Tunnel of Time
by Roger Haller
forum: Tunnel of Time
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Tunnel of Time


           Steve had a few moments to reflect. He wondered if he had been saved for greater things or for worse. The only thing that had saved him this time was the fact he had been sent to the point and his unit had stayed in the Hum-Vs waiting for his signal. Mark had headed for the shot up store next door and had met a hornet's nest.

           What the hell was he doing here? Just how many Canadians were dumb enough to be in Samarra? Steve's mind was whipping him good about his life choices.

           Moments ago, both Hummers had been launched twenty feet in the air by explosions that had knocked him against the wall and no one had moved when they came down. The doors had been blown off and he couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like Paul, Don and Gene that spilled out the driver's side doors. If he had still been in the first machine, he would be laying beside Paul.

           Steve figured he was the only one left and they had to know he was in this mud-brick shell that was once a house. He thought this might very well be where he finished off his thirty-fourth year of this life. Adrenaline had him locked in fight or flight mode, and as of yet, the scene on the street hadn't become reality to his shaking brain.

           "Looks like hell's closin' in, don't it, Sarg?"

           Steve spun with his M-249 SAW and came a blonde pubic hair from wiping out a young PFC in retro, mud colored fatigues.

           "Easy, Sarg, I'm on your side."

           "Where did you come from? How did you get in here?"

           "Been here a while, Boss. My unit was cleaned out and I'm trying to get back across the line in one piece."

           "Who are you, Private?"

           "Private First Class Les Mueller, 385922, sweep unit, Battalion 18, Canadian Armed Forces, Sarg."

           "There are no Canadian forces in Iraq. How did you get here?"

           "Long story, Sarg, but I know how to get out of here. Folla me."

           PFC Mueller turned and scrambled at knee level into a windowless room at the center of the house. Steve followed amidst a cloud of crazy questions washing through his mind. The private pulled a pantry cupboard away from a wounded brick wall to reveal a two-foot by four-foot stain rectangle from the old cupboard. He hooked the corner of this stain and a plywood door lifted from the floor. A quick flip dropped the door into the black hole and he slipped through.

           Steve took a last desperate look around and followed, unceremoniously landing on his face after a four-foot drop in the dark. Cellar.

           Les reached through the hole, drew the cupboard back against the wall with a couple of drawer handles screwed to the frame and tucked the plywood back in the hole, effectively removing all light.

           Steve pulled his flashlight from his belt and lit up the stale space enough to see they were in an eight by eight hole with no apparent egress.

           "Now what? We call room service?"

           Les chuckled and pointed to the far left corner. "Check this out, Boss."

           Crouched, he led the way to the corner and quickly found a one-inch black hole in the floor. His finger slipped through it, hooked and he pulled up. A trap door lifted and the sand didn't slide off.

           "Shit, the dirt is glued on to keep the door hidden. Nice."

           Les dropped through and with more care this time Steve followed, finding steps to ease his descent. His light lit up a tunnel they could stand up in with only one direction to take.

           "Where does this lead, Private?"

           "Depends on where ya wanna go, Sarg. I've seen some sights down here."

           "Does it come up in another building, or does it go farther? Can it take us out of Samarra?"

           "Well, if this bombed out place above us is Samarra, you bet. What direction do ya want?"

           "South toward Baghdad."

           "Yes sir, we have to go north a bit, but we can hit the highway back to Baghdad."

           They traveled for about a half hour when they came to a door framed into the narrow walls. An easy push opened their path into a huge cavern. Steve's light couldn't even make out the far wall. Around them were hoards of rusty rockets, boxes piled high stamped in Arabic labels and far more ordnance than he had ever seen in one place.

           Steve saw a collection of large boxes with the nuclear flag. Row on row of black forty-five gallon drums with scull and crossbones faded off to the right.

           Les started to the left and he followed, scanning labels along the way.

           "Holy shit! These are American."

           Stacked six and seven deep were box after box of American plastics and dynamite. The stacks were four and five high and he counted sixteen rows as he followed the Canadian private. It didn't take long and Les pushed open another door.

           Steve looked at his watch and noted it was just after one in the afternoon.

           "This one goes south, Sarg."

           "Where else do these tunnels go?"

           "Anywhere you want, Sarg."

           "What do you mean?"

           "Well, I first found this set of tunnels in Italy."



           This Canuck is on crack. Steve left it there, but he took mental note. The Major would need to see this.

           They moved silently for several hundred yards before he spoke again.

           "How far does this tunnel go, Private?"

           "It comes up in Baghdad, Sarg."

           "Baghdad, all the way?"


           "That's a hundred and twenty-five kilometers, about eighty miles. Is there anything else on the way or is this the express?"

           Les chuckled. "Direct route, sir."

           "I don't know if my light is going to take us all the way. Do you have one?"

           "Nope, but don't worry, Boss, we won't get lost. There ain't but two ways to go, and we'll bounce off a wall before we turn around and go back. Floor's pretty smooth, too."

           "Well, let's pick it up, soldier. I want to get as far as I can before the light is gone."

* * *

           They had long since run out of flashlight. Steve pressed the light button on his watch and noted it was now just after midnight. They had been in this tunnel for almost twelve hours including a couple of bio breaks along the way. Steve noted that the air was surprisingly good for a long tunnel, he consciously felt a fresh draft every half hour or so. The tunnel was not a whim. Someone had put a lot of thought and energy into this. Why was it, no one knew about it? Where were all the people who had built it?

           Steve remembered all the people that had been killed by the Saddam Hussein government. Dead men tell no tales.

           "Mueller, let's break for a while. I have an MRE in my leg pocket. We can share it and take a breather to charge up."

           "No problem, Boss. I'm not hungry, but dig in. We can take off again as soon as you're ready."

           They sat propped against the tunnel wall in the dark. The private spoke up.

           "Sarg, you got a lilt to your voice that tells me you're a Canuck, too. What brings you to this man's war?"

           "Right now, Mueller, I'm wondering that myself. My father moved back to the States after I was grown. He suggested there was a lot of work down there. Since he was American, I applied for immigration and I thought it would go faster if I signed up for the Army. I was right. They fast tracked my papers and I was in Iraq before I got a residence in Washington."

           "That's some railroad, Boss. Weird how your life turns out sometimes. Ya never know what kind of turn it'll take."

           "What's even weirder, Les, is we have the same last name."

           His answer came back slow and quiet. "Ya, I know, Boss."

           Steve snapped around to the sound of his voice. "You know? How did you know my last name?"

           "It's on yer pocket, sir."

           Through his blush, Steve laughed for the first time since he could remember. This mission seemed to be his lifetime.

           "Mueller, I got a few minutes now. Tell me how you got to this hell hole."

           "Boss, you aint gonna believe me, but I got here from Italy, just like I said."

           "Bullshit. You can't tell me this tunnel goes all the way to Italy."

           "Told ya, you wouldn't believe it."

           "Ok, why did you come here?"

           "To save yer sorry ass… Sarg."


           "Cause you're my grandson… Well, at least step-grandson. That's how you got my name."

           "Whoa, now you've really gone off the deep end. You can't be more than twenty fucking years old."

           "I age well. So do my clothes. Don't you recognize a World War Two uniform? Don't worry about it now, Sarg, let's just get your ass back to base before they charge you with AWAL."

           Steve nodded to himself in the dark. There was little to gain in dragging out this nut's story now. He weighed the facts. The only thing real was the fact he was in a long friggin tunnel and was out of a battle that took his entire unit but he still had his hide. He had no way of telling if this was a trap, a wild goose chase or a benign adventure, but one thing was sure, he needed to get the CO down here to see this ordnance dump.

           Les was up and moving, so he did too. By now, adjusting his progress to the sound of the old mud boots ahead was second nature.

           They walked again, until his legs were burning and his mind was wandering too much to keep a clear thought.

           "Grandpa, do you have any idea how far we have to go yet?"

           "Ya, Sarg, we got about three more hours until we duck under the river, then an hour or so to the exit under your base."

           "Under my base?"


           "How do you know where we are and when we will be going under the river?"

           "Experience, Boss. I count the air ducts. Six more and we come to the stairs."

           "Where does this come up in my base?"

           "In the loading dock behind the cook shack, Boss. We might have to move a dumpster."


           They continued without words for some time and Steve started counting airshafts. Sure enough, he could feel the breeze from each as they passed so he knew they were getting close when Les stopped him.

           "Well, Sarg, this short stretch is a bit uncomfortable, but don't worry too much about it. It doesn't fill up except in the monsoons."

           They felt for the top step and started down a set of stone steps. Twenty-three steps down they met water. Stagnant water.

           "How deep does this get, soldier?"

           "Don't worry, Boss; it won't be over yer armpits."

           He was right. They walked under the Tigris in chest-deep water.

           "If we are under the river, and it seeps into this tunnel, why doesn't it fill up?"

           "It's a thirsty desert, Boss. The land uses it. Up above the river is kinda straight forward, but most of this area used to be marshland. That's why this tunnel gets wet and that's why it drains. Don't worry, Boss; this water aint directly from the river, there is concrete above us. The water is seepage from the surrounding marshland sand.

           Steve felt a massive relief when they started up the steps on the other side. Life was a lot more promising when you were not under a seeping river.

           The last hour went quickly and the private pushed another trap door upward six inches, turned it forty-five degrees and pulled it down through the hole. The door was aluminum this time, but still had a cover of glued sand and dirt. Bright light streamed in, but once his eyes adjusted, he could see a khaki dumpster parked over the hole. A little work with a stored pike pole leaning against the tunnel wall, and the portal was clear. Carefully Steve peered out over the lip, and even though he had never been behind the KP shack, he recognized the machinery. He was indeed back at his vacation home.

           "Ok, soldier, let's go tell your story to the major. It's going to take some explaining, but you can fill in the gaps. I'm sure you can even expect a decoration when the dust clears. That cache is what this whole thing started over"

           "Just a minute, Boss. I need to close a door. Be right back."

           Canadian PFC Mueller disappeared down the hole before he could stop him. He gave him ten minutes before calling down and hearing only his own echo. He knew the boy was gone. He couldn't explain it, but knew. He stepped down the ladder to pick up the lid, tossed it out, and climbed after it.

           Steve set the lid neatly back in place, noted a small half moon cutaway no bigger than a toenail clipping, and scuffed sand around it again. The doorway disappeared and he pushed the dumpster back in place.

* * *

           The General watched the expressions on the sergeant's face, but saw no evidence of nerves. The man was all business and no matter what kind of pressure the colonel laid on him, his story never wavered and he looked his inquisitor directly in the eye.

           The Colonel was beet-faced with frustration at the story of the wayward World War Two Canadian. If he didn't take over soon, the sergeant would be behind bars before his story could be checked out.

           He waded in.


           "Yes, sir?"

           Rather than answer, he turned his attention to the soldier. He stood as he addressed him. "Sergeant, show us your rabbit hole."

           The group adjourned to the back of the kitchen. A couple of MPs helped Steve push the dumpster aside and watched as he examined the ground.

           "May I borrow your staff, sir?" Steve nodded at the General's walking stick.

           Slightly amused and a little off guard, to the disapproving look of the colonel, he passed his staff to the sergeant.

           "Thank you, sir." Steve tapped the ground until the hollow echo came back. A few more taps and the edges were outlined. He stooped to the half-moon hole and lifted the lid. He looked around at the widened eyes and stepped back so they could inspect the portal behind the KP shack.

* * *

           Three days had passed, and this time Steve was the guide. A full unit was primed at the entrance with waterproof packs, extra flashlights, and a week's gear. Captain Raphael was assigned command and they were off to find the ordnance dump. Although the unit was strung out some, the trip in was uneventful. Two days were needed to inventory the stockpile and wire communications were set up by a guard unit that followed them down the hole a day later.

           A permanent subterranean post was built around the dump while the weapons were studied and categorized. Once Steve was relieved of his guard detail, he asked his new captain if he might scout and map the tunnels feeding off the cavern. The captain agreed and he was assigned a team with a logistics specialist.

           Beginning with the tunnel coming in from Samarra, Steve's team worked around the wall. Weeks of reports were stacked up on the Major's desk now that his company had been reassigned to subterranean duties.

           "Hey, Sarg, you gotta see this." The call came in from one of the men on the point.

           Steve hurried to the source of the exclamation to find two privates shining light on a note tacked to a door.

           "Well, Boss, looks like you came back looking for me. This way to Italy."

           Steve chuckled and pulled a pen. He wrote under the signature, "Explore this tunnel with a lot of resources and a long term mission. Be prepared for a pasta dinner on completion."

* * *

           Steve's tour was over a few months later and he was shipped back stateside. He recounted this tale to me over dinner.

           "Steve, you were very young when your grandfather died. I'm pretty sure you don't remember what he looks like. Would you like to go on a road trip?"

           I booked a week off work when we found he could take a week's vacation and we went up to British Columbia. It took us over six hours to drive to Kamloops, but we drove straight to the Legion Hall.

           We identified ourselves to the doorkeeper and were welcomed in. We ordered beers and began a tour of the company pictures on the walls. Halfway through our drinks, we came to the 18th Halifax battalion. We stepped up to the picture and scrutinized the faces.

           "Can you recognize your grandfather, Steve?"

           "Holy shit! There he is."

           Third from the right on the top row was a cocky twenty-year-old kid winking back at the camera.

           We sat down near the picture and ordered another.

           "He died in '89, son. He was a very private man about World War Two, but let me tell you a story he told me once when we were having a beer right here. He was about three quarters lit and we had just come to an understanding of sorts after being at odds most of our lives."

           I looked into my beer for a long moment and started.

           "He was a veteran of France and Holland battles when he was sent to Italy during clean up operations during Germany's surrender. He lied to get in early, so he had just turned twenty when he got there. Dad, his sergeant, and their captain were tight. They had been together since boot camp. He called the captain 'Cap'n' and the sergeant 'Boss'. The captain was hardly older than he, and the sergeant was a bear of a man who had about five years on them. They drank together and the sergeant saved their ass in more than a few bar fights. They had just finished the Battle of Arnhem and essentially the war was over."

           I took a pull from my bottle.

           "The Captain was assigned more crew and they headed out to clear hotspots in the northern Italian countryside. The unit was ambushed and Dad saw the captain literally cut in half by machine gun fire. The sergeant was killed instantly with a shot to the head and the rest of the unit was wiped out.

           "Dad saved himself by diving into what he thought was a foxhole. It turned out he found a series of tunnels that took him right back to his base.

           "He looked at the memory of that day through the prism of a whisky bottle. Son, you pack the same baggage. Stay out of the whiskey."





copyright 2007 Roger Haller.

Roger Haller was born in Tillamook Oregon but moved to British Columbia at the tender age of a year and a half.

His earliest memories surround an upbringing in a Native family where the harrowing existence of the era bore a heavy influence on who he is now.

The bitter truth of life in town and off the reserves was ingrained in memory as deeply as the wisdom and quiet reserve of the many elders who accepted his soul among them and seeing a spark, imparted much of the stories and legends that formed the need in the young Roger to pass on as tradition demanded.

This left a fertile background to let stories of the future meet legends of the past.


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