Down the rabbit hole

Down the rabbit hole

A girl is unhappy about having to spend the day in the park with her older cousin, Felix. But then she is forced to ask for his help, only for him to disappear.

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Illustration: Sarene Chan/SCMP

This is the second finalist in Young Post's 2014 Summer Story competition in which book vouchers and Ocean Park tickets are up for grabs. Each week, we will publish one of the finalists' stories, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on September 5.


I can't believe that I'm stuck with Felix on such a wonderful, sunny day. First of all, I do not like Felix. It's nothing personal, really ... but imagine having your older cousin following you around wherever you go, his nose always buried in a book.

I'd rather he just kept reading and ignore me. But no, he has to look up every five minutes to correct my grammar and spelling in the text I'm about to send to Olivia or Ellie.

Oh, and there is also his frequent, annoying use of a ridiculously large number of idioms when he talks. You can walk up to him and compliment him on his fluent English, and he will smile and say, "Yes, I do believe my reading is as smooth as honey. I chanced my arm against the clock." This kind of nonsense talk will guarantee him a room in a mental asylum if he isn't careful.

Luckily, the kind of people that compliment him on his English skills are usually butchers or shopkeepers at the Kowloon City wet market. They will normally just nod to him, with a fake smile on their confused faces.

Anyway, my mother dropped me off with Felix today so she and my dad could go to see the "1,600 Pandas" exhibition in Hong Kong. They didn't take me because I used to be afraid of pandas; I had nightmares about them.

Parents. Isn't it great the way they focus on the past, not the present?

Felix was waiting at the entrance of Kowloon Park, dressed in beach shorts and a shabby, faded T-shirt, with the words of the idiom, "Like a dog with 2 tails", on the front.

"Hello," I said in the cold tone I usually reserved for Felix.

He simply glanced at me before assuring my parents that I would be in safe hands, and there would be no "close shaves" or "dicey situations".

I swear, he phrased his sentences carefully just so he could use as many idioms as possible.

After waving goodbye to my parents, Felix turned to me.

"Had breakfast yet?" he asked.

"No."

"Perhaps a baker's dozen of eggs can get you back on your feet. You're a bag of bones."

"Thanks for the compliment," I muttered sarcastically as he headed off towards the snack bar. I wondered how he could get whatever number of eggs he had in mind. Oh, I know! He would simply drive everyone insane with his stupid idioms until someone gave him some!

"So why are we at Kowloon Park?" I grumbled, pulling my bag closer to my shoulder. "Are you trying to find inspiration for some more idioms? Because you'll need to buy me a mask, not eggs: I can't be seen with you."

"No," replied Felix, rather cheerfully. "We're going to be footloose and fancy-free, full of the joys of spring, and live the life of Riley!" We stopped in the middle of a grass field, crowded with children flying kites, playing tag and yelling while their parents relaxed.

Felix took in a deep breath, stretched out his arms - and fell backwards. I gave a small shriek, which caused a few startled pigeons to take flight. He lay still on the grass spreadeagled - his arms and legs stretched out - and said: "Come join me, a ..."

"Oh shut it, Felix," I snapped, and walked off towards the snack shop. The last thing I needed was yet another of his "enlightening" speeches full of idioms.

"Five packets of sour strings, a bottle of Coke, two bags of BBQ-flavoured crisps, a small box of jelly beans and a packet of M&M's, please," I rattled off, pulling out my purse and counting some coins while an assistant turned around and began to collect my order.

"Damn," I said, as my Book Club membership coin fell from my wallet and rolled into the thick shrubs growing behind the store. I quickly mumbled an apology to the assistant, then dashed over to the shrubs. I crouched down on all fours, and just as I put my head among the greenery, I saw my membership coin rolling into a large hole in the ground.

Damn! I put my hand in but couldn't reach it. My arm was too short. I needed Felix's help. I shuddered at the thought of having to talk to him again.

Steeling myself, I went back to the shop for my snacks and walked over to Felix, who was still lying spreadeagled on the grass.

"Hey," I said stiffly, kicking his ribs with my shoe. He sat up rather groggily. "Listen, I need your help to get my membership coin. It rolled into a hole."

"Can't you just get a new one?"

I snorted in disgust and said: "Then I wouldn't have to come to ask for your help."

"Oh, well. You are such a bull in a china shop ..."

"... Will you just stop it with all your stupid idioms?" I snapped.

Felix looked startled. I'd never shown my dislike of his idioms before. "Well, uh, let's go ... I guess."

For once, Felix seemed lost for words. He got to his feet awkwardly, and we walked in silence up to the shrubs.

"It rolled in there," I said, pointing into the deep, dark hole. Felix peered inside, and said: "Well, down the rabbit hole we go."

"How do you know it's a rabbit hole?" I asked.

"Oh, it's ..." But his expression made me realise that he had just used another idiom.

"Great," I muttered, then cleared my throat. "Well, can you get it?"

"Yeah, I suppose," he said, slowly reaching into the hole.

But after grasping around for a while, he shook his head. "I can't reach far enough."

"Well, don't you have an idiom for 'idiot with tiny, short arms'?" I said snidely, before I could stop myself. I could see the pain in Felix's eyes.

"No, wait ..." I started, but Felix just ignored me and eased himself into the hole. After a minute, he tossed my membership coin up, beside the hole. I lunged at it quickly, before it rolled back down again, and slipped it safely into my bag.

However, as Felix began to crawl out of the hole, the loose dirt underneath him shifted. He lost his grip on the ledge and fell backwards into the hole, followed by a huge avalanche of loose dirt.

"Felix!" I cried in horror as his hand disappeared. I got on my knees and peered into the hole, which I could see twisted to the left in the darkness.

"Felix?" I called. No answer.

"Felix?" I called again, now worried. No, please. Guilt formed in my stomach. No.

"Felix!" I cried frantically, poking my head into the hole. "Felix!"

Suddenly, something touched my shoulder and I looked round in shock. A bearded, middle-aged man, wearing a yellow-coloured shirt, was staring at me.

"Hello, are you alright?" he asked, sounding worried.

From the tone of his voice, it sounded as if he thought I should be the one getting a room at the mental asylum.

"No, I'm not," I spluttered, scrambling to my feet. "Felix - my cousin - he fell down this hole and now I don't know what has happened to him!"

The man frowned and said: "Wait." Then he pulled out his phone and dialled a number.

Minutes later, one of the managers in charge of Kowloon Park came hurrying towards us.

"Who fell down what?" he gasped in a deep voice, clearly out of breath, as a large layer of fat threatened to burst from his tight-fitting suit.

"My cousin, Felix," I said anxiously, gripping the sleeve of his suit.

"This young girl says her cousin fell down this hole," said the man, pointing at the hole.

The manager crouched down and peered into the hole. Then he stood up, looking worried.

"Little girl," he rumbled in his deep voice, "please contact your cousin's parents now, or any close relative."

"Why? What's happened to him?" I asked, my heart now pounding.

"Just call them," the manager said.

Felix's parents were in Florida, so I quickly rang my parents. The manager shone a torch down the hole.

"Hello, uh, Felix? Felix? Are you ... there?" he called out, gulping a little as he said the last word.

About 45 minutes later, my parents arrived and rushed up to me. "What happened to Felix?" said my father.

The manager, sweating heavily, said nervously: "Uh, Mr and Mrs Cheung, this hole actually, uh, actually leads to the sewer pipes ... and ..." But he couldn't continue further because my mother let out a gasp. Then before I knew it, I was sobbing. All I could think of was that I had insulted Felix just before he had fallen into the sewer.

"Mr Whoever you are," my mother said shakily. "Surely Felix is still there. I mean, the pipe should block him from going any further down."

"Well, that hole was made a few days ago, to fix a leak in the pipe ... but the top had not been sealed back on. I'm ... I'm sorry."

"Sorry! The hell you are!" I shrieked. I had no idea where this sudden outburst came from, but I didn't care. I lunged at him and grabbed at his suit.

"You don't know anything about feeling sorry!" I yelled, tears streaming down my face.

Then my father pulled me away, screaming and shouting, and took me back to the car.

No trace of Felix was ever found. Weeks later I was reminded of him again, during an English class.

My teacher said, "... for example, this is an idiom", and wrote on the board, "Down the rabbit hole".

She said: "This idiom is a metaphor for adventure, or exploring unknown, unfamiliar places."

I stared at those words. Felix had used this same idiom before he had disappeared. It felt like a jinx. Because I knew he really was now in an unknown, unfamiliar place.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Down the rabbit hole

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