Once upon a time a young woman who had nowhere else to go, fell through a hole and discovered a world of magic. That sounds like so many other tales, doesn’t it? But there’s a reason why they sound alike: they all hold a kernel of truth, that magic lives just beneath our feet. this wasn’t a dark place or dirty. Jewels lit the world with rainbow colors and glass reflected shards of light in all directions. The world above seemed dull compared to what she found as she landed in an ungraceful heap beside a shimmering pool.
“Oh dear. Another one,” a rumbling voice said with a sigh. “What are they doing up there that people just keep falling through? And you are? Do speak up, child.”
The girl turned and found . . . a huge tiger stretched out on colorful cushions. She gave a startled cry and started to scramble to her feet.
“Oh bother. I always forget about the first reactions,” the tiger said. A tiger cub, clearly curious, climbed up around his mother’s shoulder and watched. It was the sight of the cub that calmed the girl for some reason. “There now, that’s better. I’m sorry I startled you. I’m Indira. And you are?”
“I’m Ellie,” she finally said, her voice a bit of a squeak. This couldn’t be real though it was better than the nightmares she usually had. “I was just walking. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’ll just go —”
She looked upwards. There was no hole in the ceiling. Well, it was a dream. What should she expect?
“You needn’t worry, Ellie,” Indira said. She patted the cub who still watched, curious, but settled down. “I hope that you can find what you are searching for, my dear. Many humans have trouble with that part.”
“Searching for?” she said. “I was just looking for a place to rest for the night.”
The tiger gave a nod of understanding and then reached out and clicked a long, sharp nail against a gong. The sound was light and beautiful “Paddy! Paddy, my friend, will you show our new friend around?” the tiger said.
Ellie looked and found a raccoon trundling up on his back legs. The raccoon looked her over and nodded. “Another, another. They’ll outnumber us soon, Lady. Mark my words! Well come along, girl. Come along.”
“Ellie,” she said.
“Ellie,” the raccoon repeated. He looked up at her face as they walked away. “Well, you’re a tall one, aren’t you? Come with me. We’ll get you settled in.”
“Settled?” she asked “I can’t stay here —”
“You have no where else to go,” the raccoon said. They’d walked out of one room and into a hall, just as pretty and bright. “That’s what happens you know. We’re all here because we’ve been forgotten, ignored, our places in the First World taken and destroyed. Where else would you go?”
Ellie looked down into the face of the little creature who nodded a couple times and patted her on the knee, which she found amusing. “It’s all right. It takes a while for the humans to get used to being here. The rest of us are just grateful.”
The raccoon nodded and led the way, down a series of steps and into a huge area so long she couldn’t see the end of it. Little houses dotted the land, plants grew in tidy squares and animals of all sorts roamed down the roads or lounged by pools. Humans, too, she finally realized. Very many of them.
“Where am I?”
“This is the Second World,” Paddy said. “This is where displaced animals go when their lands are gone, and the place pets find when they’re abandoned. And humans come here, too. More and more of you, which worries some of the others, I will tell you.”
“Even though you are just as lost and abandoned and the rest of us, we still fear you are too much like your brethren who are the ones who have sent us all here with their reckless and uncaring attack on the First World.”
“I can’t go back, can I?” Ellie asked, still staring at this place and trying to make it real. Pretty. Fairy Tale cottages, but surely that meant there were trolls and witches. She could not believe the place was all good.
“Do you want to go back? Some of you insist that you do want to return to the First World, even with all it’s evils. So I’ll tell you what I tell them all: If you find a hole back to that place, you can go. There are such holes. You have to look for them and want to find them. Come along for now. Let’s find you a place to stay.”
Hadn’t that been what she’d been looking for when she fell in here?
So Ellie went down the path, already looking here and there for a hole to take her out of this strange place. But as the days went by, she found strange wasn’t so bad. Days sometimes passed without looking for a hole, then weeks, months . . . Years. She had a knack for growing apples and weaving cloth, and both brought her delight. She had friends of all sorts. She’d never had friends before.
One day, walking with Paddy and Indira who were both her good friends now, she found a hole. The hole was at her feet, but she could clearly see the buildings she had known and knew it lead back to the city. She knelt and stared into it, watching cars dart by, seeing people rushing everywhere and never seeing anything.
She could have gone home.
No, she could have left home and gone back.
“I came here looking for a place to rest,” Ellie said as she backed away. A little bird fluttered down through the hole and landed on her hand, looking around with a startled squeak. Ellie smiled. “I found my place. Welcome home, little one.”