The light at the end of the tunnel had always been there.
They remembered seeing it, ever since their brains had the capacity to, perhaps.
The once children born in the embrace of metal they would later learn to abhor and walls they would grow claustrophobic to,
are now added to throngs of people too many to fit in the tunnel side by side, too diverse and different to even want to.
All united, however, by the long march, or at least by that light collecting their eyes like a magnet.
The impulse for people to start their journey towards the light increased as people awakened to the reality of the tunnel.
Tentatively, slow paces gave way to strides of hale and vigor, it felt easy at first to make headway and complete the trek in no time.
Motley crews rearranged into groups with more relevance between them.
The metal patterns were tracks. As children, they had learned to recognize the first signs of the monsters that would materialize out of the darkness.
The rumbling of walls; the tremoring grounds; the slow current from the air pushed in front of the train building up to a gust of wind howling from behind.
By then, people will have already scattered and glued themselves to the walls of the tunnel before the gale came, whaling bodies left and right, and the train ploughed in their midst.
Bangs. Eyes closed. Hands tightened over ears. Focusing on the sound of wheels clattering rhythmically to ignore the thudding.
Then the negative pressure, like a giant gasp following the train, unsticking them from the walls.
Wide-eyed, they would stumble back to the center of the tunnel, checking on each other. The aftershocks in their legs massaging the hearts that had fallen there up to their natural position.
And they would train their eyes on the light once again.
The walk continued, dodging bodies, feet slapping on puddles of water, sinking in mud.
The light beckoning.
Hauntingly horrifying as it was, people adopted different mentalities towards the tunnel.
There were the KBOs (keep buggering on), of one mind on the pointlessness of spending a single second in this appalling, bleak place,
and hence the necessity of abandoning it as soon as possible.
Other people slowed down to admire the flowers that had miraculously grown into such environment, blossoming along the sides
; to put a bit of color on the walls; to fill the hollow with melodious tunes for a change; even to make love!
The KBOs wouldn’t settle for any of that, and only visited them fleetingly. Sure enough, look around and you find the exact opposite.
Nihilists, themselves divided into those who laid bare their chests on the metal, and noisy ones who kept lamenting how nothing mattered.
Not the tunnel; not the promising light; not even which one they chose.
Mostly youngsters, lots of them, though dressed in posh clothes and afforded many recreations, still felt they had been cheated into the labor of being.
Yet they seemed to lumber ahead fine and showed no less Olympic feats than everyone else when a train announced itself.
The light at the end of the tunnel barely came closer; the distance hardly yielded to their long walk.
Numbers started dropping like flies as more people stayed behind and decided to make their peace with what they had.
“Well, what do you have?” The KBOs shouted, waving around.
People started showing them what they had been working on. Art and music and poetry and various skills. Tunnelhood felt better doing those.
“They are going to feel a thousand times better in the light! The faster we got there.. ”
“Look at you dazing yourselves,” the nihilists went. “Feeling better is brief morphine, just cheap lipstick on the futility of existence where nothing matters.”
-“By that logic you would be racing for the tracks, you bastards!”
“But even that entails suffering, first from the twist of the survival instinct hammered into our genes, then from the collision.
We’re forced into a fight with our own selves to undo a situation we never applied for. It’s the perfect failsafe mechanism.”
-“Then how come nothing matters when you start with how your existence itself undeniably matters; when mattering is how things carried on for billions of years?”
A football whizzed between their heads, and people gathered to watch a game unfold. The whole tunnel seemed to be lost in excitement for once.
And so they trudged on through suffocating dankness. Legs connecting with metal, sloshing through muck, scrambling as trains scythed by.
Somehow, the KBOs never seemed that far ahead from everybody.
"There’s this now!" People called after them, flourishing flowers and symphonies. But they had grown oblivious to them, their senses dulled. Their quest took on a kind of zeal.
Innumerable trains later, the circle of light was noticeably larger.
They squeezed their eyes and looked again. It was real.
They kept at it and reached where the rail led off into a dark, smaller side tunnel before the opening. Straight ahead they went. A lighter air welcomed them.
They stepped outside finally. It was white everywhere; sloping down to plains a little after the tunnel, snowfields extended as far as they could see.
Bodies blown this far by the trains had found graves under blankets of gleaming whiteness.
They wanted to shout hurray but coughed instead; tried to dance but their legs shoveled the snow.
They thought nothing of it.
After a period of searching around in the open, it was clear. There was nothing there.
Turning to each other for the first time since getting there, having reached the same conclusion, they saw in one another’s eyes the mummified figures they had turned to.
They looked back and saw the tunnel in a new light.
Children start at the very beginning and go through, generation after another, effectively living their whole lives in the swampy long length of the tube. Forever signaled by the light.
Sooner or later the calamitous trains sweep them along to it,
to nothing but this glorified graveyard.
Now that they finally made their quest, crestfallen, each of them held a clear picture of all they had wished to do in their heads with a trembling grasp like a check they were desperate to cash,
and they looked at it.
At the tunnel ending at the light.