I answered the door, and there stood Beau.
“Burrah,” he said. “I have my rucksack. I have a torch. We’re going into the hill. You know how to get in, don’t you?”
“What you talking about?” I asked. “The tunnels in Landing Ridge?”
“Yes, those tunnels. They say you know how to get into those. Why didn’t you tell me about those?”
“I don’t know,” I told him.
“Well…, do you know how to get into those?”
I paused to consider whether I wanted to be part of this adventure of his. I relented. “Most entrances have iron bars over them. I know a way in. There’s one entrance without a gate not far from Broadway.”
“Have you been in those?” Beau smiled.
“A little. People live within there. They’re interesting. Not the people who live there. The tunnels. Bad people live there. The mole people. I don’t go too far in the tunnels because of them.”
“Are you pudenda?”
My face became hot with anger. “No, Beau. I’m not.”
“We can see if there’s anything left from the Pioneers in there,” he said. “It’s an underground town. Can you imagine? There’s great stuff in there.”
“Think so? It’s been three hundred years. What could be left? And what about the mole people?”
“What about the mole people?”
“They hide underground. Who does that? What are they hiding? What if we come across something we shouldn’t? Something such as a crime?”
He thought. “Make noise. Make much-much noise. That’s it. Just don’t surprise them.”
“Migone. Make noise? Will do, then. I’ll ensure we sound like a marching band while we are in there.”
Beau looked confused. “What’s a marching band?”
Beau followed me out the back door to our windowless and hot storage shed, where I climbed the dusty wood shelves and pulled Kev’s militia rucksack down from its high perch. It smelled musty from old sweat. I had left two water containers in it from my last trek outside of town. I shook the water containers. Both were empty. I found the torch. It, too, was empty.
Beau put down his pack and pulled out a small container. “Here’s torch juice.” I opened the lid and smelled. Alcohol. I poured some into the torch and flipped the switch. It lit quickly—the pinpoint yunge of the torch burst with light. I pointed the beam across the dark shelves to illuminate the relics of my parents’ lives stacked there. I saw the radio. I dropped it into the rucksack.
“You know that radios don’t work underground, don’t you?” Beau pointed out. “You won’t be able to call anyone.”
I pulled the radio out and put it back on the shelf.
We returned to the house and went to the kitchen. I filled the water containers and then rifled my parent’s larder for something to eat.
“You expecting to be gone a week?” Beau asked after I put a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese into the pack.
“No…,” I said. “The tunnels are a maze. I want to be prepared, that’s all.”
I took Beau to one of the two unblocked tunnel entrances I knew. At the end of a road, I took him down a trail through tall bushes. The trail wound up a short hill and then along the base of the ridge. It ended at a crease in the rock that hid the entrance. That entrance did not get sealed when the other openings to the tunnels got sealed. Its hidden location may have spared it that fate.
I stood at the top of the trail, where it made a dogleg and slipped behind the rock outcrop.
I pointed to the ugly muddy building on its little muddy hill just below us and the left. “That’s Colum Fountain Curio’s workshop,” I told Beau.
Beau looked over at the building. “Yeah. I know.”
“Here it is,” I told him. I felt the breeze from the door against my face.
Beau took the lead and walked straight into the darkness.
As we walked deeper and deeper into the hill, I looked back. I felt panicked when I no longer saw the light from the entrance behind us. The darkness seemed to eat the sound around us. I only heard the scraping of our footsteps.
I shouted as loud as I could. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhay.” My voice pierced the quiet.
“What the shit!” Beau screamed back at me. “What are you doing?”
He started laughing. “Hell. That you did. You frighted me. You frighted everyone down here.”
“Hoooooo!” I shouted again. I could hear my voice echo through the darkness.
So began our journey deep into the underworld where evil mole people eat the cold carcasses of lost children.
One thing became apparent after we passed through room after room. The Intelligences liked white paint. That’s the color they painted every room. They used blue and gray as an accent around some of the doors. Occasionally, I saw red triangles painted on the wall where the stubs of mounting bolts evidenced that something hung there. But everywhere else, white.
Colum had only reproduced a small fraction of the pigments they made on Earth. Even with that small number of Colum colors, people up and down the river made everything a riot of color.
“The Intelligences had an infinite number of colors to paint things,” I told Beau. “Why only use white? What a waste.”
“Intelligences do what Intelligences do. Have you noticed the pattern of the blue paint?” Beau asked.
I looked around in the room we stood. One door had blue trim. The other doors had gray. “No, I haven’t.”
“Follow the blue doors to get out.”
We could see the sawed-off stumps of steel anchor bolts throughout the underground town, but not much else but bare walls remained. Sometimes piles of ancient trash-filled a corner of a room. I picked through one pile and found small shards of beige. I held a piece up for Beau to see.
“That’s plastic,” he told me.
I slipped the piece of plastic into my pocket.
We found a large room that smelled moldy and damp and heard running water in the darkness. Our torches reflected off a sparkling. Water poured from the wall into a large black pool.
Beau stripped, eased into the dark water, and swam around. I followed his head with the light of my torch as he swam along the edges of the pool. “It’s over my head!” he said. “This is compelling-so, brurrah. Come in.”
“That water distills every phobia I have experience in my life into wet blackness. No. Never.”
“Yes! I am. I’m not getting in there.”
I sat guard along a wall while he swam. Every minute or so, I turned my light toward the door to make sure no one lurked there, waiting to kill us. I listened for sounds from the darkness. Mixed in the sounds of Beau’s splashing, I thought I could hear tapping and scraping. Perhaps someone was dragging bodies and burying them.
Beau grinned wide in the light from my torch. “Why do you think they made an underground pond like this?”
“It’s not for swimming,” I said. “It’s called a cistern. You’re swimming in drinking water.”
When he got out, he shook dry like a dog and walked to the edge of the pool, still naked. “The Pioneers don’t need it anymore.” He urinated into the pool. “So now! Some flavoring.”
“We’ve been under the ridge for long-long hours,” I said. “It’s time to go back.”
“Some more,” he said. “Just some more. I want to look around. You can go any now, if you want. I’ll be out later.”
I didn’t want to keep exploring, but I, even more, didn’t want to walk out of that maze by myself. I sighed. “How much longer?”
Beau didn’t answer. He dressed. “This be berries! What a great place to bring a girl. The tunnel of love. Swimming naked with a girl is tubular.”
He picked up his torch and switched it on. He looked out the door of the cistern room to his right, then to his left. “Let’s go this way. I wonder what’s there.” He pointed the torch to the left.
I had kept a map in my head of our twists and turns as we explored. Even after hours in the tunnels, I knew which direction was limbward and which was sunward. Aoustin and the entrance we came in were to the right. Turning left took us deeper into the ridge.
“Come on,” Beau said as he walked to the left. I sighed. Before us was a gray trimmed door. Behind us, a blue-trimmed door.
Twenty minutes later, we rounded a corner, and light appeared from a side tunnel. Beau and I stopped. We looked at each other. Beau pantomimed to me, wanting me to point my torch down and not ahead. Then he gestured for me to stay. He didn’t need to urge me to do that. I was not moving toward that light.
He turned and stepped softly towards the light.
“Beau,” I hissed, “Isn’t this against the ‘leave them alone, and they will leave us alone’ rule?”
He leaned back to me. “Aren’t you curious?”
“No. I will not mess with that I don’t want to mess with.”
He put his finger to his lips to gesture me to be quiet. I put up a single digit, my middle finger.
“That’s not helpful,” he whispered.
He looked down the hall. “One minute,” he said as he turned towards the light. I watched as his silhouette crept down the tunnel. When he got halfway to the door, he turned off his light. He got to the illuminated passage, and I saw his face lit up as he leaned into the opening.
“May I come in?” He asked that in a normal tone of voice.
“Beau!” I whispered shouted. “Why, oh why, in the hell did you have to go and do that?”
I heard a muffled reply.
Beau spoke into the light again, “I have a friend. May he come, too?”
Again, a muffled reply.
He faced me, “C’mon, Pierrot.” He then rounded the corner and disappeared.
“Beau!” I whispered again.
He chose to walk into the lair of the mole people. Alone. I didn’t believe he did what he had done.
I whispered a string of curses.
His shadow projected onto the wall opposite the entrance. It danced and grew larger as he approached the light source. Then, it was gone.
I waited five, terrifying, minutes, then followed. I thought my heart beat so loudly that anyone could hear it up and down the tunnel. I got to the side passage. I saw no one along its whole length. Did someone slaughter my friend and spirit his body off?
That side passage ended with a door. The light came from that door.
I crept to the door, aware of any noise my feet made. I tried hard, but I could not walk silently. My heart flopped in my chest. My breathing quickened, and it echoed through the corridors. I approached the door and heard two muffled voices. One was Beau’s.
I could see only a wall past the door. I ultimately entered the door and towards the light. Both voices sounded relaxed. Around a corner, a small room opened. In the space, Beau and a woman sat in chairs.
She looked familiar. I could not remember where I had seen her. An older woman, she had long brown hair tied up in the back. She wore patched canvas pants and a cotton work shirt with sweat stains under the arms.
Beau saw me. “Hey, Pierrot. This be Carver. Where you’ve been?”
I shrugged. A strange name, I thought. Was Carver her nickname? The Carver, the slayer of interlopers who intrude.
Carver looked at me, “I know you, so. You come often into the West Gallery. You never come internal.”
“West? Be that rightward or leftward?” Beau asked.
“Limbward,” I answered. I knew maps. Limbward is the same as Earth westward. “Rightward is south. Leftward north.” They both looked at me.
“Okay, then,” Beau said. “Now we know.”
I sat in one of the three empty chairs in the room. Carver had a lot of chairs for a woman who lived a hermit, subterranean lifestyle.
A heavy smell of unwashed humanity hung in the room. I looked around. Carver attached an electric torch to the ceiling to provide stark light. A drawing of Aoustin hung on one wall. Shelves filled with books stood against the opposite wall. A simple, undyed, blanket hung on another wall. Perhaps it hid some flaw or opening.
“I sew canvas. His father,” she nodded at me, “he tasked me repair the awning on his boat.”
With that, I remembered her. I saw her walk with a load of canvas on the docks.
“You said you were a doctor?” Beau asked.
Carver turned her attention to me. “You should not have begun such fire. Smoke will draw folk to the matter. Be wareful. You’ll get such entrance sealed.” She knew about my failed campfire attempt.
I looked down, not sure what to say. “I know better now.”
“Why aren’t you a doctor?” Beau asked
She looked back at Beau. “I be a doctor. I apprenticed as with the hospital. I worked for with Botan Peng Hernandez. You know him?”
Beau shook his head, no, and looked at me. I sat upright with my legs tight together. “Yes,” I said quickly.
Beau wanted to know more. “Why not you a doctor still?”
“I settled not to,” Carver told us.
Beau looked surprised. “Why not?”
She looked at Beau and me warily. Again, she asked me a question, “You farsee to the Marshes along with your father, have you not?”
“We go there some,” I answered.
We sat all quietly. Medical books lined up neatly on the shelf. I looked over at the drawing again and recognized the artist’s signature. Our corp had a picture from that artist on our wall that a merchant offered us a hundred thousand dollars for it. That’s a third of what most people make a year. Xavi loved that artist, searched out his drawings, and imitated him.
“You settled not to be a doctor?” Beau asked.
“Truth,” Carver responded.
“Tell me. I know someone who desires to be a doctor. Why you settled not to be a doctor? They should know anything bad about working medicals. How did working medicals treat you wrong?”
Carver sighed. “I made a mistake against a dying old woman. I dosed her too much…, too much of a drug. The other doctor flushed her stomach out with charcoal. She died soon thereafter. Now so, she died not from my action. No.” She paused and looked down. “But she suffered much her final life hours. That be my wrong. Why be yagize here?”
“Migone,” Beau answered. “Such’s harsh.”
“Why be yagize in the tunnels?”
“We look for such left as from the Pioneers,” Beau told her.
“There be nothing near worth any sum. Not even a little. All worth anything be carted off long since.”
“We found compelling gims,” Beau said, excited. “The signs painted on the wall. Those are compelling. We dug in through piles and found some compelling gims. Show her.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tiny shard of plastic.
“Look here,” Beau said.
Carver leaned forward, looked at the piece of plastic I held, then looked up at Beau with a befuddled look on her face. “That’s not worth jig.”
“It be out from Earth,” Beau said. “It be plastic.”
“Yes,” I said. “Someone on Earth crafted this.”
She looked at me, then Beau. She leaned back. “Take all those little pieces of Earth out of here. They be jig. You provide a service such way. Sweep the corridors clean, if you will.”
The three of us sat quietly.
Beau broke the silence. “Well…, why be you here?” I, personally, would not have asked anyone what drove them to live as a hermit.
“I live in this place.” Carver seemed genuinely confused by that question.
“Why here?” Beau pressed.
“It be good here.” She looked at me. “Nice shirt.” I looked down to see what I wore. I wore a cheap, oversized shirt dyed with one of Colum’s reds.
“Thanks, uh…,” I looked around for something of hers to compliment. Carver wore beige canvas pants and a brown cotton shirt. Her skin, clothes, and hair all formed a range of hues of the same color. All she wore was worn out and patched. The room had little in it except for the chairs, drawing, and the blanket on the wall. “Where from you get such drawing? I charmed by it. Such be a nice drawing.”
“I bought such long since.”
“What be good about this place over living…,” Beau pointed towards the door. “Out there.”
“Cool lingers here more than in town,” she said. “It be dry. The draft draws bad air up through the ceiling, and good air emanates near to the floor.” I noticed holes on the wall near the floor. “I have water. I sleep more effectively in here, too. Best so, I be obliged to none to abide here.”
“You get your water as from the cistern?” I asked.
“Indeed,” she answered.
I felt mischievous. “Such be the cistern such Beau…” I paused. Beau’s eyes got wide, and he shook his head, no. I finished my sentence. “…found.”
Beau and Carver talked. They discussed the personalities of the militia, the “fuzz” as Beau called them. John Bozic Mousa, he did little but walk around. Paul Quispe Montmore was an ass. Neither Beau or Carver mentioned my cousin, Justin Aigrefeuille Dignac.
After exhausting the subject of the fuzz, Beau brought up one of the outsiders our age, Jonothan Chalamen Kim.
“That Kim boy,” he said, “His father discharged him from home a few months in past. His father drank much. All now his father be drunk. That Kim boy told me how hard it be to live without a home in Aoustin as an outsider.”
“Truth,” Carver affirmed.
“He had no home. He slept where he could. You know what he told me?”
“No, please tell.”
“The folk as with the least give most. The poor brought such Kim boy into their homes and fed him and talked to him. Those as with much, they spoke not to him. He be an outsider. They be townborn. When his father discharged him from home, he got fed by Ma Marin. She brought him into her kitchen. The moneyed folk avoided him.”
“Truth,” Carver said. “The poor give. And the townborn divide themselves from those not like them.”
“I be townborn,” I protested.
“Truth,” Beau replied. “But…, Marvin, he be an outsider. You concur with him. I be an outsider. You concur with me.”
As we left, Carver told us, “Come by when you be in the tunnels. If I be not home, please don’t come near. Mess not with my stuff. If I have not light on, then come not down here.” Not everyone underground wanted to socialize with Beau and me. We went a little further into the ridge after leaving Carver. We could make out a figure standing far down a tunnel in the light of our torches. “Come not along here, boys,” the man said before he disappeared. We didn’t go down further that way. Later, I allowed my imagination to give that mysterious shape various names. I came up with several, including Slasher, Blood Drinker, Child Killer, Death Dealer, and Bonker. Of the names I came up with, I think he looked most like a Mangler. With that, we turned limbward toward the exit.