Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Culvert Ops

The drainage pipe that dumped into Brian's favorite creek went nowhere. From an early age Brian began to explore this pipe and where most children would lose their nerve at the unseen spiders, the potential for sudden pipe shrinkage, or the obligatory dark water tentacles, he fearlessly plumbed those depths. But each summer these forays resulted in nothing more than bruised knees and an endless trip in the dark until one late August afternoon while trying to catch crawdads he realized that he hadn't explored the pipe all summer break. Since the days of summer were critically short he climbed right into the pipe. As soon as he did he noticed a soft blue light outlining the ridges of the pipe. Brian's eyes soon adjusted to the stygian tunnel and he noticed, not 20 feet ahead, where once was only blackness, there was now a dark circle of sky encompassing a mass of still silhouettes. As Brian neared the other end of the pipe he reached out, expecting to touch some flat image, and started as his hand grasped empty night. In the distance he could see the shapes of pagodas, mountains, and a shining lake on a moonlit valley. After a few stunned moments Brian started and scrambled backwards into the pipe. This trip in reverse took ever so much longer and the whole while he repeatedly promised that he would never again enter a drainage. After several minutes of thumping down the pipe Brian managed an awkward glance over his shoulder. His eyes caught only endless dark and a terrifying realization dawned upon him. His end of the pipe had ceased to be.

Brian turned, shaking, and climbed back towards the dark blue circle of night and, with a great sense of foreboding, stuck his head out into the moonlight. After a few moments the pounding of blood in his ears was replaced by the tinkle of falling water and the chirping of katydids. He glanced around this silver landscape and found that he could see blossoming cherry trees and long grass against a backdrop of rolling hills. The last particle of fear left him and he realized; there was goodness here. He scrambled out of the pipe and stepped into a pool filled with sparkling minnows and round pebbles. At the far end of the pool was the strangely glowing circle of another pipe. Brian knew, with certainty, that this was his path. He waded forward and, after taking in the sweet valley, left it forever behind and plunged into the glowing bamboo mouth of the second pipe.

As he squinted into the light he could make out, just a few metres in front of him, a shining disc of daylight. Climbing forward, he glanced back and saw that, as he suspected, the moonlight pool had already gone, replaced by darkness. He turned to face forward and realized his head was already out of the pipe and in a dangerous position. A fierce looking dark-skinned girl, several years younger than him, was clenching a shovel and spouting a fast language that sounded vaguely like Spanish. He put up a hand and patted the wooden pipe then shrugged his shoulders. The lowered her shovel with a skeptical awe filling her eyes. Suddenly, she shook her head and grabbed Brian's hand. She led him for several hundred yards down a path by her creek and brought him to another pipe, this one covered in rust. She patted his arm and nodded her head, seeming to know his plight. Brian longed to learn her story but she gently nudged him into the third pipe.

The hours that followed were filled with adventures that should but, for the sake of this, a short tale, cannot now be fully related. Brian found himself in the shadow of the statue of liberty, in dark underground caverns, and in foaming rapids. His paths led him through mighty rivers and long forgotten ponds until, at last, he discovered a pipe at the edge of a stinking slough surrounded by empty grey miles of gorse and heather. This pipe was the most unnerving yet, not just because of the melancholy surroundings, but because it went straight down. But the chill of this downs and the biting of insects drove a despairing Brian into the hole. He quickly lost his grip and began to plummet downward. As he fell he discovered, with a cold shock, that water was pouring in around him. Instantly he was underwater and rushing deeper into the pipe. After several long moments he could hold his air in no longer and with a terrified shout his breath burst out into the dark water. At that same instant he was discombobulated by shining light and a loud spray of water shooting him into the air. He landed with a splash in a shallow creek. Brian flailed to his feet and then, with a deep shaking breath, realized that he was in his own creek at home.

Many years later, when Brian ventured into the culvert again he found that someone had poured mounds of cement into the drainage. Though water still flowed around the cement wall, there would never be a return to the lands on the far side.

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