Chapter 12: Vanishing

"Um…okay," Ash stated unsurely as he stared blankly at the muddy pond before him. It was shallow and rather gross looking because of all the litter that could be seen beneath the surface. The thin robe flowed softly around him in the winter wind. "We've driven to the park just so you could…drown me?"

"Guess again," Kumiko said. She was quickly removing a necklace from over her head. It was simple, just a string with a small pouch on the end. Ash hadn't remembered seeing it before. It looked like something a Native American would make.

Kumiko's long, skinny fingers fiddled with the drawstring, and then suddenly disappeared into the small darkness of the pouch. She withdrew a tiny, powdery looking stone that nearly crumbled in her hand.

"We're gonna…do drugs?"

"Guess again."

"We're…fishing?"

She didn't dignify that question with an answer. With a small exhale of breath, she tossed the unidentifiable rock into the waters, and as the ripple went out, a very subtle change accompanied it. After all, brown and purple were very close colors, and it only stayed violet for a moment before turning murky once more.

Kumiko stepped out towards it, moving the dead reeds that made sounds like cracking bones. The water must have been frigid, yet she didn't even flinch when she stepped into its depths. Things were just getting crazier by the minute.

"Come on," the vampire beckoned, her face expectant and black eyes somehow glittering in the darkness from beneath her hat.

"Um…how 'bout we not and say we did."

"Ashton," she said dangerously in the voice that his mom used when he forgot to do laundry.

A lot of things ran through his mind. There were a lot of reasons not to trust Kumiko, yet other reasons that he should. When he had left her alone at his house with his sleeping family in an act of selfishness, she had done nothing. Also, according to her, she "adored" Ash, and would do anything for him. Earlier she had mentioned "war secrets". Curiosity had killed the cat, but…what did he really have to lose?

For a painfully long year he had waited for something, anything, to pull him out of the hole of grief he was in. He hadn't cared if it was bad or good as long as it broke the monotony of being beaten down by pain and regret every day that was so consistent and even that it was like a warm blanket. A blanket of nails, that is. He stepped into the frigid water, a gasp escaping his full lips. Kumiko was already waist deep.

"Damn. It's. Cold!" Ash cried, shivering. His teeth crashed into one another over and over again, sounding like some kind of primitive instrument.

"Just wait 'til it gets to your nipples!" Kumiko laughed, "You'll be real cold then!"

"You're k-k-kidding me, right?"

She suddenly grabbed his arm.

"Ready?"

"Wait. What?"

Before he could even get his mouth closed, she jerked him forward into the inky depths of the polluted park pond. He jerked his arms away, struggled to breath against the icy waters…and realized that they were no longer arctic. In fact, the water was almost body temperature. He opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, but he could see Kumiko swimming gracefully in the distance above. Lungs burning, he began to follow, struggling to paddle in his heavy pants and sneakers. His heart began to beat faster, as if it were some kind of timer signaling that his oxygen was fast depleting.

He choked, causing glossy bubbles as clear as glass to float somewhere above. Just a little longer, He told himself, but his muscles were becoming tired with the struggle, and his clamped mouth was struggling to open and receive oxygen that wasn't there.

Just when he was about to break he was suddenly pulled to the surface by strong, yet feminine, hands. He gulped in the air, spluttering out the water that had somehow managed to infiltrate his mouth. As soon as he had regained his composure, he stood up and began to vent.

"You bitch! Just who do you think you are? You could have KILLED me, dammit!"

For a moment all he could do was growl and mumble nonsense, gnashing his teeth. It took him a moment that he was standing in complete darkness. He also realized that his clothes were completely dry. Not even a drop remained from his struggle in the thick waters of the local park's pond. He suddenly fell into a panic.

"Kumiko? Kumiko?!"

"Yes, Ash?"

She sounded close. Very close. Maybe even right beside him

"Where…what…how…" He couldn't even immediately decide what question he wanted to ask first. Kumiko understood immediately however, and though he could not see her, he could hear the pompous tone in her voice as she stated:

"You were in no danger, Ashton. I have brought you to my world now."

"Your world?"

"Yes. Well…it's your world too. You see, we are simply underground."

"Wait…um…how the hell did that happen? How far underground."

"Far enough. Far enough that your machinery cannot reach us. This is where we are safe from mankind."

"But…I thought the whole underground, beneath all the rocks and stuff, was lava."

He could almost hear her smiling. She loved being the one explaining things. "Has any human ever truly seen what lies beneath the surface?

Ash thought a moment, twisting his Halloween costume in his hands. He sighed. "No, I guess not."

"Then how do they know?"

"I guess they don't."

He felt her hand touch him. "I will teach you many things, Ash. Your first bit of advice is to know that scientists don't know anything. They are some of the biggest fools of your kind because they believe they are the most knowledgeable. A lion's pride is bound to cause his demise when he falls beneath the net."

"But the bubbles…they went up the whole time I was swimming. I thought we were going up, not down."

"Things work differently down here," she informed, "Remember that. In fact, they are almost never consistent with what you have learned to be proper." She took a moment to cough. A sudden light and heat filled the room. After the cool darkness it almost burned Ash's eyes, and he shielded them for a moment. Kumiko stood before him, torch in hand. They appeared to be in some sort of cave, moist rocks jutting from every wall.

"Besides," she said, "You were never swimming, or drowning, I should say, to begin with; you only thought you were."

"Huh?"

"I fixed that vision, that illusion, in the powder I put into the pond water, so that your brain would be able to comprehend the passage from the upper world to the underground."

"So I was taking drugs."

"Not necessarily," Kumiko corrected. She sounded like she was getting annoyed with explaining what seemed like basic knowledge to her.

"Then what?"

"Like I said," she declared, beginning to start down the tunnel, "things don't always work the same down here. Is there even any water for you to have exited from?"

Ash searched for one frantically, yet found nothing but the smooth floor of the cave that seemed to have been carved out so that it would be easy on the feet. Giving up trying to understand all of this, he rubbed his eyes and began to follow after her.

He felt slightly claustrophobic in the tight passages of the cavern. The walls were strange. They glimmered and shined in the light of the torch. They seemed almost golden in a bizarre, alien way. Ash's stomach churned as he thought of what could possibly lie before him, and wondered if he had acted rashly in making this decision to follow a demon in the night.