On the surface, Saunderville looked like any city, filled with people and buildings. There were schools and hospitals, gyms and churches. Beneath the top layer of normalcy, there lay a darkness. tunnels, burrowing into the earth, going unfathomably deep. They formed a complicated maze that was thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of miles long. some were spacious, others cramped. They twisted and turned, filled with sudden dead ends and holes, yawning open hungry for an unwary traveller, hiding, almost invisible, in the dark.
The ground was not always secure, sometimes people would be going slowly, carefully, only to find the ground beneath them giving way under their weight, sending them plummeting to their deaths, others would be plunged into the warm water that flooded the tunnel below, unable to find the hole, they struggled amongst the filth until it filled their lungs.
An unlucky traveller could stumble across anything, a pile of bones, a rotting carcass of questionable origins, strange drawings, daubed on the walls with an unknown substance. Once entered, it was uncertain if you would ever leave the tunnels.
Down in the dark, it was easy to lose track of time, of distance travelled, of whether it was a left turn, straight then right, or right turn, left then straight. Some travelled for days, screaming themselves hoarse as they ran out of water, searching for a way out, only hearing their echoed voice answering the call. While some tunnels carried the sound, others muted it. That was the most agonising. There could be someone, a traveller, less than a few turns away who knew the way out, but could not hear the cried of anguish. The air is thick and stale, and, though rats and insects inhabit the upper layers, the deeper you go, the less they are seen.
Jason was prepared for his trip into the depths of the tunnels, a supply of food and water for two days, a torch and cache of batteries, a watch to keep track of time, a small first aid kit and a large amount of thin, but strong, cord. There had been many entrances but most had been blocked off or their location unknown, some ended after a short distance.
There were rumours of tunnel locations and, going by these Jason had found a supposedly good entrance. He was ready. Taking a few deep breaths of fresh air, he lowered himself into the exposed hole. It was a short drop to the floor of the tunnel, now inside, he could see hand holds that would allow him to climb out again. Walking a few feet into the cave he found a piece of rock sticking from the wall, carefully, he knotted the rope around it then tugged it a few times, seeing if the stone would dislodge. Pleased at the placement, he made his way deeper into the tunnels, the rope would only allow him to go so far, after that, if he wanted to continue, he had a piece of chalk and, every few feet, he would mark the wall with a directional arrow.
Tom and Rick had both been told Jason’s plan, they had agreed that, should he not contact them in three days, he was either hurt or lost and they were to raise the alarm that he was missing.
On the third night, they both went out to the entrance that Jason said he would use and, carefully, Tom lowered himself into the hole. he walked a few feet and, seeing the cord tied around the rock, he returned to Rick. “The rope is still there, even if he didn’t roll it up as he came back, he would have untied it or left something so we would know he was back. He must have gotten hurt” together they went to the nearest police station to report Jason missing.
A group of four would go into the tunnels and follow Jason’s signs for as long as they could, if the signs ended they would follow them back and try to figure out what direction he may have went, if they found Jason, dead or hurt, two would stay and two would return for assistance.
The four walked carefully, following the rope and checking the wall for chalk and the ground for any holes Jason may have fallen through.
They slowly made their way deeper into the subterranean system, occasionally coming across evidence that someone had been along the passage recently, an empty wrapper, a small chalk doodle. As they began to wonder how far in the rope went, it stopped. The rope had ended, but it had been cut badly, although the ends were frayed it was obvious it was cut with a knife and not gnawed on.
They searched the tunnel carefully, looking for the other end of the rope or more chalk marks. When they came to a turn, one person would go down it ten paces, staying in sight, and, if nothing was seen, the group continued. The tunnel went fairly straight until the path diverged, there was nothing on the left fork, but further down the right, they could see the tunnels split again. Deciding it was too dangerous to continue on without getting lost, they followed the tunnel back.
They walked for what seemed like hours before panic began to set in, they had moved slowly both ways, but all were convinced that they should have come across the rope again. Slowly, they sat down and had a break. Each having a drink of water. They needed to stay calm, otherwise they would be lost. Each worried that they had taken a turn without realising it. Did one of them check every time they came to a turn or bend that there wasn’t another tunnel branching off?
Though no one could remember any new tunnels, they began to question if they had checked each time. A flash of blue in the distance calmed everyone, the severed end of the rope was in sight, soon they would be away from the cramped tunnels and out in the open air. Away from the stale, musty odours that dominated the caves.
As one stooped to pick up the rope, his light passed over something. At the time he thought nothing of it, a few drops of perspiration could have fallen from his forehead. God knew sweat was pumping out of him. But later, when he was out of the tunnels, in the dead of night, he was certain it was something else. He would wake, shivering from nightmares, ones lost and forgotten in the light of day. the drops were deep maroon, almost blending with the cave floor, but as he always saw in the dream, the bright blue was also marred, there were dark splashes of something, perhaps simply mud, but in the morning, as he vigorously washed his hands for an unknown reason, he would shudder, a thought flitting through his mind it barely registers, “I touched it, and it touched me.”