The Tunnel

She’d found the map in the back of a used bookstore stuck between the pages of an obscure book on the life of mountain climbers. It had fallen to the floor as she flipped casually through the pages, stopping now and then to study the weathered faces of people from far-off lands. She had tucked the map into her jacket pocket when she’d returned the book to the over-stuffed shelf.

At first she’d tried to convince others to join her in following the map. But everyone she’d showed it to said it was someone’s idea of joke. That it was absurd to think that a treasure map in 2015 was actually real. She’d been all over the city following the map’s riddles, the library, City Hall Park, another bookstore, a bank in uptown, a cobbler on the west side of the city and a hat maker on the east side. Now she was here, standing in front of the ink black tunnel with vines cascading down as if a curtain was about to close on a stage. She wondered aloud if the tracks she was standing on were still in use. She looked around uneasily to see if anyone had followed her; she’d never been to this part of the city before. Here among the refineries and freight yards, it occurred to her that this tunnel seemed out of place in such a flat expanse at the foot of the mountains. She took a tentative step forward then with one last look around turned on a cheap plastic flashlight and stepped past the curtain of vines into the darkness.

The pale yellow glow of the flashlight barely lit the ground in front of her. She thought about going back, but something seemed to be pulling her forward. The sounds of the world she had just left trailed behind her as the blackness enveloped her. The air was damp and cool; she heard the scratch of small scurrying animals around her feet. After a short distance the tracks ended abruptly and the tunnel seemed to be closing in around her — or was it her mind playing tricks on her as her light began to fade? The weak beam shown on a wall of jagged rock ahead. The tunnel went no further. It was as if the workers had gone home for the day and never come back. Now she realized the tunnel was completely silent. She spun in a slow circle, squinting as if that would allow her to see farther into the darkness.  She was about to turn around when her eye caught the hard angle of an ornate metal door built into the wall.

For a moment she stared, unsure what to do next. She walked closer to door and stared at its intricate pattern. Slowly she reached out and grabbed the cold brass knob, turning it with little effort, and with a click the door swung open. Light and noise spilled into the dark tunnel. She stepped inside, blinking in the bright light. A large man in a well tailored suit looked down at her from his from his seat by the door.

“Hello, Ann,” he said. “We’ve been expecting you.”