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Eisen Wolfen Tunnel
Where I’m from in rural Germany, we have a local legend about a tunnel that runs through a thin but steep mountain called Eisen Wolfen Mountain, or Iron Wolf Mountain. This short but inconvenient landmark is what now separates my small town from the larger colony and what used to be my school.
Back in the early 1980’s, when I was a young boy, it was my own responsibility to get to and from school on time by riding my bike, and I was also tasked with picking up any items from the stores to bring back home. Now, normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, as I could simply, on most occasions, detour around the mountain on a much more public road. However, one dusk, I had to be home quickly, before it got truly dark, in order to avoid getting into trouble and probably a beating by my less-than nurturing father. The road I normally took curving around the mountain was easily a 35-minute ride. This meant I had no choice but to take the tunnel. But, before we get into my experience, let me tell you about this tunnel.
Eisen Wölfin Tunnel can easily be described as a maw carved crudely into the rocky face of a sheer cliff reddened with strips of iron deposits. From the outside, both ways, a not-so-well worn dirt path branches off of the paved road and slides into the dark interior of the earth’s cave. Supposedly, the main tunnel is a straight shot through, but if that were the case then you would be able to see light peeking through the other side, right? Not here. Instead, it’s pitch-black mere meters into the threshold.
The history of the tunnel is a strange but no all-too uncommon one. During WWII, the tunnel was carved into the mountain side as a means of more readily transporting supplies to stationed troops. In addition to this, it was also given branching tunnels from within to mine the vast quantities of iron used for the manufacturing of weapons and other items for the war effort. This may be to blame for the tunnels’ lack of a straight shot through, most likely curving some due to the iron harvesting and crude, explosive methods the workers tended to use when creating the tunnel.
Now, with that bit of history out of the way comes the part that skeptics may choose to overlook or make reason to. The tunnel itself was abandoned shortly after its completion, and mining efforts ceased. There is no documented reason for this happening, other than those who entered it simply began to vanish. No traces were ever left behind. It never mattered how many people went in at a time, if they had weapons – and being Germany during the war, you know they had weapons – nor how long they were supposed to be inside. Even if they had lights with them, a few documented accounts of those outside and watching say that the darkness of the tunnel snuffed the light out in an impossible way, consuming it and the men who entered. Along with this, no sounds of screams or struggle were ever heard from outside. Everyone who went in simply disappeared without trace or reason. As such, the tunnel and mining operation from within were abandoned, the war losing more people to the mountain’s mystery than what resources were worth gathering.
That being said, since then, more and more people have gone into the tunnel and have been lost, but not all. On occasion, a person – adult or child, it doesn’t matter – will claim to have gone into the mountain and made it completely through the tunnel. However, when they do this, it’s quite clear that portions of their mind were left behind.
Eventually, kids started to dare each other to go into the tunnel’s shadows and stand there for five minutes or was used as a sort of rite of passage. This led to more disappearances by some, but not all, folks who chose to perform the task. Which, in turn, prompted the local government to put up wooden blockades and signs warning people not to trespass, ineffectively closing off the tunnel to anyone who might want to go in. This didn’t work for me.
As I said before, I had to be home soon one dusk to avoid my father’s temper. I had been staying with a friend in the larger town for the day and had lost track of time. This meant that, by the time I had gotten to Eisen Wölfin Tunnel’s poorly blocked off entrance, the moon was already climbing its way into the sky. Being a 13-year-old boy and not wanting to take the extra 35 minutes to get home by going around the mountain’s edge, I quickly decided that I would try the Tunnel for the first time.
I knew of the stories and was well aware of the traditions of leaving people inside for fun, but I can honestly say that fear of my father’s beating vastly outweighed the fear of a local legend and dark cave. Pretty bad when you’re more frightened of your own father than the thought of possibly vanishing, huh?
Anyway, I made up my mind rather quickly and mustered up what courage I had to enter the tunnel. Luckily, I had brought a headlamp with me just in case; it was a simple elastic band with a mini light on the front that went around my head’s circumference. Turning that on, I hopped off my bike and walked it carefully past the haphazardly placed blockades and crept into the tunnel.
Just as I had imagined, the inside was crudely torn out of the mountain’s rocky flesh, and darkness enveloped me and my bike. I didn’t get back on due to the mystery of what lie ahead, unwanting of speeding through and inadvertently crashing into a wall or flipping over the handlebars due to a jutting stone. Besides, even if I took my good old time here, I would still make it through the other side and just outside my hometown in mere minutes, in theory.
As such, I gradually pushed my bike along step by step, heart pounding and palms sweating. The sound of dripping water caused my head to jolt to the side many times in a short time frame, eliciting dizziness and an aching neck. But every sound was amplified, and I perceived it as something to watch for and fear. I had only been walking for a couple of minutes when the fear that had been welling up inside of me burst the fragile dam of confidence I tried to cling to. It was just all too much, even tough nothing truly terrifying had happened yet.
All I had seen were the red-orange walls scored with marks of forgotten miners and a few pools of murky water. No monsters, no missing bodies, nothing but the cave itself and blackness. But it was this blackness and the thought of the stories I’d heard that clutched my cowardly, child heart, holding it with a fierce grip that I turned into energy to fuel my hast to leave.
I held my bike’s handlebars tightly in my hands and whipped around with the contraption, turning my back to the cavernous way. However, upon spinning, I saw no light from outside, not even the dim brightness of the moon’s illumination. The only thing my dim headlamp showed was more tunnel wall.
Heart skipping a beat, I bit my lip and raced back the way I had come with my bike still hand, but I only came face-to-face with a damp wall. Where I had been certain I’d come from in a straight line was only wall, no entrance, not blockades, no outside.
Panic truly began to set in then, bubbling up like an overflowing cooking pot. I ran along this wall to the left with my bike until it met with another to form a rounded corner. Upon seeing this, I tried the other way but was greeted with the same thing. Somehow, it appeared, the tunnel’s entrance had sealed up, like a healed wound. And that meant, I was sealed inside.
Sure I had not taken any turns, my mind boggled at the idea of being unable to find my way out. It raced, at the time, with all the stories I’d hear, the legend, and how I cursed myself for being such a fool. Now, I would become just another story, another child suddenly lost without a trace, consumed by the tunnel.
I’m not ashamed to admit I started to cry then. I gripped my bike’s handlebars harder and wailed, the sound of my desperate yet defeated cries echoing loudly across the interior. It drowned out all other sounds of the tunnel, causing my ears to flood with the noise and ring.
I cried for some time, but I cannot tell you how long. I can only say that, by the time I’d come to terms with my fate, my throat stung with effort. By then, I had collapsed onto the cold ground with my bike lying to the side. My hands and clothes were wet but not from the water falling above, from my own source.
I sat there for maybe a minute, contemplating how long it would take for me to really die in this forbidden place, but, then, what little will I had left to live emerged. And, with it, came a sense of logic. If I didn’t have a way out the direction I’d come, maybe I’d have a chance to get through to the other side. After all, others claim to have done it before, even though they never spoke of being trapped inside beforehand. Still, this was a tunnel, and tunnels always had another way out on the other side. It would be my only chance, but it was a chance.
Mustering up what energy I had left from breaking down, I hauled myself to my feet and gathered my bike. Quickly, the remaining tears upon my face were wicked away by a sleeve, and I inhaled deeply, exhaled, then slowly began to move forward.
This time, I stayed along the wall, instead of following the open path made. I figured this way, I would be able to tell when the tunnel took a turn or when it branched off, so I could steer clear of it if possible. I hoped so, anyway.
Step by step, I headed deeper into the mountain’s stomach, the walls going from high and mighty to a more enclosing space. I perceived no turns, so I thought that maybe since the tunnel had been abandoned, they hadn’t fully carved out the high ceilings before everything was lost. This brought little comfort, though.
What made things even worse yet more fascinating, was when I came across a small pile of old pickaxes lying at the base of the wall I walked. They were clearly from the War’s efforts, the wood almost rotted completely away from years being in heavy, humid air – porous and nearly like shriveled sponge. The metal heads were rusted greatly, deformed by the oxidation, and a thick coating of dust blanketed it all.
For a moment, I stopped to stare in wonder and caution, having almost tripped over the sudden collection in my small circle of luminescence. How many people had bene down here working on the tunnel? How many after had come to see remnants of the past such as this? Judging by the undisturbed dust, I would say not many. Perhaps I was the only one to witness these relics for decades.
Even so, even in my moment of wonder, I knew I had to press forward. So, I left the pile as it was, undisturbed by anything of the outside word. Continuing on, I began to notice various other objects lying about. Hammers, hinges, lanterns, even a small metal box all lay scattered throughout the tunnel’s interior and somewhere in my path. Then, came the worst thing I could have come across.
After walking for what felt like a mile, I was met face to face with another wall, a dead end tapering down into a rounded point with walls pressing close to my personal bubble. But how, I thought. I had been watching where I was going, and the wall I’d followed had never taken a turn to my perception, not even a gradual one! How was I at such a clear end that wasn’t my destination?
In hindsight, I suppose the long-forgotten tools should have been my clue that I had deviated from the main tunnel and went down instead a mining shaft. But, at the moment, I hadn’t thought of the tools. I only let out an aggravated yowl and carefully turned myself and my bike to head back the way I had come and, hopefully, find the main tunnel again.
I walked and walked, following the same slick surface I had before to go back. But no matter how much I stepped forward, I never seemed to really go anywhere. The tunnel all looked the same, walls and ceiling close, stretching further onward in what looked like a straight shot into everlasting darkness. Yet, never again did I find those hammers and hinges and lanterns. Never did I regain sight of the pickaxe pile, even though I’d retraced my path exactly the way I had come.
Suddenly, the light of my headlamp caught the sheen of something truly awful. At the edge of its golden radius, a weathered but clearly discernable length caught my attention. Shakily, I looked onward, slowly panning the light upon my head further up the object. A skeleton’s leg led to tattered pants, which led to a ripped shirt that connected upwards to a torso and beaten skull slumped against a jutting rock.
It’s safe to say I let out the beginnings of a scream, but the reverberation hurt my own ears, so I covered my mouth firmly with both hands, allowing my bike to clatter over in the process.
Before me rested the ancient skeleton of what I can only assume to be a soldier of the War, given his dark green shirt and gray pants uniform, no matter how tattered and torn. He sat there against the rock and wall, leaning with his half-skull nestled into the nook naturally formed. An arm rested merely at his side, while the other, unfortunately, held a small pistol. It was then that I noticed near by was his helmet, a bowl now for containing the dripping water, rather than protecting his head, or what was left of it.
Why had he done this to himself? Had he gone insane during the war? Or had he been trapped in this mountain like I was now, unable to find his own way out in the twisting, shifting cavern tunnels? I shuddered to think what had been going on through his mind before it was destroyed by his own hand, vividly able to imagine his own prior terror and hopelessness. I prayed then that I wouldn’t suffer the same fate – being trapped so long that I wished for death as a means of escape.
I left his remains alone, allowing the dust to further accumulate over his bones without interruption. Picking up my bike, I stared at the bare corpse, a small part of me waiting for it to reanimate and lunge for my legs or arms, as if some kind of nightmare which would never end. But, as you can expect, nothing happened. It never moved, and I moved on, slowly.
By then, my stomach had started to growl, gnawing at my conscious mind to find something edible. But I knew there would nothing here, in this cave. What had once been food years ago would have then been more accompanying stone. I hadn’t even seen any bats or another living creature at all since first entering the Tunnel’s gape. Yet, my hunger persisted, forcing my mind to wander and remember delicious meals of roast veal, the salty broth of eintopf, and sweet essence of black forest gateau cakes. This led my brain to think of my poor mother. She would be worried sick when I never returned home, when I never received another embrace in her loving arms. While father would be pissed, she would be sobbing with worry.
Guilt settled, and I wished then more than ever that I had just taken the road around the mountain to be late getting home. In that tunnel, being stuck wandering in the chill and black void for what had definitely been hours, seeing relics of the long-forgotten past, and finding the final resting place of a soldier trapped as I was, I wished for the beating from my father. That was nothing compared to the hell I had been facing inside of that dreadfully atrocious mountain.
It was then that I noticed something new in my path. Once more, having followed the wall the way I had come, Eisen Wölfin Tunnel had shifted. Instead of the mine shaft opening up into the main tunnel, I was faced with a choice. Branching to the left, straight ahead, and to the right, were three smaller tunnels, each one leading only further into the abyss.
By then, I had come to terms with the fact that retracing my steps was useless. The worthless paths I tried to retake never ended up back where I’d come from. I had no choice but to go forward in this endeavor, or simply sit for Death as the soldier had done.
With the second option not yet viable, I chose to press onward. I used a simple tune akin to eenie meenie miney mo as means of random selection, eventually opting for the tunnel on the right. Gradually, I entered, bike still by my side.
I don’t know why I still kept onto it at that point in time. In the squeezing expanses I found myself constantly traversing, the bicycle had no use. I couldn’t ride it, not also with the shadows closing in and path so uncertain. Perhaps it gave me a sense of familiarity? Maybe it was the only thing keeping my childish, draining mind on the task at hand. Maybe it was the only thing keeping me sane. Either way, I never left that thing behind nor held it any more away from my body that its bar couldn’t slightly dig into my moving hip.
Along this span of particular tunnel, I found the ceiling going up then pressing back down in waves, as if it mimicked the way of an ocean. The walls, however, always stayed the same – bending here and there in close quarters but never truly making a solid turn. Imagine my exasperated surprise when that hole opened up to allow my headlamp to shine onto the familiar, distressing sight of the deceased soldier, sitting against the stone.
Quickly and without much thought, I raced back down the tunnel I’d been to previously, continuing past the decrepit bones as I had once done and landing myself back at the interesting tunnels. This time, I went left, and, to my unfortunate exacerbation, landed right back in the same spot, the soldier before me once more. It seemed the more I moved, the less sense this mountain made. How could a single tunnel with no other branchings lead to the same exact spot, from the same exact perspective, as another? Logic didn’t exist anymore!
One last time I tried my luck and took the tunnel down the straight middle. It stretched deeper and deeper but never curved. I swear this one never once curved to the left or right. If I had something to shoot down the center, I know it would have traveled far before ever hitting a wall. For minutes I walked, until the ground started to slope downwards at a rapid descent, taking me even more beyond reality. And yet I let it. I carefully inched my way down, placing each step of my shoe hesitantly upon the slick, angled ground. At first, it wasn’t so bad. I made it a good way down without incident, and then my foot slipped. With it, I was sent tumbling down, my bike – which I had been clutching onto tightly at my side and slightly behind me – coming down after me.
I rolled quickly with a yelp, hitting my body in various places off the rocky surface and most definitely having my bike smash into my teeth, causing a bloodied chip to be born, before plunging into a deep pool. I was submerged, instantly soaked to the bone and gasping for breath, only to have disgusting, iron-rich fluid fill my mouth and nose.
Like a fish out of water – and a boy in it – I flailed, desperate for something I needed to fill my lungs and to find the surface. I swear to you while I was under and panicking, something touched my arm. Actually, a lot of somethings touched me… what I can only describe as many hands of various sizes grabbed my body…and they pushed me up.
My head finally broke the surface tension, and I gasped loudly. By the light of my now flickering headlamp, I swam the short distance back to the slope I’d come from, sure it was the same one by the fresh gouges my bike’s metal handlebars had scored into the stone on our way down. I clambered up onto that little shore and heaved, coughing up fowl liquid and feeling the sting of many cuts and scrapes fresh on my body.
I didn’t even try to find my bike, as I knew it was lost forever in the depths. I simply instead spread my arms and legs to press my feet and hands firmly against the narrow tunnel walls to climb my way back up the slope. As soon as I made it back up, my headlamp’s then much dimmer, fading light caught it again. I wailed as the entire span of that tunnel I’d traversed before had been erased on my return, along with one of the other branching paths, leaving only two.
Finally, I curled up next to the dead soldier, at last defeated by this godforsaken tunnel. Without touching the bones, I drew near and slumped against the wall as he did then cried once more, my lamp completely going out. Fully engulfed by the void, shivering from the cold, drenched, and exhausted, I accepted my defeat, broken as a glass vase dropped on wooden floor.
For a long time, I cried again, eventually curling up into a ball with knees to my chest and arms wrapped around, head down. I bawled my eyes out in the darkness, eyes unable to adjust with no light left and tears blocking vision anyway. It was there that I subjected myself to the thought of true death. I would never escape this hellish encampment. I would never again see my mother or receive her kisses or hugs. I would certainly starve here, or perhaps die of infection from my many, fresh wounds that would go untreated. Either way, the light of day should nevermore bathe my body or grace my sight – no light would. Even my own wails and heartbeat would be the only indication the nightmare wasn’t over, the soldier my only other companion.
In the silence long after my fit, I heard it shattered by something other than my heart and steady cave drips. Footsteps. Clear as day, footsteps echoed, bounding off the walls in a calm and steady pace, heading directly for my location. My heart nearly leapt, threatening to burst from my ribs as I rose my head from between my knees to see a faint glow of orange progressively growing near. However, barely any thoughts crossed my mind. I could only think either I would have someone else who was trapped to die with or, just maybe, I would finally wake up from such a horrid dream.
Within moments, he was upon me, the light of his lantern burning my darkness-adjusted eyes. I raised my hand to block some of it out, but, through squinted lids, I saw his black boots giving way to neatly tucked, gray pants.
In German, he spoke to me. German being my first language, I understood every word, but he had a defining accent of the likes I couldn’t put my finger on. It sounded almost like the accent my grandfather spoke. He asked me if I was lost, to which I simply nodded, unsure of what to actually say, or if I was even able to speak anymore from a throat raw with wailing.
In response to my nod, he smiled, and I saw this from my eyes finally adjusting to his lantern light. Letting my hand fall, I gazed up at a young man in a soldier’s uniform. His stubbly face was narrow and supple, no doubt showing an age of around merely 18 to 20 years with brown hair poking out from under a textured helmet. Blue eyes gazed down to my surely beaten, dirty form with a soft warmth, and the corners of his mouth pointed slightly upwards.
With his free hand, he gestured for me to get up, and I did, never taking my eyes off him. “Come,” he simply said to me then turned and began to walk away. With nothing else to go on and curiosity growing with a new-found hope, I followed him at a limping pace.
He headed to one of the branching tunnels. The one I had come from, after spilling into water and nearly drowning, and the other that remained but had once been the leftmost tunnel. The soldier glanced back at me with that smile still adorning his face, and he headed into the left tunnel. With nothing left to lose, not even caring for my life anymore, I followed.
We wandered wordlessly through the stone corridor for some time, the tunnel having now somehow shifted to wind to the right and then the left, going up gradually a ways and then back down before once more waning to the right. All the while, the soldier never once turned to look back at me, but the obvious sound of my footsteps pattered behind his with a distinct ‘squish’ sound from being waterlogged. I never broke the silence myself, either, exchanging no words with this man but merely trailing along behind him and keeping my eyes either on the back of his mostly shaved, capped head or on the flickering glow of his lantern’s flame.
Eventually, we rounded a finally corner, and, miraculously, I saw more light. Up ahead, perhaps a mere 30 meters, the sun shone brightly into the tunnel’s form, pink and new. At first, I thought it a hallucination, a trick of the mind brought on by false hope and delirium. Then, the more I gazed, the more details of the outside world came to me.
Trees along the right side swayed as they created a forest with vast undergrowth tangling and stretching out onto the dirt path. Beyond that, following the path, I saw the paved road meet it and turn off towards my small town, buildings in the far distance as the sun peeked in from the left, rising high rather soon.
Frankly, I at first felt no joy, but seeing those trees, that road, the structures, and the light, what little ember of hope I’d somehow had left in my ragged body grew to the size of a roaring blaze. I shared no words with the man who led me there and opted instead to mindlessly run towards the outside world ahead.
25 meters, 20 meters, 15, 10, then 5… I broke through the Tunnel’s consuming maw, bursting forth from the darkness to be gratefully bathed in warm splendor. I can tell you now, the sun on my face that day, blinding my tired eyes, was the best feeling I had ever felt. Despite my still wet and chilled figure, the aches in my joints and stinging on torn skin, I smiled. No more tears left in me and face and throat sore from crying so much before, I didn’t weep. However, had I the ability to, it surely would have come to occur. I was nearly home, but I was absolutely free.
In one, swift motion, I spun on my heels to turn back to the accursed tunnel with intention of thanking my rescuer, but he was nowhere to be found. I had expected him to follow me out of the darkness, but he simply never had. I didn’t hear any footsteps echo away, and I no longer saw the life-saving light of his lantern. He was simply gone. For what it was worth, I mustered my strength and rasped a loud ‘thank you’ into the abyss, the words faintly coming back to my own ears. If he was still in there, I hoped he had heard. With every fiber of my being frayed, I drug my feet back home.
Upon opening the front door to my small hovel, In was instantly greeted by my worried-sick mother, who scooped me up into her arms and hugged and kissed me like she never had before. Father, thankfully, was away at work at the time. I’d still received my beating that night for having been gone so long – apparently the entire night – but I was never more happy to be home.
In the end, I never procured my beloved bike back, but there was only so much I could be upset about it. I had made it home with my life, though my mind was forever scarred by what I’d experienced in Eisen Wölfin Tunnel. The true, raw terror, the confusion, the pain… It still has not left me and most likely never will, but I shall live with it, for I am alive. I am thankful to be so.
Looking back, I am not certain that the man who had saved my life was even real. A large portion of my soul wants to believe he was that soldier I’d found slumped over in the dark. I want to say he had never found his own way out in life but heard my distress and took it upon himself in the afterlife to guide me to freedom. Perhaps he has done this with others before and may do so with those in the future willing and stupid enough to enter such a cursed existence in space.
Since my incident, I have never returned to the Tunnel, nor do I even consider going nearer than I must to traverse the tar road around it. But, every once in a while, on my way by, I will gaze into the all-consuming grasp of shadow with gratitude for that soldier and mouth another ‘thank you,’ hoping he may just see it.
Believe me or not, that is your call to make. I will, however, swear by this tale, and I warn any who may dare to think of entering that Tunnel to not be so wasteful of life. Nothing you could step into that tunnel for is worth it, especially not time that would be much better spent simply taking the road around. Do not be like me, for if you ever are so impatient – or so scared to be late – know that your life and sanity are worth so much more.
submitted by Cyanide_Kitty_101