Kaiden looked over his shoulder at the front door, they weren’t back yet, good. He zipped up his backpack and slung it over his shoulder, the various canned foods, water bottles and other necessities clanging together loudly inside it. Kaiden stood up and made a dash for the backdoor, crashing through it loudly, stumbling slightly on his way through. He caught his footing and continued, hastily jumping the wooden fence and his backyard and running deep into the wood that surrounded the shack his family called home. He ran and ran for what felt like hours, the leaves and twigs crunched and snapped beneath his feet as he went, following the trail into the woods. He stopped and looked back, no one. He did it, he was gone. He ran away.
Kaiden continued, moving at a much slower pace than before. He looked around at the forest around him in slight wonder. It had been awhile since he had been outside, even longer since he had been somewhere new outside. As he walked, his mind began to wander. Who made this trail? Was it natural? Does it lead somewhere? He felt a sense of adventure he hadn’t felt since he was a small child. With newfound excitement he picked up his pace once again, following the long winding forest trail.
As Kaiden turned the next bend he stopped, the trail ended, and at its end was an unusually large well. Cautiously and curiously he approached the well, it felt almost as though it was inviting him in. It felt warm, soothing almost. Next to the well was a small wooden sign, covered in moss. Kaiden knelt down and wiped the moss of the sign, revealing faded letters he could just barely make out.
“The Wishing Well..” Kaiden read aloud to himself. He stood and peered into the Wishing Well, staring down into what seemed like infinite darkness. He pulled away from the well’s edge and began fishing through his pockets for a coin. He closed his eyes, made his wish, and tossed the coin in. He listened closely, waiting for the sound of the coin landing in water, or the soft echo of it hitting stone, but it never came. Kaiden nearly turned to walk away, when a strange voice began mumbling from within the well. He immediately ran over to the well and once again peered inside, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was down there. He leaned forward closer, and closer, and then smack. A small rock came up out of the well and struck Kaiden in the forehead. This caused him to lose his grip, and slip silently into the well, any noises he was making being muted by the well.
Kaiden had braced himself for a harsh landing, but when he opened his eyes he was already on the ground. He looked around at his surroundings… dirt. Nothing but dirt, he was in a strange underground tunnel of some sort. He looked up at where he fell, and to his surprise, there was just more dirt, forming a ceiling over his head. There was no deep hole, or faint light of the wells opening, just more dirt. Confused, he began crawling on his hands and knees through the tunnel, hoping that it would eventually lead somewhere. After a solid few minutes of crawling around in the dirt, he found himself in a small open area with a small dirt couch, a table made of roots, a strange lamp with what seemed to be fireflies inside the light bulb and thankfully enough space to stand up semi straight.
“A living room? Does someone… live here?”
“You’re damn right someone lives here!” Kaiden jumped, almost hitting his head on the ceiling. He turned around, looking back and forth for whoever spoke. “Down here!” Kaiden looked down, not believing what he saw. A small, knee high figure made of roots and branches, and two yellow glowing dots where eyes would be. “What are you doing in my house?” The small creature asked.
“I don’t know! I just- there was a well and I fell in and suddenly I was here!” The creature eyes him suspiciously.
“Kneel down, let me get a look at you.” Kaiden did as told and the creature grabbed his face.
“Well, I’ve certainly never seen anythin like ya before..” They said, sounding slightly puzzled. “What are ya, some sort of mole rat?” Kaiden pulled his face away.
“I’m human, the better question is what the hell are you?”
“Human, eh? Never hear of it!” They jumped up on their dirt couch. “I’m a nymph, and none of this explains what you’re doing in my house.”
“I told you before, I fell! I don’t know why I landed here but that’s the truth.”
“Hmm… you got a name, guy?”
“Kaiden, my name’s Kaiden.”
“Alright ‘Kaiden’ let’s say I believe you, where were you before you fell?”
“I.. don’t know how to answer that. Not here, that’s for sure.” The nymph got off of her couch and looked up at Kaiden, tapping her foot.
“Hmm, well, I suppose I could take you into the city, maybe someone there will know where you come from.” They opened a small hatch in the ground and pulled out a sack backpack, it seemed pretty heavy, but if it was they showed no sign of struggling with it. “Hell, I don’t know if anyone will even know what you are though.”
“Wait! Hold on a second, I still have questions! I don’t even know your name!”
“You can ask your questions on the way there, oh, and my name is Toli.”
“Hurry it up human! We’re leaving now!”
Kaiden followed them outside, and was immediately taken back by what he saw. All round nothing but rock and dirt, he was underground. The road they were about to walk down was a large tunnel, the roof of which was only a few feet higher than his head. There were a few roots growing out of the ground and out of the walls. There were hundreds of small holes in the ground too, like an army of gophers had just dug their way through.
“Usually I’d take that way to the city, but you’re a little too big for that, huh?” They pointed at one of the small holes. “Takes about half an hour that way, a long way is more, well, long.”
“Yeah, long way it is then, I guess.”
Toli pointed down the tunnel. “March!”
They started off down the tunnel, kaiden following close behind.
As they walked Kaiden noticed that the tunnel was getting larger, the walls got further apart and the ceiling got higher up, eventually Kaiden couldn’t even see it anymore.
“Is it all like this?”
“Tunnels, is your whole world just underground?”
“It’s not underground at all!”
Toli stomped on the ground. “Y’see that? We call that the ground.” They pointed up. “That? We call that the sky. We’re under the sky, not the ground. You.. really aren’t from around here, huh?” Kaiden didn’t know what to say, the whole situation was twisting his brain. “Oh, hey look!” Toli pointed forward, there was a faint blue glow in the distance.
“Whoa- what’s over there?”
“You’ll see, come on!” Toli took off running,
“Hey, wait up!” Kaiden ran after them, falling behind fast. Eventually, Kaiden caught up to them, very out of breath. “Never do that again please-” Toli rolled their eyes.
“Yeah yeah, look!” They jumped up and down, pointing. Kaiden lifted his head, seeing that all around them were giant tree sized glowing mushrooms. “Ain’t it pretty?” Kaiden was speechless, he had never seen anything like it.
“It’s beautiful.” Kaiden walked up to one of the giant mushrooms and reached out to touch it.
“Oh no, no, no! I wouldn’t do that if I were you-”
“Why? It’s just a mushroom.” He placed his hand on the mushroom’s stalk, and it suddenly began to wriggle and writhe. Kaiden backed up, his hands in the air. “Whoops.”
“Ugh, now you’ve done it.” The mushroom turned around, revealing a very tired face.
“Now who in blazes are you?”
“He’s with me Carl, don’t worry.”
“Oh! Toli! Where have you been? You promised you’d visit more often, but you never do!” Toli awkwardly rubbed their arm.
“I know, I’ve just been busy!”
“Busy with what?”
“I- uhm.” Toli was wracking their brain for any excuse they could think of, but clearly nothing was springing to mind.
“As I thought, you just forgot about me, didn’t you?” Carl sounded like he was holding back tears.
“No, Carl I didn’t forget about you buddy, I promise!” Kaiden walked past them and up to Carl.
“They didn’t forget about you! They uh, were busy taking care of me! I’m lost, you see, and they’ve been trying to help me find my way.”
“Promise?” Toli gave him a pat.
“Promise!” Carl took a few deep breaths to calm down.
“Sorry for the misunderstanding, I just get so lonely out here.” Toli looked down at the ground.
“I promise that after I find this guy a way home I’ll visit more often, alright?”
“Oh, thank you! I’d much enjoy the company.” He turned toward Kaiden. “Terribly sorry my friend, I didn’t ask your name! Say.. what are you exactly anyway?”
“My names Kaiden, I’m a human. I’m going to assume you’ve never heard of them?” Carl just shook his head. “Ah well, doesn’t matter much.”
“I do know someone who might though!” A small root popped out of the ground with a small map rolled up in it. “This will take you to a small farm further down the way, the woman who runs it has seen it all, if anyone would know about what you are, it’d be her.”
“Oh! Thank you Carl! I… didn’t think you knew anybody else besides me, I won’t lie.” They rolled the map up and stuffed it in their pack. They let out a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry Carl, I gotta head out now, I’ll see you later okay?”
“Oh- very well, see you when you get back Toli!” Toli and Kaiden waved to Carl and set out. Kaiden looked over his shoulder to make sure they were out of ear shot.
“So, why did you stop visiting him?”
“You.. promise not to judge me?”
“I just didn’t want to, he’s a nice guy but coming out all that way just to listen to him talk is a chore.” Toli looked down at the ground, ashamed. “Look, I know it’s messed up, alright?”
“Hey, I’m not judging, don’t worry.”
“Really?” Kaiden nodded.
“It may be a little messed up, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“Oh, well thank you, that’s nice of you to say.” Toli looked ahead, seeing nothing but road and let out a sigh. “Sooo, tell me a little bit about yourself, anything interesting?” Kaiden gave them a quick side glance.
“There’s not much to know, really.”
“Well what about where you come from? What’s it like?”
“It’s a lot more open, not as many walls. The skies a lot higher up, and there’s a lot more… water.”
“What was where you lived like? Your home?”
“Home.. right.” Kaiden opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by an ear splitting squealing sound. “What was that!?”
“I have no idea…”
The two stopped dead in their tracks, keeping an eye out for whatever made that noise, but there was nothing. Just when they were about to keep moving, they felt a rumbling in the ground.
“Toli, why is the ground shaking!?”
“Oh no, take cover!” Toli ran off to the side and took cover behind a large rock. Kaiden went to follow them, but was hit in his side by something large and heavy, hitting the ground with a thud. He raised his head, gripping his chest in pain. All around him, large hairless mole rats were charging down the pass, shaking the ground like an earthquake as they charged. He tried to stand, but was immediately knocked back down into the dirt.
“Toli! Toli where are you!?” He shouted, but his voice was drowned out by the squeals of the mole rats surrounding him. Kaiden curled up in a ball, hoping to protect himself from any further damage, when he felt something wrap around his leg. He looked down, Toli was there, hanging on for dear life. They were covered in cuts and scrapes, likely having been trampled while making their way over to him. Kaiden reached down and grabbed them, wrapping himself around them to try and protect them.
“Alright you varmints, stay where you are!” A sharp whistle broke through the squeals and footfall around them, and the mole rats came to a stop. Kaiden opened his eyes slightly, seeing an oddly shaped head on top a long neck pop up above the herd. “Oh no, out of my way, move it!” The mole rats parted and a large snake pushed through. Kaiden tried to stand up but a stabbing pain suddenly hit his leg. He looked down, his left leg was bent in an unnatural direction, and he couldn’t feel his right leg at all. His head hit the ground, and his vision became foggy as the large serpent wrapped its tail around the two of them and started dragging them away.
Days later, Kaiden woke up in a small bed, groggy and cramped. He looked around, he was in a small bedroom, at first he thought it was his, that everything that happened was some wild dream, but as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes he saw that the bedroom was unfamiliar. However, It was the most normal thing he had seen since he got here. The room was small, and dusty. The walls and floor were made of splintered wood, and a small table with a lamp on it sat next to the bed. A large door that looked like it hadden been opened in years was across the room from him, and a window shining a faint light into the room was behind him, overlooking the old room.
“Where am I?” He tried to stand, but found that his legs would not move. He lifted the covers, both of his legs were in casts that were seemingly made from sort of hardened silk. He sat in silence for a moment, when the loud creak of the door opening broke the silence. Toli walked in with a small food tray in one hand, her other was wrapped in the same silk cast as his legs were.
“You’re awake!” They sat the tray down on the table and jumped up onto the bed. “You’ve been out of it for a few days now, she said it could be weeks before you actually woke up!”
“She? Toli, where are we? What happened to the mole rats-”
“Ah, yeah, turns out those mole rats? They belonged to the woman Carl told us about, we’re on her farm right now.” Toli picked up a spoon full of a weird black goo. “Open up.”
“What is that-”
“Food, and also technically medican, Rose and I made it for you, should speed up your recovery.” Kaiden sighed and opened his mouth, ready for something foul, but to his surprise when the spoon went in it tasted pretty good! He opened his mouth for another bite, soon after the entire bowl was empty.
“Jeez- hungry?” Toli set the bowl down and got down off the bed. “Hold on, let me get you the wheelchair, Rose said to take to her if you ever woke up!” They ran out of the room and swiftly returned rolling in a wooden wheelchair. “Come on, I’ll help you up.” Kaiden pushed his legs off the bed and held out his arm for Toli to grab.
“Don’t worry, I won’t hurt ya.” Toli gently grabbed onto his arm and slowly helped him out of bed, and into the chair.
“No problem!” They led Kaiden out of the room and down the hall. The house they were in was actually quite quaint. The kitchen and living room were connected, not separated by a wall or a door. Both were surprisingly small and even more surprisingly, normal! It looked nothing like Tolis house, it was made just like houses back in Kaidens world.
“Rose should be out in the field, she runs this place all on her own, its kinda nuts.” Toli wheeled Kaiden out the front door.
“Whoa.” It was like a giant dirt dome, with multiple lamps hanging from the ceiling providing light for the farm. The farm itself was made up of three sections, the house, a massive field of some sort of strange purple crop, a large barn and pin where the mole rats were kept. Kaiden wondered where this lady was getting all this wood from down here.
“Not in the field.. Guess she’s in the barn.” Toli made a sharp turn that nearly knocked Kaiden out of the chair and started moving him towards the barn. “Hello? Rose?” They pushed the door open, and Kaiden nearly screamed. There were more pins inside the barn, and inside those pins were giant rhino sized spiders.
“Finally up and at ’em, ain’t ya?” Rose dropped down from the ceiling in front of them, a giant diamond back snake, about ten feet long.
“Hey Rose! What were you doing on the ceiling-”
“Ah, I was just feedin ma mounts, ain’t they pretty?”
“Uhm, yeah- sure.” Rose slithered up to Kaiden, getting right up in his face.
“Hm, Toli here told me about ya, human eh?” She backed up. “I’ve heard of em, but I didn’t think they really existed.”
“What… are they?” Toli asked, curious.
“Well, they’re mammals, and as the legends go they live up above the sky, the world they inhabit is vast and endless, with more water then there is land. Of course, that’s all just myths and whatnot.”
“I’m a myth? Like some sort of bigfoot?”
“I don’t know what a ‘bigfoot’ is but sure!” Rose opened up one of the pins and the giant spider walked out. “Anyways, while y’all are here, I would appreciate some help around the farm. I know you can’t move all to good, but the little one could be a big help while you recover. Think of it as some sort of payment, y’know?”
“I don’t know- I’m not exactly a farm person.”
“Well we’ll just have to fix that then, won’t we? Why don’t you take our legendary friend here back to his room? We got work to get done!”
“It’ll be fine Toli! What’s a little bit of yard work?”
“I guess, don’t take too long gettin better, alright?”
“I’ll be up before you know it.” Toli wheeled Kaiden back into the house. From that day forward, for three whole weeks Toli worked non-stop. They had to plow the field, harvest silk from the spiders, milke the mole rats and even paint the barn. They had never worked this hard in their lives, and they blamed every second of it on Kaiden. By the last week’s end, Kaiden had almost fully recovered, and Toli was almost as damaged as was before from the back breaking labor.
“Hahaha! Little one looks all tuckered out!” Rose joked as she made dinner. Toli was curled up in a ball on the couch next to Kaiden.
“I guess yard work was a bit much-” Kaiden gave her a pat on the shoulder. “I guess we’d better head out tomorrow, we still have to get to the city.”
“Oh! That reminds me, I know someone in the city that might be able to help you get back home, I’m not certain, but he’s a real smart fella, little mole boy named Reggie. He should be able to figure it out.”
“Oh, uh- thanks!” Kaiden looked down at his feet.
“No, it’s nothing.”
“You sure, kid?”
“Ah, well if I were you I’d start thinkin faster, you don’t have long till you’ll get to choose.” Kaiden nodded. “After dinner you should get some shut eye, you’ll be wakin up bright’n early tomorrow.” She handed Kaiden and Toli their food and slithered upstairs to her room. Kaiden let out a sigh and looked down at Toli. He sat up and fetched them a blanket, and rested his head on the arm rest of the couch. Slowly, he drifted off to sleep.
“Rise and shine sleepy heads!” Kaiden and Toli both shot up straight. “It’s bout’ time you two went on your way, gotta get yourselves to the city to meet up with Reggie!” Rose pushed open the front door. “Get a move on!”
“Don’t you start with me, just get er moving!” Kaiden and Toli slid off the couch and stumbled out the front door. Waiting for them was a wagon pulled by one Roses’ giant spiders. “This ol’ girl can get you to city in just under two hours, when you get there look for the buildin with the big purple sign out front.” Kaiden helped Toli up into the wagon.
“Thank you for letting us stay as long as we did.” Kaiden said.
“No problem pal, put er there!” She reached out with her tail. Kaiden grabbed it and gave it a firm handshake. “If all that thinkin your doing pans out the way I think, come back and visit sometime, y’hear?”
“I- yes ma’am, I guess we’ll see, heh.” Kaiden climbed into the wagon. “Uh, how do I make it go-” Rose whipped the spider with her tail and it took off running so fast Toli almost flew out of the wagon. “AH- oh, I see.”
“A little warning next time would be nice!!” Toli shouted back at her, but she was already out of ear shot. “So, what was all that about thinking?”
“Oh, yeah it would be kinda messed up if I didn’t tell you, huh? I might be having second thoughts about going back..”
“Really? Don’t you miss home?”
“Not really.. My life before I came here wasn’t exactly great.”
“Well, if you decide to stay, my doors are open. I wouldn’t mind.”
“Thank you, Toli.” Toli rested her head on his leg.
“I’m gonna try to get some more sleep in, wake me up when we get there, kay?” Kaiden nodded and Toli closed her eyes. Kaiden stayed awake, unable to fall back asleep. Hours passed, and Kaiden spotted a bunch of buildings in distance.
“Toli, I think we’re here.” He nudged them awake, his eyes not leaving the surprisingly massive city they were approaching. Toli sat up and wiped the sleep from their eyes.
“Do you see a building with a purple sign?”
“No, not yet.” The wagon slowed down as they entered the city. The streets were populated with spider pulled wagons, lots of mole people and some even some nymphs like Toli. The buildings, much like Tolis house, were made of dirt. All of them had signs outside of them with a language Kaiden couldn’t understand written on them.
“Oh!! There it is!” Toli climbed on top of him and pointed to their left. The shop was a bit smaller than other buildings around it. The purple sign out front was written in the same strange language, but there was a carving of an open book under the words, so Kaiden assumed it was some sort of book shop or library. The wagon came to a stop and they climbed out.
“Should we knock?”
“It’s a store not a house, why would we knock?” Toli walked in, Kaiden following behind them, having to crouch down slightly to fit through the door. “Hello? Is anybody here?”
“I’ll be right with you!” There was a loud crashing sound, followed by small yelp.
“You okay back there?”
“Yes! I’m fine, don’t worry!” An even louder crash came from the back, followed by the shuffling of tiny feet. A small, gray, slightly chubby mole man came out with a stake of books. “How can I-” He stopped in his tracks when saw Kaiden.
“Hi! A woman named Rose said you might be able to-” The mole, presumably Reggie, dropped the stack of books he was holding on Tolis’ foot and ran over to Kaiden. “OW-”
“My goodness, a real life human! I”ve waited all my life for this!” He pulled out a stool and climbed on top of it to get a better look. “I have so many questions! What do you eat? Do you eat? Do you have a name? Can you understand me?”
“Why is that the last thing you decided to ask? You should have probably started with that. My name is Kaiden.”
“Marvelous!” Reggie took out a notepad and started writing things down.
“Ahem, I need some help here!” Toli couldn’t physically move the stack of books on her foot.
“Oh! So sorry about that.” Reggie jumped down and picked the books up and sat them down off to the side. “You said Rose sent you guys?”
“Yeah, she thought you might know a way to send the big guy here back home.” Reggie rubbed his chin.
“Yes, yes. I should be able to do that!”
“Really? Like, no problem?” Kaiden seemed taken back.
“No problem! Just give me a few minutes and I can whip something up for ya!” He ran into the back of the store, a fiery look in his eyes.
“So.. you’re going home! That’s nice.”
“…You okay buddy?”
“I’ll be fine, I think I’ve made my decision.”
“Are you staying?” Toli sounded a little hopeful.
Reggie came running back out with a strange blue liquid in a flask
“Here, drink this!” He handed the flask to Kaiden. “It should send you back! First, if you don’t mind I mean, could I perhaps study you?”
“Heh, you can study me as long as you want.” He handed the flask back. “I’ve decided to stay.”
“Yes!” Toli gave him a hug.
“Sorry, this is your moment- I’ll butt out.”
“So, I guess you’ll be staying with me from now on then?”
“Alright, it’s your job to visit Carl from now on then.” Toli laughed and pulled on his leg. “Let’s get going!”
“Wait! I need to study you!”
“Just come to Roses’ farm, we live close by.”
“I’ll pack immediately!” He once again vanished into the back of the store.
“Wanna get out of here now?”
“Yeah, I want to go home-” Kaiden and Toli left the shop and got back in the wagon.
“How do we get this thing moving again?”
“I got it!” Toli climbed on top of the spider and slapped it as hard as she could. The spider hissed and took off like a rocket, flinging Toli back into the wagon. Kaiden leaned back and looked up at his brand new sky, a smile on his face. He finally had a real home.