It wasn’t that I objected to the works in the tunnel, you understand. I accepted that the replacement of the old overhead lines was entirely necessary maintenance. I just didn’t believe the reports that said there were no bats in there.
They’re a protected species, you see, and it’s illegal to disturb them or their roosts. The survey had said that trains passed through the tunnel so regularly that bats wouldn’t want to live in there. But the tunnel was old, so it was bound to be full of the cracks and crevices that bats love. I decided to go check it out myself.
I had to go at night, which was not ideal because any bats would be out hunting, but obviously I could only go when the trains weren’t running. I dressed in warm clothes, with a reflective vest over the top (not that it would do me much good if a train did appear), and I grabbed my torch and set out.
The tunnel is down in Staffordshire, located on some big National Trust estate. The entrance is so old that it’s actually a listed building. I dropped down the embankment and took a moment to admire it. This was no simple entrance – it was that old fancy Victorian style. Grey brickwork with actual turrets on either side. As elegant as it was, this was still an active train line and although there shouldn’t be any trains running at this hour, there were other dangers. I resolved to stay as close to the entrance as was feasible.
I moved carefully into the tunnel, my feet crunching on the loose gravel of the track. I swung my torch back and forth, first over the bricks looking for cracks, and then over the ground checking for droppings. Of the latter there was nothing. There were, however, crevices all over the walls of the tunnels. I moved as close to them as I could, positioning my torch to look inside. The angles made it difficult to see much. I really could have done with bringing an endoscope.
Still, even with my limited equipment I could see that the openings looked undisturbed. There was no sign of bats living there. I stepped back, staring up at the wall. Maybe the survey had been correct. Maybe nothing lived in here after all.
So now I had to decide: I could call it a day and go home or I could look a little further into the tunnel in case there were roosts further inside. I glanced down the track… and adrenaline surged through my body.
There was a light in the tunnel.
For one heart stopping moment I thought it was a train bearing down on me. I quickly realised from the lack of sound and movement that this couldn’t be the case, but it still shook me and I had to lean forwards, my hands on my knees, whilst I calmed myself. Then I stood up straight and peered into the darkness, trying to focus on what I was seeing.
I realised that it was not a large light far away but a small light relatively close by. I narrowed my eyes. It looked like it was coming from a torch.
Now I really had to decide what to do. I was not supposed to be in the tunnel and I did not want to be caught here. On the other hand, it was possible that whoever was holding the torch shouldn’t be here either. Were they up to no good? Or perhaps just another survey?
I paused and then removed my reflective vest, folding it up and placing it near a wall where I would see it on the way out. Then I turned off my torch and carefully began to make my way towards the light.
It wasn’t far, perhaps only fifty metres or so away and when I got close enough, I could see that no one was holding the torch at all. It was just lying on the tracks. I walked over to it and picked it up, peering at it as if I could learn something but aside from its unattended presence, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual. I turned it off and hooked it onto my belt, shining my own torch around to see if there was anything or anyone around that I had missed.
There was nothing and no one. Or so I thought.
It was by sheer chance that my light happened to move over a dark stain on the gravel, just a smear really, near the track. I moved over to it, not sure why it had piqued my curiosity. Surely it was just oil? But the sheen seemed wrong. I crouched down to look closer... and realised that what had looked black in the torch light was in fact red.
It was blood.
I stared, my heart in my mouth and then, glancing up, I realised that there was another small pool a short way above this one. And then another. There was a trail of blood running from the track over to the edge of the tunnel, where it disappeared inside a hole that lay at the base of the wall. It was a couple of feet wide, half again as high and deep enough that my torch light was eaten up by the darkness on the other side. It was easily deeper than the brickwork and must have extended into the earth of the surrounding hill. My eyes were locked onto it, onto the trail that led into it. I knew with absolute certainty that I should leave right now. I should leave and not look back.
Instead, driven by some awful compulsion, I found myself dropping to my knees and leaning down to peer inside, raising a shaking hand to point the torch as directly into the hole as possible.
Inside, a few metres back and barely lit by the light I shone onto it... was a body.
I could make out a torso, dressed in ragged and slashed clothes, covered in long wounds and scratches. The skin was a dull waxy colour. There was no movement, no rise and fall of a chest to suggest breathing. I realised that I was looking at a corpse.
I tried to cry out but my voice was trapped in my throat as I lurched backwards onto my behind, the torch dropping from my hand. I sat where I had fallen, my eyes wide with terror. Had there been a murder? I had to call the police! Then I saw that as the torch had rolled away it had fallen to shine into the hole from a different angle, lighting up a new section. Where there had previously been darkness, I could now make out a half-lit shape. A shape with the suggestion of a strange flat nose and bulbous white eyes.
But this was not the face of the unfortunate victim, who had so frightened me previously. This was something else. Something inhuman, something horrifying. As I stared, a mouth split the face open, revealing needle-like teeth as the thing, whatever it was, moved forward and bit into the body.
The cry that had been trapped now escaped as a strangled gasp. I regretted it immediately. The thing’s head snapped up from its prey and fixed in my direction, those awful milky eyes locked onto where I was sitting. Slowly it began to move forward, long arms stretching out of the darkness, feeling ahead of itself. It had misshapen stubby fingers that pushed into the gravel as it moved, searching, and its head swung gently back and forth as it dragged itself over the body it had been feasting on. I realised two things:
The creature was blind. And I was in terrible danger.
I had to get out of there. The thing was emerging from the hole, the torchlight reflecting off its pale skin. As it moved closer, I could hear its laboured breathing as it dragged itself towards me. My heart was pounding in my ears as I climbed to my feet. I tried to be as silent as possible, in the hope that the thing wouldn’t hear me. It was impossible. Gravel shifted noisily under my weight as I moved and the creature reacted instantly.
It lunged forward with horrifying speed. I screamed and flung myself aside, the sight of its gaping mouth and twisted face making me weak and clumsy. I’m sure that it would have caught me easily as I noisily stumbled away, had my foot not connected with the dropped torch, kicking it against the track. A metallic clang distracted the thing and it pounced upon the source of the sound. Its jaws clamped around the torch and, with horrifying ease, crushed it.
I was plunged into darkness, frozen in fear and trapped with a creature that clearly didn’t need light to hunt me. For several moments I was lost in despair, waiting for the inevitable moment when it would find me in the dark and tear me apart.
Then I remembered the other torch.
Hope surged as I reached for it, still clipped onto my belt. As quietly as I could I un-hooked it and oh-so-gently turned it on. Light flooded the tunnel and I could see again, orient myself again... and see where the creature was again.
It was directly in front of me.
It was crouched on the ground, its head less than a foot from my shin. I stared down at it, shaking, my mouth dry. It was moving its head side to side, listening for me. If it moved even slightly forward, it would find me.
I slowly raised the torch above my head and then, praying to move silently, I threw it as hard and far as I could away from me down the tunnel. As I watched it spiralling away, terror pierced me. If I had misjudged this, I had thrown away my last source of light.
It landed noisily on the ground some distance ahead and with a shriek the monster spun around and barrelled towards it.
I turned on my heel and fled down the tunnel, hoping that I’d given myself enough of a head start. There was only darkness ahead and for an awful moment I thought that I’d run in the wrong direction but then the last weak rays of torchlight, before the monster crunched them out, lit up my reflective jacket lying where I had left it by the entrance.
I sprinted faster than I ever had in my life, not slowing until I had burst into the night outside the tunnel and frantically scrambled up the embankment. Only then did I glance behind me.
In the dim moonlight, I could make out a pale shape withdrawing back into the darkness of the tunnel.
I kept running.