“Charlotte! Charlotte!” My cries echoed through the tunnels but to no avail. I had tried to retrace my steps back towards the station in the hope that I might find her but must have taken a wrong turn in the dark and winding passages of the subway. Now I was not only alone, but also hopelessly lost. For hours I had wandered through twists and turns until all sense of time and direction had lost their meaning.
The light from my torch passed over yet another two-way split in the tunnel. Right or left… did it even matter anymore? I had no idea where either of them might lead, or even which direction I was headed to begin with. There were signs on the wall written in Chinese which doubtless would have answered my questions but alas I couldn’t make heads nor tails of the complex symbols.
Just then, my torch began to flicker. This was it; I was done for. If the light went out I would be lost forever, unable to even find my way out of this maze. I had tried my best and failed. I might as well curl up in a ball and wait for the end.
Desperate now, I made a decision – left! Trying to push those negative thoughts to the back of my mind, I quickened my pace. My only hope now was to find a way out; to save myself… I’m sorry, Charlotte.
As I went, I scanned the tunnel walls, searching for anything which might indicate I was heading the right way – another station; an emergency exit; anything!
The walls were slick with leaking water and grime. This part of the subway was old and clearly hadn’t received maintenance in some time. My footsteps splashed through pools of water which became more frequent as I continued onward, and I began to second-guess my choice of direction. If the tunnel was flooded further down, I would be trapped.
I stopped to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. And that’s when I saw it. Not ten meters ahead, a ladder! Old, rusted and crumbling though it was, it could be a way out. I approached the ladder optimistically. Its top end disappeared through a hole in the ceiling and even with my torch I couldn’t see just how far up it went. Still, it was worth a try.
I tested the ladder with a slight tug on the outer rails, followed by a firmer one. It seemed stable. Then, I gingerly placed one foot on the lower rung, being careful not to load it with my full body weight all at once. The ladder creaked but held strong. So far, so good. But then, I heard it again; that ominous otherworldly clicking sound I has come to dread. ‘They’ were back!
Not cautious enough, not safe. Of course my yells had attracted their attention. Now I could hear the splashes they made in the water as they approached closer… closer… too close! I scrambled up the ladder, forgoing my initial care in my mad dash for self-preservation. I heard a sharp high-pitched cry from below which could only mean I had been spotted. As I pulled myself through the hole in the ceiling, I felt something claw at my dangling foot and just barely miss its grasp. Had it been a moment earlier, it would have had me.
The thing shrieked in anger at having been eluded yet again. In my haste I dropped the torch my torch which clattered down the ladder and struck the thing below which let out another cry, this time of pain, I hoped.
Now blind, I felt my way up and up as fast as I could climb while the thing thrashed against the opening in the tunnel ceiling in its attempt to pursue me, but as luck would have it, it could not fit. Though fast, strong and clearly capable of tracking their prey in the dark, these creatures were big, and I could use that to my advantage. I made a mental note of the fact. It could very well save my life again.
A sudden thump brought me back to my senses as my head struck something hard and metallic, blocking my climb. I felt at it with a spare hand; flat and round, it covered the entire path above me – a manhole cover, it just had to be! But could I move it? I pushed with my free hand – nothing. I tried again, this time bracing myself against the ladder with my legs and using both hands as well as my back to give an almighty shove, and… it gave way with a liberating scrape of metal against concrete.
Daylight poured in from the street-level and I pulled myself to freedom, finally moving the cover back into place. Safe at last.
to be continued…