“Skulk, get up here with that torch! Why are you crawling? There’s plenty of room to stand!” Slate was agitated.
Wink giggled in the darkness then called to Skulk as well. “He’s afraid of the spiders Skulky; he doesn’t want to run into their webs.” Another giggle.
“I am not! I…I just can’t see where I’m going!” Slate retorted.
As Skulk brought the light forward all three youngsters peered into the dark tunnel ahead.
Slate was attempting to look the intrepid explorer, a difficult task for a 12-year-old. Wink, already beautiful a year before becoming a teenager, smiled with the ever-present twinkle in her eye. And, Skulk, half bent over despite the seven-foot high passageway, stood warily behind Wink.
“We ain’t should be here, Slater,” Skulk whined.
“Just be quiet; we haven’t even gone fifty feet and already you want to turn back?” Slate said.
“Then you carries the torch; I don’t wanna go first.” Skulked answered.
Wink suddenly seized the torch from Skulk and strode confidently forward. “Com’on you babies don’t be so afraid of the dark.” Wink rolled her eyes and sighed in frustration. “Boys!”
Slate scampered forward grabbing the torch from Wink. He was leading this expedition, not a girl!
Two of the three were carrying their own version of a weapon. Skulk held what looked to be a chair leg so tightly in his hand that his knuckles were going white. Slate toted what had once been a short-handled gardener’s weed hook. Actually it was half a weed-hook as the top half of the curved blade had broken off before it had been discarded.
“Where does ya think it goes?” Skulk ventured.
“I told ya, I bet it’s the tail end of one of the Paradox tunnels.” Slate answered
“Sure, like one of the Paradox tunnels, that probably don’t exist anyway, would lead to the dredge.” Wink shook her head. “It’s nothing but an old smuggler’s tunnel that leads to the docks.”
“Old Hammer-head swears that this is one of the Paradox tunnels, the only one outa the dredge.” Slate insisted.
Wink laughed, “There’ a reason he’s call Hammer-head. He’s hammered out of his head 24 hours a day!”
“Okay, if you two don’t want to go with me, turn around and go back,” Slate retorted.
“Oh calm down, Slate.” Wink’s voice turned soft as she took Slate’s arm with her delicate hand. “You know I wouldn’t let you go with out me.”
“Well, I ain’t goin’ five feet from that torch…for’ed or backerd.” Skulk added.
The threesome crept forward, slowly at first and with a bit more courage after a short while. The passageway was damp everywhere and even wet on places. This was the seacoast and underground tunnels had to be shallow and would still always suffer from saltwater seepage. The passage itself was squared on the floor and the sides but arched overhead. Remarkably this underground causeway was constructed, not carved. The walls were made of cut stone as was the ceiling. The floor was just sand.
Wink was intrigued by the workmanship and repeatedly ran her finger down the joints where the stones fit tightly together. “You’re right Slate. No smugglers would spend the time and effort to build something like this.”
Slate wore a grin like a badge of honor.
The three stopped in unison. The torch revealed that just ahead was a door-sized opening on the left. The main passage continued straight onward but the opening gave the appearance of leading to a room, a room without a door. That was when the scraping sound began.
“What be that?” Skulk urgently whispered.
Wink and Slate looked at each other but said nothing. The two cautiously and quietly crept forward. For all the world it sounded like claws being scraped across stone. Skulk gripped his chair-leg in two hands and stayed tightly behind Wink.
As all three hesitated again, looking at each other and then at the opening, a large grotesquely undulating ball of black fur rolled out of the room and headed straight for them in a cacophony of high screeches. Skulked screamed as loudly as their attacker, dropped his chair-leg and ran for all his worth. Wink and Slate followed quickly on his heals yelling between gasps of air.
“What is it, Slate?
“I dunno! Just run!”
Just at that moment dozens of black hairy creatures began nipping at their boots.
“Rats! Its just rats!” Slate cried, as he began flailing with both the torch and his half-weed-hook.
“Back up! Back up!” Wink called to Slate
With that Wink began murmuring quietly and moving her hands in an intricate design. Within a second a cone of flame exploded from her fingers and savaged the floor in front of her…rats and all. With hysterically heightened squeals the rats not conflagrated ran back to their hiding place.
The three adventurers, silent since the encounter climbed up through the trap door they had discovered earlier. They leaned breathlessly against the remains of a fallen stone wall. Wink began to laugh, Skulked frowned and Slate simply advised, “I’m gonna find my way into the Paradox someday, starting from right here!”