Warning: this is very long.
They head out on a lazy day in June, fresh out of school for the summer, adventurers exploring strange new worlds, boldly going where no man has gone before - most often because man isn't allowed there, but this is Yorkshire and farmers will forgive a few high spirits in young lads as long as no lasting damage is done. Their names are Peter, Herb, and Frank. Herb and Frank are a year or two older than Pete, hitting puberty early but still not quite as fast or as strong or as large. He's the odd man out in another way, two, because his religion dictates that he goes to a different school and bothe separates them and also allows them to exist together where peer pressure might have otherwise driven them into very separate camps. Pete is the explorer and today he is taking them to inspect one of his finds, He is taking them to the reservoir domes a good six or seven miles outside the fields and quarry they normally roam, because there is something he wants them to see.
You can come along with them too, for the ride.
You walk so far to get there that the old horizon dissapears and is replaced by an entirely new one. This by itself is new to Pete and he is still pondering it's meaning for him, the strange thrill it brings him to see something appear in his worldview that was not accessible or to be guessed at when he began. The journey is somewhat tiring, and it is hot, and there are flies and wasps and other annoyances; these are details. Even starting early and not stopping to eat, the sun is high in the sky when the boys come to the dell in the eath before the reservoir.
Pause to take in this view for a moment. On the horizon are six brilliant white domes, clean and technical and slightly forbidding but also emphatic reassurance. They represent a kind of order, an authority. Close to hand the place we have come to visit brings to mind something out of T.S.Elliott's wastelands. Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves waited for rain, while the black clouds gathered far distant, over himavant.... Ganga is a small dell in the earth containing few plants that would bear leaves at all, a discarded shopping trolley, a few shredded and obviously burned tires, and a number of rusting aerosol paint cans. The latter have been used to paint roughly five or six pentacles in black and red over the stone surfaces that line the dell, along with the number 666, the quote "do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law", and a few of the more mundane delinquent messages. at the back of the dell is a yawning black pit, a wound in the earth that seems to leak festering antipathy into the air around it. Even from this distance it makes you feel uncomfortable, but it is also fascinating, and so.
This is our destination.
Inside the cave summer recedes into a back pocket of your mind, something you know is there but don't have any use for right now. It's cold, surprisingly cold after the long walk here; the sweat dries on your sunburned skin, making you shiver involuntarily, and you are suddenly aware of your hair hanging damp against your forehead, your Tshirt way too thin and sticking to you now like flypaper, meaning you're the fly.
The darkness seems to swallow sounds whole, takes them and carries them away into its other-world. None of the boys have brought a torch, either because they lacked the attention span or the imagination or the means depending on who we choose to ask. They are standing approximately some fifteen or twenty feet inside the entrance, hands in pockets, facing into the dark together as they shuffle their feet. Herb is looking around at some of the graffitti still, possibly noticing the smashed bottles by the wall, sharp green tinted glass twinkling in the last reflected light of the entrance. He might be looking at used condoms as well, but it's unlikely. People fuck in graveyards, sure, but even graveyards have a little starlight, some reference point for your own youth and strength and lust. No one ever so much as felt their pants stir in here. Surprisingly, He won't see any used needles either, but this is not quite even the 80's and rural England has yet to really work at cultivating it's drug problem.
Frank keeps his thoughts to himself, if he has any. He's holding a few stones in his hand, picked up from the general debris, which he's weighing in his hand. His face looks slightly angry, as if he's frowing at something, and the scars over the bridge of his nose would seem to flare a little if it wasn't so dark. He Glances over at Pete, who he can just make out in the darkness, crouching slightly with uncertainty, fixated on the back wall of the cave which is completely invisible and might for all any of them know be a kilometre back, or in some other city, or China.
"There's something back there. It's a well, or a hole, or....something. It's back there. In the back of the cave. Can you see?"
Everyone senses it, everyone looks. It's not like it's easy to ignore, really. Frank's voice is poised somewhere between surly and deliberately obtuse as he edges forward. "Where is it, then?" he weighs a half brick in one large, calloused hand.
"I don't know. Back there."
"Hnn." The two of them edge a little closer, pushing their luck. Frank's voice is sinking into the cave and Peter has to strain slightly to hear it. "Think I can see it" he adds, and suddenly lobs his brick headlong into the darkness.
This is their ritual. They do this pretty much every time, Sacrifice some heavy, physical inert object to the back of the cave, they will do this again when they return to the source of their horrific fascination. Seconds later comes the first harsh cracking retort as the brick hits what is possibly the back wall of the cave; then comes another, and another, and another still fainter. Each dull echo is somehow more terrible than the last. Peter counts silently under his breath: "four, five...six...." It's not that they stop at this point, it's that the seventh is too faint to be sure of, that the probe is lost in depth beyond this away team's crude instrumentation. Somewhere impenetrable.
That doesn't mean to say that the cave doesn't speak back, that the pit doesn't call to each of them in it's own way. The silence speaks volumes all on its' own, insidious in the cold oppressive dankness that presses insistently from all sides. It claws at them by this point, and all these boys are used to silence in their own way; Hours at a time lying on the roof of the grid station, looking for satellites or aliens, never once speaking; alone in a dusty room, desks all cleared, engaged in a contest of wills with the Crow figure scratching at the far end of the room by the blackboard; nothing prepares them for this creeping oily congealed silence that lives on the smell of mold and stagnant things and black dust, that crawls up and down your salt caked drying skin and seems to get under it and into you until you're convinced that if you stay there much longer your mouth will be forced open and something eyeless and twisted and covered in slime will crawl right out of it.
No one really wants to stay in there, not now, not after the incident with the brick. Herb and Frank toss a few more stones anyway with typical older boy bravado, but it feels literally as though some modern day equivalent of Tolkien's Balrog has been awakened, has indeed climbed out and into the enclosed space and like some patient spider is hungrily eating away at their souls. It's really just a matter of who will bolt first, and with how much dignity.
In the sunlight, warming up again, Herb recounts cheerfully that he heard that there was a pagan coven that performed satanic rituals here. Once, he adds for emphasis, they stabbed a cat and threw it down into the pit. You could hear it screaming all the way down and then suddenly it just stopped, suddenly, without any kind of a thud or any noise at all. They next day it walked out and didn't have a single scratch on it and now it's a wild stray that wanders around here sometimes. It never makes any sound anymore.
Despite the fact that Pete found the cave and led the other boys to it he somehow completely falls for this story, is skeptical of possible interpretations but does not for a second doubt the facts of the case. Frank goes to school with Herb and knows a little better, but it fits so well with their own experiences that the story becomes part of official canon anyway, it's understood to represent the generalised wrongness that has clotted there. It becomes a metaphysical link in some dark nexus that binds them to this day, this time, and this cave.
Because they return. Everyone returns, alone or together, in the summer and at the turning of the year when the leaves have fallen and the grass crunches like broken glass under their trainers as they negotiate their way back through the no man's lands of fenced off gulleys and streams and people's back gardens. Because something pulls them. Some sick fascination drives them to behold again the debris pit and the abandoned rusting cans of aerosol paint, the lurid spectacle of pentacles and profane graffiti, sexual innuendo and scatalogical and occult reference, something drags them back again and again to hear the ugly echo of that abandoned place.
We can hear it, now. It's still there. Come with me. Come, see.
From outside the cave, it is easy to forget what it is like within. The warmth of the sunlight on your face is such a different sensation that it's possible to pretend that nothing's really in there, and it's difficult to understand what it is that draws you back, again and again. You can hear the voices in the cave, you hear them more and more clearly each time you come, but you don't remember them when you leave, you never can recall what it was about them that made you feel the way you did. At dusk one time you might hear the cat, inside, and feel the crawling dislocated fear of the supernatural that will assail both Frank and Pete some other day, though it will be years before they discuss it with each other.
There are other things to hear, though, other echoes in the cave that are less contentious. There are things more real. For those we have to go inside, we have to look within the hole where Frank's half brick continues to fall. Come inside.
Here is Father Edwards, Parish priest in Highgate, population maybe three hundred, Writing an empty sermon that he's crossed out at least twenty times because he does not know where to find compassion in the deaths of thirty children in a traffic accident. Here he is hearing the confession of beautiful beautiful Mellisa Bolton with tears streaming down his face as his nails dig into the palm of his hand until it bleeds. kneeling before the altar of the blessed sacrament and looking up while the thought that all these twenty years he has been talking to himself slowly rips his mind apart at the seams. In the darkness he looks up at the moonlight through the stained glass of the nave and it seems to him to be receding. He wants to ask it for a sign, for just the barest assurance that something out there hears him, but he dare not open his mouth. The silence carries.
Here on a Friday night is Frank's taxi cab, inherited from his dead father some years back, carefully cleaned each saturday morning until most of the smell of stale beer and cigarrette smoke and occasional vomit can no longer offend his family as he drives his kids to the pool. The night's take so far is barely Seventy quid and he's forced to drive into the red light district where he knows he's likely to find work taking tricks to and from their place of work. It's nearly one AM and he promised Mary he'd be home by midnight, but he needs at least two hundred or else the bank is going to repossess their home. Looking into the shadows of a doorway, he is thinking of his wife, of the bank, he is trying to think of a single thing he going to say to either of them.
Pete the crazy homeless guy pushes his shopping cart underneath the second narrows bridge as a gang of street youths come upon him with chains and knuckle dusters. "What you got there Grandad? huh? what's in your trolley, then, huh?" He's tired, he hasn't eaten in three days and he needs some meth to take the edge off, to help him stay awake so the cold won't be so bad, these kids look so much bigger than him now and he hates them about half as much as he fears them. He tries to ignore them, to shut them out, to make them go away. In a minute they will hurt him and that, too, will add to the empty voices, to the sounds that are not sounds. Herbert will echo from the interrogation room of a london police station where Detective Inspector Travis has just asked him where he was when the fire started in the warehouse at keith avenue and how he managed to get so much soot on his hands. He will echo again from the factory where he welds steel plates together with a carbon welder that burns his hands through asbestos gloves and leaves him exhausted to the point where his mute anger and pain and tiredness literally cannot find expression because his throat hurts too much to speak.
Peter again, this time standing on the platform of the Amtrak station in Chicago as a great metal worm eats it's way along the track towards him and he's been working on a rendering algorithm for a new game for about four days straight now, his girlfriend cannot stand the insane hours he's working and she's started sleeping with another guy she met at some art show and he's going back to an empty sterile appartment where he will sleep for maybe six hours before returning to work. He is thinking of stepping into the path of the oncoming train. How many ways are there to die?
If you listen closely, you can hear the voices screaming at you in the dark. You're in here too. Here is your parent's grave, you are kneeling in the rain as they lower the coffin into the dirt. Here is their empty house that you live in so that their abscence may continue to accuse you of nonspecific failings. Here is your office in the University with it's pristine walls and a pile of papers that contradict everything you've written for the last five years and you are failrly certain that they are right. Here is your one room basement appartment in the east end of town that you come back to after a sixteen hour day fixing meals for fat old men who ogle you with rheumy eyes, it smells of hair and catpiss and you've been asking the landlord to do something about the mold on the ceiling for three weeks but you're too tired to press any harder and you cannot possibly afford the time off work to look for a new place.
Here is your broken and wasted reflection in the mirror at 4am, face swollen and blotchy and your hair torn out of it's sockets, your eyes raw from all the tears forced out through them as you scream and scream into your pillow, stripped of all the beauty of youth and the comfort of friends and forced up against the cold sharp edges of your very worst self. It's more than just your reflection, it's you, you as fate might make you, You as your own shadow waiting to happen one day, looking back and seeing yourself. And hating it, hating everything you have that was taken away from it. Hating you. It hates you.
And there's nothing left for it do but wait, there.
It's not alone. It's never alone. They are all together down there at the bottom, pooled, they can outlast you easily and will. How many ways are there to lose? All it takes is one bad day. Do you know your breaking point? would you like to see what happens when you get pushed too far? Where it is you fall?
Come. Hear the echoes.