FOLLOWING THE VOICES
A thin white mist covered the land. The pale glow of the moon could hardly be seen. Abby saw it was the perfect time to be invisible, and enter the underground unseen. Still, she took every precaution in choosing her way to the back door of the churchyard. Drizzle was falling through the warm and humid air. She felt the key in her pants pocket as she surveyed the churchyard wall from the cornfield. Nothing moved. Without a sound she crossed the dirt path, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. Standing still, she heard the rain and the wind in the leaves. The click from locking the door was almost inaudible. Things were going perfectly.
Abby walked along the Birdwatchers’ Path to the cave of vines, and crawled inside. Gently pushing aside some branches, she found the narrow opening into the thicket of brambles and vines. She could barely see, but knew where she was going. In moments she touched the large flat stone covering the entrance to the underground.
A very faint murmuring had begun. As she pulled the stone aside, the murmuring increased. The darkness below was thick, and seemed almost infinite... She went in feet first so she could pull the stone back into place, but kept getting stuck. Her backpack was in the way. She took it off and pushed it under brambles and leaves. Saying a prayer, she slid down the hole and sealed the entrance with the rock. Claustrophobia overwhelmed her, but there was nothing to do but go on, sliding slowly down and down.
Finally, she reached the level path, and by feeling the dirt wall found the entrance to her small underground room. It seemed years since she had been there, but had been only a week ago. Groping blindly to the corner, she unwrapped the mapstick. The light gleamed with astonishing beauty and clarity. Abby saw the map of the underground in her mind, and knew it was a just tiny part of an inconceivably enormous world. The voices were suddenly louder. They seemed to be coming from a certain spot, somewhere below Hidden Valley.
But the voices were coming from other spots as well! Both louder and softer, bigger and smaller. It was a cacophony of sounds, totally confusing. Abby had no idea what to do, but in her heart, she felt that she must do something. Otherwise the voices would haunt her. Perhaps she could find her way back to the fork in the tunnel where Wendy had warned her. But perhaps Wendy was just warning her not to chase the voices. They had other big plans for that day.
Abby sat in the old chair, amazed that it didn’t collapse beneath her. Everything in that underground room looked a hundred years old. There is a quality about this place, she thought. The mapstick seems more powerful, my mind is working. Let’s see if I can find just one good clue. The mapstick will help me. What clues do I have? Voices coming from so many places, but one is the strongest. And that location may be the Root Cavern, with the writing on the walls and the colossal dreamstone sphere. Definitely a powerful spot. But I’ve been there and heard no voices. I didn’t sense the presence of what I’m dealing with today...
Her mind went blank. She heard the opening lines of the rhyme: When you go down under jutting stone
Following the way alone
In a flash she realized that it was a song. It had a tune she had heard before, probably a very long time ago. She repeated it in her mind. No instruments, just a voice, perhaps an old voice, telling stories. The rhyme is part of a story. Grandfather Walker! Sonny’s father! It must be him. The Young Warriors’ Club, long, long ago.
She knew that with luck she could catch the rest of the song. She let it play in her mind, feeling the words at her fingertips. And then:
When you go down under jutting stone Following the way alone
Very few have found the way
From the stream of ghosts back to open day
A warning everyone should know There is no safe way to go
The invisible door I’ll tell you true Depends on what’s inside of you
Look for the stone that’s on the wall
If you’re the one who hears the call
Don’t forget when the voices start
Take a look inside your heart
They come from the lake of broken hearts
Got it! Got it! Abby let it play over and over. Okay... now what does this tell me? Lots of things! It was a part of the Young Warriors Club. It was probably a part of a story that included the Ghost Girl. No one else explored underground. I was the only Queen of the Underworld. The voices must be really there, if Grandfather Walker made up that rhyme. No... he didn’t make it up. It was passed down to us from long ago.
This rhyme is advice from the ancient past. What can I learn? Well, the voices come from the Stream of Ghosts. It’s dangerous, very hard to return. There’s no safe way except the invisible door, and what happens next depends on what’s inside you. If you hear the call, look for the stone on the wall. That sounds like dreamstone, definitely a door. Maybe that’s a way. When the voices start, take a look inside your heart. They come from the lake of broken hearts. Okay... the voices have already begun. I hear the call from a place of broken hearts. I need to look inside my heart.
Abby immediately realized that she was living with a broken heart. She was jinxed and disappointed in love, and had very little confidence in her mission from Wendy. But without that mission she really had no life to live. She would be a failure, and it would be almost impossible to recover and begin again. Part of her was depressed most of the time.
Okay, that song is certainly meant for me. Do I hear the voices because I have a broken heart? And how will I get out of there? I want to do something and then come back. I’m certainly not looking to stay, so... I must not be completely depressed.
All right, what’s next? Hmm... I would like the best invisible door I can find, and that is the dreamstone sphere that Wendy showed me. It’s already helping me understand myself. I need to go back there, and with the help of the mapstick I can probably find it. I can see it on the map in my mind, I’m pretty sure. But I don’t have any time and energy to waste.Abby studied the map again, trying to be sure of her route. I don’t dare get lost! And even if I don’t get lost, I can’t endure the hours of hiking there and back. I want to be at my best. Maybe I should just get some sleep and do this tomorrow night. No. I can’t bear living like this.
She listened closely to the voices again. The sounds were in the shape of words and sentences, but she couldn’t understand anything. Wave after wave of gibberish washed over her. Even the emotional content was obscure. The result for Abby was truly frightening, nightmarish. I simply must deal with this. If I don’t confront it, I’ll be sucked into it.
The voice of the mapstick spoke in her mind: I’ll show you a shorter way, much shorter. Look at the map again.
She stared at the three-dimensional maze of caverns and tunnels, full of signs and signals whose meaning she could only guess. Certain caverns appeared with a bright light, and some like faint stars she could barely see. It was hard to keep track of the levels of her route. There were passageways that moved from one level to another. Some displayed a glittering light that Abby guessed were rivers.
Trust me, came the voice. Remember how I got you to Wendy’s garden? I know a way.
She felt that she had no choice but to have faith. If she rejected the voice of the mapstick, she would never find the source of the muttering. The incomprehensible voices would continue to pursue her. Her only course of action would be to flee to Wendy again for help.
I need to at least try, she told herself. If I can’t find the way I’ll return, or take the route to Wendy’s.
And so she set off down the warm dirt tunnel. A rat scurried out of the way. She passed by the trap door over her head to Sammy’s Coffee Shop. After a long walk downhill she was under the river. The clamoring voices grew louder and louder. But since she had made a decision, her mind was clear.
The tunnel opened up into the damp caverns with water dripping down from the ceiling, making shapes like icicles. Don’t miss the turn,came the voice. On your right.
At that moment there was a passageway on her right, one she remembered from her journey home with Chi Chi. But am I going all the way back toward the jutting stone, and then all the way to the Root Cavern, and then all the way back? I can’t do it. Of course not. There’s another way. You’ll see.
It’s hard for me to trust anything or anyone, Abby told the voice.
I am only a part of yourself, a part you need to listen to. And after you pass under the haunted house, watch for the hard-right turn.
The mapstick shone with great power, shedding a light that was soft, but illuminated everything down to the smallest detail. The slightly blue glow was easy on the eyes, not at all like a spotlight or the headlight of a car. It had the same illumination at the tip of her staff as it did on objects at a distance.
Abby found the right turn to another gentle tunnel cleared of stalagmites and stalactites, a way that must have been used by people long ago. The breeze began to smell like cool water.
I must be on the way to the river from Hidden Valley, a very difficult hike.
No, watch for a left turn. You’re going deep under the Horn. You’ve heard about it before. You’ll be there soon.
Ah! thought Abby. I’m not going to the Root Cavern. I’m going to the dreamstone mirror! I have indeed heard about it. Phoebe went there a few months ago, and I was so jealous. Oh, I can’t wait...
She almost missed the left turn. It was no more than a hole in the wall. Coming closer, she saw a level tunnel that suddenly seemed to end. Crawling slowly forward, she recited the Jutting Stone poem to prepare herself, and keep her mind off the terror of getting stuck, imprisoned far from rescue.
Suddenly the floor just ahead seemed to drop off into nowhere. Approaching it slowly, she saw a steep downhill climb, full of rock and clay. The ceiling was far above her. This level of the tunnel had collapsed long ago.
But Abby had climbed in places like this before. She used the staff, her other hand, both feet, and moved from one sitting position to another. It was arduous but safe. This can’t last forever. But it felt that way.
The avalanche finally leveled off, and she could walk. A few minutes went by. With the corner of her eye she saw what seemed to be a hole in the wall on her left. I recall you have to crawl into the Mirror Cave. Only two entrances, both of them terrible. But at least I’m almost there. Here we go.
On hands and knees with the mapstick leading the way, she crawled for about a hundred yards. With no transition the tunnel opened up into a glorious cavern. The mapstick shone across wide oval shape and a high ceiling. Gemstones shone with many colors like a thousand stars. It was breathtaking.
The voices were right next her, as if only a thin curtain separated her from an aimless mob, a million lost souls. But there was no sign of dreamstone on the ground level. She walked around the oval and stretched her cramped muscles. A couple of old wooden chairs and wooden crates made a few places to sit. Burnt out candles left wax on some chinks in the rock wall. And a giant piece of burlap covered a whole piece of the wall.
That’s over eight feet high, and twice as wide. What’s it doing there? She pulled back a corner and saw the smooth translucent blue of dreamstone, shining like a glowing planet in the light of the mapstick.
Oh my God. I have such little faith. Here it is! How do you get this covering off the wall? She put three crates on top of each other and inspected what turned out to be hooks in the rocky surface. She gently pulled the burlap, and it suddenly fell, exposing an immense dreamstone surface, flat and glowing like a mirror in the light.
Don’t look, she told herself. Get ready first. Powers that be, come and help me! Oh! Please let me do something good. Please, I promise, I’ll struggle to do good my life long.
There was a crate about ten feet from the giant dreamstone door looming in front of her. She sat down, took a deep breath, and raised her eyes.