Keep At It

I don’t have anything profound to say today.

Just… keep at it, y’all.

Keep at it.

Stay at home.

I don’t get it.

Who are these people who are still congregating? Who are these people who are still going out and being with others? Who are they?

Do they just not get it?

Don’t they realize what is happening in the world?

Don’t they realize what is happening in their communities?

Yes. It sucks.

This isn’t what we’d planned for spring 2020.

But this is what we’ve been given. COVID2019. It’s what we have to experience and live with and deal with.

And the only option we have – which runs counter to everything we’ve learned about people a person – is getting away from other people.

If we get away, we don’t spread. If we don’t spread then then people live rather than die. It’s so simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple.

This isn’t a video game. It’s not a movie. It’s actual real life. And the choices we make today will impact the lives of the people around us.

We’re not in our normal reality. We’re in a new reality. And this is the reality. Stay home and save lives. Go out and risk lives.

It’s not difficult. We want to get out of this, and what needs to happen to help us get out of this is not difficult.

Well, it is difficult, but it needs to happen.

Just stay. home. Stay. Home. Stay. Home. Stay. Home.

Life in China is returning to normal

Took the family for a walk to the grocery store. Got some Subway for Noah and some tofu soup for Koolyash. My daughter went on a dinner date with a boy. She’s still out now, and I’m readying my shotgun.

And social distancing seems to be a thing of the past, if this restaurant we passed on our walk is any indication.

Maybe it’s some form of PTSD, but I still can’t compute that things could be returning to an actual normal, but that does seem to be what’s going on here. If not for the ever-present masks and the constant temperature checks, nothing would be out of the ordinary on the streets of Shenzhen.

And I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but I do want to remind you that it took us two months of strict social distancing, staying at home, and quarantine to get us to this point.

We did it. You can do it.

Onward!IMG_7090

Netflix and Chill

Here’s a big difference between living in China during COVID19 and seeing the virus running amok in a place like America:

Actually hearing about the people who are dying.

I never heard a thing in China. I never knew anyone with the virus, I never heard about people who had the virus, I never knew anyone who knew anyone whose lives was impacted by the virus in a direct way. I saw the numbers, but I didn’t see one social media response from anyone who was experiencing the loss of a loved one to the virus.

Now, I’m hearing about it.

Now, I know someone who has lost someone to the virus.

Now, I’m seeing on social media where people are losing family to the virus.

Now, I know people who are working the front lines, people who are working with people who may potentially have the virus.

Now, suddenly, after two months, it’s become a real thing.

People are dying, and we’re going to be hearing more and more about it. More messages about uncles and aunts and grandparents.

And it sucks.

And it makes what the rest of us are doing that much more important:

Staying at home.

Such a simple thing, staying at home. We watch some movies, we do some internet learning, we make some cookies.

But it will have such a profound effect.

It will literally save lives.

Who would have thought that binging Netflix would actually be a socially responsible thing to do?

But that is what 2020 has brought us. Netflix and chill. Netflix and chill and chill and chill and chill.

And after we’ve chilled enough, maybe this thing will have passed. We will lose people along the way, but maybe not near as many as would have lost otherwise.

Netflix and chill.

Smushing the Days • Quarantine Day 63

IMG_2252Day 63.

You’d think I would have celebrated day 60, being that 60 is such a nice and round number.

But that’s the way it goes during quarantine. The days smush together. I didn’t even realize we’d passed 60.

There have been days where I thought, “I need to go update the calendar,” and when I went to update it, I hadn’t updated for four days.

But I just updated it yesterday.

But that was four days ago.

That’s the way it goes during quarantine.

Prepare for the days to smush together.

There are little things that make the days feel different. Sundays. Sundays have always felt different. I think that we actually had family church time on a Sunday or two. Sometimes, though, we were in quarantine, and we didn’t really realize it was Sunday.

There’s schooling. In our house, we’re both learning and teaching. That helps give the days structure. But, because we’re all trying to adapt to this online learning model, it’s been hard to figure out the structure. In our house, I try to figure out the things our little one has to do and have it ready for him when he gets up in the morning. Technology being technology, this has sometimes led to me using – as Spock called them – colorful metaphors. Seesaw, Zoom, IXL… all things I never heard of or cared about before. Now they’re a part of our daily lives.

There’s the things we watch to pass the time. I watched all seven seasons of Brooklyn 99, and mourned when it was done. I’ve rewatched Firefly. I’m rewatching Curb your Enthusiasm. I did the Nic Cage thing. I download movies for Koolyash every day. I just asked her what she watched yesterday. She couldn’t remember.

That’s the way it goes during quarantine.

It’s the long haul. It’s allowing the days to smush. It’s realizing that you’re living Groundhog Day, but you’re doing it to save lives.

This is my experience. My family’s experience. We were stay-at-homers. If you’re an “essential” person, your experience will be different. But not your family’s. They’ll be staying at home. Smushing their days. While you are facing this thing full on, like a boss.

I don’t have any advice for this. Everyone is dealing with it in a different way. And I mean EVERYONE. We’re all smushing. Everyone around the world. Consider that for a moment… is there anywhere where people aren’t smushing their days and trying to beat this thing, collectively? Nothing like this has ever happened before in human history. A collective worldwide experience of smushing our days to save lives.

Start marking the days with a calendar and see if the days don’t smush for you, too.

Podcasts and COVID19 and living in an outbreak

For the last few weeks, before COVID19 made its grand appearance on the American shores, I’d spend my days on the streets of Shenzhen, walking (to boost my immunity) and listening to podcasts. The hosts would talk about the mundane things that podcast hosts talk about, and it was such a relief. It took me out of the world of COVID19 and into the world of the mundane. It was one of the things that kept me sane.

Today I went for a walk, listening to the latest editions of my favorite podcasts. They were all podcasting about being in the heart of the outbreak.

Every. Single. One.

It transported me back to several weeks ago when I was feeling what they are talking about now. What you are experiencing now.

I didn’t like that feeling.

Things are getting better here. They’re talking about schools reopening. The streets are crowded. Crowded with masked people, but they are crowded. I went to the grocery today and rode the bus home. The entire busride home I had to cough, but I suppressed it, because everyone still has the virus in the backs of their minds. But there were lots of people on the bus. That wasn’t the case a few weeks ago.

And the whole time, the podcasts in my headphones were talking about just entering the just-stay-home lifestyle and keeping six feet distance and a lack of toilet paper.

A few weeks ago I talked about things being surreal. We’ve just entered Surreal 2.0.

It’s like I’m a time traveller. I’m from the future. I’m experiencing your present while living in the future, which is your future if you play your cards the right way.

I’m really not sure where this post is going, except to tell you to stay the course. If you stay the course, you’ll be emerging from this thing a few weeks from now, just like we are. You’ll see life returning to normal, just like we are. The only difference is that the podcasts you listen to will be returning to normal at the same time and not be on some time-travel delay.

Trust me. That will be a good day.

Stay the course.

Just stay the course.

Dealing with Anxiety during the COVID19 Outbreak

90566155_10219262275605877_6682479335980400640_nIt’s interesting to see how different people respond differently to a situation like this. Over the course of the two months we’ve been living with the outbreak here in China, each member of my family responded differently.

My wife has been relatively unfazed and upbeat, cleaning and re-cleaning the house and going to climb the local mountain with friends (all while maintaining the proper distance). My teenage daughter wrapped herself in a cocoon of keeping up with online schoolwork, chatting with friends on WeChat, and watching and rewatching The Office (comfort tv for her). My six-year-old has been in heaven. Getting to stay in his pajamas while doing his online schoolwork? Spending more time with family? Getting to play a lot of Minecraft? It’s a dream come true for the little guy.

And me? I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with my old friend, anxiety.

So, I know that this post will be hitting each of you in a different place. Some of you are handling it well, some of you have good days and bad days, some of you are not are not handling it well at all.

Looking back, I know I have not handled it well. So I’m talking to you as a person who frequently was unable to do the things I’m suggesting, but now wish that I had.

First of all, understand that it’s okay.

It’s okay if you are feeling anxiety or stress or an ongoing sense of panic. You’re sailing uncharted waters, with sharks off your bow, and storm clouds on the horizon. The fact that you are anxious is coming to you direct from your lizard brain, and your lizard brain wants to protect your lizard body at all costs. It’s okay.

You just need to get aquatinted with your anxiety.

81-xAaqioELWe have a children’s book called Anh’s Anger, about a boy who gets irrationally angry at his grandfather, who tells him to go to his room and sit with his anger. The boy goes to his room and his anger manifests itself as a wild looking creature. Over the course of the book, the boy comes to terms with his anger, which grows smaller and smaller and finally disappears as the boy comes to accept it.

So be okay with your anxiety. Come to terms with it. Accept it. Understand what’s going on with your body and why it’s responding with anxiety. Knowledge is power, right? To this end, I would highly encourage you to listen to The Happiness Lab podcast (https://www.happinesslab.fm/), which explores the science behind well-being.

But give yourself room to be anxious.

Second, and closely connected to the first, soak yourself in grace.

Grace for those staying home with you, grace for yourself, grace for everyone.

There have been times over the past two months that I wanted to toss each member of my family out of the window, and it was usually for something really minor and inconsequential. Spending so much time in a house together when you’re not used to spending that much time together in these uncertain times can lead to irrationality and short tempers. So be intentional about giving each other a break.

But again, this is about you dealing with your anxiety, so give yourself a break.

For example, forgive yourself if you indulge from time to time. You’re in uncharted waters, and if something will bring you a little comfort, give yourself a break. Just don’t learn to depend on that thing.

Because there’s a good chance you’re going to be tempted to depend on poor choices to help get you through this time. Comfort foods, comfort routines, comfort adult beverages, comfort smokes… be aware of what you’re doing, and ask yourself if these choices are helping your anxiety go away or just numbing it for a while, leaving it to come back even stronger.

I say this knowing how poorly I’ve fared in the poor choice department. I’m not going to go into all the skeletons I’ve installed in my closets these last two months, but I will confess this. Prior to the outbreak, I had been working really hard to avoid certain foods as a way to lose weight and work on my blood pressure. I don’t know how many times during this thing I’ve been at the store, seem an item I really shouldn’t be eating, and said to myself, “Hey! I deserve this! I stayed in China during the outbreak!”

Just be aware that “the you when this thing is over” will want to be proud of the way “the you experiencing this thing” handled it. Eating a whole bag of tortilla chips in one sitting (which I have done) will not make the future you proud.

But, give yourself a break if you do. Move on. Nothing to see here.

Third, be intentional on the way you spend time with your anxiety.

When I was trying to come to terms with my anxiety last fall, a good friend recommended meditation. As a Christian, I’d grown up knowing about prayer, but meditation? It’s not something most Christians do, although it is mentioned in Scripture several times.

meditationvFor me, it came down to breathing. Sitting in a quiet place and breathing. My least anxious moments of the day are when I’m doing this, and sometimes it can last for an hour or more (that’s the thing – we have time these days, don’t we?). If you are a Christian you can incorporate reading scripture and prayer into this practice, and it can really be helpful physiologically and spiritually.

I had an interesting experience last night. I had been unusually anxious for the latter half of the day, and when I went to bed, anxiety went to bed with me. Anxiety kept waking me up over the course of the night. I would sleep for an hour or two and then wake up being anxious about everything going on, and anxiety wouldn’t let me go back to sleep.

I breathed. I prayed.

I prayed a simple prayer over and over until anxiety and I both finally drifted off back to sleep: “Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over. This simple practice was all I needed to loosen anxiety’s hold on me.

Fourth, take care of yourself.

What can you to do improve the mood of the place where you are isolating? For me, it’s lighting. I’m a lamp guy, and so we have lamps set strategically all over the house. Also, candles. I have a candle burning by my work station constantly, and the flickering flame brings me quiet joy.

But not just inside, get outside (all while practicing responsible social distancing, of course)! Go for walks. Ride your bike. Don’t just hunker down in your house with your lamps and candles as if there were a giant rampaging dinosaur destroying the city outside or the zombie apocalypse had happened and they’re trying to figure out how to eat your brains. The good thing about this virus is that you can go out! Take advantage of what exercise, fresh air, and sunlight can do to help keep anxiety manageable. It’s also good for boosting your immune system, which ain’t a bad thing to do these days.

Fifth, stick with facts.

Don’t allow yourself to go down rabbit holes of conspiracy or conjecture or sensationalism. Understand the science behind what is happening with this virus, making sure you’re getting that science from reliable sources. Understand the reality of this situation in your community and how you can best respond to your specific context and situation. Understand what you can do to be proactive in not getting the virus and not accidentally passing it on to a host of others. Stay home. Social distance. Flatten the curve.

You can still go to the store and shop, but understand the precautions you need to take when you do.

Knowledge is power, and it’s amazing what good knowledge can do to help fight irrational (or even rational) anxiety.

9781250231987-usI would also recommend “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. I read this book when the outbreak first began, and it really helped me get a grip on the anxiety I was feeling at that tense time. About where you are now, as a matter of fact.

Ya’ll, we are going through something unprecedented, something that our grandchildren will read about in their history books. Anxiety has every right to come for a visit.

But you have the right to tell anxiety when it’s time to go.

I hope this post has helped some of you do that a little bit better.

Onward!
Nate

PS – I am no anxiety expert, and so I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this subject.

Also, I know that some people have clinical depression and anxiety, and simply lighting a few candles and taking a jog won’t do the job. But still, I think some of these ideas could help. I hope they do!

 

Credo: The Birth and Graduation of Mr. Peanut

WechatIMG2887My son Joshua graduated from high school yesterday.

Even as I write those words, I feel equal parts pride and devastation. It seems like only yesterday that we were going camping with his Boy Scout troupe in the mountains outside of Chengdu. It seems only yesterday that I was watching him play on the playground with his little sister. It seems like only yesterday that he was laying beside me at bedtime reading Dr. Seuss.

But time works that way, doesn’t it? The more you want it to slow down, the faster it goes. And now time has delivered me a high school graduate, who is about to embark on his own life, largely independent of the rest of us. I know he’s ready for it. I know that I’m not. And I know it doesn’t make a hill’s bit of difference that I’m not, because that’s the way time works.

In honor of this change in our lives, I want to post something I wrote shortly after he became our first born. Eighteen years ago everything changed for us much like everything is about to change for us again. Eighteen years ago we welcomed Josh into our world, and soon we’ll be hugging him goodbye as he makes his way into the wider world.

As I said, proud and devastated.

Credo: The Birth of Mr. Peanut

He looks at me.  He’s only minutes old, so I know that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking at – probably all he sees is a big nose with eyes.  Maybe that’s why he cries.  But, he’s here – in my arms.  I’ve waited for this moment for the eternity of the last nine months, and it’s hard to believe, but he’s here.

Months earlier, we’re home from Kazakhstan, walking down East Main street in Louisville, Kentucky. She wants tomato juice.  Needs tomato juice.  Will go crazy if she doesn’t have tomato juice.  And then, after I’ve run down to the corner market and returned with a bottle of tomato juice, she gulps it down and then vomits.  That’s when I start to suspect that he might be on his way.

The doctor rubs some clear goopy looking substance on her belly.  It takes me a few moments, but I finally see him for the first time, realize that he is actually there, and that he looks like a peanut.  “He looks like a peanut,” I say to the doctor.  “Is that normal?”

Not long after, we’re back in Kazakhstan.  It’s ultrasound time again.  We sit in a dark Kazakh hospital corridor that overflows with women who all have to pee.  Desperately.  By doctor’s orders. I don’t recall having ever felt so empathetically uncomfortable in all of my life. I have to pee, too, but I don’t dare.

Our number is called and we’re ushered into a dark room serviced by two unsmiling ultrasound operators who are so unpleasant that it seems like they also have to pee but cannot. They spread the goop and there he is again. A bit larger, but still a peanut. He’s amazing.

“You have to calm down or you’ll miscarry,” the ultrasound operator says coldly, interrupting our wonder. Miscarry? We’re stunned! everything has been going so well.  She’s eating the right things, exercising, taking care of herself. How is this possible?

“Don’t worry,” our Aussie doctor friend tells us later. “They tell all the women that they’re too uptight, and that they might miscarry.”

“If they let the women pee, they might not be so uptight,” I say, frustrated. That settles it. We have to give birth far away from this place. I start to strategize how.

Meanwhile, we talk, Peanut and I. Actually, I call him Mr. Peanut, even thought I don’t know for certain that he is a he. I tell him how much I look forward to meeting him. He answers back with a series of kicks that demonstrate his brilliance. How many other unborn children have mastered Morse code? I play music for him. He taps out that he is partial to Celtic music, and I gladly oblige.

The email arrives. Our church leaders in America have denied our request to leave Kazakhstan for the birth.

“Did you see that footage of the woman in Africa who had her baby in a tree during a flood?  Women have been giving birth in all kinds of situations since the beginning of time,” they tell me. “Have faith.”

But in Kazakhstan the statistics are horrendous.  Abysmal infancy mortality rates, tragic mother mortality rates. I have faith, but I am not willing to gamble with the lives of my wife and child. I’m resolute. I don’t want us to have a baby here.

“What does she want?” my friend asks.

His wife is also Kazakh. They had their baby there. Everyone is fine.  Others are pressuring her to stay out of some sort of national pride.  She is from Kazakhstan. If she wants to give birth here, I realize, then I need to support that decision.

We’re in the taxi, on the way home from the maternity hospital.  We’ve toured the facilities, met the doctors.  We’ve seen the dark communal recovery room that holds, what? Ten women and ten screaming newborn babies?  We’ve seen the crimson grime on the floor of the delivery room. We’ve witnessed the impatient and unpleasant demeanor of the hospital staff. We’ve been told that under no circumstances are visitors allowed, including the father, for several days after the birth.

But if she wants to stay, I will support that decision.

She’s quiet. Finally, she turns to me.  “I don’t want to have the baby here.” It feels like she’s lost something in the admission. Like a defeat. We get home, and thirty minutes later she realizes that she left her purse in the taxi. We try to track down the taxi, but we never do. She’s sorry, but after all, it’s just a purse that has been left behind and she has other purses. There are more important things in life, she says.

Time passes. She seems to glow.  I know that they say that about pregnant women, and it’s cliché, but it’s true.  As peanut grows, so does her radiance.  I find her swollen belly to be incredibly attractive.

Kazakhstan is behind us now, at least temporarily, and we’ve settled into my grandmother’s house in Virginia.  We attend Lamaze classes together.  What an unusual mixture of people; new parents, equally anxious couples like us, a couple of couples who have had so many children that you wonder why they bother with the hospital at all.  “Knowledge is power”, the old saying goes.   I’m not sure I feel so powerful.  In fact, the knowledge of what’s coming has left me feeling pretty powerless.  Will she be okay during the delivery?  Will I be ready to do my part?  Will peanut evacuate the premises easily, or come out fighting?

Come out fighting, it turns out.  We’ve been in the hospital now for over a day, trying to coax Peanut out.  In that time, we’ve seen other couples come and go, including one woman who screamed from the room next door, “Lord, just get it out of me!”  My wife and I look at each other. “I don’t think she took a Lamaze class,” she says. I laugh.

We’re exhausted.

She hasn’t slept well, awakened every hour by the nurses and the midwife who want to make sure that she and Peanut are doing okay.  I’ve had a bit more sleep, but every time they come to wake her up, I wake up, too, wondering if it’s time.

I’ve never seen a person as strong as she is during this whole process.  She works so hard to help peanut make his great appearance, but he stubbornly refuses to cooperate.  At one point, she bounces up and down on a big rubber ball, trying to bounce Peanut out.  She is so exhausted, she asks our midwife for help.  “Breathe with me,” she asks.  Our midwife, who knows of our faith, but doesn’t share it, misunderstands, and thinks she has been asked, “Pray with me.”  And so, also exhausted, she prays.  You can feel God’s presence in the room, as if He is saying, “Don’t worry. Just keep bouncing.”

We’re now at twenty-seven hours since the water broke, and just when I’m beginning to think that he will never come, Peanut starts to make his entrance, or exit, depending on your perspective.  The centimeter count starts to go up quickly, and people appear from nowhere, working hard to welcome him into the world.  But everything stops when our midwife says that there is a problem.  Peanut’s head is turned the wrong way. He’s stuck, and they need to get him out quickly, because it’s been so long since the water broke. I barely remember them talking about this in the Lamaze class, and my heart skips a beat as I try to reason out the implications.

When I hear our midwife say that they need to call in the M.D., that they might need to do an emergency c-section, my heart stop beating. I comfort and encourage my wife, feeling helpless to do anything else. I see the concern in my widwife’s eyes, and an unspoken message passes between us. Peanut has started to slip from my hands. But in that moment it occurs to me that he was never really in my hands. I might be his flesh and blood father, but it was time for me to let go and allow him to fall into the hands of his heavenly father.

In that act of letting go, the helplessness fades away. Just keep bouncing.

I stand frozen in the middle of a blur of activity.  The MD has arrived and pulls out something that looks more like an instrument of medieval torture than a device of twenty-first century medicine, and he uses it to turn peanut’s head. Almost immediately, Peanut starts slipping through. I hug my wife as she delivers her final eviction notice push to take Peanut from the familiar into the frightening; from the safe warmth of the womb into the scary brilliance of the world.  I can understand that one of the first things that he does is cry from the shock of it.

They clean him up, and hand him to me.  I take him to her, and pause for the briefest of moments. He’s looking at me. He’s only minutes old, so I know that he doesn’t really know what he’s looking at – probably all he sees is a big nose with eyes.  Maybe that’s why he cries.  But, he’s here – in my arms.  I’ve waited for this moment for the eternity of the last nine months, and it’s hard to believe, but he’s here.

Love you, Josh. Just keep bouncing.

Dad.

 

Tunneling, a short story

Down there, below the street, as the sun sets today. Something buried deep is going to sleep, and something different is waking. It is an ageless balance which the engineers for the new subway tunnel have disturbed. Such things should stay asleep, as Philip Rattlekin, subway line 4, will soon discover in the Twilight Zone.

[Heads up, some adult language in this one…]

Philip Rattlekin sat in a dirty puddle of mud, struggling to catch his breath while making as little noise as possible. His body felt numb, not because of the frigid temperature of the water, but because he was the only one still alive.

It had come from nowhere and everywhere and killed everyone.

And now it was coming for him.

2nd_ave_subway_feb2013_16“You have to stop the drilling!”

How many times had Philip heard this in the past two weeks? Usually, his assistant ran interference when the nuts fell off the tree, but he’d just been sent on an errand to deliver some new tunnel schematics to the city planner’s office, and the nuts had managed to corner Philip as he was heading out to get to Evan’s soccer match.

There was at least a dozen this time. More than twice as many kooks as last week. Enough that things could get messy if they got too pushy. Philip was a big guy, a head taller than the tallest kook and firmly packed with muscle that showed he was far from a pencil pushing engineer, but he’d learned in Iraq how quick things could go south and he wasn’t going to scuffle with a mob.

He turned to the main kook – a middle aged man with frizzy Einstein hair and a look nuttier than Doc Brown. “Look, we told you guys last week. We’re on a tight schedule, millions of dollars have been poured into this project, and there’s no way it’s stopping. Why don’t you get back to your university and let us do our job.”

“You don’t understand!” Doc Brown shrieked, pulling out a tablet from a leather bag he wore around his neck. “Our studies have shown that you are causing irreparable harm to the water table, and this will impact our entire city’s water supply!” He stuck the tablet in Philip’s face to show him a bunch of meaningless graphs and numbers.

Philip snorted. Last time they claimed the subway project was disturbing the habitat of some mole or groundhog or something. Now it was the water table. The city had done their own studies, and the water table was in no danger from the extension of line four. Why would he help wreck his own city’s water supply? It made no sense, and he said so.

“Yes, well, be that as it may, you must stop the drilling,” the old kook stammered, with a surprising amount of conviction.

Philip was done.

“If you got a problem with what we’re doing, take it up with the city planner. This is her ballgame.” He stepped up and stared down at the kook, just inches away. The guy smelled like garlic. “Now get out of my way.”

Doc Brown stammered incoherently but wisely stepped aside, letting Philip through so that he could get to his truck. As he pulled himself into the cab, he could hear Doc Brown mumbling something about the water table and disaster and the end of the world.

Stupid hippy environmentalist nutjobs, Philip thought as he pressed the ignition and started up his F-150. Evan was starting today and he didn’t want to be late.

Philip inhaled for four seconds and exhaled for another four while reciting the mantra he’d been taught in Basic. This too shall pass… this too shall pass… this too shall pass… It had saved his life in that back alley in Mosul, maybe it would save his life now.

Feeling his heart rate lower and his breathing come under his control, Philip opened his eyes to take stock of his situation. He still sat in a puddle of dirty tunnel water where he’d stumbled just a few moments before. Work lights flickered in the tunnel several meters away, but all was quiet. No sounds of pursuit.

No sounds of that… whatever it had been. All teeth and tentacles and blood…

Maybe this is just a bad dream, he considered, shaking his head. I’m going to wake up any minute now and have to go and pee.

Just like Evan and his bad dreams. The kid would wake him up in the middle of the night, shrieking in the darkness and claiming to have seen monsters. He’d take him to pee and the then he’d be off to sleep again in no time. Night terrors, the doctor said. Leftovers from daddy’s deployment.

So much blood…

Sitting still gets soldiers killed, Philip thought, another life-saving mantra coming back to him. He raised himself out of the puddle and leaned against the tunnel wall. Everything was darkness where he’d come from.

He took a step towards the flickering lights and nearly fell down again as a sharp pain hit his right foot. Damn it, he grunted as he went down on his left knee, his hand going to his right ankle. He froze as his grunt echoed down the tunnel.

Nothing.

Whatever it was, it apparently didn’t have a keen sense of hearing.

Or it wasn’t hungry any more.

Then he heard the growl.

Damn, he thought. The kooks were right.

“Shutting us down? How the hell are they shutting us down?”

Philip stood at the opening to the tunnel where he could get cell reception, and he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They’d just broken through a major wall of bedrock, and there was more than enough work to do without this kind of nonsense.

“The mayor got wind of the kook’s concerns and ordered the halt,” his assistant said on the other end. “They tweeted out some infographics about the dangers of the project – I’ll send you the screenshots. Somehow, they managed to get retweeted by Neil DeGrass Tyson or The Science Guy or someone, and now it’s gone political.”

“Politics,” Philip muttered. Every curse word he’d ever learned – before the service and during – came to mind, and it was all he could do to not kill the messenger. “Alright Lou, get back over here and we’ll figure out what we’re gonna do. Meanwhile, I’ve got to go pull out the crew and get the machinery tied down. Situation normal.”

“All fucked up.” Lou finished. “You want I should bring you a coffee?”

“Make it Irish and we’ll be moving in the right direction,” Philip chuckled, glad for some levity. “Just get back here so we can clean up this mess.”

His phone buzzed as the screenshots showed up, and so he said goodbye to Lou and stared at the images. The kooks claimed that the tunneling disturbed subterranean life and might endanger species that humanity was yet to encounter. The images were flashy and sensational and absolute bullshit.

Philip found a few extra curse words that he had been saving for a special occasion and muttered them as he headed back down into the tunnel.

It happened in flashes, like a firefight.

He’s giving orders to withdraw when they first hear the growl coming from the tunnel that they’d just finish boring.

They swing over the spotlights.

A ripple of green skin flashes and vanishes in the shadows.

The first scream as Juan, who operates the excavator, is snatched by… something… and yanked into the darkness.

Building hysteria as one by one his workers vanish. The green skin… crashing lights… wrapping tentacles… a mouth as big as a horse… sharp teeth… more screams… and he runs.

And he runs.

Like he did in Mosul, when the firefight had grown too intense, and everything had gone to hell, and he had no choice because he had a kid and a wife, and he wasn’t losing everything for this shithole…

And then… darkness.

Our writing prompt this week was a story based on a Twilight-Zone-ish setup, written by one of the members of the writing group.