Curious

D&December, 2017

You fall for hours, for days, for a thousand years and a thousand more before your descent slows nearly to a halt only a handful of inches above a churning cloud of dust. The packed ground that so readily rushed to meet the tips of your toes brushes them instead, tenderly kissing the parts of your bare heels that it can reach.

It is cold here and your breath curls from the cracks between your chapped lips in delicate coils. You shiver and shake and shift forward, beyond the green glow of cave mushrooms and the ceaseless chittering of unseen creatures.

The Underground and its wonders are waiting for you.

The tunnel is narrow enough to make squeezing through thoroughly uncomfortable and your knees and knuckles are scratched and scraped with every effort. Somewhere at the end, deep in the glittering gloom, you can hear the chirp that led you into the hollow beneath the Hanging Tree. The anticipation drives you, keeps you clawing your way deeper into the dank and dark, until you emerge at last, hair tangled and dress in tatters.

He is waiting, prim and proper and pleased.

His jacket is crisp and clean, trousers smart and straight. Upon his lapel is clipped a fine flower that you do not recognize, some sort of pale bloom gleaming silver and sterling. His face…well, enough about his face.

You stare too long and he notices.

"I was afraid you would not come," the Cricket Man tells you. He offers an arm and gestures to the sprawling table stuffed beneath all manner of exotic delicacies. The other guests smile politely and avert their gaze. You think perhaps their small talk is less babble and more buzzing and, with fists at your sides and tears in your eyes, you shrink down the urge to swat at your own ears.

"Have a seat," and he offers you a handful of plump, red seeds that pulse against his smooth skin like fresh blood. "Have a seed."

There is a hot stabbing in your stomach and screaming in your head even as you reach for one.

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