The mouth of the tunnel is choked with trash, but beyond this the mud floor is clean, save for some occasional clumps of weeds and empty bottles and cans, a shredded plastic bag here and there. Along the left and right sides of the tunnel, the dirt rises to form flat, narrow shelves. This tunnel sometimes fills with water, he decides, a small river sluicing through, with its banks on either side. High ground.
On his left, on the pile of mud that comprises the riverbank, he sees what looks to be a makeshift tent (his mind says), an old piece of tarpaulin (his mind says) hung over a rope that has been strung across the tunnel. There are a couple of rotting cardboard boxes, a rusted bucket surrounded by a litter of empty cans. A small wooden crate sits up on its end, and on top of this some kind of device (coffeepot, his mind answers).
A pair of dirty shoes poke out from the end of the tent.
He moves without hesitation. He can hear the person inside the tent breathing. Asleep. He grabs the shoes (boots, his mind says) and drags the sleeper out of the tent. He snarls, the skin along his shoulders and spine rippling. His right hand rears back to silence the outcry of the Human before it can give it voice.
“Eddie?” The eyes blink and the person sits up. The owner of this den. The Human. The woman. “Eddie? Is that you?”
The woman throws her arms around him.
“Oh, Eddie! You’re back!”
He shoves the woman away, snarling. But he does not strike.
“I didn’t know what’d become of you, boy!” the woman says.
Tensed, crouching, ready to spring, he watches her,
“Well, ain’t you got a kiss for your old Ma?” Her breath carries the scent of alcohol and her eyes are wide. She smiles at him.
This woman is not sane, his mind tells him. But his curiosity now equals his aggression. He allows the latter to cool. This Human poses no threat to him, nor does it seem probable that she will cry out and alert others.
“What’s a’ matter, cat got your tongue?” She throws herself on him again, arms encircling him, squeezing. “Oh, my poor boy! What have they done to you out there?”
He does not like her proximity. He does not like being hugged. He pushes her away.
“It’s okay now! You ain’t gotta be ‘fraid no more! Momma’s here!” He stares. Mother? “Don’t you worry, we’ll get you right as rain in no time t’all! Gonna fatten you up, too! You ain’t nothin’ but skin an’ bones!”
*Another woman once called herself my mother.*
“You come on over here an’ lay down. You got to be plumb exhausted!”
*She was my enemy.*
“Here, you can have my blanket. I don’t need it.”
*This woman is no enemy.*
The woman crawls inside the tent. “Come on in. I’ll make room.”
He sits down on the ground. Dry mud, but soft enough. He has not felt tired until now.
“Oh, I keep forgettin’,” the woman says. “You’re all growed up, ain’t you? You don’t need me to tuck you in no more, do ya?” She laughs, a wheezing sound that ends with a harsh cough. “You jus’ rest up. You’re safe an’ sound now.” She clears her throat. “It’s just so good to have my boy back home!”
Home? Yes. This place will do. For now. It will make a good den.
As for the woman, he may allow her to stay. Maybe there are things he can learn from her. If not, he reasons, he can always kill her later.