A child’s dream

Dark tunnel

Weird things are happening in the suburbs—fear, alienation and war.

——————–

In the sandy distance loud booms shook the earth all afternoon. Everyone knew the ground war would be starting soon.

On the way to Bobby’s house a single tank sat silently on a side street. Its big turret seemed to be pointing right at me as I walked past.

As always at Bobby’s house, the TV was on. Sad clowns cavorted across the screen, popping balloons with sharp tacks and making funny fart noises.

Every few minutes an announcer would break in with a news bulletin that he would read grimly in a flat voice that barely concealed a deep sadness.

Then it was back to the clowns—clowns dancing, clowns singing, clowns punching each other in the face.

Bobby’s mother and father seemed tense and irritable. They kept dropping hints that I should go home, that they were about to eat dinner, that it was getting late and it soon would be dark and scary outside. But Bobby and I sat riveted to the cathode ray clowns, laughing and clapping and cheering their hijinks. Finally, Bobby’s mother and father picked me up and tossed me out the door where I sprawled on the front lawn with a thud. Standing up uncertainly, I dusted myself off and began the long walk home.

Tank in suburban neighborhood

It was dusk now and as I walked along the street I could hear the heavy rumble of tanks and artillery on the move. The sound seemed to come from every direction—from the bungalows on either side of the street and high above from the purple sky, even vibrating under the cracked sidewalk.

Then suddenly the sound stopped and it became eerily quiet. No bird sang, no cricket chirped, no wind blew through the trees. The world seemed to hold its breath.

Just before I got to the tunnel, all hell broke loose. The sky lit up along the northern horizon like an apocalyptic fireworks show.

I could hear the pounding of artillery and rocket fire and feel the vibration deep in my chest. The sky above was alive with the roar and flash of jets and missiles and the whoosh of unseen projectiles. With my heart beating wildly I ran toward the entrance of the tunnel, seeking the safety of its cool darkness.

The tunnel was packed end to end with columns of tanks. Choking diesel smoke hung in the air. It was dark and quiet in the tunnel and strangely, no people to be seen. The hulking tanks sat in a neat row, barely visible in the dim light. As I walked through the tunnel, I wondered if there were soldiers in them or if they had been abandoned.

About half way through the tunnel, I was startled by a tall, ghost-like soldier suddenly stepping out from behind a tank. His thin face was pale white and his eyes seemed to glow red in the dim light.

“What are you doing here?” he barked.

“I’m on my way home,” I said, my voice cracking with fear.

“Then get going,” he growled, suddenly clenching his fists and moving toward me with a threatening posture.

Without looking back, I began to run as fast as I could. I could see a small light at the tunnel’s opening, but it didn’t seem to get any closer as I ran toward it. On and on I ran, my lungs choking with smoke and dust.

Finally, I approached the end of the tunnel. As I ran toward the light, the outside world seemed engulfed in flames. Backing up to protect myself from the intense heat radiating from the outside, I peered through the smoky inferno, trying to catch a glimpse of my apartment building in the valley below.

The whole earth seemed to be on fire, the sky above laced with streaking lights.

Then the soldier with the glowing eyes was there again. I jumped in fright at his sudden reappearance.

“What did I tell you—go home,” he commanded.

“But…I’m afraid,” I stammered.

“You have reason to be afraid in here. This tunnel is a high priority target. Don’t you know that?”

“But at least I’m safe in the tunnel,” I said.

“Safe?” The soldier laughed hysterically in a high-pitched humorless cackle. “Safe? Don’t you know the enemy has cluster bombs that can saturate the interior of this tunnel with thousands of tiny bomblets, each capable of exploding with the force of a Molotov cocktail?”

“No sir” I said, beginning to cry.

“Then run along, sonny,” said the soldier, suddenly taking a fatherly tone.

Now I felt very lonely.

I did not want to go back to my cold, bleak apartment. I wanted to feel the warm bonds of comity with friends and family, sharing our fears and facing death together.

But I didn’t have any friends or family, and had no place else to go.

Awash in despair, I walked quickly toward the end of the tunnel, walking faster and faster until I was running and the wind whistled in my ears and the heat sucked the breath out of my body and then I was out of the tunnel and the flames surrounded me and the ground shook with the impact of huge bombs and still I ran, faster and faster, toward some unseen destination.

1991

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Text and graphics on this page by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Attribution: James L. VanHise – fragmentsweb.org.

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