Nameless, sexless and ageless, it wanders the world, unable to die, searching endlessly for the answer to just two questions:
Why does it exist and what are the Tunnels?
In its countless lives, it has never come close to either answer. But in it's latest form, a young girl named Esther, the being may at last discover the secret of its existence.
"Stop right there!" I heard a voice, high and wavering, call out. It was a ridiculous voice, if not for the hum of a dozen electric guns charging behind me. I froze and made an exaggerated gesture of putting my hands up.
"Turn around," the wobbly voice commanded. I hesitated. The clicks of several guns cocking urged me to comply, but I remained frozen.
"Turn around!" the voice repeated. I kept my head down and my hands up as I turned in a sluggish circle. The hood of a stolen jacket hung low over my eyes. I stood like that in a moment of almost holy silence. And then, I looked up.
"Oh God!" one gunman cried. I saw his finger instinctively pull the trigger. I only had enough time to smirk at the horrified faces of the officers and their commander, a pale woman whose face had been pulled tight against her skull and fastened there by a severe little knot at the back of her head. A flash of white and the familiar, sledge-hammer feeling of impact knocked me backwards into the chain link fence behind me. The electrified pellets that the guns shot were meant to temporarily paralyze their victims. But now the bullet was lodged into my frontal lobe, along with shrapnel from my shattered skull, and the collision with the chain-link fence made the electricity that was already coursing through my body go haywire.
The swat team watched in horror as my body was raised off the ground by the surging force of the blue electricity that had formed a circuit between me and the steel fence. Then, with all the suddenness of a summer storm, the circuit was broken and the smoking pile of flesh that was my corpse fell with a thud to the pavement. White was plunged into black.
I woke, as I always did, in a damp, chilly cavern. It was manmade, of concrete, flickering strip lights and fading yellow paint and stretched indeterminately in either direction. The ceiling arched just a couple feet above my head and lent to the dull panic of claustrophobia that bubbled in my stomach. As far as the tunnel stretched, there were bunks, stacked two or three high, made of metal. From nearly each and every bunk, the grinning white faces of the dead stared out at me with hollow, accusing eyes. ‘You don't belong here,' they said, ‘get out. Get out.'
I beat down the disgust and fear that their eyes tried to pry out of me and walked, looking for the nicks and scratches that I had made a habit of leaving for myself, to guide me once more to the surface. The only sound was the echo of bare feet slapping against the cold, gray floor. The chemical smell of the tunnel permeated everything. I shivered and looked down at myself. My body was female, young and covered in goose bumps. The feet were large and flat and slapped like two pale fish against the floor. I crossed the tunnel to the nearest bunk. The one who had died here had left a heavy gray-green jacket, a white shirt and mottled green and brown pants. A soldier, by the looks of it.
One look at the pants told me they would be too big for this body and I took just the jacket, shaking the bones of the dead man from it. There was a large, dark stain along one side of the jacket, but I tried not to think about how it got there as I wrapped the piece of stolen clothing around me and fastened the buttons. It hung off my shoulders and nearly down to my knees. A pair of long boots sat at the foot of the bunk and I slid my feet into them, wrapping the laces around my calves several times to secure the shoes.
Clump, clomp, clump. I was louder now, but at least I was warmer. After a long while walking, I came to an intersection between two tunnels. The second tunnel was identical to the first, with endless rows of bunks running along it. But where the two intersected was an open dome of concrete, supported by concrete beams. Strip lights flickered weakly above me, but no matter how many times I had arrived here, they never seemed to go out or even grow dimmer. Close inspection of the columns revealed what I was looking for. On the centermost supporter, a spiral symbol with an arrow, pointed left underneath it was etched. I turned left down the tunnel. After countless bunks, each with their own gruesome inhabitant, passed by, a wide stairway came into view.
Several minutes later, I was standing at the foot of it. The spiral symbol and an arrow pointing upwards directed me up the concrete steps to a higher level. The spiral path was one of countless ways that I had marked for myself. Each, in its own meandering way, led me to the surface. The spiral path was one of the more direct ones and I was glad to have found it. Still, it would take hours to reach the surface, which the gnawing hunger in my new stomach would stretch out until they felt like days.
There was no food down here, nor was there any water. Spouts punctuated the walls every so often, but nothing came out when I turned them. The spiral path led me steadily upwards, through scores of tunnels and past innumerable bunks. I often wondered what this place was and why I always woke here. I wondered about the remains here, possibly hundreds of thousands of human skeletons rested here together, and what had happened to the people who used to own these bones.
But wondering about this necropolis was even less useful than dwelling on my own nature. Hundreds of lives and none of them have ever gotten me any closer to an explanation, revelation or even a sign. I live now as I always have, wandering about endless tunnels in search of a way out. Always, it has been my desire to escape.
My stomach let out a demanding growl that echoed off the tunnel walls. Hunger pains were setting in earnest now and I knew that I had to get out of here soon. Symbol after symbol, the spiral path led me slowly upwards. I abandoned all sense of time and focused on climbing another flight of concrete steps, moving through another tunnel, finding the next sign. My new body was weak and tired, but I couldn't stop to rest.
Finally, with limbs shaking and sweat dripping from my brow, I found the exit. Here, all the paths converged in the expansive domed chamber. Narrow steps led upwards to a brilliant rectangle of natural light. I pulled myself up the stairs by the steel handrail, my breathing heavy. Hunger gnawed even more desperately at the inside of my stomach, as if sensing the end of the journey. The light was so bright that I couldn't see what was beyond it, but I caught the green scent of springtime carried by the short gusts of air that found their way through the door. I squinted as I passed through the light.