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By: Trevor Strong
Deep down in the belly of the Earth, the Dark Prince trudged up the mountain upon his mighty war-toad. He was large, this Dark Prince, and kind of round, and²encased in his thick, black armour²looked like a giant, flightless, four-legged beetle. He turned his gaze to the gloomy army behind him and pulled back hard on the reigns. The war-toad stopped, sat down, and let out a disgusting belch. The Dark Prince raised his arm. ³Companies, halt!´ shouted General Greep, the large Troll who was the Dark Prince¶s second in command. But with the wheezing of troops and the metal breeches grating more loudly than corduroy, only the first few rows heard him. They stopped, and were
promptly knocked over by the still marching troops behind. Soon the whole army lay on the rocky slope like a pile of twitching leaves. ³Get them up!´ yelled the Dark Prince. ³Companies rise!´ shouted General Greep. The soldiers untangled themselves and, after much muttering, stood at the ready for their next command. ³Today,´ proclaimed the Dark Prince, ³we take over the world above!´ But the Dark Prince¶s voice was muffled by his enormous helmet, and the soldiers²some of whom could have sworn he¶d said ³Today we make yogurt with swirls of mud´²muttered even more loudly than before. ³Your majesty,´ said the General, ³I don¶t think they heard you.´ ³Well, they should be better listeners.´ ³I know, but perhaps, for the sake of expedience, you could repeat yourself slightly louder and raise your mouth-guard a little.´ The Dark Prince raised his mouth-guard and cupped his hands. ³I said, today we invade the world above!´ There was no reaction. ³Did you hear me?´ ³Yes,´ said some soldiers in the front. ³Well, how about in the back?´ ³Yes,´ said some soldiers further back. ³Then why didn¶t you cheer? We¶re invading a whole other world today. You should be pretty excited.´ There was muttering.
³I think they want to hear from the King,´ said the General. ³Really? Do you want to hear from the King?´ asked the Dark Prince. ³Yes!´ shouted the soldiers. ³Oh, all right. You shall hear from your King, but keep in mind that he is barely alive, so you will have to listen very carefully.´ General Greep led the feeble King, strapped to a war-toad, up beside the Dark Prince. ³Oh, King,´ said the Dark Prince, ³do you give your blessing to this invasion?´ The King¶s lips quivered slightly. ³Yes,´ he said. The army roared. ³Then let us now take over the world above!´ The Dark Prince raised his fist in the air. The army roared again. But soon the roar subsided, replaced by more muttering. ³What¶s the problem now?´ asked the Dark Prince. ³Your majesty,´ said General Greep, ³I think they want to know where they are supposed to go.´ ³Look above you,´ said the Dark Prince. He did. Directly above, in the roof of the world²the solid layer of rock that separates the world below from the world above²was a rectangular hole.
³It¶s quite high, you know,´ said the General. ³We couldn¶t hop up there, or even jump.´ ³Have faith,´ said the Dark Prince. He reached into his sack and pulled out a short, wide, silver object. ³What¶s that?´ asked General Greep. ³A magic wand, if you will,´ and then the Dark Prince laughed the laugh of a man who was about to rule the world. ³Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! Ha! Ha! Herch, ehghh, acccch! Eerchh! Aerchg!´ He was having one of his coughing fits. He shut his mouth in a desperate attempt to preserve his regal demeanour, but the pressure built up into a mighty hack! that knocked him off his war-toad. He fumbled through his sack, grabbed his puffer, and took a couple of breaths. ³Are you all right Dark Prince?´ asked General Greep. ³Just put me on my toad!´ The General did. ³Now, where was I? Oh, yes. . .´ He raised the metallic wand and pointed it at the hole. ³Behold, the magic escalator!´ The Dark Prince raised his thumb and pressed down on the big red button. What happened next was. . . ²nothing. ³It¶s probably just stuck,´ said the Dark Prince, shaking the wand in his hand. He pressed the button again. Nothing. He banged it across his head, then pressed. Nothing. He pointed it backwards. Nothing. Then, with most of the
Underworld looking on, he popped off the little cover on the back, took out the nine volt battery, and stuck it to his tongue. Nothing. The battery was dead. ³No!´ he screamed. The world above was safe for another day.
Daniel Danby sat jammed between boxes in the back of the car, wondering. He wondered why they were moving. He wondered if he¶d ever see his friends again. He wondered why he felt something gross in his ear. At least he had an answer for that²there was a moist finger in it. ³Stop it!´ he yelled at his sister, Matilda, or Matty, as she was more commonly called. ³Quiet, Dan!´ yelled his father from the front seat. ³But she put her finger in my ear!´ said Dan. ³And it was wet!´ ³Dan, don¶t make up lies,´ said his father. ³But she did!´ yelled Dan. ³Don¶t make me pull over.´ ³Mom?´
³Listen to your father, please,´ said Dan¶s mother. ³Arggghh,´ Dan growled. Matty smiled and popped a Tic Tac in her mouth. Dan tried to melt her with his mind powers, but unfortunately, he didn¶t have any. ³I¶ll get you, critter,´ said Dan. ³You shall pay, oh yes, one day you shall pay!´ ³Never,´ she whispered back. ³Look,´ said Dan¶s mother, ³it¶s the big tree!´ Dan used to get excited when he saw the big tree²it meant they were almost at his grandparents¶ house. But then his grandparents got vaporized in a freak silo accident and all it meant was that he was almost at creepy Uncle Stan¶s house. But now, since Uncle Stan¶s mysterious disappearance, the tree meant something different again. Now it meant that Dan was almost at his house. ³Now, where the heck is the entrance?´ said Dan¶s father, slowing to a near-stop as he looked in the bushes. ³It¶s right there, dear,´ said Dan¶s mother. ³Where? Where? I don¶t see anything but shrubs!´ ³It¶s right there,´ said Dan¶s mother. ³Oh.´ Dan¶s father turned the car onto the weed-covered path and into the dark forest. This used to be Dan¶s favourite part: he always felt like he was leaving the normal world and going someplace wonderful and strange. But today it was
different. Today it felt like he was going to prison« slowly, slowly, going to prison²his father was a cautious driver. ³Could you go any slower?´ asked Dan. ³I¶m going as slow as I can,´ replied his father. ³I was making a joke,´ said Dan. ³If you went any slower we¶d be going backwards.´ ³I¶m not in the mood, Dan,´ said his father. ³Don¶t make me stop the car.´ ³How would we know?´ ³What?´ ³It¶s another joke.´ ³Well, it¶s not funny. And it¶s not a joke if it¶s not funny!´ A squirrel passed them. Dan wanted to make a sarcastic comment, but he was tired of being yelled at. Besides, they were on top of the final hill and he could see his grandparents¶ house sitting in the valley below like an anvil on a trampoline²the whole countryside pulled down towards it.
After a spectacularly slow descent, they came to an almost imperceptible stop in the driveway. The house looked exactly like Dan remembered: every line was crooked, doors and windows were placed seemingly at random, and walls started out as brick, then turned to wood then to concrete then to glass and then to metal. And, of course, it was dark. It was always dark there: hidden from the sun by the hills and the trees and the fog that rose from the swampy ground.
³Here, take this,´ said Dan¶s father, handing him a box from the trailer. Dan looked at the label, which read: accounting work books (12), pens (8 red, 5 black), notepads (5), location: study. ³Where¶s the study?´ asked Dan. ³The old snake display room.´ ³Cool.´ One thing Dan had been looking forward to was getting to play with his grandparents¶ crazy stuff: chunks of asteroids, shrunken heads, even a mummified cat. But as he went in he noticed something was different. Instead of the suits of armour, stuffed tigers, and Egyptian funeral urns that were usually in the atrium, all there was were boxes, boxes, and more boxes. ³Dad, where is everything?´ ³I packed it up last month. A disposal company¶s coming next week to get the rest of it.´ ³But. . .´ ³No buts, Daniel. Now, why don¶t you see if you can find all the parts for the bunk bed? You and your sister need a place to sleep tonight.´ ³But. . .´ ³I said, no buts!´ The only other thing Dan had been looking forward to was finally getting his own room. For his whole life (except the first two years which, to his eternal regret, he couldn¶t remember) he¶d had to share with his sister²but there was lots of space at his grandparents¶. Then, just as they were leaving, his father
said, ³You and your sister will be sharing the old guest room,´ as if he were telling Dan it was cold outside, so maybe he should put on a jacket. Dan begged, pleaded, and screamed, but his father didn¶t budge²he didn¶t even give a reason.
By the time the bunk bed was put together it was time to sleep. Dan¶s mother kissed them goodnight as his father continued unpacking. ³Do you want me to leave the light on?´ she asked on her way out. Dan wanted to say yes. His grandparents¶ place creaked, cracked and groaned, and he always felt like something was watching him from the shadows. But there was no way on earth he was going to say that in front of Matty. ³No, thanks. But if Matty wants it on, I guess it¶s all right.´ ³Matty, do you want it on?´ ³Turn it off,´ said Matty. ³I like it dark.´ ³Okay,´ said his mother, turning off the light. ³Night-night.´ The lights were off, but Dan¶s eyes were open. Not only was he creeped out, but he also knew Matty would have something super-annoying planned to celebrate their first night in the new home. He waited. He waited. He waited. ³Matty? Aren¶t you going to do something?´
³Do something?´ said Matty innocently. ³Yeah, you know, bug me.´ ³No, I¶m too tired. Goodnight.´ ³Goodnight,´ said Dan. He waited. He started to fall asleep. Creak! He muffled a gasp. Crack! He muffled another. Groan! He let out a yelp. ³Dan?´ said Matty. ³Are you scared?´ ³No, I just have the hiccups. Hic. See?´ He was scared²but he wasn¶t going to let her know that. ³Are you scared, Matty?´ ³A little.´ This was good news. Now she was the one who was afraid, and Dan could be the concerned older brother protecting his frightened little sister from imaginary monsters. ³Well,´ he said in as low and masculine a voice as he could muster, ³there¶s nothing to worry about.´ ³Tuck me in?´ asked Matty in a tremulous tone.
³Okay.´ Dan pushed off the sheets and started up the ladder. ³Don¶t worry, everything¶s going to be. . .´ ³EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!´ It sounded like a demon from hell²but it was just Matty pretending to be one. ³Scaredy-cat! Scaredy-cat! Scaredy-cat!´ sang Matty. ³Shut up, Matilduh!´ Dan answered back from the floor where he¶d fallen. ³You can¶t make me, you can¶t make me!´ she sang victoriously. Defeated, Dan crawled back in bed. All was quiet for a moment. Then Matty dropped the cat on his head.
Dan was sick of boxes²he was sick of picking them up, sick of putting them down, sick of opening them, and really, really sick of his father telling him he was doing it all wrong. He put the box he was carrying on the floor of the storage room and noticed a box that was already there. Its label was: Stan¶s things: glasses (1), shirts (12 short-sleeved), shorts (3 pairs), socks (5 pairsmatched, 13 singles). He couldn¶t believe it! He looked down the hallway²the coast was clear. He closed the door, took out the pen-knife he wasn¶t supposed to have, and cut through the tape. Uncle Stan always wore the same thing: a loud Hawaiian shirt, beige shorts, thick glasses, and hole-infested socks that didn¶t match. Dan put on the ugliest shirt, the stainiest shorts, the too-big glasses (that kept slipping off his nose), and²as a finishing touch²shoved some extra clothes down his front to give himself an
Uncle-Stan-sized belly. He knew, for the sake of accuracy, he should put the socks on too, but they smelt like three-month-old luncheon meat, and he just couldn¶t bring himself to do it. Transformation complete, he snuck down the hallway and hid behind the door to the living room. ³Hey Matty, come over here,´ he whispered. ³I¶m not falling for that,´ said Matty, putting books on a shelf. ³Tiny humanoid, come here now or face my wrath!´ said Dan. ³Are we playing Evil Uncle Stan?´ ³Yes²but quick, before Dad comes.´ ³Oh dear, oh dear,´ said Matty, walking towards the door, ³I¶m just a small child, minding my own business, not doing anything wrong. I am glad I am safe and sound and far away from any evil uncles.´ Dan leapt out. ³You cannot escape Evil Uncle Stan!´ ³Ahhhh!´ screamed Matilda in mock terror. ³How dare you enter my domicile of aboding. You disturbed me while I was playing my fantasy role-playing Internet adventure! For that I will make you smell me!´ ³No!´ screamed Matty. Dan grabbed her. Matilda pretended to take a sniff and fell to the floor. ³No one escapes Evil Uncle Stan!´
One day, several years ago, Dan and Matty had been left with Uncle Stan while their parents and grandparents went into town. The thought of being alone
with Uncle Stan terrified them, but it turned out to be not nearly as bad as they¶d thought. He just sat at his computer the whole time, playing a game involving goblins, elves, and fair maidens in tight tops, and Dan and Matty²pleased with the lack of parental supervision²spent the afternoon making shrunken head puppet shows and chasing each other with forbidden objects. Everything was going great until²as Dan ran after Matty with a King Cobra²Matty stopped suddenly and stuck out her leg. Dan tripped, tumbled into Uncle Stan¶s room, hit his head on the corner of Stan¶s desk, and knocked over a large jug of Dr. Pepper. ³Look what you critters have done!´ said Uncle Stan, swivelling on his chair to reveal a large, dark stain on his beige shorts. ³Why, oh why, did my brother breed?´ ³Sorry,´ said Dan. ³Sorry? Sorry? Do you think that¶s enough? You filthy little creatures make me sick. You think you can do anything you want because when you fail you just go crying to your mommy and daddy. Well, let me tell you. One day your mommy and daddy won¶t be there!´ ³But,´ said Dan, ³you still live with your mommy and daddy.´ ³And you¶re an adult,´ added Matty. Uncle Stan¶s face, which was always pink and puffy, swelled until it looked like an overripe tomato. ³How dare you say this! How dare you belittle me, you tiny little deviants!´ He was so angry it looked like he might get out of his chair²
something Dan and Matty had never seen him do. But, just then, Dan¶s parents and grandparents returned and Stan swivelled back to his computer. ³I¶ll get you critters,´ he hissed. ³One day you shall pay, oh yes, you shall pay.´ And ever since that day Dan and Matty had played Evil Uncle Stan.
Dan¶s father came into the living room. ³Dan! Are you playing Evil Uncle Stan?´ ³No,´ said Dan unconvincingly in his Hawaiian shirt. ³I hope you didn¶t hurt your sister,´ said his father. ³Are you all right Matty?´ ³Yes,´ said Matty getting up slowly off the floor. ³He didn¶t hurt me that much.´ ³And I told you not to open any of those boxes²they¶re dangerous.´ ³Uncle Stan¶s clothes are dangerous?´ asked Dan. ³You know what I mean,´ said his father. ³No, I don¶t. All you do is tell me what I can¶t do,´ said Dan. ³That¶s because you¶re not mature enough to know what¶s right on your own.´ ³I am so,´ said Dan. ³Just because you never do anything doesn¶t mean I can¶t.´ ³Dan, go to your room. And don¶t you ever play Evil Uncle Stan ever again.´
³But she plays it more than I do,´ said Dan. ³Lunchtime,´ said Dan¶s mother from the kitchen. ³Can I have something to eat first?´ asked Dan. ³No, I told you to go to your room,´ said his father. ³Honey,´ said his mother. ³Why don¶t you let him have lunch first? I think we¶re all a little stressed out from the move.´ ³Okay, Dan. But you¶re going to have to work hard today.´ ³Yes, critter,´ Matty whispered into Dan¶s ear. ³Get to work, or I will disconbobulate you.´ ³Dad!´ said Dan, ³Matty¶s playing Evil Uncle Stan!´ ³I don¶t want to hear it!´ Matty smiled and popped a Tic Tac in her mouth.
Down in the Underworld on a cold, grey day (as it was every day there), Bob the Shnob walked briskly up the road to the top of the mountain. Bob was a short, scrawny, greeny thing who looked like he was made of rubber and who had a sour look on his face like he¶d just eaten a stack of scorpion stingers. Standing at the top of the mountain were two Ogres²tall as trees, with frightening fangs and arms are large as baby elephants. They smiled and waved. ³Morning, Bob,´ said the first Ogre, Cynthia. ³Morning!´ said the other Ogre, Duncan. ³Don¶t you good morning me!´ yelled Bob. His voice was surprisingly loud, like a small dog¶s bark. ³Look at my head! Well, look at it! What do you think?´ Bob¶s head was covered in bumps and bruises and looked like an overripe pear that had been kicked around and left on the counter for a week. ³I¶d say it looks pretty bad,´ said Duncan. ³And do you know why?´ snorted Bob. ³Well, do you? Do you?´
³Because you keep missing the hole?´ said Cynthia. ³No, because YOU keep missing the hole! You two stupid, flea-brained, mush-headed Ogres keep missing! And I¶m beginning to think you¶re doing it on purpose!´ ³Oh no,´ said Cynthia. ³Never,´ said Duncan. ³It¶s just a very small hole. ³Yeah, and it¶s a long way up,´ said Cynthia. ³We really are doing our best,´ said Duncan. ³Well, get it right this time, okay?´ screeched Bob. ³And the Dark Prince is peeved too. He wants to take over the world above today. Today! Got it?´ ³Why do you have to go up there, anyway?´ asked Duncan. ³I¶m sorry, my micro-cranial friends, but it¶s top secret. Now, shut up and get to work!´ Bob put down his bag, took out a battered conical helmet and strapped it to his head. Then he pulled out a small backpack. ³What¶s that?´ asked Cynthia. ³This is a parachute,´ said Bob, putting his arms through the straps. ³I had the supply department make it so that I don¶t keep crashing down on the rocks.´ ³But we got the cushions for you,´ said Duncan. Duncan and Cynthia had amassed a pile of cushions six feet high under the hole. ³I never land on the cushions²you always send me rocketing off half-way down the mountain. Yesterday I ended up in the castle moat.´
The Ogres snickered. ³You think that¶s funny? You think that¶s funny! I barely got out before the fish-pigs made a meal of me.´ ³Well, it¶s sort of funny,´ said Duncan. ³Actually,´ said Cynthia, ³it¶s really funny.´ The two Ogres laughed and slapped their knees. ³Look,´ said Bob curtly, ³you two won¶t be laughing long. After I succeed, the Dark Prince will make me a Duke. And do you know what the first thing I¶ll do is?´ ³Pick your bum?´ said Cynthia. The Ogres fell into fits of hysterics. ³Stop it! Stop it! That¶s not even remotely funny. Not to anyone.´ But the Ogres obviously disagreed, and it was five minutes before they finished laughing. ³When I am Duke,´ said Bob reiterating, ³the first thing I¶ll do is assign you two idiots to spend the rest of your lives cleaning out the giant toad stables! Now, get me into that hole!´ ³Our pleasure,´ said Cynthia. ³You have but to ask,´ said Duncan. Cynthia picked Bob up and placed him, twenty feet above, in the seat of the giant sling-shot. Then she and Duncan grabbed the ends of the massive chains that ran through the gears and pulled. With each pull the seat went further down and tension built in the rubbery ropes. ³Hey, that¶s enough!´ yelled Bob.
But the Ogres didn¶t stop. They wanted to set a speed record. ³I said, stop!´ yelled Bob. They pulled some more. ³STOP!´ They let go. Sproing! Bob went up like a rocket. But the Ogres had been so busy concentrating on their record that they¶d forgotten to make sure he¶d miss. And as Bob streaked towards the hole they had the sinking feeling he just might make it. So did Bob, and he smiled as he pictured his glorious future²soon he¶d be a Duke: children would be named after him, a holiday would be declared in his honour, tales would be written, songs would be. . . THUNK! He missed the hole by five feet and hit the rock so hard that his head got stuck up to his neck. His feet kicked, his arms whirled and, down on the mountain below, the Ogres could hear his muffled curses. ³What¶s that, Bob?´ said Cynthia. ³Can¶t quite make you out,´ said Duncan. ³Are you a Duke yet?´ asked Cynthia. ³You certainly got crowned pretty good.´ The world above was safe for another day.
Dan just wanted to sleep, but that wasn¶t easy, with Matilda whistling Jingle Bells loudly and off-key from the top bunk. She¶d been doing it for fifteen minutes now and, even though Dan knew she was just trying to get him to react, he could take no more. ³Stop it!´ he yelled. ³Sorry, Dan,´ said Matty. ³I just wanted to make sure you didn¶t feel alone in this scary, scary room.´ She put her foot against the wall and pushed. Crreeeaaak! went the bunk bed. ³Did you hear that? I think it¶s a ghost.´ ³Shut up.´ ³Or maybe it¶s Uncle Stan, and he¶s waiting for you to go to sleep so he can hook you up to his computer and turn you into a robot.´ ³That¶s stupid, Matty. And besides I wouldn¶t be a robot, I¶d be a cyborg.´
³Same difference.´ ³No, they¶re totally different. A robot is made of metal, and a cyborg is a human with robot parts.´ Matty didn¶t have an answer for that and Dan, pleased that he¶d won something, closed his eyes and fell asleep. Soon he was dreaming of a large yellow creature oozing towards him, sliming its way across the floor, sticking its slimy tentacle right into his. . . ²ear? ³Aahhhhhhhhhh!´ he screamed. ³A monster tried to suck out your brain our but all it found was ear wax,´ said Matty, wiping off her moist finger on her pink pyjamas. ³You didn¶t scare me,´ said Dan. ³Night-night, Dan-Dan.´ ³Stuff it, Matilduh.´ Dan covered his face. Matty dropped the cat on his head. This was usually her last manoeuvre, and Dan went back to sleep. But the nightmares returned, and he tossed, turned, and sweated. . . Grroeeeeaaaoooowwwnnn! That didn¶t sound like the bunk bed! He looked around²it was hard to tell what was real and what was shadow, but he could swear that part of the wall was sticking out! He figured it was just his imagination.
A small head with large ears popped out of the wall. ³Hmmpph. No, no, no, no, this isn¶t it at all,´ it muttered. The wall closed. Dan pulled the blanket over his head and waited for the nightmare to go away. Then he thought²if I¶m dreaming, then whatever¶s out there isn¶t real and only a coward would hide in his own dream! So he got up, went to where the head had popped out, and discovered that the wall was sticking out in a straight line that ran from the floor to the ceiling. He put fingertips on the edge and pulled. Part of the wall swung towards him²it was a secret door! He found his pen-light and pointed it into the darkness. Beyond the door was a tunnel, then steps going down. After reminding himself that he was dreaming, he went into the tunnel and shut the door behind him²he didn¶t want Matty sneaking up on him, even in a dream. Then, with one hand on the wall, he started down the stairs: it was damp, the air smelt of rot, and he could hear something breathing. . . coming closer. . . getting nearer« it brushed up against his leg! He jerked his foot back, slipped on the slimy stairs, and tumbled down. ³Meow,´ said the cat, surprised to find the leg she had just rubbed disappear so quickly. Dan hated that cat²he¶d wanted a dog²but he was too busy trying to stop falling down the stairs to think about that now. He grabbed at the steps and kicked at the walls, but he only went faster, then²kwump! ²he ran into some hard, rubbery thing. ³Owww!´ said the hard rubbery thing.
³Ahhh!´ said Dan. He shone his light at it: it was the creature from his room! It was about three-and-a-half feet tall, with big eyes, huge ears, a large toothy mouth, and a dented metal helmet on its head. ³What are you looking at?´ asked the creature. ³You, I guess,´ said Dan. ³Well, stop it,´ it said. ³Sorry.´ He aimed his light at the ground. There was an awkward silence, like when you step on someone¶s toes in an elevator. The creature cleared its throat. ³What are you doing here anyway?´ ³I live here,´ said Dan. ³No you don¶t. I was told nobody lived here.´ ³Who told you that?´ asked Dan. ³Nobody. . . but where are my manners?´ it said with a toothy smile. ³I am Bob the Shnob from the land of the Underthings. And I am here to greet you²a messenger, if you will.´ ³I thought you said you didn¶t think anyone lived here?´ ³That was a joke. My delivery was off.´ ³Oh,´ said Dan. ³Well, then, greetings, Underthing.´ ³No need to be formal. Call me Bob.´ ³Good to meet you, Bob. I¶m Daniel Danby.´ Dan didn¶t want to be rude, but he¶d never met a monster before, and he felt it would be best to leave as soon as possible. ³Well, I really should be going.´
³So soon?´ ³I¶ve got a lot to do tomorrow.´ Dan gave Bob a little wave and started up the stairs. ³Stop!´ screeched Bob. Dan stopped. ³Not that I wouldn¶t let you go or anything like that. But there was a question I was going to ask you.´ ³What?´ ³Oh, it¶s nothing,´ said Bob, with a dismissive wave. ³What?´ ³Well²I was going to ask you if you¶d like to take a look at the Underworld²you¶d be the first Overthing to see it. But since you¶re in such a hurry I¶ll just find someone else. Someone a little braver. . .´ ³No, I¶ll go,´ said Dan. ³I¶m not afraid of anything.´ Now he really hoped he was dreaming. ³Good. Follow me.´ Bob bounced quickly down the stairs and Dan followed, struggling to keep up. And, as they went deeper and deeper into the earth, Dan couldn¶t help but think that maybe he hadn¶t made the best decision. ³Not far now,´ said Bob, after what seemed like forever. Finally, the stairs ended and they entered a large room cut out of the rock. There was a big rectangular hole in the middle of it, bent steel girders all over the floor, a giant ball of rope in the corner, and, on the far side, a shiny aluminum
machine that looked like a cross between a giant silver accordion and a Mechano kit. ³What¶s that?´ asked Dan. ³How should I know?´ replied Bob. ³I¶m not from here, you know.´ ³Sorry,´ said Dan. ³Follow me,´ said Bob, stepping over the metal girders as he made his way to the edge of the hole. ³Here it is: the Underworld!´ Dan stopped a few feet behind Bob and looked down. Far below²lit by a dim glow that seemed to come from everywhere²was a mountain, further away a large gloomy castle and, in the distance, fields and houses. ³What did I tell you?´ said Bob, coming back beside him. ³It¶s even better if you get a little closer.´ ³I think I¶m close enough.´ ³No, really,´ said Bob. ³I insist.´ And he pushed Dan in.
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