Having seen Kerrick to safety, Val and Tip had dumped their loads, taken armfuls of sacks and a few of the stronger orphans and gone back to fetch more of the food from the cave.

While she was waiting for them to return, Marit questioned Sol and managed to get the gist of the story, although the dreamy boy’s answers required some creative interpretation. Having learned enough to realise they were all safe and that she would do better to keep busy until the girls returned, Marit contented herself with stoking the stove and putting the potatoes they’d brought into a pan to roast. She clucked over the strange colour, but Sol assured her that all the vegetables were strange colours and that none of them had been sick, well apart from Kerrick, but the rest of them were fine. Just a little itchy. Marit resolutely stopped asking him anything after that.

It was a triumphant homecoming when Tip and Val returned with others, dragging between them a small cart into which they’d loaded the rest of the haul. The cart had come from one of the mining stores and Tip would have to return it later, but for the moment there was a jubilant gathering in the Crib’s warm kitchen as all of the orphans exclaimed over the oddly coloured foodstuffs and listened with open mouths to the story of Tip, Val, Kerrick and Sol’s strange journey. All the while, the delicious smell of cooking filled the big room. The gathering transitioned naturally into a mealtime where for once, none of them needed to worry about holding back or saving food for others. There was nourishment enough for all.

Finally the avid listeners had run out of questions and a comfortable silence had replaced the chatter at the kitchen table. A fair few eyelids were drooping, particularly on the younger ones, as the warmth and food took their effect.

“Well, wasn’t that a story,” said Marit. “I’m fair overcome with all the excitement. But this has been quite enough for one day. The next big adventure had better be bedtime for certain young men and ladies.” The inevitable chorus of groans followed but she held firm. Finally, with an appropriate amount of grumbling, the young orphans made their way up to begin the familiar bedtime routine, made far more pleasant tonight for the lack of aching, hungry bellies.

“Leave them to it for tonight,” Marit told Tip and Val, as they got up intending to go help get the younger ones into bed as they usually did. “They’ll manage without you for once. Now I want to know exactly how much of that tale you told us was true and whether we’re to expect repercussions for all this food you’ve stolen.” Despite the harshness of her words, her face was kind.

“It was all true,” exclaimed Tip indignantly. “We found boats under the mountain, travelled along a magical waterway and found another world where night was day and everything was pink…” she trailed off as the ludicrousness of her own words came across.

“What Tip means is,” Val jumped in, “we really did forage it all. None of it is stolen. There shouldn’t be any repercussions.”

Marit eyed them sternly. “Alright. But now listen to me, you two. We’re all grateful for the full bellies, and I don’t say we’re not. But it’s not your job to provide for us all and I won’t countenance you putting yourselves in danger for it. Why, you’re hardly more than kids yourselves. ”

“We were never in danger,” said Tip, conveniently forgetting the fear they’d experienced upon first launching the boats.

Marit’s face softened. “What about Kerrick?” she asked quietly.

“We honestly don’t know what happened to him,” said Val. “He didn’t hit his head or anything. We fell asleep in the sun. Perhaps that was what did it?”

“We were in a forest,” retorted Tip. “It was hardly full sunlight!”

Val didn’t have any answer to that and for a while there was silence.

“We’ll see how he is in the morning,” said Marit quietly. “Could just be from too much excitement. I don’t envy him trying to keep the rest of you in line on such a harebrained adventure.” Suddenly there came a crash from upstairs and she glanced upwards and sighed. “I’d better go up and see what those terrors are doing to each other.” She rested a hand on each of the girls’ shoulders, and then was gone from the room.

After she’d gone, Val and Tip looked at each other, then over at Sol who was gazing dreamily into the kitchen fire. There was something that had been bothering Tip since they’d been back. “How did you know to say that?” she asked him. But Sol didn’t move. He hadn’t heard her question. She leaned over and jabbed him in the arm. “Hey!”

He looked up. “Hmm?”

“Why did you say ‘home please’ when we were stuck in that cave? Or rather, how did you know you had to say that?”

“I didn’t know,” replied Sol. “I just said it and the boats happened to catch the currents when I said it. It probably wasn’t because of me.”

“I’m just glad it worked,” said Val. “We could all still be sitting there in that boat right now, wishing-”

“Tip?” came a small voice from the doorway. They all glanced over. Two little girls were there in their nightgowns, soft curls brushed out for the night and thick woolly bedsocks on their feet.

They looked so adorable and sleepy that Tip’s heart melted and she refrained from yelling at them for being out of bed. They’d obviously evaded Marit’s stern eye in order to sneak down and see her. “What are you two doing here,” she asked. “I’m sure there’s a warm bed waiting for you upstairs.”

They nudged each other and giggled before one of them said, “We came to say thank you, Tip. Thank you for bringing all the food for us.”

“Thank you, Tip,” repeated the other, her big eyes wide and earnest. “It was so yummy!”

“Goodnight Poppy, goodnight Rose,” said Val meaningfully.

“Goodnight,” they chorused, then ran off into the dim hallway. A light patter of footsteps scampered upstairs and then the house was quiet.

Val snorted. “I’d like to know why you get all the credit for bringing the food. I carried just as much!”

Tip smiled. Kerrick was the oldest, and Val was a born organiser, but it was 100% certain that none of them would have ever set foot into a boat without Tip’s relentless pushing. It was nice to receive recognition for her essential contribution, even if the girls only chose her to thank because she’d been the most vocal over dinner when they were telling the story of their adventures.

But she didn’t say any of that. She only shrugged and scratched her lower back. It was still itching abominably. She’d have to put salve on it soon, with all this scratching. “You realise we’ll have to make another run in a couple of days?” she said.

Val raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“I know it seemed like a lot of food, but we’re a lot of people. And vegetables aren’t that filling,” Tip said.

Val looked like she’d bitten into a lemon. “You’re right, darn it.”

“Come on,” said Tip. “We’ve done the first run. It won’t be nearly so scary the second time around.”

Val sighed. “Alright, but let’s wait until Kerrick’s well enough first.”

“Him?” exclaimed Tip with mock distain. “All he did was lie in the boat and moan!”

“I wish Mami and Pap could have seen the pink world,” said Sol, still staring into the fire. “Pap liked growing things. He’d have known all the plants we could eat. And Mami used to sing a song about pink flowers.” He lapsed into silence again.

Val looked at Tip with heartbreak in her eyes before leaning over to wrap her arms around him. “We’re your family now,” she told him. “If you teach me the song about pink flowers, I’ll sing it to you every night.”

Sol’s face crumpled. “I can’t remember it,” he said. “I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t.” Tears rolled down his cheek and he sobbed silently into Val’s shoulder. Tip wanted desperately to do something for him, but there was very little she could do to heal his grief. Val was better at comforting than she was. She got up abruptly and slipped out of the back door.

Outside the normal, familiar moon was shining. Or rather, a sliver of it was. Tip remembered Sol’s comment about the full moon in the pink world and shivered. Another proof that the pink world had been completely alien. Even the moon phases had been off.

She couldn’t wait to go back.

Hidden a short way into the surrounding forest was the cart they’d used to bring the food supplies back to the Crib. She might as well take it back now. If she didn’t there was a 65% chance she’d forget and it wasn’t worth risking the wrong person finding out about the ‘loan’. Besides, she felt too wound up to sleep right away.

When she returned, the Crib was silent and still. Everyone was in bed. Tip was thoroughly chilled from her errand and sat for a moment by the embers of the kitchen fire to warm herself up. She thought about Rose and Poppy, the two little girls who’d come down specially to thank her for providing for them. Her heart filled with pride, a feeling that was swiftly replaced by firm resolve. She wasn’t going to let any of those kids go hungry again, even if it meant she had to travel the Underrun by herself and carry every load of food on her own back! It would be 100% worth it if it meant she never had to see those adorable cheeks go hollow and the light in those mischievous eyes go dull.

With that thought foremost in her mind, Tip went to bed. She slept long and deep, and didn’t wake until the next morning when the screaming started.


About the author


Bio: 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:

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.

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