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Green Grove, Chapter 5


By: Mary A
Beta: Malinornë
Disclaimer: I dare anyone to sue me over this one.
Timeline: Now
Summary: A young woman wakes up in a strange place after a car accident.

Krystle wished her heart would stop banging so loud that she could not hear if the person attached to the voice above them was coming down the steps. Next to her, Stacey whispered into her ear, in a hysterical hiss, which did not help.

"Oh my gawd," Stacey was saying, "It's him up there!"

"Him? Who?" For a moment, Krystle wondered if Stacey meant Professor Tolkien's ghost, not that she believed in ghosts, at least not very much.

"That guy whose footsteps we heard in town," Stacey said, her voice raising slightly. "Remember, on the sidewalk?"

"Shhhh, quiet." It took only a moment's pause for Stacey's words to sink in, and then Krystle had to ask, "Hey, why do you think it's him?"

"He is probably a killer and he is coming to kill us!"

But Krystle only half-listened, and with just half an ear, to Stacey's wild theory, and with the rest of her ears to the stairway. Surely she would hear whoever it was up there if he came down the steps. The idea of 'mad killers' in such a quiet little town seemed too absurd to take seriously. Still, what if it was a ghost? And he was disturbed and awakened by their tearing up the cabin? At the thought, she felt the hair raise on the back of her neck.

While she waited for the voice from above to repeat itself, listened for footsteps, and soothed Stacey, her mind also raced with excuses for being where she had no business being, and looking the way she did. She wished the candle had not gone out, the darkness was stifling, and her eyes strained hard to see around her.

Weird colors swam in Krystle's strained vision, tinges of redness and swirling shadows, and, fighting back her fear of seeing ghostly apparitions, she wondered if her head-injury had anything to do with it. Involuntarily, to clear her eyes, she shut them tight and shook her head, which only hurt her neck.

"Hello?"

The voice came from very close by, almost right next to them. Stacey clutched the now nearly fainting from pain Krystle harder, as they both squealed in fear. The voice was kind enough, though, when it added, "How about some light?"

After an audible 'click' from a switch, the entire cellar was instantly lit up from overhead lamps. The voice was revealed to belong to a young man, not exactly a mad killer type, to Krystle's eyes, but a stranger anyway.

"Who are you?" She gasped.

"My name is Herman, and this is my cabin," he answered in a pleasant drawl and with a friendly grin. "I see you found the wine cellar, although you certainly took the long way."

The stranger was long, and lean, and he kept his hands in his pockets while he leaned back against the wall, far from them, near the entrance. Krystle thought he was kind of cute, in a shaggy, 'lost in the Sixties' sort of way. He wore a flannel shirt, like she imagined their pursuers would do, loose blue jeans and scuffed boots.

"I thought this cabin was Tolkien's!" Stacey exclaimed, from behind Krystle, where she was hiding. Her voice had an accusatory tone to it, as if catching the stranger in a lie.

"Oh, it was, once," he said, nodding and shifting his weight slightly and then settling back again against the wall, as if he was planning to stay there for a long time. "I bought it. It was going to be auctioned off, you know," he paused and smiled knowingly, as if sharing a well known legend, and then added "Piece by piece, just like old Bilbo's home."

"Bilbo?" Krystle asked. She felt odd, bewildered, and yet somehow relieved by the information. Just knowing that the man was possibly the owner of a home that she had broken into, and not a mad killer who had followed them, made her feel safer and more afraid at the same time. Would he sue them?

"She never read 'The Hobbit'," Stacey explained, poking her head out from behind Krystle. "I don't think she knows what you're talking about."

"But you do," Herman answered. "Do not be afraid of me. I won't bite."

Krystle could detect the slightest accent in Herman's speech, but she could not place it. It was European, she thought, somewhere in between British and possibly German. As far as she knew, it could even be Hungarian. There was something in the way he pronounced his 'f's, and the deliberate way he spoke, enunciating each syllable slowly, that tickled her ear in an unusual way. She liked it.

Right now he was looking up into the stairwell, clucking with disapproval and shaking his head.

"How did you two of you ever make it down that horrible staircase? Even I will not use it anymore, or did you not notice that I had put a big metal cover over it?" His eyes seem to twinkle with a little mischief when he mentioned the trapdoor, and Krystle knew, without knowing how, that they were forgiven their transgression and vandalism.

"There's another way in here?" Stacey asked and then poked Krystle in the back, "See, I was right. I told you there was a door down here."

"Ouch! You said a portal to Middle-earth, now stop poking me!" Krystle whispered back, wincing from the poke, which had hit one of her bruises. On the other side of the room, Herman stopped leaning and stood straight, his smile gone.

"You were in that accident last night?" he asked, and his eyes traveled over both of them, while he ignored Stacey's question, seeming only at that moment to notice their hospital garb. "I heard they brought some of the survivors here, to the clinic. How did you two ever find this place?"

"Can we tell you that some other time?" Krystle asked, embarrassed to have to admit to her bad judgment. "I really need to get this crazy kid back to the clinic, and me, too."

"Yes, yes, follow me...?" he said, pausing as if he should remember her name, which he had no way of knowing.

"I'm Krystle," she said. "And this is Stacey."

"Don't tell him our names!" Stacey whispered.

"Very good, Krystle, Stacey." Herman bowed slightly to each of them as he addressed them. "It is a true pleasure to meet both of you." He then turned, pushed at a stone near his shoulder, and stood back as a section of the wall silently swung slightly ajar like a door. He pushed it open even further, which revealed a torch-lit passageway cut into the earth. With another gracious bow, he gestured for them to enter.

"Wowsers," whispered Stacey, but Krystle could not even speak, or react. The whole morning had already taxed her strength, and nerves, almost to the limit of her being able to cope. Her whole left side was a burning throb of pain, her neck spasmed, and her head was already swimming from the shock of the handsome stranger's unexpected arrival.

One thing only was a real reassurance, the swirling shadows of redness that she had seen earlier must have happened when he entered through that door, and were not a sign that she had brain damage. She was still not sure there were no ghosts inside that hidden passage, or worse.

"I'm not going in there," she finally managed to say.

"Do not worry, you do not have to go very far," said Herman gently as he entered the doorway and waved for them to come closer. "There is a better stair right here," he added, pointing to an area within that was hidden from their view. "More practical for those with crutches, I think. Come, see."

When the door first opened in the wall, and Krystle had peered into the eerily-lit cave, what was left of her grip on reality had wavered slightly. Herman's calm and helpful attitude helped, and her world righted itself again, most of the way. Although her aching body protested moving forward, she and Stacey slowly approached the hidden entrance. Now she could see that the passageway stretched further into the distance behind Herman, like a tunnel.

With a nod and a smile, he stood back a few paces, to give them room to see where he was pointing, without coming too close to either of them. The torchlight washing over him gave his skin an odd reddish glow, his honey-colored hair turned a fiery copper, and Krystle was momentarily stunned by how beautiful he looked. She had to tear her eyes from him when Stacey said, "Ooh, look!"

"How do you think we got those big wine barrels down here?" Herman asked. "They would never have fit down that trapdoor."

"Wow, you're right!" Stacey exclaimed. "I never thought of that!"

They were leaning into the doorway, still not sure if they should enter the tunnel-way, and Krystle now saw the stairway that Herman had referred to, just inside the door. It had wide stone steps that led up at a more gentle angle than the trapdoor step-ladder, and a handrail on either side. The stairway turned, so neither of them could tell where it ended.

"Are you sure can get out this way?" Krystle asked shakily, and then realized how silly her question must have sounded. She could not help it, though, as her morning had been a series of wrong turns and she was leery of taking one more and ending up in an even worse situation. Herman by torchlight might be a hottie, but she was not convinced that he was normal, especially considering the hidden underground life he seemed to lead. "Where does it go to up there?"

"Hey, I'd rather know where the rest of this tunnel goes to down here," Stacey interrupted, she was not even paying attention to the stairway. "It's long, I can't see where it ends."

"This stairway leads to a little outbuilding near the cabin," Herman said to Krystle. He had moved closer to them, but still stood at a respectable distance. "You must have noticed it in the front yard, a small garden shed in the corner? Just a few steps from the front gate?"

Numbly, Krystle nodded, vaguely remembering such a structure, or willing enough to believe that she should, although she had not paid very much attention to the overgrown yard at the time.

"And the tunnel?" Now he turned to the teenager. "Well, Stacey, you are a genius and you guessed right, it leads all the way to Middle-earth."

Herman was serious and his eyes suddenly glittered with a mysterious and inscrutable glow as he gazed directly into Krystle's eyes. "Would you like a first-hand tour?"

"That... that's not possible," she replied weakly. Again, his eyes appeared to flicker with a strange inner light, but Krystle convinced herself it was a trick of the torchlight, and that he was enjoying taking advantage of the dramatic setting he had such gullible fans trapped in. She wondered if he deliberately tricked women down there with that line.

"Oh, yes, it is not only possible," he assured her, with his hand on his chest, over his heart, "it is the truth, on my honor. I would love to show you, and then you can judge for yourself."

Although she was sure he was making some kind of personal joke at their expense, Krystle's head began to swim again. If he said anything else, she did not hear him, because there was a loud roaring sound in her head. He, and everything else around him, turned a peculiar shade of gray, and she was certain that she was going to faint.

"I do! I want a tour!" Stacey was nearly jumping up and down in her eagerness, despite her crutches, but to Krystle's numbed senses, the teenager's voice sounded distant and thin. "I knew it! I just knew it!" The grayness seemed to be clouding her eyes, how strange, and now the walls started to sway.

"Krystle! No!" That was Stacey, screaming, would she never be quiet?

Strong arms caught Krystle before she hit the stone floor, lifted her, and carried her. It was embarrassing, she was fine, what was going on? How dare he! She was fine, really, just a little achy, and sleepy. If he would put her down, and let her rest, she would feel better.

"I can walk," she said, as she struggled weakly to wiggle out of Herman's arms. "Put me down, please," she said, but she could not put any force behind her words, and she was suddenly too tired to speak. The stone walls of the wide stairway moved swiftly past her blurry vision. As soon as she got some strength back into her limbs, she would slap him for being so bold.

"Can you keep up, Stacey?" Herman was saying, as if he did not hear Krystle, or care what she said. It was actually easier for her to relax and be carried, for now. In fact, it was very nice. Her whole left side was hurting again, and her head and neck were throbbing, every step Herman took jarred her and made the pain that much more vivid. Maybe she was dying? Anything was possible today. She clenched her jaws to keep from crying out.

Bright, harsh daylight replaced the torchlight, and even Stacey howled from the sharp pain in her eyes. Krystle closed hers tight, and felt the sunlight and fresh air on her face and skin. They were out!

"Open the door," said Herman, and then the daylight was gone, the light was dim, and Krystle could open her eyes. They were back in Tolkien's cabin, again. "Watch those loose floor boards," he said to Stacey.

"I will this time," the teenager said cheerfully. Herman carried Krystle to the lumpy, quilt-covered bed and deposited her on her back. Stacey was standing right next to him, smiling first at him and then down at her.

"I'm the one who should have been carried," she said. "You were lucky."

"Lucky?" Krystle croaked, her lips and tongue were dry and felt gluey inside. She tried to sit up, and was gently pushed back down by Herman.

"Not yet," he said. "Let me help you, okay?"

She stayed still, not exactly giving him permission to do anything, but too tired to argue. Herman clapped his hands together, and rubbed them against each other, while Krystle wondered what kind of a madman he was, after all. Then he leaned over and held his hands over her left side, very close to her but without touching her.

"Can you feel anything?" he asked. "Like heat?"

All she could do was shake her head a little, she felt nothing. Without asking, Herman peeled back the blanket she wore over her hospital gown. Krystle remembered, too late to do anything about it, that she wore nothing underneath the gown. Again, he slapped and rubbed his hands together and had them hover over her. Now she did sense something, very faintly, like a slight warm breeze that moved along her left side.

"Now, can you feel that, yes?" he asked, but with a satisfied tone and a big smile on his face as if he knew she could, even if she did not admit it.

"Is that magic?" Stacey asked. "Are you doing magic on Krystle?"

Herman ignored the teenager, however, as his hands moved, still not touching, up and down Krystle's left side.

"That will not cure you, but it should help," he explained as he stood up straight again. "Would you like to sit up? I think you need a drink of water, yes?"

"Yes, I do, please," said Krystle, as she pushed herself up to a sitting position with her good arm, and leaned her back against the bed's headboard. "Want some water, I mean," she added, while she felt her side. Herman told her to relax and rest, before he left the cabin, and Stacey followed right after him.

Cautiously, Krystle tested her neck, it felt almost good. Herman was right, whatever he did to her with his hands had made the most severe spasming pains ease off to dull, barely perceptible aches. She no longer felt as tired as she had, just moments before, if anything, she felt wide awake and well rested. And thoroughly confused.

What just happened to her? She wished Stacey had stayed with her, then she would have talked her into getting out of here and away from that crazy Herman. More than anything, she was desperate to be out of this cabin, and back in her own bed, in her own home. Forget the clinic, she wanted her mom.

She leaned her head back and closed her eyes; she saw Herman's eyes again, the way they had gazed into hers in the cellar, and the strange light that glowed inside of them, deep, deep inside... He spoke.

"Krystle, are you alright?" She gasped and sat up straight, her eyes had been closed, she must have dozed off while sitting there. Herman stood before her, but she was afraid to look at his face, so she pointed to the cast on her broken arm.

"I was just thinking about how long I will have to wear this," she fibbed, for lack of anything else to say. "I don't think I will be able to drive," she added, which was true, even if it did sound silly under the circumstances.

"How does it feel? Your arm?"

"Better, thank you," she said, and hazarded a glance at him. Herman's eyes, kind and concerned, appeared completely normal in the natural light. They were the color of the slate tile in her parent's kitchen, a dusty gray blue.

"You look better, too," said Stacey, she turned to Herman and asked, "Was that magic you did to her?"

"No, no," he protested, laughing, and shaking his head. "That was Reiki, a Japanese healing technique, nothing magical. Have you ever heard this word, Stacey? Reiki? But, I am forgetting we have a thirsty patient here, nurse. Reiki can wait."

Herman and Stacey had returned with a large, metal pitcher full of water. Stacey volunteered to get them some cups, because 'she knew where they were'. When she came back, with a couple of Tolkien's tea cups, she bragged about helping to pump the water into the pitcher from a real well.

As Krystle sipped the cold water, she could feel Herman staring at her. A thousand questions swirled in her head.

"Down there," she said, gesturing at the hole in the floor with her teacup, "You said... did I hear you say... ?"

"He has a tunnel to Middle-earth!" Stacey interrupted. "I was right, I was right, I was..."

"Hush, Stacey," Herman said, but not harshly. "You should never mention such things up here. Now, can I trust you to keep my little secret?"

Now, more than ever, Krystle was convinced Herman was not normal, not in any way, if he really believed he had a tunnel to Middle-earth.

To be continued in Chapter 6



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Posted: September 1, 2006

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