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Part Three

It took a while to find another string of words. Side tunnels began splitting off left and right, but the Writer liked the glittering tunnel, and stayed on it.

She saw words ahead. Fear squeezed her insides as she tried not to think about what the beast would do. It’s footsteps sped up as she reached out for the words. Her heart skipped at the sound, be she forced her hand to reach out to them. She shone the light of her pen on them to help her see better.

The beast broke into a run behind her. She twitched, fearing the feel of it’s hands closing around her. She almost jerked her hand away from the words. She snatched at them, desperate, and came up with half the line; the rest snapped back against the wall.

She turned and ran, but almost immediately realised that the beast had stopped. Retreated even. She halted shakily, looked back at it. She felt the word string in her hand. A short fragment, a little limp. But they were words.

The Writer grinned. She’d collected words again. And the beast hadn’t grabbed her. She breathed deep, trying to push the fright down.

Doggedly, she pushed on through the tunnels. Sometimes she followed the side paths, finding new places. That helped, but the beast followed everywhere. Keeping her mind away from it was exhausting, and the thought of finding new words filled her with subtle dread. Each time she reached for a new string, the beast ran for her. It never actually caught her, and always backed off again afterwards, but having it come charging down the tunnel was unnerving. She hated it.

She had to get rid of the creature. But how? She couldn’t out run it, or scare it away. If she concentrated hard enough on finding words, it lagged behind, but she knew it was there. It distracted her, made her feel isolated and alone.

But she wasn’t the only one down here.

The Writer stopped dead in her tracks at the thought. There were other writers in the Story Warren, searching for words just like she was. Surely she wasn’t the only one to have had trouble with a beast like this. One of them must know how to get rid of it. And she knew just who she needed to find.

The Man with all the Words.

He’d been in the Story Warren for years. Everyone said he’d found all the words there were to find. If anyone know how to get rid of the beast, it would be him.

Finding anyone in the Story Warren was the same as finding words, or the way out. The Writer focused on what she wanted, on finding the Man with all the Words, and set out.

Certain side tunnels appealed to her. She trusted her instinct and followed. That’s how it worked. If she knew what she wanted, her instinct and the light of her pen would lead her there.

The Writer walked on. The passages became a blur. She snatched at words when she could: it seemed to keep the beast further behind her, even when it did lunge forward every time she touched them. The more often she found words, and collected them, the more often the beast backed off.

It gave her some relief to have a way to push it back. But it still wouldn’t leave. It was always there, back in the tunnel. It bugged her, made her afraid. Afraid of not finding words again soon. Afraid of what would happen if she sat down for a rest. All the hard concentration, both on finding the Word Man, and on not thinking about the beast, were wearing her out. Her mind started to drift back to the outside world.

Before she knew it, the beast had sidled up to her, slowly curving its arms around her as if to draw her into an embrace. She twisted in its grip, shone the pen light in its face, and dashed away.

Angry, afraid and disappointed in herself, the Writer forced herself to go back to concentrating on the Word Man. It worked, held the beast at bay, but she didn’t know how long she could keep fighting it. She had to find the Word Man soon.

The beast had crept close again when she spotted the carpet of words. They grew like a bed of fine grass along one edge of the tunnel. They glowed faintly in the light from her pen.

The writer followed the words. They surrounded her, tickling against her legs. The long strands seemed to sigh as she brushed through them.
She heard a whimper. Behind, the beast tried to pick its way between the words. It didn’t want to touch them. It seemed afraid of them. Perhaps that's why it didn’t like her collecting them, the Writer wondered. Maybe some words were dangerous to it.

She pushed ahead through the waving threads, leaving the beast further and further behind. She slipped down a little crevice in the tunnel wall, where the words spilled out in a tangle. The ceiling suddenly rose above her, and she gasped.

A cavern, a huge space with twisted walls and pillars holding up the ceiling. Across it all grew the words. She’d never seen so many. A meadow stretched out, the strands all glowing different colours. The Writer never knew there were words of different colours.

They grew against the walls too, like bushes on a cliff side. Across the roof grew chains of words like the roots of trees, all crossed this way and that.

In amazement, the Writer stepped down into the meadow. The word strands reached above her knees, waving gently. Across the cavern, under a high bush, stood a man. He certainly seemed to have all the words.

The Writer threaded an eager path through the meadow. The soft glow from all the words lit up the cavern like daytime.

Up close, the man seemed lost in thought, stroking at the word bush with gentle fingers. Here and there, he picked off a line or two, stowing them away. The Writer looked around herself, at the beautiful meadow, at the word bushes, the roots across the ceiling and the man tending them. All so lush, so promising.

‘You grow them!’ She realised out loud. ‘I mean, hello,’ she said as the man turned towards her.

He smiled, his wrinkled face scrunching up.

‘I care for them,’ he said, running a loving hand through the word strands. ‘I care for them, and they flourish for me. I see you are having some troubles,’ he pointed back over the Writers shoulder.

The beast stood there, dwarfed by the huge space, exposed in the light from all the words. It hunched in on itself, its red eyes glaring dolefully around.

‘Please, do you know the words to get rid of it?’ The Writer asked desperately. She stared up at the man. ‘It found me in the tunnels. If I don’t concentrate on ignoring it really hard, it tires to grab me! I thought with all the words you have, you must know some that will make it go away.’
But the man shook his head, sadly.

‘There are no words, in type or volume, that will make it go away,’ he said gently.

The Writer thought she might cry. The beast perked up, its red eyes fixed on her.

‘How will I ever find the right words if I’m always running from it?!’ she sobbed. It all seemed such a waste.

The Man with all the Words put a hand on her shoulder.

‘Can I tell you a little secret?’ He said. ‘Or rather, show you one?’

Confused, the Writer looked up. The Man led her through the meadow, not very far, to a ledge on the wall. Brushing aside the veil of words there, he revealed a small creature.

Not much bigger than a cat, it looked up at them with round, red eyes. Its black fur stuck out in all directions, and the blurry line of its mouth almost seemed to grin.

‘Its sort of cute,’ the Writer said, as the creature squirmed a little under their gaze. ‘What is it?’

‘It’s my Doubt Beast,’ the man said. ‘The same as yours.’

‘The same as…’The Writer looked back at the huge creature glaring at her from back in the cavern. ‘Do we all have one?’

‘Every writer has a Doubt Beast,’ the man explained. ‘The Story Warren just turns them into something real.’

The Writer frowned.

‘Why is mine so big and scary looking, when yours looks like that?’

‘Because you keep feeding yours,’ the man said with a little grin. ‘The more you feed it, the bigger and more powerful it gets. Eventually, if it gets big and bold enough, a Doubt Beast can pick up its writer and carry it all the way out of the Story Warren. And that writer will probably even thank it for doing so.’ The Man with all the Words shook his head a little.

‘But I didn’t feed it anything…’ The Writer complained.

The man reached over and tapped her forehead.

‘Its a Doubt Beast, love.’

The Writers eyes went very round.

‘All the times I was afraid, and wanted to go back, or told myself I was stupid to be here…’

The man just nodded.

‘The surer you are, the less you feed it, and the smaller and more harmless it gets,’ he nodded down at the little one looking hopefully up at them both. ‘Even if you are just pretending to be sure, its enough to trick a Doubt Beast.’

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