P. T. Corwin writes fantasy and science-fiction short stories. His work has appeared in Schlock Quarterly and Aphotic Realm.
He is a member of the Newham Writers Workshop in London.
Follow him on Facebook and learn more here: www.ptcorwin.co.uk
The Tunnel of Tears
“Here it is,” said the little girl. She pushed the mist that had settled over the street aside with a light wave of her hand, revealing a solid darkness that disappeared into the distance. “The Tunnel of Tears.”
“What will I find in there?” asked Sarah. Her black dress fluttered in the breeze, a wind surrounding the tunnel, sucking her in.
“Pain,” said the girl, who, judging by her innocent face, could be no older than twelve, with a voice that knew the lengths and depths of pain.
“Good.” Sarah took a step forward. “Will you come with me?”
The girl looked up at her with eyes as old as time and smiled at Sarah as sweetly as any little girl would. “Good luck!”
And Sarah walked, like a woman submitting herself to the waves, into the tunnel. The mist returned, like a door slamming shut behind her, trapping her between the writhing shadows. The floor cut like glass against her naked feet. She stood, pressing into it, hoping for blood.
“Sarah?” The girl's voice came from beside her. Always beside her. “You have to keep going.”
“I want to lie down. Here. Can’t I lie down for a while?”
“You have to keep going,” said the girl again. “This tunnel swallows those who choose to stay.”
“Can’t I let it?” Sarah pushed her feet against the jagged ground, tried to push through it.
“You could,” said the girl. “But what a waste of an existence it would be.”
In the darkness, Sarah felt the girl's hand on hers. So soft, so warm.
The girl squeezed with all the kindness of an embrace. “Come. Let me show you the extent and ripples of your choices. Then you may follow or remain.”
She led the way, led Sarah forward down the tunnel.
They hadn't walked long before Sarah's eyes adjusted to the darkness, and she saw now the shapes of the broken ground, spikes growing like stalagmites.
“The consequence of tears,” said the girl.
They walked on. Soon a woman’s sobbing spread out of the darkness, rising into existence, demanding to be heard. The sobbing reached for Sarah, cold as despair. Sarah closed her eyes, waited for it to envelop her.
“Not yet.” The girl, with surprising strength, pulled Sarah away, further into the tunnel, where the darkness around them had now grown spikes, where the ground sucked Sarah in.
Sarah pressed her arm into one of the spikes, drew it across until it came away with blood, the pain exquisite. “I want to grieve in blood. Why does it feel so good?”
“Punishment,” said the girl. “And release. The latter tends to chase the other, if the mind allows.” The girl led her further down the tunnel. “Let me show you another option.”
She led Sarah to where the ground became solid again, the spikes shrunk, became smooth mounds and disappeared. The sobbing ebbed away, and all fell silent until only the living darkness remained.
“Look!” The girl pointed at a small heap of shadow in the distance. “The truth is waiting.”
Sarah, with careful steps, approached the shadow. It grew solid, took on the shape of a young man kneeling. A young man familiar.
“My boy!” Sarah fell down in front of him, held his head in her hands, took in the stubble on his cheek and his tired eyes, the sad corners of his mouth. She took them in like a painter going blind, caressed them, kissed them. She even kissed the wounds on his wrists, streaks of grey in the black of the tunnel. “How could I not stay here now? With him?”
The little girl appeared beside her. She put a hand on Sarah’s shoulder and with the other parted the mist to reveal a bed and a boy, small under the covers. “Your choice.”
The girl held out her hand, and Sarah allowed her to help her up.
Sarah smiled. “Thank you.” And to her older son: “I love you.”
He nodded and mouthed the words back at her, already fading back into the shadows.
Sarah, with a last look back, walked through the mist and into her younger son’s bedroom. She knelt beside him. “I’m sorry. I’m here now.” She kissed his cheek, tasting salt. “I’m back.”