Mark hits a slight bend and is launched into free-fall, a hoarse scream bursting from him as he flies. Then he’s down again with a thud that makes his coccyx throb and sliding on his rear, his passage eased by the layer of slug-slime that coats the bottom of the tunnel. It’s too dark to see so he closes his eyes; it makes him feel better, somehow.
The tunnel narrows and twists sharply downward. He screams again and his stomach flips madly. Inertia makes him circle the tunnel like a pea being sucked down a plughole. His feet plunge into a thin membrane of slime that covers the end of the tunnel and he bursts through into a wide, open space.
Time seems to slow as he falls…
And hits water with a SPLASH!
He goes under, nostrils filling, choking on the cold water. His feet touch the muddy bottom and he kicks hard, launching himself towards the surface amidst a throng of bubbles released from the bottom. He coughs out a spray of water and raggedly inhales, smelling the marsh-gas reek of methane.
Mark treads water and combs his hair back from his forehead with his fingers. Liquescent slime thickens the strands and holds his hair in position, like the world’s grossest hair product. Instead of the expected darkness he is surrounded by eerie light of greenish hue which emanates from the patches of mould that mottle the walls and ceiling of this enormous vaulted tunnel.
There is a sloped bank to either side of the water course in which Mark floats, each of them covered with a carpet of foot-long purple grass and giant flowers of equally unusual hue. A bee as large as Mark’s head with green and blue stripes bumbles from flower to flower on the left side of the river, its wings buzzing loudly in harmony with their own echo. A thick swathe of grass on the right-hand bank is matted down with slime, an obvious trail that leads to an arch-shaped side tunnel some fifteen feet high.
Mark is strangely calm in the face of these irregularities, though his body shakes from the coldness of the water and the after-effects of adrenaline. He looks up at the narrow tunnel that birthed him here and realises at once that it would be an impossible climb.
He sighs, and begins to swim towards the right-hand bank. It seems his task is far from over.