Tunnels by P.J. Blakey-Novis (an excerpt)

Matthew and Chloe led us to a door in the north-east corner of the fort; the entrance to a system of narrow tunnels which connected the various rooms.  When the fort had been in use during the second world war, these rooms had been used to store ammunition and supplies for the soldiers stationed there. Once the door had been closed behind us, something which felt unnecessary, it was beyond simply being dark.  It was now pitch black and if we had not had the torches, we would not have been able to see someone standing right in front of us. Lily clung on to me as we made our way down the first set of steep, concrete steps, half-expecting an actor to jump out on us at any moment. There was nothing. Our guides led us to the left as we reached the bottom of the steps, into a small room with candle-powered lanterns adorning the walls.

“If everyone can take a seat please, we will make our first attempt to establish contact with any spirits present, before we move on any farther,” Matthew ordered.  I looked across at the row of plastic, green chairs lined against one wall; eight of them. In front of the chairs stood a table with a Ouija board on it.  When we had all taken our seats, I watched intently as Matthew played his part, eyes closed, moving things around on the board.  He called out loudly to the spirits of Elizabeth and Henry, almost begging for them to reveal themselves to the group. Nothing.  Then Matthew fixed his gaze straight at me.  “Everyone needs to hold hands, or this will not work,” he said, unable to conceal his annoyance as he glanced at my right hand.  Instead of holding Lily’s, as we had been told to, I had rested it just beneath her skirt, touching her thigh.  Under the stare of everyone, I removed my hand from its inappropriate location and took Lily’s. Matthew began to call upon the spirits once more.  This time something did happen; all eight of the lanterns went out simultaneously.  The whole group, myself included, gasped, largely due to the sudden darkness that we had been plunged into.  There was a nervous laugh as everyone fumbled with their torches.  Our hosts did a good job at looking worried, as if they had not been responsible for the lights going out.  I shone my torch towards the ceiling, looking for something that would give away the trick, but found nothing.

“That was pretty cool,” I admitted to Lily, a little annoyed that I couldn’t figure out how it had been done.

“Where’s the blonde girl?” I heard someone ask.  Turning to my left, I looked down the row of seats to see that Chloe was sat at the far end.  The chair next to her now sat empty. The man who had asked the question stood up, looking around, puzzled.  He had been sat to her right. 

“What do you mean blonde girl?” the goth asked.  “I thought you two were together.”

“Nope, I came on my own.  Looks like she did too.”

“Were you not holding her hand?” Matthew asked, looking concerned.

“I was, but she let go as soon as the lights went out.” 

“Bravo!” I declared.  I couldn’t help myself laughing at this point.  “So, one of the guests disappears, one who happened to come here alone, and who happened to be sitting next to Chloe at the time.  You know there’s a passageway at that end of the room, right?”  The others stood to have a look.  I was right, of course, having been in the tunnels before. The passageway entrance was indented into the wall in the far corner and could easily go unnoticed.  Everyone seemed to relax, seeing the hoax for what it was.  Everyone apart from Matthew and Chloe, who just exchanged worried glances.

“What’s her name?” goth girl asked, looking to Chloe. “We should call her back.”  Chloe looked to Matthew, unsure of how to answer.

“She wasn’t with us,” Matthew said.  “I don’t want to cause any panic, but she honestly did come alone, as a paying customer like the rest of you.”

“Bullshit,” I announced, but I was beginning to doubt my own confidence.  The two hosts looked far more worried than anyone else.

“Then maybe she just thought it would be funny,” said the guy who had been sat next to her when she disappeared. “Sure she’ll be back soon.”

“I hope so,” goth girl said.  “But it was you that put out the candles, wasn’t it?” she said, looking nervously at Matthew.

“You came for a ghost hunt; don’t start to freak out when you actually encounter one.”  He seemed to have lost his friendliness, however fake it had been, and now appeared on edge, as though he had made a mistake.

“He’s got a point.” I turned to see Lily standing up, addressing the group.  “Whether we honestly thought we would have some kind of paranormal encounter or not, we all came for the frights. We’ve been to a lot of things like this, and this one doesn’t seem much different.  Matthew and Chloe are in character and are unlikely to break that unless there is an actual emergency.  Whether blondie was an actress, or she thought it would be funny to hide of her own accord, is neither here nor there.  The point is, we had a scare, and now we move on to the next part of the tour; isn’t that right?”  She looked at Matthew, desperately wanting her words to be true.

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