In Dark Places: an extract

Wyl Menmuir, Man Booker long-listed author and writer in residence at Falmouth University Wyl Menmuir Man Booker long-listed author and writer in residence at Falmouth University
An illustration of Cheddar Gorge

Set at Cheddar Gorge and published in collaboration with the National Trust, In Dark Places by novelist Wyl Menmuir is an atmospheric ghost story. A honeymooning couple set out to explore the Gorge, only to find themselves separated from one another as the caves close in around them… Read on for an exclusive extract.

'I want the full works, the man is saying. We’ve come a long way for this.

'The caves here are an ancient house in which no one has bothered to count all the rooms. A house to which there are many entrances and fewer exits. It is a house in which the rooms change shape and location, that flood and collapse, expand, contract, disappear entirely. In which the passage of time and water carves out yet more rooms to replace those that are now gone. Entire wings are cut off from one another, separated by water or by rock fall. The roof’s many domes and cupolas are polished into smooth whorls. There are ballrooms here too, state rooms and sunken parlours, forgotten attics and cupboards so small you can barely bury a child in them. It is a house in which arcuated corridors, striated and scalloped, confuse and mislead, run back on themselves or taper into paths too narrow to follow. There are signs at one of the entrances now. This entrance, close to the valley floor, has a café and an office that sells tickets. There is a man and a woman standing at the turnstile.

Spectral figures, illustrated by Emma Butcher for In Dark Places
Spectral figures in the Cheddar Gorge caves
Spectral figures, illustrated by Emma Butcher for In Dark Places

'The full works? the boy selling tickets is thinking, as though he could throw in some extra caves now he knows it is demanded. The woman cringes. It is the height of summer and the queue is growing. The boy takes their money and asks the couple to stand to one side. They will be met at the gate shortly. The man and the woman stand close to one another but do not hold hands. After ten minutes, during which they read the signs on the walls, a young man with a beard arrives. The guide. He apologises for making them wait. There was a problem with a goat on the cliffs above. He is kind to the goats, this man, and the sheep too. He leads them back to safety. When the guide tells the man and the woman about the goat, he is met with blank stares. He ushers them away from the entrance to a small concrete block set into the cliff, where he hands them boiler suits, harnesses, wellingtons, helmets, head torches to put on. The woman seems confused by this. The man spends an age trying to fit his harness. He exchanges his glasses for contact lenses and he ends up dabbing dust into them. While he is making his eyes sore the woman is overheating on the balcony outside. We hear the word honeymoon. An angry word she repeats over and again in her head. The guide asks the man if he would like to leave his camera in the room. It will be safe there. The room will be locked. The man laughs and says the camera should be strong enough to take whatever they throw at it. They are hard to see in the light, these three figures. They are blurred and they only start to come into focus as they bypass the queue and are shown through a gate by the side of the turnstile. At the threshold they stand where the light filters in and the man holds forth about the skeleton that had been discovered in a small cavern just to the left of where they are standing. How these are the oldest human remains. He has read leaflets in their holiday cottage. He has looked it up online. The woman wonders whether her husband is aware the skeleton they can see is a plaster cast. She shares a look with the guide who smiles but says nothing and moves them on.'

Extract from In Dark Places by Wyl Menmuir. First in a new series of pocket-size fiction publications inspired by the history and environment of our places.

Wyl Menmuir is a best-selling novelist and editor based in Cornwall

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Explore the fate of the Cheddar Gorge explorers and immerse yourself in this spine-tingling tale, In Dark Places from bestselling writer Wyl Menmuir, whose debut novel The Many was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2016.