“‘It’s very big,’ she said. ‘But ratspeakers hardly ever need to go to the market. To tell; the truth-‘ She hesitated. ‘Nah. You’ll laugh at me.’
‘I won’t,’ said Richard, honestly.
‘Well,’ said the thin girl. ‘I’m a little scared.’
‘Scared? Of the market?’
They had reached the bottom of the steps. Anaesthesia hesitated and then turned left. ‘Oh. No. There’s a truce in the market. If anyone hurt anyone there, the whole of London Below would be down on them like a ton of sewage.’
‘So what are you scared of?’
‘Getting there. They hold it in a different place every time. It moves around. And to get to the place it’ll be tonight…’ she fingered the quartz beads around her neck, nervously. ‘We’ll have to go through a really nasty neighborhood.’ She did sound scared.
Richard suppressed the urge to put an arm around her. ‘And where would that be?’ he asked. She turned to him, pushed the hair from her eyes, and told him.
‘Knightsbridge,’ repeated Richard, and he began to chuckle, gently.
The girl turned away. ‘See?’ she said. ‘I said you’d laugh.'”
“‘The Bridge isn’t very far now,’ said Anaesthesia.
Richard hoped that was true. They were now on their third candle. The walls flickered and oozed, the passageway seemed to stretch on forever. He was astonished that they were still under London: he was half-convinced that they had walked most of the way to Wales.
‘I’m really scared,’ she continued. ‘I’ve never crossed the bridge before.’
‘I thought you said you’d been to this market already,’ he asked, mystified.
‘It’s the Floating Market, silly. I told you already. It moves. Different places. Last one I went to was held in that big clock tower. Big… someone. And the next was-‘
‘Big Ben?’ he suggested.
‘Maybe. We were inside where all the big wheels went around, and that was where I got this-‘ She held up her necklace. The candlelight glimmeredyellow off the shiny quartz. She smiled, like a child. ‘Do you like it?’ she asked.”
“‘I suppose,’ Richard said, haltingly, ‘we weren’t in any real danger… It was like a haunted house. A few noises in the dark… and your imagination does the rest. There wasn’t really anything to be scared of, was there?’
The woman looked at him, almost pityingly; and Richard realized that there was nobody holding his hand. ‘Anaesthesia?’
From the darkness at the crown of the bridge came a gentle noise, like a rustle or a sigh. A handful of irregular quartz beads pattered down the curve of the bridge toward them. Richard picked one up. It was from the rat-girl’s necklace. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then he found his voice. ‘We’d better. We have to go back. She’s…’
The woman raised her flashlight, shone it across the bridge. It was deserted. ‘Where is she?’ he asked.
‘Gone,’ said the woman, flatly. ‘The darkness took her.’
‘We’ve got to do something,’ said Richard urgently.
Once again, he opened his mouth. This time, he found no words. He closed it again. He fingered the lump of quartz, looked at the others on the ground.
‘She’s gone,’ said the woman. ‘The bridge takes its toll. Be grateful it didn’t take you too.'”
* * * *
From Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. What inspires you?