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    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

“Jem in the Tunnel”

NB:  These excerpts do contain SPOILERS.

He must be getting near the end of the tunnel.  Jem could tell by the way the air pushed back against his face.  All he could see was the little red light on the train’s dashboard–did you call it a dashboard on a train? he wondered.  He didn’t want to stop, because that meant he’d have to get out of the train, into the dark.  But the train was running out of track, so there wasn’t much else he could do.

He pulled back a little bit on the lever that made the train go, and it slowed down.  More.  Just a little more, and the lever clicked into a kind of slot and the train stopped with a little jerk that made him stumble and grab the edge of the cab.

An electric train didn’t make any engine noise, but the wheels rattled on the track and the train made squeaks and clunks as it moved.   When it stopped, the noise stopped too.  It was really quiet.

“Hey!” he said out loud, because he didn’t want to listen to his heart beating.  The sound echoed, and he looked up, startled.  Mum had said the tunnel was really high, more than thirty feet, but he’d forgot that.  The idea that there was a lot of empty space hanging over him that he couldn’t see bothered him a lot.  He swallowed, and stepped out of the tiny engine, holding on to the frame with one hand.

“Hey!” he shouted at the invisible ceiling.  “Are there any bats up there?”

Silence.  He’d kind of been hoping there were bats.  He wasn’t afraid of them–there were bats in the old broch, and he liked to sit and watch them come out to hunt in the summer evenings.  But he was alone.  Except for the dark.

His hands were sweating.  He let go of the metal cab and scrubbed both hands on his jeans.  Now he could hear himself breathing, too.

“Crap,” he whispered under his breath.  That made him feel better, so he said it again.  Maybe he ought to be praying, instead, but he didn’t feel like that, not yet.

There was a door, Mum said.  At the end of the tunnel.  It led into the service chamber, where the big turbines could be lifted up from the dam if they needed fixing.  Would the door be locked?

Suddenly he realized that he’d stepped away from the train and he didn’t know whether he was facing the end of the tunnel or back the way he’d come.  In a panic, he blundered to and fro, hands out, looking for the train.  He tripped over part of the track and fell sprawling.  He lay there for a second saying “Crap-crap-crap-crap-crap!” because he’d skinned both knees and the palm of his hand, but he was OK, really, and now he knew where the track was, so he could follow it and not get lost.

He got up, wiped his nose, and shuffled slowly along, kicking the track every few steps to be sure he stayed with it.  He thought he was in front of where the train had stopped, so it didn’t really matter which way he was going–either he’d find the train or he’d find the end of the tunnel.  And then the door.  If it was locked, maybe–

Something like an electric shock ran right through him.  He gasped and fell over backward.  The only thing in his mind was the idea that somebody had hit him with a light-sabre like Luke Skywalker’s, and for a minute, he though maybe whoever it was had cut off his head.

He couldn’t feel his body, and could see in his mind his body lying bleeding in the dark and his head sitting right there on the train tracks in the dark, not being able to see his body and not even knowing it wasn’t attached anymore.  He made a breathless kind of a noise that was trying to be a scream, but it made his stomach move and he felt that, he felt it, and suddenly he felt a lot more like praying.

Gratia…Deo!” he managed to gasp.  It was what Grand-da said when he talked about a fight or killing something and this wasn’t quite that sort of thing, but it seemed like a good thing to say anyway.

Now he could feel all of himself again, but he sat up and grabbed his neck, just to be sure his head was still on.  His skin was jumping in the weirdest way.  Like a horse’s does when a horse-fly bites it, but all over.  He swallowed and tasted sugared silver and he gasped again, because now he knew what had hit him.  Sort of.

This wasn’t quite like it had been, when they’d all walked into the rocks on Ocracoke.  One minute, he’d been in his father’s arms and the next minute it was like he was scattered everywhere in little wiggly pieces like the spilled quicksilver in Grannie’s surgery.  Then he was back together again, and Da was still holding him tight enough to squeeze his breath out and he could hear Da sobbing and that scared him and he had a funny taste in his mouth and little pieces of him were still wiggling around trying to get away but they were trapped inside his skin…

Yeah.  That was what was making his skin jump now, and he breathed easier, knowing what it was.  That was OK, then, he was OK, it would stop.

It was stopping already, the twitchy feeling going away.  He still felt a little shaky, but he stood up.  Careful, because he didn’t know where it was.

Wait…he did know.  He knew exactly.

“That’s weird,” he said, out loud without really noticing, because he wasn’t scared by the dark anymore, it wasn’t important.

He couldn’t really see it, not with his eyes, not exactly.  He squinted, trying to think how he was seeing it, but there wasn’t a word for what he was doing.  Kind of like hearing or smelling or touching, but not really any of those.

But he knew where it was.  It was right there, a kind of…shiver…in the air, and when he stared at it, he had a feeling in the back of his mind like really pretty sparkly things, like sun on the sea and the way a candle-flame looked when it shone through a ruby, but he knew he wasn’t really seeing anything like that.

It went all the way across the tunnel, and up to the high roof, too, he could tell.  But it wasn’t thick at all, it was thin as air.

He guessed that was why it hadn’t swallowed him like the thing in the rocks on Ocracoke had.  At least…he thought it hadn’t, and for an instant, worried that maybe he’d gone sometime else.  But he didn’t think so.  The tunnel felt just the same, and so did he, now his skin had stopped jumping.  When they’d done it, on Ocracoke, he’d known right away it was different.

He stood there for a minute, just looking and thinking, and then shook his head and turned around, feeling with his foot for the track.  He wasn’t going back through that, no matter what.   He’d just have to hope the door wasn’t locked.

[end section]

This excerpt is from WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD. Copyright © 2013 by Diana Gabaldon.