The story so far: Danny has heard a man’s voice coming from a disused railway tunnel asking for help. He decides to try and help and sets out to take food to the man and his wife who seem to be trapped. But when he reaches the tunnel gate it’s unlocked. Worried now, but with his trusty dog Hound by his side he enters the tunnel. For the complete part 1 to 3 click here and follow the links back.
A Christmas Miracle
The tunnel is surprisingly dry, though the walls shine in the torch light like they’re dripping with water. It feels like I’ve been walking for ages but when I turn round and look back, the sun must have peeped through the clouds; it floods the entrance in a yellowy light. Just as I feel drawn to go back, the light fades. Hound growls somewhere ahead. I have to go on.
One moment I’m all alone, stumbling on the rough ground – all I hear is the echo of my footsteps – and the next there’s movement in front of me and Hound bounds up at me, nearly knocking me over. In the light from the torch I catch a glimpse of someone standing by the wall, staring at me. It’s clearly a woman and even in the rubbish light, I can see she’s pregnant, one hand across her enlarged tummy.
She’s just like Mum was with Judy. Right before she gave birth. Right before everything went mad and confused and Dad nearly fainted and mum had to help him to the car to take her to the hospital.
All Hound wants to do is jump up and lick me but I bat him away and wave at the woman. She seems scared, maybe because I’ve seen her or something. She turns away from me.
She couches down, facing the wall.
‘I’m Danny. Is Joe here? Joe?’
That makes her turn. She’s wearing a thick coat and scarf around her head.
She is really frightened. She’s like a girl I saw in the shopping centre once. That was horrid. She had the same scared look as she was taunted by some other girls.
‘I’ve brought buns.’ I hold out the bag. She still doesn’t move. Something about her, the clothes maybe reminds me of the smiley lady by the Post Office who sells the Big Issue. Dad says she’s a migrant and has a rough time. Maybe this women doesn’t speak English either. ‘Food.’ I open the bag and pull one out, mimicking eating.
Slowly I approach her, holding out the bun. The fear doesn’t leave her face but she gazes hard at the bun and, once I’m near enough she grabs it and gobbles it down. I put down the bag and step back, letting her take more.
Hound, inevitably, makes a beeline for the bag. ‘Hey, come here!’ The dog stops and holds a pose, quivering with the tension of restraining himself. The woman moves really slowly; she picks the bag up watching Hound all the time. It occurs to me she’s afraid of the dog, not me. Hurriedly I take out his lead and put it on. There’s a metal bar jutting out from the far wall so I drag him across the tunnel and tie him up, before I turn back to the woman.
She’s gone. Completely disappeared.
This is madness. The torch creates a lot of shadows so I walk carefully back to where she crouched and move along the wall. I haven’t gone far before I come to an arch in the brick work. I realise, remembering the tour I did before that that is where workmen stood when the trains went past. Sure enough the woman is there and so is a man, lying awkwardly on the ground.
‘Hi. Joe? It’s Danny. From up there.’ I point at the ceiling, feeling a bit silly. Close up I can see the woman is trying to feed him a bun but he’s not really interested. It’s then I see his leg. Or rather his foot. It’s at a ridiculous angle. ‘Is it broken?’ I know it’s a stupid question but sometimes you speak before you think. Mum is always telling Dad to ‘engage brain.’
Joe manages to talk between grimaces. I try hard not to look at his leg but it’s always just there, on the edge of my vision. ‘I tried to climb the chimney and fell. My leg is broked.’
The woman – Joe introduces her as Nulla – gabbles at him fast in some language I’ve never heard before. They sort of argue but it’s not a fair fight because Joe keeps having to stop with the pain and she presses whatever it is she’s saying. Finally Joe says to me. ‘We need you to call this man. Andy. He will help.’ Once again he tries to stop Nulla who becomes very upset when Joe mentions Andy. ‘He is friend. From our country. He will help.’
‘You need an ambulance, don’t you? And a doctor.’
‘No! No, get this man. You have phone?’
‘Yes, but there’s no signal here.’
‘Here. Give me.’ He’s quite angry but really determined so I hand it over. He types in a number and hands it back. ‘Go, find a signal and tell him where to come. Now. Quick.’
‘But a doctor…’
Nulla goes to stop me when I turn away. Joe makes a grab for her and manages to hold her trousers. I back away. ‘It’s ok. I’ll get your friend. Andy.’ But she’s in tears and so is Joe.
It’s quicker going back. Rain is pouring down from a grey sky, the sound drumming on the containers that sit just beyond the gate. The mobile signals in South London are rubbish and even as I approach the wire fencing there’s nothing. I need to go out in to the rain.
I give the gate a tug. It doesn’t budge. When I study the catch I can see it’s slipped back across and a little clip has fallen down, on the outside which is stopping it sliding free. I’m shut in, with Nulla and Joe.
This is getting frightening. Hound senses my apprehension and starts whining. It will be dark soon. Auntie will be getting mad, as will Mum if she comes home. I walk up and down the fence holding my phone as high as I can. One bar appears right by the far wall. I want to phone Mum or Auntie but I think of Joe in pain and, more to the point Nulla who might want to give birth any moment. So I call Andy.
A really gruff voice answers in the language Joe and Nulla spoke. Or one like it.
‘Hello. Can I speak to Andy?’
‘What? Who is this?’
‘Hi, my name is Danny. I’m with your friends Joe and Nulla. They…’
‘Joe and Nulla…’
‘Nulla?’ There are voices behind him, raised voices. He clearly shushes them.
‘Why you ring?’
‘Joe’s broken his leg. Well foot really. And Nulla is, you know, pregnant. They said to call you. You can help. I think they should have a doctor or the police but…’
‘No police. Where you?’
‘In Sydenham Hill Woods. There’s this abandoned railway tunnel. They’re sheltering in there.’
Once again the voices gabble away. Then Andy comes back. ‘We know it. We be there soon. Who you? What you want?’
‘I’m Danny. I was walking my dog and heard them calling. I…’
‘Go home boy. You leave. We sort.’
‘I can’t. I…’
‘You go or bad things.’
Before I can explain, he rings off. I look at Hound and then upchuck all over the gate.
It takes me a few minutes to calm down enough to realise I either need to get out or call someone. But who. In the end I call the house phone. Beth answers.
‘Where are you? She’s gone out to get some fish and chips.’
‘Dan, you ok?’ That’s the first time she sounds genuinely concerned.
‘No I think I’m in a right heap of crap. Oh god Beth I’m really scared. I want to come home. I’m really really scared and…’
‘DAN! Stop. Where are you?’
I take a deep breath. ‘I’m trapped in this tunnel, in the woods. You know, the one…’
‘Yeah. How’d you do that?’ She’s beginning to laugh.
‘Stop it! There’s a man here with a broken leg and a pregnant woman. I called their friend and he’s going to kill me and I can’t call the police or an ambulance and I’m really frightened…’
‘Why can’t you get out if you got in?’
‘Some catch has fallen across the bolt on the gate and I can’t get to it for the inside. Can you come? It’s only five minutes. Please Beth. Please.’
‘I’ll get Liam. This is better than rubbish Monopoly.’
For one in my life I’m glad I have cousins.
They take ten minutes. Hound goes mental as first Liam and then Beth come sliding down the muddy bank to the tunnel entrance. When he’s quiet I explain to them what’s happened while Liam works at the catch. ‘I can’t shift it.’
‘What? You must. Oh crap and shit.’
‘I should have brought a screwdriver or pliers. Do you know if you Dad has any?’
‘In the tool bench. No wait. Our neighbour, Mr Sense. Frank. He has every tool. Go knock on his door. He’ll probably come too.’
‘He’ll call the police.’ Liam looks at me, worried after what I’ve told them.
Beth shakes her head. ‘We have to call the police, don’t we?’
I nod slowly. ‘I think we should let Mr Sense decide.’
‘Right. You coming Beth?’
‘It’s Ok. I’ll keep Dan company.’
Now I love my cousin.