Chapter 28 – The Cellar Vein

Ben went back inside.

‘Hey, Jack, I think we should take a look at what’s down in the cellar. Behind all those doors could be something really interesting, don’t you think?’

Jack’s eyes opened, drowsily, before he yawned. ‘You go … if you find that so exciting. Come and get me if you find … hmm … whatever.’

Ben looked over at his grandpa. His small body was leaning back with the head tilted. The snoring was at full blast.

Sinton had become visible. He had found a spot on the floor where he lay curled up.

‘Jack, just make sure you tell grandpa about Sinton. If he wakes up, and finds him, he might die of a heart attack. Even if his body is like a kid, we don’t know how it affects him. Don’t forget to tell the others too.’

There was no reply.

‘Ah, well, it looks like I’m going by myself.’

Ben went back out on the landing. He stared into the dusky light below. He thought about the strange remnant of a continent where every single thing was out of kilter. It was a primitive world, but it seemed to function even if there was no power, no phones, no computers, and no modern materials. All things were made of stone, plants, seaweed, leather, fur, or wood. It was a strange world where nothing was simple. The strangest thing was that nobody, in the world above, knew about beings living in a land underneath their feet. For a moment he fantasised about if somebody dug a deep enough hole, they might stumble on a layer of Yowies, either friendly, or hostile. On the other hand, they might not. No mining company had ever come across them. They had never shown this on TV news, or through the daily papers. By the looks of it, it had never happened. Another thing was that nobody seemed able to return if they accidentally entered Panghellan. It was easy to get in, but impossible to get out. It couldn’t be done without the keystone.

He thought about the prediction. Why was he supposed to find it? He had no idea, but knew he had to make it happen. They would never be able to leave, if it wasn’t found. The trouble was that it could be anywhere. The others had no understanding of the time it took to search, and that the search had to be done, and he was the one to do it. He was the green-eyed one destined to find the Binehogen.

He hesitated slightly, but took the steps down before he stood in the tunnel where they had come through before. He chose the next one after their bathroom. The door was painted in an ocher colour. Bare, crooked branches, and twigs poked out from the wall around it. He was wary, but something inside his inner self wanted him to proceed.

He grabbed the knobbly, twisted handle, and smiled when it opened. Pointing inside in the swirling dust with his torch, which had new batteries, he saw nothing at first. As soon as his eyes were used to the conditions, and most of the dust had settled, he stared into another passageway. He waited, while thinking if he should continue, or not.

He made a decision, and left the door wide open before he started down the dark corridor. He was taken aback by the many doors at the sides. Eager to find out what secrets awaited, he tried the first, which had a latch. He tinkered with it, got it open, and put his head inside. The smell of road kill on a hot day put him off. He slammed the door shut, hoping it wasn’t Agrimona’s pantry, and headed for the next one. A key hung from a warped wooden hook on the wall. He reached up to grab it, and put it in the keyhole. The door opened like a well-oiled machine. He stepped into a dust-smelling chamber filled with knotted, gnarled, and twisted wooden pieces thrown together in huge, messy piles.

‘Like gigantic birds nests! This must be the supplies for making all the furniture stuff.’

He pulled the door closed, locked, and put the key back before he went to the next. Just as he was to try the door handle, he heard a faint knocking sound. It came from further down the tunnel.

He listened. After five knocks, it became silent. He decided on the spot to find out where it came from, and walked off towards it.

He passed more doors. He heard it again, and waited at each one. When he arrived at one with a spear gate in front, a prison cell came to mind. He stood still, while listening, when another knock startled him.

Breathing faster, he waited, contemplating what to do.

‘Is anyone there?’ he called out.

Nobody answered.

He tried to get in by rattling the gate, then studied the door frame behind it. There were no handles on either side, and no keys. He realised it would be impossible to open.

When he heard the next knock, he had an idea, and raced back upstairs.

‘Jack, you’ve got to come! Somebody’s knocking in the cellar, and it looks like a prison down there.’

‘It’s no prison here mate. Why would it be a prison where the old woman rents out shacks? It’s doesn’t make sense. Leave me alone, I want to sleep!’

‘NO! You’ve got to come! I want to check who’s in there.’

Jack rolled over, away from him.

Ben grabbed his backpack on the way out. ‘Okay then, suit yourself, but I’m going down again.’

Back at the door, he took another good look around the frame, but couldn’t find a way to open.

‘Who are you?’ Ben called out, as he stood outside the railing with his ear, as close as possible. When there was no response, he decided to take action. He flung off his backpack, opened a pocket, and grabbed the silver veined crystal.

With two quick upward motions, he managed to raise the gate a tiny bit from the floor. He flicked it again. It went up further. One more time, and he could get in through the space underneath.

When the spear gate fell down behind him, and he was caged in with his face pressed close to the wooden door, he was not the least worried. With the Silver Stick in his hand, he knew there was no way he could fail.

The soft knocks were there again, but weaker. Another one was followed by a few moments of nothing, before a barely audible scratch.

‘Who … is it?’ called Ben.

He heard nothing from inside. No knocking, and no scratching.

‘Whoever you are, I don’t know how this door’s opened, but I’ll get you out, as soon as I can. If you can hear me, knock twice.’

He heard a thud. Soon after came another.

Ben stood in the space between the door, and the spear gate with his nose plastered to the door. He reached over the door frame, and ran his fingers on the outside edge. He found no handle, no keyhole, no switches, and no latches, but somehow it was firmly stuck. He thought about what Jack would have said: ‘It must be some sort of mechanism.’ But if there was, Ben wasn’t the one to find it. There was only one thing to do. He had to use the emergency equipment again.

He pointed with the crystal, and made an upward swing. No movement, so he tried one more time. Again there was nothing. Then he remembered another way it had been used in Baffling. Kenairies had done it. Maybe he could too, unless a special skill was needed.

He pointed awkwardly, in the small space, before he managed to draw an invisible line inside the door frame straight on the wood.

Nothing happened.

He thought about how it possibly could be done better, and pointed harder. As he waited, thinking about what to try next, there was a sudden crack. He had expected it to happen, but was still filled with astonishment when a thin line spread inside the frame. A moment later, the line changed, and turned into a fully-fledged door.

He pushed hard, and was surprised when it opened. He peeked into the darkness, but saw nothing.

‘Hello? Is anyone here?’

As soon as he stepped over the threshold, and moved away a couple of paces, he turned fast, expecting the opening to be gone.

But it was still there.

Then he saw something else, while squinting through the gloom. Beside the door was a furry ball, only slightly larger than a sack of potatoes.

Suddenly, he was more scared than he had ever been, but took one step closer to bend down. With the uppermost tips of his fingers, he touched the lump lightly.

Something stirred.

He felt like running, but something told him to stay. He stood still not knowing what to think. When the lump started moaning, he was hit by the strangest feeling.

He hesitated in the longest before he pointed the torch to search through the folds with his free hand. He carefully pulled away a loose piece, and happened to look into a pair of dark eyes in a downy face.

Stunned beyond comprehension, a chunk formed in his throat. ‘Did-did that crazy woman lock you up?’

A weak voice came out of the folds. ‘Uh … tired …’

‘Hang on a sec! I’ll get you something to drink.’

Ben searched his backpack, and found the water bottle. He lifted the head to force some water through the lips.

A few small sips had passed into the mouth when the lump stared into Ben’s face.

Ben stared back. ‘YOU! I’ve seen you before.’

‘Uh … not … seen you.’

‘But I’ve seen you. What are you doing here? How long have you been locked up? I’m Ben Starling. Who are you?’

‘I’m Howie.’ He had a few more sips, before struggling to sit up.

Ben gave him a moment to regain more strength. ‘Are you okay? Tell me more, as soon as you can.’

‘I’m … uh … from Wundowie, … I’ve been walking … sliding … uh … been thrown around … in tunnels by screaming wind. Ended up here. You’re … not the same as me. Are you a human? Where am I?’

Ben tried, in a few short sentences, to explain what he had learned about the ancient cave world, and the land of Panghellan.

‘Tried to find my family. Don’t know where they are,’ said Howie.

‘I’ve got to ask you something,’ said Ben. ‘I can’t see much here in the dark. Are you by any chance a Yowie?’

‘Sort of, I think.’

‘How come you talk so good?’ Ben was surprised why he talked with an Australian accent.

‘Don’t know.’

‘Okay then, but there’s something else I’ve got to ask,’ said Ben. ‘Do you have a kind of stone in your backpack?’

‘How … did you know that?’

‘Because it’s been in a fire that I’m supposed to find it, but I first had to find you. So, do you have it?’

‘What fire? Don’t know what you’re talking about … saw bush fire before I fell down a hole.’

Ben went on to tell about his own parents imprisoned on a hard to reach island. He went into the tale about a stone, and that all he wanted was to save his mum and dad, and then leave the crazy world of Panghellan for good. ‘To get out, we need a special stone to open a kind of portal at the Phosphene, wherever that is. I don’t know much more right now. Can you show it to me? I’ve always wanted to know what it looks like.’

Howie opened his backpack. In slow motion, he pulled out fiber containers, plaited strings, wooden pieces, gum nuts, a kangaroo warning sign, a boomerang, and a small wheel.

‘What’s the wheel for?’ said Ben.

‘Don’t know. Found it.’ Then he pulled out a greenish rock, almost the size of his hand.

‘What? Is that it? Looks like it could be, maybe fluorite, but It doesn’t look like any key. I don’t think it could be the right one. I’d say it’s an absolute bummer. I was so sure, but it’s just like a beaut looking stone.’

Howie put it back with his belongings.

Ben was disappointed. ‘It’s strange. I did see in a fire that you had it, even if I didn’t see exactly what it looked like. Hey, do you want to come upstairs? I think they’ll want to meet you. And we’ll give you something to eat too. Are you hungry?’

Howie nodded. ‘What is this place?’

‘It’s a sort of a station for travel, if you know what that is. Down under you’ve got friendly Yowies, but also bad ones, and some hostile hunters. It’s a weird place with traps, and strange goings on, and if you say that you’re coming from the top, I don’t think you’re going to like it much here. Another thing is that you might not find your family in this place.’

‘I must find them,’ said Howie.

‘We’ve got to tell the others. They’ll go bonkers when they see you. Oh, another thing; upstairs there’s something you probably haven’t seen before. It’s an ape-like zilch, but he’s not bad. He just looks a bit scary. He’s going to help us.’

Ben remembered the images he had seen in the flames at different times, and could hardly wait to lay his hands on Howie’s backpack. Just to check inside. He had the strongest feeling that the stone would be in there, but Howie had been careful not to turn it completely upside down. In fact, he was positively certain that Howie had the stone. The flames of the fire had not revealed the exact location, not yet, but he knew he must be right. He had come to understand that the flames never lied. It was only a matter of finding the stone, and when he did, he had to persuade Howie to let him borrow it. As soon as he had it in his possession, they would be able to do the rescue, and then leave the underground cave world forever.

Ben made a sign, and hurried up the stairs with Howie struggling behind.

‘WAKE UP GUYS! I’ve got someone here to see you,’ shouted Ben.

Jack turned, and saw a hairy face of a young boy. ‘What the …? Another kind of zilch, or … what is it?’

Bill stirred. He looked up, drowsily, and stretched on the uncomfortable armchair.

‘It’s not a zilch. It’s Howie. He’s a kind of Yowie from Wundowie. I found him in the cellar,’ said Ben.

‘What do you mean? Found him in the cellar?’ said Jack.

Bill scratched his head. ‘What? Are there … eh … people, or what, down there?’

Ben had to go through the story how he had found Howie. ‘Do we have something to eat? I think he’s hungry.’

While throwing glances at Howie, Bill slid out of bed to search the backpacks. They had almost nothing, but Bill offered him the last two bush tomatoes.

‘You’re not going to eat?’ said Howie.

‘We don’t have any more,’ said Bill. ‘You can take them. We’ll get some food later on anyway. I’ll ask if you can be fed too.’

Howie devoured the tiny morsels, while Ben explained in more detail about the hostile hunters with their smelly berets, the peaceful collectors, and what he called the Warpers with their dangerous abilities. He came to the part about his parents trapped in a prison on an island with not only hostiles, but thorny spikes, and evil creatures, more thirsty for blood than leeches.

It was sudden. Bill fell to his knees with tears streaming down his cheeks. ‘This is so frustrating! I don’t know what to do. I was the one to look after you. And now look at me, I’ve failed miserably. I’m like a six-year old, and we don’t know what’s around the corner. We’ve got to find that damned keystone, but have no idea where to look. That stone is the only way to get out of this unearthly mystifying place, and we’ve got to get into that scungy prison to find the kids’ parents too.’ He snivelled, and tried to wipe away the snot with his hands. ‘Far out! I feel like giving up. It’s absolutely the worst mess ever. If only I could wake up, and find that all this is a nightmare.’

Charlie made a sign for him to sit on her lap. She hugged him, and dried his tears. ‘Come on, grandpa! It’s not that bad. I’m sure Ben finds it when the time is right.’

‘I promise we’ll find it. In time too. I have a feeling …,’ said Ben.

Howie felt guilty when he watched the strong emotions. He sat quiet for a moment, and then made a move. He lifted off his scruffy animal hide of a vest. He touched the bulky criss-crossing web of stringy material formed like a hidden pocket at the bottom, and started to unravel the stitches.

‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ said Ben.

‘It’s … eh … something,’ said Howie.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

© Lena Nilsson. All rights reserved.

Published by Lena Nilsson

Swedish-Australian Critical Thinker, who loves to research, write and crochet in no particular order. 😁

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