I was eight when it happened. It had been a rough day at school, tons of homework, tons of house chores, you know, that type of day. I had been waiting for the night to take me away into the land of dreams and it came as it always did, but it didn’t take me where I wanted to go.
I was taking a bath enjoying the stream of hot water as it cruised on my skin and away into the drain when I heard a knock on my door.
“Dean, I need to use the bathroom. Are you gonna be long?” my sister’s high pitched voice echoed around me.
“No, I’ll be right out.”
I turned the water off and grabbed my towel before I left the tub. I was in a hurry, drying myself as fast as I could, ignoring the vortex that was steadily growing at my feet. I had never thought much of it, I don’t think anyone does. The swirling soapy water goes into the small hole at the bottom. Where does it go?
I was ready to step out of the bathtub, ready to go to my room and let the night sweep me away, but it had a different plan for me that day. I wasn’t ready, so when the vortex swallowed me whole I didn’t even scream. My stomach seemed to float inside me as the vertigo hit me. There was darkness. Darkness and the sound of a thousand waterfalls screaming around me. The roaring water was deafening and it was all I heard. It was all I felt, well that, and the hurried beating of my heart, my gasps for air, and a voice inside my head that pleaded for help.
It must have lasted thirty seconds, maybe less. My journey through the drain was over and I was expelled into a dimly lit street and as soon as I stood up and wrapped my towel around my waist a creature approached me. It wasn’t human. It wasn’t anything I had seen before. Its large bulky head seemed strangely disproportionate to its small body. Its rubbery skin had an unusual glint to it and two small black eyes stared at me for a few instants too many. Chills ran down my spine and I was ready to run away into the unknown world I had been pushed into, away from the short being.
“Wait.” It said. “Please. Don’t be afraid.”
It was almost too much to ask, and it was something not entirely under my control. I was already afraid.
“We need your help.” It took a step forward and reached out to me with one of its thick hands. “Will you help us?”
I wanted to say yes, but all I managed was a nod. I had no way out either way. I either followed the sad creature or ran away and into the pitch black alleys of the underworld.
We walked for hours in the darkness with a small torch lighting the way. We walked under a black sky, or roof? I couldn’t see, and on a moist soft ground. I didn’t dare to ask it any questions, I didn’t dare to go another way. I wondered how long this world had existed below our feet. Did it exist before our cities? Before mankind? These creatures looked nothing like us and yet they could speak our language. How could that be?
And then I thought of home. If only I had gotten out faster, if only my sister had to pee a little sooner… I pictured her knocking on the bathroom door for hours, screaming at me to get out, not knowing that I had disappeared, not knowing that I wasn’t even in the same world. It was a strangely sad and fascinating fact. And just when I had gathered enough courage to ask a question, we reached our destination.
“This is my home.”
We had reached a cliff, as if we had been walking on a mountain, and a hundred feet below us a group of huts and small frail houses sat together surrounded by large stones.
“Our people are sick. This is our last refuge. Some of us have gone up into your world in search of a cure, but the ones who left have not come back.” Tears began to spill from its black eyes and it turned to me. “Yours is a strange world to us. Much too bright, much too big, much too populated. We know we may never see them again, those who go up into your world, for they get lost in the grey wilderness, in the seemingly endless maze of tunnels below your cities, but you… You can help us.”
“I don’t know what to look for.” I replied. “I’m just a kid, I don’t know how to cure anything… I… I don’t know, I don’t think I can help you.”
A rumbling began to rise from deep below the chasms of the strange world like an avalanche was rising from inside ground.
“What’s that?” I whispered.
“Hurry! Take this!” The creature pushed a paper into my hand. “I’m sorry, you have to go now. Please, come back when you have these things. Don’t forget us… don’t forget us.”
And before I could respond, the creature’s thick hands grabbed my arms and pushed me off the cliff and into the bottomless depths.
“Come back!” Was the last thing I heard as a I fell to what I thought would be my death and then, just like that, I was in my bathtub again. Standing naked listening to my sister pleading me to get out so she could pee. I still have the paper, it was a simple list of spices and other herbs that you can get in a grocery store.
I got them the very next day, but I was never able to go back. I spent entire days in that tub, filling it and emptying it, waiting for the vortex to take me away into the dark underworld. I carry the ingredients everywhere I go. Just in case today is the day I make it back. There are times when I wonder if it was all just in my mind. If maybe I fell in the tub and hit my head and dreamed a strange dream, but I have evidence.
Did their world disappear? What was the rumbling sound that made the creature bring me back in a hurry? Who were they? Questions that I’m determined to answer. I will not stop until I create the perfect vortex and bring back the good news they have been waiting for. I just hope that when I do, I’m not too late.