“Can’t swim.” Mark breaks another glow stick and puts it into his backpack.
“Seriously?” Kara crosses her arms and leans against the side of the ditch, starring in shock at Mark’s slim form. The ditch is wide enough to drive a car through with some small trees growing on its sides and about a foot of water at the bottom.
“No one I knew had a pool and there wasn’t a public one either, so I didn’t learn. So, you just gonna stand there all night staring or are you going to help me with these?” Mark says with a grin sliding across his face and gesturing to his backpack.
“Nah, you only have a few more left,” Kara says, rolling her eyes at Mark’s comment, but she can’t stop the slight smile that contorts her face. Mark’s one of those guys that has the smile. The smile that no one can’t help but respond to and that garners him attention from plenty of girls. “Does your brother Adam know how to swim?”
“Yeah, but not very well. Caleb taught him a little when they worked at a summer camp last year,” Mark says. At this point, Mark’s backpack is so crowded with glow sticks it’s shining a dull green.
Kara grimaces at the sound of her boyfriend’s name. He was supposed to have met them here at midnight, half an hour ago, but he’s not shown up yet. Hopefully, he won’t. Their relationship has soured in the past few months with Caleb becoming increasingly more reckless and jealous of Kara’s interactions with other guys, especially Mark.
“I don’t think Caleb’s coming,” Kara says.
“You still got the map he drew for us?”
“Yeah,” Kara jumps the short distance to the bottom of the ditch, getting everyone’s pants wet.
“Damn it, Kara. What the hell did you do that for? Getting this water in your mouth can make you sick.” Mark uses his shirt to wipe nonexistent water off his face.
“It’s just water. It didn’t even get on your face. What’s the big deal?” Kara asks.
“The water’s stagnant,” Mark says.
“So?” Kara asks.
“Never mind.” Mark rubs his head. The motion draws Kara’s attention to his recent haircut. Mark hasn’t asked her to cut his hair since she and Caleb had started dating about a year ago. Since then, Mark has started avoiding her. Last week, they had had plans to meet for lunch at Winslow, the cafeteria on campus, and he didn’t show. All she got was a lame excuse, through text, saying he had to meet with a professor about his paper. He never talks to his professors about anything.
“We still going without him?” Kara watches Mark dig through his backpack with the tunnel entrance behind them. At the entrance is a stop sign that’s been sprayed black and mounted on the concrete surrounding the entrance above Mark’s head, looks like its chains could break and drop the sign onto his skull at the slightest breeze.
She has never been in the tunnels before, and Mark has only been through them once, but Caleb has been down them several times. Caleb had once told her he was looking for an underground bunker, built during the Cold War, that’s supposed to be either under the university’s campus or the high school, accessible through the storm drains. Plus, she thinks he just really thinks the tunnels are cool.
“Yeah. Of course.” Mark pulls out the map Caleb made for them. Kara’s already wishing she had taped trash bags over her shoes like Mark, because water is starting to seep into her old boots.
“It ain’t gonna be that bad. We’ll just take the store route. If I remember correctly, we pretty much just go straight.” Mark looks at the map, which is just lines drawn on a piece of notebook paper. Mark passes out the flashlights, medical gloves, and dust masks.
“Lead the way.” Kara flicks on her flashlight pointing it down into the tunnels. Mark takes the lead with Kara going last with the backpack full of glow sticks, so she can drop one every now and then to mark their passage.
“Looks like plenty of people have been down here.” Kara aims her flashlight along the concrete walls, lighting up the graffiti. A lot of it is such and such were here and blank loves blank, crudely scribbled on the wall near the entrance. Kara was expecting to see numerous amounts of debris and rats all over the place, but there’s only a little trash floating in the water. It doesn’t stink, either. The air feels stale and stuffy with a slightly bitter smell to it, but it’s not an overpowering odor.
“What’s that sound?” Kara asks.
“What sound?” Mark stops, looking around them.
“Don’t know. It could be the air current, cars above us, or maybe even toilets flushing.”
“Toilets flushing? Yeah, right.” Kara focuses on trying to catch what the guys are hearing. It takes her a little bit, but then she notices a slight wheezing sound coming from all around her.
“Don’t know. The sound’s constant tonight. It usually don’t sound like this.”
They make their way slowly through the tunnel. The water is not deep enough to stop the light from her flashlight from reaching the floor, which appears to be made of a mixture of concrete, tar, and metal. Following the guys’ example, she avoids stepping on the rusted metal patches where parts of the ground have been eroded away. The floor doesn’t look stable in those areas. The further they go, the dirtier the walls get, until every section of the walls and ceiling are covered in a tan, almost orange, slime.
“I think it’s somewhere… right here.” Mark’s flashlight lights up a colorful section of the wall where the slime looks to have been freshly scraped away.
“What is it?” Kara asks, moving her flashlight from pointing at the ground. There’s a large, multicolored face spray-painted from floor to ceiling of someone screaming. The forehead is blue, the nose and cheeks are a bright pink, and the teeth and all parts of the eyes are white. The face creeps Kara out. It’s not the size or the color of the face. It’s something else, but what?
“There are no eyebrows.” Mark runs his hand down the face, wiping off a thin layer of slime.
“It’s creepy.” It’s not as freshly done as Kara had originally thought.
“It’s really well done though. Probably by an art student.”
“Could have been anybody. Let’s keep going.” Kara steps back from the painting, shining around her flashlight. The ceiling here appears to be higher up. Across from the painting is an opening to another tunnel. She shines her flashlight into it, screams, and jumps back into Mark as a shadow jumps out at her.
“Shit.” Mark catches her and stops them from falling, pointing his flashlight down the tunnel, revealing Caleb bent over and laughing.
“Scared the shit out of you, didn’t I?” Caleb walks over and pokes her in the stomach.
“No. Don’t touch me. Idiot.” Kara slaps his hands away. “Bet you knew about it, too.” Kara pushes herself away from Mark.
“No, I would never do something so stupid.” Mark says.
“What’d you say?” Caleb says, pushing past Kara and giving Mark a shove. The muscles in his pale sharp face tensing.
“I’d never do something so idiotic,” Mark spits, clenching his fists.
“Guys, stop,” Kara says, slipping her short form between them.
“Whatever,” Caleb says, backing up and maintaining eye contact with Mark as a smirk twists his lips.
“So which way?” Kara asks.
“That way. We just keep following this tunnel.” Caleb steps past Mark, flicking on his flashlight.
Mark hands her his flashlight, “Here. You can have mine. I’ll keep one of the glow sticks.” Hers had broken when she dropped it when Caleb jumped out her. They continue down the tunnel with Caleb leading the way. The walls are starting to curve slightly, and the water is getting a little deeper.
Caleb continues forward as Kara moves closer to the pipe. She notices small streams of water dripping down the slime-covered wall around it. When she steps back, she sees small streams of water running down both sides of the tunnel.
“Weird.” Kara runs a couple of steps to catch up with Mark.
“What happened to your hair?” Kara asks, shinning the flashlight into Mark’s face.
“Stop that,” Mark says, pushing the flashlight away. “My roommate cut it for me.” Mark drops another glow stick in the tunnel.
“Well, he did a shitty job,” Kara says.
“It’s not great, but it isn’t that bad, though he did charge me fifteen bucks.” Mark slips his arm back into the strap of his backpack.
“Why didn’t you ask me to do it? I would have done it for free.” Kara toggles the switch on the flashlight making the tunnel brighter and then darker.
“Didn’t want to bother you. Stop that. It’s annoying.” Mark takes the flashlight away from her.
“Liar.” Kara takes the flashlight back.
“Maybe.” Mark looks away from her.
“Me and you, we’re just friends,” Kara says.
“Yeah, and that’s the problem,” Mark says, looking at her.
“Come on. You guys are slow.” Caleb motions for them to hurry.
Mark stomps ahead of her, and she follows, not sure what to say to him.
Caleb is standing in the middle of the tunnel where it starts to branch off in two different directions.
“If we go to the left, we’ll be heading toward the store, but the floor that way is all rusted corrugated metal with a bunch of holes in it. We really have to watch our step if we head that way. The right will take us more towards the center of town with safer footing, but there’s a section where the ceiling drops to around four feet. Which way you guys wanna go?” Caleb asks.
“That way.” Kara points to the right.
They only have to follow the tunnel to the right for a couple of minutes before they run into the short section Caleb told them about.
“I don’t suggest crawling.” Caleb crouches down and heads into the tunnel. Mark then Kara follows.
“How far do we have to go like this?” Mark asks.
“Not too far,” Caleb says.
“Caleb?” Kara looks at the walls of the tunnel.
“What?” Caleb turns his head, looking at her over his shoulder.
“Why is there water streaming down the walls? I first noticed it by that pipe under campus,” Kara says.
“Shit.” Caleb’s eyes widen and he drops his flashlight. “Turn the fuck around. Now.” Caleb drops to his knees, twists around, and starts shoving Mark, trying to get him to turn around.
“What the hell man?” Mark falls down and Caleb starts pushing past him. The constant wheezing sound they’ve been hearing changes. It’s steadily getting louder.
“Kara. Turn around.” Mark says softly.
“What?” Kara gets on her hands and knees and twists herself around. Past Mark, who’s already facing the way they came, she sees weird lights flying at them. “Are those flying glow sticks?”
“No, Kara.” Mark grabs her hand as water crashes into them, but the force of the water rips his hand out of her grasp. Everywhere around her is darkness, with small lights flashing by, and water. She slams against walls, tumbling and kicking as something grasps her leg. She kicks at whatever grabbed her, but it pulls her down. Something else takes a hold of her arm and pulls her in the same direction. She screams, taking in a mouthful of water. Hands yank on her face.
“Breathe,” someone says. Without thinking, she spits out the water and takes in a lungful of air, and wraps her arms around the person. As her vision clears, she sees that she is holding onto Caleb. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I think so.” Kara lets go of Caleb as she realizes the current has slowed down. All she has to do is keep kicking her legs to stop herself from being pushed forward. She can feel the floor brush the tip of her toes and the ceiling isn’t too far above them.
Caleb takes the glow stick out of his mouth. “We need to get the hell out of here.”
“Where is Mark?” Kara looks around them, but she doesn’t see anything moving.
“Don’t worry about him. We need to get ourselves out.” Caleb pulls on her arm, trying to get her to swim forward.
“We can’t leave without him.” She yanks her arm away from Caleb.
“We can, and we will.” He grabs her and pulls her towards him.
“Help,” someone chokes from behind her. She pulls away from Caleb and swims towards the person’s voice. The water has come to a standstill. She can hear someone splashing around. After a couple of strokes, she can make out the dark shadow of a head above the water.
“Here.” She reaches out towards them. Hands grasp her arms and drag her under. Caleb jerks her back up. Kara holds one of Mark’s arms while Caleb takes his other.
“Calm down. You’re fine. We got ya,” Caleb says. After a few seconds, Mark quits thrashing around and goes into a coughing fit.
“You got to learn how to swim. Now.” Kara pats Mark on the back.
“What?” Mark asks after his coughing has stopped.
“We got to swim our way out of here,” Caleb says.
“But I can’t swim.”
“We have to get out of here. The water is going to keep rising,” Caleb says.
Mark tries to pull away from them, but Kara refuses to let go of him.
Mark pushes and shoves against them until Kara is forced to release him and move away from him to stop herself from being pulled under. In the light from Caleb’s glow stick, she sees a fist raise and slam into the water and the tunnel grows quiet except for her heavy breathing.
“Let’s go,” a voice says from behind making her heart race.
“What happened? Where’s Mark?” Kara asks as she turns and sees Caleb.
“What do you mean, gone?”
“No,” Kara goes to move away from Caleb, but he grabs her, wrapping one arm around her neck and the other around her chest.
Caleb pulls her back through the tunnels despite her protest. She thrashes against him, but his arms are like iron around her, trapping her against him. Kara has no idea how long it takes for them to reach where they had entered.
Caleb pulls them out of the creek and shoves Kara onto the ground.
“Bastard.” Kara stumbles to her feet.
Caleb gets to his feet, “We had to-”
“Shut the fuck up.” Kara punches Caleb. Caleb bends over and grabs his nose as blood flows down his chin.
Caleb straightens back up still holding his nose and smiling, as his laughter fills the space between them.
“You knew,” Kara mutters.
“I knew what?” Caleb asks, still smiling as he removes his hands from his face and tilts his head.
“You, you were in there before us. You’ve been down there more. You knew what could happen if it rains a lot. You knew.”
“Let’s go.” Caleb reaches for Kara, but she scrambles away from him.
“No, I’m not leaving. I saw you hit him.”
“I didn’t hit anyone. Come on, we have to go. The phone’s in the car. We gotta call the cops.” Caleb wraps his arms around her and tries to drag her out of the water.
“I don’t believe you. Don’t touch me,” Kara sobs, struggling against him as her chest heaves and tears stream down her face. He’s gone. He has to be gone. Doesn’t he?