“Just breathe, okay?”
“Listen, you need to breathe,”
I really can’t. It feels like I’m choking. It is so dark around us. So dark, and the mountain feels so close. I hate the small tunnels.
“You can’t lose it down here,” I can feel Brand’s grip around my arm. He is almost hurting me. Probably afraid that I’m gonna start running any minute. I get it. He isn’t wrong.
“I need to get out,” my voice sounds strange, as if it is coming from a place far away.
“Please, just try to calm down,” he makes eye contact with me. Tries to force me to calm down, but it isn’t that easy. He knows.
“You need to fix the music,” I’m holding the cassette player towards him. Can see that my hands are shaking. “Just get it to play again.” It is like I can’t get the air down. Like it is just getting stuck in my throat. Brand takes the cassette player. Looks at the old tape. Blows at it. Maybe it has gotten too dusty. I tried to blow at it myself, but then my hands started shaking, and I knew what was coming.
The walls of the tunnels are so close. They feel moist against my hands when I touch them. I’m probably gonna die down here. Never gonna get air again. Not real air, the air down here feels old. Old, shitty air. Hard to drag down into my lungs. Filled with dust. Fucking hate it.
“Brand,” I whisper. He is still looking at the tape. Blowing at it. Trying it in the cassette player over and over again. I’ve had panic down here a couple of times before. Snapped. Hurt myself and some other people as well, trying to get out as fast as I could. On time it almost went very wrong. I know. I know. It can’t happen again.
Oh look alive, you better get down cause we’re going to the floor
I can hear the song. He holds the cassette player out in front of me.
“It’s working,” he is smiling. Looks so relieved. I grab the headphones. Sigh as I hear the familiar words.
Oh, look alive, cause we’ll dance and then we’ll dance some more
The air feels different right away. Isn’t stuck in my throat anymore. I start singing.
You’re alright, but you don’t move that good
Need to get into the groove right away, clear my head. I’m not a good singer, but I don’t care. Don’t care if anybody hears me, it doesn’t matter. The music is back. I just want to sing. Loud. Sing and dance.
Oh, just let loose and hear the sound
I start moving slowly. Find the rhythm while I’m singing.
And let your feet feel the ground
Moving along the tunnels while I’m dancing. Not fast. Just very carefully going towards the bigger tunnel.
And we’ll move like you should
I turn towards Brand. He is dancing as well. Knows the words by heart. Singing just as loudly as me. Smiling. Trying to keep me calm. No doubt about that. He is one year younger than me, but sometimes it feels like he is older. Going through all this trouble. We have always done everything together for as long as I can remember.
Just one, two, three
First day in the mines we went down into the tunnels together. First time I found something in the mines Brand was there. It was just a rock, but you could see that it was different. Then we knew. I’m one of those people who find stuff.
Oh, baby dance with me
They were paying attention to us, because of dad. Dad also finds stuff, but he can’t go down into the mines anymore. He says that he only has one more trip left and then he won’t get out.
I’ll teach you all you need
Brand was also there the first time I panicked. I knocked a couple of lanterns over. Some people fell, but it went okay. Nobody got seriously hurt the first time. Not like the second time.
I never knew I could dance this way all night
I’m dancing along the tunnel, turn to smile at Brand to reassure him that I’m okay. No worries. “I fucking love this song,” I shout at him. He just nods. Smiles. Even raises his arms to the rhythm.
Never knew dancing could feel this right
We are dancing our way out of the smallest tunnels, towards the main tunnel. I need to get out of here. It was close. I know. Felt overconfident with my little cassette player. Forgetting about everything. I was close to something.
And when we move, you move along with me
There is something down there in the smallest tunnels. Something I need to get to. I thought I could get there. Honestly thought I could make it. Overconfident, stupid, little idiot. I should have known better.
And when we fall, you fall, you’ll fall for me
We dance out of one of the small tunnels towards the others waiting in the main tunnel. I can see the eagerness on their faces. They think we’ve found something. They know the routine. Wait while me and Brand go in together, I can’t have many people in the smallest tunnels if I go in there. Only Brand. Brand can’t find stuff, but it doesn’t matter. His job is just to keep me calm.
It is very unusual that those who find stuff got the itch. You know the itch you can get when you are in the tunnels. Feeling like you can’t breathe. Needing to get out. I don’t know anyone else that have it that works in the tunnels. No one but me in the family. Dad loves the mountains. If he could he would probably live down here. When he gets so old that his body is about to give up and there is nothing left for him up there, he’ll go down here. I know. Become a part of the mountain. Just like great grandma did. She could also find stuff. It runs in the family. I’m just not like them, don’t love the mountains the way they do. I can feel the heaviness of all the stone that is above me. Feel it crushing me every time I’m down here.
“Maddie,” mum is running towards me, “are you okay?”
We are late. She knows something must be wrong. Brand looks tired.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I hesitate, “They just wanted me to go down into one of the smallest tunnels,” I always feel embarrassed talking about it, but I try to smile at her “and you know, sometimes I just can’t do it.” She nods, but she looks worried, even if there really is no need to be worried anymore. I’m out of there now.
I have always been like this. Since I was a kid. Couldn’t be in small spaces. Mum said to me that I probably would have one day in the mines and that would be it. I thought so too. Thought that I could keep it together for one day, but then I found that rock. Stupid rock. I should have just walked right passed it, but I did feel the urge to pick it up, brush the dust of it. See what it really was.
Dad looks up when I come into the cottage. He can see it right away. Almost like he can smell it on me if I have been near something, almost found something. He misses it. I know, not that I really get it. He limps as he gets up. Milly is sitting next to Jonah, trying to get him to eat something he doesn’t like. He pushes his fat baby arms towards the food. Doesn’t want it unless she pretends that she is gonna eat it. Next year Milly will be old enough to try the mines. She can’t wait. Stands in the door looking after us when we go each morning. Me, Mike, Lila and Greg, and of course we always meet up with Brand. I have told her that she should be happy that she can stay outside in the sun, breathe clean air, but she doesn’t get it. Isn’t scared of small spaces either. Not like me. Seven kids. More than most are allowed to have, but dad being able to find stuff they wanted him to have many.
“What was it?” dad whispers. Coughs a bit.
“I don’t know.”
“But it was something for sure?”
“Yeah for sure it was something.”
“Do you think it was what you are looking for?”
I shrug. Hesitate for a moment. “It must have been, never felt something like that.” He drags his hand through his hair. If it hadn’t been for the limp and the cough he would still look pretty young. The foot got badly damaged under one of the mining accidents. They got trapped in there for a while.
“One of the smallest, down in the new area.”
“Oh,” he pauses, “I would be careful over there.”
I get it. The new area was where the accident happened when he hurt his foot. They were stuck there for 3 days before they got them out.
“I know, dad,” I smile, “I’m always careful you know.”
He looks up at me. Smiles as if the suddenly remembers that I got the itch.
Greg slams the door open.
“Maddie, what the fuck happened down there?” He tries to get his boots off, but they seem stuck. “We were waiting for hours and then nothing?” he finally gets one of his boots off and tries for the other. “Got the itch again?” I just shrug. He knows what it is. Lila is coming in the door.
“Oh shut up will you,” she shouts at him, pretends like she is gonna throw one of her boots at him. He smiles and ducks but she doesn’t throw it. “You know as well as anyone that we wouldn’t be worth shit if it wasn’t for Maddie.” He turns towards me. Nods.
“Yeah I know,” he sighs, “Just a fucking long time to wait in that tunnel.”
“What’s the matter, that itch thing?” Lila doesn’t make a big deal out of it, even if there always is some seriousness when it’s talked about. People can get the itch after having been years in the mines, and then what would you do? There are worse places to be than in the mines. Far worse.
Toby comes running out of the kitchen with a big spoon in his hand, laughing while mum is chasing him. Toby, Milly and Jonah. Milly next year, then Toby in four years and then Jonah in six years.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I say and pick up Toby. Hand him back to mum. He is laughing hysterically. Having too much fun. Doesn’t get anything. Not yet at least.
“Open the door,” we can all hear it. The heavy knocking on the door. Dad gets up hesitantly. It can’t be good. It really can’t. Another heavy knock. He limps over the floor. Unlocks the door. No one comes in, but dad goes out. Minutes pass by. We all look at each other. Lila by the fireplace. Mike and Greg still eating by the table. Mum with Jonah on her arm. Milly trying to distract Toby with some sort of wooden toy someone has given him.
“Maddie,” dad looks into the room, “can you come out, please?”
It isn’t really a question. I get up. Look down just as I’ve been taught. Look at my own feet as I walk out to dad and stand next to him. I don’t say anything. Just wait.
“Maddie, it seems like they need you to come with them,” I can hear him swallow. “You have to go down into the mines again.”
I don’t look up. It so dark outside. So dark and so chilly. Like you wouldn’t even believe that it was still summer. I feel frozen. Feel like I would like to scream.
“I can’t,” I whisper, “I’m sorry, the itch got so strong.”
There is stomping against the ground. Heavy feet moving around. I don’t dare to look up. Dad says something more that I can’t quite hear. The sound of the heavy footsteps as they walk away. It feels warm again. Just like a warm summer night is supposed to feel like.
“Well that’s not good,” he whispers as they are gone.
“No, it isn’t.”
“They seem to think that you’re hiding something,” he hesitates, “so it really is a dangerous game we’re playing.” I don’t say anything, but I finally look up. Look towards the entrance of the mines. I have never understood the mountain. Never. I have walked around in those tunnels, tried every trick there is to keep the itch away, but today was different. Today for a while it felt like I got it.
“There is something down there, dad,” I almost can’t hear my own words, “Something that wants me to find it badly.”
“Uhm,” he hesitates, “I get it.”
“I don’t know, dad,” that is a lie, I do know, “I can’t be sure, but whatever it is, it really wants me to find it.”
“They can’t find it first, you know that, right?”
“I know, dad.”
“Do you think it is what you have been looking for?”
I nod. “It must be, I’ve never felt something like that before.”
He turns to go into the cottage again.
“You did good, Maddie.”
He coughs a couple of times.
“You still got one more trip down into the mines in you, dad?”
He stops, but doesn’t answer. “Right?”
“I hope so, I really do.”
I can still see their large, dark shapes. Can still hear their heavy feet against the ground. So many feet. Six each.
“Where did they come from?” I whisper.
Dad is standing with his back against me.
“I think you know.”
I’ve heard the stories. We all have. This village, it used to be a beautiful place once.
“Way down deep then?”
One day they came out of the mines. Just like that.
“Someone found them down there, didn’t they?”
I can hear him sigh. I have heard the stories, but never in our house. We don’t talk about it. He doesn’t say anything now either. What can he say? Won’t make it better anyway.
“It was grandpa, wasn’t it?”
We all know that it was him, even if we never talk about it.
“He wasn’t a good man, Maddie.”
He found those creatures in the mountain. Brought them up.
“But they were grandpa’s big thing, weren’t they?”
Once in your life, if you’re the kind of person who finds stuff, you’ll find something really big, something that you really want. The problem is that it’s hard to know what you’ll find down there if you don’t know what you want.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, Maddie,” he whispers, probably feels like he should say something, even if it isn’t true, “I’m sure that whatever you’ll find down there won’t be something like that.” He isn’t sure. No one can really be sure. He just pretends. I can hear him limp into the cottage again. I am not even sure that grandpa was such a bad guy. I remember him, he was this smiling, old man. Looked as nice as anyone else, and yet he brought those creatures to us all. I think that they said he was a bad man afterwards, but before they all liked him.
I stand there for a while, look towards the mines. I don’t want to go down into the mountain. Don’t want to feel the weight of it above me. Go into the heart of the mountain. Trespassing.
I wake up in the middle of the night in the dark. Don’t understand what has woken me up before I hear her scream again.
“Mum!” It comes from the first floor. I can hear someone run down the stairs.
“No!” it is mum’s voice.
I get out of bed. Can hear Lila get out of her bed as well. I can see Greg run down the stairs. I hurry after him, Lila right behind me. Mum is standing in the open door. Looking out into the dark. “But she’s only six years old. She isn’t ready,” she whispers almost as if she is just saying it to herself. Dad is sitting by the table, looking down into the wooden planks.
“They’ll take her down there tonight, Maddie.”
I can see his knuckles go white. “You need to go down there to get her.” I can hear Mike coming down the stairs. Looking as rattled as the rest of us.
“We’re going down into the tunnels to get Milly?” he says and I get it. It makes sense that we would go together, but I still know what dad is going to say before he says it.
“No, Maddie needs to go alone.”
Of course I do. If they find me down there now they won’t kill me, but they will kill Mike. For sure.
“I need to talk to Maddie alone,” I can hear dad say. Mum is crying, but she gets it, goes upstairs. The other follow. We got no time to waste, we all know it.
“You know what you’ll need to do?” he says talking to my back. I nod, turn towards him. I have never been down there alone. If I panic I will die down there, no doubt about it.
“Take the music,” he puts the cassette player on the table. “But only use it if you have to, you’ll need to be as quiet as you can be.” I can see that his hands are shaking.
I nod. Grab the cassette player. It looks so tiny in my hands. Just grey and black. Really old. It is almost weird that it isn’t broken.
“Where did you find that tape?”
He looks at me as if he doesn’t get what I’m saying. I open the cassette player. In purple, small letters it is written on the front; Funky for fun.
“It doesn’t matter where I found it,” he shrugs.
“It helps me a lot you know,” I look down on it, “even if it is just a stupid tape.”
“Oh,” he smiles, hesitates for a moment, “I found it in the mountain.”
I knew it. I knew that he must have found it there. Don’t know why, but I was sure.
“It is special, right?”
“Maybe,” he seems insecure, probably wondering if he should tell me the next part, “I found it 27 years ago when I liked this girl, but I just couldn’t seem to be able to impress her.”
Someone has drawn little flowers next to the letters on the tape. “She really liked it.”
“So that is how you got mum,” I smile. I am gonna need this tape tonight. It is all that will be between me and total panic. I draw my breath and turn towards the open door.
“The mountain always gives you what you need in the end.”
I think he must be joking when he says it, but I don’t say anything, just walk out into the dark. I need to get down there. All the way down to the smallest tunnels. I don’t turn to say goodbye, it is an old miner’s superstition, but it makes sense that I believe in it now. Just don’t say goodbye because then you’ll have to come back.
The main entrance to the mines is guarded, but there is another way down there for emergencies like this. Took me a while to find it, but finally I’m on my way down. It is very dark now, the only thing showing me where to walk is dad’s old lantern. Can’t be down here all alone in the dark.
I always think of them when I am in the mines. Those big, dark creatures. Six legs. Crawling through these tunnels. They don’t go down here anymore. Never. I don’t know why. I wonder if grandpa walked in front of them? Showed them how they could get out. Maybe he did. Maybe they were different when he found them, maybe they were like me. Scared of the tunnels.
I can hear Milly in the tunnels. She has always been the type to talk too much.
“What about this rock?”
Probably they sent her down with some of the miners, but I can’t hear anyone answering her.
“Or this one?”
“I don’t think so,” it is Brand. They sent her down here with Brand.
I turn the corner. Wave at them. They see me. Don’t say anything, but wave back. It will all be fine, right? I have gotten all the way down to the small tunnels on my own. No problem. It is just that I feel it. That something. Down here. It wants me to find it. It just needs me to find it. Do I look like my grandpa? Same colors? Dark hair and dark eyes? Maybe. I bet they all will say that they knew I were a bad one, when I let it out, but they couldn’t have known. How could they, when I didn’t? I can feel my hands start to move the rocks. One at a time. I don’t even need the music. I know that something is hiding behind that last rock. Something that I really want to find. I can’t stop myself. I look at my hands as I try to move the last rock. I get the feeling that any sort of shit creature could be waiting on the other side.
“Brand,” I shout. “Come help me.”
Dad has made his last trip down in the mines. He is standing there, looking at me. The rest of the village behind him. The miners, the kids. The old people who hasn’t been here in years, even the people with the itch. Being held, but I can see their hands are shaking and that they are breathing fast.
“They know we’re down here,” he whispers, “when we get up,” he sighs, “it will be really bad.” I know. They will kill half of us as punishment for something like this. “Unless you’ve found something really good?”
“What have I always wanted when I were down here?” I look at dad. Smiling. He found that tape, a good tape. Made him find love. I used that tape. The only thing that could keep me down here, but I always wanted something else. I take a step to the side and give the big rock a push. The dark, new tunnel appears for all of them to see. It looks dark, but when you lean into it you see the light at the end of the tunnel. There shouldn’t be any light at the end of any tunnels down here.
“A way out,” I smile.
This time I walk in the front. All the way to the end. Can hear them follow behind me. Maybe the same way my grandpa ones walked with the creatures following him. Out of the mines to the outside.
The trees are green, a deep, beautiful green like I have never seen before. The sun is shining and there are so many flowers everywhere, so many colors. It is beautiful, maybe the same way that the village once used to be. I don’t know where we are, but I press the play button on the cassette player as the sun finds my face. I feel like dancing.
I hope you have enjoyed Funky for Fun, the story as well as the song, and I really hope that you would like to hear more songs and read more stories.
About the song:
Lyrics/vocals: Therese J (Me)
Music composition: Peter A
Mixing: Dan Grubbs
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If you like the images that have been used to illustrate this short story, they are all from morguefile.com. All the photos have been edited, but the first photo, second photo(SoundCloud) and the last photo is by fiona_adam, third photo is by wallyir, the fourth photo is by TheBrassGlass, the fifth photo is by Seemann and the sixth photo is by orchid and the seventh photo is by hotblack.
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