Topside, the world looks bigger because our minds are smaller. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from life underground, it’s that perspective is everything.
Beelzebub and I started this journey into the earth on the breath of a dream. My dream. One that haunted my sleep night after night until I followed Bub to the soft soil where we dug up the door to Next World. When I saw my handprint on the door–knew I was the key–I was certain what I had to do. With a sandwich and all the money to my name, we left my old life behind.
I wonder if my family has missed me. I wonder how long I’ve been away.
My theory is that as we traveled deeper, the darkness had us imagining ourselves smaller. So, when we rang the Next World doorbell and the gates were flung wide, we weren’t as surprised as we might have been to be welcomed by people-sized goblins and gnomes into a thriving nexus of moss-lit caverns. Bub barely even sniffed at them. It took me three days to do a double take, and even then I was mostly curious why human lore paints Next folk as miniature.
Those first few days were heavenly. It was like vacation. I remember once my family went to a beach and stayed in a cabin for four whole days. I woke up with the dawn and ran along the water’s edge with Bub, digging holes and building sandcastles. The morning air was crisp and cool. The sand was clean save for our prints and markings. The world belonged to us and us to the world.
The Next folk treated us much like the beach. They had known we were coming. There was a house built for us in the broad wall of a cavern. There were multicolored mosses strung up like Christmas lights, an unlit stack of moss for a bed, and a smooth stone table with a smooth stone stool. A small water fall fell in one corner. Food, we were shown, was always available in an open market in the town. Beelzebub and I were led ceremoniously to our new home and shown where to find tools and bits of this and that to furnish our home ourselves. We set to work.
The thing about gnomes is they don’t question you. Goblins strike me as a bit more wary. And that’s fine. But we fell in easiest with the gnomes. The one I call Randi saw the blue polish on my nails left over from my life up top. She brought me a jar of paint she’d mixed from some of the glowing mosses and rock dust. We painted designs on our bodies after washing in the bathing pools. She rubbed it through my hair so my hair glowed blue for a day. After that, the color was softened like the muted tones of goblin skin to the point I almost fit in, if only my arms had been longer, my legs shorter and it was my body rather than my hair that was blue.
If my family does remember me, it’s not as I am now. It’s more than blue hair. When I arrived here I stopped speaking English. Everything came out in Next language. Flowed right out like I’ve never spoken anything else. I’m still not sure what to make of it other than I belong here.
This is more than I can say for my life on an almost-farm at the edge of a subdued city in a family that often forgot me. I don’t miss that. I never liked how Mom and Dad would jump near out of their skins when I came through the door two hours past dinner. They would stumble over my name, their faces twisted in frustration because they couldn’t remember me. They didn’t know who I was.
I would remind them, “It’s me, Ginny,” and they would say, “That’s right, that’s right. Welcome home, girl.” And I would just smile and nod because them, that house, up top? It never felt like home. It felt like waiting.
I have a purpose in this place. The Next folk know it as well as I. None of us, though, is sure what it might be. None but Beelzebub and he’s not talking. Being here feels like waiting too, but it’s the kind of waiting I’ve been waiting for my whole life.