Chapter: Swallowed Whole

Entry: May 18, 2007

"Hey kid, get up."

It was the first sentence he'd heard in a long time. Hours, days, all jumbled together in a tumultuous stew. Before that were sounds, sights, indecipherable and distorted. In other words: The Usual.

"Wazza?" Kyle mumbled, his mouth seemingly packed with sticky marbles. He wasn't in pain exactly, more disoriented and numb, as if awaking from a cocoon. Hey ma, I'm a beautiful butterfly. "Lemme alone," he slurred.

"Can't. We ain't in Kansas anymore, Toto. I think I need your help."

Now Kyle knew he was dreaming. The mighty Jason Manny asking for help, without punctuating such a request with an insult or sardonic aside? Ridiculous. "Go 'way," he managed. "Sleeping."

"Alright. Ya got me. You sleep in that murky old sewer all ya want. I was jus' tryin' ta help."

Sewer? "Huh?" No, there was no doubt about it, with his senses returning, timidly but consistently, Kyle felt wet. Or as Frank might observe: Hey son, want some clothes with your water? The dawning was like a flash of lightning, full of insight and unfortunately, utter disgust. Maybe a worse fate existed than lying thoroughly drenched in filthy dreck, but for the moment, he suffered the epitome of gross. He tried to be stoic.

"Don't look at me, kid." Jason shrugged. "Maybe you should lay off the twinkies."

"Stop, you're making me hungry. I never asked for your help anyhow."

Kyle heaved his body upright, still sitting in the uncomfortable wetness. This'll be fun to explain. No ma, I just gotta wash these sewer-soaked rags that used to be my good school clothes. It was moot, when or if he ever escaped the tunnels, he had an eye-witness. Jason was lounging, almost carelessly sprawled on a thin path lining the walls, something more common in sprawling labyrinths beneath large cities. Was all this really under a frontier town from the late 1800's?

Having no other line of conversation, he said, "How long have I been out?"

"Dunno," said Jason. "I just yanked myself outta the crud a few minutes ago. Then I saw you. I figure we're in hell, and you're my punishment." He smiled and pointed into the darkness, "I tried my light that way, but I can't see very far. Just a tunnel. I didn't really know where to start, so I waited for you, Princess."

"What am I, the sewer expert? I lived in the city, not under it. Next you'll be askin' me how many alligators we should expect."

Jason pulled his feet suddenly away from the water. "Crocs? Here?" He leaned slightly, peering into the swirling opaque water. "You better get outta there, Scruff. Shame if somethin' ate ya."

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Forget it." He stood up, struggling as if his dog Samson sat atop his shoulders. What is this water made of, lead? That accomplished, he stared down the corridor Jason indicated. He also looked up, down, and around himself and Jason; every sewer access had a ladder. This smelly dungeon of course, apparently hadn't been informed—no ladder, or even hint of a hole above. How did we get here?

"Forget it, Scruff. I looked." Jason pat the wall with his moist hand, eliciting a wet slap and sending grimy rivers tracing several paths down the crumbling bricks. "I told ya. No Kansas. Maybe the hole was a slide..." he looked up wistfully. "I like slides."

Slides. Great. Kyle sighed and dug in his bag, hoping his Scout Pack was as weatherproof as Frank claimed. He remembered holding his flashlight earlier, and it wasn't in his hand, so maybe he stowed it before grabbing the pole he unwisely drove into the eye-mechanism. Why not? It was a brand new world, where city sewers crawled and surreptitiously snuck beneath dilapidated schoolhouses. He shook his head; first things first. The flashlight indeed lay atop the various dross he'd haphazardly crammed into his bag before running off to rejoin Jason. It was heavy, brimming hopefully with power supplied by dense D-cells—who knew how long they'd be underground?

"Found yer ol' light-stick, eh? Ok. Let's go! Not sure how long our batteries'll last, and I want out of here, dig?"

"Eye-eye, Cap'n." Kyle flicked on his lamp, shining it into the lonely hallway ahead. The light faded into the darkness completely; no end in sight. "So, you wanna get going? I'll climb up right after ya."

Jason shook his head. "No way! No way, Scruff. Your turn. I found the eyes, you poked 'em. This is your boat."

"Alright," he sighed. "You're such a girl," he goaded, hoping Jason would take the bait.

"Not gonna work, kid." Jason had crossed his arms and stood his ground. He was scared, though he'd never admit to such an accusation. "Maybe we'll get lucky, an' this tunnel just goes to some boarded-up outhouse 'r sumthin'. But you get the lead."

Kyle, nonplussed, shrugged and sloshed to the raised path, hauling himself finally from the enveloping goo. "Have it your way, baby. Just means I'll get out before you."

"Or get eaten first," Manny shot back.

Well, there was that. "Yeah, by the thousands of alligators." He rolled his eyes. "Do you believe everything you hear?"

"Nope. Just about stuff that can eat me. Get movin' kid, my flashlight already looks a little dimmer."

Kyle laughed. "Fair enough." He strode forward, slightly dizzy, but encouraged by Jason's fear and his own. He had to get out, escape from the deep confines. He wasn't claustrophobic, but without light, they'd both be lost and likely starve to death, blind and trapped. He shivered.

There were no branches, left or right for several minutes. Kyle wondered just where the path led. Manny wasn't far off in equating their predicament with the land of Oz, except he longed silently for a yellow-brick road and an emerald city. He almost missed the subtile shift in shadows when his light crested over left edge, spilling impotently into the new chasm.

"Yes! A cross! We're out, kid!" Despite his earlier reluctance, Jason sprinted forward, leaving Kyle to illuminate his destination. But he quickly outran Kyle's flashlight, and since Kyle wasn't moving, also outpaced his path. Not wanting to inadvertently plunge into the water, he stopped and beckoned for Kyle to follow. "C'mon, kid. Sumthin's gonna be up here."

Kyle caught up, and together they reached the corner of a four-way intersection. Ahead of them lie another long extent, to the right, another. To their left however, sat a rusty, unassuming door, ravaged by years and disuse. It looked modern, far newer than anything that should have existed in 1880. Worse, it reeked of age, built and forgotten, somehow older than it possibly could be, decades removed from time. Jason had already discarded all pretenses of caution, and latched his hand onto the large wheel mounted on the door, pulling crazily to the left. Lefty loosey...

Kyle watched, amused. "You think that's gonna open? The door's probably made of rust by now."

Jason wasn't listening. Maybe with good reason. His efforts felt productive; he could sense the tension of the steel threads giving way, further fueling his concentration. Head battered and bruised, awoken from a mysterious fate after falling into a yawning chasm—child's play. This was the final payoff. He knew it.

Kyle was a little more skeptical, raising an eyebrow as Jason struggled against the insurmountable cement borne from decades or centuries of oxidation. The door, hinges, wheel, threads, lock, everything was likely one single solid block of gritty orange steel. It would never open.

When the ear-piercing screech erupted from the abused threads as Jason hung, grunting and straining against logic and physics, Kyle stared in shock. It moved! The sound stabbed his eardrums like an ice-pick, sending him pitching forward in surprise as he reflexively protected his ears with slimy cupped hands. Fingernails on a chalkboard got nothing on this. Supposing Jason was on to something, Kyle steadied himself and wandered ahead. Again he was helping move the unmovable, dislodge the frozen but still functional screw that bolted the door closed, protecting whatever hid beyond.

Jason still hadn't noticed his approach, too consumed by his efforts to unseal their possible salvation, or lost treasure, or some rewarding experience to justify the expedition. "Thank me later," Kyle said, before putting his weight on the right side of the wheel, pushing up the right side instead of hanging down. He couldn't provide the leverage Manny contributed with his weight, but it could be enough.

Another peal of protest screamed from the door, low, high, rattling their jaws with every frequency it filled with vibration. They'd have to work at this one; no free lunch here, not even an inexpensive one. The rust, age, and filth would resist their every success. But the door would open. Whatever, if anything, existed beyond, was the providence of fate.

As it happens, fate wasn't around.

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