‘… while they’re called ‘caves’, what you see around you is actually what’s left of a sand mine, dug out for the glass making process. After quarrying here ceased, the space was used for storage – elephant tusks, oil, spirits. And people. During the Napoleonic Wars, French soldiers were supposedly imprisoned here and later still African slaves. If you look to your right you will see the distinctive ‘Crooked Pillar’ …’
Dan tugged Connor’s sleeve, holding him back as the tour moved on without them.
As the voices receded, Dan handed Connor his torch. ‘Grab this.’ He put his hand deep in his trouser pocket.
‘What are you doing, Dan?’
Connor sounded nervous, voice tight and higher than usual. Dan smiled, waggling a crushed white box in the air.
‘Having a fag, what do you think I’m doing?’
Connor looked nervously behind him, towards the faint glow of torches, the hushed echo of the guide’s voice. ‘You can’t smoke in here.’
‘It’s an enclosed space. It’s illegal.’
Dan shrugged. ‘That’s for pubs and restaurants. Don’t reckon it extends to caves.’
‘Mr Gill will see we’re missing. We’ll get a bollocking.’
Another shrug. Being told off by teachers happened every day. They opened their mouths and Dan just watched, waited until the flapping stopped and then he got on with whatever he wanted to do. And right now, he wanted a smoke.
‘Don’t be a dick, Con. We’ll catch up in a minute.’
Connor shook his head. ‘I’m working at the supermarket after school. I’m not getting detention for you.’ He handed Dan the torch and stalked away, ducking under the low arch. In a second he was gone.
‘Dickhead,’ called Dan, but the sound snuffed out immediately.
Weird. In some pars of the caves your voice carried, bouncing between the walls, diminishing only slowly into silence. In others, it was like a blanket was thrown over you, your words killed immediately.
Well, he wasn’t trotting back like a good boy. There was a wall about the right height to sit on – the edge of a big round hole – and he perched on that, gripping the torch under his arm as he lit his cigarette.
The place was pretty cool actually. Dark, low ceilings, damp dripping down the walls into brown puddles. There was even some kind of cell with a rusty gate and bars. He’d pushed that stuck up bitch Keishi inside, slammed the gate on her until she squealed and stamped her feet like a three-year-old. That had been fun. Course, Gill had stopped it, given him a talking to.
‘… last chance … pushing your luck … do you want to be excluded?’
What did it matter? He was going to be a nightclub bouncer like his dad. You didn’t need a Geography GCSE to beat the crap out of people.
He sucked on the cigarrete, blew the smoke into the torch beam, watched how it thickened in the light. The cave smelt good – damp, musty. Things mouldering, rotting. The dark was good too, the way it held you. He wondered how dark it would be …
He turned off the torch.
He’d never seen such blackness. He held his hand up, but couldn’t see it.
‘Cool.’ Now his voice echoed, hitting the far wall and coming back to him, fainter but still recognisable. Dan whispering.
From far off he could hear footsteps scuffing the rock, mumbled voices. If only he could be alone down here. Completely alone.
‘Alone,’ he called, louder this time, the sound bouncing back and forth – two, three times – before vanishing.
He took one last long drag and flicked the butt away with his thumbnail, saw the cinder flicker in the dark, before crashing to the ground, sparks flying before it snuffed out.
‘Dead,’ he laughed.
He caught his breath. The echo was lower this time, the voice hoarse. He tried to ignore the thump of his heart against his ribs.
‘Dead,’ he called again.
Hand over his mouth now, to stop from screaming. That wasn’t his voice. It was right by his ear. Slower, deeper than him. And angry, really angry.
Dan scrabbled for the torch, fumbling at the button, needing to break the dark open. It jumped from his hand, cracked to the floor, plastic smashing.
He felt his own face, but his lips were clamped tight, only a whimpering sound escaping. He didn’t say that.
Hands clamped round his wrists and he was dragged from his seat, crashing to the rock, thrashing empty air with his feet. Stone bumped under him, scraping his back, tugging at the loose waistband of his tracksuit bottoms, exposing him. Cold metal cut his back, hacking his spine. He fell to the floor, head smacking the ground. Scraping, squeaking, rusty sounds. The clang of a gate closing.
Dark washed over him, inside, outside. He slipped away.
‘Stay,’ whispered the voice.
Keishi watched the ambulance pull away. What was left of the class stood in the carpark in small groups, chatting in low voices. Mr Gill was talking to a policeman, a furrow of concern cutting his brow.
‘Hey,’ said Connor walking towards her, wiping his hands on his jeans.
‘Hey,’ she said, smiling.
He kissed her forehead, a light brush. His hand rested on her arm. ‘You okay? Want me to hang around?’
Keishi nodded. ‘Stay,’ she whispered.
This was based on Bristol’s own Redcliffe Caves, an old sand mine now used for tours, ghost hunts, the setting for plays and the odd bit of TV filming. Creepy but a fascinating place.
And yes, they did store ivory there – and humans.