Back in the wilds of Tasmania, young Millie was in the dark and preparing to cast her first spell. She shook her hands, wiped the sweat off them on the back of her jeans, then held them in front of her and whispered, “In darkness shall light grow and lead the way ahead.” A warm white flame sparked to life in the palm of her hand and showed her the way forward.
Her flame revealed there were jewels and gems embedded in the walls, roof and floor, and deep inside, Millie knew she couldn’t touch them.
The words, A fate worse than death, fluttered through one ear then out the other, Only the Eye and nothing more. Millie made sure to stick to the middle of the path forward, so she didn’t inadvertently touch the gems protruding from the walls. She walked while looking down to make sure she didn’t bump into, or walk on, any of those sticking up from below. It was like a game of Steady, where Millie was the wand and the jewels were the circuit wire.
“One wrong move, and it’s game over,” Millie said, dodging a stalactite hanging from the roof that she almost walked into. And she almost tripped over a stalagmite protruding from the floor. “Stop, Mill’s,” she told herself. “Take a deep breath and look around.”
While working out the best path forward, a beautiful song whispered from somewhere ahead of her. It was calling her name, and before she knew what was happening, Millie had begun moving towards it. She was no longer consciously side-stepping jewels, her steps had become sure and steady. Millie didn’t even know what she was doing for a few moments. When she realised, she saw her fire had gone out, and took back control of her body.
The Motto, she thought, and began humming along to her favourite song, and before long she was able to sing it out loud. With her breakthrough vocals, Millie finally had full control, and the song luring her was drowned.
Just keep singing, Mill’s.
“I’m not gonna play, not gonna play, like that, come on I’m a wild cat… Don’t be shy, shy, shy,” she sang even though singing was not her forte.
They were all the words she could remember of, Don’t Be Shy.
They were likely out of order, but she’d only just downloaded Tiësto & Karol G’s newest hit before school the day Sandra was overcome by the Hobgoblin. Millie sang in the dark for a while. Standing in spot. Waiting for silence in the cave to return. When she was certain, Millie lit another flame and looked to see she was in a cavern with three different tunnels leading from it.
“Which one did I come out of,” she asked, staring into the depths of a darkness she’d never experienced before.
One’s gonna take me back to Francis and Terry, She thought, the other… to the centre of the cave? To the eye?
Millie was worried the day was getting away from her. When she looked at her watch, the second hand was almost spinning forward…
What did they say? What did they say? Calm, Mill’s, remain calm and it’ll stop.
Millie put her hand with the watch on her wrist behind her, so she couldn’t see it. She took a few long deep breaths and reminded herself she had plenty of time. Once she felt calm enough, Millie looked at her watch and saw she had lost an hour and 8 minutes. It was 9:35 am, and she was about to panic again, but took another few deep breaths instead.
“Calm and easy leads the way,” she said, and chose a tunnel at random. “If I end up back where I started, I’ll just turn back… I’m not gonna play, not gonna play, like that, come on I’m a wild cat… Don’t be shy, shy, shy.”
Millie’s voice echoed through the tunnel. It wasn’t jewel-encrusted like the other had been, so she quickened her steps. She started to make good time and thought about shifting into her dragonfly self, but thought better of it.
“Like a bull in a China shop,” her mum once said of Sandra. Millie had laughed at the time, but now she understood what her mum was saying.
If I shift, She thought, I become the bull and the gems I’m not allowed to touch, are the China.
“Cranzoo, is that you?” someone said, and Millie screamed, then put a hand over her mouth to stop herself.
There was someone ahead of her in the tunnel, She didn’t expect to find anyone else in there.
Friend or foe? She thought and put on a brave face with a protection spell at the ready as she moved towards whoever was ahead of her.
She wasn’t sure who, or what, she was about to meet, but on the plus side—a very small plus side—she sort of felt glad she wasn’t alone.
“Who’s there?” she called, keeping her voice low as she moved through the tunnel.
“It is me. Do you not see?” the voice said.
“What do you want?”
“Why you, that’s who,” the voice said, and a funny-looking gnome-like creature stepped from the shadow of the wall to stand in front of her.
Millie stepped back when her fire illuminated him. The odd-looking fellow had an emerald in one hand and an amethyst in the other. They stood in the glow of Millie’s flame for a few moments just staring at each other. Then, he did the darnedest thing. He raised the emerald to his mouth and took a bite. He stood munching away on the emerald and Millie tried not to laugh. Then realised he had eaten all the gems in that tunnel.
How odd, she thought.
He looked like a gnome, not what Millie knew what an actual gnome would look like. But she had been told they tended to keep to themselves and loved the sunshine.
Not a gnome then.
He was a shorter version of a leprechaun. His face was screwed up and was covered in hair. He had a long beard and a bushy moustache. His hair was white, but his beard was black, and his moustache was grey, and when his eyes caught at the right angle in Millie’s flame, she saw they were silver.
His hat was red, Like a garden gnome, Millie thought and held back a giggle rising in her throat, more like a top hat. It had a band around its brim and a brass buckle at the front of it. His clothes were all ruffled and wrinkly, and from what Millie could make out, they had no colour at all. They seemed to blend into the cave walls. He wore black boots like a garden gnome, but they had the same kind of brass buckle on the front of each shoe.
“Excuse me?” Millie asked, “but what are you?”
This appeared to annoy the little man, but she felt he quickly hid a fit of simmering anger.
“I, my dear lady, am a goblin, and I am at your service,” he said, then smiled to reveal sharp yellow teeth with chips of emerald stuck between them.
“Not a Hobgoblin?” Millie asked, taking a step backwards.
“You insult me, dear lady,” he said, and Millie quickly apologised.
She’d heard about goblins. Was warned they were easy to anger, loved to play tricks and, were greedy.
“Please, do not fear, my dear lady,” he continued. “I mean you no harm. It’s just I never get to meet anyone new, and here you are, and here I am. What, may I ask, do you seek?”
Millie didn’t want to tell him, so she deflected his question with one of her own. She’d also recalled goblins were vain and used that to her advantage.
“Hello sir,” she said. “What is your name?”
“Why, thank you for asking, my dear lady, my name is Gardon,” he said and smiled that creepy smile again.
“And what does “Cranzoo” mean? Is it the name of someone you were waiting for?” she asked.
“Cranzoo?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “When you saw me, you said, “Cranzoo, is that you?” were you looking for me, or someone else?”
Gardon roared with laughter. It was so loud, Millie feared the roof would cave in, then he stopped and said, “Cranzoo is a thing of many names. It is not one but another. When you believe you know, it becomes something else. I merely used “Cranzoo” in greeting, this morn.”
“A thing of many names? How exciting,” Millie said. “And I just have to ask about your hat. I’ve never seen one like it before,” and she took a step closer and touched the brim, “Is it a top hat?”
Gardon proudly ran his fingertips along its brim, and smiled. He was so pleased she’d noticed it.
“I had it tailor-made,” he said with pride, “there’s no other like it.”
“A tailor?” Millie asked and looked confused, Is there an entire community in here? She thought, then asked, “Where? In here?”
“Oh, dear lady, there is no tailor here. I was merely resting in the cool before going about my business,” he said. “That’s when I saw your light. It’s very white. Are you a witch?”
Millie knew he’d get around to asking about her and she’d just about exhausted her questions about him.
Maybe he can tell me if I’m in the right tunnel? She thought, Without telling him why I need to know… now, how do I do that?
“Yes, Gardon, I am a witch… well, was a witch,” She said. “If I was a witch with any power, I wouldn’t be here.”
“But, your flame?” he asked and pointed at it.
“Oh, that,” she said, “any first-level witch can make a flame. I actually burned down a barn when the fire spell finally worked for me. I’m not a very good witch… I mean, I’m good, just not good at witch things.”
Millie laughed nervously for effect, but little did she know, just like her mum, Tess, her power had become her aura, and it was spilling magnificently throughout the tunnel.
“A barn,” Gardon said and laughed so loud that Millie heard a crack. She put her hands on her head, leaving her flame to float next to her, and ducked.
“Maybe we should be quiet,” she whispered, “I might’ve burnt down a barn, I don’t want you to bring down the roof.”
Gardon smiled and put a finger across his lips. They took a moment before continuing.
“So, dear lady, how did you end up in here?”
It was the moment Millie had been preparing for. She reclaimed her flame, brushed cave dust from her shirt, stood up straight and said, “I was out looking for wild herbs and raven feathers because Mum said it would be safer for me than to practice actual magic, but I got lost,” she said. “It was getting dark, and I found a cave I thought would keep me safe for the night, but when I walked into it, the bottom fell out under me and here I am trying to find a way out. Do you know how to get out?”
“There are exits here and entrances there, but how to get out,” Gardon mused. “I fear that is something only you would know, but only when this place wants you to know it. Plus, I’m not very good with directions.”
“Well, do you know how to get to your tailors from here?”
“Oh. Um. Yes. My tailor,” he stuttered, “Yes, well you were going this way, so maybe it is the way out. Would you mind if I joined you?”
“Not at all,” Millie said, “you can share my light.”
Millie and Gardon walked for a while and strangely Millie hadn’t seen any gems or jewels in the tunnel.
“This is all very odd,” she said, and came to a stop.
“Odd?” Gardon asked.
Millie lifted her flame and turned a full 360° but saw not one gem.
“The tunnel I first fell into was covered in jewels and gems,” She said, hoping his greed would get the better of him, and he’d want to go find that tunnel. “Did you eat them all?”
“Oh. Um. I might’ve had a snack or two,” he said. “More jewels and gems, hey?”
Gardon stroked his long black beard. That’s when Millie saw it was so long that he’d had to tuck it into his waistband.
“Yes,” she said. “Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them.”
“Back that way?” he asked, looking behind them.
“Did you happen to gather some of them?” he asked, and his voice dropped an octave.
Gardon bore his teeth and snarled at her.
“No,” Millie said, stepping back.
“Where are they,” he growled and grabbed at Millie’s backpack.
He sliced a section of the waterproofing from the bottom and all Millie’s supplies fell to the ground. He was going through it all in a frenzy, and that’s when Millie had a, Brilliant idea, she thought, the words reminding her of Sandra.
Coins! Millie thought and checked her jeans pocket to see if her lunch money survived the waterfall.
While Gardon viciously tore through her gym clothes, Millie quietly pulled the coins from her pocket. She was never so glad to see her mum had given her 50 and 20-cent pieces and hoped she could perform the spell. She carefully laid a trail of silver coins back down the tunnel, then doused her flame. With a 50-cent piece in her hand, she focused her power into it, and was about to call his name, when he began calling for her.
“Where are you, witch,” Gardon called, and Millie sparked a white light with her mind, illuminating the first silver coin.
Didn’t even need to snap, she thought, marvelling at her ability to perform magic with only her mind.
She sparked a white light above each coin, only when she was certain Gardon was following them.
If he takes this one, she thought looking at the 50 cents in her hand, then he belongs to me.
He was about to walk into her, when Millie sparked a bright white light, temporarily blinding him. She lay the 50-cent piece on the ground. It oozed with power and had a shine all of its own, then Millie put out her light.
Engratio egat saie, she said, casting a spell on her eyes to see like a cat.
She watched Gardon reach for the coin. Saw the moment he picked it up. Heard his screams as the power she’d imbued it with, burnt his hand. He dropped it, and it landed between his boots.
Its glow sparked and captured Gardon in its thrall. While he was powerless, a series of white lights, like fluorescent tubes, shot up around him, imprisoning Gardon. Millie spelled the coin to take him back to the tunnel with all the gems. Caught up in her spell, Millie raised Gardon from the ground and had the lights carry him away.
That’ll keep him busy, she thought, and picked up the contents of her backpack.
Millie saw the light disappear back the way they’d come. Took a deep calming breath and looked at her watch.
Huh! She thought. 9-am. I’ve gained 30 minutes.
Millie was so happy, she had a skip in her step, and when her cat’s eyes revealed the power oozing from her, she became more empowered because of it.
“Millie?” a melodic voice called.
“What? Who’s that,” she asked, and looked back to make sure Gardon hadn’t returned.
He hadn’t, then realised the voice was feminine.
“Millie?” It called again, and she realised it was coming from a tunnel, or cavern ahead, of her.
Is it the jewel?