Tip jerked awake with a start. Her clothes were damp. Where was she?
She lay frozen for a few seconds as it all came back to her. The Underrun. The colourful world they’d travelled to by boat.
Lifting her head, she looked around. Daylight was fading, transforming the pinks and blues of their lush surroundings into purples and indigos. The fire was close to dying and a chill was creeping up through the ground she lay on. Droplets of evening dew had already formed on nearby grass blades. How long had she been asleep?
None of the others were stirring. She got slowly to her feet. Her whole body ached, which was no surprise given how hard they’d worked collecting food. She checked the stacks of vegetables piled on their woven fern mats, but everything was just as they’d left it. Why did she have such a strange feeling? She was groggy from sleeping through the day, but there was an extra feeling. It was like a surreal dream that she couldn’t quite shake off. Tip judged the feeling to be 40% nap hangover, 35% disorientation And 25%…? Well, she couldn’t quite work out what the last part was. It felt like something inside her had shifted…
Had they made a mistake in eating those plants? Maybe the odd colours were a warning. Maybe they’d accidentally poisoned themselves! Her skin began crawling and she scratched frantically with both hands at an itchy spot at the base of her spine.
“Huh?” Kerrick jerked up to sitting, eyes wide. It took a moment for awareness to dawn in his expression, then he groaned, slumping forward and rubbing his face. “Tip?” he said through his hands. “How long was I asleep?”
“No idea,” she told him, still scratching. “I was out too. Must have been a few hours.”
“How did we let ourselves fall asleep? Oh, my head hurts!” Kerrick groaned again, then flopped back onto the grass. For a moment it seemed like he was going to fall back asleep. Then he rolled over and prodded Val and Sol to wake them. They both sat up, startled.
“I’ve got pins and needles in my face,” exclaimed Val, sleepily rubbing her cheeks. “ I’ve never had that before. Was I lying on it?”
“My back itches,” grunted Sol, trying to stretch his arm around to scratch. Tip helped him out and he grunted as she found the right spot high up on his shoulder blades.
“I’m itchy too,” she told him. “Maybe we were bitten by something in the grass.”
“My face feels really strange,” repeated Val. “Kerrick, are you going back to sleep?” She prodded the prone body next to her.
“Such a headache,” groaned Kerrick, hands clasped over his eyes.
“We need to get back,” said Tip. The daylight was almost gone. Soon there wouldn’t be enough light to see by. She kicked at the fire’s embers and threw some more sticks on it to bring it back to life. She ripped some strips of bark off a nearby tree and used them to fashion a couple of makeshift torches. “Here, Sol. Help me set these up in the cave so we can see what we’re doing.”
Val got slowly to her feet and staggered over to their foraged supplies. She began dragging the woven mats into a logical order for loading. Bigger, heavier things to go first and be stowed in the bottom of the boat. Smaller things to go in last.
Tip and Sol finished setting up the torches and began the process of carrying everything below. Val carried a couple of armfuls down and then stayed by the boats in order to make sure they were loaded up properly.
When he saw them starting to move the cargo, Kerrick made an effort to rise to his feet, and pitch in, but it was clear he was in agonising pain from the headache. He could barely walk straight. After he spilled a full load of beans, Tip made him stop attempting to help. She and Sol guided him down into the lower cave and made him sit next to Val, who promised to tell him if she needed help. The three of them agreed through unspoken glances that the best thing would be to get him home as soon as possible, and they subtly stepped up the pace.
On the very last trip above ground, Tip had a good look around to check they had everything. Satisfied with the empty space, she stamped out the last embers of the fire and stumbled back over through the sudden darkness towards the cave opening. As she was feeling for the crack, she put her hand on something unexpectedly warm and yelped in surprise.
It was Sol. “What are you doing up here?” she hissed. “We’ve already got it all.”
Sol’s face was lifted to the sky and he looked past her. “The moon,” he breathed.
By now Tip’s eyes had adjusted a little and she turned to regard the dappled, moonlit scene behind her. There was a definite pink tinge to the pale light filtering through the dark leaves. The reason for this became clear when she found a gap in the leaf canopy and beheld the pink moon shining in the heavens. It was beautiful, illuminating the forest with a delicate, pale rose glow. Unlike the blotchy silver moon Tip and Sol were used to seeing over Grevick, the pink world’s moon was blemish free. A shiny pink coin in an unfamiliar, star-pricked sky.
“Do you suppose it’s always full, or are we just lucky tonight?” asked Sol.
“I don’t know,” whispered Tip and shivered. Despite the warmth of the pink glow, there was something very alien about this perfect moon shining over the lush, perfect world. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to get back home and see the dirty mining settlement with its soot-streaked buildings and muddy streets. “Let’s go.” She tugged him into the cave with her.
Inside the cave, Tip picked up their makeshift torches, intending to douse them in the water of the Underrun. As she lifted them, something on the cave wall caught her eye and she went to take a closer look.
Something was scratched into the wall of the cave. A repeating picture or symbol depicting a strange creature, or more accurately, a collection of attributes arranged into the rough semblance of a creature. The most obvious feature was a pair of great wings stretching either side. Below them curled a pointed tail, and in the space where the head of the creature would have been, a single ornate eye was decorated with a pattern of dots. A starburst of lines radiated out from it.
Sol studied the symbol with her, then shifted his gaze to her, eyebrows raised in a wordless question. Tip shrugged. Who knew what the symbol meant? The only thing she could think of was that it meant this world was inhabited, and she didn’t intend to stick around to meet the person who had scratched those things into the cave wall. She led the way to the trapdoor and pulled it closed it behind them as they descended into the soft greenish glow of the Underrun.
They had gathered so much food that Val had been forced to load up both of the boats. Accordingly, they decided to travel two in each boat for the return trip.
Kerrick was still incapacitated and unlikely to be of any use. Tip helped him into the larger boat and got in with him. Val and Sol got into the other boat. “Should we tie the boats together?” asked Val nervously. “I don’t like the thought of getting separated on the way back.”
Tip caught Sol’s eye, and he shook his head. “I don’t think so,” said Tip. “It might interfere with the boats’ ability to follow the currents or something.”
“How do we even know they’ll go back to the cave we started from?” Val was wringing her hands, her brain obviously jumping to all sorts of unsettling conclusions.
“We’ll be fine,” Tip told her, infusing her voice with a confidence she didn’t fully feel. To her thinking there was perhaps a 33% chance they’d end up lost in the Underrun’s maze of passages. “If we get stuck somewhere at least we’ve got plenty of food,” she added, forcing herself to smile. Sol grinned back but Val only continued to stare anxiously down the dim passageway they’d soon be traversing.
They untied the boats and pushed off. Nothing happened. Their boats drifted across the small cave, banging into each other and into the cave walls. They waited.
“Nothing’s happening,” came Val’s quavering voice.
“It will, just be patient,” Tip told her.
“What if we’re stuck here forever?”
Sol lifted his voice. “Home, please.”
As if he’d turned a switch, the water’s greenish glow increased slightly. The boats stopped drifting and both remained motionless for a few moments. Tip glanced across at the others and held her breath.
Then it happened. One by one, the boats rotated until their prows were pointing in the right direction. Then, as if they had slotted onto rails, they began moving smoothly down the tunnel away from the underground harbour and on their way.
Afterwards, Tip couldn’t remember much of the home journey. A great sleepiness had come over her and she’d dozed in her seat, one hand on Kerrick’s shoulder as he lay motionless in the bottom of the boat among the melons and pumpkins. Sol said they had gone through another of the violet lights on the way back, but Val said they hadn’t. Either way, it didn’t matter. The boats delivered them to the cave under Grevick. They jumped out on wobbly legs, and pulled the boats as far up out of the water as they could manage, grounding them onto the gravelly strip of beach at the lake’s edge.
“Let’s unload everything and put it close to the tunnel entrance,” said Val. “We’ll decide what to take back with us immediately and then we can come back with sacks for the rest.”
When they emerged above ground, they were all astounded to see it was broad daylight in Grevick. Kerrick groaned and covered his face again. “Too bright.”
Tip realised she should have expected the daylight. Her internal clock told her that only a few hours had passed since they had left the Crib. It had been obvious that the pink world was on a different day and night cycle. Still it was unsettling after having already seen one sunset to be gearing up for another before too many more hours were out.
Out of unspoken agreement, they took the long route back to the Crib. With the situation in the settlement as dire as it was, it felt like a smart idea to avoid anyone seeing them with their burden of fresh food. It was also better for Kerrick’s head to take the dimmer forest path.
Tip had hardly turned the handle of the Crib’s back door before it was yanked out of her hand. “There you are,” exclaimed Marit pulling them through the door and hugging them all. “Where have you all been? What happened?! What have you brought?” She gasped. “Kerrick, dear, what’s wrong?” As soon as Marit’s eye fell on Kerrick and perceived the extent of his pain, she was all business. She called two of the younger children to help him into bed and dampen a cloth to spread over his forehead. After personally seeing that he was comfortable, with pillows plumped and curtains drawn, she marched back to the kitchen to demand answers from the others. But there she found only Sol.
- Graz, Austria
I write fantasy and humorous tales with a twist of magic. I'm currently working on a full-length manuscript but somehow I'm never satisfied with a single project so my smaller works get posted here. If you like what you read, the completed stories are also available to download as ebooks from my website: victoriakellywrites.com
I'd love to hear what you think of my stories so feel free to leave comments. I'm also happy to trade feedback as long as you write in a similar genre.