The Boy in the Tunnel
by Gardner Linn
“A gallon of milk in one hour? That’s easy.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
Drew increased his pace, shoving Kirkland a little, making him scuff his New Balances on the concrete. “No,” Drew said. “So what? Who couldn’t do that?”
should try it some time. See how far you get.” What irritated Drew most about
this guy was the smile—he hadn’t stopped smiling since Drew had tied his
hands with an extension cord and led him out of the Thorn basement, taking him
along little-used paths to Wintertree, Joanie scouting twenty feet ahead for
unwanted observers who may misconstrue the situation.
“You’ve done it?”
“I did my best.”
“What was it, like some stupid frat hazing thing?”
“I was never in a fucking frat.”
“Nobody would give you a bid?”
Ahead of them, Joanie slowed and held up a warning hand. Drew yanked Kirkland to a stop. “Something’s coming,” Joanie said.
Drew pulled Kirkland off the path and behind an empty bus stop. “Or six saltines in sixty seconds. You should try that, Andrew. Not as easy as it sounds.”
Peering around the edge of the shelter, Drew saw a long line of yellow windows floating toward them, the windows full of faces. The Black Line pulled up to the shelter and hissed to a stop. No one got off, but Drew recognized the bloody khakis of the guy standing in the bus’s back entrance stairwell.
Kirkland felt Drew’s hands tighten around the extension cord. “You know that guy?”
Kirkland lunged out from behind the bus stop, dragging Drew with him. “Hey!” he shouted. “I’ve got your friend here!’
Dick turned and looked over his shoulder just as the bus’s door closed—he saw a sort of bulldog-ish guy in a blue sweater, a mouth full of huge white teeth, yelling and smiling at the same time.
Before Dick could recognize the blonde kid behind him, the Black Line drove away.
Drew regained control of the extension cord and kicked Kirkland behind the knee, forcing him to the ground. “You fucking did it now, asshole.”
“Such language from a Bible-thumper. You kiss Jesus with that mouth?”
Drew twisted the extension cord, forcing Kirkland’s hands to alternate positions. Kirkland’s shoulders strained. “You must not want to see room 79 that bad, motherfucker.”
Joanie walked up and joined them. “Let’s go. It looks clear the rest of the way to Wintertree.”
“So who was that on the bus, Andrew? “
“Nobody. Stand up.” Drew jerked Kirkland to his feet.
Kirkland smiled over his shoulder at Drew. “Sure thing, boss. Hey, let me guess. Was it Tim? Uh, what’s-his-name...Chester? Richard?”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m not really a fan of that kid either. Did you know he killed his little brother? Cops said it was an accident, but still. Pushed him off the monkey bars. The playground was concrete—can you believe that? Though I guess you might understand that kind of impulse. Hey, you want to stop by the Kangaroo and buy a gallon of milk? I’ve got a stopwatch.”
Wintertree was in sight now, half of the windows dark, half illuminated in what seemed to be a pattern. Drew thought it spelled something, but he didn’t recognize the language. A ring of twenty shaggy figures on the quad tapped away on bongos and djembes, the sound a thin, insistent snapping in Drew’s ears. The jumbled, arrhythmic beats resolved into a pattern, a message, translating the warning of the windows. Drew still couldn’t understand.
Hello and welcome to the University of Northwest Georgia! All of us here are excited that you chose our institution for your secondary-education needs. We know that you had many options—the military, jail, your parents’ basement, Wal-Mart, not to mention a few other schools that must have accepted you, right?—and we consider it an honor that you chose Ambassador purple over DOC orange or Army desert camo.
The Handbook you are currently reading/staring at uncomprehendingly will be your guide and mentor throughout your four (give or take) years at UNWG—the Virgil to your Dante, if you will (see pg. 33 if you went to public school and don’t understand the reference). In these pages you will find the answers to most of your questions concerning campus life. PLEASE, should you have such a question, be sure to consult the Handbook before disturbing a University employee; you are an adult now, and we are not your mommy. The Handbook is designed for ease of use; at the back you will find a comprehensive index, tailored specifically to your own unique thought processes. (A quick explanation: no, we don’t use a team of pre-adolescent psychics in an underground lab to read your mind—extensive research conducted by the Admissions Department and the Department of University Housing revealed that most students fit one of twelve Index Types, and based on your application, one of our Handbook Specialists chose the index format that best suited you.) You should have no trouble using the index to find answers to your questions, but should you encounter problems, please see “Index, using the” on pg. 27.
Before I go, let me give you a piece of advice: though you should know by now that the concept of “finding yourself” is meaningless bullshit, that’s exactly what college is about. All the calculus and English classes and football games are merely excuses for the true purpose of this institution: to teach you to be an adult. You like the X-Men, right? College is a Danger Room that simulates adulthood (see pg. 34 if you’re not a nerd and don’t understand the reference). It is likely this will be the last time you are part of an actual community of peers all working toward the same goal, and in which experimentation is rewarded. This is your last chance to figure out which you you’re going to be for the rest of your life. Don’t fuck it up. There are signals and languages and information all around; be a receiver. This Handbook can tell you a lot, but not everything. I hesitate to even advise you to use it. It might not have your best interests at heart. But you are an adult now, and we are not your mommy. You have to make your own decisions.
President, University of Northwest Georgia
Kenya didn’t quite know how to deal with the way she was feeling. Charlie was no help, all cryptic about this deal with the Nine Dead Men and whatever was going on with DUH. Then she kicked Kenya out of her office, leaving her to wander around the empty Student Activities Office. Through the glass doors Kenya watched The Everybody members in their purple shirts gather for their social, each carrying a small white by a string, like a cakebox from a bakery. The Everybody had recruited Kenya a year earlier, but Charlie and her Creatures had been more persuasive. She wasn’t sure now she had made the right decision.
Kenya wanted two things. First she wanted a line of gunpowder. That was normal. But even more, she wanted Chet to be here. She wanted to talk to him, to ask him what to do. She thought of the two of them as an “us” now, no matter what her Handbook said. That wasn’t normal. They were becoming a new creature together, something they could not be separately. Chet would probably would have said they were like Voltron. Kenya shouldn’t know that he would think like that. She couldn’t let the inevitable breakup become an amputation.
The Everybody members filed into the Suttledge Room. Kenya wanted to join them and see what exactly went on at these box socials. The recruiter had said that twenty-five percent of the student body were members, but Kenya still didn’t know any of them. Charlie regarded the Blueberries, as she called them, as a gaggle of socially awkward children clinging desperately to outmoded rituals and stupid costumes. Kenya recognized the attitude; it was the same her athlete friends in high school took toward the marching band.
Kenya sat in the receptionist’s ancient, creaking desk chair and drummed her fingers on the aluminum desk. The red message light blinked on the phone. I could call Chet, Kenya thought. He could come over here and we could figure out what to do. She knew his dorm-room phone number by heart, though she had only ever dialed it once; Chet’s roommate had answered, a thick country voice like a blunt object, and Kenya had frozen, unsure how to proceed. She hadn’t been ready for her relationship with Chet to be officially recognized by a third party. It had still been between the two of them.
Kenya picked up the receiver, listened to the dial tone for a few seconds, let it become the only thing she could hear. She had never been able to wake up to alarm-clock buzzers; she accepted the noises into her head, and they became part of her. Kenya dialed the number, and Chet’s phone rang and rang.
© 2006 Gardner Linn