Wednesday, 25 May 2011


“What’s wrong with you?!?” the man yells.
   I can hardly think. My heart beats so hard against my ribs, like it’s trying to get out. Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe.
   Okay. Now I can think. What just happened? I’m on the road. Sitting, though. I’m panicking, just a bit. What’s the point? I’m panicking more than a bit. I think I was nearly hit by a car, for crying out loud!
   I realise I haven’t answered the man yet.
   “I’m sorry, I’m usually really careful. I don’t what happened…”
   “Are you okay?” the man says, slightly calmer now.
   I nod. “Yeah, I think so.”
   I put my head between my knees as I’ve heard that’s what you’re meant to do when you feel sick. I feel a sick, anxious feeling at the bottom of my stomach. Butterflies.
   “You need me to call someone?”
   “No…no thanks. I’ll just…go to school.”
   The man frowns. “Are you sure? I could call your parents.”
   “No!” I practically shout. “Sorry. I just don’t want to scare them.”
   Mum is so paranoid. You can’t do anything – I mean, anything – without her stressing for hours about it. And Dad doesn’t know how to calm her down.
   “If you’re sure…” The man stares at me warily. Probably trying to suss out whether I’m going to faint or something. “You going to school?”
   “Mmm. What school?”
   “Sacred Heart…why?” I shouldn’t’ve told him. (You can see Mum’s paranoia rubbing off on me!)
   “I’m going to call them later to check you get there all right.”
   I smile. “Okay. But I’m off on a school trip to Chislehurst Caves.”
   “So? They’ll still mark you in.”
   “Oh, yeah.”
   “Take care crossing roads, kid.”
   “Yes. Thanks.”


As soon as I’ve registered with Mrs MacCodrum, I get into the coach and slide into the seat Mally saved for me.
   “This is going to be wicked,” Mally grins. “Kim went last year; she said it’s great fun. The guide takes all the torches in at one point and there’s this really loud noise…”
   Great. I just love the dark, and things happening when you can’t see them. My idea of pure bliss.
   “…oh, and why are you so late? We’ve been waiting, like, forever for you, Adam, Leah, Jake and Lucas.”
   “Well, I left early enough. But, y’know, it was drizzling and I guess I forgot to look both ways when I was crossing.”
   “You? But you’re the girl who looks, like, ten ways before crossing!”
   If there was any point, I’d refuse to carry on. I hate it when people interrupt me. But it’s just not worth it. It won’t affect Mally because she just doesn’t care. She’ll move onto a new topic, and you’ll get sucked into the conversation.
   Instead, I pull a face. “Yeah, whatever. So this car came along and almost hit me. Just missed. So after that I walked real slow and careful.”
   Mrs MacCodrum steps up into our view.
   “Quiet now children. Now that we’re all here, I’d like to thank Mr Gerty for arranging this trip again. He does it every year, so we have a lot to thank him for. However, I’d like to remind you how hard it is for just 5 adults to look after 30 kids. We will need your cooperation…”
   I sort of go to sleep until Mrs MacCodrum invites Mr Gerty up to talk. He’s usually good for a laugh.
   “Thanks, Mrs MacCodrum. Well, kids, I’d just like to say it’s a pleasure to take you all on this trip. However, I think you ought to know that these caves we’re visiting, well, they’re supposed to be haunted…So I’d keep my eyes peeled for ghosts!”
   Perfect. Strange noises and ghosts in pitch blackness. As I said earlier, perfect bliss. Not.


 “I’d like you all in pairs please! That’s right, in pairs. C’mon now, quickly. Stick together and follow me. If you get lost, you’ll never find your way out again, and it could take us months to find you.”
   Why did the teachers pick caves of all places to go on a school trip? What about the claustrophic and the scared of the dark?
   Mally grabs my arm. “Us, yeah?” she whispers.
   I nod, lips pressed tightly together. “Yes.”
   We follow the guide in our pairs, our journey taking us past a small table filled with torches. Everyone is instructed to take one torch and enter the caves. We enter a narrow stone corridor which leads off into a cavern with 2 bunk beds, an armchair and some plastic mannequins.
   “Chislehurst Caves were partially man-made, dating right back to the Celts and the Picts. In the Second World War, they were used as shelters from air-raids. You could pay a fee…”
   The nightmare begins.


We hand over our torches pretty reluctantly. The guide grins at us.
   “Don’t worry; you’ll get them back later on.”
   I know what to expect. Mally’s sister Kim told us all about the noises the guide makes to scare you. But I’m still getting that heavy sensation in my stomach.
   Mally clutches my arm tightly, giggling. “I hate the dark,” she whispers.
   Not really, she doesn’t. Not like me. I can feel the darkness closing in on me, suffocating me. I can’t see what’s happening. There could be a murderer standing behind me and I wouldn’t know. I close my eyes to escape the darkness but it doesn’t work. The darkness is still there. It always is. When you blink. When you sleep.
  There’s a crash, a scream. My eyes try to fly open, but they can’t. I’m so still, afraid to move. Breathe, Eilla. Remember to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. In, out, in, out, inoutinout. Not so fast, Eilla. Calm down. Don’t panic. Don’t. Panic.


Mally hands are pinching so hard, and then all of a sudden they’re gone. I ease my eyes open. It’s still so dark.
   I feel someone push a torch into my hands, and go for the switch. There. I flick it, and a beam of light shoots out. I shine it round me. There’s no one here.
   I begin to panic again. No. I won’t let myself.
   A deep breath in. “Very funny, guys.”
   Silence. I hate the silence. It makes me feel so alone.
   “Guys, you can come out now.”
   Oh, come on, it’s not even funny. Why don’t they come out?
   “I admit it, I’m scared.” I look round nervously. Come on!
   And then it dawns on me. They’re not coming out. They’re…gone.


I don’t know if I should stay or go. The guide said it was so easy to get lost. If I stay here, the guide might come across me on my next tour. But it’s a week day, and the next tour isn’t till tomorrow. It’s only about noon now. I can’t stay here the night. What about that story the guide told us? On our way to this cavern we passed a sort of pool.
   “Ah, this is a ghost hot-spot,” said the guide knowingly.
   The boys all leaned in to hear better, naturally.
   “Basically, a young woman was sacrificed here by Celtic druids. And in the 1990s, a pair of men decided to stay here the night for a bet. One fell asleep. The other heard strange screams in the night. He stood up and tried to run away from the noises he was hearing, but ran straight into a wall. He was knocked out for the rest of the night. The first, however, was found with his arm ripped out of its socket. When asked about it he couldn’t remember a thing.”
   I don’t want either of those things to happen to me. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being asleep right through everything, but the fear that would inhabit me beforehand…it would be unbearable.
   I am not a superhero. I cannot bear the unbearable.
   I curl up, clutching my lit torch like a teddy.


“Eilla? Eilla!”
   I sit up.
   “Mally, is that you?” I whisper, hoping it’s not a dream. Because I fell asleep, against the odds.
   “No, it’s Adam. I’ve been looking everywhere for you guys. I blacked out and when I came to everyone had left. Just abandoned me,” he says sourly. “I didn’t have a torch or anything.”
   “That’s weird. They left me a torch.”
   “You’re lucky. Do you have a watch?”
   Adam sighs. “Shame. I wish they hadn’t confiscated our phones.”
   “There wouldn’t be any signal anyway. Adam, are you scared?”
   Adam hesitates. I can see him thinking hard. “Not really. I mean, I was a bit at first, but it’s all a joke, right? In an hour or two they’ll all get bored and come get us.”
   “Maybe. But let’s stay here, okay? This is where they left us. They’ll come back here.”
   “Nah. I’m going. I want to get out without their help, just to show them.” He grins.
   “I’m staying.”
   “Suit yourself. But I’m taking the torch.”
   He pulls it from my hands.
   “No! Don’t go! Please stay! I don’t want to be here on my own!” I shout, scrambling to my feet. “Please, Adam!”
   He laughs. “You can come or you can stay. The choice is yours.”
   I feel hot, unexpected tears force their way through my eyes and slide down my cheeks. “You can’t take my torch.”
   “Why? You scared of the dark? Well, I was stuck without a torch for God knows how long. It’s your turn.”
   “Please,” I whimper.
   “I’ll send them back for you when I get out of here. Then again, maybe I won’t.”
   He winks. I know that he will send them back if he gets out, but that’s not the point. He’s stealing my torch, that’s what matters!
   He runs away, gradually turning into a circle of light. Suddenly it seems to fall to the floor. Then it’s gone.