The Grotto – Part Two

She froze, staring unblinking into the tunnel, unsure if her imagination was playing tricks on her.  She didn’t know if it had been seconds, minutes or hours when she became aware of the boy, unmoving, staring straight back at her.  Her head was yelling run! But she found herself rooted to the spot as the boy slowly began to walk towards her.  As he approached her his curious frown turned to a smile and his dazzling green eyes shone, she was mesmerised by him and realised she was not only unafraid but was smiling back.

He held out his hand and she took it, feeling inexplicably happy and excited as they walked back down the tunnel together.

It was a short journey through the small tunnel but when they reached the end she found herself in another world.  The room was filled with a soft, orange light, glowing from huge shells placed around the seaweed covered floor and all four walls of the room they had entered were shimmering with thousands upon thousands of shells.  Two more children looked up from where they were placing shells on the wall, another boy and a girl, they beamed at her, jumped up and held out their arms to welcome her but Emeline was transfixed by the walls, covered in a myriad of shells.

The other children waited patiently as Emeline stood mesmerised, her eyes wandering slowly over each of the walls, almost completely covered with shells of different shapes, sizes and colours, she could see blue black mussel shells, ivory, pale brown and pink cockle shells, dainty whelks with orange, brown, purple and white stripes, their spires pointing a little scarily from the walls, there were larger shells, oysters, some grey and white, others with black, pink and purple patches and there were many others which she didn’t recognise at all.  She noticed that some were placed with the surface of the shell outward whilst others were placed to expose the shiny, white, iridescent interiors, the effect was a beautiful, shimmering, multi coloured room that seemed to be rippling with ever changing light and colour.  One of the walls had a smaller wall coming from it, forming a shelf for the strangest plants and huge shells, the likes of which she had never seen.

No-one had spoken.  Emeline turned to the children and looked at them quizzically, she was afraid to speak, she didn’t know if these other children could speak, were they even real?  As they all stood staring at each other, she tentatively asked, ‘what is this place’ and ‘who are you?’ The children smiled at Emeline and at each other and finally, the boy that had taken her hand spoke, ‘this place is our story’ he said ‘and we’re from the sea’.  ‘Mermaids!’ she exclaimed.  They all laughed and replied that yes, that was one name they had been given.  She looked down at their legs and raised her eyebrows dubiously.  ‘There is so much for you to discover’ they told her, ‘if you are ready and want to know?’  She hesitated, it was almost too much to take in and she still wasn’t convinced that she wasn’t dreaming, she closed her eyes and gave herself a good, hard pinch, when she opened her eyes to the glimmering room and the kind gazes of the three children she nodded, yes, she was ready.

The boy that had spoken told her his name was Bo, the other boy was called Gal and the girl was called Marilla and that yes, they were called mermaids by some but they were known by many names across the world, sirens, enchanters, nisse, water nymph, he said that they were actually fay,  just as there were fay on the earth, there were fay in the seas and oceans.  ‘Fay?’ Emeline asked, ‘faerie’ he said, with a smile and shrug of his shoulders, guessing that Emeline wouldn’t believe in faeries.  Emeline laughed aloud and told them how delighted she was, she’d always suspected that faeries were real and had never understood why her mother had insisted that they were just stories, legends and myths; but even as she said it she realised that she wouldn’t be able to tell her mother the truth of it.  She was about to tell them her name when Marilla said ‘we are so happy to meet you Emeline’, she closed her mouth abruptly and sank down onto the spongy, seaweed covered floor, shaking her head in bemused disbelief.

Emeline wanted to stay and talk, to know everything about them and what they were doing but much time had passed and the children urged her to go back upstairs before her mother returned, they told her that there would be time enough to learn everything but she needed to be cautious. The words didn’t need to be spoken for her to understand the necessity for secrecy and so they said their goodbyes and made plans for her next visit.

Her chores and studies done, Emeline was calmly preparing supper when her mother arrived home, as her mother asked about her day, her heart thumped as she told her it had been as dull as usual, her mother smiled and said ‘dull is painless Emeline, be happy for it’ she gave her mother a big smile and replied ‘Oh, I am!’



The Grotto part one

Emeline was 8 years old when she found the entrance to the tunnel.  The frosts had ended and her mother was ploughing the field, preparing for the sowing.  She was supposed to be learning her letters but feeling hungry and more than a little bored, she’d sneaked down into the cellar to find the apples, ‘mother wouldn’t notice one missing apple’ came the hopeful thought as she climbed up onto a chair and took the cellar key from the huge shell on the kitchen shelf.

The darkness overwhelmed her as she made her way down the wobbly, wooden steps and she almost turned back for fear of cellar monsters, bats and giant spiders but the gnawing in her tummy and the thrill of adventure, urged her onwards.  Emeline uneasily felt for each step, blinking rapidly in an attempt to adjust her eyes to the light; it seemed to take forever and just as she thought she could make out the cellar floor, she lost her footing and went tumbling down.

She lay there for a while, unsure what to do, she couldn’t cry out, her mother wouldn’t hear and even if she did, she would be furious that Emeline had gone into the cellar!  She sat up, and wiggling her arms and legs, thanked the Gods that she was unhurt.  She looked around in the darkness, she could barely make out her own hand in front of her face, let alone find the baskets of apples but she had come this far and decided to carry on.  She stood up and began blinking again, counting on the trick she’d learned when she woke in the night, to help her see into the darkness.  She could just make out the rows of shelves at the back of the cellar and went in search of apples.  The shelves were high and of course the boxes of apples were on the top shelf!  Being a confident climber, she proceeded up the shelves, she was half way up when she felt the shelves wobble and shake, beginning to come away from the wall. She swiftly jumped back off, landing with a thump on her back ‘this is not going well’ she thought as she lay back, considering what to do next.

As she lay there thinking, flicking the sawdust on the floor, her fingers came across a metal ring, in a hole in the ground.  Curious, she attempted to pick up the ring but it dragged her hand down as it was stuck to the floor, she tried again and pulled as hard as she could, whereupon the floor began to lift with it, startled, she quickly put it down.  At this point she had forgotten about the apples, intrigued by what could only be a trap door, she needed to investigate.  It was stiff and heavy but she was determined to see what was under there, she half stood and pulled with all of her strength; finally, there was a loud crack and the trap door jumped back and whacked her in the face, she yelped and fell back onto the wall.  She waited in a quiet panic, her mother must have heard, she was going to be in deep trouble.  Nobody came.

With the divided feelings of satisfaction and dread, she looked down into the deep hole she’d discovered.  She saw steps going down and frowned ‘a cellar beneath a cellar?’   It was pitch black and although she was afraid to go down, she really wanted to know what was down there ‘Is mother a smuggler?’ she thought, ‘how exciting!’

Emeline heard footsteps pacing the floor upstairs and realised she had been down there far too long, her mother was back from the fields.  She quietly replaced the trap door, brushed herself down, sneaked up the stairs, out of the back door and into the yard, after a few minutes she casually sauntered in, as if from a visit to the outhouse.

As Emeline laid down to sleep that night, she couldn’t get the image of the steps under the cellar out of her mind, she had to know what was down there. But it would be several days before she could investigate, her only days for secret adventures were Tuesdays and Fridays, when her mother worked the markets.

Tuesday came, Emeline was up with the larks and her mother, she counted down the minutes in her head as her mother listed the chores for the day, almost wanting to push her mother out of the door in her excitement.  Once she felt the coast was clear, she climbed the chair and released her tightly held breath of apprehension as she grabbed the key from the shell.  Her heart was pounding as she unlocked the cellar door, lit a candle and made her way down to the unknown.

She squatted down and with all of her strength, pulled open the trap door.  With just a little trepidation, she made her way down the steps and found herself in a tunnel, she looked both ways uncertainly, thought ‘eeny, meeny, miney mo’ and turned left.  The tunnel had rough walls, it wasn’t much wider than she was and it had an arched ceiling which she couldn’t reach, she felt as though she were walking in a circle.  The thought came to her that she might be in a giant mole hole and just as was about to turn and run back up the stairs, she noticed that she had reached another tunnel, leading away from the circle.  She stopped at the opening to the new tunnel, her breath catching in her throat as she saw a flicker of light and shadow at the end…