The Nexus

by David Clarke

Chapter 3

 

The town of SÚlestat came into view soon after we left Kintzheim. We crossed the A35 motorway (and there was absolutely no traffic on the motorway, either) and drove on into town. There were no barricades, no check-points, no police or army waiting for us - in fact there was nothing to prevent us from driving right into the centre, which Stefan did, carefully. But the only difference between SÚlestat and the mountain villages was that here the power still seemed to be on: traffic lights were still working, and there were lights on in some of the buildings that we passed. But there wasn't a soul in view.

Eventually we did reach a barrier across the road. It was unmanned, but as it was marked with yellow biohazard signs we thought it would be a very bad idea to go past it, and so at that point Stefan turned the car around, very carefully indeed, and we drove back the way we had come until we were a good distance from the barrier.

"Now what do we do?" I asked.

"I think this world has ended," he said. "The people are dead or are gone away. We should go back to the mountains and try another tunnel - but I still believe that this world would be a good base for us. I think we should go to the shops."

At first I felt a bit uneasy about that, just as I had felt uneasy about taking the car, but of course he was right: this world certainly did seem to have suffered some major catastrophe, and as such the people who had lived here would probably have no further need for... well, anything, really.

All the same, once we had driven to one of the commercial centres on the edge of town I asked him to stop outside an electrical shop first of all. He obviously didn't see a lot of point in stocking up with electrical equipment, given that our mountain village had no power, but I pointed out that torches would be a good idea, in case the power in the tunnels were to fail, and he agreed that it would be sensible to think about that.

So while he was finding some decent flashlights and the batteries to run them (with plenty of spares) I found a battery-powered radio, stuck some batteries in it and moved the needle slowly across the dial - and there was absolutely nothing except static. FM and medium wave were dead, and even the long wave band, which I knew could pick up stations from abroad, held nothing but dead air. There were some televisions on display, and as the mains power was still running several of them were turned on, but there was nothing but electric snow on every channel.

So I added my radio to Stefan's collection of flashlights and batteries - just in case it might pick up something higher up in the mountains - and we went and loaded up the car. The shop alarm went off as we went through the detectors by the door, but it turned itself off again a few seconds later.

Next we went to get some clothes, because we knew we couldn't keep wearing the same outfit day after day, especially since there was no electricity in our village to power a washing machine. I noticed that Stefan only chose shorts and asked why he didn't pick a pair of jeans.

"In my world boys wear only shorts until they are fourteen," he told me. "And it is summer, so shorts are more comfortable. Why do you not choose some?"

Actually I thought that was a good idea, so I found a couple of pairs to go with the spare jeans and shirts I had selected. We got plenty of socks and underwear, too, though I chose only boxers and Stefan chose only briefs, which I suppose was what he was used to.

Our shopping expedition went on: we stocked up with food at a hypermarket, choosing only canned and dried food that would last for a long time, though I did pick up a massive frozen pizza for us to eat that evening. I ignored anything else fresh or frozen: the fruit on display was virtually all rotten, and the meats in the chilled cabinets were past their sell-by date. But there were plenty of those long-life ready meals, and so I stocked up on those.

We went back into town and 'borrowed' some books from the library: there was a large foreign language section and so we were both able to find something in our native languages. We took some board games from a toy shop - after all, with no TV we would want something to do in the evenings.

And then we drove back to Orschweiler - actually, since in this world Alsace was French the sign at the edge of the village had the French version of the name, and even though there was only a very small difference I suppose I should be accurate and refer to it as Orschwiller.

We unloaded the car (actually I unloaded the car - I told Stefan to rest in the main room and let his ankle recover a bit). But an hour later he suddenly sat up straight and said he had had an idea.

"We need to go back to town," he said.

"Why?"

"Because we forgot to get a brush for our teeth."

I stared at him, unable to believe that he really intended going all the way back to SÚlestat (okay, it was only about six or seven kilometres, but even so) just to pick up a toothbrush each. But he grinned at me, which made me suspect that it wasn't just toothbrushes he was thinking about.

So I stuck the pizza in the freezer (it wasn't working, but it was better than just leaving it on the kitchen table) and followed Stefan out to the car. And once we had found a couple of toothbrushes (and toothpaste and shampoo and soap and deodorant - that was my idea, because I thought that if I was going to be doing all the work for a couple of days until Stefan was on his feet again, I would be the one in danger of getting sweaty, and I didn't want Stefan thinking bad things about me) Stefan drove us to a large car dealership on the edge of town.

"Let us trade up," he said, grinning at me.

"What's wrong with this one?" I asked.

"Nothing, but I want one with a towing bar."

"Why?"

"You shall see. Come - we need an automatic with a towing bar. Let us see what we have here."

So we walked up and down the lines of cars, first looking for one with a tow-bar and then checking those out until we found an automatic. It was a Peugeot that was a little bigger than our CitroŰn, but Stefan thought it would be no harder to drive, and once we found the keys in the dealership office he found that this was true.

Next we drove to the nearest petrol station. This took a bit of work, as we had to work out how to turn the pumps on, but eventually we got it right and were able to fill the tank. And then Stefan drove us to a Point Vert at the edge of town, where he selected a trailer and hooked it up to the back of the car.

"What do we need that for?" I asked. "We don't need to take that much stuff, surely?"

"You shall see," he said, getting back into the car. He headed back into town, this time going into residential areas rather than the shopping centre, and soon found what he was looking for: a fairly basic small moped.

"This way," he explained, "we will not have to walk back to the hut. The car will not pass through the woods, but this will."

"Good idea," I approved. "But will that moped take two?"

"No. That is why we must now find another."

"But... I don't know how to ride one of those!"

"I will teach you. Now, can you get this one on to the trailer?"

I could, and to start with I just put it on its side, because I thought that if I left it on its stand it would soon fall over. We had to break into the house to find the keys, but by now that had stopped bothering me. What did bother me, though, was a nasty smell drifting down from upstairs. I grabbed the keys and left in a hurry, because I thought someone might have died in that house.

Shortly after that we found another one, slightly bigger than the first, and after a lot of hard work I got them both standing upright in the trailer. We wedged them in place with an assortment of junk we found in the second house, and Stefan found some rope and used that to tie them fairly securely into position. Then we drove back to the petrol station and filled both tanks. I also suggested that it would be a good idea to fill some cans with fuel - after all, I thought it entirely likely that the power would fail sooner or later, and after that we would not be able to use the pumps. So we filled every can we could find and drove back to the car dealership.

"Why are we stopping here?" I asked.

"So that you can get out and drive the CitroŰn home. Two cars are better than one."

"But I can't drive!" I protested.

"It is easy. You have seen me do it, and I had never done it until today. Even a subhuman should be able to manage!" And he grinned to show that he was joking.

"Well... okay, I'll try," I agreed.

"Good." And before I could stop him Stefan put the Peugeot into 'Drive' and pulled away, leaving me standing on the pavement.

I suppose I could have walked back, but I didn't fancy walking all that way, much of it uphill, and so I got into the CitroŰn. I'd never driven anything before, and so at least the fact that the steering wheel was on the wrong side from a British point of view didn't bother me, but to say I was nervous would be an understatement. But I started the engine, eventually found the button on the gear-stick that allowed me to move it into 'Drive', took a deep breath and released the handbrake. And the car started to creep forward, and when I gingerly touched the right-hand pedal it moved a bit faster. I checked that the footbrake worked, though I trod on it a bit too hard, making the car stop abruptly. That reminded me to do the seat-belt up, so I did that and gently pressed the accelerator once more.

And it was easy. Of course, I didn't have to worry about other traffic, and so when I was a bit slow with the wheel at the first bend it didn't matter that I crossed onto the wrong side of the road. I kept it really slow until I got out of town... and then I caught sight of something off to my left, and so instead of going straight ahead towards the mountains I turned left instead and went to investigate.

When I got there I wished I hadn't. The bulldozer that had caught my eye was one of three or four digging machines parked at the edge of a field, one that was about half taken up with a mound of newly-turned earth, and if I had any doubt about what this was they were instantly dispelled when I saw that the next field held a large heap of still-unburied human bodies: clearly this was a mass grave.

I had to keep driving in the same direction because I was not confident about my ability to drive in reverse, and that took me past three more fields full of bodies, and by the time I finally came to a junction wide enough for me to do a U-turn I felt thoroughly sick. It looked as though the bulldozer and JCB drivers had died before they could finish the job, and now probably nobody ever would. I was a bit surprised that there were no carrion birds around, or dogs, but maybe the mutant flu had killed all the animals as well as the people... except, perhaps, for one lucky cat back in Orschwiller.

I drove slowly back to the village. When I got there I found Stefan standing next to the Peugeot looking concerned.

"What happened?" he said. "I was scared that you had crashed. If that had happened and you had been hurt it would have been my fault for leaving you - and even though there is now enough food here to keep me alive for many weeks, I would not want to be here alone. Being with you is good. So why were you so slow to return?"

Hearing that he liked us being together made me feel really good, but I put that to one side and explained about the mass graves.

"It is lucky we did not come here two months ago," he said. "But I hope that some of the tunnels under the cabin go to better worlds: so far we have found a world where there is nothing but bare rock, and a world where all the people are dead."

"Well, at least we can be fairly sure that the next place will be better than the two we've seen so far," I said, trying to be optimistic.

I helped Stefan into the house and parked him on the sofa with his foot raised and then went and began to unload the car, though I stopped after the first load and turned the cooker on to get it ready for the pizza. By the time I had unloaded everything except the two mopeds, which I left on the trailer, the cooker had preheated sufficiently and I was able to put the pizza in, and twenty minutes later we were sitting at the kitchen table tucking in. As frozen pizzas go this was pretty good, with plenty of toppings (beef, peppers, onions and mushrooms), and we were able to wash it down with Coke. I was a little surprised to hear that Coke was available in Stefan's world, but apparently the Reich was at peace with the USA and had a normal trade existence with it. In fact in his world America had never been at war with Germany at all.

After the meal we played Monopoly for a while (and that was new to Stefan, though he took to it quickly and was actually winning when it started to get dark). We had some candles and torches, but we decided that we might just as well go to bed - the more Stefan was able to rest his ankle, the sooner we would be able to resume our exploration of the tunnels.

So I helped him up the stairs. It appeared that the owner of this house had lived alone: there were three bedrooms, but one had no bed in it and seemed to have been most recently in use as an office: there was a computer desk, a chair and some bookshelves in it. The computer was still there but of course it was useless without power. A second bedroom had a single bed that was covered only with a sheet, and we assumed that this was the guest room. And the main bedroom had a double bed, but the lack of female clothing in the wardrobe and the fairly small amount of male clothing suggested a single occupant.

"I could find some bedding and make up the spare bed," I suggested, unenthusiastically. "Or we could share this one. What do you think?"

"I would like it if we stay together," he said, which pleased me a lot.

"So would I," I replied.

"Good. Then help me to the bathroom so I can piss and use the nice tooth cleaner you found for us."

So I supported him as he went to the bathroom and then waited, trying not to make it too obvious that I was watching, as he peed, washed his hands and cleaned his teeth. And then he waited while I did the same things.

We returned to the bedroom and he removed all his clothing, including his briefs, and got into bed naked. Obviously I didn't need a further invitation to do the same thing, so I threw my clothes off too and got in beside him. But if I had any thoughts of misbehaving they quickly disappeared, because Stefan simply rolled onto his side and went to sleep.

Next morning I woke up wondering where I was, but it quickly came back to me: I was one of the only two people in the world - probably - and the other was a good-looking blond boy who was lying right next to me. Naked. If this was God's way of thanking me for going ahead with my bar-mitzvah, then I was definitely going to make sure I didn't miss out on any future special religious events. Just as long as He didn't expect me to start going to synagogue every week...

Stefan rolled over to face me and opened his eyes.

"Morning, Stefan," I said. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, thank you. And you?"

"Really well, thanks. So, are we going back to the tunnels today?"

"I think perhaps I should rest the ankle for one more day. And you have to learn to ride a motor bicycle before we go back to the cabin. So today I am going to relax - I think that I should start with breakfast here, before I leave the bed. If I do that I shall not need to walk needlessly on the stairs, no? So, I would like some of those breakfast flakes, the ones with sugar." And he looked at me, grinning.

"You seriously expect me to bring you breakfast in bed?" I asked.

"I am sure that you will do this for your injured comrade." And he grinned even more.

I supposed he had a point about not going up and down the stairs if he didn't have to, but this was one hell of a cheek. Of course he knew that, and probably he was expecting me to tell him to sod off, because when I said "Okay, then," and got out of bed he looked really surprised.

I went down to the kitchen, poured us each a bowl of Frosties (which I had been happy to see were available in this version of France as well as my own), put a carton of long-life milk on the tray, added a couple of glasses and a carton of orange juice, found a couple of spoons in a drawer and took the whole lot upstairs.

Stefan accepted his bowl gratefully, added some milk and started to eat, and I got back into bed next to him and began to eat my own breakfast. I don't much like long-life milk, but it's better than nothing, I suppose, and the orange juice removed any lingering aftertaste.

"Now I think I will take a bath," said Stefan. "I do not know for how long we will have water, so we should use it while it is here."

I supposed he was right: I had no idea what happened at a water treatment plant. I imagined most of the time it ran automatically, but if anything went wrong now there would be nobody to carry out repairs or maintenance. And of course once the electricity supply failed the water plant would eventually grind to a halt, even if they had emergency back-up generators to start with.

So I went and started to run a bath and then came back and helped Stefan into the bathroom. He said his ankle felt better today, but he felt that another day's rest would still probably be sensible.

I helped him into the bath, handed him the soap and turned to go.

"Wait," he said. "You can stay. It would be good to talk to you while I wash."

I didn't mind staying at all, so I perched on the edge of the bath and watched him washing himself. I noted that he washed his penis carefully, pulling the foreskin back to clean underneath it, and watching him doing that had the inevitable effect on me.

"Now you can wash my back," he said, handing me the soap, and naturally as soon as I stood up he could see what had happened to me.

"You really have no control, have you, Jake?" he commented. "Can you not control your penis for even five minutes?"

"No, I can't," I said, embarrassed. "It just happens, okay?"

I washed his back and then helped him to shampoo his hair. He didn't actually need help with that, but I volunteered: at least while I was doing that he had his eyes closed, which meant he couldn't see my persistent erection.

"Get in," he invited me, once his hair was rinsed. "We should make best use of the hot water."

I'd never shared a bath, and so I was curious enough to get in and stretch my legs out on either side of him, while he drew his knees up to his chest to give me room and then handed me the soap.

"Don't you think it's strange that absolutely everyone seems to be dead?" I asked, desperate to talk about something other than the state of my penis. "After all, normally some people are immune to flu."

"I do not think that this was flu," he said. "I think this was a... how would you say... a military disease?"

"You mean, it was a biological weapon?"

"I think so. As you say, an ordinary disease would not take everyone."

"But there is no sign that there's a war on. Surely if there was we would see other signs?"

"Maybe. Or this could be an accident, a disease that escaped from a laboratory, or that was spilled from a train or truck that was moving it. Or maybe it was released from a space station - that is why everyone in a big area is dead."

"But... if it isn't the flu, we could be in danger here!"

"I do not think so. We have been here for a day already, and I feel well. You said that the workers died before they could even bury the dead people, so it must happen very quickly. A weapon would have to make people die very fast and then clear so that your own army could arrive safely to the area. I am sure that this place is safe."

I was glad he was so confident, but I supposed logically he was right: if we were going to fall ill, it would have happened already. And the idea that it could be a biological weapon made sense, though it was clear from the lack of reception on the radio that it wasn't just France that had been affected. Perhaps it had been a malfunction in an orbiting space station, as Stefan suggested: perhaps it had delivered its virus across the whole planet, and not just in the area that its maker had intended. Still, it made little difference to us: for the time being, this part of the planet at least belonged solely to us.

I washed my hair (and Stefan leaned forward to help me rinse it, and somehow that felt really good), and then he got out of the bath, suggesting that I should stretch out and soak for a couple of minutes while he dried himself. So I did that, but the fact that he stood facing me while he dried himself meant that I got a really good view of the way certain things wobbled about while he was drying his back, and that meant that when I stood up to get out myself my penis, which had subsided while we were discussing death and destruction, was again misbehaving.

"Maybe we should cut that thing off," suggested Stefan, handing me a clean towel. "I shall fetch my knife if you wish."

"No, thanks," I said, wrapping the towel around myself and blushing. "I'm sorry, Stefan, but I can't help it - it just happens."

I got on with drying myself, but I was aware of him watching me and so my penis simply would not go down. As soon as I was dry I put the towel on the rail and headed back to the bedroom to get dressed, thinking that once it was covered it would subside again. But Stefan had other ideas: he followed me into the room, limping a little but able to move on his own, at least for short distances, and demanded that before we did anything else I should put a fresh bandage on his ankle to replace the one he had removed before getting into the bath.

"Can't I get dressed first?" I asked.

"No. I like to see you like that."

Well, I supposed that in that case I didn't mind quite so much. So I went to the small first-aid kit we had obtained in SÚlestat and found a bandage and a safety-pin, and soon his ankle was properly bandaged once more.

"Thank you," he said. "Now you can help me to dress."

He opened one of the packets of briefs he had collected in SÚlestat and I supported him while he pulled them on, and then he selected one of his new pairs of shorts and put those on, too. Next he pulled on a red tee-shirt and asked me to hand him his running vest so that he could transfer his little badge from it to the shirt.

"Now it is your turn," he said, but before I could reach for any of my new clothes he grabbed me and told me to sit on the bed and wait. I did that while he hunted through various drawers until he found some string, and then he cut a length off and tied it around my waist. Finally he tucked one of the householder's handkerchiefs over the string to cover my genitals.

"Now we are ready," he said. "Help me downstairs."

"What about my clothes?" I asked.

"You cannot wear clothes like a normal boy, because your penis becomes hard all the time, and it would tear your nice new clothes. So you can wear this, which will not tear next time you become hard." And he put an arm round my shoulders as usual and pulled me towards the door.

I have to admit I found this perversely exciting: there was something about wearing only a flimsy loincloth that was sort of interesting - and, of course, thinking about it and what I looked like had exactly the effect Stefan had hoped for, because he burst out laughing as the handkerchief lifted away from my body.

I got him into the main room and helped him onto the sofa, and as soon as he was seated he snatched the handkerchief away, leaving me exposed yet again.

And this time he reached out and took hold of me, and I almost spurted straight away - I had never been touched like this before, and it felt amazing. He tested its hardness and then stroked it gently, concentrating on the scar just below my knob and on the knob itself.

"You look good," he told me. "And it is very hard. And it feels interesting, too... okay, I suppose I have teased you enough: you can go and get dressed. But put on those jeans, because if you fall from the bicycle you will not want to have bare knees."

I didn't really want to get dressed now - in fact I could happily have stood there letting him play with my penis for the rest of the morning. But on the other hand I was fairly sure that if he went on doing it for another thirty seconds or so I was going to lose control of myself, and I'm not sure that he would have been happy if I had spurted onto his new shirt, even if I haven't got very much. So I went upstairs and got dressed, putting on new boxers and socks and a new tee-shirt but retaining my old jeans.

"You are a good friend to let me to tease you so," he said when I got back downstairs. "I think many boys would become angry when I talk about their penis, and none would let me touch without striking me. I should not make fun of such a good friend, so I will not do that again."

"It's okay, I don't mind," I said, quickly. "In fact I like you teasing me. I mean, you're right: it does go hard a lot. So you can tease me about it, and even touch it, whenever you want, and I won't mind if you don't let me wear clothes sometimes when it sticks up. I deserve it for not being able to control myself."

"I cannot always control mine," he admitted. "So perhaps sometimes you can tease me, too. Now, let us move to important matters: help me out of the house and you can learn about riding."

I very much liked the idea that I could sometimes tease him and made up my mind that the next time he went hard in front of me I was going to touch him and see what he said. But I had to shelve that idea for the time being because he was right: I needed to learn to ride a motorbike.

In fact it was nothing like as hard as I had feared: this was a very basic moped with no gears and no clutch to worry about, so all I had to do was to twist the right-hand grip and the moped would move forward, and the brakes were exactly the same as on a normal bicycle. Provided I remembered to twist the grip back as well as squeezing the brakes when I wanted to stop it was dead easy, and by the end of the morning I felt completely competent.

The one we had found for Stefan was a slightly larger model, and in fact there would have been room for me to sit behind him. But he said it would be better to take both because he wanted to take some of our supplies up to the hut, and there would be room behind him for a bag.

After lunch we went for a longer ride, down the road to Kintzheim and then following the road up into the forest towards Haut-Koenigsbourg. We found the castle deserted, which came as no surprise, but intact, which did surprise Stefan, who had never seen it as anything except a ruin. So we left the bikes at the entrance, which the departing guardians had obligingly left open, and went for a walk round.

"Here is a solution if the water fails," commented Stefan. "They have a well here."

"Actually, there are probably some houses in the village with wells, too," I pointed out. "A lot of the houses there have been there since long before mains water appeared. Perhaps we should look when we get back."

It felt strange being in that huge place on our own, and we didn't stay too long. On the way back we stopped at the end of the track that led up to the hut and followed it to the point where we had joined the path on our way down, and we had no trouble at all locating the point at which we would have to strike off away from the path next day. That gave us a little practice at riding off-road, and then we completed our return trip by following the path back to Orschwiller instead of going back by road via Kintzheim. And by the time we got back 'home' I felt perfectly capable of riding on any sort of terrain.

After supper we finished our game of Monopoly and then sat reading quietly until it began to get dark, and then Stefan said that we should go out for another quick ride to make sure we could manage a night journey if it should become necessary. So we rode back towards Kintzheim again, though we stopped before we reached the village and looked out across the plain.

"Do you notice something?" Stefan asked.

I couldn't see anything, and so I shook my head - and then I realised what he was getting at.

"We can't see SÚlestat," I said. "That means the power has gone off there."

"That is right. So we may not have water for more than a day or so more. Perhaps we should look for a well before we go to the cabin tomorrow."

We rode back to the house again and went upstairs, taking it in turns to visit the bathroom - Stefan could get there and back unassisted by now - and then going straight to bed.

"Stefan," I said as we settled down, "thanks. I've really enjoyed today - in fact I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a day so much. Learning to ride was great, and going up to the castle together, and... well, everything. Being with you is really good."

"Thank you, Jake - I enjoyed it also. You are fun to be with. At school everyone is serious so much of the time, but with you I can laugh and relax, and that is very nice. And now that we are friends - I think we are friends, yes? So, now you should call me Stefi - it is the name that my friends use."

"We're definitely friends," I said. "I like you a lot. So I'll remember to call you 'Stefi' from now on."

I'd meant what I said, too: this really had been a brilliant day, not just because of learning to ride a moped and going out riding with Stefan, but because of the other stuff, too: sharing a bath and being made to wear only a pocket handkerchief and, above all, having him hold my penis. I thought exploring the tunnels would be exciting, and maybe we would find more worlds that actually had people in, but I didn't think anything was going to top today.

Next morning Stefan's ankle was even better and he was able to walk unaided, at least for short distances. But he still asked me to go with him to the bathroom so that we could wash and clean our teeth together, though he did shoo me out when he realised that he needed to shit.

"I do not mind that you see me piss," he told me, "but this is a little more personal. Perhaps when we have been together a little longer there will be nothing I will want to do alone, but now... you understand, I hope."

"Of course," I said. "Call me when you've finished."

And even with my exhibitionist streak I didn't think I want to do that in front of him, either - at least, not yet.

After breakfast we packed a bag with some canned fruit, a couple of ready meals, four big bottles of water and a couple of large flashlights and strapped it to the back of Stefan's bike. Then I went for a scout round the village, looking into the gardens of some of the older houses, and as I had expected I found three wells, though I wasn't sure whether the water in them would be safe to drink. Still, even the little village bakery had a big collection of bottled water in its stock-room, and if we did manage to use it all there was plenty more in every village shop for miles around, not to mention at the supermarkets in SÚlestat and the other large towns on the plain. And that meant that we would be able to use well water for washing and bottled water for cooking and drinking.

Then we set off for the hut. We found our way to the place we had reached the previous day and then left the path and headed for the hut, taking it slowly so as not to miss any of Stefan's trail-blazing marks. Only once did we have to retrace our route a little, and when we found the place where we had left the correct trail Stefan cut a much larger mark into a tree so that we wouldn't do so again. In places it was tough going, particularly on the last stage where we were riding quite steeply uphill, but we arrived unscathed.

Once again there was no sign of the mist that had caused us such problems in our own worlds - in fact it was another fine, hot, sunny summer's day, and accordingly we were both now wearing shorts and tee shirts, though we had packed a couple of light jackets in our bags in case it was colder in the tunnels or the next world we found was less warm than this one.

We parked the bikes at the back of the hut and I carried Stefan's bag through to the kitchen and unpacked the food and water, leaving only our jackets and the flashlights in our bags. Then I opened the trapdoor and we looked at each other.

"Ready?" I asked.

"Yes. I think this shall be a good adventure, Jake."

"Me, too. Okay, let's go."

And we climbed down the ladder into the tunnel once more.