The light at the end of the tunnel had always been there.
They had always remembered the sight of it, ever since their brains had the
capacity to, perhaps.
The once children born in the embrace of metal they would later learn to
abhor and walls they would grow claustrophobic to, are now added to throngs
of people too many to fit in the tunnel side by side, too diverse and different
to even want to. All united, however, by the long march, or at least by that
light collecting their eyes like a magnet.
The impulse for people to start their journey towards the light increased as
people awakened to the reality of the tunnel. Tentatively, slow paces gave
way to strides of hale and vigor, it felt easy at first to make headway and
complete the trek in no time. Motley crews rearranged into groups with more
relevance between them.
The metal patterns were tracks. As children, they had learned to recognize the
first signs of the monsters that would materialize out of the darkness. The
rumbling of walls; the tremoring grounds; the slow current from the air
pushed in front of the train building up to a gust of wind howling from
By then, people would have already scattered and glued themselves to the
walls of the tunnel before the gale came, whaling bodies left and right, and
the train ploughed in their midst.
Bangs. Eyes closed. Hands tightened over ears. Focusing on the sound of
wheels clattering rhythmically to ignore the thudding. Then the negative
pressure, like a giant gasp following the train, unsticking them from the
Wide-eyed, they would stumble back to the center of the tunnel, checking on
each other. The aftershocks in their legs massaging the hearts that had fallen
there up to their natural position. And they would train their eyes on the light
once again. The walk continued, dodging bodies, feet slapping on puddles of
water, sinking in mud.
The light beckoning.
Hauntingly horrifying as it was, people adopted different mentalities towards
the tunnel. There were the KBOs (keep buggering on), of one mind on the
pointlessness of spending a single second in this appalling, bleak place, and
hence the necessity of abandoning it as soon as possible. Other people slowed
down to admire the flowers that had miraculously grown into such
environment, blossoming along the sides; to put a bit of color on the walls; to
fill the hollow with melodious tunes for a change; even to make love! The
KBOs wouldn’t settle for any of that, and only visited them fleetingly. Sure
enough, a look around and you could find the exact opposite. Nihilists,
themselves divided into those who laid bare their chests on the metal, and
noisy ones who kept lamenting how nothing mattered. Not the tunnel; not the
promising light; not even which one they chose. Mostly youngsters, lots of
them, though dressed in posh clothes and afforded many recreations, still felt
they had been cheated into the labor of being. Yet they seemed to lumber
ahead fine and showed no less Olympic feats than everyone else when a train
The light at the end of the tunnel barely came closer; the distance hardly
yielded to their long walk.
Numbers started dropping like flies as more people stayed behind and
decided to make their peace with what they had.
'Well, what do you have?' the KBOs shouted, making a show of searching
People started showing them what they had been working on. Art and music
and poetry and various skills. Tunnelhood felt better doing those.
'They are going to feel a thousand times better in the light! The faster we got
'Look at you dazing yourselves,' the nihilists went. 'Feeling better is brief
morphine, just cheap lipstick on the futility of existence where nothing
'By that logic you would be racing for the tracks, you bastards!'
'But even that entails suffering, first from the twist of the survival instinct
hammered into our genes, then from the collision. We’re forced into a fight
with our own selves to undo a situation we never applied for. It’s the perfect
'Then how come nothing matters when you start with how your existence
itself undeniably matters; when mattering is how things carried on for billions
A football whizzed between their heads, and people gathered to watch a game
unfold. The whole tunnel seemed to be lost in excitement for once.
And so they trudged on through suffocating dankness. Legs connecting with
metal, sloshing through muck, scrambling as trains scythed by. Somehow, the
KBOs never seemed that far ahead from everybody.
There’s this now! People called after them, flourishing flowers and
symphonies. But they had grown oblivious to them, their senses dulled. Their
quest took on a kind of zeal.
Innumerable trains later, the circle of light was noticeably larger. They
squeezed their eyes and looked again. It was real. They kept at it and reached
where the rail led off into a dark, smaller side tunnel before the opening.
Straight ahead they went. A lighter air welcomed them.
They stepped outside finally. It was white everywhere; sloping down to
plains a little after the tunnel, snowfields extended as far as they could see.
Bodies blown this far by the trains had found graves under blankets of
They wanted to shout hurray but coughed instead; tried to dance but their legs
shoveled the snow. They thought nothing of it.
After a period of searching around in the open, it was clear. There was
Turning to each other for the first time since getting there, having reached the
same conclusion, they saw in one another’s eyes the mummified figures they
had turned to.
They looked back and saw the tunnel in a new light.
Children start at the very beginning and go through, generation after another,
effectively living their whole lives in the swampy long length of the tube. Forever signaled by the light. Sooner or later the calamitous trains sweep
them along to it, to nothing but this glorified graveyard.
Now that they finally made their quest, crestfallen, each of them holding a
clear picture of all they had wished to do in their heads with a trembling
grasp like a check they were desperate to cash, they looked at it.
At the tunnel ending at the light.
Amr Nasser is a doctor in training. He enjoys reading and thinking about science and fiction in a multidisciplinary way.