Sliently, Gilhooly Skute crept up to the opening leading back to the pit beneath The Gangplank. A crackling orange light cast dancing shadows upon the limestone walls. Usually an indication of warmth and comfort, this hearth warned of danger. The scent of roasting meat permeated the air, setting his nose to twitching; reminding him he had not eaten since the morning. His tummy hurt and his mouth was dry. If only Mr. Emerson had not said Dunsay!
With great caution the boy peered through the opening, carefully hiding behind the white pillars Mister Brother and Mister Emerson had argued about being either Ironic or Cornish. Gil would never understand grown-ups and their arguments.
What the urchin saw was worse than any nightmare he could possibly dream up. Monsters now occupied the pit where he had started the day. He counted ten horrid beast-men, all white as chalk with long, dark greasy hair; ‘not ‘alf like Mister Underby…’ Gil thought.
Most sat hunched in the shadows away from the light of the flame, while one, with his hand up to shield his eyes poked at something that looked like a giant grey earthworm skewered by a spit and dripping grease onto the hot coals below. Despite his revulsion, Gilhooly’s mouth started to water.
Hidden in the shadows, wavering between fear and hunger, he felt something softly bite at the back of his neck – as if a fly or bee had nicked his skin. He quickly spun, eyes wide, expecting to see either the four-armed green giants or one of those horrid white demons – but no one was there.
Gil felt another little bite ping the side of his ear before he realized someone was tossing tiny pebbles at him from above. “Pssst!” his keen ears angled toward the ceiling as he looked up to identify the source of the summons. Peering down over the edge of a shelf near the ceiling of the tunnel, maybe eighteen feet above the floor, was a wide-eyed urchin.
“Hoi Johnny Dawkins!” Gilhooly called up in an excited whisper, careful not to be so loud as to alert the creatures at the end of the tunnel. Johnny motioned for Gil to climb up. Gilhooly, being an excellent climber, quickly scrambled up the wall taking only a moment to nestle in beside Johnny Dawkins.
Johnny pulled a small glowing pebble from his pocket and cupped it in his hands so it illuminated his face. “Follow me, Gilly. I got food hidden in a little hidey-hole.”
The two New Babbage urchins crawled along the ledge navigating numerous twists and turns, passing through several cracks, and eventually arriving at a small limestone pocket with faintly glowing walls. The glow provided just enough light for the two boys to see each other in washed-out tones of grey. Johnny retrieved a cloth from behind a rock in which he had wrapped hunks of stale bread and cheese. He also produced a lidded mason jar about half full of water. Gilhooly drank just enough to wet his mouth, not wanting to take all their supply.
“Ow d’you get down ‘ere, Johnny?” Gilhholy finally asked after wolfing down about a third of the bread.
“I was inna cellar of The Gangplank with Mister Petharic and he kicked a box of some stuff of Mister Emerson’s and the floor caved in.”
“Dat’s what I come down ‘ere for is to get dat cave-rite stuff back.” said Gilhooly. “Septin all ov de grown-ups I come down wif went an’ got all ashcans over elbows an’ now we’re right crossways down ‘ere, we are.” Then a thought struck Gilhooly. “Cor, Johnny! Dat ‘ole been in de floor more ‘n like two weeks. You been down ‘ere all dis time?”
“Yep; I was taken’ prisoner by those white monsters ‘n they was gonna eat me but they took me to some crazy old doctor who lives in that…” Johnny lowered his voice and whispered behind his hand ‘Dunsany place.’
“Don’cha say it Johnny.” warned Gil, cringing at the word.
“I know, sorry.” Johnny nodded solemnly before continuing. “There was this doctor livin’ there, Dr. Joe he called hisself, a real old codger – and real scary. I think he’s like the bogeyman’s granddaddy or something. He’s the one at made those ugly white-buggers.”
“Made ‘em?” Gil sounded incredulous.
Johnny nodded. “They was urchins once, same as you ‘n me. Dr. Joe been doin’ his spearmints on kids since afore anyone we know was born. Right evil he is, Gil. He took me to a room an’ made me sleep on blankets that was all covered with gross boogies ‘n worse. Said they were plague blankets all covered with colds ‘n the smallpox n’ flu n’all manner a bad stuff. But then he said I weren’t gonna get sick cause he stuck me with a pin and made me a mune to it all. Then he seys ta me ‘no more snotty noses for you laddie.’”
“‘Dinnit!” Gihooly exclaimed. “Not never?”
Johnny shook his head as tears welled up. “I ain’t never going to get me no snotty nose never again.”
“Cor, Johnny.” said Gil with great feeling. “Dat’s a right rotten break, it is.”
Johny’s lip started to quiver. “This ain’t no world for the likes a you ‘n me Gilly.” Johnny started to cry.
“You don’t worry yerself, Johnny-bonny, we’ll get outta ‘ere, you’ll see.”
Junie and Petharic made their way up the long, straight stairway. The steps were wide and shallow and it wasn’t long before both she and Petharic were breathing heavily.
Junie was about to ask Petharic how far he thought they had climbed when he stopped suddenly on the step above her. Unprepared for the sudden stop, Junie stumbled into Petharic, and may have lost her balance but for him reaching an arm around her and preventing her from falling.
“What is it?” Junie asked at no more than the barest whisper.
“There is a light up ahead.” Petharic responded. “We are nearing an opening. I would assume that someone is there.”
Junie peered through the darkness seeing the faint glow ahead but unable to determine exactly how much further they would have to ascend. Petharic drew his Colt then reached for Junie with his free hand and once more began leading the ascent.
They moved much more slowly, placing each foot precisely and silently on each successive step.
Cautiously, hand in hand, they approached the opening at the top of the stairs. It appeared to lead to an office of some sort. It was immaculately kept with file cabinets and bookcases lined with texts. In the centre of the room was a large ornately decorated desk made of a fine dark wood. Behind the desk sat an older gentleman with long, thick white hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His eyes sparkled like green emeralds in the light of his lantern. He looked as though he had been expecting them, smiling and motioning that they should enter the room.
“Come in.” the man said with a deep comforting voice. He indicated a small couch at a right angle to his desk. “Welcome to the Dunsany Rehabilitation Facility. My name is Joseph, but people call me ‘Doctor Joe.’ I am the Chief of Staff. Please, won’t you have a seat.”