About the author
Danielle Costley is an accomplished journalist and editor whose
stories have been published in Australasia and
“Five seconds left on the
clock. Jets are two points down. Stryker breaks free from his opponent. Josh
passes the ball to the emerging young superstar. Stryker responds.
“Leaping into the air, Stryker shoots at the hoop. It bounces on the rim, bordering on the edge. Which way will it go? One second now.
“The ball falls through the hoop. Siren sounds. Game over. And Danny Stryker saves the day again.” Danny whooped excitedly, reliving last year’s State Basketball Finals and wishing his best mate, Josh, was there with him in this strange new country town.
Kryppin was so boring. Since moving from the city, it had been difficult to make new friends. He had grown up with his mates always being just around the corner, but here, everything was totally different.
Danny had always lived a relatively normal life and enjoyed all the things your typical eleven-year-old boy would. Camping, rock climbing and basketball every Saturday with Josh ever since he could remember. Well, that was until recently. For three weeks in a row he had played ball on his own, and he was fed up. The kids from school lived miles away on farms and there was no-one to hang out with after school.
Danny aimed and shot at the makeshift basketball hoop, which was hanging haphazardly on a gnarled oak tree in the back garden. He hoped this weekend his dad would help him set up his Christmas present, a proper backboard and hoop set. Dad had been promising to do it for him ever since they arrived in the country town last month, but somehow it always got postponed. Danny watched as the ball bounced off the tree for at least the hundredth time that day, and into the garden.
“I wish I was anywhere but here,” he moaned. Danny jumped over the garden hose and chased after the ball. But no matter how many hoops he shot, it wouldn’t relieve his boredom. Or improve his mood.
“Danny,” his mum called from inside the house. “How many times do I have to call you? Dinner’s nearly ready.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled. “Just a few more minutes.”
But Danny was mad at his parents for refusing to let him get a dog and had no intention of hurrying. He’d been asking for a puppy for years, but still the answer was ‘no’. It wasn’t as though he wouldn’t look after him. He’d had pets before. Fish, and a rabbit even. At least a dog would mean he had someone to go exploring with. He knew just what to call him too.
“Whoooaaaaaaa,” he screamed,
falling headfirst onto the lawn.
Danny first became aware of a scraping sound in the corner of the room. The persistent noise finally made him open his eyes. He took a sharp intake of breath, startled to see a garden gnome digging a hole in the ground. It was tending to a row of lilac-flowering plants in one corner of the room. As Danny looked around, he realised he wasn’t in a room like any he had seen before. The floor was rammed earth and the walls and ceiling were made of stone. He was in a cave.
“What is this place?” he gasped.
Pain flared through his head as he sat up quickly. He ran his fingers over his bandaged forehead gingerly and felt a huge lump. Casting his gaze downwards, he saw he was lying on a bed of leaves.
Danny glanced out the window at his bedside to see an enormous cavern. Its walls seemed to shimmer slightly, as if the cavern below was aglow with torchlight. In its centre was a lake, glistening a deep shade of gold in the flickering light. Water flowed gently into it from a crevice high up in the wall.
Slowly, as he became accustomed to his surrounds, he realised he was in just one of hundreds of small caves that fed off the main chamber. Looking around, he saw rows of tiny plants dotted around the cave’s edges, suffusing the air with strong, earthy aromas.
As Danny’s concern mounted, the garden gnome turned to face him. His chest was stocky and he wore green trousers with a brown short-sleeved shirt that revealed muscular arms. A dark green cap sat firmly on his head and covered most of his curly, black hair.
“You’re awake, I see,” the gnome said, wiping the dirt from his hands and moving towards him.
“Yes, but only just.” Danny rubbed his swollen forehead. “Ouch,” he winced, and pulled his hand away.
“That’s some bump you have.”
Danny was dumbfounded, still trying to comprehend his new surroundings. Finally, he plucked up enough courage to ask, “Where am I? And who are you?”
“My name’s Drewpy Balchin.” Drewpy gave Danny a lopsided grin. “As to your whereabouts, well, Jayakan will be here in a moment to fill you in.” He looked carefully at Danny, his eyes lingering on the bloodied bandage. “I’m glad you’re finally awake. We were all quite worried about you.”
Moments later, a gnome strode in, surveying her surroundings with poise. She was dressed in a brilliant deep green gown that flowed to the floor, and was carrying a tray of food and drink. She had a regal air, which radiated from unexpectedly soft features. Only her gaze was sharp, revealing a confidence that somehow retained an air of mystery. Framed by long, golden locks, her eyes shone like rich pools of amethysts.
Danny’s eyes were drawn to the blue sapphire hanging around her neck, especially the way it radiated constantly changing shades of aquamarine. It was as though every colour of the rainbow had been encased within it.
“How are you feeling?” A gentle smile lit up her fair complexion as she handed him a ceramic cup of steaming liquid and sat on the edge of his bed.
“Better.” Danny gratefully accepted the drink and inhaled its peppermint aromas. Tentatively, he took a sip. Relief seeped through him as the warm liquid ran down his throat, soothing his headache almost instantly.
“You’ve been sleeping for at least three days now. We were starting to think you might never wake,” she said, placing the food on a nearby table. “By the way, I’m Jayakan.”
“D-Danny,” he stammered in amazement. Whenever she moved a soft, blue beam of light radiated around her like a halo. He gazed at her, confused. “This is so weird. Where am I?”
“There’s no need to worry about that for now. You have to concentrate on becoming well. Then I’ll tell you everything.” She smiled reassuringly and offered him a plate of delicious looking cookies. “Try one of these.”
Danny’s mouth moistened at the sight of them. Hungrily, he bit into one of the moist, chewy biscuits and it suddenly exploded in his mouth, oozing out melted honeycomb. His favourite. “These are awesome.” He quickly scoffed as many of them into his mouth as he could.
Unable to take another bite, Danny nestled back under the bed covers. “What’s that stone around your neck?” he asked, but even though he was brimming with questions, his eyelids began to droop.
Danny did not hear her response; his mind was already filling with dreams. Jayakan watched his peaceful sleep and wondered why he had come into their world. Especially at a time when the Haunted Trio had suddenly reappeared to try, yet again, to steal the Golden Orb. Who knew what would’ve happened to this boy if Drewpy hadn’t found him? Or if he’d fallen into the hands of those deadly ghosts? Many a stray traveller had failed to return from the ghosts’ homeland in the Blue Plains, and those that did were never the same again.
Holding her hand over Danny’s forehead, Jayakan extended a tendril of thought, like a probing finger, into his mind. After some minutes, images began to appear. She recognised the boy’s parents and his sister, as she’d been watching them since their arrival in Kryppin. There were also faces of boys around Danny’s age. One could’ve been his twin, only older. The vision darkened rapidly, disappearing in a swirl of deep blue mist. Then an image appeared of her lying seriously injured in Danny’s arms on a leaf-shaped vessel. She jumped back, startled, and wondered what it meant. Her visions were rarely wrong.
When Danny eventually awoke some hours later, Jayakan was seated in the corner of the room, reading a weathered old map. “You’re still here.”
“That’s right,” she said, closing the parchment. “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up. Any better today?” She moved towards him.
“Much,” was his drowsy reply. “You know, none of this makes any sense. Everything looks so different here. Why am I in a cave? I know I must be dreaming. Am I?” he ventured.
fingers rested on the back of his hand. “No, this isn’t a dream. You’re in
Gnomesville now. Tia Pemasea.”
looked baffled. “That means welcome
in our language,” she explained.
“Of course, we would have preferred your arrival under better circumstances,
but here you are anyway. Don’t worry, you’ll soon feel better. Hopefully, it
won’t be long until you can explore our land. We’ve lots of caverns, forests
and gardens to see. Everything down here is different from your world. You’ll
“My world? What do you mean?”
Jayakan halted, unsure how to proceed. “Even though we’ve been watching your family since your arrival, it’s been a long time since we’ve communicated with any outsiders. Gnomesville’s survival depends upon our existence remaining a secret from the Upper World, your world.”
“Well, humans are naturally curious creatures. If your race found a way to enter Gnomesville and discovered our most precious treasure, who knows what would happen to us?”
Danny nodded solemnly. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. Not that I know what it is anyway. And how can I tell people where you are if I don’t even know how I got here in the first place? And what you are. You look just like garden gnomes to me, but I thought they only existed in storybooks. Are you going to fill me in now?”
Jayakan burst into laughter and nodded in confirmation. “How did you know?”
“We’ve got some statues in our back yard and you look almost identical to them.”
“Actually, we’re descendants of the Mayberry Dwarves, but are smaller and much braver,” she giggled. “Today, we’re known throughout the land as being magnificent craftspeople. Whether it’s gardening, mining, sculpting or making jewellery, our feats are the envy of all in the land. Our tunnels and chambers alone are proof of that,” she continued proudly.
“When can I see them?”
That fall you had left you unconscious, so we needed to brew up a potion of Meelyion.”
Meelyion? What she was talking about? He could remember playing basketball
out the back, and then, nothing.
“We needed to shrink you down to our size so you could enter our world for treatment. The Meelyion potion allowed us to do just that.”
“You mean I’m –?” he asked disbelievingly.
“Yes, that’s right. You’re our size now Danny, and I must say, it suits you,” she smirked.
Danny couldn’t believe this was happening to him. One minute he was playing basketball, and the next he was in a strange land with garden gnomes.
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