0038 – Gareth: Departure, Part 1

Gareth had been walking for some time in the bright sunshine. There was no sign of life beyond the endless, shabbily maintained dirt road – which must, presumably, have been worn in by someone – but he knew that logically, there must be a settlement of some kind nearby. He had, after all, seen people walking by the cottage from time to time.

Truth be told, he wasn’t too concerned by the lack of other people. After weeks confined in Karl’s cruel joke of a prison, he was just glad to feel the wind on his face, to hear the chirping of the birds without the muffling layer of windows and walls.

The fact that he appeared to be walking up a perpetual slight incline, the “horizon” curling upwards around the earth’s inner face in the distance, didn’t bother him much at all. Being on the “inside” didn’t actually make an awful lot of difference, all told. At least the sun, always overhead, blazing at the Earth’s core, could never get in your eyes.

Gareth spotted a convenient-looking rock, and decided to take a break. Shrugging the heavy pack from his back, he took out a little parcel of cheese and crackers, unfolding the cloth carefully on the stone next to him. Next came the flask of water, from which he drew deeply, wiping his mouth with a satisfying sigh.

And now, it was time to consult the book.

Gareth pulled the green tome, its confusing symbol inlaid on the cover in gold, from the depths of one of the bag’s larger pockets.

He let the book print what it had to say first, without asking any questions.

“I THINK WE’RE IN AGARTHA.” The book informed him.

“Can you explain where that is?” Gareth asked. “Remember, I don’t know anything about the inside face. I didn’t even know there was an inside face.”

“ALRIGHT, I’D BETTER START AT THE BEGINNING. THE INSIDE FACE, LIKE THE OUTSIDE ONE THAT YOU’RE USED TO, IS MOSTLY COVERED IN OCEAN.”

“Right. Go on.” Gareth prompted.

“THERE ARE SEVERAL LAND MASSES, BUT TWO MASSIVE CONTINENTS, JOINED BY A LAND BRIDGE, A BIT LIKE THE PANAMA ISTHMUS ON THE SURFACE. THESE TWO CONTINENTS ARE AGARTHA, AND SHAMBALLAH.”

Gareth nodded. “So what makes you think we’re in Agartha?”

“IT JUST LOOKS QUITE A BIT LIKE THIS, REALLY. I ASSUME YOU’RE REASONABLY WELL TRAVELLED, AS SURFACE-DWELLERS GO? THEN YOU CAN SORT OF TELL, CAN’T YOU. OUR SURROUNDINGS LOOK VAGUELY EUROPEAN. FLORA AND GEOGRAPHY AND SO FORTH.”

“I suppose.” Gareth said. “I mean, it’s not like we’re in a jungle.”

“RIGHT. IN SOME PLACES IN SHAMBALLAH, THOUGH, YOU COULD PROBABLY MISTAKE THE SCENERY FOR THAT OF AGARTHA. IT’S HARD TO TELL.”

Gareth placed the book down on top of his pack for a moment. He breathed in the fresh air, his hand wandering down to the little cloth, reaching for a piece of cheese that wasn’t there. His fingers scrabbled absently on the crumb-strewn surface for a moment, before his brain caught up and drew his eyes downward to investigate.

Staring at him, half-starved and terrified, mouth full of cheese and crackers, was the moon-white and red-eyed face of a little girl.

Gareth jumped back in shock, springing to his feet on the soft grass, his heart pounding.

“E’olu, M’sr!” The thin girl pleaded with him. “Hal’ala… O Hal’ala…”

“What?” Gareth stammered. He didn’t understand. The girl was standing now, her ragged clothes hanging limply from her skinny body. His eyes searched over her, his shocked mind assessing the harmless child as if she were a deadly threat. He took in the sheet-white tone of her skin, the webs between her fingers. Now that he knew she was there, her breathing sounded loud and strained. How had he not heard her approach?

“E’olu…. Ai’ment…. Ai’ment….”

Finally, Gareth thought to reach for the book.

“SHE’S BEGGING YOU FOR FOOD. OH, AND I GUESS WE’RE IN AGARTHA AFTER ALL, BECAUSE SHE’S DOING IT IN AGARTHAN.”

“Oh, right.” Gareth’s tensed shoulders relaxed. Of course that’s what she was doing. It was obvious in retrospect, given how starved and weak she looked.

He rummaged deep in his pack, searching for something hearty and nutritious for the starving girl. His hand closed around a tin can, and bringing it out, he saw that it was a can of beef stew. An English brand, he realised. From the surface. How did it even get down here?

He opened the can, and the aroma of cold beef and gravy filled the sweet air. Before he could even retrieve a pan with which to heat it, or set about building a fire, the thin girl had grabbed it from him. She shovelled the chunks of meat, potato, and carrot into her face using her grubby fingers. Her lips smacked, and gravy dripped onto her chin.

“Wow.” Gareth said. “She must have been starving.

Had he opened the book at this juncture, he would have received a page full of abuse for stating the bloody obvious.

Eventually, the girl drained the last dregs of meat and sauce from the can. She sat back on the grass, her posture finally more relaxed, and gave a satisfied, unladylike burp.

She pointed to herself. “Kau.” She explained, jabbing her finger into her chest.

“Kau?” Gareth repeated. “That’s your name?”

Somehow, she seemed to understand that he understood. She nodded.

He pointed at his own chest in kind. “Gareth.” He said.

“Ga’ret.” She repeated, as best she could, in the harsh and punctuation-laden tones of Agartha.

Finally, Gareth thought to open the book again.

“I’VE THOUGHT OF A WAY YOU CAN COMMUNICATE WITH HER.”

“How? Write a Sermomantic book that teaches me Agarthan?”

“YOU CAN’T, SOMEONE ALREADY DID THAT AGES AGO.”

“Then, one that teaches her English.”

“THAT’S TAKEN TOO. WE’RE GOING TO NEED A LINGUA FRANCA.”

The idea seemed logical to Gareth. “French?”

“TAKEN.”

“German?”

“TAKEN.”

“Shamba…. Shamballa…n?”

“SHAMBALLESE. GOOD IDEA. BUT THAT’S TAKEN.”

“Alright, then what isn’t taken?” Gareth asked, exasperated.

“PORTUGUESE.”

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