dazzle whoever was standing outside and speaking in a stern, authoritative voice, Will said, “Alright, just what do you think . . ?”

And that was as far as he got before his jaw dropped and he started to back away, and Dan was about to ask what was wrong when he registered a faint a blur of movement, three impossibly fast swipes of what looked like a pale clenched hand, the glint of something metallic as a trio of ragged slashes opened up one after another in his friend’s throat.

Dan stared numbly, unable to believe what he’d just seen. Then his self-preservation instinct kicked in, and he ducked behind the metal bookshelf. He heard his friend’s strangled gasps, he was still alive, and Dan turned to peek over the books on the top shelf, and was just able to make out Will’s shaking form. He’d fallen to his knees in front of the crack and was clutching his wounded throat with both his hands, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water as he tried to draw breath through his lacerated airway. Standing before him was a tall figure dressed in black, and Dan heard a wet tearing sound like meat being ripped apart, and craned his neck enough to see what had looked like a fat, writhing tentacle emerging from what he assumed was the figure’s mouth and hover in the air over his friend, and he watched in silent horror as Will Lloyd looked up just in time for the tentacle to spear him directly in the face.

Will fell lifelessly to the floor, and Dan turned away, overwhelmed by an extreme terror like nothing he’d ever experienced before. And for the last ten minutes he’d been standing there behind that bookcase, keeping as still and as quiet as he could, fighting the urge to run, fighting the urge to vomit from fear and the horrible stink of the mould and the pile of rags that that, that monster had slept on for God only knew how many years. Dan knew his only chance was to keep quiet and keep hidden, and he’d closed his eyes and tried to breathe through his mouth, but even then he couldn’t drown out the sickening liquidy sounds coming from the floor where Will Lloyd now lay dead. Then at last the sounds stopped, and after a brief pause he heard something being dragged along the floor, and he knew it had to be Will’s body but whether it was his imagination or not he thought it sounded lighter. Dan listened as that humanoid monstrosity dragged the body out through the crack and up the tunnel, and gradually the sound receded and he was left in silence.

And now he was alone. The monster had gone, taking the corpse of his friend with it, and Dan didn’t want to think about what it might be doing to it.

Or what it might do to him if it came back and found him standing in its bedroom.

That was all the impetus Dan needed. Forcing his torpid muscles into action he cautiously edged towards the crack in the wall and peeked outside. He couldn’t see much since he didn’t dare use his torch, but his eyes had adjusted to the darkness enough that he thought the tunnel was empty. Taking light, deliberate steps Dan climbed outside and began to inch back the way he and Will had come, using the wall to guide him. He breathed in short, shallow, quiet gasps, trying to make as little sound as he could. He thought of the racket he and Will must’ve made earlier, and almost lapsed into total panic when he considered what might have happened if they’d ran into that thing then. He knew he had to keep a clear head, to keep himself from panicking, but it was so bloody dark down here! He could just about make out the edges of the walls but nothing else, and he was grateful the two of them hadn’t penetrated this terrible underground world any further.

Suddenly Dan felt his hand groping at open air and realized he’d reached the corner. He squinted, trying to see if it was safe, but it was no good—that passageway was just too long, the shadows too deep. Dan stood there indecisively. That monster could be standing right in the middle of the tunnel and he wouldn’t even see it until it was too late. God, he didn’t want to walk down there! He thought about going back, back to that horrible, stinking room and trying to force the door to the school open. But if that thing hadn’t been able to find a way out in all the years it had been trapped down here what chance did Dan stand? And even if he did manage to break through, he’d still have to try to find his way out of the school. He had no choice—he had to go this way. Dan thought of his son, sitting at the living room window waiting for him, and that gave him the courage to go on.

Dan started moving again, still using the wall as his guide. He held his torch in his other hand and kept flexing it like a weapon—he decided that if he did run into that thing, or anyone else for that matter, he was going to clout them with it as hard as he could and run like hell. Halfway along he heard gravel being kicked along the floor, and he nearly took off running there and then before it sunk it that it was him that kicked it. Finally, after an interminably long time he reached the next corner, and it was too dark to see the markings Will had left but Dan was sure he’d gone the right way. Then he peered around the corner, and his mouth went dry while his stomach went into free fall.

Instead of the hole and the rubble ramp he saw another pitch-black passageway.

Dan started to shake. This didn’t make any sense! He was sure they’d gone this way, sure he’d counted three right turns, and seen only one offshoot heading in the opposite direction. He’d have put money on it, he’d bet his life on it! But the evidence of his own eyes was horribly conclusive. He’d gone the wrong way, somehow he’d gotten lost, and now he’d have to go back. Back along that lightless tunnel, all the way back to that room! Tears seeped from Dan’s eyes. He was trapped down here, and now he was lost!

Then, somewhere behind him, Daniel Murray heard a sound unlike anything he’d ever heard in his life. It started out as a deep, thunderous rumble echoing through the tunnels in the distance, and at first he thought the entire school must have fallen into the earth. But he detected a vague undercurrent, something he couldn’t begin to describe but instinctively knew could only have come from something living. And Dan began to run wildly into the blackness, not thinking about where he was going, just knowing that he had to get as far away from that sound as possible. He stumbled over loose rubble and at one point narrowly avoided falling flat on his face, and then at last he saw faint light coming from a turn-off ahead of him, and he couldn’t quite believe it but he must’ve stumbled across a way out! He raced around the corner, and nearly burst out laughing when he saw the same hole he and Will had used to enter this hellish place, right in front of him! How the hell he’d got back here he couldn’t begin to fathom, but he really didn’t care. The rope Will had tied up was still there, and Dan ran over to it and began to haul himself out, not daring to look back, terrified that the rubble slope would collapse and leave him trapped down here. And finally, mercifully he reached the top and pulled his weary, aching body out of the tunnel and into the alleyway, and he paused long enough to yank the rope up before sprinting down the alleyway and clambering over the barrier, back into Stansfield Street, and he managed to get to Will’s car before his strength gave out and he collapsed against it.

Dan struggled to catch his breath, and turned to look back the way he’d come, almost expecting that black figure to emerge from the alleyway and charge at him. But he saw no sign of it, and slowly his heart rate decreased. He knew he had to get help. He had to let somebody know about that creature. Dan considered what he might say. For all he knew the town authorities were already well aware, or at least had some suspicion of what lurked in those tunnels. On the other hand they might think he was a raving lunatic. Dan decided he’d choose his words carefully and play it safe, maybe just say he and Will had been attacked by some vagrant.

In any case he had to move quickly. Dan told himself he would soon be safe, he would soon be home with his wife and son. He wished he’d taken his own car. He’d have to walk, and he was so tired! He leaned against the driver’s side door of his dead friend’s car, resting his head on the roof, and he could quite easily have fallen asleep. He closed his eyes and stayed still for a few minutes longer, only dimly aware that he actually was losing consciousness. Dan realized he had to get going, but when he lifted his head Stansfield Street started to spin madly. Dan shook his head, trying to clear it, but instead he lost his balance and fell backwards onto the pavement. His back stung where he’d injured it earlier, and he tried to right himself but his equilibrium had gone haywire—he felt like he was about to fall right off the surface of the earth. Somehow he managed to scramble over to the wall of the doctor’s surgery and prop himself against it. He began to hyperventilate, and his panic was rising anew. Something was very wrong here, he didn’t know what but he couldn’t do anything about it, he couldn’t even move anymore. He finally noticed an odd tingling sensation in his left foot that was already spreading up his leg, and as he tried to focus his eyes on it he saw it was bloody. With what little strength he had left he managed to lift his head and look back over to Will’s car, and as black spots began to form in front of his eyes and his world dissolved into nothingness Dan watched unthinkingly as that fat, glistening tentacle snaked away from his foot, back down under the car and through the storm drain, back into the tunnels beneath.

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Beneath by Jake Kale is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.