My heart raced, and for a moment I thought it was going to explode out of my chest. I was surrounded by a group of girls and boys my age, all around fourteen and fifteen. My mother Shannon and I moved to the god forsaken town of Berkshire Hill, for a new job opportunity. At least that is what she told me. I think she’s lying though. Mom never talks about it, but I suspect it has to do with dad leaving. When he did, which was abruptly in the middle of the night on March 17th, she didn’t speak for two days. He was never around to begin with, but when he was actually gone, it did something to her. It broke her. I saw him on weekends, but eventually he stopped coming around, would never return my calls, and deleted me off of social media. That is why I figured mom wasn’t telling me the truth.
Mom worked at a car rental company, but there are car rental companies all over the state and every other state in America. I figured she picked Berkshire Hill because no one wanted to live here, which means the housing must be cheap. The house we now live in was in the corner by the woods as it was the last house on the street. It creaked at night and I sometimes would wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat because I had forgotten where I was and that we had moved. The hardest part about moving here was the fact that everyone already had their friends and I was the outlier in the town. There were only four hundred kids in the high school and one hundred in the freshmen class. Everyone knew each other.
As I stood in the middle of my classmates in the woods, I thought about the car ride moving up to this horribly dead town. As we passed the beautiful trees of red and yellow, my Mom, with worried wrinkles, told me to try my best to fit in because this was the last stop.
There was no-where else to go. As I reflected on her words, I felt defeated and looking at my snickering peers, I sucked back my tears and smiled. I pretended I wasn’t afraid, but I was.
Emily Carmichael bit down on her lip and smiled at me. Her blonde hair and glittering blue eyes made it easy to dislike her. She was irritatingly beautiful and I was not. That was probably why she was the leader of this group I was trying so hard to join. She had an army of boys and friends behind her, and I had none.
“It’s a right of initiation,” Emily exclaims excitedly. “We all had to do it!” says Victoria next to her. Emily shook her head in a mischievous way. “So are you going to do it?” Emily points right behind me.
I turn around and face what all my new friends were looking at. On the ground near my feet were train tracks leading into a dark railroad tunnel ten feet away. Glued together on the outside of the tunnel were grey stones. It was darker than night inside, and it only took a couple of feet in to be engulfed in it. “Why do I have to go in there?” I pleaded. “I did everything else you told me too.”
It was true. I bought Emily’s school lunch for the week, wrote Victoria’s English paper, purposely let her team win in dodge-ball in gym class, and lastly poured grape juice all over my white shirt last Friday. All of these humiliating acts were part of the initiation Emily claimed, and it was not enough to join the group or mold into their already formed wall of faded color and deceit.
This is the last stop.
My mother’s words rang in my head like a recorder that played by itself. I couldn’t shut it off.
“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll go.”
“Great,” murmured Emily.
“What do I have to do?” I asked. I could not believe I was doing it. I heard some of the stories, the legends, and worst enough, the cops that patrol the area. Yet all of these worries stayed behind a locked door and ignored my fluttering heart. I took a breath of courage and straightened my shoulders out.
Victoria looked at Emily and then me with raised eyebrows. “Are you sure you can do it?” she asks.
“You have to walk at least thirty minutes to get to the middle. That’s where the accident happened. It’s where over two hundred men died. You have to pick up some kind of proof that you made it to that point and bring it back. Do you understand?” asks Emily with a snicker on her face.
“Fine,” I replied with a brave, but shaky voice.
“And we’ll know if you don’t go all the way, because there’s nothing in that tunnel for at least a mile. It’s past that point that you can find souvenirs. Go it?” She reached into her purse around her shoulder and handed me a flashlight. I took it and held onto it tightly. There was no going back now.
“Good luck. What’s your name again?”
“Kimberly,” I replied begrudgingly.
“Alright, Kimberly, if you can do this, you can be a part of our group.”
“You’ll be waiting here when I get back?” I ask.
“Of course,” smiles Victoria.
I looked at all them and swallowed the spit that had been accumulating in my mouth. I walked toward the tunnel. Right before entering, I felt a cold breeze against my skin. I shivered. I looked back one final time at the group of kids I was trying so hard to fit in with. With their arms crossed, they all stared at me with unforgiving eyes. I entered the tunnel and began my journey through the darkness.
I felt stupid and worthless. Why was I doing this? I couldn’t turn and run though, because they would all tell everyone what a fool I was, and that I was afraid of the ghosts.
“Ghosts are not real,” my mother would tell me, when I was younger. There was a time when I was eight that I heard terrifying clawing coming from the basement. My mother told me it was rats, and I believed her. The clawing stopped and I was never afraid of the dark again. My mother told me that ghosts were just past energy left behind and nothing more. There are not angels, demons, or God. Humans are born and then they die and it is just that. There is nothing in this tunnel, I say to myself. There is nothing in the dark.
Outside the tunnel, a boy in a red hoodie whispers to Emily. “Is she really going to be hanging out with us?” he asks.
Emily laughs out loud. “Fuck no! We were just bored. Let’s go. I’m hungry.”
Victoria looks at her friend and fumbles in fear. “What if she gets lost? You know that tunnel is really haunted, right?”
Emily faces her friend. “She’s not our problem. She was the one that decided to go in. If something happens, we’ll just say it was her idea.”
The teenagers walk away and leave the woods.
It was more silent than anything I could have imagined. I wish I had worn a thicker jacket. It was freezing. It was as if the tunnel had its own weather and temperature than the outside. I kept walking. My shoes crunched against the dirt making my foot-steps noticeably loud. I looked all over the ground for something I could bring back. There was nothing but railroad and dirt. For a moment I wondered if Emily made everyone go in the tunnel or if she just made me. I lastly wondered if she was lying. What if there were no souvenirs?
Over two hundred men died in this tunnel.
I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. It kept playing on the recorder like my mom’s words. It was bad energy, that’s all it was.
I thought about my history teacher telling the class how the tunnel was said to be haunted by the ghosts of the men that died. That it was even said to be a gateway to hell by the locals that lived in the town. My mother’s words burned bright. There is no God, angels or demons.
I rubbed my arms and shined my flashlight in front of me. There was nothing but endless darkness and railroad. I stopped and thought about turning back and just dealing with the shame when I heard something behind me. My first thought was that one of the kids followed me to scare me.
“Hello?” I called out. “It’s not funny, I know you’re there!”
My voice echoed, but so did the unknown footsteps.
My second thought was that if it wasn’t one of the kids, I had no way out. Maybe it was an animal? How unlikely it is that anything living would want to come in here. I thought about myself. Why the hell did I do this? What the fuck is it?
I shined my flashlight, but I saw nothing. I started to walk backwards facing the noise carefully by the track. I heard something again; a deep and guttural moan. I stopped and so did my heart. My face felt frozen as if the blood just stopped moving. I know I heard it this time and it wasn’t one of the kids. There was someone or something following me. I tried to doubt myself, but I kept hearing it.
“Emily, it’s not funny! If that’s you, please, just come out. I’m done. I want to go. I don’t care anymore!”
I shined my flashlight to where the noise was. It was at this moment that I heard the footsteps and moaning again. Then the footsteps turned into the sound of feet running. There was someone running towards me. I broke in a sprint absolutely terrified. Tears welled in my eyes. I couldn’t scream. I had no breath. I didn’t look back though. I could hear it behind me. It was coming.
I looked down at the train tracks and was reminded by the fact that the train tunnel runs for four miles. I was going to die underneath the ground and no one except a bunch of fuck head fifteen year olds know I am here.
I ran for my life, never looking back once. After about fifteen minutes, I stopped hearing the footsteps. I mustered the courage and talked myself into turning around with my flashlight to face it. “One…two…three…”
I turned around ready to fight. A cold breeze brushed against my goose bumped skin. There was nothing there but darkness.
I kept walking fast looking around my surroundings with my flashlight.
There are no such things as ghosts – just bad energy. I repeated this in my head, but why was I so scared? It was probably an animal, but those were footsteps. I couldn’t put it in box, or rationalize it. It didn’t make sense. What the fuck was that? I heard it. I felt it. There was someone running after me, but now they were gone. Where did it go?
I was filled with regret. How was I going to get out? The ground started to shake and a dim light was made visible a distance away. The light started to come closer with the ground still shaking slightly. I pressed my entire body up against the wall trying to make myself unnoticeable. As it became more visible, I realized it was an old rusted small train. It moved abnormally slow and before it came upon me, it stopped and whistled. I looked inside for a conductor, but I saw none.
I knew for a fact that trains have not run through this tunnel is twenty years. It was banned. It was illogical for this train to have appeared. Something was welling up inside me. It was not just terror, but it was anger. My mother was wrong. This was not bad fucking energy. This was supernatural shit Bill Nye’s wouldn’t even be able to explain.
The train lingered for a moment and whistled, as if it were waiting for me. I’m not stupid. There was no way I would get on that train. It whistled a final time, and then slowly moved again in the darkness shaking the ground as it went. And just as mysterious as it came, it left in silence and disappeared into the darkness. I shined my flashlight towards its direction, but it was gone. As if it were never there at all. I wonder what would have happened if I had boarded that train and where it would have taken me. My instinct was to leave it alone and move on. I needed to get the hell out of this tunnel. I turned back and braced myself.
It would be stupid to try to keep going forward as the tunnel ran for miles. The thing that came after me before was gone and I hadn’t heard anything for quite some time. I wouldn’t make it out through the four miles. The only way to go was to walk back, through the darkness, and where I had come from.
I took small steps and constantly looked around, keeping my ears alert for anything else that could be creeping up on me. I walked for what I estimated to be about thirty minutes. I looked down at my watch on my wrist and tried to look at the time. It read 2:34 PM. I squinted and checked again. It didn’t make sense. It was around 2:30 PM when I entered the tunnel. The time on my watch had stopped.
As I walked, I saw familiar markings on the wall and knew I was not far from the entrance. I had feelings of hope until I reached a fucking fork in the tunnel. First off, the tunnel runs straight. There are no lefts or rights. I tried to think hard if I had missed it and simply did not notice there was a fork, but then I knew the layout of the tunnel when we reviewed it in History class. The two differentiating pathways were impossible. It was impossible.
My teacher, Mr. Scott had a great grandfather that was one of the victims of the tunnel. All that was found from him was his tag that had 27 carved on half a piece of metal. Mr. Scott would tell us that even before the accident, the builders complained of hearing voices deep inside the tunnel or rather inside the ground. It was as if the tunnel itself was alive. That it created pathways itself. Workers disappeared in that tunnel and where never found again. There was something sinister in the dark gloom that lurked and stalked the men. Some even said that the tragedy was no accident.
I decided right, because it I always went right when I was unsure where to go. Or maybe I went right because left seemed wrong. I continued on in the dark and wondered if my mother was worried or if the police were looking for me. Where the kids even still there? I had been walking for at least two hours. I noticed as I further walked that it became colder and almost freezing. I tried to warm my arms, but it was no use. It felt like winter. I kept going, even though some voice in the back of my head told me to go back.
Before I could make a decision, there was someone walking toward me. Their movements were slow and rigid. It knew I was there. I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t see me.
“Hello?” I called out to it.
It didn’t respond. With one foot in front of the other, it kept coming toward me.
“Hello? ” I cried out.
I shined my flashlight to it. It stopped abruptly and did not move. I walked towards it, as it stayed completely still. About five feet away from it, I gasped out of horror at what its face looked like. With no eyes or a nose, it only had a mouth. It looked like a person, but it was something else. It still did not move. It stayed in an odd position as if frozen.
I picked up my pace and ran as fast as I could away from it. I then felt something cold and wet land on my face. I looked up and saw oily snowflakes coming from the ceiling. Somehow it was snowing in the tunnel. These flakes were dirty and made black smudge on my skin.
I shined my flash light into the distance and saw nothing but black.
Go back, now!
The mysterious voice rang in my head again. This part of the tunnel started to look less like a tunnel and more of a pathway to somewhere else. The ceiling widened. In the distance, I heard what I heard earlier – a moan. But this time, it was several or voices calling out. The voices were distorted and did not sound like it was human. I then thought my father leaving and the sadness that came from that. I was then overcome with general sorrow. It hit deep into my heart. I felt hopeless, as if I could never be happy again. I had a sudden urge to lie down, and that was exactly what I did. For some reason, I was exhausted and tired. I felt like I didn’t want to go on for anything. Life was meaningless at this moment. I put my head in the dirt and tears coming from nothing streamed down my face. I closed my eyes, as if I was waiting for something to happen or death. I was growing more tired, with less energy. I couldn’t move, even if I needed to.
Suddenly, something picked me up. I was so overcome with melancholy that I did not care and I did not open my eyes. I was carried for a long time until I was set back down on the ground. I opened my eyes. The sorrow had gone away and I could feel hope again. I moved my body for I had energy again. I had someone gotten away from that dark and sorrowful area. I was positioned near a giant hole in the tunnel wall. I saw light at the end, which means it must lead outside. My way out was only ten feet away.
My happiness shattered quickly when I heard something move behind me. I quickly turned my flashlight in the direction of the sound. My chest stopped moving. It was the thing with no face back from the dark, except this time it was moving and it was not stopping. It was coming straight for me. I crawled into the hole as quick as I could. It was small, but I was thin enough to move through it, but slowly. I heard it behind me. It was coming through the hole with only feet between us.
I screamed because I was so close. This monster was not in my head. It was real and it defied logic. I crawled as fast as I could, until it gripped my ankle. It burned as if the thing grabbing me was made out of acid. I screamed as I felt my skin burning. I tugged as hard as I could and on the sides of the hole, I dug my hands into the dirt and lifted myself forward. With all of my might, I yanked my foot out of its burning grasp. It was becoming relentless and it was not going to give up. I thought about my mother and my father, my school, Mr. Scott, and Emily. I thought about the things that I loved and the people that I would not see again if I did not make it out. I thought about what this acidic creature would do to me if I didn’t make it out. The fear of going back to that dark and cold place pushed me forward a second time. I was not going to die in this god forsaken place. I was going to get out.
With one foot away from freedom, I had to make it. I was almost there. I heard it breath. This time, it grabbed onto my waist. It tried dragging me back. I screamed as its skin burned through my clothes. My arms were outside the tunnel and next to the hole was an old piece of sharp glass. I picked it up and stabbed whatever was holding onto me in the face. It screamed out in pain, and after a moment, it finally let go.
As fast as my body could crawl, I pulled myself out of the hole and landed on the dirty ground outside. I quickly looked behind me. The creature was gone as if it was never there. I got up and ran as fast as I could from the hole and from the tunnel. I ran home.
As I approached my house, police cars were everywhere. They ran to me as I came closer. My mom came to me first.
“Where have you been Kimberley? Where did you go?” she cried as she threw her arms around me.
I held back my tears. “I was lost in the tunnel.”
“I know about how you were dared to go. Your friends told the police how you went in and never came back out.”
“They’re not my friends,” I replied.
“How? How did you get lost? The police checked and sent a train down there. They went through it five times. They never saw you. Kimberley, it’s been two days.”
“What?” I shouted. “I was only in there for a couple hours. I took a left and I think that’s where I got lost.”
“A left? Sweetheart, the tunnel only runs straight.”
They weren’t going to believe me, so I said I must have fallen somewhere and lost my memory. Paramedics came and treated me for the burns and onset hypothermia. They wondered how I could have gotten so cold so fast at the end of summer. I doubt they would believe me if I told them it snowed.
I felt something in my pocket. I reached in and found half a piece of metal. On it was the number seven. It dawned to me as to how I could have gotten out of that dark and hopeless place. Someone helped me.
I stayed home for a couple days after the incident, and then returned back to school. I walked into my history class. All the students looked at me with curious eyes. Emily looked the guiltiest and couldn’t look me in the eye at all. Apparently, she had been suspended for the two days I was gone after confessing that it was her idea that I go into the tunnel.
I walked up to Mr. Scott’s desk and handed him the piece of metal. He took it from me and looked at it. His mouth open wide. “What is this?” He asked.
“You may not believe me, but someone helped me when I was down in that tunnel. I think they wanted me to give this to you.”
Mr. Scott went into his desk and took out the old tag that had 27 on it and connected the broken seven to it. It made 277.
“My great grandfather’s tag was 277,” he said. He looked at me bewildered.
“In all that dirt, you found the last piece of his tag?” He was in disbelief. I walked away to my seat. What haunted me was the thought that there was a place in that tunnel of incredible sorrow. Who was behind those lost moans and cries in the dark? What would have happened if I had ventured further, or if I had never gotten back up? What was that cold, snowy, dark place of absolute sadness? What and where did that entity that chased me through the dark come from? Did it come for me because I had almost gotten away? These thoughts continuously ran through my mind.
I realized that it is possible that the very dark and evil places in this reality and possibly others are not places of fire. Who were those lost people that lived in the dark, lingering in the cold where happiness does not exist. That maybe hell is not a place of fire, but rather it is ice. It is the final stop of existence that leaves a person as an empty shell. In the dark bowels of that tunnel, I discovered a different plane of existence.
In an infinite night and winter, hell lingered on a path that does not always appear; a path, place, and reality that has no joy, no light nor sun, and most importantly, no hope. My mother was wrong. If there are demons and terrifying creatures, then there is hell. If there are demons and hell, then there must be the opposite.