Authors: Paul Gamble
“See you at the bottom,” Trudy said as she stepped off the edge of the fifty-foot drop. Instead of falling she reached out with a super-fast foot and was soon running down a sheer wallâstraight at the ground. Her timing would have to be perfect. She was moving so fast that a split-second error would see her running straight into the ground.
Of course Trudy's timing was perfect, as always. She was six feet from the ground when she leapt away from the wall, performed a double tucked somersault, and landed like a cat.
Jack decided that next time he saw the Misery he would firstly try not to destroy any of his DIY supplies and secondly ask for extra Speed lessons. He was going to have to try very hard if he ever wanted to reach Trudy's level of perfection.
“Right, just remember to leap off the wall when you get close to the bottom. Easy,” he reassured himself.
He thought about the time three years ago when his parents had told him they were going on a very special holiday. He'd assumed it was Disneyland, but it had turned out to be Paris. Jack would never understand the Parisians: Why would you use hundreds of metal girders to build a tower that just stood still when you could have used them to make a pretty amazing roller coaster instead? The memory made him sad and he felt the negative emotions flowing over him along with the familiar feeling of The Speed.
“Okay, Trudy, here I come.” Jack launched himself over the edge and was running vertically down the wall. It was an amazing feeling, running down a wall, almost falling and yet being in total control.
Perhaps not total control. Jack was running faster than planned. He wouldn't have time to jump off the wallâhe was going to hit the ground at full speed!
He felt a jolt and everything went black.
You may have heard it said that if you cut an earthworm in two that both parts will grow into new worms. This is not true. You will probably just kill the earthworm. And then the earthworm police will hunt you down.
However, you may well get away with the crime. Earthworm forensic technology is quite limited and is mostly concerned with how nice soil is.
You know how sore you feel when you fall on the ground? Well, it is considerably more painful when you run into it at full speed.
Jack found himself floating in a black space. Everything was very quiet, but he had a strange feeling that someone was watching him. Then something slapped his face. His eyes snapped open and he saw two faces looking down from above.
“Are you angels?” asked Jack.
A hand reached down and slapped his face again. Jack didn't think that angels would be that violent.
“Trudy?” he guessed.
“Yeah. You were unconscious so I slapped you. And then I thought you were deliriousÂ â¦ so I slapped you again.”
Jack hauled himself up onto his elbows. “I'm not really sure that's a great thing to do to someone who has just suffered severe head trauma.
Another voice spoke. “You didn't leap off the wall soon enough. But you managed to turn enough to avoid the worst of the impact.”
Jack recognized the voice. He leapt up and threw his arms around his best friend. “David! You're alive.”
“Yes. I knew that.”
“We've come to rescue you.”
“Oh, good, because it's been very impressive so far.” Jack stopped hugging David. It was very hard to hug someone effectively when they were being that sarcastic.
“We can't stand by this wall for too long. The guards know that no one would be able to climb back up it, but they still come over here now and again just to check. There's an alcove over here where we can talk.” David led them over to a small gouge in the wall that was out of sight from most of the rest of the cavern. Trudy, David, and Jack squeezed themselves into it.
“So what's this all about? Are you digging for oil? Coal? Diamonds?”
David shook his head. “I don't think so. They never told us.â¦”
“So you're just digging?” interrupted Trudy. “But that doesn't make any kind of sense. I mean, maybe they're looking for buried treasure. Or a doomsday weapon that was buried by the ancient kings of Ireland.”
Why were they digging? Jack hated not knowing the answer. He wasn't good at waiting and mysteries. At Christmastime he hated having to wait to open his presents. And this was a much, much worse feeling. Because when you were waiting to open your Christmas presents at least you weren't worried that one of them might kill you.
“So how did you get down here, anyway?” asked Trudy.
“Well, I got off the bus and was cutting across the park to get to my houseÂ â¦ it was awful.”
“What was awful?”
“Something burst out of the ground and pulled me under.”
“What was it?” asked Jack. It seemed to Jack that everything in the world was trying to be deliberately suspenseful. Jack found it quite infuriating.
It was precisely at that moment that something burst through the alcove beside them. Soil and rock were sent flying.
Jack turned and looked. It was something that he would have previously greeted with surprise, but now he was kind of used to this sort of thing happening.
“Really?” he sighed with resignation.
If you ever find buried treasure, it is reasonable to make the assumption that it was buried by a pirate. Pirates are slaves to tradition and therefore almost always bury their money rather than making use of more convenient online banking.
On the rare occasions that pirates do use banks, they tend to get irritated when, after making a deposit, they are given a cash card rather than a treasure map. Bizarrely enough, however, they do like putting their PIN numbers into cash machines. On cash machines the number comes up onscreen as XXXX. This gives pirates a feeling of inner contentment as four Xs literally mark the spot.
An enormous mole exploded through the dirt wall. It was unlike any kind of mole that Jack had seen before. For a start it was almost six feet from tail to snout, and that alone made it quite unusual. It had thick gray fur covering its plump body and its two long front paws each ended in five bony spikes.
The strangest thing about the mole was its nose. Rather than the little pink snout moles normally have, this one had two nostrils that were surrounded by a dozen little tentacles. They writhed in the air as if they were tasting it. Underneath the disturbing nose was a small mouth with a line of needlelike teeth.
David gulped. “Yeah, that's what dragged me under the ground.”
Jack backed away from the star-nosed mole. “It looks nasty. Do you think it'd like to go boating on the river? Or perhaps enjoy a pleasant picnic.”
Trudy let out a short laugh. “I think we might find that this mole is quite different from the ones they had in
The Wind in the Willows
“Really, I can't believe that Kenneth Grahame would have lied to us.” Jack was quite impressed with himself that he had remembered the name of the author who had written
The Wind in the Willows.
“All books lie,”
said Trudy. “In fact, I'm fairly sure that toads can't even legitimately get a driving license. Even if they could, the insurance premiums they would have to pay would be crippling.”
“So Kenneth Grahame
is a liar? Absolute shame,” said Jack.
The mole swiped at Trudy with one enormous claw. Trudy hadn't had time to use The Speed, and the blow tore her shoulder open. She let out a gasp and fell to the ground.
Jack leapt forward, standing between his friends and the mole.
David's eyes widened. “Jack, what are you doing? That thing will kill you. You saw what it did to Trudy.”
“Trudy wasn't ready,” Jack snarled. “But I am. It hurt my friend and that makes me sad. And thinking about people trapped in this hole for thirty yearsÂ â¦ well, that just depresses me to no end. And when I get depressed I getâ¦”
“Slightly weepy?” offered David.
“No,” said Jack. “I get fast.”
The mole used its squat back legs to propel itself toward Jack. Jack blurred into action, diving forward. As quick as lightning he smashed his fists straight into the star-shaped nose of the mole. It stumbled back, cupping its claws over its bleeding nose, and emitted a high-pitched squeal.
“What on earthÂ â¦ How on earth?” David was stunned by Jack's speed. “Is your dad secretly Bruce Lee? Have you been getting ninja training?”
“It's The Speed, David. We'll explain later.” Trudy was sitting up but wincing in pain from her damaged shoulder.
The mole lashed out at Jack again, first with its right claw, then left, then right. Jack dodged each of the blows. He kicked out with one of his feet, catching the mole's leg and knocking it to the ground.
It sprang from the ground, its bulky gray body crashing against Jack and pressing him up against the soil wall. The mole lashed out with both claws. Jack twisted and just avoided being impaled, but the claws were now embedded in the soil on either side of Jack's neck, pinning him to the wall.
“Trudy, I could use a bit of help here. I seem to have found myself in something of a situation.”
“There in a minute.”
“Could you make it half a minute?”
Out of the corner of his eye Jack saw Trudy struggle to her feet, but a second later she slumped back down again. The blood loss from her shoulder was worse than she would admit.
The mole tried to free its claws from the dirt wall for a few seconds before suddenly stopping. It cocked its head to one side as if it was thinking.
I really hope the mole isn't remembering that it has teeth,
Jack thought to himself.
Unfortunately, that was exactly what the mole was thinking. It gnashed its needlelike teeth together and then pushed its mouth toward Jack's neck.
Jack reached up with both hands and shoved the mole's head away with all his strength. He could feel the hot, worm-smelling breath of the mole on his face. It snorted and his hair rippled. The little pink tentacles that made up its nose were up against Jack's face now, slimy and horrible.
What were the weaknesses of a giant mole? Jack racked his brain to see if he'd learned anything about them in his biology classes. Unfortunately, to the best of his recollection this was not something that they had ever taught in school. He decided if he survived he would write a stern letter to his headmaster explaining that they needed to revise the curriculum to include more practical matters.
The mole's teeth were pressing against Jack's flesh as he tried to hold it back. He felt something trickle down his shoulder and realized it must have broken his skin. Then without warning, the mole swayed backward and collapsed onto the ground like a sack of potatoes.
David was standing behind the mole with a spade in his hands. There was some mole blood dripping off it. “Sometimes all the karate training in the world is no substitute for a good, solid spade,” David observed.
Jack breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, David. Good work.”
Jack and David rushed over to Trudy. She was pressing her hand against the wound in her shoulder. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, but the wound was still quite deep.
“You're going to need stitches.”
“Let's go to the Ulster hospital.”
“Why don't we just get Nurse Nufty at the Ministry to do it?”
Trudy shot a withering glance at Jack. “I wouldn't let her sew a tea cozy, much less a hole in my shoulder. Anyway, forget about that. David, what happened after you got kidnapped by the mole?”
David explained that the mole had brought him to the underground lair where he had discovered that the children were being forced to dig.
“But why do they need children to dig?” asked Trudy. “I mean, they have giant moles, don't they? And couldn't adults be used to run the diggers?”
“The digging's only part of why they're kidnapping us,” said David.
“Then what's the other part?” asked Trudy.
“They're training us to be pirates.”
“I'm sorry.” Jack was sure he must have misheard. “I thought you said âpirates
Jack and Trudy were both speechless. They hadn't expected pirates. Although, given what Jack had seen at the start of the week, he clearly should have.
“This entire place is run by pirates,” David explained. “And I don't mean those modern pirates either. I mean the classic head-scarf-wearing, one-legged, hooks-for-hands, eye-patched, âshiver me timbers, Jim-lad' type of pirates.”
“You aren't serious,” said Jack.
David looked incredibly serious. “That's one of the reasons they need us. A lot of them have hooks for hands, which makes it very hard to change the gears when they're driving the excavators and dump trucks. To start off with they use us for thatÂ â¦ but they're selecting the best and training us to replace the older pirates.”
“How can you train to be a pirate?” asked Jack.
“They gave me a timetable.”
David took a piece of paper out of his pocket and unfolded it. “This morning we had a class on pirate etymologyâhow to say things like âyoho,' âmake him walk the plank,' and âpieces of eight.' Then this evening I'm scheduled to have sessions on seafaring, naval lore, and singing sea shanties. I've also learned what we should do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.”