Two boys explore an underground maze. Winner of SCREAMS!!! October 23 2020.
Hal’s friend, Simon, lived on a road that was empty of houses on one side. Instead, there was open bush land consisting of short, tough grass, that sloped down to the ditch that contained the Makabusi River. This was high in the upper reaches of the Makabusi, so that it was a mere stream and often a series of pools in the dry season. From there, the river grew in size as it wandered around the outskirts of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. By the time it left the city and headed south to become a tributary to the Sabi, it was worthy of its name.
But Hal knew it as a harmless stream that could be jumped over in play. He and Simon would often wander down to the ditch in search of mischief suitable for a pair of fourteen year old boys. Sometimes they would fish in the pools with a bit of string and a bent pin for a hook but they never caught anything. And once, in the rainy season, when the river was swollen to a surging torrent that filled the ditch and threatened to overflow out into the open land, Simon’s little sister had fallen in and been swept away in an instant.
With a presence of mind that amazed Hal in its immediacy, Simon sprinted down the riverside to a spot where the river bent around a promontory. Here he was able to lean out over the water and catch his sister’s hand as she went by. In effect, he saved her life and Hal was most impressed.
It was in the dry season that Hal and Simon discovered that, under the road bridge that crossed the river upstream, there was an opening into the storm drains. These had been constructed along the roadsides to carry the sudden burden of tropical storm waters, bearing them away to be emptied into the rivers. They were like enclosed canals, dry for most of the year but swollen to the brim with flash flood during the sudden downpours of the rainy season. Invisible above ground, they were a complete revelation to the boys as they stared up the dark tunnel that opened out beneath the bridge.
Although the drain was dimly lit at the opening, within a short distance it became plunged into stygian blackness, lit at regular intervals by what seemed like street lights but later revealed themselves as rectangular openings to the gutters that drained the roads. It was, indeed, like staring down a night time road lit by weak lamps that created staccato squares of light as it receded into the distance. Or like a brooding, black corridor with open doors leading into light-filled rooms along its length.
It was an irresistible temptation to the boys. Without a second thought, they entered the drain and began their exploration. They were both aware of the purpose of the drain and the possibility of being caught in it by a flash flood. But it was the dry season and would not rain for months yet. The concrete floor was as dry as dust and the chance of an unseasonal storm was so unlikely that it was almost beyond thinking. There was a certain uneasiness in the darkness that so much of their journey was shrouded in, but they were boys, adamant in their determination to demonstrate a lack of fear while in the company of the other.
They came to the first light and realised that it was an opening to the outside. Wide and narrow, it was too small to permit them to climb out but it allowed them a view of car wheels hurtling by and dust stirred up by the constant flow of traffic, filtering into the drain in tiny flecks drifting down through the beam of light. The boys pressed on.
After a few hundred yards, they came to a crossroads. The same, darkened corridors stretched off ahead and on both sides.
“Which way should we go?” asked Hal.
“Doesn’t really matter,” said Simon. “There’s always a slight slope upwards so that water flows down to the river. As long as we keep going upwards, all we have to do to get out again is to head downwards.”
“True. But it’s not much of a slope. I hope we’ll be able to tell which way it goes if we’re in a hurry.”
Simon shrugged and entered the corridor to the left. Hal followed as he always did.
They lost track of time as they explored the corridors and came across many intersections, some crossroads like the first, others Y-junctions and T. They pressed on, always upwards.
They noticed the vibration in the floor simultaneously. It wasn’t much, a slight tremor that went on and on, gradually growing stronger. A rumble sounded in the deep silence that held them.
“What the…?” Simon held his head on one side like a puzzled dog.
Suspicion dawned on Hal’s face. “It couldn’t be a flash flood, could it?”
Simon shook his head. “Nah, it’s as dry as a bone outside. See for yourself.” He pointed to the nearest opening, where the sun still shone on a road that had not seen water for weeks.
“But if it’s raining somewhere else in the city?” asked Hal.
His friend’s eyes grew large as he realised the implications of this. At that moment, a trickle of water appeared from the darkness and ran past them, stringing a miniature stream like a tail behind it. The rumble became a roar.
“That’s it,” said Simon. “Quick, we have to get out!”
They turned and began to run down the passage that had brought them there. They remembered the first intersection and took the right path. The trickle had turned into a shallow stream that the boys’ feet splashed through as they ran.
Simon stopped at a Y-section. “Which way?” he said, gesturing in desperation. “Both ways head downwards.”
Hal looked and saw it was true. Their system had a weakness that didn’t help at this stage. “Take the left,” he said. “It looks steeper. We’ll get out faster.”
They ran down the chosen route. It was indeed a steeper tunnel and the stream through which they splashed increased in speed too. It was deeper now and both boys ran with water creeping into their shoes and soaking their socks. There we no more intersections now and it seemed they might have found a way that led more directly down into the river.
And then they turned a corner and saw the grid barring further progress down the tunnel. Unable to stop in time, they crashed into it and knew immediately that it was too strong to break through.
“Quick, yelled Simon, “We have to go back. We’ll never get through this.”
They started struggling upwards against the stream. It was now at knee height and the boys found it hard to fight against its current. Hal slipped and fell, washed backwards until he came up against the bars. He struggled up and fought his way to Simon who had waited for him.
With the water reaching waist height, they were unable to make progress now. Every time they raised a foot to take a step, the rushing water threatened to dislodge the other foot, sending them sliding back to the grid. Slowly, inexorably, they were forced backwards.
They gave up the struggle when the water reached their shoulders. Heads forced against the roof of the tunnel, they were pinned like bugs against the bars, unable to move beyond a few feeble attempts to keep their heads above water.
And the water continued to rise.
Word Count: 1,274
For SCREAMS!!! October 23 2020
Prompt: A long, long, long (long) corridor