Townsend

It was relentlessly silent. Even the ever-present Autumn breeze seemed to be waiting with bated breath. Countless berries and petals twinkled in the cool moonlight, floating in a vast sea of underbrush, anchored in silence to the dirt floor. The trees rose, cathedral-like, their tops stretching unfathomably in the dark to become one with the night sky. As I craned my neck back to take in as much of the canopy as possible, I felt the ground dematerialize and shift under my feet. I volunteered myself to the thicket and felt the leaves and branches whipping past me; neither supporting nor hindering my fall. I stared into that limitless canopy and watched it rushing away from me. The vast openness of sky left me. I knew the sky wasn’t for me, but I felt saddened. As the weight of the ground shifted its way around and above me the substance of my new surroundings felt constricting but comfortable. There was possibility in the earth that the indefinite sky could never understand.

But I missed it already.

The vastness of the sky felt like possibilities. The sky does not understand limits. But there is no material of substance in the sky, nothing to create with. Now, visionless and muted I felt creation suffocating me. In my time on the surface, the dirt fell beneath me. I tread on it without question. Now that I was immersed it felt overwhelming in its breadth and depth. I felt lost as to where to start.

I found myself buried deep. I wriggled and shifted until I felt some modicum of control. I felt determined to shape that which had always rested beneath me and dedicated myself to the Earth. I brought to bear my full might to compress and mold a space for myself. After some timeless days I was finally able to stand. As I continued my digging the Earth seemed to suddenly open for me. Still blind, I nearly toppled over myself into a pit. Groping out through this portal I could feel nothing but open air. I convinced myself that I could see the faintest glimmer of light. Trusting, I stretched a leg through and found purchase below. I lowered down cautiously and found myself standing on a small ledge. I could see a series of outcroppings that looked deliberately placed to lead me down into the darkness so I followed them. As I climbed, the faint light steadily grew.

After what felt like days of descending, I finally reached the bottom of an immense subterranean ravine. I stared upwards and started to feel that familiar feeling; that sense of dizzying wonder. I began to regret my decision to dedicate myself to the Earth. With a deep breath I regrounded myself. I turned slowly in place, taking in every detail of these new surroundings. I was standing on the floor of a cavernous ravine. I quickly became aware that I was standing in a stream as the water soaked through my shoes. Dirt walls speckled with myriad stones and pebbles shot up into the heavens. I wondered for the first time how deep I actually was. I stretched my arms out and with a little movement I could run my hands through the dirt on either side. I could now see the source of my light: Thousands of tiny phosphorescent mushrooms pulsed in a royal, majestic lavender. My eyes devoured every speck of light they could. As they slowly traced their way along the walls I could see the cave stretch for hundreds of yards in both directions before the light faded again to blackness. Even though I had only two directions to go, I felt desperately lost.

I closed my eyes, turned a few times, and started walking. I lost track of time and direction as I walked, but after some short time I stumbled across what looked like a tunnel dug off at an odd angle from the ravine. It stood about six feet tall and looked very roughly carved into the cliff side. A large quantity of dirt was piled up at the entrance. I decided to follow the tunnel. I ducked slightly to enter, the loose shifted dirt springing slightly underfoot as I slumped my way down the tunnel. As I walked I became more and more aware of the sound of digging ahead of me. It was loud enough I felt sure that I should have heard it at the tunnel entrance. My brain was in a kind of disoriented stasis, so I felt I must have just overlooked it. I quickened my pace, eager to see what was ahead.

With the light of the mushrooms far behind, I ran straight into the hindquarters of a large furry animal. It grumped loudly as I sprung backwards into the loose earth. I could hear it working heavily to shift itself around to face me, clearly longer than the tunnel was wide. As soon as the commotion had calmed down, it seemed to take a moment to sniff loudly, trying to make out what had run into it. I then felt its wet snout scoop me up to my feet as it started to barrel forward, using its face to push and nudge me along the tunnel, clearly trying to excavate the intruder to its operation. I could barely keep up with its speed, constantly finding myself tumbling over into the dirt then scrambling onto my feet to save myself from a trampling death.

When we reached the entrance to the tunnel again it gave me a firm shove and I went head over heels into the ravine’s creek with a splash. I fully expected it to either attack or retreat back down its tunnel the way it came, but it stood for a long while, examining me in the faint light. I returned the favor, and took note of the beast’s features. It had a thin pink snout, covered in a velvety black fur and wreathed with hundreds of whiskers all around. I could barely make out its beady eyes under its thick fur and it had no ears to speak of. The thing’s front paws were heavily clawed and nearly as massively broad as the girth of the creature itself. It seemed to decide that I was of no real danger, and settled down at the opening to its tunnel. It continued to eye me curiously. I reached out a hand to test it and it continued to sit comfortably staring at me, so I ran my hands through the fur on its snout and face. I decided then that “it” was a “he” and named him Townsend. He seemed friendly and leaned into my hand as I pet him for a while. I brushed some dirt off a large stone by Townsend and sat down. Out of a curious hope, I tried to talk to him, but he merely blinked his beady eyes at me and made some soft grumbly sounds in return.

After a few minutes of this, I told Townsend goodbye and started off down the ravine again, the same direction I had been traveling. I could hear the heavy splashing of him following me. I was glad to have some company, even if it was just a mute giant mole.

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