Thursday 6 May 2021


by Denise Cooke

cafe mocha 

"Scaredy cat!”


“Scaredy-Nerdy cat!”

Josh is most ANNOYING eleven year old in the whole world. Always playing tricks on me, waving that humunguous spider right up to my mouth or teasing me about my pigeon-toed running. Not to mention hiding my fave book and his yucky slime gunge ball in my bed and even farting in my face at times.

So I thumped him.

“OK, dare you! Mum’s nagging Dad to finish the pointing. So tea's deffo not till after five. First to Crackpot Hall? 1...2...3...GO!”

So we were off, racing down the steep footpath towards the River Swale, kicking stones, jumping puddles, the autumn leaves whirling down amber, red and gold confetti and Josh slashing the heads off the shrivelled cow parsley with a stick he'd snapped off a rowan bent by the wind. Brown bands of bracken were streaked across Kisdon Hill ahead. Toy sheep on the opposite fellside were huddled against grey stone walls, matching the gloomy clouds scudding by.

"If it rains I'm turning back.”

“Chicken!” Josh, wheeling round, grinning, made clucking noises. I couldn’t catch up to aim a sneaky thump so slumped out of breath against the stone stile. I love greeny white mottled lichen - pretty patterns to trace with my grubby finger.

“Josh! Hang on! Its not Fair!”

He was disappearing round the next bend of the Coast to Coast trail. The narrow track rose again sharply towards the remains of Crackpot Hall. Dad said it was abandoned in the 1800s when lead mining stopped. That must be ages and ages ago ‘cos the flagstones, huge stone chunks and old twisted iron bits of railings and machinery lay scattered around like huge Lego pieces.

“Hey Em, up here!”

Josh wobbling on top of a huge mound of what I think Dad calls a ‘spoilheap.’ It’s the earth and rubble and stuff that they dug out to make the tunnel - no, Dad says the 'level.'

Crossing the springy turf towards him, I nearly step on a dead rabbit. Its insides are a gluey snotgreen mess, white bones protruding, one eye socket a black hollow, one glassy eye fixed on me. URGHH!

Josh leaped down and scrutinized the corpse. " Its mixamastitis that causes that,” he pronounced solemnly. He picked up its velvety paw.

"Delicious. Shall we take it back for tea?”

“I don’t like this place - it makes me feel funny. Let’s go down to the waterfalls instead.”

“Nah, Mum made me promise not to go in. It’s dangerous after the storm.”

“ And we’ve been told not to explore round the shafts and there!”

“Aw, c’mon. I’ve found the entrance. And I pinched Dad’s torch from the dresser. Five minutes, Em.”

So we were standing before a little brick-edged opening, almost hidden at ground level. I felt like I was in a Harry Potter film. Fern fronds waved at me around its arch and mounds of mossy cushions, sprouting tiny, yellowing stalks, made me want to squeeze them. They were dripping wet and spongy so I wiped my fingers on my jeans, closed my eyes tight and took a step inside.

The earthy, fetid smell made me want to gag. The torch was flickering and Josh did that old Halloween trick of shining it under his chin to make him look like something out of The Nightmare before Christmas.

“Give over! Can’t you make it brighter?”

The torch played its faint beam on the tunnel ceiling. Vaulted...faded brickwork, sandwiched together with crumbly mortar. Like a drunk firefly, the torchlight was jerking further away, forcing me to follow. Water was dripping through the cracks, reminding me of rancid, dead flowers in Mum’s best vase. Smelly slimy stuff. Next thing, the torch was revealing that we were standing in sluggish flowing water and - and was that a trick of my eyes? Or did I see something moving down there? Don’t rats seek water? And what’s that rat disease?

Clutching wildly at Josh's arm, I slipped and the torch flickered and was falling, falling.


He splashed around searching.

“You’re the idiot! Now you’ve wet my jeans!”

“You have, more likely!”

More splashing in the darkness, followed by his sharp intake of breath.

“Ow! I've just stubbed my toe! What the hell?...”

The atmosphere suddenly feels colder. My throat tightens and I gulp - a sour taste in my mouth..

“Something sharp. Feels hard- like metal. Two. A track? ”

“Dad’ll give you what for when he hears about the torch. I can’t see. Let’s just get out!”

Something soft brushes my cheek and skitters away down the tunnel. I want to scream and scream ( like in ‘Just William’) but can only splutter, my hoarse cough echoing around.

Bird? Bat? Or Dementor?

Then I'm hearing it.

Clicketty-click, cloppetty-clop...coming closer and closer...clicketty -clunk...

I'm sensing it, rather than seeing it. My eyes ache. A blurred outline of a pinched white face, a vision, a boy's face...rag clothes - pushing, panting - shoving something - piled high -rocks, black, glistening edges - acrid smell- clicketty - click - CRASH!

I feel the walls swaying, crumbling and falling in on me......

“Hey Em! You OK? It’s OK. Emily!”

I'm lying on the sodden grass looking up at the leaden sky. It hurts. A kestrel is circling overhead. With an eerie cry it swoops down on its prey.


About the author

Denise Cooke is a scriptwriter and fledgling novelist, who was an English and drama teacher in a previous life.
She has been writing fiction in a Leeds Writers' Group for the past year and is working on her debut novel. 


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