Leni Zumas’ short story “Tunnels” from the City of Weird anthology takes place in present day Portland, Oregon. Ann is our protagonist and her friend Thistle has a problem – her brother, Sage. Sage has come back to Portland from Massachusetts and has been mooching off of Thistle. Thistle hopes Ann can sober him up and get him paying rent on time. Ann reluctantly agrees. She has been eyeing a mysterious church filled with beautiful young people for a while and takes this opportunity with Sage to finally go in, but all is not as it seems when the community turns out to be a cult which demands human sacrifices.
This story is scary and relevant because communities like this really exist today. Jonestown, for example, was a famous 1970s cult where the leader, Jim Jones, convinced over 900 people to commit suicide. Cults like Jonestown and the one described in Zumas’ short story are very real and the events described in the story are not far-fetched. I think this is what makes this story scary – that things like this really happen. Tales of monsters and ghosts can scare us to the core, but in the end, we know that creatures like that don’t exist.
This story also relates to “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery” is a story that begins innocently enough, with unassuming images of children playing and families gathering for what seems to be a normal event that happens regularly in the town. As it turns out, the “event” is a little more gruesome than expected when one woman is chosen to be stoned to death by her neighbors and family. “Tunnels” starts the same way. You are introduced to the characters and the setting, you feel safe and can relate to the problems Ann and Thistle are facing. Some aspects of the story are peculiar at first, but nothing really to worry about. Until the end; the entire climax of the story is in the last few lines.
Little, Gigi. City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales. Portland: Forest Avenue Press, 2016. Print.
Kylie Cunningham is an undergraduate student in the Environmental Studies program at Portland State University.