You may remember that Alice and Haley found a tunnel under the ground when they were digging after a centipede in their garden (see Alice and the Centipede). After their adventure in the tunnel, Alice and Haley wanted very much to go back and explore the tunnel some more, even though their father had told them not to.
"Those tunnels are dangerous," he said, "You should stay out of them. Your mother calls them the 'Catacombs', and she's scared of them. You should be too."
"Wow," Haley said later, when she and Alice were alone, "Now I really want to explore them."
"I'm not scared of monsters," Alice said, "Only mommy is scared of monsters."
And so they went down to the pit where the tunnel was, with six candles and a box of matches. But they found that the tunnel was blocked with mud. It had been raining for two days.
"I'll get my shovel," Alice said.
They brought Alice's shovel, and they took turns to dig and dig, but no matter how much they dug, all they found was more dirt. After a whole day of digging, they gave up and went home, tired and hungry.
That was in the winter. Several months later, when winter was ending and Spring was on its way, Haley and Alice were somewhere far from their house, at the end of the garden, when they noticed a dark opening beneath a boulder (a boulder is a very large rock). They looked into the opening, but it was so dark inside that they could not see anything.
"Flashlight!" Alice said.
Their father had given Haley a flashlight for her birthday, and she carried it everywhere with her. She took it out of her pocket and shined it into the hole. The hole went down into the ground, and the light from Haley's flashlight shone upon some narrow, steep, stone steps.
"Catacombs," Alice said quietly.
"Shall we go in?" Haley said.
"Yes, I find my centipede now."
Haley nodded, and crawled into the hole. The air inside was cool and damp. The ceiling was so low that it almost touched Haley's curly brown hair. She turned around and helped Alice crawl in as well, and then together, with Haley's flashlight shining on the stairs in front of them, they went down into the darkness.
"I don't have my hitting stick," Alice said.
"We can always run away," Haley said, "And this passage is too small for orcs. It must be for fairies or hobbits."
"Fairies are just pretend," Alice said.
They kept going down, until Haley had counted forty-three steps, and then she stopped.
"Look," she said. She shone her flashlight upon the step in front of her. There was a large, wet, brown-and-white lump on the step.
"Bird pooh," Alice said. Alice is an expert on all kinds of animal and bird pooh.
"What type of bird?"
Alice looked at the pooh again.
"Big bird, eats seeds."
"You are clever, Alice," Haley said, "Shall we keep going?"
"Yes, but watch out for the big bird."
After another fifteen steps, there were no more steps, and they were in a low passage that went straight ahead into the darkness. The passage was still small. It was just wide enough for Haley and Alice to walk side by side, but only just high enough for Haley to stand up straight. The walls of the passage were covered with planks of wood, and the ceiling was now made by wood as well, to keep the dirt from falling down into the passage.
"This wood is old," Haley said. In places, the wood was cracked, and some of the planks had fallen off the walls, while others had fallen off the ceiling, and some dirt had fallen on the floor.
They walked twenty steps, and then they saw that six planks were missing from the wall on one side of the passage, the side Haley was standing on. The planks were on the floor.
"Look," Haley said, and shone her flashlight upon the floor. There was another bird pooh, and also, a large footprint. "Orcs."
"It is too small for orcs," Alice said.
"And look at this," Haley said, and she pointed to the wall where the planks were missing. The wall was made of stone, and in the stone, there was a small hole. Haley shone her flashlight into the hole, and looked inside. She saw a flash of shiny yellow.
"There's something made of gold in there," she said.
They heard a flapping sound, and suddenly, up the passage, flew a big bird. Haley shone her flashlight at the bird, and saw red, yellow, and green feathers, and a big beak.
"Parrot!" she said, and the parrot attacked her.
"Squawk!" the parrot said.
Haley tried to push the parrot away with her hands, but as she waved her hands, the flashlight waved around as well, and its light went all over the place, and once it shone into Alice's eyes. After that, Alice could not see in the dark.
Alice heard the parrot flapping around and squawking, and she heard Haley trying to hit the parrot.
"Put the flashlight in the parrot's eyes!," Alice said.
Haley did exactly that, and now the parrot could not see either, and it bumped into the wall. Haley hit it with the flashlight. The parrot fell to the ground, and then flew off down the passage, squawking loudly all the way.
By now, Alice could see again. Haley was standing there, panting and sweating from her fight with the parrot. She was bleeding from a cut on her hand, where the parrot had scratched her with its claws.
"Are you okay?" Alice said.
"Yes, I think so."
They could still hear the parrot squawking, but now they heard something else, too. Something deeper, like the voice of an orc.
"Uruk-Hai," Alice said, "Let's run, I don't have my hitting stick."
"Wait a minute," Haley said, "He won't be able to run very fast along this corridor. We can get away when we see him. I want to find out what is in this hole."
Haley looked more closely in the hole.
Alice heard something scraping and thumping and panting along the passage in front of them, in the darkness. Haley was shining the flashlight into the little hole in the wall, so the passage in front of them was absolutely dark. Was it an Uruk-Hai coming, or was it something else? A demon or a snake? But snakes don't have voices, Alice thought, and demons don't breath, so it can't be a demon. It must be an Uruk-Hai.
"He's coming closer and closer," Alice said.
But Haley was still looking in the hole.
"Of course!" Haley said, "The hole is too small for an orc's hand."
She put her hand in the hole, took it out and put something in her pocket.
"Okay, let's run," she said, and pointed the flashlight back along the passage towards the stairs.
"Aaargh!" said a voice down the passage behind them.
As fast as they could, Alice and Haley ran for the stairs, and then all the way up the stairs, and crawled out of the tunnel and into the light of day.
"Don't stop!" Haley said, and they ran all the way home and up to their bedroom.
"What do you have in your pocket?" Alice said.
Haley took out from her pocket the thing she had taken from the hole in the wall. She opened her hand. It was a gold ring with four small, purple sparkling stones set in it around the outside.
"The hole was too big for an orc's hand, so the orc must have gone away to get a chisel or something to open it up and take the ring. He left his parrot there to tell him if anyone tried to steal it."
Haley walked to their window, and scraped one of the little purple stones against a corner of the glass. When Haley and Alice looked at the glass, they saw that the purple stone had left a thin line. When they rubbed the glass with their fingers, the line would not go away.
"The little stones are harder than glass," Haley said, "That is why they leave a mark. You cannot scratch glass with metal, or with another piece of glass. So these little purple stones must be rubies, which means they are worth a lot of money."
"Ten dollars?" Alice said.
"No," Haley said, "Hundreds of dollars."
They looked at the ring.
"But we can't tell Dad we have it," Haley said, "or he will ask where we found it, and he told us not to go down into the catacombs."
"It was fun in the catacombs," Alice said.
"Yes it was. Perhaps we can sell this the next time we go to town."
"And buy lots of toys," Alice said.
"Yes," Haley said, "Or another flashlight."
"Oh yes, then we can go again to the catacombs."
"Yes," Haley said, "and then we can go again."
"I want to find my centipede," Alice said.