The Unexpected Project.

“What a daft and boring homework project Miss Slapper’s given us,” mused Lucinda, kicking a small stone rather hard as she walked beside her friend Alice.

They both looked glum.

“Ouch!” cried the stone.

“What?”   Lucinda’s face glowed with surprise.   So did Alice’s, a girl only there to bounce scene-setting snippets off.

“I said ‘ouch’ with an exclamation-mark,” said the stone.   “It didn’t really hurt, of course.   Well, it wouldn’t, me being a stone.   But one has to say something on these occasions.”

“Er . . . but you’re a stone.”

“Quite.”

“And Miss Slapper told us that this is only personification.”

“More than likely.   She wouldn’t be convinced that stones really talk, her being only a schoolteacher.   Would you like to go on an adventure?”

Alice put a restraining hand on Lucinda’s shoulder.   “Careful, Lucinda.   Don’t be impetuous.   It’s a stone, and you’ve never met it before,” she warned, acting as the voice of conscience and sense.

“That’s the very reason why I’m saying ‘yes’, Alice.   Everyone should do something silly once in their lives.   And, if this wasn’t a short-story, we both know it would be some kind of dream-sequence and totally unreal.”   Lucinda turned back to the stone.   “Yes,” she nodded.

“Then pick me up and come with me down that largish hole which you hadn’t noticed up until that last paragraph,” the stone replied.

“Oh – look,” said Lucinda, “there’s a largish hole that I’ve only just noticed.”

“Me, too,” said Alice less enthusiastically.

They went to the entrance of the hole.

“Throw me down it,” the stone told Lucinda.

She did.

“Come on!” came the now echo-ey voice of the stone, “Follow me!”

“Do you think we should?” asked Alice completely in character.   “Shouldn’t he be a white rabbit really?”

Lucinda dived into the hole, a worried Alice following.

They found themselves in a darkened passage lit only by the light coming in from the access hole and . . . a strange, wobbling yellow light which seemed to be coming towards them round a curve in the passage wall.

“Goodness,” trembled Alice, “that strange, wobbling yellow light – it’s, it’s coming . . . !”

“Towards us.   Yes, I can see it, Alice,” said Lucinda a little sharply.   It’s always frustrating to have a plot-setting character with you who is a real wet-drawers.   “But, as anyone with an IQ greater than a sandwich would know, it’s only a torch with a fading battery.   There’s got to be somebody carrying it.”

“Or . . . or . . . something . . . !” came Alice’s frightened tone.

“Got to be someone, you ninny” scoffed Lucinda, “’cos things can’t do human stuff, can they?”

“We just met a talking stone.”

“Shut up.”

The yellow, flickering, eerie light still advanced.   As it came close, they could see a dark, bulky figure behind it.   Lucinda peered intently into the gloom.

“Oh, it’s you, Gran’dad.   I might have guessed.   What’s it about this time?”

“Haven’t got a good torch have you, Lucinda?   One of those that hang on your key-ring.   They’re good, they are.   Never get a flat battery.   Last for years.”

“No, Gran’dad.”

“Don’t suppose it’s worth asking your friend there?   No, of course not.   Ah, well, we’ll just have to manage.”

At this point in any story, there have to be questions.   It will be easier to give the answers and save time.

Apparently, Lucinda’s Gran’dad spends much of his free time investigating “The Unexplained” – phenomena which may, or may not, exist.   The rest of his free time seems to be spent doing the washing-up.   Clearly, he is on one of his investigatory expeditions at the moment.   He has, of course, a hairy face.

“Right, then.   Now you’ve finally got here, let’s follow this passageway . . .” he said by way of invitation.

“Be careful, Lucinda . . .” began Alice.

Lucinda’s look silenced her.   “Look, Alice, you’re only here as an additional character to bulk out the tale.   Your namesake once followed a white rabbit, with a capital W and R, but you’d have stayed dozing on that grassy bank and never gone to Wonderland, and Charles Kingsley would never have become famous.”

“It wasn’t Charles Kingsley, he was the Water Baby man,” said Gran’dad.   “So, for your special, grandfather-given homework, find out who the real author was.”

I know,” smarmed Alice.

“Yes – you bloomin’ would!” retorted Gran’dad.

“See, even Gran’dad knows you’re a little nause,” gloated Lucinda.

“Yeah – but she hasn’t got a pretentious name like ‘Lu – bloomin’ – cinda’,” Gran’dad sighed.   “Come on.   Let’s find out where this seemingly mysterious tunnel leads.”   It took them no time at all to progress to the point where they could see what appeared to be daylight at the other end.

“Daylight,” said a relieved Alice.

“I suppose she always states the blindingly obvious?” asked Gran’dad.

“Always,” Lucinda told him.

“Thought she would.   Nearly there now.”

The trio squirmed along the last few feet of passageway.   Then, suddenly (it’s always suddenly in mystery and adventure yarns), they surfaced into fresh, sparkling air.

“Phew,” Gran’dad exhaled.   “Nice to be out of that passageway.”

“But, Gran’dad,” Lucinda demanded, “what was it all about?   I recognise this place.   We’re in Mrs. Goldstein’s farmyard.   Please, please explain what all this mystery’s about!”

“Well, Gran’daughter, you know I investigate The Unexplained – ghosts, UFO’s, strange sightings, and weird happenings?”

“Yes, Gran’dad, you’re well-known for it.”

“Well, a few people round here have told me that there’s a strange, mysterious secret passage leading from the old castle ruins – that broken down wall you can see back there – to the site of the now-disappeared ancient church which reputedly stood where Mrs. Goldstein’s farmyard now is.”

“And you’ve unlocked the secret of the secret passage which was once secret, Gran’dad!”

“Well, yes, I suppose so.”   The hair on his face positively glowed with pleasure.

“And are you going to tell us the secret of the secret passage which, etcetera?”

“There’s no secret, child.   It wasn’t a mystery.   Nothing about this tale has been mysterious, really.”

“Then . . . ?

“All we’ve been in is a very old sewerage system,” smiled Gran’dad triumphantly.

“Oh, yuck,” said Alice quietly.

“So the mystery’s solved,” grinned Lucinda.   “Nothing at all strange about the whole thing, after all”

The three of them began walking back to Gran’dad’s house where cream cakes and lemonade awaited them, alongside the washing-up.   And, as they walked away, arm in arm and laughing, they didn’t hear the small voice down the sewer behind them.

“I’ll give ‘em ‘nothing mysterious’ next time,” muttered the stone.

* * * * *

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