- Please enjoy this exerpt form Ian Woodhead’s novel Duplicity
The pretty little red-head was going through her tired speech, explaining to the group just how long the famous deep red stalactites had taken to form at the famous Cullbeck caves.
This would be the third time that Henry Collins had listened to this.
On the first occasion, he’d been stuck at the back of their group, bored out of his mind and alternating his thoughts between wondering if the tour guide was good in bed and just how delicious that first beer would taste once they got out of here.
The acoustic qualities of these caves, allowed the sound to travel for miles. Henry closed his eyes and pressed his back against the rough stone. He’d promised himself a few minutes ago that when he heard her voice, he wouldn’t scream out.
“I only want to go home.” He whispered, shivering.
The woman sounded as though she stood right in front of him. Henry guessed that he must be a mile below her now, hell she could be in the next cavern and he wouldn’t know.
Her voice faded, they were moving off, just one more famous sight to witness before she’d lead them out and into their over expensive tourist shop. He never found out what the other sight was; they didn’t make it that far.
Henry opened his eyes. He couldn’t believe it; he’d managed not to make a sound. When he and his wife had first heard that beautiful voice echoing through the tunnels yesterday, they’d both screamed themselves raw.
“Have I really been down here for two days?”
If Henry had known then what he later found out, he’d have stayed silent; maybe his wife would still be with him.
They had both watched with horror as five humanoid creatures detached themselves from the cavern wall. A luminescent green substance spotted their rough, sinewy bodies. They turned as one, their huge lantern orange eyes locked onto Henry, their screams intensified. His wife, Bernadette had been almost mute since they’d followed the other tunnel and found themselves lost. She’d found her voice as three of the things jumped on her.
Her shrieking abruptly stopped when one of them grabbed her blonde curly hair and pushed her head into his slender grey chest, muffling the sound. Henry ran forward, growling, only to have the remaining creatures grabbing Henry. One placed his claw-like hands upon his shoulders; he felt just how cold the creature’s skin was through his dirty white shirt. The other one growled back, a perfect replica other Henry’s own sound, then it kicked his feet out from under him.
The back of Henry’s head smashed into the cavern floor, he groaned and watched as the creatures dragged his screaming wife down one of the fissures beside him. Their sick green glow retreated, leaving blackness in its wake.
His eyes had closed. A combination of stress, fatigue and slight concussion knocked him cold for several hours.
Tears cleaned a narrow path down his cheeks when the vivid memory of those things stealing his wife returned. He crawled towards the fissure and howled when he saw that it had been plugged with stone. Henry moved with growing desperation from one fissure to the next to discover they were all the same.
Henry opened his eyes and moved away from the wall, according to the dim readout from his phone, it had been five hours since he had left the fissures. Five hours of intense, searching and he had failed to find his darling wife or an exit.
Henry’s feet stopped by the edge, the ledge overlooked the precipice. He kicked a small pebble over the edge and unlike those fissures; the pebble took an age to hit the bottom.
How deep was it? A hundred feet or a mile, it didn’t really matter. The fall would do the job. Henry had never considered himself a brave man but he was a realist and knew a futile situation when he saw one.
Henry was going to die in these caves, just like Bernadette. If the hunger or thirst didn’t get him then those creatures certainly would. At least two of the things had been following him for the past hour, maybe longer. The occasional sound of a dislodged pebble scraping across the floor and a couple of flashes of green proved to Henry that he wasn’t wrong. Those evil bastards were following him like hyenas followed a wounded zebra. He didn’t know when they’d strike; perhaps they’d wait until he was delirious with hunger.
Well, Henry wasn’t going to give them that opportunity; he would rather deny them their meal. He shuffled his feet forward. Until the toes of his shoe was over the edge.
“I know that you’re there!” he shouted. Henry started a little when his voice echoed through the rocks. He’d begun to cry again, he cursed his own cowardice. Henry had been so terrified that the creatures would rip him apart that he didn’t shout for help and yet here he was, ready to jump to his own death. Where was the logic in that?
A pair of long, grey arms peeled away from the rock near where he stood. The rest of the creature became visible. Henry must have walked right past it and not even noticed. There was movement all around him; the entire cavern appeared to be coming alive as seemingly hundreds of the things detached from the rock, like spiders clinging to walls.
The closest one took a pace towards him; it opened its long mouth and yawned. Henry cried out. A collective groan from the assembled creatures rippled out. It stretched out its arm. Henry gasped when he saw its fingernails were now painted in bright blue, the same colour as Bernadette’s were.
Henry moaned and shook his head, he had no idea what was happening. He took a step forward, his feet lost purchase and he fell into the blackness.
His last sight was of his beautiful wife as he plummeted past her, she was clinging to the side of the wall.
Ian Woodhead is just past the age of forty.
He lives in the north of England and is married to a wonderful woman.
He has forgotten how many children he has.
He had been writing for nearly twenty years but has only just gained the confidence to start showing his work.
Ian finds it a little creepy writing about himself in the third person.