Fiction: The Caves

Dominic Rivron

- Dominic Rivron


I'd spent most of the morning that day laid on the settee, drifting in and out of sleep. The TV was on but I was paying no attention to it. Each time I woke up I found myself staring instead at a poster on the opposite wall, Van Gogh's Head of a Skeleton Smoking a Cigarette. I'd bought it at a Van Gogh exhibition I'd been to with my father some years before. I cast my mind back to that trip.  It probably called to mind a memory I still recall frequently. My father, in his grey anorak, almost the same grey as his neatly-trimmed beard, sitting in the café at the gallery, sipping a cup of tea uncertainly and talking about the trips he'd made to Amsterdam in his youth. From there, my mind wandered back to the time when my mother was alive, to my childhood, and to the Sunday afternoon walks I'd been on with my parents and their friends. My parents read interesting books, talked about ideas and most people who knew them thought them eccentric. They questioned assumptions that less enquiring minds took for granted. Those people who chose to be their friends were generally of a similar disposition. As a result, I'd grown up surrounded by colourful, talkative characters. For our walks, we used to drive out of town to interesting places. My father used to plan them in meticulous detail. Indeed, I think he enjoyed poring over the Ordnance Survey map in the days leading up to each walk almost as much as the walks themselves. Wherever we went there would be a forest, bracken, and a stream. Often, too, there would be an element of the uncanny: an iron-age hill fort, strangely-shaped rock outcrops, caves. For some reason, that morning, my mind kept coming back to the caves. Charles, a friend of my father's who often came on our walks, was particularly interested in them.
'Don't they make you want to climb up there and explore?' he'd said to me one afternoon, nodding up  towards the dark openings in the cliffs on top of the hill, above us. Charles was a school teacher. He often thought aloud if he thought his thoughts were worth listening to. He enthused.
'Yes, I suppose so,' I said.
'You can imagine people living there in Palaeolithic times,' he said.
I'd no idea what Palaeolithic meant back then. The word seemed as mysterious as the caves themselves.
'In fact, they're not that old,' he said. 'They look natural but they're man-made. It's easy to cut through sandstone. People lived there until relatively recently.'
I nodded.
'We'll have to go for a walk up there sometime,' he said. 'Bring a torch with us.' 
 I wish I'd paid more attention at the time and shown more enthusiasm. But although I was curious back then, being in my early teens, many interesting things were vying for my attention. Girls, for example. Looking back, though, I could still see in my mind's eye the steep, wooded hillside, topped with a red, sandstone crag and the dark doorways of the caves. I'd heard since that, at the back of the caves, there were passages carved into the rock that ran deep into the hillside. Sadly, we'd never made the return visit Charles had suggested. 
It suddenly struck me that there was nothing to stop me going back to the place there and then. It was the first day off I'd had for a while. I had a car. The caves in question were only a matter of twenty miles away. I had a torch. I wondered why I'd never thought of doing it before. The hardest part was summoning the willpower to raise myself off the settee. 
It was two o'clock by the time I set off but I had plenty of time. It was August and the sun still set quite late. As I stepped out of the house I noticed that the pavement was damp from a recent shower. The sky was packed with a jumble of grey clouds. 
Driving out of town I was struck by an unfamiliar feeling. I was enjoying myself. It had been a while since I'd driven anywhere on a whim. If I went out, it was usually to shop for food or to fill the car up with petrol. 
When I got there, I found that the same finger-post still pointed the way up the rutted lane to the rough car-park. This lay fifty yards or so up from the road and was surrounded by silver birch trees. I splashed and bumped my way slowly up the lane, hoping not to catch the exhaust on the rocks that protruded from the mud. The car-park, when I finally got there, was deserted apart from an old man in a furry, black hat and a green waterproof. He was trying to load a reluctant Newfoundland dog into the boot of a hatchback. I sat watching him, my view partially obscured by the drops of rain that had begun to appear on the windscreen. As I watched, the drops got bigger until they could no longer hold their shape. They began to trickle down the glass. The man and his dog became a blur. I decided there was no harm in staying put for a while. The weather forecast was for sunny intervals and scattered showers. I'd brought a coat with me but saw no point in getting wet when, if I were to wait a few minutes, the weather would most likely turn fine again. I rolled the seat back a little. I closed my eyes. I was warm. I was comfortable. I fell asleep.
I must've slept for a while. I woke up with a start. At first, I had no idea where I was. I saw the stand of silver birch trees in front of me as if for the first time. Then, everything began to fall into place. The rain had stopped. I could tell by the light that the sun was low in the sky. The man with the dog had left. I got out of the car and put on my coat. I took the torch from the glove compartment and put it in my pocket. Once I'd locked the car, I set off along the path which, just as I remembered it, ran along the edge of a stream through the woods. I soon reached the point where Charles had stood and enthused. I continued a little further, then branched off on another path that ran steeply up through the trees to the top of the hill, the outcrop and the caves. I remember, in my youth, being impressed by the view from the tops of  the hills hereabouts of the undulating farm land, stretching away to the grey outline of the Welsh hills on the horizon. However, what with the rain, the air had turned hazy. It was hard to make out anything that lay more than a couple of miles away. I took out the torch and turned my attention to the caves. The first, with its dark, shadowy doorway looked imposing but when I went in and turned on the torch, it turned out to be really quite small. Hollowing it out must have been quite a job – I could see the axe-marks on the wall – but it was hard to imagine anyone living there. I went out into what was left of the daylight and tried the next. 
This was bigger – there was even an opening at the back of the first chamber that led to a second. However, it stank. The floor was covered with an indeterminate layer of rotting plastic bags and other decaying refuse. 
Back outside, a breeze had got up and it had begun to feel quite chilly. The sun had set and the light was beginning to fail. My feet were feeling cold: water from the wet grass on the walk up had soaked through my trainers. Standing there on the side of the hill under the grey mass of the sky I felt quite isolated: the people I'd shared the place with in the past were conspicuous by their absence. I put my hands in my pockets and hunched my shoulders, trying to create a warm space inside my coat. I felt a sudden need to be somewhere dry, bright and warm. I hurried back down the path to the car park. I set off home. I can't say I've ever had any desire to go back since.
***

Bio: Dominic Rivron writes short stories and poetry. His work has been published in a number of literary magazines including The Poetry Bus, Obsessed with Pipework, Dream Catcher and Scratch. He has, in the past, been a winner of the Yorkshire Prize at the Ilkley Literature Festival. He lives in the North of England where, as well as writing, he works as a music teacher. His blog can be found at http://asithappens55.blogspot.com

1 comment :

  1. They say you should never go back to places that have significance at key stages in your life but sometimes you feel driven to do so. This can meet the the memory is shrunken or distorted by the visit which might saddened or heal depending on the nature or the memory revisited. I enjoyed reading this.

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