Fiction

Tale From the Underground

She longed for something, anything to happen.

Illustration by Leanna

Illustration by Leanna

Rin was bored.

She sat on the window seat, swinging her legs, looking at the garden that could very well have been a time capsule from half a century ago. It was a clear summer’s day, with bees, wasps, and the occasional butterfly zooming around the rose bushes. Behind the high walls at the edge of the property lay vast stretches of moorland; the tiny Yorkshire village of Yewbury was really in the middle of nowhere.

Before she was transplanted to this nowhere village, Rin spent her days wandering around London’s Portobello and Shepherd’s Bush and her nights bouncing from club to club, always eager to find a way backstage to see Syd, the messy-haired, green-eyed lead guitarist of her favorite new band, Pink Floyd. She had managed to worm her way into the band’s inner circle when, through a freak coincidence, she ran into one of his housemates at a gig and ended up at the Earlham Street house. She found her way to Syd’s attic room and spent a magical evening there, sitting on the messy floor while he thumbed through his dog-eared copy of the I Ching. They never touched, and she hadn’t spoken a single word to him; she just sat there bathing in the glow of his presence while people roamed in and out of the cramped space. She had watched him perform at Alexandra Palace that summer; at dawn the sun rose and shattered into a million rainbows as it hit the mirrors on Syd’s Telecaster. When the opening chords of “Astronomy Domine” crashed over the audience, Rin knew that nothing would ever be the same.

She was right. The next day, her mother moved out of their cramped Kensington apartment and to the other side of the world with her new lover; her father, struggling to manage two jobs and his incessant drinking, found a bag of weed in her dresser drawer and packed her off to live with his half-brother, a clergyman in a tiny Yorkshire village.

Rin locked herself in her room, cried furious tears and plotted her escape when she heard the news, occasionally cracking the door just enough to scream incoherently at her father, to no avail. Heworth Parsonage was pretty as a picture—warm stone festooned with ivy, a cozy little garden, and the vast moorland rippling in the summer breeze across the garden walls—but as far as Rin was concerned, it could have been an inner circle of hell. In the rambling, creaking Tudor house, there was little to speak of in terms of company; her uncle was an elderly widower and a stranger to her. There was also no music—the thing she lived for, the only thing that kept her going. Heworth Parsonage had only an ancient gramophone and a paltry collection of classical music. Her own precious collection of LPs and 45s was locked away in her old bedroom.

But she had brought a single record with her: the Pink Floyd “Lucy Leave/I Am a King Bee” acetate she had paid double-price for just because the untidy signature on the sleeve belonged to Syd. She would often take it out of the bedside drawer and spend hours lying in bed, tracing her fingers on the grooves, wondering how lovely it would be if she were in front of the stage at the UFO, drowning in Syd’s presence.

She spent the rest of her first week at Heworth sitting on the window seat, drawing in her sketchpad, and dreaming.

~*~*~*~

Lately everything in the house seemed duller than usual, but the thought of leaving her room made her listless. The housekeeper would sound the dinner bell soon and Rin would have to eat a meal of watery beef and undercooked potatoes; then the entire afternoon would stretch out in front of her, as vast and empty as the moor outside while she itched for something, anything to happen. She’d been here for two months by now and needed some diversion or she would die of boredom. A fire, a flash flood, an alien invasion, anything. She banged her fist on the window seat in frustration.

The next moment she was lying face first on the floor, her shoulder and jaw on fire from the sudden impact. The window seat had sprung up like a jack-in-the-box to reveal a hollow inside. Rin tenderly touched her face, winced, and looked into the space that had opened up. It seemed bottomless, and only a rickety wooden ladder led down to the darkness below.

This was impossible. This was exciting.

Rin dug out an ancient flashlight from the bedside drawer, tucked it into her bra, and gingerly stepped onto the ladder’s highest rung. It creaked but seemed sturdy enough. She took one step down, and then another, and in a minute or so, the daylight above had dwindled to a faint gloom. She kept climbing down, and the ladder kept on going. How far down could it possibly go? And what would she find at the bottom?

After what seemed like hours (but was possibly only minutes) Rin’s foot hit solid ground. The sudden beam of light almost blinded her as she switched on the flashlight; through the dancing motes she saw that she was in some sort of underground passageway. She must have climbed down through the walls of Heworth and ended up in the cellars. She thought of the Lord of the Rings books—Syd’s favorites. “I’m in the mines of Moria,” she said with a laugh, her voice echoing back “Moria, Moriaaa, Moriaaa…” She imagined dead people buried here in the darkness, long forgotten, crypts filled with old bones, grinning skulls with the roots of ancient trees snaking through the eye sockets. Rin let her imagination run wild as she kept exploring.

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