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Escape into Daylight
By Geoffrey Household
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Geoffrey Household
All rights reserved.
It was dark as before the beginning of the world. Blackness. Nothing. At first the boy thought he must be at home, but when his eyes had been open a second longer he knew that he could not be; not even on a clouded, moonless night was there such darkness in his room. The last thing he remembered was being thrown on the floor of the van, held down and half smothered by a rug.
He must have lost consciousness in the van and now had arrived somewhere and was awake. At least he supposed so, but the silence and the darkness were unlike anything he had ever experienced when awake. His heart began to beat very fast as two imaginary terrors hit him. The first was that he had been buried alive. That fear was at once proved to be ridiculous. He wriggled his arms free of whatever was keeping them close to his sides, flung them wide and found plenty of space all around him. The second fear was that he had gone blind. That was not so ridiculous.
The boy felt and rubbed his eyes. Nothing seemed wrong with them. Since he could neither see nor hear, he tried what touch and smell could tell him. He discovered that he was in a sleeping bag. Beneath it were one or two folded blankets. Beyond the bag was a hard floor feeling as if it were paved with stone. Smell was of damp. That and the stones brought up a memory of the day when his parents had taken him to visit a ruined castle. He had asked if there were any dungeons, and the custodian had unlocked an iron gate, as a special favour, and led them down steps to see a dungeon which had once been below the level of the moat. It had smelt just like the place where he was.
The boy felt that he ought to have the courage to jump up and explore, but got no further than wriggling out of the bag and sitting on it. The sleeping bag, after all, was the only object he could be certain about; away from it everything was unknown and he might never be able to find his way back. Somebody must have put him there and the same somebody would expect to find him there. He considered yelling at the top of his voice and badly wanted to. He had to remind himself that he was a farmer's son and well used to darkness – though not such darkness as this.
When his heart had stopped beating so fast, it seemed to him that the silence was not so complete as he thought. He heard a very faint, regular whispering which might be far away or very close. It was only when the sound stopped and was succeeded by a sob that he realised he had been listening to the breathing of another person.
'Is anyone there?' he asked.
'Oh! Oh, yes!'
'Where am I?'
'I don't know. You're where I am. I saw you being brought down.'
The boy nerved himself to ask the question which terrified him more than anything else.
'Am I blind?'
'No, of course you're not. In daytime there's a tiny bit of light once your eyes get used to it.'
'Where are you?'
It was impossible to tell where the girl's voice was coming from. It sounded as if it were everywhere at once.
'Not far. But there are pillars and things. If you feel your way round the wall you'll come to me.'
'But where's the wall?'
'You're lying quite close to it. It's on your right.' The boy cautiously moved away from the sleeping bag.
'There isn't any wall,' he said.
'Well, perhaps it's on your left.'
Girls, he thought, often said right when they meant left though they knew very well which was which. But of course she could not be sure. There wasn't any right or left unless she knew which end of him his head was. And it might be difficult to spot that when somebody had carried him into the dark and dropped him down.
He returned to the bag, found the wall and followed it round very slowly until he was on top of the voice.
'What are you doing here?' he asked.
'I've been kidnapped. And you too, I expect. Who's your father? Is he very rich?'
'No. He farms near Hanborough. He's doing all right, but we're not at all rich.'
'That's funny. I live near Hanborough too. You didn't see them grab me, did you?'
No, he had seen nothing wrong and done nothing wrong, he told her. That morning, which was Saturday, he had taken a bus into town to get some advice from his favourite shop. A fine shop, he said. It sold shot-guns and cartridges and decoy wood pigeons and fishing tackle. What he wanted to know was how to make an eel trap and whether he should use netting or basketwork – all because his father had said it was silly to pay good money for eels when anyone could catch them if he knew how. His friend at the shop said he believed the best traps were of basketwork and he would try to get him one cheap. Then, dreaming of all the eels he would catch in the river or the canal, he went off to look at the wall.
The wall amused him. It was better than a comic. The older gang at school wrote all sorts of messages on it – some to each other, some to girls, some about football. Most could just as well have been whispered or shouted, but it was more fun to chalk them on the wall when no one was looking. The boy could not make sense of half the secrets which were there and that was why they fascinated him, just like the bits of a newspaper which were vague. The smooth bricks recorded goings-on in a life which would be part of his own in another year or two but which he could not yet share.
The wall went round part of the gasworks on a street which led out into the country. A fair amount of traffic passed, but few people on foot since there were no shops. On the other side of the street was waste ground where a derelict factory was being pulled down to make room for a housing estate. The boy always felt a little guilty at following the wall and stopping to read what was there, so he used to approach it across the waste ground and wait till the coast was clear.
The street was not on his way to and from school, and he seldom saw any of the older boys actually writing. He was sure that none of them would be there on a Saturday morning and was surprised to see that somebody was – but a man, not a boy or girl. First he read all the doodles and inscriptions and then he went back to the beginning and started to scribble on the bricks himself. The man had his back to him, so the boy slipped unseen behind a pile of broken concrete by the roadside and watched him. He wore blue overalls and a hat pushed well down over his eyes. Whenever he saw anyone coming, he pulled out a steel tape measure and a spirit level as if he were a builder on the job of cleaning or repairing the wall, but when the street was empty he returned to writing something in red chalk, moving along and picking his spaces. At that distance the boy could only see that he seemed to be scribbling numbers.
It did not take long. When the man had finished he looked up and down the street. Seeing nobody on foot and no car, he started to walk quickly out of town.
'I recognised him,' the boy announced excitedly. 'He was Rupert Falconer, my very favourite film star. And I've seen him dozens of times on the telly. He was the private eye in ...'
'He's my father,' the girl said. 'I'm Carrie Falconer.'
'Your father! But why doesn't he rescue you?'
'I think he has to pay to get me back.'
'He ought to come charging in here with a gun.'
'He isn't like that in real life, you know. Mary and he had a row once because he wouldn't set a trap to catch a mouse.'
'Well, I like mice too.'
'But Mary doesn't. What was he writing on the wall?'
'Numbers. I'll tell you what happened. I wanted his autograph, so I ran after him and caught him up just as he was getting into his car which was parked round the next corner. He looked a bit annoyed but he gave me his autograph. And then I asked him if the camera was somewhere in the factory while he was writing on the wall. I thought I might be in the picture, you see, though I hadn't noticed anybody filming him. He said there wasn't any camera and he wasn't really writing. He was just trying to see what sort of a shot it would make. Then he drove off fast. So I went back to the wall and looked at what he had been writing. It was a whole lot of numbers as I thought. He had really been writing, not pretending. I took them down because I thought they might be shown on the screen and then I could open my notebook and tell everyone what I'd seen.'
'What car did he use?' she asked.
'A green Mercedes.'
'Well, that's ours.'
'And the other car was a grey van.'
'What other car?'
'It came along while I was making a note of the numbers and passed me and came back again and stopped. The driver asked me what I was doing. I said I was taking down numbers which Rupert Falconer had written on the wall. He thought for a bit and whispered to another man in the car, and then he said: "I'm the director of the film he's in. Would you like to see his house?" He was rather fat and very respectable looking, like an auctioneer or something.'
'Like a butler,' she said. 'That's the man who called for me.'
'I've never seen a butler, but he might be. Well, I hadn't much time to catch my bus and Mr Falconer wasn't very pleased to be spoken to, so I said I thought it had better be another day. But the director chap said there was no time like the present and after we had called on Mr Falconer he would run me back home if I liked. So I told him where I lived and got in the back of the van, and the other man got in the back too. I didn't care for him. He was always smiling. I remember the driver saying: "Now! It's all clear!" And then the other man threw me on the floor and put his hand over my mouth and I think he pricked me with something.'
'Just like they did to me,' she said. 'What's your name?'
'Mike. Michael Prowse. How did they get you?'
'It was because Rupert and Mary aren't living together. They had another row.'
'That's your father and mother?'
'Yes. They like me to call them Rupert and Mary, but I think it's silly. Well, Mary always fetches me from school. But yesterday she was late. While I was waiting for her a car drove up and the driver said that he was a chauffeur from the studio and that Rupert and Mary were at the flat he keeps in London and wanted me to be there. I was so happy that they had made it up that I got in the car at once and sat down on something sharp. The chauffeur said he was very sorry and that his wife must have left a needle on the seat. And the next thing I knew I was lying here.'
'Alone in the dark?'
'Yes. But somebody was listening and when I started to scream he came down and told me that if I stayed quiet I wouldn't be hurt, and in a few days I could go home.'
'You've been screaming some more, Carrie. I know because your voice is so hoarse.'
'I couldn't help it. But nobody told me to shut up, so I'm sure we can't be heard outside at all.'
'Where do you think we are?'
'I don't know. When there's a little light to see by, it looks a bit like a church.'
Mike sat down by her side and the two began to talk about themselves and their lives. They found that they were both twelve. Carrie had always lived and gone to school in London till her parents bought a country house near Hanborough, and now she was at a posh day school nearby and didn't think much of it.
'What's it like, being the daughter of a film star?'
'All right. But it doesn't do Rupert any good to be famous.'
Suddenly she began to cry. She sobbed that it was because she was so thankful to have someone to cry to.
'Didn't you cry when you were alone?'
'Not much. I screamed but I didn't have a good cry.'
Mike heard movement somewhere above them. Carrie told him that it would probably be the man with food. Then there was a pool of light from an electric lantern which revealed stone steps and a pair of legs coming down them. Their visitor had a nylon stocking over his head with two holes for his eyes. Mike recognised the voice of the man with the fixed smile who had smothered and drugged him.
'Supper!' he said, putting down two cans of cocoa and a pot of thick soup with bread and two spoons in it. 'And here's your breakfast in this bag! You'd better make it last because it's all you are going to get till tomorrow night.'
'How long are you going to keep us here?'
'As long as we have to, son. And that depends on our Mr Falconer.'
'He'll pay,' Carrie said. 'But it isn't fair to keep Michael Prowse. What do you want him for?'
'He's the last dam' thing we want. He'd have been all right if he hadn't recognised your father.'
'Can you let my parents know you've got me?' Mike asked.
'Is it likely? What you'd better hope is that the police never have a clue to where you are – because if they find out it's going to be very hard for us to know what to do with you. Now get on with your grub while you've a light to eat by!'
Mike could see his partner for the first time. She was dressed in school uniform, and had long, fair hair, tied with a ribbon at the back, and big, clever eyes. She seemed a bit on the fat side but had long legs. Carrie ought to be able to run, he thought, if we ever have a chance.
The cocoa was cold but the soup was not bad. Mike had little appetite after being drugged, so he let Carrie eat most of it while he examined his surroundings as far as the lantern could show them. The place seemed to be a cellar but was large enough for a village church. Short, massive pillars with arches over them held up the roof, marching along in a shadowy line until they disappeared into blackness. Above the steps was a round hole through which the man had come. Nothing at all was on the stone flags of the floor except the two sleeping bags and a small drum of drinking water.
'If we have to stay here, you might make us a bit more comfortable,' Carrie said.
'What do you want?'
'Can we have some light?'
'And more blankets,' Mike added, for he was getting colder and colder.
'Get in your bag if you're not warm enough! You can chatter to each other just as well. About light – well, I'll see what the others say and if we have any candles.'
He gathered up the pot, the two cans and the lantern and went back up the steps. He put back a cover over the hole and they heard him slide home a bolt.
Mike went shivering back to his bed and was nearly asleep when the man returned.
'Here's a couple of candles and some matches!' he said. 'Don't set yourselves on fire! And just remember the light can't be seen and you can't be heard. So it's no good trying any monkey tricks.'
When he had gone and shut them up again, they lit the candles and explored their prison. Stones, damp, arches and darkness – that was all. Beyond the great cellar where they were they found another one, rather smaller and with the pillars closer together. Here and there smooth, brown roots had forced their way through the roof like snakes. Coming from one crack was a shoot with shrivelled buds on it which were white instead of green. Air could get in but there was no way out except the steps.
In this second cellar there was a semicircle of old brickwork standing out from the stone wall and running right up to the vaulted roof. Everywhere else the walls and angles were regular as the inside of a box. The curved bow of smooth brick offered no hope at all. It looked as if it had been built as a buttress to support the roof.
The two prisoners returned to their sleeping bags and put out the candles. Carrie, exhausted by two days of fear and loneliness, slept deeply. Mike remained awake much longer. He came to the conclusion that the police were bound to trace the kidnappers through their cars, but if they escaped or refused to talk when arrested he and Carrie might never be found. Then what would happen if there was no food and no light? He only hoped that Rupert Falconer was making so much money that he could pay whatever had been demanded.
When he awoke the great cellar was not quite so black. The entrance at the top of the steps was covered by an iron grating through which came thin strips of twilight. He got up and felt his way into the second chamber, which had been bothering his dreams. Once through the archway there was no light at all, and he could not define what it was that he expected to find. He was hungry, so he felt his way back to Carrie and gently woke her up.
The bag left for their breakfast held ham sandwiches, a packet of oatmeal biscuits and a pot of jam. They ate the sandwiches and left the biscuits for later as the masked man had advised.
'He never comes down during the day,' Carrie said.
'Is it always the same screw?'
'What's a screw?'
'It's what chaps in the nick call the prison officer. If he only turns up at night, it means that he might be seen coming here. So there must be people somewhere above us.'
'Unless we are right out in wild country.'
'Well, there's always somebody about on the land – farmers or gamekeepers or hikers,' Mike said. 'How long were you in the car?'
'I don't know.'
'Nor do I. That's the worst of it. We might be anywhere. It might have taken them only an hour to drive us here, or all day and half the night.'CHAPTER 2
Rupert Falconer opened the morning paper and exclaimed:
'Oh my God! What are we to do?'
Mary looked over his shoulder. Carrie would have been happy to know that she was at home again.
'It's the boy who saw me writing up the number of the bank account. The devils have got him too!'
Excerpted from Escape into Daylight by Geoffrey Household. Copyright © 1976 Geoffrey Household. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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