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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

About | Stories by date

6 down

What's my special drain name?

Fiona eats the sausage as quickly as she can, biting and swallowing, licking sauce from her fingertips. It's not quick enough; she's pushing the last mouthful in when Julie runs up behind her and prods.

"Boo," Julie says.

"Hello," Fiona says once she's swallowed.

"Ooh, breakfast."

"There was a barbecue outside the museum. They had vegeburgers." It's not quite a lie.

They walk past the hospital together, then through the Botanic Gardens. Julie picks fallen petals from the grass and tucks them into her hair. She's wearing a camouflage-pattern singlet and a ridiculous petticoat that puffs out at mid-thigh, layers of green and black tulle. Fiona covets, indiscriminately: the skirt, the confidence to wear it, Julie.

"There's jeans in my bag," Julie says. "It was a bit hot to wear them on the bus. You said it's colder underground, though."

They reach the grass slope, and slide down into the empty streambed. "Mm. It gets a bit damper once you're in, as well," Fiona says. "But not much. If you're careful your socks might not even get wet." They round a corner, and duck under one low bridge. The tunnel's in sight.

There's a high ceiling at first as it passes under the road, graffiti scrawled across both walls. Julie reaches up and traces some of the lines with a finger: 2003, 2001, 1994. Magus, Shark, Mondaine. "You must know all these people."

Fiona looks. "Only a few of them."

"Magus," Julie says, drawing the syllables out. "Hello, Magus," she tries. "Good morning, Magus. That wizard's hat certainly suits you, Magus," she adds as she takes a few more steps.

Once the tunnel's passed under the road it drops to a low arch, barred with a few thick pipes. "Careful," Fiona says, watching as Julie bends down. "There's some big puddles in there." She can just make out the wall at the back, where the path bends to the right. It's rough grey stone. It's also getting brighter. It shouldn't be doing that. Julie doesn't seem to have noticed, yet, but another twenty seconds and it's impossible to miss; she stands up and steps back to the mouth of the tunnel, behind Fiona. A moment later Toby starts walking towards them, flicking his headlamp off as he rounds the curve into visibility.

"Hi," he says to Fiona. "Didn't know you were coming out today."

"No," Fiona says. "Hello." She didn't know he was going to be around, either. He wasn't supposed to be.

"Everyone's running late, anyway," he says, "I got a text from Shark saying he won't be around till eleven, and it's his party."

"I'm not here for the party," Fiona says. "I forgot that was today." Nobody mentioned a party to her in the first place. "We were just going to wander a bit, maybe look at one or two of the side-tunnels." She doesn't need to explain herself to him, anyway.

He nods, and glances past her.

"Hi," Julie says in response. "I'm Julie."

"Toby. Good timing, anyway," he says, looking back at Fiona. "You can help carry the pizza."

"The pizza," Julie says, raising her eyebrows.

"It should be here soon." He grins and walks past them to the mouth of the tunnel, and then out into the sunlight. "I'll just be a minute," he calls back, clambering up onto the side. "Wait for me."

Fiona feels queasy. It was supposed to be her and Julie, wandering through tunnels in the darkness, alone. "Sorry about this," she says. "I forgot they were going to be around. We don't have to wait."

"No, it's great. Shark's party! You never told me you knew someone called Shark."

Fiona can't tell whether it's mockery or enthusiasm. She shrugs, embarrassed. "His real name's Dennis."

"That's even better then." Julie drops her backpack onto a dry patch of stone and slides her skirt off. Fiona looks away until she hears the zip of jeans being done up. It's only a few seconds later that Toby jumps back down into the streambed, arms piled with six pizza boxes. They teeter as he catches his balance on landing, but they don't fall. "Here, take a slice," he says.

Fiona was supposed to be leading the way, but instead she follows behind, two of the boxes in her arms, torch grasped awkwardly in one hand, listening to the sound of chewed vegetarian pizza in front of her. Low arches, and a corner, and then a long narrow corridor. Grilles skylight the roof, and the sun shines through onto intricate blue graffiti. Julie switches her torch off, and brushes her hands against the wall, squatting to get a better look at some of the writing.

"Shark, Mondaine, 2B, Sashay, Crawler," she reads. "Newbies Expo 2005."

"Yeah," Toby says, "The spray-paint's not ours, though."

Julie nods, and stands back up. "What's my special drain name?" she asks. "Do I get one?"

Toby tilts his head and looks at her appraisingly. "Do you want one?"

"I think so," she says, pulling her ponytail into a bun with her spare hand and looking at herself sideways in the water. "What do I look like? How about Meander? Spiral. Mirage. Aqua Julia. Drainella. Tunnelerina."

"We've already got a Mirage," Toby says.

Julie spreads her fingers, and hair falls back down. "Is that you, then?"

"Nah, I'm Tunnelerina."

Julie laughs. They walk further in, switching torches back on as light from the last grille fades. It doesn't take long.

"Subteranneum," Julie tries out, swinging her torchlight over the ceiling. "Whisper. ExploroGirl. What's yours, Fi?"

Fiona doesn't have one. She doesn't like nicknames; even "Fi" would make her wince, from anyone except Julie.

The ceiling rises and falls as they walk on; walls close in and then spread again. The graffiti thins out.

"How often do you run into people you don't know, down here?" Julie asks.

"Hardly ever," Toby says. "You don't get anyone trying to live down here, for a start, they'd be rained out or killed by the storms. One of the drains up by the showgrounds, though, there's some sixty-year-old who walks his dog through every morning."

In the darkness, Fiona thinks, looking at something is active; it subsitutes for fingers. When her torchlight slides along Julie's back it's like reaching out and touching. Her singlet's rough, and dusty from the walls. When Julie laughs Fiona can feel the light move, and she feels sick again; a moment later, she stumbles and almost falls over when Julie squeaks and drops her torch.

"Spiderweb," Julie explains as Toby puts his pizza boxes down to pick the torch up and wipe it dry on his trousers.

There aren't a lot of spiderwebs; it's too dark. They proliferate near the entrances and grates, and then thin out like the graffiti. A few more dangle from the ceiling, and sunlight shows in the distance.

It's a gutterbox. Julie tiptoes and peers out. "There's a car park," she says, voice hushed.

"We can get out here if you like," Fiona says.

"Wouldn't someone see?"

"Nobody cares," Toby says. "They don't do anything, they just look confused."


"Watch this," Toby says, and leans forward, mouth to the gutterbox hole. "You there," he yells. "Smoking stunts your growth!"

Julie leans back into the shadow, laughing. "Shhh," she says.

He keeps yelling. "And it gives you pimples!"

"Toby," Julie says, pulling his arm.

He relents, grinning. "They won't do anything," he says. "Better not climb out, though, they'll think it was you."

At the next gutterbox, he makes ghost noises. At the one after that, he goads Julie until she looks out herself. "Hey," she yells, then breaks down into giggles. "No," she says, "I can't do it."

Toby leans over her. "Hey," he yells. "Get a room."

At the next gutterbox they both lean out. Fiona tries to shine her torch into the gap between their bodies, but there isn't one.

"We should really get out here," she says, but Julie isn't listening, and then there's light and sound in the distance.

"Almost there," Toby says. "You're coming to the party, yeah?"

"Julie," Fiona says, loudly. It echoes. "I don't think we should stay." Toby stops walking, and Julie turns around, torch swinging with her and glaring into Fiona's eyes. There's the drip of water, and more faint voices in the distance.

"I'm leaving, anyway," Fiona goes on, when nobody else says anything. She can't make out their faces. Toby clicks his torch off, and it gets even harder.

"What about your friend's party?" Julie says.

Dennis isn't her friend; none of them are. She likes the drains but that doesn't mean she likes the people, or their shouting from gutters, or their smug underground pizza parties. That doesn't mean they like her. "I just think we should go."

"Are you okay?" Toby says. "I can drop the pizzas off and walk you out, if you like, you shouldn't go on your own if you're feeling sick."

"I'm fine," she says, and turns around.

"Fiona," Julie calls after her. "Come on. There's pizza. I have to choose a drains name."

She doesn't stop. She listens in the gaps between her footsteps, but she can't tell whether anyone's following, and she shouldn't turn around.