Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Undercollege, Part 3: The Garden

 Originally posted on Facebook Notes, 21st November 2007

Mike groaned and realised that he was awake. He deduced from this that he was alive, which meant that he hadn't been electrocuted.

Whatever had happened, in fact, it didn't seem to bear any resemblance to the results of an electric shock at all; in his time as a lighting technician, Mike had experienced no small number of minor zaps, so he knew the common symptoms. Most common were burns caused by the arc-flash, and his skin felt fine as he flexed all his limbs gently to make sure that he was intact.

His next realisation was that he couldn't see those limbs. In fact, he couldn't see anything at all. For a second he considered the possibility that he had been blinded by the flash he'd experienced, but then his environment began to solidify around him. Walls, of sorts, became visible to either side. The place he was in was simply very, very dark. Mike was well aware that the claimed correlation between consumption of carrots and improved night vision was an urban myth, a rumour fostered by the British military during World War II to provide a plausible non-technological explanation for the effectiveness of their new Airborne Interception Radar. This being the case, he didn't spend long reflecting on the number of carrots his parents had fed him in his youth. Instead he reached down to his waist and unhooked his Maglite from his belt. Torch versus carrots = no contest.

He was quickly able to get an idea of the room he was in - if it could be called a room. It was certainly very different to anything to be found in the ADC Theatre. The floor on which he lay was moist and brown, thickly carpeted with some sort of plant mulch. The walls of the room rose in an oval around him, rudely cut from packed earth. Although nothing appeared to be supporting the ceiling, a few tentative pokes sufficed to convince Mike that the structure was firm enough not to collapse on a whim. Firmer than some sets I've built, anyway, he thought, and smiled gently, attempting to brush aside the panic that threatened to rise within him.

Three uniform tunnels branched out from the chamber, each circular in cross-section and with a diameter of about a metre. Although too narrow for a man to pass standing, they were as structurally sound as the "room" itself. After some hesitation, he made for the only one of the three that seemed to head upwards. Mike was a practical soul by nature, and once he'd decided upon a course of action he gave little thought to his predicament as he got down on hands and knees and began to crawl. Management will be interested to hear about this place...


Pain lanced through her skull, jolting Cat back to consciousness. Her first thought was that she'd once again banged her head against the enormously venerable beam in her attic room in college that hung obtrusively over her bed. Opening her eyes, she quickly dismissed the idea. Her room certainly didn't have patches of luminous blue mould on the rough-hewn rock ceiling five metres above. Nor did it have a rock floor, and nor was that rock floor littered with strange stone protrusions.

Stalagmites, she seemed to remember they were called. But these were no ordinary stalagmites. Ordinary stalagmites started at the bottom and rose upwards. They certainly didn't branch out into several twisted limbs, extending at all angles. Appearing all of one piece and sprouting quite naturally out of the ground, these rock formations resembled nothing so much as stunted, barren trees in winter. Some were clumped together, and others artfully arranged in lines and spirals. On the nearest, a green parrot was strutting along one of the branches. Its beak was black, but the fluffy feathers around its eyes were yellow, and on each of its wings was a flash of red. When it noticed Cat watching it, it stretched its wings, emitted a high-pitched squawk, and flew off.

Cat scrambled to her feet, straightening out her skirt and coat and reaching under her long hair to feel the injury to her head. A bruised, bloody lump rose on her scalp.

What...? I was in the library. Where on earth am I? The details slowly trickled back to her. I was picking up a book. Then something hit me from behind... She instinctively cast around for the book, but it was nowhere to be found. Unsure whether to regard the situation as a result of a kidnapping, an unfunny practical joke, or something much stranger, she took stock of her surroundings.

The level, orderly plantation of stalagmites stretched out before and behind her. On either side was a sheer rock face that owed as much to artifice as to nature. Every ten paces or so was a stalagmite that had been allowed to grow to the ceiling and merge with a stalactite there to form a column that stretched the full height of the gallery. What little light there was came from the ultramarine mould that grew liberally on the cavern ceiling and the higher branches of the taller stalagmite-plants. The only sound was a concatenation of drops falling at regular intervals from above into puddles on the ground. "Hello?" she called, three times in total; but, other than a mocking reverberation, there was no response. Cat gathered her long coat around her and began to run.


She'd been running for less than a minute when she saw it. Up ahead, the gallery came to an end and split into two, with one of the passages curving sharply round to the right. From this passageway emanated the welcome glow of torchlight.

"Over here! I'm over here!" Cat cried, picking up her pace, and the torch-bearer seemed to speed up, too, as the beam began to wobble. Finally. A sign of life! At worst, it's someone like me who's lost down here in this weird place.

She wasn't prepared for what faced her when she rounded the corner, almost colliding with the torch-holder. The sight caused her to stop in her tracks.

A bony hand grasped the broad-beamed torch, and another shot out to clamp down on Cat's lapels in a vicelike grip, drawing her in so close that she would have been able to feel the torch-bearer's breath... if he were the type of creature that breathed. Cat's green eyes made empty contact with the hollow eye-sockets of a skull, on top of which rested an immaculate black bowler hat.

"Well, now," rasped the skeleton through non-existent, malevolent vocal cords. "What have we here?"

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