It was strange for Jay to be walking barefoot, as she now found herself. Her trainers must have been left behind, on her sleeping feet outside the tunnel. She had never been out of doors without her shoes on before, even as a little girl. The floor of the cave under her feet wasn't stinkingly muddy or stony, as before, but dry, cool and soft and almost velvety. Her toes curled almost luxuriously into it. She wondered briefly why she didn't feel at all as though some unwritten rule or other was being broken, but decided that as long as she wasn't in “real” time it didn't matter anyway.
She started to walk on. There was no pool to splash through. As she got further from the mouth of the cave, it got darker and darker, but it was just possible to see enough to go on. After a while she looked behind her, but couldn't make out the entrance: she must have gone round the corner already. The colours in the tunnel were weird. It wasn't anything like being in a dark room, or in moonlight, or in a lit street. She remembered Gran showing her a 'ring around the moon', like a small, faded rainbow encircling the moon's bright globe. The colours were a bit like that, or the muted tones of a swirl of oil in a puddle. In here everything was hushed: the colours, the quiet sounds of her bare feet padding along, the soft drumming... how could she still hear the drums? She put out a hand to feel the sides of the tunnel which turned out to be soft and springy, not rocky as she'd been expecting.
The floor of the tunnel slanted gently downwards and Jay was soon walking faster and then faster still, and then running, easily and without any effort or fear that she might trip. She was really enjoying herself. When she found herself falling slowly through the air she wasn't alarmed, it seemed just to follow on quite smoothly from the running. The quiet and reassuring beat of the drums still went on in the background. She gazed around in her leisurely descent. The walls were sometimes close and sometimes far away; their colours were constantly changing. There was muted purple, deep blue, faded yellow, and shades which Jay had no names for. She got a bit bored after a while and closed her eyes: it seemed to make no difference whether she could see or not.
Suddenly her fall was stopped: she was on her feet but had come up against something hard which resisted her. There was no way of moving forward. Startled but unafraid she took a single step back and opened her eyes. In front of her and slightly to her left was the figure of an immensely tall man, dressed all in deepest black. She came halfway up his stockinged legs to just above his knees, above which was what looked surprisingly like a black pleated skirt. Encircling his waist was a wide black leather belt, engraved with strange patterns, like nothing Jay had ever seen before. His top half was smooth and bare, but was still the blackest black Jay had ever seen, with no brown in it at all. But it was his head that was the real shock for, instead of a face, there was a great black long-muzzled dog's head at the top of his man's body. The ears were erect and alert and he was facing forward, not looking towards her at all. She was unable to turn around or get away, nor even take another step backwards. She looked down. At a slant across her middle was what looked like a huge spear.
“Please will you let me go on?” she asked in alarm.
“What is your business here, and why do you need to pass further into this world?” spoke the figure in what sounded to Jay like capital letters. His voice was huge and deep, neither friendly nor unfriendly, and echoed around the cavern in which they both stood. She thought for a while, wondering whether there ought to be a riddle for her to guess. She looked rather desperately around for inspiration, but there was nothing to see; then discovered that she really did know the answer.
“I want to try and find a way to help my sister Grace, who is very ill,” she said. “I want her to be well again.” To her dismay her voice was shaking and tears welled up in her eyes again.
“You may pass,” spoke the figure, still looking straight ahead. It hadn't so much as glanced at her. Jay was free to move forward again, but as she tried to run she tripped over the spear which had been lowered directly in front of her ankles and was soon spinning slowly down into the darkness again. This time, though, she didn't fall for long, landing softly on her hands and knees. As she picked herself up and walked forward it was a relief to distinguish the path ahead, which led up a gentle slope. Soft dark sand puffed up warmly between her bare toes with each step she took. It got brighter and brighter until, around a corner, the sun was pouring through so brightly that the outside world was hidden by the streaming light.
The tunnel opened out into quite a large cave before the entrance, which looked bigger than she remembered. She was deeply glad to see daylight after being in the dark for so long, but when she tried to look through the stone archway the bright sun dazzled her, and the glare made her eyes water. When she could at last see, she could hardly believe her eyes. This was neither the wood nor the season she had left. That had been morning in a cool beech wood, with tall grey trunks standing guard over the springtime bluebells, on gentle slopes.
What met her wondering gaze was an almost precipitously steep slope, and the gently shimmering tops of silver birch trees which stretched down what was obviously a very high hill and on into the far distance. The sun was hot and nearly overhead, so Jay reckoned it must be sometime after lunchtime. The sky was pale with summer heat. Jay gasped, gave one shocked shiver and turned back into the cave. The tunnel had vanished, and had been replaced by a blank rock face. To one side of the entrance, a little way in, was a rocky shelf at just the right height to sit on. She lowered herself onto it, warm as it was from the sun, took a deep breath, and wondered what on earth to do next. There was obviously no going back the way she had come, and anyway, she reasoned, she had made this journey with a purpose in mind.