The tunnel

Nora Spiegel
The tunnel
By the time they found him, the man was already dead. They avoided digging straight down in order to not injure the buried victim. The head of the corpse was turned upward as though waiting for them. But what the men really avoided talking about as they returned back to the valley later was the smile that was frozen on the face of the dead man.

The sudden silence had the numbing effect of a narcotic drug. The only perceptible noise was a light ringing tone that echoed in his ears. He had long ago lost his sense of direction and had absolutely no idea where he was. Up, down, left, right – all of these words had no meaning any more in the cold darkness that wrapped around him like a heavy, wet blanket. The absolute silence of the blackness around him contrasted sharply with the white chaos that just a few seconds earlier had ripped him down into the deep. He felt like an astronaut floating in space without orientation. His entire universe reached out until his stretched out arms which instinctively covered his face. This cavity filled with oxygen resembled a diver's bell. He already knew that this treasure of air would extend his life by about fifteen minutes. More, if he remained calm, less if he panicked.
Inhale. The bass hurt in his ears and he could feel how his entire body vibrated to the beat of the electro music. He had lost sight of Tim and stood alone in the middle of an ecstatic crowd, a plastic cup of beer in both hands. The gigantic stage was flanked by two enormous screens on which he could see how three tattooed band members were abusing their instruments. He saw the girl only after she had without warning fallen on his head from above. Apparently, her short crowd surfing adventure had come to an end right above him. As he helped her back to her feet, he let himself be taken by her embarrassed smile. “Sorry, I didn't mean that! By the way, my name's Anna.”
Exhale. He opened his eyes and saw Anna who was bending over him. From her long brown hair, which the salt water had matted into fine strands, drops fell into his eyes. He blinked and felt how she gently kissed his upper lip. Sea water and sun lotion combined with the taste of the sweet gummi bears which they had eaten on the beach. He wanted to sit up to look in her face and prop himself up on his elbows.
Inhale. It smelled like sickness and disinfectant. The couch in the waiting room was uncomfortable and covered with numerous, dubious stains. He tried once more to leaf though the dog-eared magazines, but he let them fall as a cry broke the silence. The midwife had told him that it would not be easy and he hadn't expected anything else from a birth of twins. Anna didn't want him to be in the birthing room and at first that had been a relief. However, soon her quailing screams that could easily be heard from the waiting room left him feeling helpless and anxious. He had already stood up to tell someone that he had changed his mind and wanted to come in when a smiling nurse entered the room. “Mr Klausner? Congratulations, you have two healthy daughters!”
Exhale. As his consciousness returned, he had a metallic taste in his mouth. His right eye was covered with a rough bandage and he had no idea where he was. He tried to turn his head to the right to get a picture of where he was, but the movement was halted by a stabbing pain in his neck and a brace wrapped around his neck. Out of the corner of his eye he could make out that his left arm was hooked up to a number of coloured tubes that reminded him of exotic worms digging into his flesh. He suppressed the impulse to vomit and closed his eyes. What had happened? Only seconds ago they were driving in the dark on Interstate A-13 towards Brenner. The girls had already fallen asleep. Anna had sighed with such relief that he had to grin. He gave her a quick kiss on her cheek. As he turned back to the road, the last thing he could remember was seeing a massive wall with two lit points in the middle which he now recognized as truck lights. In spite of the neck brace, he was able to look around his sterile environment. He was alone.
Inhale. The brilliant white of the snow hurt his eyes. He had not thought about taking his ski goggles. It didn't matter. Recently, he did not care about many things, In the morning he had put his ski suit on and loaded his touring skis into the car. His ABS backpack, the avalanche beeper and the collapsible shovel he left in the garage. The ascent was difficult, but after three hours, he had reached the end of his route. The sky was pure blue, not a cloud in sight and he could hardly believe that only a few days earlier, a snow storm had ravaged the place where he now stood. Under the tip of his skis, a sterile white drop broadened out in front of him. The new snow had wiped out all tracks and the side of the mountain looked as virginal as a blank piece of paper. The only thing which disturbed its perfection was a long, zigzag crack that spread out over the entire width of the mountain side. He looked reflectively down below, inhaled deeply and swung himself over the edge. A few seconds later, he found himself in a white cloud that tore him mercilessly down the mountain side.
Exhale. He opened his eyes only to find himself in the utter blackness of his icy cell. Slowly, he began to notice the lack of oxygen. He felt dizzy, but unusually light. Even without his wristwatch, he knew that his fifteen minutes was drawing to an end. He had no fear, but this did not surprise him at all. One says that before one dies, a person sees his entire life pass before his inner eye like a film. But that wasn't at all necessary, for him all he needed was a single picture, a close-up in colour of Anna and their girls. Slowly, breath by breath, the picture became unfocused. The last thing he saw was a white tunnel that suddenly broke through the blackness. He turned his face towards this exit out of his prison and smiled.
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