I had hoped that when I opened my eyes, we would be back in our hotel, the past few hours nothing but a really bad dream. But I woke up at the back at the car, Amanda still asleep just inches from me. Near the front, Cecilia’s head was on Dave’s shoulder. I can’t help but to feel a tinge of jealously, despite the situation we’re in. The only reason I agreed to this trip was because Cecilia asked me to.
You see, Cecilia used to be my crush, way back in high school. We were the best of friends, doing almost everything together. The only reason why I have never made a move was because she was way out of my league, and I would die than to lose her as a friend.
We lost contact when we moved thousands of miles apart to attend college. I met Dave after my graduation, five years after last meeting Cecilia, during a networking session, where I found out that he was dating Cecilia. My reunion with Cecilia could not have been more awkward.
Watching them from the back of the car, I was reminded again of how small the world can be, how life loves to crack a joke on you every now and then. It was not a feeling I relish. I stretched myself and walked out of the car, rubbing my hands across my unwashed hair. Just let this nightmare end soon, I prayed.
After all the bizarre events that we’ve been through, I was not sure why we expected the emergency phones to function normally. Desperation gives you wild hopes, I guess. The phones were sparsely in the tunnel, with one every one kilometre or so. Placed in bright orange boxes with a green and white icon on the side, they looked brand new.
The plastic coating on the telephone handle looked fresh, and the casing shone under the yellow lights. It was one of the old phones that we used to have in our homes, before everyone owned a smart phone.
Dave was the first who took a go at the phones. He lifted up the handle and put the receiving end to his ears, tried talking and shouting to the phone, pressed the buttons next to the phone randomly and slammed it a few times. He handed it to Cecilia, who also tried the same actions, before shaking her head and putting the phone back.
“It just keeps repeating some gibberish language,” Dave said as I walked past him and pressed the phone against my ears. There was no dial tone, no keypad tone, no matter what I tried. Instead, chanting constantly into my ears were words that I could not understand. The voice belonged to a man, which sounded really old. I called out to the voice, shouted hello, even cursed at him, but there was no change in his intonation nor speed. The words just kept repeating themselves.
Giving up, I placed the phone back to its resting place. Dave cursed behind me.
The next phone that we tried was not any different. The same chanting in words that we could not understand. The voice sounded robotic, as if the person was under some trance. We all listened to the phone, and determined that it must be the local language, which did not help us one bit, since none of us knew the local language.
Nevertheless, I continued to listen to the words, jotting them down when I do get a signal. If I do get a signal. Google Translate could come in so handy now. From what I could guess, the phrase on the phone sounded something like this: ”ha-jat-uhn-da-ah-gan-d-du-nai-gan”
If only I knew what the sentence meant.
With little options left, we decided to see what’s behind the emergency doors. Everyone seemed to be resigned to the fate that we’re in now. Cecilia’s eyes still looked red from all the crying. A part of me wanted to console her, but another part of me felt guilty for having such thoughts. It felt almost like I was betraying Dave.
As for Dave, he looked like he didn’t get enough rest. His face was sunken, with visible eye bags. But his composure held. Army has trained him well. He handed us our meal portion, a vast difference from what we ate just yesterday night. The four of us ate in silence, with occasional hums from Amanda.
If our past few hours were of any indication, I am not looking forward to trying the escape doors.
We lost Amanda. We freaking lost Amanda. And now it seemed that we’re trapped in this pitch black darkness with no way out.
After our earlier meal, we proceeded to the nearest emergency door as planned, not knowing what to expect. Unlike the phones, the doors looked worn out, old. The red paint was peeling off the frame, revealing a layer of rust underneath. Nothing about the door felt right, and a part of me wanted to just ignore it.
When Dave pushed open the door, it groaned loudly, revealing a narrow passageway behind, just enough to just fit two people walking side by side. A blast of cold air came from within, carrying with it a stench that reminded me of large dirty drains. The passageway itself was dark and damp, without any source of lighting.
We took turns poking our head in, wrestling with the thoughts of whether we should stick to the better lit main road.
Amanda protested wholeheartedly against going in, saying that we stood a better chance outside, in the light. Dave countered by saying that there could be something behind that could help us, and that there is no harm in investigating. Cecilia said she would go wherever Dave goes, and I supported Dave’s reasoning, despite the misgivings that I have. Staying where we were would not change anything.
In the end we decided that Amanda will keep watch by the door, while the three of us would only briefly explore the emergency passageway, without going too far away from the door. If there is nothing of interest, we’ll return to the main tunnel instead, as we all agreed to not further subject ourselves to risky situation.
Dave was the first to put his foot into the passageway. Cecilia clung closely to him. I followed not far behind, cautiously stepping into the dark place. It was as tall as the tunnel outside, but narrower.
We moved slowly along the path, with Dave illuminating the way using his handphone’s torch. The narrow way felt damp, with a foul stench hanging in the air. I resorted to breathing using my mouth. Whenever Dave’s torch shone on the wall, you could see mould growing on it. The walls were pockmarked, rough. Like straight out of a horror movie.
It did not take very long before we heard a loud bang behind us, the sound of the door slamming shut with enormous force. The three of us screamed simultaneously. I ran quickly back to where we entered, only to discover a solid wall, pockmarked and covered in mould, where the door was.
We’ve been calling and banging the wall for 30 minutes now, and I don’t think the door will appear back any time soon.