This story was written using the featured photo as a prompt. I’m not too sure about my feelings towards it, but it’s an idea. And, as every writer knows, everything starts with an idea.

THE WORLD BENEATH OURS

By M.G. Knight

Nan always said there was a whole world beneath ours and that if you could find it, you’d never come back. She didn’t say why.

But she did tell me it had faeries. With wings. And little horned creatures with hooves for feet.

Sometimes I think that’s where Mommy went. To the World Beneath Ours. Actually, I think about that a lot. Because she wouldn’t have left unless she thought she could get back. And Daddy wouldn’t be so sad if she had taken us with her.

Daddy agrees. He stays locked in his study almost all day, drinking out of smelly cups, but he did tell me he thinks she went to that place, too. And that she’d come back if she could. His hair isn’t nice and trim like it always was; it sits upon his head like damp straw, and if Mommy could see the stubble on his face she’d probably drag him to the bathroom for a shave. Like she used to.

Every night before bed, though, Daddy does come out. Just that once every day to sing me the lullaby, the same song I’ve had sung to me since I was a baby:

My littlest Molly, the fairest maiden of all

Come fly, come dance, follow the dreamland’s call

Across the moonlit waters and over the haphazard sea

We’ll skate and laugh and trip and fly and take the time just to be.

Because you’re our Molly, the fairest maiden of all

Come follow dreamland’s call.

Come follow dreamland’s call.

He would sing it with his beautiful, deep voice that made everyone stop and listen if they were around. But even that stopped soon enough.

Nan tells me that he’s sick with Egocentrism. It must be bad because I hardly see him at all anymore. When I do, when we talk about how Mommy must be doing in that place, he smells like dirty laundry.

When I ask Nan why he doesn’t go to the doctor for his Egocentrism, she tuts and shakes her head. “Ain’t nothing a doctor can cure what your daddy’s got. He has to get over it hisself,” she says. Then she sends me outside.

But then a couple of months ago Nan left, too.

“I wouldn’t leave you, chil’, if I’d a choice. But a woman can’t go on not gettin’ paid, and I’s has bills to pay and grandkids to feed.” She said it hugging me tight to her chest, just like she had after Mommy left. The yellow wallpaper in my room felt just a bit darker when she said that.

“Don’t worry, Nan,” I told her. “I’ll take care of me and Daddy.” That only made her cry harder.

She held me at arm’s length, her eyes as crinkled as the cookies she made for me on my fifth birthday. I’m six now; old enough to take care of myself. And Daddy. “Honey, you gotta knock some sense into your papa. You pester him. You tell him when you need something until he gets outta that study and starts workin’ and playin’ and laughin’ just like he used to. And if you need somethin’ your daddy ain’t helping with, you call me.”

I looked at the crumpled piece of paper in my hand with Nan’s number written in big letters on the front. “Okay, Nan.”

“Promise me, Lil’ Sunflower. You need anything, you call your nan. Got it?”

Daddy never came out of the study to say goodbye to her. Instead, I stood on the porch by myself and waved as she drove away in her dusty car. I watched her go all the way down the driveway, past the empty pasture and barn, until she disappeared around the bend.

And it was fine. For a little while. I kept playing outside, growing and soaking up the sun just like the flowers Nan used for my nickname. I brought Daddy Pop-Tarts every morning when we had them and cereal when we didn’t and apples from the orchard when we ran out of those. When we got to the apples, he’d usually go out to the store. Until things got worse.

I’ve only seen Daddy once this month. And I can hear him crying every night downstairs.

Last night I finally knocked on the door. “Daddy?” I whispered. The crying stopped, but he didn’t come out. I stayed outside the door until the sound of the cicadas outside made my eyes droop, then I went back upstairs.

When I woke up this morning, there was a shiny black car in the driveway and a lady with a briefcase full of papers; she looked like Miss Simmons at school. Miss Simmons is the principal, and the lady was talking to Daddy just like Miss Simmons speaks to Brody when he gets called to her office.

Mommy always told me you shouldn’t listen to people’s conversations. But in a house where no one tells you anything, you have to break the rules. So I listened at the bottom of the stairs, just out of eyesight of the study.

“Mr. Penn, I understand your circumstances; many people have lost loved ones and been left alone with children,” the lady was saying. “But if you cannot take care of her, the state will.”

I didn’t understand why she was so angry; Daddy did take care of me. And I was old enough to take care of myself. I wanted to tell her so, only I knew I’d get in trouble. So I crept back up the stairs as quietly as I could, avoiding the left side of the third one because it squeaks like a mouse. I started going to school a few days later, but Daddy’s Egocentrism was getting worse. He was so sick he didn’t come out of the study at all. He didn’t come out when the lights stopped working. He didn’t listen when I tried to open the door or when I cried and told him I missed him.

He wouldn’t sing me my lullaby.

So when I went to school and heard Alexis talking about the well in the wood behind the sheriff’s, I knew I had to find it. Because a doctor couldn’t fix Daddy. But maybe, if I brought back Mommy, I could.

*          *          *

“So, Nan, I don’t know if I’ll be back for a few days. It might take me awhile to find Mommy, but when I do I’ll call again to let you know. Then you can come back! But please check in on Daddy if you don’t get a call from me by tomorrow, okay?”

I put the phone on the receiver with a feeling of accomplishment big in my chest. Then I grabbed the backpack I had filled and pushed open the screen door.

The sheriff’s house was on a hill not far from ours. A wood ran behind it, and Alexis said if you followed the path until you got to a big boulder with initials carved into it you’d be near the well.

It was Saturday morning, so I didn’t have to skip school. The weatherman had said we would get bad storms during the night, but I planned on being back way before then. Or I’d be searching for Mommy in the other world.

The wood was full of the soft sounds of morning and sparkling with dew from the night before. Mommy would have loved it, especially the purple wildflowers that grew along the path. They were just like the ones that were scattered along the outside of the driveway. Daddy always laughed when I picked them and said they were weeds, but Mommy thought they were just as beautiful as I did.

I couldn’t wait to find her. I couldn’t wait for us all to read books together or play board games or for Mommy and Daddy to chase me around the house like they used to.

The dirt path cut across a small stream and up a hill; I chased after it until the ground leveled out and I was looking at a huge boulder with the initials J + M carved into it. I wondered who J and M were, and I hoped they were happy.

I stepped away from the path, skirting around bushes and the remnants of an old building until I saw it.

It was made of old stones and cold to the touch. I shivered, but I knew Mommy was somewhere down there. And I needed to find her. Daddy needed me to find her.

I peeked over the top, into the dark, dark, dark. “Mommy?” I whispered.

I could hear something coming from within; something that sounded a lot like a voice. “Mommy!” I tried louder, leaning further.

And, yes, a voice. A voice that sounded like it was calling my name.

“Molly?” A girl’s voice. Mommy’s voice.

“Mommy, I’m coming to get you,” I called, but her reply was too muffled for me to understand. The well had a very rusty, very old pulley with a bucket attached to it. I wasn’t sure I could trust it, so I used the rope I had taken from the shed instead. I tied it as tight as I knew how on the wooden post above the bucket.

“Mommy, climb the rope!” I called, and watched, elated, as it sailed through the air and dropped into the blackness.

But Mommy didn’t come up.

Nan had said that she couldn’t leave. Maybe that meant I had to get her. As long as I didn’t let go of the rope, I should be able to bring us back home.

I pulled the end of the rope back and tied it around my waist. “Mommy, I’m coming to get you.” The quiet reply from the well sounded scared. Maybe the faeries and hoofed creatures weren’t nice. Maybe they wouldn’t let me take her back. Maybe she was warning me.

I tugged on the rope a few times and stepped overtop the stone mouth, sliding into the well’s throat, holding my breath.

It held.

And I started to make my way down.

Until I heard a noise, like wood splintering. Like the beam above the bucket was cracking.

I had time to look up and see the wood snap before I was falling, falling like Alice in Wonderland, falling like Mommy had before me. The wind was cold and damp against my back and neck, and the stones hard against my fingertips as I tried to stop, tried to catch something, anything, screaming.

I fell into the bottom of the well with a splash.

Water. And high, high above a circle of blue sky.

I had made it to the bottom of the well. But Mommy wasn’t here.

*          *          *

The pinprick above had turned dark, but I couldn’t make out the stars. I had called Mommy’s name over and over and over, but only my own voice met me, mocking me like Brad and Jenny liked to do at school.

I wondered if I’d ever see Brad and Jenny again.

There weren’t any faeries down here, no animals with horns. Just me and the water that went right up to my lips and the taunting echoes of my voice as I called for Mommy to help me.

It was cold. And smelly. I could feel somethings moving about my arms and legs, but no matter how much I screamed they wouldn’t go away.

Soon I stopped screaming and started shivering. And when I felt the first raindrop hit me on my head all the way at the bottom of the well, I started to cry. Not because the water would soon be too high for me to stand in or because I was stuck or because it was dark and scary. I was crying because Mommy wasn’t down here. And because I realized she never had been.

The darkness became so complete I was sure I was blind. Water trickled from all angles at me as the water level rose. And rose. And rose.

I was on my tiptoes now, looking up as the water lapped into my ears. In again, out again, making a rhythm that mixed reality with fantasy, that made me chase half-memories across the stone walls of my prison.

My hands scrabbled at the wet stones, but my fingers only slipped off. My sneakers were just barely able to touch the bottom.

I was so tired. So, so tired. Perhaps it was time to sleep.

I thought of Mommy, of what she would do. I thought of Daddy. I thought of Nan. I thought of my yellow bedroom and my stuffed bear and the soft, warm feeling they all gave me every night before bed when Mommy and Daddy had sung me my lullaby.

“My littlest Molly,” I whispered, and licked my lips. “The fairest maiden off all.” My voice hung over the water, darting up and around the well like a tornado:

“Come fly, come dance, follow the dreamland’s call

Across the moonlit waters and over the haphazard sea

We’ll skate and laugh and trip and fly and take the time just to be.

Because you’re our Molly, the fairest maiden of all

Come follow dreamland’s call.

Come follow dreamland’s call.”

I knew I shouldn’t cry. Because my tears would only make the water higher. But I couldn’t stop.

“Molly?”

Was that a voice, or an echo taunting me again? The water was in my ears.

“Molly!”

No, a voice. A beautiful, deep voice. A small, small light shone above, filtering through the raindrops and across the stones.

“Daddy?”

Shadowy figures moved above. There were shouts and more lights.

“Molly, someone is going to come down and get you. Listen to whatever they say, okay?”

I tried to say okay, but my throat was too dry. I hadn’t wanted to drink the icky water.

A dark form blocked the light, growing bigger as it made its way closer until I could make out a man with a harness around him and kind, brown eyes like Nan’s.

“Hi, sweetie,” he said. “I’m going to put this around you, then we’re going to get you out of here. You have some people up there very worried about you. Sound good?”

I nodded. He carefully attached a harness around me, then tugged twice on his rope. And I was pulled up, my jeans and sneakers and jacket heavy with water that tried to pull me back down. But it couldn’t. Because Daddy was up there. And he wouldn’t let me go. He would take care of me.

A bunch of people swarmed around me as soon as I was lifted overtop the stones and into the fresh air outside.

“Molly, are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?” They looked me over, but I ignored them. I ignored my shaking legs and chattering teeth and cold skin. Instead, I looked at Daddy. Tears were mixing with the raindrops on his face as he put his warm, warm arms around me and hugged me like he hadn’t hugged me for months.

“I couldn’t find her, Daddy,” I finally said. Everyone quieted to listen. “We thought Mommy had gone to the World Beneath Ours, but I couldn’t—” I looked at my shoes, at the mud and grime overtop the white ends. “I’m sorry,” I finished in a whisper. “I want her back, but she isn’t coming back, is she?” A great, hard thing had wedged itself in my throat.

Daddy wrapped a blanket around me and scooped me up in his arms, pulling me so close I could feel his voice in his chest. “No, sweetie. She’s not coming back. But I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

The rest of that night was a blur of policeman, of ambulances and hot chocolate and long talks.

And then there was Nan, who sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and scolded and scolded and scolded, all the while kissing me all over my face.

I slept covered in every blanket in the house and woke the next morning to sunlight and bright yellow wallpaper and Norm, my warm teddy bear.

I smiled as I thought about what Daddy had said to Nan when he thought I’d fallen asleep:

“It was the strangest thing, Dolores,” he had whispered outside my bedroom door. “I was in the study sleeping, and I saw Marie. She was singing that lullaby and crying, and I just knew.”

When I went downstairs that morning, Daddy was in the kitchen, clean-shaven and hair nicely trimmed, humming as he made waffles for breakfast.

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