Ch. 11: Fright at the End of the Tunnel
- Ch. 1: I’ll go in if you go in.
- Ch. 2: Like a cat’s eye at night. But it wasn’t night … and it wasn’t a cat.
- Ch. 3: Into the The Heart of Parkness
- Ch. 4: Do we stay or do we go?
- Ch. 5: Just Give In
- Ch. 6: Do we dare dig ourselves even deeper?
- Ch. 7: Who do you listen to?
- Ch. 8: Lu Goes First: Aliens, Farting, and Pepper!
- Ch. 9: Li Goes Deep: A Maze, Spiders, and Pepper
- Ch. 10: Last In, First Out?
- Ch. 11: Fright at the End of the Tunnel
- Ch. 12: Hi honey, I’m home!
- Ch. 13: It’ll be our Secret
As if that helped.
I hurried to the end of the nothing, the end of my tunnel and screamed as loud as I could, “Li Lu!” as if a singsong, a call to the angels in the heavens. “Li Lu!” A frantic call from someone who didn’t like to regret actions, but was regretting actions. I just wanted things to be as they were only minutes ago, reunited with my boys. “Li Lu!” I sounded like a bad backup singer chanting and yelling as if possessed.
My hands went to the end of the tunnel, my fingernails starting scratching through.
“Dad, is that you?!” I heard through the wall. It was them. I found them, but I couldn’t reach them. How thick was this wall? Two inches, two feet or two yards? I pushed, I punched, I scratched.
“It’s me! I’m right here! I’m right behind this wall!” I yelled, being loud but trying to hide any panic in my voice.
“We can hear you, but we can’t see you,” someone said, I think it was Li.
I stopped my scratching, I sat down in the dirt in the near darkness and attempted a deep breath. This was supposed to calm me down, let me think, help me do the right thing. I managed a single breath and I knew what to do.
“Which one of you got there first?” I asked through the dirt.
“I farted on aliens,” Lu said, or at least I think he said, but it certainly sounded like Lu and sounded like something he would say. At least he wasn’t panicked or crying or both. Talking about farting and aliens, that was a very good sign.
“Lu got here first,” Li said as I pressed my ear to the wall where I thought the voices were coming from.
“OK,” I said, “I’m going to go back up and then down Lu’s tunnel. You both wait there, OK?”
I heard nothing.
“OK?!” I yelled at the dirt.
“OK!” they said as if it were a big inconvenience to let me know that they heard our strategic plan who-knows-how-far under the earth in our cave maze. It’s a universal truth that things that are a big deal for kids are not necessarily a big deal for parents—and vice versa.
“OK,” I yelled back, as if that helped, and I stumbled on my hands and feet away from the end of nothing and towards something, towards the light, towards my boys.
Up the tunnel and not back down the darkness tunnel. Back up and out to the cave with the three entrances. Lu’s entrance was the one on the right as I came out in the middle. Well, the right if you were standing in front of the caves, not if you came out of one, as I just did, then it would be on the left. Just to be clear, clear in my head, not stopping, no doubting, keep moving. Down Lu’s tunnel.
It seemed shorter than the tunnel I had chosen, but it was probably only because now I had a purpose, I knew where I was going, I knew what was at the end.
I heard their chatter before I saw them. I kneeled and crawled and monkey-walked my way deeper into the cave, and their chatter became more clear. I was about to shout, but wanted to make sure I could see them this time, not have a wall of dirt between us again. I came through one last slight curve and I saw my fair-haired angels lit up by the skylights as if on stage. Our faithful Pepper was at Li’s feet, but he jumped over to me and went wild and crazy with excitement.
“Are you OK?” I asked, but they both talked at the same time.
“I farted on aliens and they ran away!” Lu said, unable to hold back his enthusiasm. “They drove cars!” He spoke, but I didn’t understand what he was saying, as if it were in another language. It didn’t matter, he was here and safe.
“I knocked out a huge spider!” Li said emphasizing the word ‘huge.’
I hugged them and cooed and said, “Oh!?” and “That’s great!” and other scribblings of banter that no one quite hears or listens to, but it’s calming and reassuring and that’s what we’re there for as parents. Ah, yes, to stay at the side of our children and protect them. Ahem.
“Boys,” I said as they kept talking and I heard only things like ‘spider legs’ and ‘alien cars’ but we needed to move. “We need to move. We need to get out of here,” I said with authority.
“We just found Pepper, though,” Lu said, always the reminder that your reality is not necessarily the reality of a child’s.
“I’m so glad you found him, Lu, but we need to get out of here. I don’t know where we are, how deep we are or … who else is down here.” I didn’t mean to scare them and I didn’t mean to say that, but it’s what was on my mind. I felt a quick jolt of panic that we needed to get out of there.
“Should we go this way?” Li asked and pointed to yet another tunnel that went the opposite way from where I came. “That’s where Pepper was, I think.”
Ah, dear boys, I thought. The allure of adventure and the lack of most fears fuels their spirits like that of only those their age.
“No, let’s go out the way I just came in, through Lu’s tunnel,” I said.
“But there are aliens in that tunnel!” Lu exclaimed.
In a moment of rare mental quickness, I responded, “That’s OK, Lu, you can fart on them and they’ll run away.” I looked at him and smiled and he laughed like an 8-year old.