• Catherine Wild

It smelt stale, old, earthy and not unpleasant. Rustling, fluttering, a ball of dust as out from the void came a stream of flying things. Babs’ bark echoed and I pulled up my hood as the cloud of moths shot out of the entrance and into the bright light of the outside world, ticking and fluttering away from the gloomy dankness inside the chalk. A few stragglers fluttered past after the mass exodus had finished and I stepped inside. I couldn’t see a thing. I turned towards the entrance, checking that there was still a way out, reassured by the captured view of the sea, seagulls wheeling, white tips of the waves fresh in the sea breeze, all framed by the mouth of the small cave, the flapping corrugated iron and the gorse bushes beyond. With the reassuring light of a torch, it would have been a lovely place to come and sit in the rain, no one to nag you. They would never find you.

As my eyes got used to the darkness, I could make out the litter: a huge, straight-edged can labelled ‘Watney’s Party Seven Bitter’; hundreds of soft cigarette butts; an upturned plastic Corona crate; a copy of The Sporting Times, December 1977, the name ‘Les Driscoll’ marked in the corner of the yellowing paper, black ink fingerprints smudged across where someone had flicked the pages. Someone.

Something bumped my head, making me jump. A few moths fluttered around its bulk, as it swivelled and turned in the salty breeze, creaking as it pulled on its tether above. A feeble sunbeam struggled through the mouth of the cave, briefly bouncing off the fluorescent yellow attached to the lump above me. As the sunbeam tracked down through the clouds and across the swivelling shape, I realised …

‘Les?’ What had he done? I shook him. Nothing. ‘Les!’ Babs was barking, jumping up at his dangling legs, scraping at his hi-vis jacket.

The Corona crate; it lay directly under his suspended feet. I used it as a stool, just as he must have done, and, shaking his shoulders, I could see he had attached a rope around his neck to the ceiling of the cave, hooked it around some reliably thick tree roots. I listened for his breathing. Silence. I put my hand up to touch his face, trying to feel some sign of life but the hood of his parka was zipped up to the end and I couldn’t find a way in. I fumbled for the zip, dragging the reluctant rusty metal back to release his head. It lolled forward, his impossibly patchy thin hair exposing the shiny scalp beneath. Gently, I pushed his head back, knowing that this would open his airways if I had to give him mouth-to-mouth but my breath caught in my throat. I would have tried to save the stupid old git but I was too late. Several decades too late, by the look of his grinning skull.