On the Way

Leroy knew he had to go forward.  On either side of him the cement walls ran so close that he had to keep his arms from swinging to avoid scraping the skin from his knuckles.  Dripping water echoed overhead, and he sloshed through shallow puddles that soaked his Nikes and socks, freezing his feet.  The only illumination came from the cell phone he held in front of him.  Good thing he’d downloaded that flashlight app.  He had a hard time identifying the smell over the scent of mildew, but whatever it was made him want to breathe through his mouth.

15 responses to “On the Way

  1. Leroy’s dream since grammar school had been to travel to Paris. Reading about The City of Lights in his fifth grade textbooks had created a yen that set his course for the next few years. He learned that the French treated people of color on a much more equal footing than in his home country. He knew for sure that they treated people like him much better than the folks in his home State of Mississippi.

    After graduating from high school, Leroy worked at a multitude of minimum wage positions, and living with his mother, he was able to save about ninety percent of his take home pay. In a period of two years, he had just over five thousand dollars in his savings account at the Jackson State Bank.

    With his mom’s blessing, he purchased a ticket on a charter flight from New Orleans to Paris for three hundred dollars. Through a family friend, he had secured lodging in a Youth Hostel on the Left Bank in the middle of Paris’s 6th Arrondisement. His plan was to spend a year in the City of his dreams. Spending most free evenings in the local library, Leroy had accumulated an extensive list of all the sights in and around Paris that he hoped to see over the course of his stay.

    by the end of the first week, he had already climbed to the top deck of the Eiffel Tower, spent a full day in the Louvre Museum, and visited Notre Dame Cathedral. He had plans for the next week to visit Versailles, just outside Paris and also to visit the famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison was buried. On Wednesday night of the second week, Leroy had splurged and purchased a ticket to the Crazy Horse night club with its fabulous parade of beautiful nude women. He realized he was a long way from Mississippi as he gazed upon the perfect bodies that performed just inches from his seat. Even though Leroy did not drink alcohol, he was required to purchase a minimum of two drinks during the show.
    “You only live once.” his uncle Henry always used to say, so Leroy decided to finish off the rum infused drinks and enjoy himself. After all, hadn’t he sacrificed two years of his life to get here?

    The two thugs spotted the dark American boy as he reeled out the side door of the Crazy Horse, just after midnight. They had been rolling drunk Americans and other foreign tourists in this area for several months now. Easy pickings. The victims were all agog from the show, and not alert to danger outside, until it was too late. As they came up behind Leroy, they were startled when he turned and said, “Hi fellas! Parlez vous English?” Leroy’s reached out for one of the guy’s shoulders, smiling broadly, and asked if he could buy him a drink. The young thief had not noticed how large his victim was until he started to move away from his grasping paw. Leroy was six foot five,and weighed in at a solid two hundred and eighty pounds.
    The other thug decided to pull out his pistol to regain the advantage of the situation. Leroy, seeing the gun, took off running down the alley that bordered the Crazy Horse. He turned the corner at the end of the long building, and saw a small doorway. He tried it, and it opened into a low and very dark hallway. He could hear the two troublemakers running up from behind. He moved deeper down into the darkness, and then clicked on the flashlight app on his Iphone.
    Leroy knew he had to go forward.  On either side of him the cement walls ran so close that he had to keep his arms from swinging to avoid scraping the skin from his knuckles.  Dripping water echoed overhead, and he sloshed through shallow puddles that soaked his Nikes and socks, freezing his feet.  The only illumination came from the cell phone he held in front of him.  Good thing he’d downloaded that flashlight app.  He had a hard time identifying the smell over the scent of mildew, but whatever it was made him want to breathe through his mouth.
    He suddenly recalled reading about the tours of the Sewers of Paris. He was getting one firsthand! His eyes becoming accustomed to the light, Leroy switched off his phone. Street lights above afforded some ambient illumination, and he could see a small recess in the wall ahead. He decided to stop and squeeze his large frame into the space, and let the two men run by. Just as they reached this part of the tunnel, Leroy coughed. He had no choice to but to take on his pursuers. He grabbed for the gun first, and flung it back down the dark hallway. With his massive hands, he grasped each of the men by the head, and as if he was holding two soft basketballs, slammed them together, and watched the frail bodies slump down into the sewage.
    Yes, they treat people of color just the same in Paris, he thought, as he loped back toward the safety of the outside streets.

  2. Off the Beaten Path

    Knuckles graze the cement walls of my subterranean tunnel. I tuck my elbows to my side, pushing my hands ahead. Keep running I tell myself. Run like hell. Water splashes with each step. I retch. Maybe if I breathe through my mouth. Another step spews putrid liquid in my face, my tongue recoils, and I retch again. My cell phone lights the way. Just don’t fall, Leroy. Don’t freakin’ fall.

    “Oooh that smell.” Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn’t know the half of it. The smell of death surrounds me. I want to scream but why? I already know I am a dead man. Dead man running.

    I stop for a breath, hands on my knees. I inhale, and gag, and inhale again. I listen. Water drips from the stones above and runs down my head. It is fresher than what I’m standing in, and I wash my face with the drippings, wanting to drink, daring not.

    Muffled sounds increase, coming my way. I have to keep moving. There’s two of them. One of me. I tuck my head and renew my run, my escape. My light grows dim, and I turn it off. Absolute blackness. I turn it back on. Voices grow louder, closer. They have flashlights. I don’t have a prayer. “God, help me.” I just found one.

    Sweat and sewer drip across my eyes. I run straight into a wall. What the fk? It’s a tee. Tunnel left. Tunnel right. Which way do I turn? What does it matter? If I can split them up. That’s the trick.

    I hear them shouting, telling me to stop. I turn left and I run harder. I sense I am running upward, against the water flow. My light is nearly gone. I trip on something, and my dying beacon falls from my hand as I try to catch myself. I sprawl ahead on my stomach, my elbows, my chin. I spit out the severed tip of my tongue and taste my own blood, and I puke. I reach for the obstacle that tripped me. It’s a dam of sticks and debris. A couple of dead rats. And potential weapons. I pull a broken tree limb loose. It feels sturdy, about five feet long. It has a point.

    I hear only one set of feet approaching, a yellow light sweeping ahead of my foe. I lay down behind the dam and water covers my body. It wants to float. My face protrudes just enough to breathe. I am beyond gagging. I wait.

    The tunnel grows brighter as my pursuer approaches. He doesn’t slow and hurdles the dam. He clears the obstacle but his heel catches my stomach. I double-up in pain and hear him fall. He drops his light which now glows green under the water surface. He curses as he tries to get up, to get his bearings. I push myself up and jab the stick in his back. It penetrates the small of his body and he screams, a wounded animal. The hunter is now the prey.

    I pull my spear and strike again. I miss. Again. I find a target, the back of his neck. He doesn’t move. I pull my weapon from his neck and give his head a kick. Coup de grace they call it here. Spiking the ball in America. He’s wearing a knitted hat, orange, like a dayglow pumpkin. I pull it from his head and cover mine as the other voice and light approach.

    I sit in the stench, breathing hard, head down, my back turned to the remaining enemy. He too is out of breath, mumbling French. It sounds like a question. I nod my head and point to the body laying face down. He pays me no heed. He straddles his partner’s body, his back to me, pulls his gun, and fires. It clicks, a misfire. He racks another round. Click. He turns to me, cursing, jabbering, then gasping as my weapon penetrates his throat.

  3. Leroy knew he had to go forward.  On either side of him the cement walls ran so close that he had to keep his arms from swinging to avoid scraping the skin from his knuckles.  Dripping water echoed overhead, and he sloshed through shallow puddles that soaked his Nikes and socks, freezing his feet.  The only illumination came from the cell phone he held in front of him.  Good thing he’d downloaded that flashlight app.  He had a hard time identifying the smell over the scent of mildew, but whatever it was made him want to breathe through his mouth.

    Then, at last, it was over. His fifteen minutes of torture had passed.

    “Very well, group,” said the class instructor. “Now, starting from the left with Leroy, let’s hear your examples of metaphors for the creative writing process.”

    • Why did I know this wasn’t going to be your typical dead-rat-filled tunnel? I wonder what he illuminates with that flashlight app?

      • Actually, Ann, there was a typo there. The ‘flashlight app’ should have read ‘PatchLit app’, which I’m about to invent, and which will allow un-illuminated writers to use their smart phones to select clichéd elements of the plots of best sellers and patch them together.

  4. The concussive thunder of cannon fire reaches my ears, blissfully covering the screams of men dying in the siege underway. Then I hear them again—the sharp screams of soldiers struck with arrows and the long, agonized wails of men covered in burning pitch.

    Another cannon explosion, and my ears are deafened momentarily. I scurry along in the dark, rock on all sides of me, my elbows scraped and bleeding. I’m running in the dark. I know these tunnels well. My candle has long since been snuffed by the air currents in this tunnel, currents that bring the sounds and smells of battle to me.

    I recognize them: acrid exploded gunpowder, burning pine pitch, smoke from cookfires. There is another smell, a coppery smell, one that seems familiar, but I can’t put a name to it. I think it is the smell of blood.

    I am thankful I can’t hear the men drowning in the river below us. Theirs is a slow death, lured to their end by the Lorelei. She is but a rock in the river below massive cliffs, but those who see it and live believe it is a beautiful mermaid who sings them to their death. They are mesmerized, gazing at the high bluff or following the action of their comrades assaulting the fortress, the Burg Rheinfels.

    Even the tillerman is entranced with the view and soon the ship is smashed against the rock, foundering in the river Rhein, all hands lost.

    My hand touches emptiness, a cleft in the sidewall of the tunnel. It is the sealed opening of a branch tunnel leading outside the fortress walls, gunpowder stacked along the portions beyond the walls.

    The unwitting will be blown to kingdom come when they reach these cunning defenses, covered only with thin slate, the gunpowder ignited by a fuse from deep within the castle.

    The French Army assaulting the triangular bastions are caught in crossfire from our German archers. Even the dead-ground immediately against the walls is not safe from the crossbows. On the far side, spotters atop the high clock tower call down to commanders, who send reinforcements to the next place of attack.

    The clock tower in this fortress is unusual. It offers a splendid view of the Middle Rhein and surrounding farmlands. All the other castles are built below the rim of the Rhein canyon, making them more difficult to spot and offers better protection from cannon fire.

    I exit the tunnel into the inner ward and rush to the bakery to gather more supplies for the archers. Even men in battle must eat and drink. Men and women run in all directions, each with his own mission in support of the soldiers.

    Most of the population of St. Goar, the town below along the river, is within the castle walls and we have swollen to 4500 souls. The livestock is in a frenzy of fear, making crossing the ward almost as dangerous as sticking one’s head above the merlons on the top wall.

    If I could see into the future, what would I see?

    I would see this siege last more than a year, the French King Louis XIV defeated, Burg Rheinfels deemed impregnable.

    Then a century later, the castle will be ceded to the French in 1794 without a shot fired. They will attempt to destroy the castle a couple years hence. They will not succeed in eliminating all of it.

    In the 20th century, Burg Rheinfels will become a popular tourist attraction. A large cellar, previously part of the moat, will become the venue for many cultural events. It is huge, the largest self-supported structure in Europe at 79 feet long, with a width and height of 52 feet.

    The outbuildings will be remodeled into a luxury hotel and restaurant. Through the fortified gate, within the walls, a museum will display a model of the original castle.

    Tourists will use hand-held lights called torches or flashlights to explore my tunnels. In the 21st century, flashlight apps on smart phones will take the place of flashlights and candles.

    If I could see into the century, that is. For now, I hustle to bring bread and wine to the soldiers.

    • For the Song of the Lorelei:

      For the translated words:

      Warning: dock your boat first.

    • galelikethewind

      Gully, I thought I had tapped in to War And Peace for a minute there. Excellent submission for this challenge. I lived in Duesseldorf for 3 years in the 1980’s, and traveled the Rhein by car, boat, and train many times on business trips. You brought it to life. Well done,

  5. There are hundreds of photos online of Rheinfels Castle.

  6. Just got back from Europe? Or were you off time travelling again? Your imagination doesn’t need much to rev up!

  7. No, I was in Germany/Austria a couple years ago and my favorite part was finding my way through the Burg Rheinfels tunnels. No smart phone, though. I used the focus beam on my camera. It gave me a second of red light. I want to go back and spend a couple weeks going through all the castle ruins along the Middle Rhine.

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