Flash fiction

The Tunnel – By Roderick Waller

He had fallen over in the tunnel, his nerves tremulous, his hands wobbly. His ailing heart thumping, blood flowing in sullied conduits, sloshing through clogged, erratic valves.

As a one-time doctor, he knew about these things.

Two figures were coming towards him through the mist. The first, a short stocky man, prodded the old drunk with the end of his silver-tipped cane.

“This man will self-destruct if we don’t act,” he declared.

The other figure nodded, a woman of middle age dressed in a white coat and short black skirt.

“We should terminate,” said the man with the cane. “Now.”

“What do you mean?” asked the woman.

“Haven’t you had enough of him? By terminate, I mean make this the last visit.”

The smell of stale grog mingled with the mist drifting through the tunnel. Dirty torn newspapers flapped in a murmur of air.

“Watch out!”

The drunk heaved and threw up. The two figures looked away.

Then the woman knelt before him, spoke softly: “Why do you drink so much?”

The old man opened an eye. “Can’t stop, can’t stop,” he mumbled, spittle dribbling down his torn shirt.

“He’s worse than a reptile,” scoffed the other man.

“Mind your words,” the woman retorted, her voice sharp now.

“Look – his skin’s flaking, like a snake. Come on, let’s sit him up.”

Moving with care they grabbed his armpits, lifted his frail old body, and set him against the filthy tunnel wall, his spindly legs splayed out thin as a sparrow’s. He let out a low groan.

“We must find him a room, clean him up. He’ll be dead soon if we don’t intervene.”

The drunk man suddenly yelled out, gripping his head in both hands, as a phantom switchblade dug into his grog-sodden brain. He groaned again.

“The headache’s coming on,” said the woman, stroking his matted gray hair.

‘You can’t take me from my home,” the old man wailed, waving his skinny arm at the tunnel’s curved concrete walls. “It’s dry here, no noise, no-ones bothers me.”

The short man pointed with his cane. Near the tunnel entrance lay a pile of empty whiskey bottles.

“I’m not paying another cent to keep him in grog,” he snapped. “He has to clean up his act.”

At once the old man staggered to his feet. “Get out!” he roared, his voice suddenly powerful. “Get out of my place!” He stood swaying.

“That’s it,” said the man with the cane. “I’m through. I’m not wasting any more time on him.”

The two figures turned and walked back the way they came. As they re-entered the grey morning, drizzle saddened the landscape.

“Miriam,” said the man, taking the woman’s hand. “I know he’s your father. But we’ve tried. We must respect his wishes.”

For a moment the woman felt an urge to turn and look back. But she kept her eyes on the path ahead, kept walking. Soon the tunnel was behind them.