Hamilton White had never let the sun dictate his schedule. The flowers and the birds and the rest of his idle village were content to rise and fall alongside it, claiming its descent into darkness as a sign that their business was done, a signal that they were supposed drop into the dullness of sleep until their celestial overseer returned. Hamilton, however, disagreed. To him the sun’s setting wasn’t a signal, but an excuse; an excuse he would never let himself entertain. Hamilton, and the world in which he lived, revolved around something much more important than the sun; the sacred and immutable truth that work needed to be done. His day was as long as his business took to complete, his night lasted until there was more to do. For Hamilton White, it had been a very long day indeed.
Standing at the base of a harsh rock wall, Hamilton stared silently into the gaping mouth of the Great Eastern Tunnel. Six years and four painstaking miles of hard stone and ganister had resulted in the longest underground tunnel in the region. Hailed as the single greatest achievement in the field of civil engineering, the tunnel cut through the harsh mountain range separating the east and west provinces, providing as yet unthinkable opportunities for travel and commerce. Soon the roar of engines would erupt through this monumental gateway, a howl of defiance against the inhospitable mountains and a thunderous testament to the indomitable will of man. It was a sight that demanded respect and Hamilton, by no means a humble man, felt wholly insignificant when caught in the terrible majesty of the grand stone archway.
It seemed, however, that the mountains were not conceding quietly. The past few weeks had been fraught with frustration as several important signal tests failed completely. The maintenance team subsequently reported several incidences of frayed wiring along the track. The mountains, it appeared, had sent a cohort of treacherous beasts to sabotage the tunnel’s electronics. Believing the creatures to be nothing more than large, ambitious rats, the team left a boxful of traps along the track, however the problem persisted and the traps proved insubstantial against what seemed to be a larger, smarter opponent. After considering their options, the company decided to conscript an employee to travel into the tunnel and deal with the vermin personally. They did not expect anyone would volunteer for such a task. They had not previously met Hamilton White.
As soon as the rumours of the job had reached him, Hamilton had tracked down those in charge and offered his services. They had seemed impressed that someone from this lazy part of the world would give up his night so readily for so little pay. After several embellished assertions concerning his competence as a hunter he received their sincere thanks along with a Winterfield hunting rifle and immediately marched alone, full of purpose, up the dark forest path to the tunnel’s mouth.
It was only here that he had paused. Although all of their work revolved around it, Hamilton had never actually entered the tunnel. His division had been tasked with clearing the trees and laying track through the forest. He had worked alone and until dark before but only among the comforting backdrop of his childhood woods. The jet black opening before him, however, was in no way natural, and the creeping chill from its depths held him dead in his tracks. The older members of the village opposed the construction as playing god, claiming that the plunging of metal stakes into the lord’s sacred earth would be met with swift and ruthless vindication. As much as Hamilton abhorred such superstition he was unable to shake the overpowering foreboding that emanated from the dark heart of the mountain.
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ He thought, ‘You have a sharp mind and a fine gun, now return to the schedule’
With renewed drive, Hamilton took a single resolute step towards the darkness, a brazen challenge to the fear that resided within him. With a rusty iron lantern held in front of him, hanging from the finely crafted barrel of the Winterfield, Hamilton White advanced slowly into the dark void of the Great Eastern Tunnel.
The air was still. Every surreptitious step Hamilton made seemed ill-advised, carrying him away from the pale solace of the moonlight and into the cold, dark unknown. As the semicircle of light behind him grew ever smaller, Hamilton could not help but feel that he had entered another world. A world without a sky. A claustrophobic domain of stone and steel made by man, but by no means hospitable to him. Nature, for all its faults, buzzed with life and commotion even at night but, in the tunnel, it was easy to feel truly alone. Hamilton gripped his gun tighter, swallowed his primal unease and pressed on, one gravel crushing footfall at a time, into the tunnels depths.
He thought of the company. He had been with them for less than a year. Their most recent venture had brought new work to his formally rural village and he had applied as soon as he was eligible. The sense of purpose it gave him, the sense of perspective that the growing rail network imbued him with, had captivated him. His village was no longer the whole wide world, as so many of its inhabitants believed, but was simply a hub, a waypoint, a one platform station on a route which led to cities and spires and untapped prosperity. At the moment, the higher ups saw him as an unremarkable set of blue overalls. Hamilton longed for the day they would know him by name but that was not currently his primary concern. A name is important but stands up very little with nothing substantial to support it. First, they would know him by reputation. After tonight, when the men in the fine grey suits would ask for some important job to be done, they would call for the man who cleared out the Eastern Tunnel, in the middle of the night, when others shirked the opportunity. From there he would be the man who handled the accounts so diligently, who stayed up late looking over contracts for the faintest inconsistencies. Wearing his deeds around him, Hamilton would stride up through the highest corporate offices until he stood peerless, and the name Hamilton White would resonate with the force of his exploits.
It was the distant shuffle of light feet on gravel that ripped Hamilton out of his warm daydream. Something was heading his way, far off at the moment but gaining with disconcerting pace. He thrust the gun against his shoulder and listened. Over his quivering breaths he could hear the soft rhythm of a four legged creature in a steady run drifting through the tunnel. To his dismay, the sound was soon joined by more like it; steady rhythms chaotically playing alongside each other. They sounded larger than vermin... much larger. Hamilton calmed himself, held the gun steady and resigned to wait until the creatures were in his sights before making any grim assumptions. His composed thoughts, however, were quickly dispelled by the second sound to reach him. It was a rough panting. It was the sound of a beast fuelled by primal instinct and fierce adrenaline. A sound that had haunted the local mountaineers and spelt disaster in all of their darkest stories. A sound that Hamilton had heard before, as a child, while locked away from the world by his frantic parents. It was the fateful sound of wolves.