Tunnel Rat - Novel Submission
He crawled downward, engulfed by musty earth, following the beam of his flashlight, serenaded by crumbling soil and the rustling of critters he took to be rats; he still didn’t know how he’d gotten this assignment. He’d pled claustrophobia, argued that there were much smaller men than he, but the sarge had shoved the .45, knife and scabbard and flashlight at him and pointed toward the hole. He’d strapped them on. And down he went, perplexed by his paradox.
He didn’t know what he was looking for and in his panicking brain he sought the memory of his return: How would he know his route to the surface? He had to carve that information into a corner of his brain. He thought of Mom and Dad, he thought of Darla, his heart heavy as he considered death in this ready-made grave. He kept on as the tunnel bent at a 45 degree angle and he slithered along like the snakes that were surely near him, the passage so narrow that he thrust his broad shoulders through the tightest spots and the soil yielded, and he advanced.
In the light, spiders scurried in front of him and ants marched; he focused the beam on a passage to his right – should he follow it? But it appeared to end as abruptly as it had started and he remembered that Charlie liked to hide in such cubbies and ambush tunnel rats like him. He kept on.
Miraculously, the tunnel widened and he took in an enormous breath, blowing out, and he moved more quickly toward his dubious destination. The earth above him also was becoming less restrictive and the path turned rightwards and he felt that he was coming into a clearing.
He reached a large chamber and at a corner of it lay a VC, sleeping. This is what the sarge had armed him for. Across Charlie’s waist was draped a pouch, and he knew that he must capture that pouch – it had orders in it that could help them destroy the VC. The chamber was large enough for him to stand and charge but he didn’t want to use the pistol, for who knew what other comrades of Charlie might be near, and they would surely hear the .45’s report. Because his purpose and mission had not been clearly stated and defined – why the hell was he here, of all places? -- he would consider it a victory if he captured the bag.
So he drew the knife and he crept, holding his breath. They had taught this in basic training, but he’d never had to use it and he recalled advice of how to use the knife. Charlie stirred slightly as he leaped and brought the knife sharply across the throat, slashing deeply and quickly The intimacies of slashing a man’s throat were somehow inherent, an evolutionary vestige. It was as easy as slicing through a melon. Charlie’s eyes widened, blood spurted and gushed, his arms flailed briefly, then stopped, his eyes closed.
He removed the pouch and draped it across his neck, seeking his return. This is what they had trained him for, and he was successful. He searched for the passage that he’d followed, but he could find no tunnel, other than a hole in what he took to be the chamber’s ceiling. He leaped but could not reach it. He was flooded with panic as he heard numerous footsteps pounding down an unseen pathway. He leaped but could not reach it, leaped again, and the footsteps hastened.
D.F. Tunnel Rat- Tuscany Prize 2015 Novel Submission
Trenches by Otto Dix sourced from http://www.wikiart.org/en/otto-dix/trenches
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