It is dark here, with only a weak glimmer of light in the distance, reflecting off water. Where am I? Why is it so cold?
I begin to walk towards the light, the sound of my footsteps echoing off narrow walls. Reaching out, I touch damp stone either side of me. Some sort of tunnel, but where, and how did I get here? More important — who am I?
A human, certainly, with two arms, two legs, shoes. But — why should I think I might be anything else? There are too many questions here, and no answers.
After some minutes of walking I find the source of the light. It is a torch lying on the floor of the tunnel. Is it mine? Did I drop it? But who even owns a torch any more when you can just use your phone?
Phone. I pat myself down, but find no phone. It must be in my bag. I had a bag, though I cannot remember what it looked like or where I might have left it, but just remembering that such a thing exists is something. A start.
Picking up the torch, I don’t recognise it. If the torch is not mine, then someone else must be down here. I feel a surge of hope and think of calling out, but a sudden fear of what might be in the dark stops me. I also stop trying to explain my situation. I don’t need explanations. I need a way out.
Shining the torch one way and then the other, all I can see are the damp walls of a dark tunnel. Should I continue to walk the way I was facing, or go back in the direction I, perhaps, came from before the moment I woke up here? I do not choose to think about what happened before that moment.
The tunnel seems to be going slightly uphill in the direction I was walking, so I carry on in that direction, not wanting to descend further underground.
To conserve batteries I turn off the torch, flicking it on now and then only to find more tunnel ahead. I have the impression that the tunnel is curved, and I hope it is not circular.
Something is coming. It squeaks as I flick on the torch. A rat. It runs right by me, running scared, but not of me.
Torch off, I listen. There is a faint gritty sliding noise, growing louder, growing closer. I want to run, like the rat, but there is nowhere to run to, no safe haven. Instead, I press myself against the tunnel wall, making myself as small and silent as I can be.
Closer, closer, bit by bit it slides. Then something hot and bulky is right there. An exhalation of sewer-smelling breath makes me gag, but fear damps my reflexes. I am as rigid as the cold wall against my back. The thing pauses as if it knows I am there and I close my eyes, as dark behind my eyelids as it is with my eyes open, but still I hang onto the comfort of an irrational hope — that if I can’t see it, it won’t see me.
Then I realise that if it lives down here in the dark, it does not need to see me. There are other senses. I open my eyes and hold my breath, ready to bolt, but it either fails to detect me or finds me uninteresting, and starts to move again, sliding away along the tunnel.
When the sound of it fades to silence I unfreeze and walk as fast as I can in the other direction. I do not dare to run in the dark, which proves to be wise.
Afraid to turn on the torch, but afraid also of what I might bump into, I continue to flick it on and off every now and then. In one flash, I see something that stops me short.
It looked like a person, but ghostly white. There is no sound. No breathing, no movement. My heart beats so hard that my whole body shakes. I do the only thing I can, and turn the torch back on.
It is a man, standing quite still. As I approach I see that he is covered in pale webs.
‘Hello?’ I whisper.
His eyes are open but he is frozen and I do not think that he can see me. He does not seem to be conscious. I hope he isn’t.
What should I do?
Far away, but not far enough, I hear the thing sliding back towards us. I try to pull on the man’s arm, to shake him awake, but I cannot move him. He might as well be a statue, and now there are webs all over my hands. I try to rub them off, and then I have to run, or I will end up a web-covered statue lost down here forever.
This time I do run, and I keep the torch on. Even so, I almost miss it. There’s a door. I go through it without thinking and close it behind me, then run up stone steps to another door, and then I am through it and standing in a mahogany-panelled hallway. I can see a front door at the end of the hall and I walk towards it, almost more confused by this house than by the dark tunnel.
‘There you are,’ someone says. ‘We really prefer our clients not to wander the house. It can be hazardous.’
The speaker is a dark-haired androgynous person in dark clothing. Their eyes are quite mesmerising, and I am afraid again, but a whisper of memory comes back to me.
‘Someone called me,’ I say.
‘Well, never mind. Madame Nina will see you now,’ they say. ‘She apologises for the delay.’
‘I’m sorry, I can’t — I have to go,’ I say as I move towards the door into the outside world.
They shrug, looking at the torch in my hand.
‘Very well, but if you choose to come again, you will remember not to stray, even if called by name.’
They pick up a bag from the hall table and hand it to me. It’s mine. I know it. I am so relieved that I clutch it to my chest, stumbling through the door and out into the street.
With my first breath of fresh air I inhale the knowledge of who I am, and simultaneously realise that I have blown an appointment it took me weeks to get.
I don’t care. The way out of my problems that I was seeking seems both cheap and dangerous now. I will just have to stand up to it all and take the consequences. Nothing will get me back into that house again. I am haunted by the web-covered face of the man in the tunnel and the sound of the unknown sliding towards us.