The boy stomped carefully through the dirty water. In places, it came nearly as high as the tops of his wellington boots. The torch in his hand shone a pale and steady beam, throwing a spot of light onto dank, curving walls and a low ceiling. His other arm was held close to his chest, shielding a small dark shape from the cold and damp. It did not move.
He was tired. Tired and cold and hungry. It felt as though it had been hours since he had climbed down the rusty ladder to the underworld. But he pressed on – he had no other choice.
At last, he came to the gate. It was old and grimy, but still solid. A plaque on the wall next to it was filled with words he did not know. For a moment, he tried to puzzle them out, but quickly gave up. Munic… Perhaps they used strange words in the underworld.
There was no way through the gate; it was locked, held closed by a huge iron padlock. He could not reach it, nor did he have the key. This had to be far enough.
Slowly, gently, he placed his small burden on the raised step before the gate. The filthy water lapped just below the edge, but the step was dry. For a long moment, the boy looked at down at it – the matted fur, the red-stained collar. Then he spoke, facing the gate.
“I need to talk to someone.”
There was no answer. No sound at all from the echoing darkness of the underworld.
“Daddy read it to me in a book. A man went down to the underworld to get his girlfriend back.”
Still no reply.
“You need to bring Buster back. He’s my friend.”
For a while, the boy waited. He carefully kept the torch beam away from the gate – maybe the gods of the underworld wouldn’t like it being shone at them. Their kingdom was dark.
“I can pay. Daddy said the man made a deal.”
He reached into a coat pocket and produced his tribute. Next to the puppy, he placed down four shiny copper coins, a small plastic soldier, and a chocolate cookie.
Another pause. The boy chewed one lip, hand hovering by his pocket. Then he chose – slowly, almost reverently, he drew forth one final thing. To the small pile of offerings, he added a plastic gun.
“You can have all of them if you give Buster back. It’s all my money and the gun makes real noises if you pull the trigger. But you have to give Buster back.”
His free hand stroked along the matted fur, petting the still body.
“He was only little. He didn’t know about cars. It’s not fair to keep him. Daddy says you gave the man back his girlfriend, and she was much older. It isn’t fair if you don’t trade.”
The boy sat down to wait. He kept his hand on the puppy’s body, but carefully avoided the offerings. He didn’t want the gods of the underworld thinking he was trying to cheat. They might not give Buster back.
Carefully, rhythmically, the boy stroked his hand up and down the still, small body. He was happy to wait for as long as it took, if the underworld let Buster go. He didn’t even mind the cold, or the damp.
After a while, the torch beam began to dim.
I wrote this story in response to this prompt:
Someone you care about has died. Unable to cope with the loss, you travel to the afterlife to bring them back
I don’t normally write children, so this is something of an experiment. Hopefully it worked.
Comments and criticism are more than welcome.