TERROR IN A DARK PLACE
BY Martin Ough Dealy
Sunday was the day for family tennis. It was a family ritual. The adults spent nearly all day playing the game at the club within the stone walls of the old Progreso Hacienda.
The Club had just two clay courts and a wood and corrugated iron spectator’s hut. The hut was painted a snazzy bright rich green. It contrasted with the red clay of the courts. Beyond the hut lay the detritus of the ruined old mill with the chimney still pointing like a grubby finger to the sky..
In its heyday the old mill covered more than a hectare of land. It had once been a hive of activity, but the ruins were silent. All the machinery had been dismantled and sold. Nothing was left except piles of rubble, broken foundations and walls that defined the site like a mad set of squares and rectangles.
An air of mystery and threat hung over the ruins and proved irresistible to two errant small boys. Told to stay in the hut and watch the grownups play tennis the two youngsters quickly became bored and wandered off to explore.
Nobody noticed their absence.
At first it was fun climbing over the piles of stone through holes and passages between the old walls into the dank and the dust and the smells of the old mill. Inexorably drawn further into the maze of the ruins they soon became lost. But the sounds of the vigorous game reassured them. So they wandered without any thought of retracing their steps.
The entrance to the low tunnel lay hidden behind a mound of broken brick and rocks at the base of the chimney that now towered above boys. Badly weathered brick work at the top made it look like a giant broken tooth with gaps where chunks of brickwork had crumbled away. The piles of broken rubble below testified to the ever present danger.
Peering into the tunnel the older boy dimly saw a light at the end where it joined the chimney base. Spurred by curiosity and foolish sense of adventure he got down on his hands and knees and crawled in. Nothing loathe the younger boy followed.
The tunnel quickly narrowed and the lessening height forced the boys onto their stomachs as they struggled to get forward. Progress was impeded by fallen brickwork, cobwebs and the smell of something long dead. Things got worse, especially for the smaller boy behind. His body blocked what little light that came from the entrance,
whilst ahead the larger boy blocked any of the dim light from the hole into the chimney.
Suddenly the youngster panicked. Unable to see and cramped in by the walls and roof, he could not move anyway whatever. His panic quickly affected the older boy who could now see that the hole into the base of the chimney was too small to climb through. In his scrabbling attempts to reverse he made it worse for his younger friend behind.
Stuck some 30 feet inside the tunnel in the darkness with the spiders and the sounds of something skittering over the broken rubble, the boys quickly succumbed to a state of sheer terror and panic.
Time stood still. Until finally the elder calmed down enough to discover that he could enlarge the hole into the chimney. He wiggled through but only far enough to discover that he could not see or feel any floor in front of him. The chimney pipe extended down below his outstretched hand and appeared to be bottomless. There really was no way out and there was no way to turn around......
Panic, terror and a sense of final entrapment again overwhelmed both boys as they lay trembling in the enveloping confines of that now most menacing place. Their only hope was that someone would notice their absence or hear their desperate shouts for help.
Meanwhile, unaware of the predicament of the two lads, the tennis players continued their noisy game. The boys ‘ yells for help remained muffled by the tunnel, the earth above and the mounds of detritus and the stone walls blocking the way back. No one could hear them and still no one noticed that they had gone........
This really was terror in a dark place....
Fortunately Mum had sensed the something was wrong….there wasn’t the usual noise of children racketing around in the club house and she raised the alarm to set up a general search of the area.
The state of alarm of both sets of parents was heightened by the memory of the abduction and murder some years previously of another child in the same area. I was later told, the boy victim’s body had been found in the very tunnel that I had been trapped in……. of course I did not know that at the time and anyway I was too terrified by my own precarious situation to have cared.
Anyhow eventually someone heard the bellows of two very frightened boys coming from the chimney area. The problem then was to get us out. Digging was out of the question and eventually the solution was to get one of the smaller adults to crawl into the tunnel and drag us out feet first!
Neither of us received much sympathy from our parents I can tell you! But this time there was no physical chastisement ……. I guess Dad reckoned that the experience was a sharp enough lesson and that I was unlikely ever to want to repeat the escapade.
Two very lucky much chastened boys returned to a much relieved family. They were told...NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! But boys will be boys and there was yet another sequel ...but that is another story!