Deeper into the Morass
Down in the shaft, Wendy stopped suddenly, what was that, her mind asked her body?
Faint whispering sounds, seemingly coming from within the darkness ahead. “Can you hear that,” she whispered to Nick but when she got no reply, she suddenly realised that she was alone in the darkness. “Don’t panic, he can’t be all that far away,” she said quietly, trying to comfort herself.
Wendy purposely calmed her thoughts. She had known since childhood how the wind from the high mountains of Snowdonia, played aural tricks on the inexperienced. There were many times when a Mountain Rescue search party had thought they’d heard the voices of the lost, calling from an adjacent peak, or from the depths of one of the deeper valley’s, only to discover that they had been misled by the vagaries of some mischievous Banshee’s wistful song.
It was probably just the same here, she assured herself. The breeze, as it drifted throughout the length of the workings, could play many and various tricks on the minds of the susceptible. Then, as an afterthought she wondered how many miner’s lives had been lost due to the misdirections of the devious spirits that lived on the wind.
“Nick!?” She tried to call up the tunnel, but her voice came out as a quiet hiss and her unanswered question now hung, unreciprocated in the gloom. She was beginning to wonder if she had somehow got turned around in here?
Surely, she wasn’t that far down the shaft just yet, had she missed or taken a wrong turning?
Where was Nick?
She was getting more and more edgy with every thought. ‘What’s happening to me?’
“C’mon girl, get a goddamn grip!” She whispered.
Maybe, he’d gone on ahead when she’d looked down that side tunnel?
‘That must be it.’ He couldn’t be far ahead, maybe the whispers were just him calling to her?
Rather than go blindly on, deeper into the morass, she decided she’d leave small marks so she could retrace her path if it came to that. Taking the chalk from her rucksack, she scanned around with her torch to find a suitable place to mark. As she did so, the shadowy black clock emerged from the darkness. Surprised, Wendy stopped in her tracks.
‘Surely, that was closer to the entrance?’ she puzzled, ‘But here it is…..’
“No, it couldn’t have moved, that’s just impossible.” Yet, the impression that the table and clock had somehow moved from its original position, persisted.
‘In the dark, there are few visual guides, so distances can appear expanded, or contracted,’ she reasoned. It was then, that she heard it. An almost imperceptible soft click, then another and yet another followed. Now it was becoming a regular pattern and it finally struck her.
‘The black clock!’
She wheeled the torch to the sound and there it was, ticking. It’s silent black pendulum swinging slowly in the darkness and she noticed that its face read 11.23. Instinctively, she glanced at her watch and was amazed to see, that her perfect, modern timekeeper also read 11.23. It seemed that Time in Shacklady’s old mine, was running in perfect synchronicity with the outside world.
‘How’s that possible?!…… Where is Nick?!’
Turning around, searching for a glimpse of Nick’s torch, she peered into that choking darkness, seemingly wrapping itself ever tighter around the tunnel, like a black shroud.
Not even the sound of his feet, crunching on the grit on the passageways floor.
“Shit! Where are you Nick?” Wendy cursed, with a little edge appearing in her voice. The synchronicity of the two timepieces and the disappearance of Nick, heightened her impatience, both with herself for not paying enough attention to her surroundings and the improbability of the synchronous timepieces.
‘Who wound up the black clock? Nick?’
She could ask that one later, but before she moved any deeper down the shaft, she had to find Nick. There were definitely no sounds, or lights behind, so logically he must be ahead…. ‘Shit Wendy, why did you have to set off like you knew it all!’
“Stoopid! Stoopid! Stoopid!” She hissed.
Wendy fought to control a palpable sense of dread. She needed to take action. Go back, or go on? A large part of her wanted to run back into the light, to escape the suffocating darkness but another part was worried about Nick.
What if he needed help?
Only a couple of days ago, he’d asked her to be his, ‘New Alan’ and she could hardly wimp out at the first sign of a problem. “It’s better to go on, than it is to go back,” she whispered, then kept on repeating the sentence, the words becoming a mantra, spoken to the rhythm of her paces as she moved, ever deeper into the mine.
Her powerful torch made little impression on the oppressive gloom and she noted her breath was getting shorter. It felt like there was little oxygen in the warming air and her chest felt strangely constricted. Wendy glanced back up the shaft every few steps, hoping to spot some trace of Nick but there was no sign, just the endless blackness.