Throughout my journey, I have encountered many strange and fascinating creatures, but none have fascinated me more than the grounders: rodent-like creatures that resemble large brown hedgehogs, with green hair on their back that looks like grass. They are present in great abundance, all over the world, and yet they are a cryptid. Until I made contact with one, by pure chance, there are no recorded sightings, no evidence of their existence at all due to their masterful camouflage. Plus, they have all the intelligence of a human. Whereas other cryptids I’ve encountered, like the sasquatch or chupacabra, are just extremely rare, the grounders instead actively try to avoid contact with humans, with a surprising level of success.
“And that is what Liza says about the grounders,” Evaira explained to Bill.
“Really interesting,” Bill said, “but why do these grounders try so hard to avoid humans?”
“Experience,” Chira’s voice said. The grounder peeked her head out of the flower pot.
“What do you mean?” Bill asked.
“We were concerned that the humans would not understand our intelligence,” Chira said, “they would either try to treat us as pets, and thus, deny us many of our rights as a sentient species, or try to hunt us and kill us for food. We feared they would never accept our intelligence, so we hid.”
“I don’t think anybody could doubt your intelligence,” Bill said, “you are speaking English, and rather well, I might add.”
“Actually,” Chira said, “I’m one of only two grounders I know who are actually capable of speaking English. Let me add that it was a very difficult language for me to learn. I spent many years discreetly watching humans and learning the English language. Grounder language would sound like an ordinary animal’s cries to you.”
“But you don’t hide from us,” Bill said.
“I’m different,” Chira said, “humans always fascinated me, but I was always too scared to do anything about it. I spoke about my interest in humans to the leader of my group, Shurr. Though he didn’t approve of the idea at first, I persisted, and he eventually suggested I try to find Liza Evaira, and travel with her. He told me that the grounders’ previous encounters with Liza were rather pleasant, so he didn’t think she’d mind if I accompanied her.”
“But that was after Liza disappeared,” Evaira said, “when I mentioned that my name was Evaira to someone, Chira appeared before me, thinking I was Liza, and that’s when we met and I agreed to let her travel around with us. Of course, the rest is history.”
“I think I’m the only grounder who openly communicates with humans on a regular basis,” Chira said, “you might say I’m like the grounders’ ambassador to the humans.”
“Then you’ve met the other grounders?” Bill asked Evaira.
“We meet a couple of them regularly,” Chira said, “at first, Shurr thought I was a fool for mistaking Liza for her sister, but after a few meetings, he came to realize Evaira was just as friendly and trustworthy as her sister. Of course, I suspect he’ll be a lot less trusting about you. He generally dislikes humans.”
“Shurr?” Bill asked.
“He’s the grounder leader,” Evaira explained, “at least the leader of the group Chira came from, and the only other grounder able to speak English.”
“He’s the one we’re meeting,” Chira added.
“Not just Shurr,” Evaira said, “this time, he’s bringing the entire colony.”
“Right,” Chira said, “almost forgot. I haven’t seen the entire colony since I left.”
“Miss Evaira,” Alpha, their robot, said from the driver’s seat, “we are approaching the requested destination.”
“Good,” Evaira said.
The RV pulled into a nearby driveway, and drove towards an old abandoned mansion.
“I didn’t think the grounders would live in a mansion,” Bill said.
“No, silly,” Evaira said with a laugh, “they don’t live in the mansion; they live in the yard around the mansion.”
“Yes,” Chira said, “because this place is abandoned, and walled in, the grounders can hide out in the lawn, be quite active, and get very little attention.”
The RV pulled to a stop. Chira leaped out of her pot, and walked towards the door. Evaira and Bill followed. Alpha watched from the driver’s seat. Chira jumped out, onto the lawn, and started to cry. She cried in the grounder language, which sounded like a shrill, but strangely soothing squeak.
As she made this noise, several other grounders peeked out of the ground of the mansion’s lawn. They started to cry in the same manner. Most of these grounders were much smaller than Chira. Whereas Chira was roughly a little under a half-foot long and three inches tall, while standing on all fours, many of them were only slightly larger than chipmunks.
One particular grounder approached Chira. This one was noticeably larger than the rest, including Chira, and his body looked slightly more wrinkled. He squeaked several times at Chira, and she squeaked back.
“Are they having a conversation?” Bill asked.
“Yes,” Evaira said, “that one she’s speaking with is Shurr.”
Shurr then finished speaking with Chira and approached Evaira and Bill. Chira, meanwhile, ran over to the other grounders, and started to speak with them in the same manner.
“You bring a stranger,” Shurr said to Evaira, “I thought we agreed that as few humans as possible were to know of our existence.”
“Sorry,” Evaira said, “this is Bill, a new travelling companion of ours.”
“Look,” Bill said, “I won’t tell anybody of your existence. I’m also different, so I understand the desire to keep secrets. I’m a shapeshifter.”
“Well,” Shurr said, still very suspicious, “I suppose if you’re keeping the secret, and Evaira vouches for you, I can live with it for the moment. Still, I’m going to keep an eye on you, to make sure you’re not lying or anything.”
“Don’t worry,” Evaira said, “Shurr may seem cold, and he may dislike humans, but he will be better if you’re nice to him. He’ll warm up to you.”
“Hey,” Shurr said.
“Well,” Evaira said, “you did let Liza write about you.”
“Of course,” Shurr said, “but mostly because if our existence is presented as a work of fiction, it makes people who sight us by accident and conspiracy theorists who suspect our existence seem like they got too wrapped up in the books, and less likely to be taken seriously.”
“Well,” Evaira said, “you do enjoy the books, though.”
“Who doesn’t,” Shurr said, “it’s just too bad your sister disappeared before she could finish the third part of her ‘Underground People’ Trilogy.”
Bill looked at him, confused as to how a grounder could handle a book. Shurr noticed this, and glared back at him, frightening Bill.
“Don’t worry,” Evaira said, “I intend to find my sister, and we’ll have that third part of the trilogy done just for you.”
“And I do wish you good luck in that,” Shurr replied.
Evening came, and while Evaira and Bill went into the RV, Chira remained outside talking with the grounders in the yard.
“They certainly are an interesting people,” Bill said, “but I can certainly see why they keep hidden with a leader like that.”
“Shurr is very cautious,” Evaira explained, “but that’s really just him echoing the feelings of the people. They generally don’t trust humans. I know you’re not human either, but you look human to them. However, Shurr will eventually warm up to you.”
“Actually,” Bill corrected, “I am human. My shapeshifting abilities are the result of some kind of genetic modification. I don’t really know the scientific details. I could make myself look like grounder if you think that would improve Shurr’s opinion.”
“No, I don’t think that would help, Evaira chuckled imagining Bill as a crooked-nosed grounder. “I hope Chira is enjoying being with the other grounders. You know she hasn’t seen them in so long.”
“I wonder what they’re doing,” Bill said.
“Chira has ventured so far from the colony,” Evaira replied, “so naturally, she has some amazing stories to tell.”
The two of them talked a bit more, before going to bed for the night. The next morning, Evaira got up early, and stepped out of the RV for some fresh air. When she stepped outside, she was greeted by a grounder, sitting at her feet.
The grounder looked at her, and said something in the grounder language. Naturally, Evaira did not understand the grounder language, but from the tone, she suspected that this grounder wanted something.
“Do you want something?” Evaira asked.
The grounder spoke again.
“Maybe we should get Chira or Shurr to translate,” Evaira suggested.
Before she could do anything, Shurr approached the grounder. He said something to the other grounder in the grounder language. Upon hearing Shurr’s words, the other grounder walked away.
“What was that all about?” Evaira asked.
“We’ve got a bit of a situation,” Shurr explained.
“What’s going on?” Evaira asked.
“All night,” Shurr explained, “Chira was up, telling the other grounders stories of the adventures you had together. It seems that they were somehow caught up in the amazing stories, and now, they all want to go on such adventures too. Niva, there, was asking you if she could accompany you on your trip. I insisted she leave you alone.”
“So,” Evaira said, “all the grounders now want to come with me?”
“Not all of them,” Shurr replied, “some of them are planning to leave the colony to explore the world on their own. Others want to seek out other trustworthy humans, and travel with them. Of course, a few reasonable ones just want to stay. However, most of them seem to have been caught up in the romance of adventure, and Chira’s tales, and want to go out and see the world and have such adventures themselves.”
“But most people in the world don’t go on adventures like Chira and I,” Evaira said, “most of the outside world is actually pretty dull compared to my journeys, and Liza’s stories.”
“I know,” Shurr said, “but I don’t think they see it that way. Hearing about the world only through Chira’s stories gives a rather distorted view of the world. I tried to bring them back to reality, but they know I haven’t been out in the world nearly as much as Chira, so they didn’t listen.”
“You’re also concerned this will affect your way of life,” Evaira said.
“Exactly,” Shurr said, “they don’t understand the dangers of interacting with humans. The fact that Chira speaks your language means she can safely travel with you, but anybody else will easily be mistaken for a dumb animal by humans. We’ll be discovered, and…”
“I know the whole story,” Evaira said, “and I understand your concerns. I wasn’t planning on allowing any more grounders to come with me, but I can’t do anything about the ones that want to leave on their own. You’ll just have to educate them on the dangers.”
“I know, and I’ve been trying,” Shurr said, “but I haven’t been terribly successful. They would rather listen to Chira, who had experience with the outside world, than somebody like me, who hasn’t. Regardless, unless they change their minds, I’m going to have to take drastic action to outright forbid any grounders from leaving the colony…including Chira.”
“But Chira’s our friend,” Evaira said.
“Then you had better help me fix this,” Shurr said.
Shurr walked away. Some time later, Evaira and Chira were sitting outside the RV and talking. Evaira relayed the conversation she had with Shurr. Chira was surprised.
“I didn’t think they’d all want to leave like that,” Chira said, “but still, if grounders start appearing before humans, it will probably be a good thing, at least, as soon as the humans realize we’re intelligent…something I can make happen.”
“I don’t know,” Evaira said, “Shurr may dislike humans, but his concerns are not without value.”
“I suppose so,” Chira said, “but still.”
“You’re probably right too,” Evaira said, “but only you and Chira can speak English. It will make it difficult to prove to humanity that all grounders are intelligent.”
“I think it could happen,” Chira said.
“Yeah,” Evaira said, “it could. If you want to let it happen, we can. All we need to do is just leave right now. Once we’re gone, Shurr can do nothing to stop us, and many of the other grounders will eventually leave on their own.”
“But we can’t do that,” Chira said, “they still don’t know enough to survive in the human world. I’d have to teach them.”
“But if we stay,” Evaira said, “and we don’t convince the other grounders to stay with the colony, Shurr will prevent you from leaving. I know you may want to help prepare the grounders for the outside world, but once you think about it, it’s probably not a good idea.”
“I suppose you have a point,” Chira said, “it may be too soon to introduce our peoples anyway. But what should we do? How do we convince them of this?”
“You could just try telling them,” Evaira said, “warning them of the troubles, and telling them it’s not a good idea. You observed humans for many years before we met and I help protect you. ”
“I’ll have to try,” Chira said, “I promised them I’d tell another story tonight. I’ll be sure to use that time to warn them, to try to get them to understand the full situation.”
“Good idea,” Evaira said.
Evaira stepped back in the RV, and passed by Alpha, sitting motionlessly in the driver’s seat. Bill was sitting at a table, waiting for her. He had a chess set laid out.
“Up for a game?” Bill asked.
“Sure,” Evaira said.
Evaira sat across from Bill, and they started to play.
“You know,” Evaira said, “I usually play against Alpha. Sadly, I’m no match for his advanced artificial intelligence.”
“So,” Bill said, “you look like something’s on your mind.”
“It’s Chira,” Evaira said, “Shurr may force her to stay.”
“Why?” Bill asked.
“He doesn’t want the other grounders to leave their colony,” Evaira explained, “sadly, Chira’s stories are convincing them to do just that.”
“I see,” Bill said, “and this would expose their secret existence, something that the grounders have been trying to avoid for so long.”
“Exactly,” Evaira said, “but I don’t want to lose Chira either. She’s been a valuable friend, and has saved my neck on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, unless we can somehow convince the other grounders not to leave the colony, that’s exactly what will happen.”
“I understand,” Bill said, “I may not have been traveling with you very long, and I don’t know Chira very well, but it’s clear to me that you two are close friends.”
In the evening, Chira went to talk with the other grounders, and tried to warn them. The next morning, Evaira woke up to find Chira and Shurr arguing outside. They were arguing in grounder-squeak, so Evaira could not understand what was happening.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Chira tried to warn the grounders of the dangers last night,” Shurr explained.
“But they wouldn’t listen,” Chira said, “They were confident they could handle it. A couple of them asked me to teach them to speak English, so they would be able to get along in the outside world, but I told them it is very difficult to do, and even then, the risk is great.”
“Sadly,” Shurr said, “it looks like I am going to have to take a more drastic action to keep our existence secret.”
“I still think I can convince them,” Chira said, “give me a few more days.”
“But we don’t have a few more days,” Shurr said, “I’ve already had to stop a few from trying to leave this morning.”
“And all thanks to my stories,” Chira said with a sigh
“Hold on,” Evaira said, “if it’s your stories that created this mess, maybe you can tell another story to put a stop to it.”
“Wait,” Shurr said, “you have an idea?”
“Chira,” Evaira said, “all of your stories have been about our more exciting adventures, seeing the world, discovering the unknown, correct?”
“Yeah,” Chira said.
“In other words,” Evaira said, “you told them about the exciting, romantic and glamorous side of our adventures.”
“But they didn’t listen when I tried to warn them of the other side,” Chira said.
“But what if you tell them about the other side in the form of a story,” Evaira said.
“You might be on to something there,” Shurr said.
“What kind of story?” Chira asked.
“Tell them a story about an adventure we went on that’s so dangerous, so terrifying, so horrible, that no sensible grounder would want to live through it.” Evaira suggested, “We have had more than our share of those. Maybe what happened at the intersection of highways 19 and 62, or even better: what happened in Blue River.”
“Blue River?” Chira asked, cringing, “but I’m trying to forget that one! There are things we’re just not meant to see.”
“I know,” Evaira said, “which is exactly why it would be perfect. After hearing that story, nobody would want to come with us.”
“Then if you think this might do the job,” Shurr said, “I’ll give you one more night. If this story doesn’t convince the grounders to abandon this foolish dream…”
“I understand,” Chira said, “it will work. The real question is whether I’ll actually be able to go through with telling them of that horrible place.”
Chira walked away.
“I really have to hear that story,” Shurr said, following.
Bill approached Evaira.
“What did happen in Blue River?” he asked.
“I’d rather not say,” Evaira said, “I still have nightmares about it, but I will say this: we barely escaped that place with our lives.”
Bill and Evaira spent the day playing chess, and discussing Chira. Bill kept trying to find out what Blue River was, but Evaira was just too disturbed about the whole event to say anything. That night, Chira went out to try to tell the other grounders the story.
In the morning, Chira was sitting at the bottom of the entrance to the RV. She was quivering, and clearly very disturbed by something. When Evaira stepped out of the RV, she noticed Chira’s trembling, and reached down to pick her up.
“Chira,” Evaira said, “are you alright?”
“I told them the story,” Chira said, frightened.
“Did it work?” Evaira said.
“Yes it did,” Shurr said, approaching them, “just hearing that story gave even me nightmares. I don’t think the grounders are going to try to leave anytime soon.”
“It was difficult,” Chira said, “when I started that story, I was overwhelmed by fear. I had to describe every detail, just what made that day so horrifying, and it was difficult to do. But every time I thought I couldn’t go through with it, I thought of the grounders, and what would happen if they left with their romanticized view of the outside world, and I thought of you, and how Shurr might keep us apart. It gave me the strength to go through with it.”
“But at least you’re okay,” Evaira said.
“But I don’t ever want to hear a word about Blue River again,” Chira said.
“Come on,” Evaira said, “let’s take you inside.”
“I suppose it’s time for you to go?” Shurr asked.
“I think it’s for the best,” Evaira said.
“I agree,” Shurr said, “goodbye, for now.”
“Next time,” Evaira said, “we’ll be sure to have some more terrifying and scary stories.”
Shurr didn’t answer. He simply walked away to the rest of the colony.
“Bye,” Evaira said, as Shurr left.
Evaira walked back in the RV. She put Chira in her pot.
“Alpha,” Evaira said, “we’re done here. Let’s move.”
“As you request,” Alpha said.
And so, they left.
A couple hours later, Chira peeked out of her pot and looked at Evaira. She appeared much calmer. “So,” she said, “despite all that happened, it was great to see the rest of the colony. It was a fun visit.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Evaira said, “but after that close call, I doubt that Shurr will let you see the colony again for a while.”
“I know,” she said, “and part of me wonders if we were wrong to scare the grounders out of their desire to leave. I left, and I’m perfectly fine.”
“They’re just not ready for the outside world,” Evaira said, “and neither is humanity. We may be friends, but you and I are the exception.”
“But is that true,” Chira asked, “or just what Shurr wants them to think? We all know how Shurr feels about humans.”
“He does have a point,” Evaira said, “think about the humans we saw and think it over. Many humans are not quick to accept other humans just because they are different. Getting the humans to accept grounders as an intelligent species will be difficult, especially when you consider that you and Shurr are the only grounders who can speak to humans.”
“I don’t know,” Chira said, “I think I’ll have to contemplate a bit more on this.”
Chira put her head back in her pot, and began to think hard about the grounders, and their place in the world, as the RV continued onward.
Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):
So, for my second installment of Evaira’s journey, I bring you “The Ambassador Phenomenon”, a story about Chira and the grounders. Though Chira was introduced in the previous story, she clearly had the least focus of the four main characters, so I gave the second story to her to make up for it. A fun fact: Chira’s name came from Chia, a reference to the famous Chia Pets. There is more than a passing resemblance. I was originally going to name her Shia, but for some reason (forget the exact reason), changed it to Chira.
The grounders are just another example of how I like intelligent non-humanoid creatures. I don’t really know where I got the idea from, but I did use it once before: the “grider” was a very similar creature I used in Swogprille, but only a couple times, and wasn’t as intelligent.
As for the story itself, I wanted it to be a story about keeping secrets, so you can compare Shurr to Mayor Valencia, but consider they go about it different ways. Shurr is definitely more amicable, but still dedicated to keeping his secret. Plus, I added a little theme about the romance of adventuring. When most people share their adventures and experiences, they talk about the fun and exciting part, the part that makes you jealous of them for not being with them. But they might omit the parts about the hardships.