Exploration of two different narrative perspectives: third person past, which can reveal past events, facts and opinions as an authoritative narrator, and first person present, which brings us much closer to the action as it happens.
This was a dress cardigan, not something that would keep you warm on a cold night in winter. You wore this indoors, playing with friends, while asking what was for tea, or standing a little self-aware but generally pleased in front of a bedroom mirror. You didn’t wear it while your bruised, dirty fingers trembled their way forward along wet rock walls in a cold, pitch-black tomb, pee running down your legs.
He is close behind her. As she runs through the rain she hears him lurching heavily between the trees and crashing through the tough hazel scrub, high woodland grass and ferns that dominate the higher ground as it rises to meet the side of the White Peak hill.
Her tiny fleeting figure darts across the soggy floor of the dale and slips easily through the undergrowth, while he is bogged down and slowed by the landscape and his size. Still he runs on, his giant strides bringing him closer.
She emerges from the wood on to the clearer ground at the top of the hill and doesn’t stop running. She sees a dark shape ahead, a hole in the wall of the limestone cliff face. She runs as fast as she can towards the opening. She hears him behind her, his heavy footfall now clear on the flat ground of the hill.
Everything is behind her, rushing forward to envelop her, drawing her back towards him, as he gathers pace, now making ground on her. She is sure that he is so close that she hunches her shoulders ready for his hands to clamp on to them and drag her back. This is the second when he will grab her and it will be over. OK, not this second… then this second… or this second. She can’t look back. Every moment is the end. All she wants to do is fly up and up and away, towards the light of the moon, where she can see Buxton. Then she can turn in mid flight, reach out her arms and fly home.
Beth holds the dirty white cardigan in liver-spotted hands with skin stretched blue and translucent. She picks absently at its loose knit with brittle nails, unravelling another thread. Water forms in her milky, colourless eyes. She blinks, and tears run down her lined face.
It would be hard for someone seeing the garment for the first time to know what it once was, as it hangs limp, a stained, unpicked bundle, but still soft. It smells of Beth and the home. It is not a young smell.
She runs inside, from moonlit night into blackness as she enters the cave. The rain stops as she creeps into the hole. Cold water covers her sandals and soaks her feet. She wades forward, sobbing but trying not to make a noise. The cave is silent and ambiguous – neither protector nor trapper. She moves further into the blackness, not wanting to stop for a moment. She does not know how close he is, but she expects to feel his breath, which smells of smoke and vinegar, exhaust on her thin, pale neck.
This is not like being chased by her father, that tingle of frightened expectancy that causes her to squeal with pleasure in anticipation of his big, safe hands catching her before she reaches the top of the stairs. She is crying because she does not want to die. Not tonight. Not here.
She had unwittingly found an entrance into Lathkill Head Cave – not the show cave with its railings and ticket booth, but a hidden entrance into the abandoned lead mine that had once been blasted open by an entrepreneurial farmer seeking alternative income, and was now known to no-one except a handful of local cavers and potholers, and the farmer, Kevin Maloney.
At any other time, even daytime, young Rosie Tranter would have dared not enter. The thought of being lost and alone in this cold, black limestone maze would have sent her running away to open ground and safety, and as her confidence returned eventually skipping back down the hill to town as the scary places stayed right where they were. Now more than anything she wanted to hide inside it, for it to help her and give her safety. She promised aloud that she would come here again and not be frightened of it if it saved her.
He had tried to drag her into his car, but this was the first time he had done this. He had waited by the wall, forcing her to walk between him and his car. As she walked past the car she had smiled at him and he had grabbed her. But her piercing little shriek had made him jump and he had let go. She had run and he had stupidly decided to lock his car before chasing her, giving her a head start that would take him twenty minutes to recover.
She could have slipped inside the cave unnoticed and he might easily have passed it by, were it not that he caught a glimpse of her white cardigan darting into the side of the peak.
Now she is inside and she feels lost, and he must know it better than her. He is a grown up. They always know exactly where to go. He’s going to get her. She walks slowly forward, as fast as she can but she mustn’t go too fast or she’ll trip and give herself away. She feels her way in the blackness. She hears him cough and spit. She hears him wading through the water in the entrance. It echoes past her. She cannot see her hands as they slide along the cold, damp wall. She was told once that if you want to creep up on someone, you should walk on the sides of your feet, so she tries this.
She wants to curl up in a dark corner and wrap her cardigan around her and bury her head in her knees. Maybe then, he’ll go away. She looks at her cardigan. It is very white, with pearlescent threads in it. She realises he might be able to see it, so she slips it off and drops it on the muddy floor. She moves forward further into the cave.
He has stopped moving. She cannot hear him. She stops and looks back over her bare shoulder, one hand still holding the wall in front of her. There he is, a little way back, silhouetted by the moonlight from the cave entrance. He is standing still, head bent, looking at the cardigan he has just picked up. She sees his head scanning the darkness. She turns to run, and she trips. She cries out and falls to the floor.
Getting up, she is disorientated, and her skinny little legs make her look like Bambi trying to walk for the first time. She stumbles forward, hits her head on a wall and is seated back down on her behind. He is upon her, now not four feet away, looking into a pair of eyes, wide open just caught with pinpricks of light, looking up at him.
You know it’s not yours, don’t you Beth, says the nurse. She kneels down beside her and places her hands flat on the front of her thighs. It belongs to Rosie. Her mother and father want it back.
He didn’t mean to do it, whispers Beth. I want to keep it. I want the little girl to know that I can take care of her. I want her mummy and daddy to know that she’s safe with me, like he was when he was a little boy.
I can’t let you do that Beth. The nurse takes the cardigan from Beth, strokes her hand and smiles. I’ll come and talk to you in a moment Beth. I just need to give this to the people.
She screams Please don’t hurt me. There is a loud bang. She jumps and covers her ears. The cave is momentarily lit up and she catches a single frame of him falling towards her. It is black again and he falls across her, pinning her to the wet floor. The bright flash plays behind her eyelids.
About once a week, Kevin Maloney would walk up to the cave to check that it hadn’t been discovered by either the council or someone who hadn’t paid him to use it.
Her eyes open to the light of a torch. It moves to the left and the light bounces off the walls. She sees the silhouette of another man. A bigger man. He walks towards her, places his gun against the rock wall, and puts the torch on the floor. He pulls the man’s body off her.
I saw him chasing you from the bottom of the hill, but I couldn’t keep up, he says. And I didn’t want to shoot in case I missed him and hit you. He picks her up in his arms. Come on pet, let’s get you home to your mum and dad.
She sees Dan and Kerry Tranter, her mother and father, emerge from the home, holding the cardigan. She stands up from the low wall on which she had been sitting. She is a young woman, just twenty. She walks up to them and her father hands her the cardigan. She takes it gently, looks at it for some time, and then carefully holds it to her nose and smells it. She looks back at her mother and father.
Do you think maybe we should send her some flowers Love, says her father. It wasn’t her –
Dan, says her mother, let’s go home.
Rosie scrunches the cardigan into a ball and drops it in a nearby bin. No, no flowers. Let’s go, Rosie says.