The Underground: Part 1
Captured?I wake and find myself lying on a flat long boulder with a pillow on my head. It’s cold. I sit up, blink the stars out of my eyes, and look around. The prison cell sized room is dimly lit by a small green mushroom in the corner. The ceiling is covered with small stalactites and the stone floor seems perfectly smooth. The stone walls have small rows of random symbols carved into them and there’s a small wooden door on the opposite side of the room. I turn and put my legs over the side of the bed and let the dizziness fade from my head before I stand up. I notice my shoes have been removed as my feet touch the cold floor. I walk over to the door and look down at the knob. It’s really low, maybe a little more than two feet off the ground. I attempt to turn it and open the door. Locked! Where am I? I look around again and see my bag lying next to my makeshift bed. I walk over and check that all of my things are there. Everything’s there, but it’s all jumbled as if someone hastily threw it in. I spend a half hour reorganizing it and find a small piece of bark at the bottom. I pick it out and examine it. Symbols similar to the ones on the walls are etched into one side. A closer look reveals a thin, more curved form, of the symbols etched at the bottom of the bark. Must be some sort of note…maybe with a signature. Too bad I’m not learned in this form of writing. I place the note on my bed and pull out my blanket and some of the moss. I place the blanket on the stone, lie down, and cover myself with the large moss sheet. I let myself fall into a shallow sleep.
I wake again to the sound of door hinges creaking. I look to my left and see the door swing in and hit the wall. I sit up, pick up my bag and venture out. The second my foot has cleared the door, it slams shut. I look back at it and see nothing through the darkness of the room I am now in. I turn back around and begin walking forward with my hands out in front of me. Almost immediately I find the opposite wall and feel wood on my hands. I must be in a hallway. I feel the door and find the handle, also low. I grasp it and swing it into the new room. A room identical to mine sits on the other side of the opening. I close the door and turn to my right. I begin feeling my way along the wall, lifting my legs high as I walk to avoid tripping. I walk for what feels like hours before I feel a slight upward slope under my feet. I continue to walk on the upward slope until I hit a corner. I keep feeling for about another yard before I feel a rod going up and down. I feel the rod and find another perpendicular to it. A ladder! I grab the rung and begin climbing. The rungs feel extremely close together for my height, but I can still climb them to the top. I continue to climb until my head bumps into a wooden ceiling. I almost let go in surprise and release only one hand to scan the surface. I move my hand across until I find the edge where the wood meets the stone. I run my fingers along the edge until I find a small piece of metal attached to the stone and wood. Hinges! I reach across to the other side of the hatch and find the handle. I push up and am hit with the light of the large mushrooms that line the three paths that branch from the hatch’s point. The stone ceiling still hangs over me and is covered with bigger stalactites than the chamber I just left. I climb out of the hole and slowly close the hatch. I stand and look at the different paths. Each one is more like a hallway, with walls on each side and the mushrooms on each side. They split in a perfect T with the top of the t towards my back. I decide to go straight and silently begin to walk forward. I still don’t know if my captors are friendly or not. I reach in my bag and pull out a small knife that I use to skin animals. It won’t do me much in a fight, but it’s still something. I continue down the corridor, looking behind me every once in a while to make sure I’m not being followed. Another few minutes walking brings me to an intersection. I look both ways but see only what I see now, corridors. On a gut feeling I turn right. I walk for another few minutes before I can see a large door through the dim light. I walk up to the nine foot tall double door and look down at the handles. It’s just as low as the others, with a knocker at normal knob height. I put my hand on one side and push the door gives way and I fall on my front, almost stabbing myself with my knife. I quickly stand up and point my knife in front of me. I almost drop it in surprise.
The room I stand in looks almost like a common home’s family room, except for the elaborate furniture and paintings on the walls. This room is actually lit up by a miniature fireplace with more elaborate designs on the wall above it. Standing in front of me are three of some of the most bizarre looking creatures that I have ever laid eyes on, and I’ve seen some pretty weird things. From the neck down they appear to be miniaturized people. Their faces are somewhat round and pale and the tops of their heads are covered with what look like mushroom caps. Two of them drop what appear to be small wooden tea cups and stare at me in surprise. The third drops his cup and lunges at what appears to be a sword on the wall. I watch as he yanks the device off the wall and points it at me. He yells something like, “Prod yu lam mu sena um cha!” He yells in a rather tiny, throaty voice. He looks at me as if he just issued a threat, which, judging by the pointy thing he’s pointing at me, he did. I drop my knife and raise my hands. The mushroom guy’s two friends cower behind their chairs like I’m some animal poised to attack.
“Whoa!” I say slowly as I put my bag on the floor and put my arms back in the air. “It’s okay,” I say, “I mean you no harm.”
He looks back at the others, “Tars puttya tuf wa!” He says and brings his gaze back to me. The others pick up their little wooden cups and put them on a small wooden tray. Then they begin hastily walking towards a door in the back that I hadn’t noticed before. Before they close the door behind them one of them turns and says, “Shoo ma mu lep?” in a questioning tone.
“Chee!” he responds rather enthusiastically. The others leave the room and the one with the sword seems to lower his guard.
“Sa yu.” he says as he gestures towards one of the small chairs. I assume he’s inviting me to sit down and I leave my knife and my bag behind as I step towards the tiny seats. I look down at them and decide to sit on the floor to avoid breaking them. He takes a seat at the largest of the chairs and looks at me. Suddenly he jabs his hand at me and holds out his palm as if telling me to stop. I stare at his hand until he gives an exasperated sigh and smacks palm hand with his other palm as if it was extremely obvious. He puts his hand back out and waits for me to react. I give him a high five and he smiles. I watch as his eyes roll into the back of his head and roll back.
“Hello.” He says in a throaty, froglike voice that makes him seem childish.
“Um…hi?” I respond, beginning to get a little nervous.
“What is your name?” He asks.
“Uh…I’m Daniel.” I say.
“I am Shane.” He says. He seems somewhat enthused as he speaks my language. He sits there and stares at me as if waiting for me to say something.
“What are you?” I ask before I can stop myself. I cringe as I wait for him to be offended.
He reads my expression. “Do not worry, I was about to ask the same thing.” He says, smiling. This feels awkward. Two minutes ago we were pointing blades at each other. Now were sitting in the guy’s living room with him trying to start a conversation.
“Well, if you really want to know, we call ourselves humans.” I say to him.
“We know ourselves as moomans.” He says. We sit in silence with him smiling at me and me awkwardly looking around the room. He’s still holding his little curved sword which I now realize isn’t much longer than my knife.
“What do you call that?” I ask as I gesture at the sword.
“We call this a lam.” He says.
“May I see it?” I ask and hold out my hand. He shakes his head.
“No, I still do not know if you are to be trusted.” He answers, the smile fading from his face. I wait a few seconds before I ask my next question.
“Where am I?” I say as I look around the room.
“You are in the great city of Adafonga, capital of Hurricanna.”
“Hurricanna? Is that a country?” I ask. He looks at his lam and thinks about the question.
“Yes, I believe so.” He says, his smile returning.
“And…how did I get here?” I ask.
“I believe you were brought in by the gatekeepers during-“He’s cut off midsentence by a knock on the front door.
“Lem se on, on thel man fo yu sterma Gastra!” yells a voice through the door.
“Moc on” says Shane and the doors burst open as five more of the moomen come running in with lams drawn. They all have small armor and thin sheets of metal with holes in them over their domed heads. Shane puts out his hand and one of the guys with a glowing red top slaps it. His eyes roll into his head and roll out and turn towards me.
“I am Gama Gooma.” He says with a look of authority.
“I guess that means you’re the leader.” I say. He looks at me as if offended and disgusted at the same time.
“Did I not just tell you that I am the Gama of this city?” He says, raising his voice.
“Oh! Yeah, sorry, silly me.” I say with a smile, still confused as to who this guy is. “So, do you happen to know what I’m doing here?” I ask him.
“We captured you three days ago. You were outside our front gate and the guards brought you in.
“Three days ago!?” I say, shocked. “I thought I’d only been here overnight.
“You obviously have a bad sense of time.” Says the Gama.
“What did you guys do with my shoes?” I blurt out before I can stop myself. He looks at my feet as if just noticing they are bare.
“It wouldn’t be very comfortable to sleep in those.” He says, as if it’s obvious.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I say as I roll my eyes.
“Would you like them back?” asks the Gama.
“Yes! Yes, I would like to have my shoes back!” I say, raising my voice.
He turns to one of his comrades.
“Mu mi vocs.” He says to the one with the glowing blue top and he rushes out the door. Gooma turns back to me.
“So, what is your name?” he asks, tilting his head.
“Daniel, Daniel Rogers.” I say.
“Watch your mouth!” He says. Looking offended.
“Oh! Okay.” I say as the little blue dude comes back with my sneakers.
“Vocs!” he says, gasping for air as he hands them to me.
“Thank y-,” I stop myself, “How do you say thank you in your language?” I ask as I turn to Shane.
“Tank yur.” He says with a smile.
“Thanks,” I say, and turn back to the blue headed dude, “Tank yur.”
“Yu ga.” He says back, a smile now spreading across his face. Gooma continues our conversation as I pull some socks out of my bag and put on my shoes.
“What were you doing over our city in the middle of the night?” He asks as he stares at my shoes. I shudder as I think about the lights in the night. I tell him my whole story, from falling out of the tree to seeing the red lights to blacking out by their gate.
“So you are a traveler?” asks Gooma, looking somewhat shocked.
“Yeah, I’m always jumping around from place to place.” I say with a smile. Even Shane seems somewhat surprised by this.
“You have no home?” asks Shane.
“No, I-I’ve never really fit in anywhere.” I say. I’ve never thought about this. Getting kicked out of the last three towns I’ve been to for various petty crimes has kind of reinforced my theory. "Yeah…I'm not exactly the social type." I say, scratching my head.
"Is that why you travel alone?" he asks
"Yeah, I guess." I answer, still scratching my head.
"Please follow me." he says, and gets up to leave.
"Wait! Where are we going?" I ask.
"To Adofonga, our great city." he says, and walks out the door. I stand up to go, but Shane grabs my arm.
"Wait, you must be careful. Gooma has been known to be deceitful." he says, his face grave.
"Don't worry; I've picked up a few tricks over the years." I say and smile. He smiles back as if slightly comforted by these words.
"Hurry, my patience is limited." hollers Gooma from down the hall. I grab my bag and hurry out the door. I catch up with Gooma and look down at him. Two armed body guards with blue and orange heads walk by his side.
"So Adafonga is the capital of your country?" I ask. Just like Shane, he thinks about this for a minute.
"Yes, it is." he says and looks back ahead. I assume this ends our conversation and continue to walk. We pass the hatch in the floor and turn right down one of the passages that I decided not to follow. We walk for another five minutes before we turn right again. I catch my breath as my eyes process what sits before me.
The passage expands by maybe twenty times and large crossbows sit on platforms that sit on the wall. Instead of mushrooms, actual torches line the walls, creating a much more comfortable yet intimidating light. At the other end of the corridor sits a large, metal wall. Large gates, maybe fifteen feet tall and twenty feet wide sit in the middle with ten armed guards on each side. A gap separates the top of the metal wall from the ceiling. Large crossbows also sit on top of the wall and they point at us as we turn the corner.
"Tands wond!" yells Gooma to the guards. The guards all stand at attention and put a closed fist over their hearts.
"Gama Gooma!" they yell as soon as they can see Gooma's face. He nods at them and the gate slowly opens. This place has too many surprises because I need to catch my breath again.
Inside the gates resides a huge cavern. Large buildings reach up to the ceiling, maybe 200 feet above the floor. The center is taken up by a large cylindrical stone pillar. Windows and ladders cover the side and many of the small moomen climb up to various doors and enter. More, less grand, pillars are spread throughout the city and surrounded by the smaller homes and businesses.
"How many of you live down here?" I ask.
"I believe the number is somewhere around 500,000 in your language." answers Gooma, smiling at the shock on my face. "We've lived under the earth for centuries, digging tunnels and building cities."
"Why don't you live on the surface?" I ask.
"The Mechanic." he says. Obviously explaining everything.
"And…who might that be?" I say.
"The one who builds," he says, "he creates the machines that prevent us from leaving the forests above."
"Machines?" I exclaim. "Some of them wouldn't happen to throw trees, would they?"
"Possibly, he makes many contraptions. Some even find their way into the underground, causing mayhem and destruction.”
“Why don’t you guys fight back?”
“We cannot find him. He lives underground, but he is too deep and well hidden to be found.” Says Gooma, his face grave.
“So you just hide?” I guess.
“Yes, there is nothing else we can do. We do not have sufficient warriors to escort the entire country from the woods.” He says.
“Oh. Well that sucks.” I say.
“I do not understand what that means.” He says, looking confused.
“Oh yeah,” I smile, “you guys don’t know slang. It means that’s bad.” I say.
“Thank you.” He says and looks back ahead as we walk into the city.
Many of the moomen bustle around carrying packages and riding on strange looking mules with the heads of goats. They all wear simple clothing, old pants and simple plane t-shirts. They speak their own language, giving me a headache as I walk through their city. The all sell fruits and various colored mushrooms as what seems to be food. Some of the venders sell meat, but only the seemingly best dressed seem to buy it, so I guess it must be pretty expensive.
"What do you guys use for currency?" I ask.
"Stones." says Gooma.
"Like, just any stones?" I say.
"No, only the rarest and most valuable of stones." As he says it, he pulls a small green gem from his pocket and walks towards one of the venders. He points to a large green mushroom hanging on the wall and the guy behind the counter pulls one out of a small cloth bag and hands it to him. Gooma gives him the gem and we continue to walk towards the main pillar.
He bites into the mushroom. "Would you like some sweet shroom?" he asks.
"No, thank you. I'll pass." I say, barely holding back my stomach as I watch him take another bite out of the disgustingly bright green mushroom.
"So, where are we going?" I ask, looking at the pillar that must only be about 200 yards away.
"To the capital building." he says and points at the pillar. "We are going to have a council to decide your fate.
"Oh!" I say smartly. We are silent the rest of the walk.
When we reach the tower, the three moomen begin climbing the ladder.
I put my hand on the first rung.
"Stop!" yells the Gama. "You go through the lower door." he says. I look down and see the small door at the bottom of the pillar.
"Whatever you say, boss." I yell back, smiling. I open the door and peer inside.
A long stone table goes through the middle of a large room. Simple wooden chairs line both sides and a larger chair sits on the end further from me. Torches line the wall and a single large glowing mushroom extends from one wall. More of the strange symbols go across the walls, seemingly unfinished. A small stool sits at the end of the table closer to me.
I walk in and look at the stool. It's only the size of my leg, with a little round top supported by four short legs. I decide to sit on the floor next to it. I wait for probably about fifteen minutes, though it felt like hours, before a door opens in the back. An orange topped mooman enters through the doorway in the back that I hadn't noticed before.
He looks at me curiously as he sits in the big chair at the end of the table. Suddenly the door burst open again and twenty more of the little men, including Gama Gooma, walk in, all of them with different tops and chattering loudly. They all fall silent as they see me sitting at the end of the table.
“Welcome, Daniel” the orange head says as he looks down at a piece of bark in his hand, “I am Brooda, Chooma of Adafonga. This council has been gathered to discuss your position and fate in our city.”
“How do you know English?” I ask. He looks up from his piece of bark.
“Your language has been transferred to the entire council by courtesy of Gama Gooma.” He answers. “Please do not interrupt while we discuss our verdict.” He says, looking somewhat annoyed. “Now, what do each of you believe we should do with this creature?” he directs at the council. The room immediately fills with yelling and arguing. The only ones who sit silent are Gooma and Chooma Brooda.
“SILENCE!” yells the Chooma and the whole room goes silent. “We must decide the verdict within the day.”
“I believe we should simply keep him in the cells.” Says one.
“Let him make a living for himself in our city.” Says another.
“Interrogate him; see if he is an accomplice of the Mechanic.” Says one with a poka-dotted orange and red top.
“No.” says the Chooma, and the room goes silent again. “If he can prove himself, he may stay. Let him destroy one of the Mechanic’s machines, only then I will let him stay in my city.” He says as a smile spreads across his little round face.
“Wait!” I say, “What if I found the Mechanic?”
“What! Such a thing is impossible; we have spent centuries looking for him without success.”
“I have a plan; I just need the right tools and people.” I say. The Chooma leans forward in his chair.
“What might your plan be?” He asks. It takes me a few seconds to gather the words.
“Follow the machines. Find where they’re coming from. He can’t build the machines from across the woods.” I say. The council discusses this in their language. A lot of nodding and hand gestures later, they all look back at me.
“We have decided to let you find the Mechanic. We will let you take a team of five to help you along the way. Until then, we will find you a place to rest.