Farn McClintock’s pickax met with something metal, ringing his bell a little. He shook his head to recover from the unexpected vibration.
“Huh, that’s different,” he muttered to nobody.
As lead man on the tunnel maintenance detail, he was working at the extreme end, clearing debris and stopping up water leaks with a polymer cement. He could hear the Clink! Clink! of his men further down the line. He liked to sing or whistle silly tunes to the rhythm.
He stooped to inspect what he had hit, focusing his head lamp. The rock shifts continually, hence his job security – he’d been doing this since he left school. But today he unearthed something resembling a piano pedal, definitely not part of the rock.
He started singing one of his little made-up tunes: “She’s a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus, and America too…” He pulled at the object, which to his great surprise lurched upright 90 degrees like a lever. A tremendous rumble sent old Farn onto the floor of the tunnel on his backside, where he observed the end of the tunnel slide out of the way.
On the other side of the now missing rock stood a six-foot-tall mouse.
“What the fuck?” exclaimed the mouse.
Farn placed the palms of his hands onto the cold stone beneath him to try to get his bearings. “I guess this is how the Old Timers disease gets ya.”
The mouse removed its head, and lifted a cartoonishly large white-gloved hand to shield the eyes of a second head – a man’s head – from Farn’s headlamp. “Who are you?”
Farn dimmed his lamp. “I could ask you the same question. More to the point, I ‘spose, where are you?”
Mouse man lit a hand rolled cigarette and took a long drag. The smoke smelled kind of skunky and a little floral. He laughed. “Fucking Disney World, man! You just tapped into the underground staff tunnel. Dude, this is so fucking weird. Imma go get my girlfriend, I mean my boss. Be right back.”
“I don’t understand what that means,” Farn called out as Mouse Man turned and ran, leaving his head to roll on the ground. “The whole world is here, I mean behind me. It opens up to town.” Farn’s voice lost itself to the void, so now he whispered to himself, “All of us have lived there our whole lives, my wife the schoolteacher where all the kids go to school. There’s one church. One produce market, a library. Nothing else.”
At last Farn stumbled toward his feet. He reached down for the mouse head and inspected it, then recoiled at its rank odor and dropped it again. He ventured another tentative few steps in the direction the Mouse Man had gone, then quickened his pace. The Clink! Clink! behind him grew distant.
The Orlando Sentinel launched an extensive investigative expose, picking up dozens of industry awards in the process. The breaking headline read:
Florida Mole People Rescued
Artificial Town Brainwashed, Manipulated into Living in Drained Aquifer
The photos of Farn, dirty and blinking in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle, circulated worldwide, garnering scrutiny from international human rights watchdog groups. An intricately orchestrated scandal and cover-up may have reached from local officials all the way to federal actors who personally profited.
Once again, the state’s historic water flows were being diverted. And once again, people were in the way. The massive human engineering project was intended to free up housing for service workers and to ease land development pressures for affluent seasonal residents and resorts. Criminal charges and civil cases on behalf of the families and the environment are now pending.
The Sentinel quoted Farn from his hospital bed: “I get my memory back, and my pride as a fifth-generation Florida farmer. My land is gone, but I’m relieved to have access to the entire Tom Petty catalog. Wherever he is, I hope he knows that like water, his music will always find a way in.”
Sara Comito is author of the poetry collection Bury Me in the Sky (Nixes Mate). She lives in Florida, so send her the strength to carry on. Find her on Twitter @comito_writes and in places like X-R-A-Y, Defenestration, and The Night Heron Barks. She’s a poetry editor for Bending Genres.