I hurried to work as snow began to fall and passed another dug up road in my way. Wondering if it was some kind of London law that roadworks always had to be going on, I squeezed passed the plastic barrier.
The vibration of a drill going through tarmac went straight into me. Heavy, grubby men in yellow high visibility vests and hideous matching hard hats crowded the scene. They were calling to each other then one turned to me before I could escape.
‘Can’t ya see the signs there, mate?’ he shouted.
‘I’m late,’ I yelled back.
‘It’s there for a reason!’ he spat.
‘You tell him, Jack!’ one of his colleagues cut in.
Trying to ignore them, I walked quickly but the lights at the cross road change to red and I had to stop. Looking back as cars whizzed by before me, I saw the man pushing the barrier tighter into place but nothing could stop a Londoner in a hurry.
The drill stopped, my ears continued to ring and I turned my back on the diggers. Concentrating for a gap in the cars that I could run through, I felt the ground began to shake. It was just the drill starting up again or that claw plough scooping soil.
The shaking carried on then there were mighty rumblings and rocking motions which almost threw me to the floor. Everything felt tilted and unstable as if an earthquake was happening. I somehow saved myself by spinning and grabbing some nearby railings.
Deafness and dizziness flood me. My legs didn’t want to work and they didn’t seem to belong to me anymore. Panic was controlling me but I couldn’t do anything other then cling onto the railings and shut my eyes.
The earthquake subsided and I heard the distant voices’ of people crying, screaming and shouting as all hell had broken loose. I felt wobbly as if I had just got off an extreme roller coaster. My legs felt numb but I found them again and stood up. I kept my fingers weaved through the railings, just in case.
In the middle of the road, pushing outwards from the hole the workmen had been creating was a huge crater. Torn up tarmac created a jagged line around the edge and dust was spiralling upwards.
A back cab was teetering on the lip of the crater and a dazed cyclist was sitting on the road wondering where his bike had gone. Crowds of people were pushed back on both sides of the pavement and all the morning rush hour traffic had halted.
‘Did anyone fall in?’ a workman questioned.
There was an unsure mumbled from the crowds.
‘Help us!’ a woman cried in a French accent from the back of the taxi.
A human chain was made and the cab was pulled back from the edge. The doors opened and a family tumbled out alongside the Muslin taxi driver, they were all in shock but glad to have escaped.
‘What you got there’s a sinkhole!’ a fat, red faced America man called out.
The word echoed in my head and I just had to get a closer look. Creeping forward, I looked down into the huge hole that was almost taking up all of the road. Through the dust and debris there seemed to something down there. Was it the London Underground? Or some other forgotten Victorian structure?
‘Stand back there,’ said a man and I turned to see the worker, Jack, who had told me off before.
‘There something down there,’ I pointed dumbly out.
‘We’ll take care of it. We are experts. Stand back there,’ Jack add as some other curious people came towards the edge.
I set my briefcase down and despite my expensive suit, I knelt tried to see what had been revealed. I saw a ceiling and wall of a cavern and it didn’t look man made. Things were still settling so it looked fogging. I could hear rubble falling and perhaps running water but there was the echo of other traffic from the surrounding roads.
‘Mate!’ Jack shouted, ‘I won’t tell ya again! get back!’
He grabbed my shoulder and tried to haul me back but I twisted out of his grip.
‘I cave explore for a hobby,’ I said, angrily, ‘and I’m telling you there’s something down there.’
‘All right, let’s take a look,’ Jack said and knelt down beside me.
He took out a torch. I grabbed my phone and put the torch app on. Together we used the light to show what was below us. At first it seemed to be hard, discolour brown walls but then we saw stalactites and stalagmites, growing up and down in what seemed to be a vast cavern.
‘How can this be under London and no one know about it?’ I muttered.
‘There’s lots underground that people don’t know of,’ Jack explained, ‘but I never seen anything like this before!’
I nodded, ‘it looks like a Yorkshire cave or something like that…’
‘Well, nothing can be done about it right now,’ Jack spoke, ‘have to be investigations and all that. I’ve got things to do now, got to make sure no one gets hurt and sues us.’
Jack left and got busy with securing the scene. More barriers were being set out and people were slowly moving on. Car horns were beeping loudly as was typical of road rage London drivers who had been stopped for more then five seconds. Ignoring everything else, I carried on staring down into the cavern.
I wanted desperately to go down there. The urge to explore put fire in my veins but I had no equipment, no map of the layout and who knew what dangerous were hidden in there?
I couldn’t help myself! I got up and searched for Jack. Picking his form out from a group of yellow jacketed men. I went over and waited till they stopped talking and noticed me.
‘Jack? A word?’ I said.
We stepped away from the others, our backs to them and our eyes looked towards the crater.
‘I want to go down there,’ I said in a low voice, ‘I need to see what’s there. Please, help me.’
‘I can’t, mate,’ Jack said and scratched his dark hair under his hard hat, ‘regulations and all that.’
‘I know, I know,’ I hissed back, ‘but please? This would mean so much to me. Like a dream come true! The first person to explore under there, it would be just…just…’
‘No. It’s not happening!’ Jack snapped back.
I licked my lips, thinking hard, ‘all right,’ I said, ‘I can give you money. As much as you want. I’m a rich businessman. I own companies here and in China. I could give you a million pounds right now if you let me go down there.’
Expressions began to cross Jack’s face and a fight seemed to happen as he battled to do the right thing. He balled up his fists, shuffled his feet and was trying to weigh everything up.
‘I shall write you a cheque and a contract write now,’ I said and sort out my briefcase.
I went over, opened it and withdrew papers and a fountain pen. Kneeling on the floor again – my suit was ruined anyway- I began writing things out, using my briefcase as a makeshift desk.
‘I don’t know about this…’ Jack said.
‘Don’t worry about it. I can sort out any problems later. Here’s my details on this card. Here’s the million pound cheque and this is a basic contract, saying you have agreed to let me down there for payment. My life is in my own hands, you have no responsibility for what happenings down there etc, etc.. I shall sign it here and you, sir, sign there.’
I held the fountain pen out to Jack. He took it with a shaking hand and signed his name. Then I folded the contract with my business card and the cheque in the middle and handed the lot to him.
‘Now, do you have any spare clothes and equipment I can have?’
‘Yeah…put what do I tell ’em?’ Jack said and nodded to the other workers.
‘Tell them, you know me and I was your boss on other job,’ I said quickly, thinking on the spot, ‘tell them, I have all the training, clearance and expertise needed to go down and take a look. Say isn’t it lucky, that Doctor Gideon Charles was passing! We’ll have this mess cleared up faster now!’
‘Doctor?’ Jack muttered and looked at the paperwork in his hand.
‘Of science,’ I explained, ‘not the medical kind. Now, can we get down there?’
‘Sure thing, boss,’ Jack said with a huge smile and I guessed he had just seen all the numbers on the cheque.
Soon enough, I was dressed in some spare blue overalls, a high visibility vest, a white hard hat, a powerful torch and was rigged up to go down on a harness and rope.
‘I’ll be coming with ya,’ Jack said.
I nodded, ‘best thing to do.’
Slowly we descended whilst the other workers peered down at us and also shone torches to guide us. They created spotlights along the wall and the cut away edges of the ceiling above. The rock face was rough, natural with stains of hundreds of years of water and built up of features.
Stalactites hung from the ceiling, some looking thick and strong, others appeared thin and fragile. Growing up from the floor were the stalagmites, looking like sharp spikes. Here and there, the two had actually met and formed a pillar.
We landed and I looked around in awe. It was breathtaking, so natural and fresh.
‘We could be the first ever people to see this,’ I whispered, ‘and to think it’s been undisturbed under London all this time…’
(Inspired by; https://todaysauthor.com/2020/01/21/write-now-prompt-for-january-21-2020 with thanks).