I remember when our farm used to be green. We had trees that were full of leaves, and perfect for climbing. We used to have fields full of bushes and vines, all bearing ripe berries perfect for picking, baking in a delicious pie, or having it on toast and jam. I thought about the box beneath my bed, full of photograph, pressed berry blossoms, and bottles of oil pressed from the leaves. I shook myself hardly. There was no time for reminiscing when the fields needed to be plowed. Not that that would do anything. Not even weeds grew in our fields anymore. The only place anything grew in was the Deeps. But everyone knew you never went into the Deeps.
Even though there were tomatoes the size of my head, and strawberries as big as my fists. No one went in there because not only were the plants huge, so was everything else. Once when I was younger, I snuck in there to pick some strawberries I had seen from my favorite peach tree. I had been filling my bucket with strawberries bigger than my five-year-old hands, thinking about how Mom would be so pleased with my delicious berries, when I noticed something was watching me. I looked up, and saw eight glowing red eyes. None of them were blinking, and they were all watching me. I had felt a wave of loathing rollover my tiny body, and I had picked up my bucket, and backed out of the forest, all while those eyes stared at me. That was when our fields had first started to feel the effects of the blight. It spread through the land, so nothing could grow there. But the Deeps remained untouched.
We worked hard on our farm, doing everything we could think of to make things grow. One day my brother Finn even brought home a witch charm. Said it was guaranteed to make shoots sprout up in a week. Nothing happened of course, except Mom lost it, yelling at him for wasting what little money we had left. Once she was done, she looked at me and said, “Amabell Leone Quin, if you ever believe that sort of witchiness, you will never do anything worthwhile.” And I listened to her. I never bought a witch charm or got my fortune told. I knew that they’d just tell us something about the blight. Not everybody has been affected by it though.
When the blight first became a problem, the richer people had their land cut out and lifted into the sky, leaving deep gashes in the earth. They’re still up there, floating in the sky, lounging around in green gardens, wasting water, completely cut off from the blight. And everyone else. We call those people “floaters.” Because that’s what they do. They sit up there and forget about the rest of the world. I ran my fingers through my messy blond hair, pushing out of my face. I could hear my younger brother, Cody, laughing. I imagined he had found a small bug. That would excite him, even the bugs stayed away from our farm. I heard him calling my name,
“Amy, Amy! Come look! Me and Pazzy found a box! Come look.” I shook my head, but made my way over to him.
“Where is it?” He pointed a grubby little hand toward a spot in the dirt. I knelt down and brushed some dirt away. I saw there, buried in our farm, a metal box, just as Cody had said. I scraped more of the dirt away and pulled out the box. It was small, and made of a plain metal that was covered in dust.
“Amy, Pazzy wants to know what’s inside it.” Pazzy was Cody’s toy frog. He carried Pazzy around everywhere.
“I don’t know what’s inside.” Yet. I added to myself. “I’m going to go take this inside. You and Pazzy keep playing.” Later that night, when everyone else was asleep, I pulled out the mysterious box Cody had found. I grabbed a hair pin off my dresser and twisted it out of shape. I stuck it in the lock and scrapped out most of the dirt, then I stuck it right back in to pick the lock. It was a useful skill, one that I thought many people would benefit from knowing. I got in open, but I was disappointed by what I found. It was some sort of disk, with little glass lights and lots of button. I set it on the floor and poked it with the hairpin. I tentatively pushed a button, and was startled when a voice started,
“Self destruct activated. Ten, nine, eight, seven,...” In a panic, I pushed every button I could, until it stopped, and the lights glowed blue. A light beam shot up from the center, and expanded into a portal. I stepped back, and was glad I had done so when a boy came hurtling out of it. Once he was through, the portal disappeared, and the boy was still there. In my room. I stared at him like he had just grown horns. He looked around, then at a me.
“Hi.” I said slowly.
“Hi,” he repeated back at me.
“Who are you?” I said this with more confidence.
“My name is Ridge. I came here to do something, but I’m not sure what. They told me that everything would become clear once I arrived.” I looked him over. I would say he was fifteen or sixteen, only a year or two off of my fourteen.
“I’m Amy. I live here.”
“I see. Can you tell me about everything that has happened in the last decade or so?” And so, there I was, sitting on my bed, telling Ridge all about the blight.
“A few years ago, there was this old man, nobody knows his name, but they say he made a prophecy. It went something like, When someone who knows, where they are, but not who, journeys into the Deep, they will be carried on the shoulders of another to the ancient land where the blight began. There they will solve the riddle of beginnings and endings. Purging our land and spreading life to our world. But be warned, only when the rifts are sealed, and we are whole, can we heal our broken lands.”
“Woah. That is deep,” he said. Then he brightened. “That must be my mission! To fulfill the prophecy and cure the blight!” He must have noticed my doubtful look, because he launched into an explanation about how everything lined up.
“Alright, fine, whatever. But if you’re going into the Deep, you’ll need some help.” I surprised myself by saying it. “I’ll go with you, to guide you.”
He looked just as surprised as I felt.
“You know how to get through the Deeps?” He asked incredulously.
“Umm… Yes, of course I do.” I was bluffing just a little bit. I had only ever been in a little bit, but I had a feeling I needed to go with him. “I’ve been running around in there since I was little.” He looked doubtful, but thankfully he didn’t question me.
“Well, let’s go.” He said, putting the portal back into the box. “Can you hide this so no one will find it?” I nodded.
“I can hide anything.” And I did hide it. Somewhere nobody would think to look. My sock drawer. “Now, just let me leave a note so my parents don’t freak out. Not as much anyway.” I started to scribble out a note, but Ridge stopped me.
“You can’t leave a note. They might try to follow us.” He said, grabbing my wrist. I wrenched it away angrily.
“Well I’m not just going to disappear in the middle of the night. I’ll just tell them I’ve gone to visit a friend or something. You know, so they don’t panic.” I finished writing the note and threw some spare clothes and some provisions in a bag. I slipped on my shoes and opened the door.
“Alright, let’s go.” I stepped out and headed toward the forest. Once I was at the edge, I turned, and saw Ridge trudging along slowly. I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Come on, we have to get going if we want to get anywhere.” After that he ran over to me, and I gave him a look. “This is your quest, you need to keep up.” He muttered something under his breath, but I ignored it. Let him waste his breath, I figured. He’s the one whos going to be winded.
I took one last look at the place that had been my home my whole life. Then I turned around, and entered the Deeps.