With Boz in the lead and Slasher McGoogs bringing up the rear the adventurers wriggled and crawled down the narrow flu. Slasher checked regularly over his shoulder for any sign that they were followed and surreptitiously fingered his Mauser Red Nine, his security blanket; the rest of them would be furious if they knew he was toting a real and loaded weapon. The atmosphere was oppressive and damp, the hum grew louder as they descended and there was a definite breeze coming up from below. Soon the tunnel widened slightly and Bozzy stopped.
“There is a large extractor fan fixed into the tunnel, blocking our way. Can I have that Swiss Army Knife of yours, please Ferdy?”
Using the Philips screwdriver attachment, Boz removed a small service cover and with the insulated wire cutting attachment snipped a brown insulated wire. The fan stopped. The sudden silence was not comforting. He next undid the wire safety cage with the flat bladed screwdriver attachment and then used the adjustable spanner attachment to unscrew a large nut on the hub. With the fan removed and a large hole snipped out of the far safety cover, using the heavy-duty wire cutter attachment, the gang were able to squeeze through. Phoebles got a bit stuck due to an excessively generous breakfast, but a firm push from behind by Ferdy soon freed him. Slasher was the last cat through.
“We’d best press on. Someone might come to investigate why the fan’s not working,” he whispered.
The tunnel was still descending steeply, but from here on in it had been chiselled out to a reasonable diameter and it was paved. Moving quickly downwards they eventually came to an almost vertical shaft with iron rungs set into the wall. At the bottom they were in a sizeable cave chamber, part of the Peak Cavern system. There were stalactites hanging down and dripping, and rounder orange or yellow topped stalagmites reaching up. Occasionally mite met tite to form a thin column of almost gothic tracery. From oozing cracks in the walls green fingers of limestone deposit had dribbled over millennia, forming grotesque gargoyle guardians to terrorise the feint of heart. A narrow path wove through the natural hypostyle, between petrified forests of sculpted rock and a fast-running stream carved deep into the cave floor. They were in the dark – a creeping, all encompassing darkness that seeped into the soul; a darkness broken only by the narrow beams of their headlamps which cast menacing shadows about the interior, shadows of hideous beings that could only exist in such blackness. Not helping in any way to dispel their disquiet, the silence was total and they were entirely alone. The Peak Cavern had been closed to visitors since inexplicable, phantom, will o’ the wisp lights and unnatural humming sounds had terrified the tourists. Not that weirdness was unknown within the cave system. Excremental toilet odours bubbling up from the bowels and moans and farts amplified and echoing about the antediluvian orifice had led the pious medieval serfs of Castleton to christen this The Devil’s Arse – a name which stuck until a visit by the Queen Empress had required a less graphic appellation. For the next hundred years it became the Peak Cavern, an improvement to their address that was more than welcomed by the rope winders who lived and worked within the vast cave mouth.