The Tunnel

A short story for our times

 

Andrew panicked a little when he realised his son wasn’t in the house, and breathed an enormous sigh of relief when he spotted him in the back garden. “What are you doing, Mikey?” he called. His six-year son, seemingly oblivious to his presence, was digging a large hole with impressive vigour. Shovelling grass, soil and stones into an ever-growing pile, the boy was carrying out the frantic excavations as if his life depended on it. Mikey was digging in the centre of the lawn. Whilst Andrew would be the first to admit that the lawn was scrubby, with dandelions sprinkled throughout, the sight of a hole appearing in the middle shocked him.

“I’m going to find Mummy,” said Mikey.

“But Mummy’s in England.”

“That’s why I’m digging,” Mikey replied. “I looked at my globe and England is on the other side of the world, so I just need to go down a long way.”

Andrew and Mikey lived in a small town called Emerald, half an hour from Melbourne, so the boy’s logic was only a little questionable (for a five-year-old at least.) Andrew knelt down and placed a hand on his son’s bony shoulder. “Well, if you’re going to dig a hole that deep you’ll need some ice cream to keep you going.”

“You can’t buy me off, Dad. I know that’s what grown-ups do.” Mikey stopped digging and laid the shovel down. Tears were rolling down his freckled, muddy face. “I want my mummy.” Andrew lifted him up and carried him back towards the house.

“So do I, son.”

As he walked through the back door into the kitchen, he noticed that Angus, his dog, was still lying under the table. Earlier that morning, it had shocked Andrew to discover that Angus, a cranky, old, drooling mastiff, seemed unwell. His normal doggy smell, a peculiar mixture of earth and biscuits, had been replaced by something altogether more musty, that seemed to portend something dreadful. The dog was lying next to his basket, hardly moving, and breathing in shallow, gasping pants. This wasn’t the only bed in the house missing an occupant, as Alice, his wife, had been gone for over a year now. She’d travelled to England to visit her mother but found herself stranded when, because of the pandemic, all the flights back were cancelled. Andrew and Mikey missed her madly and sometimes the only comfort they could find was in their love for the dog. He climbed the stairs to Mikey’s bedroom and, realising his son had fallen asleep, gently laid him down on the bed. He rested his own head on the pillow. Seconds later, he too was deeply asleep.

The digging was done. They both stared into the hole, which stretched endlessly down into the darkness. “Can we go now, Dad?” Angus bounded around the hole, barking and slobbering in equal measure. “Will Angus come?”

“Of course, Mikey! We can’t leave him, can we?” The dog suddenly stopped, as if he understood what his master was saying. Andrew took his son’s hand. “Come on, Mikey!” They both jumped into the hole, closely followed by Angus. “Will Mum be waiting?” shouted Mikey as they hurtled downwards.

“Yes!”

“When will we know we’re reached the bottom?”

“When the bell rings, son. It’s like being in a lift.”

“Thanks Dad, you did a great job digging.”

“I know son, but I could never have done it without you.”

Then the bell rang. DING. Andrew opened his eyes. The screen of his mobile phone was flashing. He lifted it to his ear. “Andrew?”

“Alice, is that you?”

“Andrew at last! The plane is just about to take off. I got a flight this morning and tried to let you know, but you didn’t answer your phone. I’ll be home tomorrow-I have to go now–we’re just taking off!” The phone cut.

“What is it, dad?” asked Mikey, looking at his father lying on the bed next to him.

“You know that hole you were digging, Mikey? Well, I finished it whilst you were asleep. Mum’s jumped into it and she’ll be back home soon!” As he hugged his son, Angus bounded into the bedroom, releasing great strings of slobber as he did so. The dog smelt of earth and biscuits, and Andrew’s resultant smile was broad enough to cross continents.

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