Back again. Fresher now, fit to write. I didn’t sleep much last night, but I guess it’s a miracle I could sleep at all -especially in the tunnel, especially now I now what lies at the other end. But I couldn’t leave Maya. I’ve been talking to her again this morning, telling her more about what I saw.
It was all so easy, you see. To go to the Parawerthan, I mean.
After the bones, the tunnel meandered on for another three hundred and sixteen steps. I counted every one of them. It’s only about two hundred and fifty yards, but it could have been a billion miles, or a trillion miles, or a… well, I don’t know. It’s a gateway, a door to another world. It’s impossible to gauge the distance. I doubt the known laws of physics could explain it. Perhaps there should be a new law. Ha ha. Yes. Keyes’ Law. A fitting memorial for him. Much better than any fake crypt.
There was nothing on the ground, not the faintest scrap of debris or speck of dust. The tunnel was spotlessly, sterilely clean. It was probably a good thing there was no dust because if I’d seen any tracks I’d have fled. I marked the walls with chalk every twenty paces. There were no offshoot tunnels. I made the marks for my own peace of mind. And how long and silent that journey was. So very silent. There was no echo from my steps, no sounds whatsoever apart from my breathing. A dream walk. That’s how I’d describe it. Or maybe nightmare’s a better word.
About an hour after I left Maya, I saw a glow of daylight ahead. That’s when the whispering wind came. Hell, I don’t what it was. I’ll call it a whispering wind because it made a whispering, rustling sound as it rushed along the tunnel. I didn’t run. Somehow I managed to stay perfectly still and fight the instinct to use the gun. Even when the tattoo pass on my chest began to glow with a faint bluish tinge, I didn’t budge. The wind curled around me. Up and down it went, top to toe, around and around. That unintelligible whispering was so angry, so spiteful, so intense, and yet so incredibly sad. Crazy. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, it was gone.
Buoyed up by a sense that I’d passed some test, I trotted towards the exit. Oh what a sight. About thirty feet beyond the entrance, a wall of jungle sprouted up from the dry, red earth. It looked tropical. Every leaf and stem on every bush and tree was so wide and fat it reminded me of our trip to Borneo two years ago. I didn’t leave the tunnel. I doubted my legs would have carried me out there anyway.
I couldn’t recognise a single plant. All the colours, the different shades of greens, browns, yellows, and reds, seemed faded and dead, like the colours on a painting left too many years in the sun. The atmosphere felt wrong, too. It was hot and heavy and damp, a thing that wrapped around my face like a damp cloth.
And how it stank.
Even after showering and changing clothes, the stink of rotting vegetation is still clogging my senses. A compost smell, dank and mouldy. (An expert on smells would have called it complex.) Everywhere I looked the trees were sagging, their boughs dipping, their leaves blotched and mottled black and dark grey in places. Everything was so beautiful, yet so bad. There was another frame machine out there. It was fixed solidly into the wall to the right of the exit. It was a few minutes before I noticed it. It’s so encrusted with a grey lichen type growth it’s almost perfectly camouflaged with the rock wall.
I think the tunnel empties out of a hill. I’m not sure. I didn’t dare look.