by James

It was the rain drove her back across the bridge, the fear of it slicking the floral print dress and then having to walk past the diner letches with it stuck to her body. Down the steps at the end to where the mouths opened black in the side of the ravine, and then to the fourth one along, that same old tingle rising inside as she followed the short tunnel until it widened into a cavern twenty foot across.

She lit her torch and traced her fingers along each of the rusty metal ring bolts set in the rock. Back when it was still a working mine thick ropes ran through the loops to guide the path but now they hung empty and cold for most of the time.

She grinned to herself at the feel of a rope knotted through one of the rings. The first time she went into the dark she was twelve years old, dragging the rope so tight through her fingers that it burned. Better that then lose yourself in the dark, in these caves that went for miles.

She played her torch along the openings; three more strands of breadcrumbs to mock her, and there, at the far end was a strand of blue rope. A lurch went through her stomach and her legs turned weak. Evan’s rope, the same light blue flecked through with red that she’d told him was icky when he said it was Dad’s before him. It felt like they walked for miles till he slipped off his rucksack and laid down the blanket.

It was a stupid fight, one of those with no reason on either side, only neither of them had called each other for eight days. It was a week of gut churning anguish, of half a stone lost despite all the chocolate. One measly week and now he was here.

She took hold of the rope and began to follow it.

He was here getting high. He was here with his buddies and some beer.

The further she went so the shorter her steps, creeping her feet one after the other to keep them quiet until it wasn’t her footsteps or her breathing that was with her. It was the sound of the wet slap of thighs, it was grunt followed by squeak, over and over and over again.

One fucking measly week.

Always take your knife on a hike her Dad said, because you never know. Always keep it sharp as well, and it went through the rope so easy and then she was balling it up in her hands as she ran, burning tears pricking through the great red hot ball of her face.

When she burst out into the chamber she heaved down a sobbing gasp of breath, down on both knees, fingers painful against the rough floor rock. She spent the whole of the walk home trying to think of what to do with the rope.