Monday, 10 April 2017

The Tunnel

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The road curved through dark, imposing mountains that made me feel claustrophobic even before I hit the tunnels.  Black clouds hung in a clear navy blue sky with stars dotted around. I seemed to be the only driver on the road in either direction, but I was aware of what else might be out there. I imagined the eyes of the bears, the wolves, and the god knows whats watching me from the mountains. The radio sang the same old songs and the wind made sure I kept a tight hold of the steering wheel. Every now and then there’d be a tunnel lit up like red landing strip lights stretching into the distance. I was looking for a service station so I could follow the instructions on the overhead signs and stop, refresh and stretch, but I was out of luck.
I hit the big tunnel, seven kilometres long with red and green lights discombobulating my mind. I slammed on the brakes and looked back. No, I hadn’t imagined it, there was a young woman hitchhiking.  I reversed and she walked towards me. What on earth was a teenage girl doing out at this time of night in the wilderness of the Croatian highway? I was feeling nervous in my car, it was no place for anyone to be out alone.
For a brief second, it crossed my mind it might be a trap, the start of my own private horror movie. Do you dare go into the Tunnel alone? But the chances were, it was a vulnerable runaway and I was willing to take a risk and play the good Samaritan.
I opened the car door, but the young woman hesitated.
“Hi there,” I said. “Where are you going?”
“Just the next service station,” she said.
“Okay, hop in.”
She didn’t hop, she more crept into the car and almost hovered on the seat. A shiver went down my spine.
“You okay,” I asked, but she didn’t answer, she just sat and stared out of the windscreen. I pressed the accelerator and we moved off. “Strange place to be out on your own.”  Again, she remained silent. “I’ve got some water here,” I pointed to the bottle in between the seats. “I haven’t opened it, help yourself.” She didn’t move, she just sat and stared. We trundled on through the bright tunnel. I wasn’t keen on tunnels, the thought of all that rock and debris on top of me made me a bit queasy. I turned the radio back up and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, trying to forget the fact that I could be squashed by a whole bloody mountain any moment. I was also trying to think of what to ask the strange woman next to me. She was sitting up straight, her hands in her lap. She didn’t look or smell like a homeless or a runaway. She was in her early twenties, a nice, if slightly old fashioned jacket and straight dark hair cropped into a bob. I only had a side view but from what I could see she had a pretty face, though she looked a little tired. “Are you warm enough?” I asked, but again she said nothing.
I could see the dark at the end of the tunnel now. Hopefully, a rest stop would come into view in the next few miles. It seemed a lot darker this side of the mountain, the clouds thicker, the trees denser, the wind stronger.
“Do you like Ed Sheeran?” I asked, it was that Thinking Out Loud song that they played all the time.
She didn’t answer. I looked over at her. She was gone. She’d vanished. I checked my mirror but there was no sign of her on the road. I looked behind me, nothing.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again, but there was nothing, no one there.
I pulled into the petrol station that had come at just the right time. I got out of the car and went inside.

“Toilet?” I asked.
“You okay man?” the attendant said. “You look like you’ve seen the ghost of the tunnel.”

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