In the dark…
Laura’s face was resting on cold smooth dirt. It was dark, and the air smelled damp and stale. Lifting her head and concluding that she seemed to be all in one piece, she looked up cautiously. In the gloom she could just make out a semi-circle of figures around her, and she became acutely aware of many eyes upon her. A voice came out of the darkness, low and serious:
“Who is she?”
Then another voice came, and another.
“Where did she come from?”
“How did she get here?”
There was a soft murmur of more voices, indistinct but surrounding her.
“Hush,” it was the first one again, “let her speak,” and then the owner of the voice addressed her directly.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Laura swallowed nervously, and could hardly believe it as she heard herself answering.
“Well I appear to have fallen down a hole, but I’m fairly sure I’m not Alice.”
Oh dear. How did that pop out?
Fear and facetiousness always went together for Laura. These unfortunate bedfellows had got her into a wide variety of scrapes before, first at school and more recently in bars and on buses, but as these muttering figures loomed over her her current predicament suddenly seemed a whole lot more serious.
She shifted position slightly, and realised she still had one of the gardening tools clutched in her hand. Adrenalin, or possibly just blind panic, had started pumping through her and the fight or flight part of her brain was screaming “now or never.” She jumped to her feet brandishing the little chopper.
“Boo!” she yelled, waving her arms wildly at whoever it was in front of her.
Then everything was still and quiet for a moment, until she heard a different voice, a man’s, from somewhere deep in the shadows.
“Boo? Did you actually just say ‘boo’?”
Laura stood rooted to the spot, her arms raised in defence, chopper in one hand, the other first clenched. Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness now and she could make out more of what lay before her. She saw a group of maybe eight or ten people standing still and silent. Their faces were pale, skin smooth, eyes watchful. She was in a room of sorts, with a dirt floor, stone walls on either side and the only light a blue glow coming from the far end. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe, she dropped her arms and swayed backwards, all the nervous energy draining from her body. There was a buzzing sensation before she blacked out and sank to the floor.
Laura had fainted before, most recently when standing up too quickly after too long in a very hot steam room with Rani. She recalled the incident now as she drifted back into consciousness and remembered with alarm what had been happening before she passed out. She didn’t open her eyes or move but just lay still, listening.
She thought maybe she’d been moved while she was out for the count because it was slightly warmer. There was a blanket covering her, but it still felt like she was on the ground. It also smelled extremely odd and she tried to take shallow breaths. She sensed lots of eyes on her and decided that her best option at this point was to wait for something to happen.
Then the man spoke again, “I’m sure I’ve seen her before.”
“You have,” replied one of the soft voices, “we all have.”
There was murmuring again and Laura remained motionless, hardly daring to breathe as she strained to hear.
“Do you remember when the trains came? She saw us. Seven hours, hundreds of trains, thousands of people, she was the only one who looked out of the window.”
“So what are you going to do?” said the man.
“She saw us then and she hears us now.”
“Are you sure?”
The man was behind the others, sitting on a low seat carved out of base of the stone wall. He stood up, stooping slightly under the low roof and looked over their heads at the young woman lying on the ground under a woven blanket. They had moved Laura, carrying her with care away from where she’d landed.
“Well I’m guessing that as she’s still here you’re not planning to kill her?” the man said, loud enough for Laura to hear.
Several pale faces looked round at him in horror but he had his finger to his lips so they stayed silent, he must have a reason for saying such a thing. He did – if she was awake and listening he hoped it might provoke a reaction, but there was no sign of movement. Then he reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small piece of paper. He screwed it up into a ball and threw it in an elegant and accurate arc onto her face.
Laura shook it off and immediately opened her eyes.
“What was that?” she demanded.
She gave up all pretence and sat up, then gingerly got to her feet trying to take in the extraordinary sight in front of her. She was standing in a room that was more like a cave. There were no windows or lights, and it was illuminated instead by several torches hanging on the stone walls that burned with the dull bluish glow she had seen from the train on Monday morning. And there was definitely a funny smell.