The dank odor of mildew and rot saturated the humid air so thickly that he felt marinated in it, and the weight of the vast city overhead pressed down upon his already hunched shoulders. When he reached yet another wide vertical shaft he stared upward. Unlike all the others he had come across this one was intersected by another small horizontal tunnel near the top. Flicking off the flash he could make out no light from above, but of course it was still night, and if he continued on the way he was going without checking this new shaft he knew the idea would drive him crazy that this might have been the way out.
The problem was the rusted rungs leading upward were on the other side of the tunnel, and the water in the trough between was six feet across and so black it appeared positively Stygian. To make things even worse the walkways on either side were so narrow that he didn’t think he could make the leap without falling back into the noxious liquid and splashing like a beached whale. The sound was sure to carry back to his pursuers and lead them directly to him. Not that they didn’t seem to have noses like bloodhounds already.
But God he hated the thought of entering that sluice. The odor from the trough was not that of human waste–which probably had not flowed through the channel in at least a century–but something more elemental and somehow disturbing, as though the tunnel were not an obsolete sewage line but the waste system of some great living beast.
“For crying out loud,” he muttered. “Get your fucking head on straight.”
Something clanged in the distance, metal striking stone, and Trace stilled his finger on the flashlight switch. Listening carefully he heard the incessant dripping, but for just an instant he was certain he’d detected a pair of human voices again as well. As his eyes continued to adjust he could discern the feeblest of glows from back the way he had come, a meager, here-now, gone-then illumination, as though the killers were sweeping the space in front of them with their own remaining flashlight, and the glimmer was being reflected off a million dull brown tiles to Trace. Then the light died again. He wondered if that meant that they had taken a wrong turning themselves, or whether they had simply turned off their flashlight. When another clang sounded, closer, he knew it was the latter.
“Just better and better,” he whispered.
Of course he could continue on down the tunnel–making his way by feel, since he was now afraid to turn his flashlight back on–but apparently Leadie and Softie were just going to keep following until hell froze over. And what if his faint intuition was correct? What if that shaft overhead was the only way out?
With a creeping sense of disgust he sat down on his butt and eased his feet into the chill, dank water, wondering how deep the sluice might be. The liquid oozed up his legs as though he were being slowly digested inside the body of a giant slug. The entire tunnel system seemed to take in a slow, deep breath, to swallow…
“Keep it together,” he muttered, feeling for the bottom with the toes of his loafers.
When he finally touched down he pushed away from the slimy lip of the chute, and–one careful, sliding footstep at a time–shoved off toward the opposite walkway only scant feet away in the darkness. When after trudging four steps he had still not made contact with the bricks, he was tempted to flip on the light, but he couldn’t chance it with his pursuers so close.
Somehow he must have gotten turned around so that he was wading parallel to the tunnel’s path. How that might have happened in the short space he had traversed he couldn’t figure, but there seemed no other answer. The only trouble was he didn’t know in which direction he might have veered. He seemed to recall that right handed people lost in the woods tended to walk in left handed circles, but that might have been either left handed people or right handed circles. Making a snap decision he turned toward his right and took another step.