rugby cement - Maureen

Silence. Not just peace and quiet, but silence. It was wrong. No click of the bedside clock; no steady breathing beside me. I waited and listened. “Open your eyes,” I thought. But I couldn’t. Slowly - drugged and dull - my hands reached up to my face. A scarf was tied around my head, and almost panicking I wrenched it off.

A steely grey light stretched coldly across the horizon, pressed down by gunmetal grey storm clouds. And as the silence was broken by a rumble of thunder I woke up fully. “Dear God,” I thought. “Where am I?” I was half lying across a battered, vinyl bench seat in the back of some sort of utility vehicle. And as I pulled myself up the view extended in front of me. The vehicle was parked at an incline above a white-grey void. Puzzled as much as alarmed, I peered through the grimy window and down. “It’s a quarry,” I gasped out loud. And then I started to think back.

This afternoon - or was it yesterday - rushing to catch the train I had stumbled against a tall thin individual wheeling a large suitcase. Someone else had barged against me and I must have fallen and cracked my head because I remembered the surprise of pain. And then nothing.

Climbing out of the vehicle was difficult and I almost fell to the ground - legs and arms failing to co-ordinate. A nameless fear tugged at me and looking around I decided to take the downward path - presumably the way I had arrived. My good walking shoes quickly became clogged with pale clay mud and I moved awkwardly. It must have taken a good twenty minutes to work my way to the bottom of the pit, and once down it appeared even more vast than I had realised.

As another, louder peal of thunder rolled across the sky and flashes of light broke from the lowering clouds I realised why I had instinctively made for lower ground. Alone in a strange environment made me feel vulnerable enough without the added fear of lightning.

Trying to think logically I decided to follow the railway track which snaked across the slushy, grey floor of the quarry. At the end of the track, next to a row of rusty iron wagons the grey earth was heaped up to form the walls of a reservoir, and as I rounded this I saw a twenty foot high, round, grey metal container, about the diameter of a gasometer. A metal staircase led up to a viewing platform and I could see some sort of gear slowly moving round the perimeter.

Cautiously I grabbed the rail and started up the steps. “Keep a low profile,” the warning flashed through my brain. So I ducked my head and carefully scrambled up the onto the platform. That was when I heard the voices. Male. One cultured, smooth and decisive; the other an ingratiating whine. The image of the tall thin figure at the railway station came to me, and it was no surprise when, thankfully hidden in the shadow of the tank, I saw him picking his way fastidiously across the slurry-covered concrete, with a weasel-faced companion half a step behind.

They passed around the corner of a tall, brick shed and I straightened up. A glance behind me showed the contents of the cylinder. Grey liquid mud. And as the revolving arm dragged huge paddles through the sludge, great, grey bubbles lazily plopped to the surface. I shuddered. I didn’t want to be here.

The voices were some distance away now, and gathering my courage I slipped after them between a series of tall, grey sheds. Then as the ground opened out I could see they were heading towards a corrugated iron covered structure a good hundred metres long. As they disappeared into the dark interior I realised the building contained a huge revolving tube. As wide as a truck and angled down from where it was apparently fed from the slurry tank.

It was noisy and it was hot. And they didn’t hear or see me as I strained to listen to what they were saying. “….. a choice then - tip her in the slurry pit or tie her to one of these stanchions. She won’t last long here - that kiln reaches over a thousand centigrade inside.”

“Drowning or roasting - that’s very good, that’s very good.” Came the wheedling reply.

It made my skin creep. I knew they were talking about me…..