Chapter Seven


     THE SECRET TUNNEL

    Not long after we had got past Edmund, we noticed that the air was different-- it felt cold and damp and it smelled of earth. The walls of the secret tunnel changed too-- now they were roughly cut rock. The light from my flashlight shone off the damp rocks and we knew that we were no longer inside the house. We were under the ground--this was the real thing.

    The tunnel was quite wide, and Wanda and I walked along side by side. After a while Wanda whispered, "How far down do you think we are?" "I don't know, " I whispered back. And then I whispered, "Why are we whispering?" "Because it's scary, " whispered Wanda. "No it's not, " I said really loudly, and my voice sounded hollow like Edmund's. Well, maybe it was a bit scary.

    Wanda was good with the string. She kept unwinding it as we went, and when I looked back, I could see it stretching along the tun- nel. It was nice to think that the end of the string was still there, tied to the secret door under the attic stairs. We had walked for about half an hour, and I reckoned we were probably almost under- neath the mushroom farm, when we went around a corner and Wanda suddenly said, "Which way do we go now?" In front of us, the secret tunnel split off into two smaller tunnels. They both looked narrow and they both looked dark.

    I didn't like the look of either of them. "I don't know, " I said. "Do you want some chips?" Cheese and onion potato chips help you think. I am sure of that, because after we had finished them, we knew what we had to do. "Right, " I said. "Left, " said Wanda. So we did rock, paper, scissors--best of three--and Wanda won. Then we did best of five and I won. So we went right. Big mistake.

    It was okay to begin with. Kind of. The tun- nel I had chosen smelled funny. It reminded me of something, but I couldn't think what. And just as I was about to remember what it smelled of, Wanda said, "Now which way?" as if it was my fault that the tunnel had split up again--this time into three ways.

    "Middle one, " I said. "Why?" asked Wanda. "Why not?" I said. "It doesn't matter if it's not right. We can always find our way back along the string and try the other one. " Wanda wasn't happy. "We could be here for days doing that, " she said. "And we haven't got much more string left. " We set off down the middle tunnel, which was an okay tunnel, as tunnels go, but still smelled funny--and then suddenly Wanda screamed. "Arrgh!" I dropped my flashlight. "Oh, yuck. Oh, errgh. "

    Wanda was hopping about like something had bitten her. "Wh-what is it?" "II stepped on a dead body. . . . " Wanda squeaked. "I-it was all squashy a-and horrible. My foot went right through it. " She shivered and grabbed hold of me. "I want to go home, " she whispered. Well, that made two of us. I went to pick up my flashlight, and Wanda screamed again. "Everything's turned white, " she yelled. "Look. . . . " I didn't want to look, but I did. The flash- light shone along the ground, lighting up the floor of the tunnel. It was the weirdest thing I have ever seen--a kind of knobbly white carpet stretched out in front of us.

    "Mushrooms. You only stepped on a mush- room, " I told Wanda, annoyed. Wanda looked down at her feet. "Oh, " she Q said. Then she said, "Well, it was a giant mushroom, actually, Araminta. Look-- they're huge. You try stepping on a whole heap of monster mushrooms in a horrible, dark, smelly tunnel and see what you feel like. " "I just did, " I told Wanda, "and I felt fine. And I didn't go screaming in someone's ear, nearly making them deaf, either. " Wanda didn't reply. I thought maybe I should try to cheer her up a bit, so I said, "Well, at least we know where we are now. " "No we don't, " said Wanda gloomily. "Yes we do. These mushrooms must have escaped from the mushroom farm.

    I bet we are underneath it right now. Which means we are nearly there. Come on, Wanda. It will all be worth it when we find the sword. " "If we find the sword, " Wanda muttered. We didn't say much after that except for, "left, " "right, " "left--no, right, " and "oh, I don't care, you choose. " The trouble was, the tunnel just kept splitting off into different directions, and we had no idea which one would take us to the cave. It was like being in a maze--a horrible mushroom maze, as the whole time we were stepping on mush- rooms. At first I felt sorry for them getting squashed, but after a while they just got annoying. They were really slippery, too. We kept on hoping that any minute we would find the grotto with the sword in it. But we didn't.

    All we kept finding was the green string, so we knew we were back to where we had been before. Again. After a while Wanda said, "It's no good. We're just going around in circles. " For once she was right.

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