Below the lobby of the hotel where I was staying. The room was freezing cold, air ongoing full blast, but the hotel was pleasant enough. Although: the breakfast buffet had a price tag of $30 – how much can a man eat for breakfast? I discovered that Qatari cheese is very salty and rubbery, takes gettin used to.
I learned a lot from my colleagues how the state of Qatar ticks and functions. It is intriguing how this society differs so much from ours, with strict Islam implemented.
Below: the skyline of Doha. Skyscrapers ate being built at rocket speed (like all over the world, seems to be the new pastime) but the country itself is mainly desert. With 300,000 Qataris and 2.5 million expats, the demographics are exceptional. There are a few additional cities, but they are in the desert, close to the natural gas fields and intended for the laborers. Here’s a tourist secret:… Doha is the most mind-numbing boring city that I have ever visited (and I have visited a few). My impression is that the Qataris hide and party (?) with their families behind the walls of their country estates; the migrants forlornly wander the boring streets trying not to think about alcohol: there isn’t any / much. I neither drink nor miss alcohol, but even for me Doha offered a new perspective on boredom.
Below: to defy the Saudi boycott, which kicked in 2018, the Qataris have put up portraits of the Emir all over to show their solidarity. The Arabs had hoped that the Qataris would topple their Emir, but no way, Jose.
During my stay in the Middle East, I also visited Doha, capital of Qatar. The movie below I made on my way from the airport to the hotel.
Doha has been hailed as one of the most boring towns in the world, and as I could establish there is considerable truth to this rumor. The town has very little history left, it is new and fully focused on business; it is very car-centric (many, many SUVs) and recreational offers are negligible. The Souk is a small market with stores that sell tortured exotic animals and mini-dogs. The climate is terribly humid and hot; a quick stroll is only possible after sunset. As an Islamic country, there is no (or little) alcohol for sale – but even I as a teetotaler can only say that the town is dull; I can’t blame the absence of alcohol. I was visiting on business with a calendar full of appointments and thus I was preoccupied enough, yet during my quick tours through the city I was quite disappointed. Perhaps some of you readers have a different experiences to share. Perhaps an interesting museum or cinema that I missed? Pole dancing? A gay bar? I guess not.
The boycott by Saudi Arabia was in full swing at the time, but it didn’t seem to have affected the Qatari much. They even imported 4000 Friesian cows from Australia and put them in an air-conditioned hall, to make sure enough milk could be produced, which was imported from Arabia up to that point.
Women stay mostly at home (probably playing with the mini dogs), and the men tend to take their SUVs out for a spin at night; driving endless circles through the town. I got bored out of my skull just watching them occupied with this brain-dead non-activity. No wonder VD is an issue; usually picked up in foreign countries I’ve heard.
Citizens (men only) giving the four wheels a lackluster spin. At least the weather is in their favor.
A few days ago I stumbled over an intriguing site: Prometheum Wastes Chopshop, which describes the story (as the creators put it) of a “dry and dirty landscape and the challenges that you are going to have to face to be able to survive here”.
As the author of TWO JOURNEYS, the 2010 adventure novel that predicted the Corona Pandemic ten years ahead of time, apocalyptic and SciFi landscapes continue to intrigue me.
However, what makes Prometheum Wastes Chopshop particularly interesting is the “sustainable creativity in the new normal”. In these times it is hard for all of us to come together, and with a looming economic crisis, money to spend may be running scarce too. But challenging times lead to innovation, as demonstrated here. In this project, young individuals from different parts of the world came together virtually. They share a passion for painting gaming miniatures (such as Warhammer and Dungeon & Dragons), but realized their means were significantly reduced to buy pre-fab miniatures from the stores. So, they created a community that jointly developed the story of a waste planet somewhere in an apocalyptic future. In addition, they ran challenges where actual waste materials (plastics, such as empty and discarded deodorant containers) are used to create the elements of the story – which include for instance the vehicles, transporters, buildings, and landscape. At the links below you can see how this is done, as well as the end result.
This crowd-initiative reminds me of the concept of the circular economy, which is currently being discussed at all levels of society and industry, with the objective to build a more restorative and sustainable society. The core team of this group consists of students and young professionals. For now, the team may well be mostly focused on growing a community of like-minded folk, being creative and inventing a story together – with no direct monetary intentions. But rest assured, such a virtual, high-quality effort will get noticed and may well kindle the interest of either film or game industry. Why am I impressed? These professionals demonstrate what the new normal in pandemic times could look like: 1.digital, 2.global, 3.sustainable, 4.creative, and 5.delivering value.
Here’s another five star review for TWO JOURNEYS, this one is by “St. Louis Cards”. You can find it here at amazon.com: LINK.
Here’s the full text by this reader
Book Review: Two Journeys
Author: Clemens P. Suter
Publication Date: April 1, 2012 (NetGalley Archive Date: August 30, 2019)
Review Date: August 21, 2019I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.From the blurb:
“During a routine business trip to Tokyo, Alan finds himself to be the sole survivor of a global pandemic. A viral disease wipes away all of humanity… and Alan’s past life. Fearing injury, sickness and hunger, he sets out to travel back to his family in Berlin, straight across Asia and 10,000 miles of hardship and adventure.Suter combines post-apocalyptic elements with an adventurous road novel in this book about a man left alone on earth. The hardships and landscapes (the Gobi desert, Siberia) are described in all ferocity. A few other humans have survived as well, some eager to use the disaster for their own advantage. Electrifying chapters describe the encounter with Somerset, a charming yet psychotic warlord, who is assembling an army to conquer Moscow, if not the entire world.”This is a first-class apocalyptic thriller. I find most self-published books to be absolutely dreadful. The exception is often science fiction/apocalyptic thrillers and other books of this type category.Two Journeys is no exception. What a fantastic book! Better than I expected. It is written in the first person, and I often felt that I was reading a memoir of events that actually happened. Suter’s style is very easy to read; I couldn’t put the book down.
A caveat: it is a fairly long book, 551 pages. It took me 3-4 days on nonstop reading, which is much longer than it usually takes me to read a book.
The character of Alan, the protagonist, is well built, as well as the few other characters encountered during his journey. The plot is perfect; I appreciate how slowly Suter built up the story and all the details of the journey he included. The settings were well written and an important part of the book, as horrifying as they often were.
There were a few mysterious elements that added to the depth of the story.
I highly, highly recommend this book, 5 stars! The author has written a couple of sequels to this book that are available as Kindle books, for only $1.99 each, so I plan to finish out the series.
Humanity has gone a long time without a major pandemic. Outbreaks of viruses such as SARS, corona or influenza (e.g. H2N2 or the Asian Flu H3N2; or bird flu) have occurred again and again. Are we prepared?
Just take a quick look at these 5-star reviews by readers of TWO JOURNEYS. Need we say more? If you like a highly unusual, exiting and thought provoking adventure novel, make sure to get your copy today.
How to get a copy? Just visit your favorite internet store, for instance amazon.comLINK, on iTUNES LINK, or you can even ask your favorite bookstore (anywhere on the globe) to order a copy for you.
Great review by Sharon, many thanks! The sequel FIELDS OF FIRE is already available today.
The sequel is available in the same store where you got your last copy: FIELDS OF FIRE
“… another survivor is traveling the Armageddon road. Clemens P. Suter’s apocalyptic thriller grabs you in the first couple of pages and never lets go. The reader feels real empathy for the main character’s plight as he begins a seemingly impossible 9,000-mile trip to learn his family’s fate. […] clues are uncovered along the way causing tension to build until we reach the shattering climax. Two Journeys is not to be missed.”– G Dedrick Robinson
Kim called in the afternoon and apologized. His wife had a toothache and they couldn’t come to dinner. I tried to convince him that at least he himself should join, but he declined adamantly. I was slightly disappointed. Instead of ten we would now be with a smaller circle of eight: Mike and Karen, Prasaad and Prini, Bibi and Bill, and my wife Andrea and me.
I gave the caterer a quick call to adjust the order, which wasn’t an issue. However, Andrea wasn’t pleased, when I told her the news. “I wanted Kim and Paula to be there, they bring balance to the group. Now Mike and Bill may go off on a tangent again, you know how they can highjack the conversation.” I knew what she meant. At the last dinner party, Mike had started to explain that the dust in the average home consists mostly of human skin. As he described it, we humans shed our entire skin every three weeks, more than a gram of skin flakes every day. He and Bill had discussed this unappetizing topic at length, and not to the amusement of the other guests. Or the two would discuss a little-known movie, or a book that nobody had read or ever wanted to read. Kim, with his academic attitude and almost boring personality, had on several occasions brought some necessary grounding to the conversation. He had managed to rescue many an evening; although I doubt that he himself was aware of this.
Nonetheless, it couldn’t be helped. Around came Friday night, eight o’clock, and the guests arrived.
In retrospect the evening was pleasant. The Lebanese food was fine, accompanied by a rather good red from the Domaine du Grand Fontanille. The conversation was OK, touching on politics, art and movies, but without too much flux in topics or the threads becoming too lengthy. We had all known each other for many years, some of us had been neighbors in the past, some friends of friends. Some of us saw each other every few weeks, but on the other hand I hadn’t seen Mike and Karen for months.
Great company. I was rather silent that evening, due to the continuing pressure at work, and an argument with Andrea just before the guests arrived. Both increased my sense of stress, and when I get stressed, I get distracted. In silence I observed the guests as they talked. As always, Mike and Bill were the most talkative; on the other extreme Bibi was very quiet. Bibi never spoke much, but in retrospect I think that this evening she was even more quiet than usual. Prini got a bit tipsy, which, as always, made her slightly cross-eyed.
The conversation moved from current politics (“The new housing bill will quickly turn into a hidden tax bill”), to the crisis in the Middle East (“Christ, it’s been going on for more than 70 fucking years now.”), to space travel (“In 20 years you can buy a ticket to the moon. Sure, they said that 50 years ago too, but…”), and from there, somehow, we landed at death and burial. It reminded me of the dust and skin discussion, and I threw a concerned glance towards my wife. She ignored me. I don’t know who brought up the topic, but Mike had apparently read an article about the ecology of burial, and he used the queue to his benefit: “We have a dramatic crisis on our hands.” He paused for added effect and looked at each of us. The alcohol had started to take effect, so we all just stared back.
“I read an intriguing article, which stated that burial, as we know it, simply isn’t sustainable anymore: due to a dramatic lack of space. Most towns and counties have reached the limits. So, they are ramping up cremation, but that is a blight on the environment… the mercury, you know. From the teeth. And it generates far too much carbon dioxide.”
He paused. Prasaad nodded but didn’t say anything. I guess it was just a polite, confirming gesture and that he hadn’t read the article.
Karen pitched in: “Sounds like an unsolvable problem, then. We can’t start composting bodies, can we?” General laughter from around the table.
“Well…,” said Mike, and I realized that he was on to something, “The article did offer an option that reduces toxic emissions to zero and cuts the carbon dioxide emissions down to 15%.”
“How’s that achieved then?” asked Bill. There was continuous, covert competition between Bill and Mike, and it showed on Bill’s face: he had already made up his mind that Mike’s story was humbug.
“You’ll never guess,” said Mike cleverly.
We all looked at each other, and I could see the brains and alcohol work.
After a few lengthy seconds my wife said, with some finality in her voice: “No, we will never guess.” I assume she was getting worried that an unappealing contest for the best carcass disposal method might be initiated.
“Potassium hydroxide,” said Mike, as if that explained everything.
Bill looked thoughtful. “Isn’t that lye?” he asked. “Didn’t the mafia use that, to get rid of the bodies of their opponents?”
“How does that work then?” inserted Prini.
Mike took a breath, a small smile on his lips. “The corpse is put into a metal pressure vessel, prefilled with a potassium hydroxide solution, which is then heated to above the boiling point of water, at pressure, preventing actual boiling. As a result, the body breaks down into its chemical components.”
Prasaad frowned. “So, no burial anymore? I mean: there won’t be any ashes… just liquid?”
“In the beginning, the mixture is strongly basic. In the end you are left with a green-brown liquid, and soft white bone, which can be crushed easily. You could call this ash, and it can be handed over to the family.”
Karen pulled a face. “And what happens to the liquid?”
“Simple! A valve is opened to allow the liquid to flow into the sewer.”
By now, everybody looked rather solemn. We all imaged our liquefied bodies disappearing into a grate in the floor of a tiled, lab-like room. Bill took a breath to ask a question.
“Desert anyone?” called my wife, as she got up from her chair. There were one or two sighs of relieve. My wife disappeared into the kitchen. I called after her whether she needed help, but she didn’t answer. Prini turned to Bibi and asked about Bibi’s work. The conversation turned to different topics, and in smaller groups. After a while, my wife returned with the mousse-au-chocolat and tarte-aux-pommes, and after the obligatory “ohs!” and “ahs!” we enjoyed desert.
“How does this hydroxide work then,” asked Bibi out of the blue. “Is it like an acid?”
Everybody stared at her.
“Well, no,” said Mike. “Potassium hydroxide is the opposite; it is a base. It accepts hydrogen ions, whereas an acid donates hydrogen ions. That means that a hydroxide is especially suited to destroy organic substances, which abound in hydrocarbons; the hydroxide steals the hydrogen atoms from the complex organic substances. In the end… only the simplest molecules remain. Atoms, if you wait long enough.”
“Does potassium hydroxide have any other uses?” asked Bibi.
“You mean, except from helping the mafia make bodies disappear?” threw Bill into the round, and everybody laughed.
Mike remained impassive: “It is used in cleaning agents, soaps and so on. Perhaps you know the alternative name: caustic potash. You may know sodium hydroxide, its slightly weaker brother.”
“Ah yes,” interjected Karen, “That’s used for unblocking drains.”
“Exactly. Same principle. It eats away the organic compounds: remains of soap, hair, …”
“Coffee?” said my wife, quickly getting up from her seat. Prasaad and Karen got up too and helped clearing the table and preparing the coffee.
Mike and Bill talked about the stock market. Prini had put on her reading glasses and was leafing through a magazine.
Bibi sat staring at Bill.
I caught myself staring at Bibi. She licked her lips every few seconds, and blinked her eyes, as if her thoughts were someplace else altogether.
It was one in the morning when the last of the guests had left. My wife and I spent some time cleaning up the kitchen and sorting the cutlery and plates, which the caterer would pick up in the morning. We were mostly silent.
Later, in our bedroom, I pulled off my trousers and hung them over the back of a chair. “How is Bill and Bibi’s marriage? Any idea?”
Andrea pulled her dress over her head and put it on a hanger. “Quite OK, I would say. Why?”
“I’m not sure. Something about how they interacted tonight. Or how they didn’t interact.”
Andrea was silent as she pulled on her nightgown. “Hm, yes, I see what you mean. Bibi was quite silent, and she certainly didn’t talk a lot with Bill. On the other hand, every marriage goes through its ups and downs. Not as if you kissed me a lot tonight or paid me a lot of attention.”
“Grrr,” I said and crept into bed.
Weeks passed by, and all of us went after our own business. Then, one day, I heard Andrea come home. She dropped her shopping bags at the door, ran up the stairs and stepped into my office. “I met Bibi, at the supermarket,” was all she said.
I’ve been working as a private investor from home for many years, managing to strictly separate work and private life during the day, so I didn’t look up immediately from the article that I was reading. “Ah yes?”
“Yes, I did. Bibi. At the supermarket.”
Now I looked at her. She still had her coat on and looked a little flustered. “So what?”
Andrea pursed her mouth. “First she pretended not to have seen me. Then we bumped into each other in one of the isles – and she had to acknowledge my presence.”
I was slightly confused, still partially concentrating on my work. “So, what? Did she act unkind or insulted? Was she sick?”
“Oh no, she acted normal enough… up to a point. We chatted about work and so on, the usual… but then I inquired about Bill. True, it may have been my imagination, but she got a very shifty look and didn’t give a clear answer. Something about him traveling a lot, for his work. Just then I looked into her shopping cart…” She let the sentence dwindle.
“You remember when they were here, at our dinner party? When Mike started talking about novel ways of burial, the hydroxide story?”
“Ah yes. An unappetizing topic. Sure.”
“Well… she had six containers of DrainEx in her cart!”
Andrea managed to look victorious and determined at the same time. “Six! I checked later, after we said goodbye. I went to the shelf in the store. That is three kilograms of sodium hydroxide. Mister, you can unblock a pretty big drain with that quantity.”
I was quiet for a moment. “OK, so she bought six bottles of the stuff. Perhaps she needed them for the office or for their apartment, some people stockpile stranger things… what are you trying to suggest?”
Andrea looked at me for twenty long seconds.
“I haven’t seen Bill in ages.”
I raised my hand. “Ho, wait. Are you trying to suggest that she has killed Bill and is using sodium hydroxide to dissolve his body? Is that what you are implying? No way. You have no evidence for that. For all we know, Bill may be at home this very moment, sitting on his sofa.”
“You yourself mentioned that their marriage may not be in top shape, after our dinner? And Bibi was behaving really weird, today. I don’t trust it at all.”
I wanted to interject additional push-back about this theory, but I think I saw another emotion passing over her features: one of concern. I kept quiet for a moment and tried to collect my thoughts.
“Ok, here is what we’ll do,” I said finally. “Let’s approach this scientifically. I must finish my work; I have a call in 5 minutes. In the meantime, we can make sure Bill is alive and well. You should do that. Give them a call, under some pretense. Ask for Bill. Then, later, during dinner, we will discuss whether more action is needed – which I am sure there isn’t. Does that sound OK?”
Andrea nodded, and left the room. I returned to my work, which took longer to finish, so we could only reconvene at eight in the evening. I entered the kitchen, having forgotten all about our conversation.
Andrea was sipping on a glass of wine. “He’s not in. I couldn’t reach him.”
I was lost for a few seconds, but then realized she was talking about Bill. “Did you manage to talk with Bibi?”
“Yes, she answered the phone. I claimed that I wanted Bill’s advice about a scientific book to read; you know how he always brags about his scientific library?”
“What did Bibi say?”
“She repeated he was on a business trip. I asked when he would be back.”
She threw her hands in the air and hit her hips. “She didn’t commit in any way. I tell you: something fishy is going on.”
Andrea suggested we should involve the police, to which I disagreed. To make a long story short, the two of us entered an extensive argument, which went on until midnight, after which Andrea, quite upset, retired (again) to the guest room.
I had this weird nightmare. I was soaking in the bathtub, a cold beer in my hand. My wife snuck in, and started to pour black granules into the water, from a gigantic black bag. I screamed, and she pulled the plug and I disappeared down the drain. My head wasn’t dissolved yet, so she used a hammer to beat it into the pipe.
Only fight about truly relevant topics with your wife, give in to all the rest, that’s my motto. So, the next morning at 11:00 I found myself, per Andrea’s bidding, in front of the house of Bibi and Bill.
I rang the bell. Their dog started barking, but there was no other reaction. The street was empty. This was a quiet neighborhood, the houses far apart and with high fences. There weren’t many parked cars. I rang the bell again and waited. Finally, Bibi opened the door. She obviously was surprised to see me. “Alan. How are you?”
Did Bibi murder Bill? Find out by reading the full story as eBook ! This mystery is part of Clemens P. Suter’s collection of “Short Stories.” Get a copy at Smashwords (any format for any device), or directly on your device, for example for your Apple device. An ever growing set of exciting stories by the master storyteller! Buy it today, download additional stories for FREE as they become available!
Cover page of “Short Stories”
Collected short stories by the master storyteller! Read about the young man who finds a mysterious tunnel beneath his garden; mysterious goings-on set in a French forest; a robot reporting about its visit to Earth, or the tale of the watermonster from Hockenheim, which kidnapped numerous children: these stories will keep you on the edge of your seat. Clemens P. Suter, established author of visionary SciFi that predicted the corona pandemic in 2010, lets his imagination run wild with stories full of surprise, humor and action.
Peter came home at eight p.m., determined to solve the issue once and for all. All day long, the voices that he had been hearing over the last weeks had been on his mind, and now he was going to put an end to it.
He placed his keys and wallet on the kitchen table and walked into the garden. It looked inconspicuously enough. About 60 feet deep and 40 feet wide, on the south side bordered by his house (the kitchen to be precise) and on the other three sides by the gardens of his three neighbors. He had inherited the place at a relatively young age, his parents had unexpectedly died in a car crash on the New Jersey turnpike; actually just a few miles away.
At the end of his garden was a small shed in which Peter stored some gardening tools, but he knew the voices didn’t originate from there. He could stand with his back against the shed, or the kitchen, and in both cases he could, with almost absolute certainty, pinpoint the origin of the voices to the center of his plot of land. They either came from beneath the ground… or from his imagination. Had he been living alone for too long, he wondered? Was he going insane?
It was cold out; winter had come early. He could see his breath. Stars speckled the dark sky.
He walked over to the shed, retrieved a spade and carried it to the center of his plot. He listened, but all was quiet. Yesterday evening he had heard the voices: two men talking to one another. Like always he hadn’t been able to understand the words; but they had been there, in deep conversation. One voice seemed to belong to a curious young fellow, asking a lot of questions. There was some uncertainty in his voice. The other sounded elderly, and more experienced, providing answers.
Peter grimaced. It was all too ridiculous! Where could these voices come from? He was smack in the middle of a suburban area; the houses of his neighbors were at least a hundred feet away. He hesitated. Should he return the spade to the shed and make an appointment with a psychologist? Or go to the police? Ha! They would only laugh at him. Peter scowled, and the spade entered the wet soil. He lifted the first load of wet, dark earth and threw it to the side. Another followed, and another and one more. He kept on digging and digging. He didn’t find anything; it was just earth. Soon he was standing in a 3 feet deep hole.
“Ahem,” said the voice of his neighbor, Mr. Schaper. Peter looked up, and saw his neighbor standing on the other side of the fence. “Digging a hole, are we?”
“Well yes,” said Peter. He didn’t interrupt his work and kept on digging.
“Going to make a pool?” asked Mr. Schaper.
“That’s the plan,” said Peter, deciding that this was as good an excuse as any.
“Do you have a permit?” asked Mr. Schaper. Just what was to be expected. The nitpicking Mr. Schaper immediately homed in on a possible complication. Peter hesitated. He didn’t know whether a permit was a prerequisite for digging a pool. He cleared his throat. “Uhum. Well, not yet naturally. I am first checking whether it makes sense to create a pool in this spot. You know, whether the ground allows it.” He realized this didn’t sound very convincing, and as he glanced at Mr. Schaper’s face he could recognize skepticism. He continued digging, but Mr. Schaper didn’t give up. “You will need a permit, that’s for sure. And that must be passed by the neighbors, we have a say into this as well, just that you know it. Anyway, why do this in the dark? You can’t see a damned thing!”
Peter kept on digging, hoping that Mr. Schaper would simply turn around and go inside. Sometimes he did just that, if ignored, but not this time. After a few more minutes, Peter paused and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I say, you could do me a big favor. If you have a spade and some boots, you could perhaps help?”
Mr. Schaper’s face darkened. “No way, old man. No way! I have a hernia, not allowed to do that kind of thing.” With that, Mr. Schaper turned around and went back inside his house.
Peter’s spade went into the ground. Clang! He hid something, a piece of metal, located at the side of the hole. What was it? Peter used his spade to free up the object. It was a metal tube, perhaps 2 inches wide, and it came almost to ground level. He freed it further and could see that it went straight down into the ground. At the top was a bend and some sort of mesh, preventing the earth from falling in. Was this the origin of the voices? Peter moved his ear to the mesh and listened. Nothing, no sound. He scratched the back of his head. Perhaps his father had attempted to drill a well, and this was the remnant? To looked inconspicuously enough. Still, this tube was the only tangible possibility for the origin of the voices. Peter decided to carry on. He glanced suspiciously at the houses around him, but all his neighbors appeared to be inside. One, two, three; he removed the earth around the tube. The digging was heavy work, and soon he was sweating hard. He took off his sweater and threw it on the grass. Deeper and deeper he went, and after half an hour or so he had laid bare about seven feet. It seemed to consist of pieces of about three feet each, welded together.
He estimated that he had been digging for about three hours. Should he continue? He had to get up early tomorrow morning, it was a regular workday at the physics lab. He decided to press on. Another hour passed, and one more. The hole was deep by now and the walls very steep; Peter concentrated on freeing as much as possible of the tube, without making the hole overly wide. Again, he paused briefly, and listened. No sounds, no voices. He couldn’t see the houses anymore, only the sky above, littered with stars. It was cold and he scrambled up to get his sweater. He put it on and jumped back into the hole. The ground gave away and he slipped down into the earth. In panic he threw his arms around and hit the tube with his left hand. Ouch! He cursed and slipped further. He feared that he would be buried alive and tried to get a hold of the tube. Earth fell on top of him as the hole collapsed, and the mountains of earth that he had created on the surface slipped in and blocked the hole from above.
A few minutes later, Mr. Schaper came into the garden. With chagrin on his face, he looked over the fence and at the hole. “Building a pool indeed! He doesn’t even manage to dig a decent hole. Glad he decided to go to bed. Young fool.” Mr. Schaper disappeared into his house and turned off the lights. The entire village seemed to sleep. Far away, in the center of town, the church bell clanged the first notes of the star-spangled banner.
Peter dropped through the ground and fell onto a concrete floor. He almost twisted his ankle in the process and limped around in a circle. “Damn, ouch, damn!” Some dirt trickled on his back, but the ceiling seemed to hold. Peter stopped and stared. He found himself in a brightly lid corridor, about five-foot-wide and seven high. The walls were made from concrete, painted white, with a grey stripe three feet from the floor. The corridor turned to the right twenty or so feet away and was joined by another corridor that came from the left. The ceiling consisted of netting and concrete slabs but wasn’t very massive in appearance. Peter closed his mouth slowly. In his mind he tried to connect his house, his neighborhood with this underground tunnel system, but he couldn’t. He had never heard that a subway passed through this American village or that the military had build any facility in the area. There was no heavy industry for miles around!
It was quiet, but he could hear the echo of his own movements resonating in the distance. What to do now? As became obvious after a quick inspection, there was no turning back. The ceiling was too high to reach, and even if he could have reached it, there was a great risk that he would be buried alive underneath his own garden…or the entire neighborhood. He found the metal tube; it entered the corridor along the left wall, made a 90 degree turn and followed the wall for 30 feet, and then disappeared into it, out of sight. Peter speculated that the voices had been carried by that tube to his garden; the voices had most likely not even originated from the spot where he was standing now.
It didn’t make any sense to stay here, he had to return to the surface some way. He could go left or right; he decided on the latter. Quickly, and as silently as possible, he started walking down the tunnel. It didn’t go straight; it had bends and weak curves, sometimes to one side, then to the other. He could never see farther than a few hundred feet. Overall, it did seem to go in a single direction, east he thought. And it went very slowly down.
There were strong lightbulbs overhead, and occasionally he passed doors, all painted grey and locked, without number or any distinguishing marks. Taken together, the tunnel looked very purpose-made, without any frills. This went on for three quarters of an hour, when suddenly, voices became audible. He stopped and listened. Undoubtedly: two men. Peter moved forward, soundlessly. The tunnel curved again, and he entered a large space. It was an intersection of multiple tunnels, four, five, running off in different directions, some going down, others going up. The conversation continued but frustratingly he could not determine from which tunnel it came; it seemed to come from everywhere. He entered one tunnel and followed it for a while: the voices disappeared. He returned to the intersection and tried the next tunnel, with the same effect.
He couldn’t understand what the men were discussing, it could have been some foreign language. Suddenly the voices became more aggressive. The two men seemed to have entered an argument. Soon they started shouting at each other, and then a struggle seemed to ensue. Gasping, grappling, muffled cries. Peter listened, his anxiety increasing. One of the men seemed to have broken free, his feet pounding on the floor as he started running. The other man started to chase him, cursing. A shot ran out!
To his shock, Peter realized that the sounds were increasing in volume: the men were coming in his direction. Another shot sounded, and loud cursing and hollering. Peter stood in the middle of the intersection, quickly weighing his options. He realized that waiting was not an option. He had to move away from the men, and by choosing any of the five tunnels, he realized that he had a good chance of doing so. He decided to take the tunnel to his left as it ran slightly upwards. He dashed into it, never minding the noise that he made. After about a hundred feet he realized that he had made a terrible mistake, as the tunnel suddenly started to drop down steeply. But he couldn’t turn back; the voices of the men had changed. For a few seconds they stopped running and didn’t shout at one another anymore. Peter guessed that they had heard his movements. And yes, they seemed to orchestrate their actions again, rapidly conversing with one other. Then they ran again, without speaking. No doubt they were in pursuit!
Peter increased his speed, at the same attempting to reduce the sound that he made. Nevertheless, the feet behind him could be hear without interruption and he realized that they had by now entered his tunnel. Peter thanked his guardian angel that he went jogging so often, as at least he could keep this tempo up for some time. If only there would be another intersection! Instead, after about 15 minutes of running, Peter entered a hallway. There was a small platform in the middle, and next to it was a small-track railway, on which stood a low locomotive connected to several train wagons. He now had two options: he could continue running down the corridor or attempt to figure out how the locomotive worked. Peter bent down and looked at the controls: a key in the ignition, what looked like a single handle to adjust speed, and a possible brake pedal; that was it. Quickly he lowered himself into the driver seat and turned the ignition key. Immediately the train lurched forward, and he fell back, hitting his head on the back of the seat. Not a moment too early: a loud bang sounded, and bullet whizzed by, leaving a hole in the side window. The train shot into a dark tunnel that almost immediately started to drop down. The acceleration pulled at his stomach. The ceiling of the tunnel was just above the train, obviously the two had been designed in conjunction. Faster and faster the train went. Wind came in from the sides; but Peter figured out how to pull close the sliding door. It was almost quiet now, although some noise came in through the hole in the window. There was a small light in the front of the locomotive, and he could see the tracks whizzing by.
He didn’t attempt to control the speed. The further he got away from those two maniacs, the better. Besides, he was certain that this dark and straight tunnel would very soon turn towards the surface and reach its destination and would enable him to return home.
But the train traveled on and on, and down and down, by now at a terrific speed. He tried to relax. After a while he got out of his seat. The locomotive had a low flat roof and he had to crawl on all fours towards the back. He opened the door and stared into the next compartment. On the left were cans of food, on the right bottles of mineral water. He couldn’t continue; the stored goods blocked his way. He returned to his seat and investigated the controls. Or the absence of controls: there was no transmitter, no speedometer, or any other indicators. No clock; he had no idea what time it was. Peter sighed. After a while he became tired and his eyes started to close. He fell asleep.
He woke up with a shock. He was certain that he had slept long and deep. He felt hungry. The train continued its path, uninterrupted and at neck breaking speed. He went to the back and got some food and a bottle of water. He inspected the train again: it was spotlessly clean, and futuristic looking. Although; that was the wrong phrase: it looked different and unusual, with its curved surfaces and beige plastic. No design that he had seen resembled this. Time went by. Without anything to do, he just sat in his chair and slept a little. At some point he considered to try the brake but decided against it. The narrow tunnel was just wide enough for the train. He didn’t see any exits, the walls of the tunnel appeared uninterrupted. If the train stopped, where could he go? He shuddered at the thought of being stuck in this seemingly endless and claustrophobic tube and being forced to continue on foot. Where to? He fell asleep and had a nightmare: he felt as if he was submerged in liquid, his lungs filling with water. Shoals of fish chased him, and a kraken tried to catch and crush him with its giant tentacles.
Time and place merged, his brain grew more and more confused. Then, at some time, he noticed a difference. The train appeared to be climbing – or was it just his confused mind? Oh, Peter, he said to himself, oh Peter, why can’t you never develop a plan – or do something drastic? But in his delirious state, the thought slipped away, and never returned. He slept some more and had some food. There was a small toilet behind his seat that he used. He freshened up by throwing some water in his face.
Then, much later, a loud screeching! Suddenly, the train decelerated. The force pushed him forward, he had to hold on to the chair. Finally, the locomotive came to a halt. Peter listened for a few seconds, and when he heard nothing but silence, he opened the door. The lights of the train dimmed, then went out. He let himself slip into the darkness and down to the ground. With his hands outstretched he took a few steps. Slowly his eyes became adjusted to the dark. He was at a small station, but not the same one as where he had started out. He searched the platform with his hands, it was wet and slippery, sawdust and an oily substance. After a while he found a box. He rummaged through it. Some cloths, some tools. He got hold of a lighter, pulled it out and flicked it on. The light didn’t reach the walls; the hall was apparently very large. He inspected the contents of the box: no electric torch alas. But he found a metal bar, and some oil. He sat down on the ground and tore some of the rags to pieces and twisted them around the bar. He poured the oil over the rags and ignited them. Now he had enough light to investigate the hall. It was mostly empty, a few crates in a corner.
He didn’t know how it happened, but some sparks from the flame must have fallen on the ground, as suddenly the sawdust and oily residue caught fire. Peter cursed. The flames spread at a very disturbing speed: either somebody had spilled some highly ignitable substance between the crates, or a container had leaked. Peter pulled away from the hungry flames, and they chased him towards a corner. The flames licked at his clothing and suddenly his trousers started burning. He ripped them off and pulled his burning shirt over his head. By the light of the flames he could recognize a man-high tunnel in the opposite wall. He jumped across the fire, the flames liking at his naked body. He entered the tunnel and ran forward. His biggest fear was to suffocate in the smoke; the main risk of any fire. He hurried on for several minutes. Smoke started to fill the passage.
It was dark, and unexpectedly he ran into a wall. He groped around and fell a metal ladder, embedded in the wall. He got a hold of the bars and started climbing up, as quickly as he could. It was hard work. He climbed and climbed, bar after bar. The metal started hurting his hands and bare feet, but he was so afraid for the fire overtaking him that he pressed on.
Then: sounds! He could hear voices above him, and cars, traffic. He climbed faster. Suddenly he hit his head against a solid object above him. It dizzied him for a second and he almost let go of the bars. He rested a moment, trying to catch his breath. Then, with his last power, he slung his arms over a bar and pulled himself up. With one hand he felt above him. On the sides: concrete, but just above him a circle of cool, heavy metal. Peter climbed up one more bar and pushed against the metal with his shoulder. Yes, it was a lid, a duct cover! He was able to push it up. Bright daylight gushed into the hole, blinding his eyes. With his last remaining power, Peter climbed out of the hole and onto the pavement of a busy street, naked. Pedestrians looked at him in shock, but continued their way, passing by, staring back at him. The street was lined by sycamore trees, and shops and cafes with red canopies. In the distance: the Eiffel tower. This was Paris.