Sunken Tunnels of Light

📅 Published on December 11, 2020

“Sunken Tunnels of Light”

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.33/10. From 3 votes.
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The old man answered the door on the second knock.

Seth stood relaxed as the door swung open, revealing a short, elderly man in a long, striped robe.

“Hello,” the man said with a wide smile of dentures. “Are you the computer person?”

“Yes,” Seth said, offering his hand. “I’m Seth. And you’re Mr. Walters?”

He shook Seth’s hand, his skin thin but his grip strong. “Yes, but please, call me Jim.”

“Jim, it is,” Seth said. “Can I come in?”

“Are you physically able to?”

The question caught him off guard. “I’m sorry?”

Jim laughed. “Just teasing you. I taught grammar long ago. It’s something I told my students when they used ‘can’ instead of ‘may’. Don’t mind me, I don’t get many visitors. Please, come in.”

Seth’s chuckle was only a little forced. “Ah, you got me,” he said and followed him into the house.

The inside was very cozy, earth-tone colors and walls lined with bookshelves. The ceiling was high, with wooden beams running from one end of the living room to the other. Jim gestured for him to stay while he tottered his way to the kitchen.

“Would you like something to drink?” he called. “I just finished making tea.”

“No, thank you,” Seth answered. “So, you told our dispatcher that you needed some data retrieved?”

Jim returned, one hand holding a steaming mug. “Yes, if that’s what you call it. I can’t get into my son’s computer, and he has documents and such in there that I may need.”

“Oh, okay,” Seth said, looking around. “Could we contact him? I could ask–”

Jim’s smile faded. “No, I’m afraid. Thomas died recently.”

“Jesus Christ,” Seth muttered. “I’m so sorry, no one mentioned it to me.”

Jim waved his apology away. “No harm done. There was no way for you to know. I don’t even know if I told the receptionist when I called your company.”

Seth tried to put forth a reassuring expression, but his smile felt strained. “Still though, I’m sorry for your loss.”

Jim nodded, then cleared his throat. “Thank you. Would you like to get started?”

“Yes, please.”

Seth was led down the hallway. He let his gaze wander over the pictures hung there. A young boy in glasses sitting and smiling in front of a computer, its screen showing a familiar background of green, rolling hills. The next photo was of the same boy, now a man, in a cap and gown. A younger Jim stood beside him, beaming. The young man held his newly acquired degree above his head like a trophy.

“That’s him, Thomas,” Jim said. “The day he graduated from college. He was so proud, but not as proud as I was! Computer Science. I don’t know where he got it from, certainly not me. His mother and I met in college, both of us English majors. But that boy was obsessed with computers since he was six years old. If it wasn’t computers, then it was oceanography.”

Seth realized he had been staring at the picture. He looked away. “Oceanography?” he asked. “Really?”

“Oh, yes,” Jim said. “He loved studying ocean currents, deep sea diving, you name it. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Jim opened the door closest to them and they walked inside. Thomas’s room was divided as if by an invisible line. On the left were stacks upon stacks of books, all cracked spines and worn covers. Bookmarks and sticky notes bristled from between their pages. Just a cursory glance told him that most of them had some relation to the ocean or computers, though some he couldn’t tell, at least not without an interpreter.

On the opposite side of the room was a desk, three large monitors covering its length, and snarls of wires and cords leading down to the towers underneath. In the corner stood a stack of servers, shelved within a metal cabinet, their lights glowing steadily behind the glass door. A wide tube was duct-taped to the vents of a window-mounted A/C unit then ran to the back of the cabinet.

“Wow,” Seth said, equally disturbed and impressed. “There’s a lot going on in here.”

Jim laughed. “I know. It’s like you can walk from the past to the present just by crossing the room.”

Seth gestured to the desk. “May I?”

“Of course,” Jim said.

He pulled the chair away from the desk and sat down. It was a plain, wooden chair and uncomfortable as hell. How had Thomas sat in this for hours at a time?

Jim must have noticed his expression. “I’m sorry about that, it was the only extra chair I had. We had to get rid of the nicer one that was in here.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” he said. He moved aside two empty energy drink cans, accidentally bumping the mouse and waking the computers. The towers’ fans whirred to life, and he squinted as the monitors lit up. To his surprise, the computers were not locked. Thomas had set a single image as his background. It was the sea at night, stars shining above but only to each side of the photo. In the middle, above the sea and rising out of frame, was just black emptiness. Like an unseen cloud had been there, blocking out the starlight. Instead of one landscape picture, or even the same picture set in triplicate, the image stretched across all three screens. It looked smeared, as if dripping horizontally from left to right.

“I’ll let you get to it then,” Jim said, and headed out the door. “Just give a shout if you need anything.”

Seth answered without looking away from the monitors. “Okay, thanks.”

The computer’s desktop was amazingly clean compared to the rest of the room. Three folders were visible, two on the leftmost screen and one on the right, leaving the middle screen inexplicably blank.

“Looks like a good place to start,” he said, and selected a folder named “Contract”. He double-clicked and was immediately met with a prompt for a password.

Seth had been working tech support for six years, obtaining industry certifications while still in high school and finding a job quickly after graduating. He not only knew computers, but people’s computer habits. He began to rummage around the desk, moving trash and empty food containers. With that out of the way, he lifted the keyboard and found nothing. The only thing left unmoved was the mousepad. He picked it up, then grinned as he spotted the yellow paper taped beneath. On it was a string of characters, an alphanumeric jumble, but it was easy to make out.

He entered the password, and the folder opened showing a handful of documents. Seth opened the first doc and began to read.

“‘Mr. Walters,’” he read under his breath. “‘We’re pleased to inform you that after’, yeah, yeah, come on,” He skipped down a paragraph. “‘We would like to make an offer on your game, Black Wind, for the sum of $19 million…”

He trailed off, the words dying on his tongue. He clicked out of the window and quickly opened the neighboring folder simply titled “Game”.

Seth had very little software development experience, but he knew enough terminology to be able to understand what he was reading. Thomas had developed a mobile game that used a phone’s camera and facial recognition software to create an augmented reality experience, a game that would superimpose images over the real world when viewed through the screen. AR games were popular, Seth even played a couple himself, but he’d never heard of this one.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and looked for Black Wind in his app store. Nothing. He changed course and searched online for “Black Wind game”, “Thomas Walters”, and various combinations of the two. Zero hits. Was someone willing to pay almost twenty million to a no-name developer living in his mom’s guestroom? With zero online presence?

Unheard of? He guessed not, but extremely unlikely. Regardless, he had to see this game.

He sorted the documents by type, bringing all folders up to the top of the list, then sorted again by date. A folder named “Beta” sat at the top.

“Okay, let’s see what we got,” he said, reaching down to his bag and pulling out the data cable for his phone. He glanced briefly over his shoulder, making sure Jim hadn’t decided to pop back in unexpectedly, then connected his phone.

A new window appeared on screen showing the contents of his phone. He quickly copied the folder and watched impatiently as the green progress bar slowly filled.

What the hell was he doing? He wasn’t a thief, had never even stolen so much as a cent from anyone. But was it really stealing? He wasn’t going to sell it or anything, he was just curious. He wanted to see what a twenty million-dollar AR game looked like.

He had a couple of minutes to wait, so he continued exploring. The last folder left was the one on the far-right screen called “Dad”. Seth opened it, then double-clicked the only file available.

Dad, the document read. I’m sorry I had to go earlier than I thought. I wish I could’ve seen the deal through, but they wanted complete creative control, wanted me to just sign it away. They only care about the profit, and their plans would weaken the storm into a whisper. 

I can’t allow the work to be diluted. I know you understand.

So, I will do it myself, and when I’m gone the Black Wind will be ready. I will crawl underground and undersea, into sunken tunnels of light and out the other side. And when I see his dark face, I’ll wrap myself in his onyx robes and rest, happy beneath his wings. If I’m lost beneath the waves you must find a way to continue. Plant the seed, and the roots will do the rest. Goodbye, Dad. I love you.

Seth sat back against the chair slowly and let out a long breath.

His mind raced. Was he really supposed to show Jim this? It was a rambling mess. It would probably hurt Jim more than it would help. He wouldn’t want to remember his son like that.

Before he came to a decision his phone dinged, a cheery message stating his download was complete. He quickly unplugged it from the computer and tossed the cord back into the bag.

Seth swiped the message away, revealing a new icon on his phone. It was a square as gray as uncut stone, a black hole spinning in the middle. His finger hesitated, hovering over the icon, as an unknown dread seeped its way into his gut.

He bit his bottom lip and tapped the icon.

The screen flashed, then was filled with a yellow-green light. The words “Black Wind” materialized, off-center and in an unrecognizable font. The effect was immediate. Seth felt queasy, unbalanced. It was that color, a god-awful yellow, like jaundiced skin with pus festering just beneath. It was the color of fresh phlegm, of infection.

He squinted, tasting vomit in the back of his throat. The title melted away, and the diseased color slowly faded, leaving only black. Gray letters swirled like leaves in a storm.

Seth read the words aloud as his mind caught them. “Open…your…eyes. Breathe…me…in.”

A bright light flashed, and Seth dropped the phone as he stifled a cry. His eyes burned, as sharp pain shot from behind the lids.

Jim’s voice came from somewhere. “You okay in there?”

He felt like he was standing on a boat in rough seas. He sat down, trying to steady himself. “Yeah!” he called back, hoping he sounded calm. “I’m fine, just dropped my phone.”

“Okay, well I’m here if you need me.”

“Thank you!” he said, shoving the heels of his hands against his eyes and rubbing.

Neat trick, he thought sullenly. He lowered his hands and opened his eyes. His phone was on the floor between his feet. The word “Prelude” showed on the screen in bold letters.

Seth picked it up and watched with growing unease as the phone’s camera showed him a view of the floor, then the desk as he lifted the phone back up in front of him. He aimed the camera towards the wall above the desk, searching for whatever the app was adding to the world.

It wasn’t until he pointed the phone back at the computer that he noticed something. There was another pair of hands, their fingers typing away at the keyboard. Seth stared at his phone, focusing on the hands, then on the words they were typing.

I’ll wrap myself in his onyx robes and rest, the hands typed. Seth nearly dropped the phone again, struck dumb by the vision of Thomas Walters typing out his final letter to his father.

Thomas had known he was going to die. Why else would he have recorded this, have programmed it into the game? The hands finished typing, then moved out of frame. Seth turned the camera trying to find them again, but instead found Thomas standing in the middle of the room facing away, towards the servers.

Seth lowered his phone, looking at the empty room, then raised it again, bringing Thomas back into view on the screen. The effect was stunning. He had never seen an AR game this detailed, this fleshed out.

Thomas opened the glass door of the server cabinet and placed his left hand within, saying something too low for Seth to hear. He thumbed the volume button on his phone, setting it to the maximum.

“Here is your beginning to our end,” Thomas said. “Here, I have planted the seeds of your chaos. Here, I will water the seeds that they may bear your strange fruit.”

Thomas’s right hand came into view from out of frame, holding a black-bladed dagger.

Seth didn’t have time to process what he was seeing before Thomas lifted the blade and drove it into the side of his own neck, then withdrew it just as quickly. Blood sprayed from the wound, scattering droplets across the cushioned chair.

Thomas coughed and leaned forward, positioning himself so the eruption of blood coated the servers and ran down into the machines. The fans within sputtered as the blood hit them, and soon wisps of smoke rose from the ventilation ports.

Seth didn’t move, didn’t breathe, as Thomas slowly slumped to the carpet, his head and shoulders resting against the servers. His hand floundered on the carpet, fingers clumsily searching until they finally landed on their prize: a bundle of cables. Seth could see there were at least three but none he could identify. The ends were metallic and sharp, more like hypodermic needles than Ethernet cables.

Thomas brought his free hand up to his neck, grimacing as he sunk two fingers into the wound there, spreading it, spilling blood from between his knuckles. He smoothly pushed the cables into the hole, slowly feeding them inch by inch until he was sure they would stay in place. His hands fell to his sides and his breathing slowed.

The steady stream of blood became sluggish, then stopped entirely. Seth’s fear was a lead weight in his belly, keeping him pressed to the ground and unable to turn away. The cables emerging from Thomas’s neck began to pulse, shaking his body, making it twitch like a grotesque puppet. The servers’ fans spun faster and faster, growing louder until they roared like crashing waves.

Then Thomas began to shrink, his limbs drawing closer to his body like a dying spider. The skin of his face grew tight as if he’d received a bad face-lift, his eyes bulging and rolling. Horrible squelching noises brought an image to Seth’s mind that he tried to suppress but couldn’t: a straw reaching the bottom of a glass, sucking up every drop of moisture. What was left of Thomas began to crack as his desiccated skin split over the sharp edges of his bones.

And then it was over. Seth lowered his phone, momentarily disoriented by the switch from the virtual, bloody mess to reality.

He could see it all now. The carpet was gone, for one. And Jim himself had mentioned getting rid of Thomas’s chair, and now it was obvious why. Stepping lightly over the hardwood floors, he went to the cabinet and opened it with a shaky hand.

The inside had been cleaned, but there had been so much blood. Seth touched the top of the nearest server, amazed that it still worked, then drew back his hand with a cry. He looked down to his fingers as blood welled up from a shallow cut across his palm.

“What the hell was that?” he said, leaning forward to inspect where his hand had been.

Etched into the metal top of the server was a word, the edges of its letters jagged and sharp. He couldn’t make any sense of it, and when he tried to read it the letters seem to shift and blur. He lifted the phone by instinct, watching the letters solidify through the screen.

He read the word aloud, stumbling over the unfamiliar syllables.

The point-of-view turned dizzyingly, as if he was riding a rollercoaster, and he was suddenly staring at himself.

From the edges of the screen came coal-black fingers, reaching for his image there, then sinking into the flesh. The image of him writhed, his mouth open in a soundless scream as the fingers pulled. His face came away like the skin of a shedding reptile, then dispersed into a thick smoke.

What was left was a hole that lead to nothing but inky dark, a singularity with hazy edges that reached from his hairline to his chin and from ear to ear.

Seth touched his face, running his fingers over his nose, his lips, his chin. Everything was still in place, and he let out a shaky sigh of relief. The image of him faded from the screen as a message appeared.

You are opened, it said. And now you will be filled.

The screen began to pulse, and his brain was wracked by images so vivid they could’ve been memories. Blood ran up strange angles and cyclopean columns, defying gravity. It flowed ever upward, finally coalescing into a giant, glaring eye. It stared at him, into him.

He fell, unable to withstand its searing gaze.

Seth woke on the hard floor, his back aching, and arm numb from lying on it for too long. He flexed his hand, grimacing at the telltale pin pricks of pain as the blood flowed back into it unimpeded. He groaned and sat up.

Jim stood above him, Seth’s phone in his hand.

“Here,” he said, and offered him his free hand. “Let me help you up.”

He grasped Jim’s hand and hauled himself up from the floor.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not sure what happened. I found–”

“The game,” Jim interrupted.

Seth stared at him, unable to hide his confusion. “Yes, I… wait, you knew?”

“Yes, and no,” he said.

He took a slow step away from Jim. “You didn’t need me to get into his computer.”

“I knew what he was working on,” Jim said. “But not how to use it or how to best distribute it.”

Seth rubbed his face with both hands. “I don’t understand any of this.”

“Follow me and I’ll explain,” Jim said.

Although it was the last thing he wanted to do, he grabbed his bag and followed. Back in the living room, Jim took a seat on the couch. He motioned for Seth to sit.

Seth shook his head. It felt crazy, but he wanted to stay standing in case he needed to run.

“Suit yourself,” Jim said. “Let me ask you a question. Have you heard of me prior to today?”

“No,” Seth said. “I don’t think so.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “But I was the poet laureate of our fair state for many years. And my wife, Linda, was a novelist–”

The names clicked together in his mind. “Your wife wrote ‘Digging into Dark’!”

Jim smiled. “Yes! You’ve read it?”

“No,” Seth admitted. “But I did see the movie they made from it.”

Jim’s smile faltered and he sighed. “And that’s my point, exactly. I have published hundreds of poems, sixteen books worth. And aside from that one book, none of my wife’s novels reached the masses. Critical acclaim, yes, but not commercial. Over the years people just paid less and less attention, and our message, its message, stagnated. So, we had to come up with another plan.”

“Plan?” Seth asked.

Jim stared at him, a renewed vigor in his voice. “When we could not spread its influence any longer, it came to us–”

Jim spoke the name aloud, making Seth’s ears throb.

He continued. “And told us we would have to evolve our methods. It touched Linda and spread its frost into her womb. It told us that we would have a child, and that child would grow up to understand the new age. Computers, the internet, and everything to come. My boy’s talents for technology would succeed where our talents for the written word did not. Not in this age.”

“The game,” Seth said. “It’ll use the game to what, take over the world?” He laughed at the absurdity of it.

“To destroy it,” Jim said. “To spread madness, really, but the result will be the same. It will pave a way for it to come into our world. You know this technology, Seth. You’ll be blessed, one of the first carriers–”

“Let me stop you right there,” Seth said, and strode past Jim. “I’m getting the fuck out of here. Jesus Christ. I can’t believe I stayed and listened—”

“It doesn’t need your consent,” Jim said. “It’s already opened a hole in you. But it will hurt less if you just—”

Seth stopped, his hand on the doorknob, and turned to glare at him. “Give me back my phone.”

Jim tossed it to him.

He caught it against his chest with one hand. “Thanks. Don’t be surprised when we charge you for my overtime.”

Seth opened the door, raised his middle finger to Jim, and went out into the dimming light of the sunset.

* * * * * *

He did not go to work the next day.

Sleep eluded him. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Thomas sliding to the floor, his blood a waterfall running out of the cabinet. And that’s if Seth was lucky. Other times he saw a man, or a beast, but couldn’t remember. It was inhuman, its skin obsidian, the edges of its hard face as smooth as blown glass.

And in the soft, purple moments between night and dawn he saw the eye. The slick sphere rose before him, crimson veins as big as tree roots, its rising lid was a vast curtain opening between worlds, and he was only a mote of dust before its pupil.

He couldn’t take it anymore, he had to get out, had to be around other people. The thought of being cooped up all day in his dark apartment made him groan. He quickly got dressed, throwing on a t-shirt and jeans without looking at them. He shoved his phone and keys into his pockets and left.

The morning sunlight was a revelation, invigorating and welcome. Within moments he was strolling down the sidewalk, smiling at passersby, telling them all to have a good morning. For having just minutes of sleep he felt damn good. His phone vibrated, and he fished it out of his pocket.

The screen showed one new notification. Seth tapped the icon.

The game started immediately, and all his goodwill fled from him.

Ready to play? it read.

A sharp pain lanced across his palm, and he remembered cutting himself on the server the day before. He tried switching his phone to his other hand, but it was stuck fast. He pried at the edges of the phone, opening a gap wide enough to see beneath. Black and silver filaments connected him to his phone, reaching out and into the wound. He could feel them digging deeper into the meat of his hand, then climbing the tendons in his wrist.

Seth’s mouth went completely dry and his pulse hammered in his ears. The sick-yellow screen faded, showing the view from his camera. He lifted it in front of him.

People walked by, going about their business. He pointed his phone toward a young couple in their teens. They walked hand and hand, chatting. On his screen, an amorphous gray shape hovered around the girl’s head, and beneath it a message.

Chance of infection: 48%, it read.

He tilted his phone to focus on the boy, a darker haze floated around him. The message changed.

Chance of infection: 89%

He tapped his finger on the boy’s face. The haze darkened further and forced its way into the boy’s nostrils and mouth until nothing was left of it. Seth watched, rapidly looking from the screen to the boy, waiting. He didn’t know for what but was sure he’d know it when he saw it.

The boy just stood, looking confused.

The message changed.

Corrupt or Cull?

Seth hesitated, unsure of what was expected of him. He shrugged and tapped “Cull”.

The boy cried out, dropping his girlfriend’s hand and running from her. Soon he was sprinting, racing down the sidewalk. Seth watched, disappointed and fascinated in equal measure.

The boy didn’t stop but ran into the street. The first few cars managed to swerve away but the truck had no chance. Its grill struck the teen with a horrible thump, sending him cartwheeling. He landed hard on the asphalt, his limbs at odd angles. His girlfriend screamed, and as much as he didn’t want to, Seth smiled.

People poured out of their cars, and the air was filled with cries. They screamed for help, doctors, an ambulance.

He felt cold, his smile buoyed by an impulse that didn’t originate from within him.

The girlfriend was on her knees, shaky, frantically tapping at her phone. Dialing for emergency services, maybe. He didn’t know or care but framed her within his phone’s screen once more. The miasma still floated around her head, shapes of smoke that he couldn’t make out, and the prompt flashed again.

Corrupt or Cull?

He tapped “Corrupt”. The girl froze, squinting at her phone, then there was a familiar flash of light. She cried out and fell back onto the asphalt, one hand covering her eyes. On Seth’s screen the dark around the girl’s face spun and whirled, then was gone, and her face along with it.

That’s what I look like, he thought, staring at the black hole above her neck.

An onlooker helped her up and handed her phone back. She held it up before her eyes like she’d never seen it before and began to turn in a slow circle. Watching all the faces, he imagined.

On the far side of the street a line of vehicles had begun to accumulate, and Seth could feel the tension building. A car horn blared, and his hands pointed the phone at the foremost of the cars as if by their own volition.

Without warning, the car took a hard right, jumping the curb and travelling up the sidewalk, gathering speed. A man pulled a child to his chest and rolled out of the way. But the group of people standing outside of the coffee shop weren’t so lucky. The car never slowed as it plowed into them, dragging them screaming into the shop itself. A fresh volley of cries pierced the air as glass and blood flew. Within seconds a group of bystanders had pulled the driver from his car, and Seth could hear the flat smacks of flesh on flesh as they beat him.

Seth lowered his phone, confused. He didn’t have the driver fully in frame, and never tapped any of the prompts. He cut his eyes back to the girl.

She stood, watching her handiwork through her phone, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her lips.

Seth pressed the Home key on his phone, followed by the icon that led to the app store. His search from yesterday was still there, and he refreshed the page.

Black Wind was there now, with 1,199 downloads.

He refreshed the page again, and the number jumped to 5,155.

Every new instance of the page brought higher and higher numbers.

This is how it happens, he thought. The cough that spreads the plague.

Before he had plunged the knife into his neck, Thomas had written that he would travel “underground and undersea, through sunken tunnels of light.”

Cables, Seth realized with dread coiling in his guts. Thousands of cables spanning the globe.

He looked to the girl again. She hadn’t moved, but stood watching the chaos spread, her hair shining with the light of the morning sun.

She met his gaze and smiled.

Seth nodded to her and walked away, staring down at his long shadow.

Rating: 9.33/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ryan Harville
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ryan Harville

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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