The Well Of Darkness
by Carter Fell
Author’s Note: Visitors to London can see a tram tunnel entrance in Holborn Kingsway.
Just about everybody in the English-speaking world has heard of A.K. Strokely, creator of the loveable trainee conjuror Larry Spaggott. Her young hero is from a mythical past where boys have wholesome interests, conjuring for instance, and certainly never poke their fingers into nasty places. Well, be it an illusion, be it all smoke and mirrors, but Larry has conjured up a fortune for AK.
When a middle-aged woman becomes wealthy, she also becomes damnably attractive; and yes, AK had experienced some mildly enjoyable brief encounters. But there was something missing from her life, an itch that she had not scratched. The trouble was, she did not know where the itch was, she only knew it was bothering the hell out of her. This troublesome itch occasionally manifested itself on her face as a faraway dreamy look, invariably followed by a mild frown, as she tried to focus her mind on the source of the disturbance. Such an episode occurred during a meeting in London with her publisher and her agent, which had been called to discuss rights to the name of A.K. Strokely in the event of the lady’s untimely death.
Oscar Spoon, the porcine and markedly unlovable CEO of Orbital House Publications, had not troubled to tell AK that if she should be crushed by a bus, or meet her end in some other unforeseen way, he had an effeminate young man just gasping to continue the Larry Spaggott series. No, he assumed that her agent must have briefed her on the sensible precautions that any reputable publisher must take. AK’s agent, the ferocious Marie Maxim-Gunn, had not told AK any such thing, mainly because she had her own plans for continuing the world’s favourite young-adult saga should tragedy strike. Those plans were centred on a young lady of her recent acquaintance, a young lady who giggled deliciously at all the right moments, and who was probably a jolly good writer.
As the dreamy look transmuted to the troubled frown, concern flashed around the big shiny table; felicitations were expressed.
Oscar eyes sang the meal-ticket blues. ‘AK, darling, whatever is the matter?’
Marie’s eyebrows performed an unlikely dance. ‘Oh my sweetness, is something wrong?’
‘There’s something inside of me, something that needs to be let out.’ AK replied slowly and thoughtfully.
Oscar instantly thought of a small alien running across a spaceship’s dinner table, screeching alarmingly as it went. Quite unconsciously, he moved his chair back, to avoid being splattered with blood if AK’s chest should suddenly erupt.
‘I know exactly what you mean!’ Marie cried. ‘You have a river of passion flowing through you, and it’s all been dammed up’.
Not to be outdone, Oscar thought quickly and desperately before making his contribution. ‘It’s a fountain of filth, a torrid tide of tempestuous……’ He ran out of words, and finished with his tongue protruding foolishly over his lower lip.
AK was pensive, gazing down at her palms as if trying to read them. ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I know what it is now. It’s a well of darkness. It’s very deep, and very dark, and the water has the sweetness of pure pleasure.’ She looked up at Oscar’s sweaty face, and at Marie, whose heavy makeup was a dishonest crust on a pie of sagging flesh. ‘I’m going now. Goodbye.’
And she did. That is, she got to her feet and left the meeting. She could not see the gaping mouths she left behind her, but she could well imagine them, and she giggled slightly as she pattered down the steps to the street. Pausing for a moment, the took in the activity around her, for she knew that this great metropolis, stained dark with sin, was likely to contain a byway leading to her well. But alas, the passers-by looked so distressingly ordinary, that it was hard to imagine any of them having hidden depths that Lucifer would smile upon. AK looked to the right, and she looked to the left; her purpose being unclear, her direction was also unknown. Finally, she stepped off the pavement, and launched herself across the road, oblivious to raucous horns, and unconcerned by the shouted oaths of loutish taxi drivers. The truth was out there, and she was determined to find it.
Later that day, AK sat on the top deck of a bus crawling intermittently along Old Brompton Road. One by one, evidently despairing of making significant progress on the diesel-powered leviathan, the passengers around her left the bus, and adopted a pedestrian mode of transport. Eventually, the upper deck contained just AK, and a rather stout young woman with bleached hair, who was seated some three rows ahead of her.
For no particular reason, AK began to study the young woman, to speculate on who she was, and where she was going. Just as Sherlock Holmes could look at a footprint, and determine that it was made by a red-bearded man who had just returned from a voyage to China, so AK thought that she was able to surmise from a few visual clues that her subject was a shop worker returning from lunch. To AK’s horror, the young woman suddenly turned her head, and smiled a secret smile. AK had found the path to her well, and was shortly to glimpse the darkness.
2. The Cannibal
The bleached blonde spoke. ‘Are you looking for trade?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Convention obliged AK to return the smile, but she had to force it.
‘I think you heard me. I asked if you were looking for trade, and I’m sure that you are.’ Now the young woman rose to her feet, and advanced down the aisle with the rolling gait of a nineteenth century sailor or a habitual London bus passenger. She carried her weight easily and confidently, her smile was entirely relaxed, and grew ever broader as she approached. Suddenly she was looming over AK, then she was leaning forward, and her face filled AK’s universe.
At such close quarters, the smile appeared mile-wide, and as the mouth opened to speak again the thick tongue could be seen manoeuvring, positioning itself to form the vowels and consonants of a short but shocking sentence. ‘You look delicious.’ Said the rather stout young woman with bleached hair.
The world-famous author whimpered silently, she was terrified of this creature, whose small teeth had a predatory gleam; oh dear God, was she to be eaten alive on the top deck of a bus? Would the next passenger to climb the stairs find her bones among the remnants of her ludicrously expensive smart-but-casual outfit? AK, who could hammer out three thousand words a day, and weave them into a spell to charm the world, struggled to make a reply. Costly assertiveness courses failed her quite monstrously now, and the self-defence lessons – which had failed to cover cannibalism – seemed to have been a waste of time.
As AK’s smile disintegrated, and her jaw dropped, a flicker of doubt crossed the cannibal’s face. Her smile became more sardonic, and she pulled her face away from AK. She seemed about to speak, but paused, and AK noticed her eyes; set in a round but pretty face, they were incredibly dark, like two wells of darkness in fact.
The cannibal spoke suddenly. ‘That’s a pity. I would have made you scream.’ She patted AK’s cheek, and then she was gone. AK caught her warm fragrance, and heard her clatter down the stairs; she turned her head to the right, and saw the chunky figure overtake the stationary bus, and then disappear down a side-street. All fear had evaporated, to be replaced by a dreadful emptiness; she felt lost and lonely – there was only one thing to do. A piece of real magic had been within her grasp, but she had lacked the courage to seize it; so now she leap to her feet and set off in pursuit, for she had to look into those eyes again.
Alighting from the bus, AK darted across the road, again earning the curses of taxi drivers. She scuttled along the pavement to the turning that the cannibal had taken; it was a street lined on both sides by Georgian houses. Her brain, the organ that so easily manipulated a million adolescent minds, was working again. Of course the cannibal could not really be a consumer of human flesh; that was nonsense, it was just that the label had matched her teeth. She now realised exactly what trade the rather stout young woman had been plying, but there was not the shock and distaste she would have expected, she could only wonder what she might allow the cannibal to do to her, and what she might do in return.
Joy of joys, she glimpsed the cannibal ahead of her, striding along with her hips swaying jauntily. There was an alleyway between two houses, and the cannibal turned into it, again disappearing from AK’s sight. AK hurried along the street, and also turned into the alley. In a previous century, it would have been the entrance to the stables behind the houses. Now, AK guessed, those stables would have been converted to mews cottages, and would be the city abodes of rock stars and the wealthy.
As she had expected, AK found herself in a deserted mews. There was no sign of the cannibal, and it was eerily quiet, as if she had passed through an invisible curtain when she turned off the street. Not knowing what to do, she stopped and looked around her. The small houses had the usual decorations; hanging baskets and burglar alarms. AK stared at the nearest door, then walked boldly up to it, and grasped the heavy iron knocker, for she was going to find the cannibal if she had to knock on every door in the mews. As she raised the knocker, she heard the cannibal call her name. ‘This way Alice! This way to the ponygirls!’
3. The Darkness
Alice Katherine Strokely whirled around; at the far end of the mews she could see the cannibal, waving energetically and laughing. AK let the knocker drop; it struck the door with a hollow thump, which she ignored, choosing to set off in the cannibal’s direction.
Behind her, another voice rang out, speaking in a harsh American accent. ‘I saw you knock on my door – what do you want?’ AK turned, she recognised the complainant immediately, an aging songstress, brutally gnawed by time, who was facing her in an aggressive hands-on-hips stance.
Although AK’s instinct would usually have been to apologise, on this occasion she replied belligerently. ‘And I saw you in a conical bra, you stupid bitch.’
Such abuse was very untypical of AK, but she felt good for having said it, and then she turned her face and her mind back to the cannibal. But the cannibal had vanished; AK groaned, hoisted her skirt up, and ran to the end of the mews. On one side was a blank wall; the wall on the other side was also blank, except for a tiny wooden door bearing an inscribed brass plate. Leaning forward, and screwing her eyes up, AK read the plate:
The West London Tramway Company
Chief Engineer, W. Rabbit
When your name is Alice, you can become very sensitive to the rabbit word, especially when you were teased mercilessly in your schooldays. AK was instantly suspicious, but it seemed impossible that the plate could have been placed there just for her. For just a few seconds, her excited curiosity battled with her native caution; it was no contest, and she stretched out an arm. A gentle shove caused the door to swing silently inwards; from deep within, AK heard a brief laugh, and then the patter of rapid footsteps. Stooping her head, she stepped through the opening.
She was in a long rectangular room, with a rather low ceiling. The air in here was very cool, with the barest hint of movement. Light streamed through the opening behind her, gleaming dully on brass light fittings that were mounted on the otherwise bare walls. AK looked along the walls for a light switch, then she saw ancient cords hanging from the fittings, and she realised that they were gaslights. She stepped over to the nearest fitting, and pulled the cord. The tap turned easily enough, but there was no hiss of escaping gas; clearly, the supply had been disconnected long ago.
Moving forward, away from the entrance, AK trod deeper into darkness. At the rear of the room, where the gloom was densest, was an iron railing surrounding what appeared to be a pit. She leaned over the railing, and peered downwards. At first she could see nothing, it was a well of total darkness, but then her eyes began to discern a faint glow, far below. Between the glow and AK, the skeletal outline of spiral staircase took shape; she edged along the railing, and found a gap. Putting an extremely careful foot forward, AK found the top step, and eased her weight onto it. Her left hand found a handrail, and she dared herself to go forward. Her mind was made up when she heard her name called again, in a soft ghostly voice that echoed up the stairwell.
Slowly, ever fearful of plummeting, AK descended the stairway. It wound very tightly; she pressed against the handrail, and felt for a firm foothold on each step before transferring her weight. Down, down she went, deeper and down, until she at last reached the bottom, and the source of the glow. On the ground there, obviously placed by the cannibal, and obviously for AK, was a butane-powered lantern, burning very low. She picked the lantern up, and found the gas adjustment wheel; turning it produced a blinding glare, she backed it off, and looked around at her new surroundings.
Now there was a decision to make; at the foot of the stairs, there was a tunnel to the left, and another to the right. Both tunnels were strewn with rubble, and their brick-lined roofs had sinister bulges, strongly suggesting that the earth above might triumph at any time. AK reasoned that if it mattered which tunnel she took, the cannibal would have left her a clue; there was no clue, so she chose the right-hand path.
Holding the lantern over her head, AK carefully picked her way along the tunnel. At every step there was a hazard, a jagged metal rod, or a clump of fallen brickwork. The lantern had been provided for a good reason; it seemed that the cannibal had been happy for her to break her neck on the stairway, but did not want her twisting an ankle in the tunnel. At intervals, she came across relics from a long-forgotten past; a pipe protruding from the sidewall, a rusty hand tool, even a massively thick condom that must have predated the First World War.
Even at her faltering pace, AK soon came to the tunnel’s end, which was a junction with another, much larger tunnel. Her thoroughfare terminated on a raised platform, perhaps three feet above the floor of the large tunnel. In the limited light from her lantern, this tunnel seemed to stretch into infinity in either direction. It was about fifteen feet wide, and its arched roof, about twelve feet high, seemed to be very substantial; there were stout brick pillars reinforcing the wall linings every twenty feet or so.
AK was considering jumping down from the platform, when her attention was caught by rusty metal tracks set into the floor of the tunnel. The tracks, and the tunnel itself, seemed to fit with the brass plate she had seen. How long ago had that been? She realised that probably no more than ten minutes had passed since she had pushed the small door open. Suddenly feeling very tired, AK leaned back against the wall, and closed her eyes. What on earth was she doing here, far beneath the city streets? The cannibal, she had followed the cannibal. And she was bloody well going to find her.
Snapping her eyes open, AK made ready to jump down to the tunnel’s floor, but became aware of a new sound, one that she could not readily identify. Pausing at the platform’s edge, she saw a light in the darkness faraway to her left, and heard what seemed to be a buzz of conversation. The light drew slowly closer, becoming brighter and brighter, until AK knew that whoever was behind it must have seen her. At that point, she heard the distinct crack of a whip, then the buzz subsided, and the light came rushing towards her.
4. The Carrot Conversation
Dazzled by the light, AK stood back from the edge of the platform, there seemed nothing she could do but wait for it to arrive. She surmised that it had to be some type of vehicle, but nothing could have prepared her for what pulled up alongside the platform; it was a small carriage drawn by three naked and sweating women, who were fastened by worn-looking leather straps to the draw bar. A raised seat bore a whip-wielding driver, and next to him a pole held the headlight that had blinded AK during the vehicle’s approach; now its beam was past her, it shone over the women and into the tunnel ahead.
AK held up her lantern, the better to inform her astonished eyes. She had seen pictures of ponygirls; and she was clearly looking at ponygirls now, but it had to be said that they were a motley crew. In the pictures, ponygirls had been glamorous young things, with colourful tassels and plumes. On view here was – to say the least – a different kind of glamour, one that placed raw appreciation of the naked female form above trifling considerations of symmetry and proportion. None of these ladies would have qualified as a Playboy centrefold; they were just ordinary women.
The youngest of them was nearest to AK, she appeared to be in her mid-twenties; she had nipple and clitoral rings, and a snake tattooed across her belly; she gazed at AK with open curiosity. Next to her, in the middle of the trio, was an older woman with cropped hair and a hard face, she just glanced at AK, and then concentrated on regaining her breath. Furthest away was a blonde of about thirty years, who smiled cheerfully at AK, and winked. The driver was a tiny man, whose monkey-like face was deeply lined and leathery; and who sported a magnificent pair of protuberant ears. Very much unlike the women, he was in ordinary street clothes. He glared at AK. ‘What are you waiting for? Get in then.’
Wordlessly, AK stepped across onto the floor of the conveyance, and dropped into the single forward facing seat. As soon as she was seated, the driver cracked his whip over the ponygirls’ heads, and they leaned against the draw bar. Slowly, the carriage started to move, and then accelerated with surprising rapidity. It was apparent to AK that the ponygirls were fitter than the average woman; well-grouped muscles rippled under their skin as they ran, and they all knew how to control their breathing. It suddenly occurred to her that the driver was not holding any reins; his only function must be to control the pace. She supposed that the tunnel made steering unnecessary, the ponygirls had to follow its course or run into the walls.
After a few hundred yards, the driver muttered ‘ease off now’, and the ponygirls slowed to a walk. AK supposed that she should ask the driver some of the very pertinent questions that were in her head, but the whip made her nervous, so she remained silent. It seemed very odd that the driver had accepted her as his passenger without any comment. Who was he? Had the cannibal sent him? And those poor women, worked liked horses, what was their story? She could only imagine that they were the driver’s captives, subject to his brutal passions and his sadistic lust; and she could imagine nothing more terrible than that she was destined to join them, and to feel the lash cutting into her flesh.
Just strolling along now, the ponygirls began a bizarre conversation, which floated for a while around the broad subject of culinary skills, and then centred on the proper cooking time for carrots. The younger woman with the body piercing was apparently in favour of little more than a quick dip in boiling brine, thus producing a crisp and nutritious vegetable.
Her companion the older woman, the one with the hard face, strongly disagreed with snake-belly; she looked over her shoulder at the driver. ‘You like your carrots quite soft, don’t you Bob?’
‘No talking!’ barked Bob the driver, to no effect whatsoever, the ponygirls just carried on chatting. The blonde had joined in, and was arguing the point that people did not eat vegetables for any supposed nutritional value, but because they liked them, and because they made a meal complete.
‘It ain’t right, it’s just not right.’ grumbled Bob, and then he cracked the whip. ‘Step up now, let’s move it!’ The pace accelerated to a reasonably fast walk, and the talking stopped as the ponygirls put their breath and energy into hauling their load.
The carriage glided steadily along through the tunnel, its pneumatic tyres rolling silently, and the only sound was the padding of the ponygirls’ bare feet. AK was marshalling the few facts at her disposal:
a) First of all, the ponygirls were not fitted with bits, thus allowing them to speak. This suggested a less than tyrannical regime.
b) They had spoken out of turn, and had not been punished for it. Sat above their bare backs, the driver was well placed to correct them, but had not done so.
c) Their bodies showed no marks of the whip, reinforcing the notion that maybe they were not subjected to great brutality.
d) There was clearly a familiar relationship between at least one of them and the driver; this seemed to rule out her earlier assumption that they were captor and captives.
She started to relax a little, to feel a little less afraid. Perhaps she should strike up a conversation with the driver, if only to find out where she was being taken. After clearing her throat noisily and self-consciously, she spoke awkwardly. ‘So, you’re Bob then?’
The monkey face half-turned. ‘Yes.’
That was not encouraging, but AK pressed on. ‘And are these your women?’ Oh God, had she really said that? Her politically correct friends would kill her.
This time the driver did not bother to turn, he just replied ‘One of them is, worse luck.’
AK was beginning to be irritated with the little creep, and it showed in her voice as she asked ‘And how do you suppose it feels to be driven in harness?’
The driver pointed ahead. ‘You’ll find out soon, won’t you?’
5. The Lost Cathedral
The driver’s words filled AK with dread, she rose slightly from her seat to view the tunnel ahead; there was warm yellow light in the distance, and a flood of fearful speculation raced through her mind. Up ahead could be the end of her life as a free and prosperous woman, she might be stripped and beaten, forced to spend the rest of her days labouring in this dark tunnel. She looked behind, thinking that her best option was to jump off, and to retrace her footsteps back to the mews. But she thought again, for had she not been looking for her darker self? And the driver had used no compulsion; he had merely invited her into his carriage. She decided that she would wait upon events, and she settled back into her seat.
As the carriage rolled along, AK noticed that the tunnel was widening, and there were occasional side tunnels branching off at acute angles on either side of the main one. The driver brought his team up to a fast trot, cracking the whip again and again, and suddenly they emerged from the tunnel into a cavern lit by electric lights set into the ceiling, high above the rails. The metal rails continued beside the wall of the cavern, on the other side of the rails was a ramshackle collection of huts, strewn over the floor of the cavern like playthings cast from a giant’s toybox.
‘Easy, easy!’ called the driver, slowing the ponygirls to a walk again. He swiveled to speak to AK. ‘You’ll have to get off here.’ And then he turned back to the team to bellow ‘Stop!’ and almost immediately, they were at rest. It seemed pointless to further question the uncommunicative driver, so AK decided to alight, and to see what mysteries this new location had in store for her.
Without the benefit of a platform, the ground was a long way down; AK descended with great care, holding on to the flimsy framework of the carriage. She watched as the carriage pulled away, noticing for the first time that it had a bright red taillight. If she expected to see it turn, she was mistaken; it entered the tunnel at the far end of the open area, the taillight gleamed for a few seconds, and was then gone.
The air felt damp and cold here, AK shivered. She told herself sternly that it was no good just standing there, she had better explore. If the huts had been in line, some rational order of exploration would have suggested itself, but as things were, AK decided to simply apply the age-old system of pot luck.
The first hut she chose, which AK suspected had been designed as a garden shed, had a blue diagonal stripe painted on the door. There was a hasp, but no padlock, and the door was invitingly ajar. AK did not spurn the invitation; she opened the door. What she saw inside was a tiny two-wheeled carriage, its wheel rims and spokes finished in gold, and its beautifully lacquered body panels gleaming black. Its two shafts were resting on the ground; AK noticed that they were fitted with copper wristbands on short chains. The seat was covered with fine-grained leather; across it laid a short whip.
She was seized by a vision of a naked woman between those shafts, a helpless woman with her wrists locked, and her back exposed to the unkind touch of that whip. In the vision, that woman was A.K.Strokely, and she swiftly closed the door.
It was a thoughtful-looking AK who moved on to the next hut. The darkness of the tunnel, the women in bondage, the whips; all these elements were beginning to gel into the outline of a new Larry Spaggott book. This hut had a yellow diagonal stripe on the door, and was considerably larger than the first. Again, there was a hasp but no padlock; and again AK accepted the unspoken invitation, and opened the door. Disappointingly, there was only a close replica of the carriage that had brought her along the tunnel; there was not even a whip.
A red diagonal stripe marked AK’s next point of call, and its contents caused a disturbance within her that was akin to a mysterious swirl in a dark lake. There was a triangular wooden frame with leather straps at its corners; its purpose was not hard to guess. The cement floor had rusty brown stains spattered about it, and laid on that suggestive floor was a multi-thonged whip, its cluster of slick tails like eels of agony. AK knew what happened here, she could visualise it with terrible clarity. She closed the door before she could identify the lacerated body that her imagination had strapped to the frame.
As she stepped away from the triangle hut, AK tried to recognise and organise the feelings that were churning in her. She had sought the darkness, and she had found it, but she could not see where her place in it was. A tingle ran down her spine as she realised that somewhere in this hollow space under London, somebody was singing softly, the words no less sad and eerie for being so familiar.
So bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly,
And play the dead march as you carry me along
She walked slowly between the huts, wanting, but not wanting, to find the voice; it conjured melancholy images of a hanging, and a body as white as linen and as cold as the clay. It seemed to be coming from the area furthest from the rails; it took her away from the light, and further into the gloom. It was soon obvious where the source of the singing was, a small wooden structure that reminded AK of the pay booth at a travelling fair, complete with sliding hatch.
Put bunches of roses all over my coffin,
Roses to deaden the sods as they fall.
As she approached the hut, the singing stopped, to be replaced by a shuffling, scraping sound. AK heard a voice from behind the door, ‘come on you bastard, come on – aaaah - yes!’
The hatch slid back, and the grinning face of the cannibal popped into view, then the whole front of the booth opened as a doorway, and she stepped out. ‘Well,’ she asked, ‘ what do you think of it so far?’
6. Secret London
AK was – to use the vernacular – gobsmacked at the sight her eyes beheld. The cannibal was now dressed - or rather undressed - in a confection of red leather straps and brass buckles; the straps circled her waist, they looped over her shoulders, they supported her breasts in the manner of a bra. Everywhere was the gleam of polished brass; in addition to the buckles, there were studs along every strap, and a large ring hung from one erect nipple. AK’s eyes strayed below the cannibal’s waist, and beat a hasty retreat, for the girl was unadorned by clothing or hair in that area.
She forced herself to answer the cannibal’s question, and posed one of her own. ‘I don’t know. How did you know my name is Alice? ’
The cannibal moved around to the side of the booth, where there was a bench, she parked her ample rump on it before replying. ‘I didn’t. It was the Alice-In-Wonderland thing – you know, chasing a white rabbit? My name’s Holly, by the way. I guessed you’d follow me when I got off the bus, and we’re always looking for the right sort of people.’
‘What sort of people would that be?’
Holly grinned. ‘Kinky people, I suppose. People like you.’
AK assumed a shocked expression. ‘Me? I’m not kinky!’
Holly’s face was mocking. ‘Oh no? Then why did you follow me? I thought that you would, but do you know why?’
‘I was looking for..’ AK trailed off, there was not an easy was to express her feelings. She started again. ‘I suppose I was looking for darkness.’
Holly accepted the explanation. ‘Ah, the darkness. That’s the light from a different sun.’ She shifted on her seat, and her bare buttocks squeaked on the wood. ‘I was having a terrible struggle in there, trying to get my boots on, would you fasten the buckles for me?’
Reluctantly, AK knelt in front of Holly, trying to keep her eyes down as her fingers fiddled with the tiny buckles. She began to ask the obvious questions. ‘Holly, where exactly are we?’
‘This is the old West London Tramway, it was built to carry people from the western suburbs into the centre of London.’
AK was incredulous. ‘So why have I never heard of it?’ She looked up, found herself gazing along generous thighs at Holly’s nude crotch, and then pretended to carry on fastening the buckles, even though she had finished with them.
‘Because it was never used, other companies built the electric underground railway – what we now call The Tube – and horse-drawn trams were suddenly obsolete. Alice, you won’t fit in if you’re too shy to look at a pussy, I haven’t got anything that you haven’t got.’
AK was faced with the task of getting back to her feet without looking directly ahead, she accomplished it by rising with a twisting motion, then she sat on the bench beside Holly and continued the conversation. ‘Are there other tunnels?’
Holly turned to face her. ‘A few. The ones under London were connected together during the Second World War, the eastern end of this one connects with the Whitehall underground complex, but there are security doors, we can’t get through. During the Cold War, this was the emergency route for the top brass to reach RAF Northolt, and leave London before it was vaporised – have you never wondered why there is an airbase in West London?’
AK shook her head, and Holly continued. ‘Well anyway, a few of the London bondage and SM groups use the tunnels as a venue. One of the guys, he’s a fireman, has the keys to the maintenance entrances; there are only five of them left now, including the one I led you to.’
Now AK’s head was buzzing with ideas. She could see that the tunnel made an ideal pony track; it was very flat, always dry, and very private. The vast darkness would also be conducive to people becoming their shadow selves. Now there was an idea; Larry Spaggott could be taken over by his shadow self in the next book, she could clearly see him arriving at Clodditt’s Conjuring Academy in a carriage pulled by ponygirls. Of course, exposed breasts and vaginas would be unsuitable for her audience, but she could write around that; Larry’s ponygirls would be resplendent in glittering costumes, and would have plumes and tassels.
Holly’s face was very close, close enough that AK could feel her breath, and could sink into the infinite darkness of those eyes. She felt Holly’s hand cup her face, and closed her eyes, waiting for a probing tongue to separate her lips. But the tongue did not come, she felt Holly pull away, and she opened her eyes to see Holly studying her with a serious expression. ‘Alice, would you like to join us? You are just so ready to find out who you are.’
AK avoided the question, and threw in one of her own. ‘Are you a ponygirl, Holly?’
Holly moved further along the bench, and crossed her legs. ‘Sometimes I am, Alice. Up in the real world, I have to make a living, and I do that by giving people pleasure. I enjoy my work, but down here I can feel that I’m part of something special, something that the world doesn’t know about.’
‘Do you pull a carriage?’
Holly looked at her watch, and rose to her feet. ‘A cart Alice, they’re always called carts. Yes, of course I do. You’ve no idea how it good it feels to come in from a run, you just feel on top of the world, really alive – you could find out what I mean.’
AK smoothed her skirt with her hands. ‘Well, I really do think that I’m too old for that kind of nonsense.’ She said it, but she hoped it was not true.
Leaning forward, and seizing AK’s shoulders, Holly’s face smouldered with intensity. ‘Don’t you believe it. I assume you came here on Bob’s cart?’
‘One of his team – she’s his wife – is at least as old as you, maybe older. Alice, nobody ever died wishing they’d done less in their life. Take a chance, have a fling.’ She looked at her watch again. ‘I have to meet my driver; you just look around. Other people will be arriving, if anyone asks; just tell them you’re with me.’ With that, she trotted away; AK watched her darting between huts until she was out of sight.
Larry Spaggott popped back into AK’s head. It was time for the lad to face up to puberty, to acne and an over-active libido. The opening scene of the next book came to her; Larry is following a girl, a rather stout young girl. Not with any evil intent, but he is too painfully shy to actually catch up with her, for then he would have to speak to her, and he has no idea what to say. Alongside sparkling rivers, and across sunlit meadows he follows the girl, but all the time she leads him towards the darkness of the woods, closer and closer to the dying of the light.
AK looked up, there was movement around her; she could hear doors opening, spoken comments, the occasional laugh. She rose from the bench, and started to wander, but still concentrating on the developing plot in her head. Larry sees how dark the wood is, but cannot bear to lose sight of the girl, so he follows her along the winding path between the towering trees. The girl rounds a bend, and Larry is panic-stricken that he may have lost her, so he starts to run, and as he comes around the bend…
A hand clamped onto AK’s shoulder, and her heart almost stopped. Twisting frantically, she broke away from her captor, and staggered back against the wall of a hut, feeling its rough surface under her hands. And then she burst out laughing.
7. The Well Of Darkness
Facing her were Bob the driver, and the woman who had been the centre steed of his ponygirl team. Bob was dressed the same as he had been when perched on the cart, but the woman was now in street clothes, and was several inches taller than her husband, whose shriveled face seemed as old as the bedrock below. They were such an odd couple, and AK was so relieved, that she struggled for several seconds to control her mirth. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh at you, it’s just that you startled me.’
But the couple were clearly offended; they stared at AK, and then walked away without a word. AK issued herself a reprimand; this was not the way to get on with people. She walked towards the tramlines, where she could see that a group of people were gathering. The small cart she had seen in a shed was advancing though the crowd, pulled by a ponygirl fitted with a bit, a plume, and a tail. Her driver sat rigidly in the cart, holding his head high and staring straight ahead. The ponygirl moved slowly and deliberately, lifting a knee very high with each step. Her young face shone with a strange kind of pride, and her eyes flickered about the small crowd.
There were appreciative murmurs among the crowd, which parted to form a line along either side of the cart’s path; when it stopped, there was a ripple of applause, which the ponygirl acknowledged with a nod of her head. A woman stepped forward to loosen the ponygirl’s bit; the ponygirl licked her lips a few times, and the bit was replaced. The cart was turned around, and there was a repeat performance, identical but for being in the other direction. AK wandered away, and the new Larry Spaggott story continued to take shape. Larry emerges from the path between the trees, and into an open space. The girl has disappeared; all he can see in the clearing is the roof of a well. The sunlight here is warm, bees drone among daisies, the atmosphere is cosy and reassuring.
She was heading towards the tunnel that she had emerged from earlier; she wanted to go home now, and to capture her new ideas with her keyboard. A wry smile flickered across her face as she imagined the panning that Larry Spaggott And The Well Of Darkness would get from the critics, but she was sure that it would be her biggest seller. The key to it all would be the well, and the endless darkness at the bottom of it. In that darkness, something could develop from nothing, and could be bitterly jealous of the creatures in the light so far above.
AK reached the tunnel entrance, and stopped. She wondered briefly what had happened to her lantern, and supposed that she had left it in Bob’s cart. As she stood gazing at the darkness before her, the Larry Spaggott storyline leapt forward. Leaning over the brick wall of the well, Larry feels an abrupt chill, and makes to draw away, but a movement below catches his eye, and he leans further over. Immediately, he realises that the movement is his own reflection in the water below, but there is something wrong about it, he frowns with concentration as he tries to understand. The reflection does not frown; it grins hideously, and hurtles up the well shaft with terrifying speed….
A whip cracked, breaking AK’s train of thought. She turned, to see a ponygirl team bearing down on her; such were the changes that had happened in her world, that it seemed no more extraordinary than a bus in the street. She stepped back, and the cart halted beside her; the ponygirls in this team wore bits, and their eyes rolled apprehensively. The driver was a large man, who winked at AK as if the two of them shared a lascivious secret; inevitably, he had a passenger, and that passenger was Holly. ‘Alice! Are you leaving? Hop up here with me, and we’ll give you a lift.’
AK climbed aboard, and squeezed onto the seat next to Holly. The whip cracked, and the cart moved into the tunnel, blindly at first, and then the driver flicked the headlight on. Behind the light, where Holly and AK sat, there was near-total darkness; AK could barely make out the gleam of Holly’s teeth.
‘So then, Alice; are you interested?’
‘Hmm.’ AK was still not sure about all of this, and rather than give a direct answer, she asked a question. ‘Holly, when you’re pulling a cart, do you ever get whipped?’
‘Oh yes,’ Holly replied cheerfully. ‘It depends on the driver, of course, some of them love the whip, and some don’t.’
‘So how can you put up with it?’ AK tried to keep her voice flat, to show no great interest.
She felt Holly’s warm body wriggle on the seat beside her. ‘Well, it’s all part of the action. You always know when it’s going to happen, you can feel the driver getting tense and impatient, and you hope he’s going to stroke one of the other girls. And then – wham! You feel the impact, and the pain comes a minute fraction of a second later, it’s a broad hot glow, you can’t tell exactly where the stroke was. Then your legs aren’t hurting so much, and you really get a move on; so do the other girls, because they don’t want to be stroked.’
Holly giggled, and squeezed AK’s knee. ‘All the girls get more of the whip than they care for sometimes, and we all promise ourselves that it’s the last time. But we always come back for more, and so will you Alice, just give it a try.’
As if to emphasise Holly’s words, the driver stroked a ponygirl with the whip, and AK heard her gasp. Holly giggled again. ‘This is a good team, and Tom is a hard driver, we’ll be there in no time.’
‘Where are you going to, Holly?’ AK did not really want to know, and her minded drifted as Holly explained that her driver needed collecting from Chiswick.
The girl never returns from her walk, only Larry returns. There is a hue and cry, and Larry is the focus of it for a while, but there is nothing to connect him with the disappearance. Normality returns, though not for the girl’s family, and perhaps not for Larry. People notice that he is a darker character than he used to be, and is that a trick of the light, or does his face seem to ripple sometimes, like the surface of a pond?
‘Earth calling Alice! Are you listening to me?’
‘I’m sorry Holly, I was thinking. What were you saying?’
‘It doesn’t matter, we’re almost at the mews now.’ There was a strange tone to Holly’s voice, and AK’s earlier fear of being kidnapped returned with a vengeance. But a few seconds later, the carriage glided to a stop beside the platform, and AK stepped out.
‘Goodbye Holly.’ AK paused for a moment, and then a blinding light flared before her eyes; Holly had lit a lantern for her. Taking the lantern from Holly’s hand, AK said goodbye again; Holly’s face was impassive, she said nothing. AK turned away, and moved through the small tunnel to the foot of the spiral stairway.
Onwards and upwards, AK climbed the iron mountain. Nearing the top, she paused for breath, and leaned against the handrail. From the other world below, Holly’s voice reached her. ‘Alice, Alice - will we see you again?’
AK thought of all the different paths that life could take, and she contrasted the dull grey light above with the darkness below, and then she gave her answer.
* * *
Whatever she may say in her introduction, that is the real story behind A.K.Strokely’s Larry Spaggott And The Well Of Darkness. It’s coming to a bookshop near you, very soon – reserve your copy now.
Copyright© 2001,2012 by Carter Fell. All rights reserved.