The young man was bent double struggling to catch his breath. His hands were on his knees, his right hand clasping his black bowler hat, and his body heaved as he sucked in the life-giving air. He lifted his head and shook his blonde hair from his face. He looked to his left and then to his right.
He was in a small tunnel constructed of bricks and was standing on steel railway tracks. The bricks were black with soot and he knew from experience that to touch the bricks would leave his hands filthy and gritty. At each end of the tunnel the afternoon sun was making what he could see of the railway line on each side look almost bright in contrast to the tunnel interior.
Straightening, he pushed his hair back, placed his hat on his head and dusted off his jacked before pulling his vest smartly into place. He picked up his dangling monocle and placed it into his left eye socket. Looking down to his boots he removed a crisp white handkerchief from this vest pocket and lifting his feet in turn swiped the dust off his boots with a swift flick. Finally, he gave a quick polish to the very smart buckles, which held his spats in place. Pulling his timepiece from his vest pocket he flicked it open and checked the time. He snapped the watch closed and replaced it in his pocket.
He bent his head a little to the left and then the right. A train whistle sounded in the distance.
“That’s the Dandenong 6 o’clock, so it is. It’s time I was off!” he murmured to himself.
Placing his hands into his trouser pockets he turned to his left and whistling, began to stroll towards the end of the tunnel. He was about to emerge from the tunnel when he heard the sound that he dreaded most in the world. It was not a loud noise. Rather it was soft and faintly hissing, designed for stealth. It was more like a sigh than anything else. It came in bursts, but there was no particular pattern to it.
The young man froze for a moment, then, grimacing at what he knew the walls of the tunnel would do to his favourite jacket, pushed himself into the shadows in the side of the tunnel. It was a smooth, practised movement, as if by doing so he could melt into the walls; disappear; evaporate.
He waited, motionless.
The sighing outside seemed to move around until he felt completely surrounded by it. His shoulders dropped and he closed his eyes knowing what he would see if he opened them. Moments passed and he held his breath. When he could stand it no longer he glanced to the left end of the tunnel.
Descending slowly to the tracks was the silhouette of a large figure. It was bulky but human in form. Smoke was issuing from behind its back in a downward motion, which was easing off, allowing the figure to drop softly to the tracks where it placed its legs astride and its arms akimbo.
To the young man the sheer mass of this monolith almost filled the tunnel entrance. He turned his head to the right but was immediately confronted by the same impressive descent to the earth of an identical and equally fearsome figure.