I hurried out of work, knowing that as usual if I didn't hurry, I would miss the next train. It wasn't the biggest deal in the world, but I had truly had enough today, and needed more than anything to be on that train, heading home fast, so that I could shed this week's emotional crap and escape into fluffy pyjamas and a massive catch up on the soaps, whilst drinking red wine, and tucking into the tasty, cheesy, oven pizza I had been looking forward to since yesterday.
There were one of two ways I could go to reach the station, and it was only a ten-minute walk if I walked fairly fast. Thankfully, my train pulled in at the platform on the nearest side of the station, so I could leap straight on once there. If I went further along, by the shops, I could turn left at the big clothes store and cross at the crossing before cutting back. However, time was tight today, and I was damned well going to be on that train, so I headed for the short cut through the tunnel which was set back slightly behind the butcher's, always feeling uneasy about dark tunnels in the early evening, my stomach queasy from the smell of meat, but figuring it was so busy with the rush of commuters heading to and fro, that it would be fine.
That little tunnel was in sight, and I power-walked towards it, slightly breathless already. I really needed to get fitter, I thought to myself for the hundredth time. Mind you, when would I have the time or motivation to get to the gym? Weren't gym memberships just empty wells full of empty promises, costing far too much money?
There were still plenty of people about, other youngish people, workers from the day, heading home, just like me. Some in suits, others in tradesmen's clothes and overalls. The market stalls were being packed away, and a busy chatter, plus the clamour of people finishing up their shopping, were reassuring to my eyes and ears. That strange little sign had caught my eye yet again: TUNNELL. Such a strange spelling, I wondered if it was Victorian or even older. That yellowing sign, decaying and barely legible, so strange to see. Such a strange landmark. Maybe it used to be a named part of town, I thought. I would try and actually remember to look it up on Google tonight.
I stepped into the black coolness of the brick tunnel, and the sudden absence of sound shocked me. I actually stopped and turned and looked back into the brightness of the dying day, into the heaving market-day business rush, to reassure myself that it was all still there. I felt so silly with my fear of the dark, but it couldn't be helped, and I found myself keeping pace with my earlier steps, so that I could still make the train on time. I wouldn't allow my daft fears to prevent me from being where I needed to be. I checked my watch: I still had twelve minutes before the train was due to depart, there was no problem at all, as long as I stayed moving swiftly, especially as I had taken the shortcut and was saving several minutes.
My heels clattered along the ground, and I kept moving, finding myself shivering slightly, despite the warmth of the day. This tunnel always felt cool and damp. The light from outside was moving further away behind me, so thank goodness for the overhead lights fitted to the curved ceiling of the tunnel. The lights were small and rectangular, but put out a decent glow, and I felt safer under their beam, as I kept moving forward, clutching my over-body bag tightly to my side.
I don't know why I looked up; it was one of those stupid, impulsive things that you do, and instantly regret. Because of course my other huge fear, my phobia, was spiders. It is hard to even write the word, without feeling a tickling around my shoulders, and a sick nervousness in my stomach. When I glanced up at the ceiling of the tunnel, I expected to see a few spiders, certainly; they love dark, secret places. What I did not expect to see were hundreds of them, thousands even, all nesting in writhing masses and masses of awful grey webbing, soft like candyfloss, and lit a sickly greenish-yellow by the fluorescent lighting. I nearly screamed right there; WHY did I look up? Why?
Immediately, I shrunk down slightly as I walked; my instinct was to make myself as far away from those spiders as possible. I was glad I wasn't taller. I needed to be as small as possible; I would have crawled through on my hands and knees to escape the horror of a thousand spiders touching me. Or even a single one. Without being able to stop it, thoughts of them dropping down onto my head and shoulders, and me frantically brushing them away as my heart pounded, filled my head. My phobia had taken hold, and I was moving faster through the tunnel now, eyes almost closed, as they were too terrified to open, in case they saw one of the eight-legged creatures dangling down to get me.
When my eyes had been closed a few moments, I opened them, needing to calibrate my position in the tunnel, not wanting to bash into the damp walls and disturb more potential spiders, and felt confused by the lack of light up ahead. As far as I knew and remembered, the lights, though sparingly there, should have gone all the way to the end of the tunnel, guiding the way along until I came out just before the crossing in front of the train station. I stopped a second, gasping a little, feeling real fear now, because of the spiders that no doubt resided all along that ceiling, right up to the exit, and now also because of the added terror of unexpected darkness ahead .
The lights above me were still on, as were the ones behind me, when I turned to look. I didn't understand why the lights ahead had turned off, and I certainly didn't have time to head back the way I had come. I took a deep breath, and I started singing a little song under my breath, the one that used to calm me as a child. The one about the little train. I didn't want to move into that blackness, and I had to keep going - I WASN'T going to miss that bloody train, especially when I had endured this additional upset - so I found my smartphone in my bag and turned on the flashlight, aiming it at the floor just ahead of me, avoiding anywhere near the ceiling or sides of the tunnel. I soldiered on, trying to control my breathing. I felt sick and clammy; I felt the sweat from my palm moistening the phone. I gripped it tighter.
I'd taken a few steps into the darkness, but found It was just too unnerving for me to go further. I was now pigeon-stepping forward, holding out my lit phone like a talisman, feeling ridiculous, fucking terrified, peeping back over my shoulder every few seconds to glimpse the reassuring ceiling lights behind me. "Come on, Sal, you can do this," I muttered to myself, though I was suddenly having trouble seeing myself get to the other end of this hell-hole. The tunnel was never this long before. I tried the visualisation I had been taught for anxiety, summoning into my mind the image of bubbling cheesy pizza, and comforting red wine, and the feeling of my fluffy, warm blanket over my body...
I turned once again to glimpse the lights, my ports in a storm, only to see the furthest one buzz and flicker, and go out. Then the next nearest. I saw spiders roaming and clustering in the sickly light of each LED bulb before it extinguished. Inside I screamed; outside I was hyperventilating. The dark was moving towards me, trapping me in the centre of the tunnel, and I moved forward towards the blackness ahead, eyes closed in terror, crying as I sang the nursery rhyme over and over again, trying not to stumble and fall. Because if I fell, right now, I didn't know if I would have the strength or courage to get up again.
Something furry brushed my bare leg on my left side, and I screamed, plunging forward and swiping with my bag at the same time. I felt a similar tickle on my right leg, then my neck, and I knew I was done for. Either this was the worst, most utterly distressing nightmare I had ever had, or I was going to pass out from terror. I tried not to think about all those little legs, and those horrid webs, as I stumbled and fell. Just like in the movies, where you were screaming at the stupid girl for tripping during the vital chase scene, I fell onto my face, and the spiders swarmed me. Without my knowing they had been tracking, following me along the cold brick walls and milling in the dark outside of my field of vision.
Nobody outside the tunnel heard my screams, for there were none. The only scream was in my head. The mass of eight-legged invaders was inside my face and my orifices before I could draw a breath, and a final bitter last thought before I lost consciousness, was that all I had bloody wanted tonight was a rest, and a pizza, and maybe even a late night booty call from that fit guy I had been seeing. In the distance a whistle blew, and the train that would have got me home pulled away, without me on it. As I blacked out, I had a fever dream; the spiders were singing to me:
Choo choo choo goes the little train.
Taking us away and home again.
We travel far and we travel back.
This little train along the track.
Thank you Kirsty Williams for allowing me to use your image for my story! In fact your photograph inspired the idea...
About the Creator
A mum, a friend to many and I love to explore dark themes and taboos in my writing. I am an optimist with a dark side...
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