"Well, it sure isn't Montana," says a woman who appears to be in her twenties. She feels very uncomfortable in the narrow tunnel, wondering what might be in front or back of her, or, perhaps, on both sides. She continues feeling the sides for anything resembling something different.
"I wish it were," responds a man in his late twenties, black hair slicked back, a bit apathetic towards the woman at the moment. "Jeanie, I just stepped in something and doubt that I even want to know what it was. I think it's about time that I know what exactly we're doing here."
"I already told you about..."
"Oh, please, tell me once again about your father's dying wish. I want the truth!"
"Jason, it is the truth. My father wanted me to come here and tell a friend of his about his death." Jeanie is not completely sure of what exactly she needs to do. She just took the tunnel that her father told her to take. She had no idea of what was in the tunnel or what they may find. She had always been a bit naive about life and was certainly not going to be any wiser to what may lay in an old abandoned tunnel. "Just keep looking for that doorway with the emblem on it. It can't be too much farther."
When all appears futile, Jason exclaims, "OW! My ankle." He sits down, rubbing his ankle. "Come over here and find out what I just kicked." Jeanie has already redirected her attention towards Jason after hearing his exclamation.
She feels the ground near Jason. "It's a raised slab of rock I think." She continues to explore the surface of the rock, "I think I just found the emblem." She quickly fingers the indentation again, paying attention to what her father has taught her, "this is it, and to think we've been looking on the walls. Move. I think you're sitting on what we need to open this thing."
"My ankle," Jason whines.
Very reluctantly, Jason moves.
"Cool. You'll have to move off the block. I don't know what's going to happen when I pull this rope."
"Considering that the rock is raised above the ground, it will probably just sink. So, I'm going to stay right here," states Jason confidently.
"OK, fine." She pulls the rope, and surely enough, they begin to sink. The lift makes no sound, rough passing walls on three sides, sense of location vanishing. They feel the speed of the lift slow and finally stop. Feeling for the edges of the lift, Jeanie finds only a groove. She steps off, helping Jason to get off also (His ankle is still hurting a bit). "Sure would be nice to have the lantern down here," she mutters. She spots a small light, a hole, in a wall, goes to it, and looks. Sometimes the light disappears for a second; no pattern to it, just an occasional blackout of the light. "There's a light over here in this wall. Come take a look at this." Jason stands and limps over to take a look.
"Looks like there's something that keeps moving across the path of the light. Did your father tell you what to do after getting to this point?"
"Oh, what was it that he wanted me to do, shoot." Downward she looks, eyes closed. "An elephant on the wall. He gave me a small ball and told me to drop it into the trunk of the elephant. At the time, I only laughed, but now, I guess I would have to believe it. Look to your left, and I'll look to the right." They did just so, trying their best to examine the entire wall.
"Hey," Jason declares as they bump into each other on the other side of the room. "Let's take a closer look at that hole with the light coming through it." Back at the hole, Jason carefully feels the area around the hole. "Feel this. It's the elephant. The hole is the trunk."
"Oh, yeah, to think." Pulling the ball out of her wallet, she says, "Hope this is it." She pushes the ball into the hole -- perfect fit. A small crack of light at the floor grows, opening up a room of light. They squint and blink a few times, adjusting to the brightness. "Hello," Jeanie says, only half hoping for a response.
"Come in. I know why you have come. He must be dead. Have a seat, and I'll get some refreshments," billows an old low voice.
"Mr. Zeigler," Jeanie foolishly asks.
"Yes, it's me... still going after 95 years. All that is needed is to get away from the outside world," he declares. He is confident of himself, even at the age of 95. No trouble of getting around is evident. He brings over what looks to be iced tea. Cautiously, Jason takes a sip of the fruity concoction. Mr. Zeigler sits down and says, "he was a good man, your father. Not his fault that he had to stay above ground. Wherever he is, he must be proud to know that you have come this far."
"Might I ask," asks Jason, "is there any other reason for which we have come?"
"I am not the only one in the tunnels," Mr. Zeigler kindly responds. "I would appreciate it if you would kindly tell the others of your father's death.
Everyone down here knew him at one time. I'll give you a map and a lantern to use, as I see you do not have one. On the back of the map is a list of precautions to be aware of, since we do have a few traps set up in certain tunnels." He points to a sign on the wall. "If you see a sign like this at the entrance of a tunnel, stay out of the tunnel at all costs. These tunnels guarantee certain death. Watch out for small flying animals. They're called bats."
"I've read about those. I thought they were extinct," inquires Jason.
"Up above, they are extinct. Down here, they survive quite well and keep the insect population under control. Do not let them frighten you. They are harmless," returns Mr. Zeigler, "Anyway, do your best to pass the news on to the others. I'll see you in a bit."
Jason snaps, "We never said we would do it, Mr. Zeigler. We did come only expecting to deliver the message to you."
"Uh Jason," Jeanie mutters, "I kinda forgot to mention this part of it, so x-nay."
"We'll deliver the message," Jason calmly responds to Mr. Zeigler. Jason and Jeanie collect their stuff and enter into the tunnels, Jason leading the way with lantern in hand. Jason stops, "Jeanie?"
"There are three ways we can go, and all three have that danger sign."
"I guess we head back. Most likely, we missed a turn or something like that."
"But the tunnel continues quite a bit further in this direction on the map."
"Let's go ask." Jeanie takes a few steps, and says, "Whoa" as the slab of rock beneath her slides to the side. "Shine the light ahead a bit. Cool, a
staircase. Must be the continuation of the tunnel; it's going in the right direction."
"I'll go first," speaks Jason, having no alternative at this point. Cautiously, he descends the staircase, taking note of the number of steps for future reference. (It would seem common sense to make sure you are in the right spot when you come back.)
Jeanie notices a sign for which they have been seeking, "look, down near the floor. It's the first sign." Jeanie takes a marble and places it in its hole in the wall.
"Hold on a second," comes an old, feeble, female voice, "I need to get there." The door finally opens. "Ah, you're new. What are your names?"
"I am Jason, and this is Jeanie. We've come to tell you about Mr. Grinolds. He recently passed away."
"Oh, Jeanie Grinolds. Your name has been mentioned often down here. He loved to talk about you. A true shame that he must go away. So is life up above."
"Mrs. Patricks, why does everyone keep suggesting that it is possible to live longer under ground. How exactly can it be true," Jeanie asks.
"We have no hatred down here," answers Mrs. Patricks. "No guns. No yelling. No violence. Never an unkind word. We help each other whenever someone is in need. This is my hypothesis - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; these are what keep us alive."
"Thank you, Mrs. Patricks," Jeanie responds. "We must be going now, we have many more people to inform about Mr. Grinolds." Jason and Jeanie leave, giving their best wishes to Mrs. Patricks.
In the tunnels, to Jeanie, Jason asks, "Do you really think they have all of those things: love, joy, self-control, et cetera?"
"I don't know, but they seem to be happy down here with whatever means they use to live."
"Mr. and Mrs. Wardell's door up ahead," states Jason."
They place a marble in the hole. The door opens, and a chime can be heard in the background every few seconds.
"I'm Bob. Donna is sleeping right now. What can I do for you," asks Mr. Wardell.
"We've come to inform you of the death of Mr. Grinolds, my father," Jeanie states.
"He still owes me a game of chess," mourns Mr. Wardell. "Oh well, those on the surface come and go, each trying to kill one another."
"What is that chime for, Mr. Wardell," asks Jason with curiosity.
"Each time you hear the chime, another person on the surface has died. I like having it to remind me of why I came down into the tunnels to live. In the world up above, there is too much greed, too much amorality, too much killing."
Hastily, Jason asks Mr. Wardell, "Can anyone move into the tunnels?"
"Only those who do not join in the ways of the people on the surface. Only those who want something different, a way of life that provides for life, with every need met through love, joy, and peace. Anyone who comes down here to live must reject what those on the surface do and be committed to this community."
"Thank you, Mr. Wardell. We need to go tell the others of my dad's death. Give our best wishes to Donna," says Jeanie.
Jason and Jeanie leave, going back into the tunnels. Hours go by: walking in the tunnels, talking to all of the interesting people, finding out whatever they can about the tunnels and the inhabitants therein. After informing all of the inhabitants of Mr. Grinold's death, they return to Mr. Zeigler, for, by their
knowledge, that is the only way out.
"Did you get to everyone? Were they all home," inquires Mr. Zeigler.
"Yes," Jeanie answers, "we did. "We had no trouble except for the O'Connor's dog. We found out a lot about what it is like to live down here. It sounds so wonderful. Jason and I have talked a lot about the tunnels as we were walking."
Jason adds, "we were also wondering how we might be able to move down here."
"Well," says Mr. Zeigler, "it so happens that we have a couple of extra rooms. But, it is not easy, as you have most likely heard. We have rules, and courtesies, and ways of life that cannot be changed. We would all help you to learn these ways and do right - for a long life could be yours if you decide to join us."
Jeanie looks at Jason; Jason back at Jeanie. Jeanie moves her eyes in a questioning manner. Jason nods. "We'll move. We want to be part of this family. Do we need to go back and get anything from above, or do you have what we may need," says Jeanie.
"You will need nothing from the surface. Just follow me. I'll lead you to your rooms."
(-copyright Brian David Smith All Rights Reserved)