Tunnels 03, Freefall
"In order to arrive at what you are not
You must first go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not."
--T.S. Eliot, East Coker, Four Quarters
"Just passing through, 'till we reach the next stage.
But just to where, well it's all been arranged.
Just passing through but the break must be made.
Should we move on or stay safely away?
--Joy Division, From Safety to Where...?
"Herrrrrph," Chester Rawls groaned softly to himself. His mouth was so dry it was a few moments before he could actually speak. "Aw, Mum, leave off, will you," he finally managed to say, but not unpleasantly.
Something was tickling his ankle, just like his mother would do when he'd failed to retract his bleeping alarm clock and haul himself out of bed. And he knew that there would be no respite from the tickling until he threw back the duvet and began to get himself ready for school.
"Please, Mum, just another five minutes?" he pleaded, his eyes still shut tight.
He felt so snug that he just wanted to lie there for as long as he could, savoring every second. In truth, he would often pretend that he hadn't heard the alarm because he knew his mother would eventually come to make sure he was up.
He treasured the moments when he opened his eyes and she'd be sitting there, perched on the end of his bed. He loved her breeziness and her smile, as bright as the morning sun. And she was this way every single morning, no matter how early the hour. 'I'm a morning person,' she would proclaim cheerfully, 'but your grumpy old dad, is takes several cups of coffee before he's himself.' Then she'd pull a mean face and push her shoulders forward and make growling noises like a wounded bear, and Chester would do the same and they'd both laugh.
Chester grinned, but then his sense of smell kicked in with a vengeance, and the grin was wiped from his face.
"Eww, Mum, what's that? It's gross!" he gasped, unable to explain the stench to himself. As if someone had turned off the TV, the image of his mother was gone. He immediately became very anxious and opened his eyes.
"What?" he muttered. It lay all about him, impenetrable and unbroken. The he caught something in the corner of his eye -- a faint glow. Why's it so dark in here? he asked himself. Although he couldn't see even the smallest thing to confirm that he was in his bedroom, his mind was working overtime to convince him that he really was there. Is that light coming from the window, and that smell... has something boiled over on the cooker downstairs? What's going on?
The odor was intense. It was sulfurous, but at the time there was something just beneath it... the sour tang of decay. The combination filled his nostrils and made his gorge rise. He tried to lift his head to look around. He couldn't -- it was held by something -- and for that matter, so were his arms and legs; his whole body felt as if it was stuck fast. His first thought was that he was paralyzed. He didn't cry out, but took several quick breaths to try to quell his terror. He told himself he hadn't lost any sense of feeling, even in his extremities, so he probably wasn't paralyzed. He was also further encouraged that he was able to wriggle his fingers and toes, albeit only very slightly. It seemed as though he was lodged in something firm and unyielding.
The tickling at his ankle came again, as if his phantom mother was still there, and her tenuous image flickered back into his mind's eye again.
"Mum?" he said uncertainly.
The tickling stopped and he heard a low and mournful sound. It didn't sound quite human.
"Who's that? Who's there?" he challenged the darkness.
Then came what was quite unmistakably a meow.
"Bartleby?" he yelled. "Is that you, Bartleby?"
As he uttered the cat's name the event at the Pore flooded back to him in a vivid rush. He gasped as he remembered how he, Will, Cal and Elliott, with a huge hole behind them called the Pore, had been trapped by Limiters. "Oh, God," he whimpered. They'd been facing almost certain death at the hands of the Styx soldiers. It was like a scene in a bad dream, one that refused to dim even after waking. And it all felt so fresh to him, as if it had happened only minutes ago.
Then more memories came back to him.
"Oh, Jesus!" he murmured, recalling the moment when Rebecca, the Styx girl who had been implanted in
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