I go and peer over the edge for a bit.
The little furry bloke’s not showing any signs of crawling back out of the ominous dark crack at the bottom of the cliff. I really want him too. I’m kind of expecting him to. But he keeps not doing it, the swine. There’s no movement. There’s nothing but the jagged opening of what is probably not a bottomless crevasse, but certainly a very deep one. A very deep, dark crevasse with a small, sad splat in it.
No, I don’t like it.
I feel like a ruddy murderer.
But I suppose that’s only because, technically, I am.
With a shudder, I turn away from the precipice and shuffle, zombie-like, to a tunnel mouth, the only place I can go from here. Gods, this feels like a weight of black sludge on my soul. How does (did) Daisy cope? She was always killing things.
That’s a good question: what would Daisy do?
“Don’t fret, pet,” she’d say. “Play deadly games, win deadly prizes. The bloke made you think he was going to eat you. What a spoon! Had it coming, he did.”
No. I sigh and step into the tunnel. No, thinking like a dead, half-psychotic witch won’t help. I imagine Moh or Mondey would tell me to suck it up and get on with things. It’s a tough world and I had to do something bad to stay alive. I’ll go with that.
I don’t buy it, but it’s the best I’ve got.
Snivelling slightly and fuming with some simmering ocean of emotion I don’t understand, I make my way down the tunnel. It gets darker as I go, as tunnels do, but I imagine I’m dragging my own slimy darkness with me, coating the stone. It’s not long before I’m blindly inching my way along again, tapping the floor ahead of me before I put my weight on it, ready to jump back if anything gives.
Walking blind down unstable tunnels is not the wisest move, but it’s not like I have much choice. The sound of tools on stone is getting louder though. That’s something. I think I’m approaching whoever’s working down here. I kind of hope I am. Yes, they may be an entire community of furry little carnivores, but they’ll be my best chance of getting out of here.
I look behind me. There’s no light back there at all now. The tunnel has curved, I think, turning the light off like a switch. I reach out in the blackness to touch the sides. Hmmm. The walls are dry. Which is… um… I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but the walls higher up were wet so…
Gods, for all I know, dry tunnels walls could be a sign of impending disaster, like all the moisture gets sucked up just before an explosion or something.
Give me a nice city, even a village, some environment I can understand.
In this cheery fashion, I push forward a step at a time, expecting a giant cave spider to drop down and suck my brains out at any second, or an explosion to rip through the tunnel, or a collapse to bury me under an entire mountain or any of a dozen other horrible death scenarios. By the time I see the light up ahead, I’m too annoyed to immediately recognise it.
I mean, why does the universe have it in for me? What did I ever do to it? It says a lot that I am now far, far more annoyed than I am scared. Really annoyed. Fear, in fact, has become almost routine which…
Wait, there’s a light?
It’s orange and wavering, faint, like candle-glow but it’s stunning! With a, frankly, god-like display of self-restraint I don’t run towards it. I continue my careful pace, testing the ground before I go. As I get closer, I can see the light is reflecting onto the tunnel wall from somewhere just around a bend.
Or some excessively toothed monster with a dangly glowing lure.
At this point, I’ll take either.
I get to the corner, take a breath and walk around it.
Light dazzles me and I hear gasps.
When my eyes adjust, I can see a round chamber at the base of an incline lit by several miner’s lamps. There’s a rockface that’s been worked so there’s a pile of rubble at its base. There’s a mine cart full of rocks with opalescent streaks tethered to a rather bored, stoned-looking donkey, but all donkeys look stoned to me, it’s just how they look.
Oh, and there’s kids.
There’s half a dozen or more sweaty, grimy children of various heights, all busy at the rockface. Or they were. They’ve all stopped what they were doing to gape at me.
The poor things!
What kind of twisted scumbag forces children to work down a mine?
“Well-well, my-my! What’s this, what’s this? Another cherub for my menagerie of cherubs? Dare I believe the gods have dropped another gift into my lap? Dare I?”
I groan and turn around.
There’s a tall, skinny man-thing grinning at me. He’s ghoul pale, has a dusty top hat, a shoddy suit and is grinning a mouthful of long thin teeth at me. It’s a like a display in a syringe shop in there.
Thank you, universe! How could it be any other way?
At least you’re consistent.
The thing is, universe, I haven’t the patience to be chased through mine tunnels by a needle-toothed monster right now. I’m already an intensely, ground-in kind of annoyed. It might even be simmering rage. It’s a new feeling so I haven’t tagged it yet. Anyway, you know what, universe? I’m not going to play your games anymore.
Well, I know exactly what Daisy would do, as it goes.
I kick the man in the crotch.
Really, really hard. Toe punt.
And oh! It feels good.
Not for him of course. He falls in a protective bundle around his bundles. I look around and see an unattended shovel. Perfect. I grab it and swing it back. I’m anticipating the satisfying ding! it’s going to make as I wang him across the head with it.
No monsters are forcing children to work down a mine today.
Not on Shoo’s watch.
“Jeki,” wails one of the little ones. “Why’s the scary girl attacking Pappi?”
“I don’t know,” simpers another, equally tiny one. “Stop it!”
“What?” I say to her.
“You leave Pappi alone, you!” she balls her little fists up and shouts at me.
I look down at the needle-toothed man.
His hat’s fallen off, revealing a pale, balding head. His teeth don’t look so big now. He’s cowering away from me, tears in his eyes.
Those anguished, shimmering orbs aren’t the eyes of a monster.
Though I bet if I was close enough to see the reflection in them, I would see one.