Journey to the Centre of the Pub

After so long down here, you lose count of days. Down here I never dare sleep properly; just snatching naps in hidden corners. I'm always nervous what I might find around the next bend or lurking in the next passageway.

At first I was confident that I would find a way out. I still keep telling myself that I will find a way out. I will find a way out. I will get out of here and find the outside again. Inside me, though, I keep wondering if it will ever happen. Doubt creeps in, and I'm resigned to exploring this place until I can't find any more food. Some things that happen here are so depressing, you see. Sometimes I just despair. I look at who I am, and I realise I'm becoming an animal who prowls these corridors always on the lookout for food or escape. A few days ago - it feels like a few days ago, at least - I was so hungry I jumped on a horrible mess of meat and gorged myself. It was some dead animal, mangled beyond recognition. As I wolfed down the remains I was disgusted my by own behaviour. I have to fight to remember that I can be a polite, civilised, everyday person. I am a polite, civilised, everyday person.

It all started like any other evening. Like any other evening, I went down to the pub with Sarah and Polly. We sat together on the pub sofa and talked about work, men, the weather. We talked about ordinary, normal things; so normal, I can't remember what they were. We had a few drinks, and got a bit tipsy. We laid back on the sofas and laughed together, enjoying the chance to relax. Our pub was warm and cosy, mellow-lit. A traditional pub in the old part of town, full of little rooms and confusing passages.

I got up from the sofa to go to the loo, stumbling slightly over a bar stool. I wobbled - maybe I was a bit more drunk that I'd thought. I followed the corridor round to the toilets, trying not to trip over anybody on the way. Made it down the stairs to the toilet with no trouble. Everything was so usual that it doesn't bear talking about.
I reapplied my lipgloss and checked myself in the mirror. Not too drunk. I could control myself. Everything was fine.

Coming out of the toilet, I must have taken a wrong turning. I should have been able to walk back up the stairs to my seat like I'd done many times before. I found myself, though, in a stone passageway I didn't recognise. It stretched in front of me into darkness, with unmarked doors on either side.

I tried to turn back. A few steps should take me back to the toilet door. Instead, it took me to a branch in the passage. A few seconds before I had walked past here, but I hadn't seen a branch. I had no idea which way I'd came from. My stomach started to twist and rise and float, because I knew something was going very wrong here. I should be relaxing back on the sofa right now, not lost in the cellars.

Must do something. I tried the left passage, taking a few tentative steps. I shivered as a cold breeze blew up it. My steps tapped loudly on the flagstones of the passage. Tip. Tip. Tip. The lighting was getting worse, and the air colder. Wrapping my arms around myself, I decided to turn back. This definitely wasn't the route I'd came from.

Retracing my steps should be easy, this time. I'd only walked a few simple steps from the branch in the passageways. It should be easy. It should just take me seconds to find my way back to safety. It should be easy. The other passage should be right here, right where I was standing. It should be right here. There was no break in the walls. The cold, dank tunnel twisted and turned, but with definitely no branches. Surely, I'd only been walking down here for a few seconds. Unless I was very confused, there was no way I could have missed a turning. I started to run. I ran along the passage, desperate to find the exit. I couldn't have missed it. When I couldn't run I stopped, recovered my breath, then tried to run back the other way. Somewhere I must be able to find the way out. It couldn't be hard. It couldn't be hard. I had only been down here a few minutes. Legs cramped from running, I slumped down onto the floor and burst into tears.

As I said, I don't know now how long ago that happened. My watch stopped a few hours after I became trapped in here. At first I was determined, striding down passages and exploring new corridors and rooms I found. That, though, was before I met anyone else here. The cellars I was trapped in seemed empty of other people. They seemed silent, but there were always a few signs of occupation. If there
weren't, I'd never have been able to survive. Every so often, I'd come across an abandoned, half-eaten meal. For some reason they were always fresh, cold but still tasty; I was worried at first that I would get food poisoning, but nothing ever happened. Once, I found a cardboard tray full of bottles of mineral water; I carried as many with me as I could. The worst thing, at first, was going to the toilet. I had to find a dark corner to squat in, pulling my skirt up. What disgusted me most was the lack of toilet paper; when I reached home I would throw out all these clothes and have a very long, very long soak in the bath.

It was all quite good fun at first, all things considered. It was like something out of a kids' adventure novel. Some days I wasn't even worried about my disgusting appearance and smell. Some very good days, I didn't even worry that I'd never find my way out again. That was all to change, though.

It happened one day or night, in a small room in the cellars. It looked just like the sort of side rooms you found in the pub above me: benches round the side of the room, a table down the middle, and a low, arched roof only just above my head. A large platter of food was in the middle of the table: some sort of chicken or turkey
surrounded by roasted vegetables on a tray filled with now-congealed fat. I sat down to feast, picking up the chicken and tearing the meat off it with my teeth, not caring about the fat smearing over my chin. As I was gorging myself, though, I heard a noise.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Snuffle snuffle, thud. Some kind of animal walking in the corridor leading up to this room. Some kind of large animal. Grunt grunt, snuffle thud thud.

Instinctively, I ducked under the table and crouched on the floor, still holding the chicken. I desperately tried to hold my breath, to stay stock-still and make as little noise as I could. Mustn't make a noise.

Thud. Thud. It must be a big animal, if it has such loud feet. Paws. Bigger than me. Thud. Grunt.

Looking towards the doorway, I saw something enter the room. A dark hairy animal, with beady eyes and sharp, white tusks. Some kind of giant boar, covered in coarse black hair. It sniffed the air, and looked towards me. Looked at my chicken, and grunted. Licked its lips.

It took a step towards me, and my bladder tensed. As it took another step, though, something happened, too quick for me to see properly. The boar screamed, and thrashed itself around. It smashed against a bench at the side of the room. It hit against the table-legs, but they were heavy cast-iron and weren't going to move. All the time, making this awful unearthly screaming howl. As it tried to spin round in the confined space, I saw something dripping, sticking out of its side. Another thing hit it, then another. The howling just wouldn't stop.

Someone ran into the room. I could see heavy, hairy, muscular legs, dressed in the sort of leather outfit a fetishist would love. They stuck the boar with some kind of long, wide-bladed spear. As it stopped thrashing, he reached down and cut its throat. Blood poured over the stone floor, washing towards me.

"Is it done?" shouted a voice from back along the corridor.

"Yes, sir," said the man.

"Good," said the first voice. I heard him striding towards us. Wearing a similar outfit, he came into the room.

"Any sign of that bitch who's been shitting in the corners?" he said.

"No, sir. Although it looks like she's taken some food."

"Damn. We need to find her. And I know what I want to do to her when I do."

Did they mean me? At first I had thought I might be rescued; but now I was even more terrified. I didn't dare move a muscle, or do anything that might be heard.

"Anyway," the voice continued, "standing around isn't going to get anything done. Drag the animal back to the butchery. I'm sure we'll find her before long whatever we do." They left the room, slowly pulling the boar behind them. I stayed rooted to the spot for minutes, probably hours, not daring to move in case they returned. In case they heard me. Discovering other people were here, and animals, was a horrible shock. If I'd thought about it before I must have realised that there must be other people here, to look after the lighting and leave behind all the food I'd been finding; but having it shown to me was frightening. Finding that they knew I was here, too, and were even looking for me, was much worse. I didn't dare think about what they might do if they found me.

After that, the sense of adventure was gone. Every moment I was on my guard, in case of bumping into something around the next corner. My ear was cocked always for sounds or voices. Even if I found somewhere comfortable to sleep, I dared not in case I was found, and woke up in chains or worse. It was then that I started to descend into animal behaviour. I accepted I was dirty and smelled, and stopped caring about it. I didn't really care about the state of my clothes any more. I was always on my guard, always nervous, always opportunistic. I tried to be like a cat, slinking in the shadows and napping in occasional hiding-places. I almost started to forget who I was.

I might have forgotten who I was completely - there are, I've been told, people down here who have forgotten they are people, who behave completely like animals - if I hadn't met someone who had been able to remember they were human.

I had caught a whiff of food, and was crawling along in a shadow towards it. I would have to jump out of the shadow to get to it, I knew, but I could do it quickly and there didn't seem to be anything else about. I would be able to get to it and fill my belly without being spotted. But then, I heard a noise. Too indistinct to tell what it was, but something nonetheless. A movement, and a slight smell. It didn't smell like the sweat and leather of the hunters, though.

I stopped, but must have touched a pebble or something on the floor. Maybe he was just very astute. He must have been listening and smelling carefully too. He also must have realised I wasn't a danger to him.

"Hello?" he said. "Are you there?"

Pause. I was frozen, trying not to make a sound. My worry was that he would be able to smell me.

"Don't worry. I'm not dangerous. I'm friendly. You can have some food if you want. And water."

I still stayed frozen. I didn't trust friendly voices.

He moved towards me slightly, proferring a jug of water.

"I think I've heard you around a few times recently," he said, "and I think you're someone who got lost and stuck here just like me." He moved slightly, and I could see his face; a boy about my age. "Don't worry. I'm trying to escape from here too. I don't want to get captured and raped either."

He moved again, and shined a light towards me. I squinted and blinked in the light, as he saw my disgusting, dirty face. I suddenly remembered how foul and animal I must look.

"What's your name?" he said.

I tried to say something, but just grunted slightly. Tried again. Grunt, grunt.

"Don't worry," he said, "it'll come."

Grunt again. "Catherine," I finally managed.

"Hello, Catherine," he said. "I'm David. Don't worry. I've been here a few months now, and I've worked out how to survive. I'll help you survive but still remember who you are. If there's two of us, we'll find it much easier to stay alive, and then we'll find it easier to escape. We'll escape together and be back in the ordinary outside world of nineteen twenty-seven again."

What do you think, did we get it right? Comment here...