AN: It's that time of the month again...
Here is my entry for the RG's May WCC, so if you should happen to stumble across this and like it, please make your way over to the competition thread (link in profile) and vote :)
There's a word limit of 2000, and according to FP, it's over that (way over it thanks to the double author-notes). However, I pinky-swear that on Microsoft office, it just clips the mark at 1'981.
They had slipped away from the others because they'd needed some time alone. Camping out in the wild with his four oldest friends had been an annual tradition for Matthew since he was sixteen, and this year, it also served as a chance for them to meet Hannah for the first time. To say that he had been nervous was an understatement – so much could have gone wrong, yet somehow, it hadn't. Almost a whole week had passed, and the closest any of them had come to a fight was Pete's new vegetarian ideals clashing with Jody's die-hard carnivorism. He hadn't been sure how Hannah would fit in with Rosie and Kath. His friends had always been sociable, level, realistic types, and were as different to Hannah as beetles were to a butterfly, but to look at them, you would have thought Hannah to have been one of them from the beginning.
It hadn't been easy, being the only couple on a holiday full of single people, and it made Matthew appreciate how tough it must have been for Jody and Kath in the first couple of years. Yet they had managed it, and without making all the others sick to the stomach. So on their penultimate night, in a pub a good hour's walk from town, when Hannah had suggested they slipped away to explore the nearby beach before dark, he'd been only too happy to follow.
It was too cold and too windy to do anything on the beach but walk up and down it, hoods up and coats zipped. She had insisted on going barefoot, tying her woollen tights around her neck like a scarf, and holding her boots in the hand that wasn't holding his.
Despite this, she was the one to insist that they scrabbled over the lump of weathered rock that separated one beach from another, just so they could see what was on the other-side.
It was more or less a carbon copy of its neighbour. A short stretch of soft, pale sand, grey in the dull half-light, penned in by sheer cliffs, and an icy, gunmetal ocean. The only difference was that this one had no carved out slope to take them back to civilisation. She was off the rock and running along the sand before he could blink.
He called out to her, wanting her to come back so that they could return to the pub and the others, but she only glanced back to grin at him – a wide, wicked little grin, that reminded him that she usually had the final say in what they did, and why he was usually happy to comply.
He chased her for a few minutes, her bare feet skimming across the sand with a dexterity than he couldn't manage in his boots, but in the end, he caught her. He had to tackle her, but it was worth it to hear her squeal as she hit the sand, and feel her wriggle beneath him as he claimed a kiss for his prize.
"What are you like?" he said as he backed off, and helped her onto her feet.
"Sandy," she said, brushing the clinging grit from her coat and legs. "Thanks to you."
A wonderful quip about how he quite liked her dirty popped into his head, but before he could use it, her mind had moved on, taking the moment with it.
"Just look at them," she breathed, as she tucked the chunk of hair whipped wild by the wind behind her ear, and stared up at the cliffs with wide-eyed wonder.
Swathed in fine sea mist, they looked somewhat menacing. A towering wave of pressed and patchworked rock, forever frozen in the timeless moment of horror before it could crash back down to earth. Looking up made him dizzy, and he had to take a staggering step backwards. She wrapped her arms around his to steady him.
Then, she saw it.
"Is there a hole there, or am I seeing things?" she asked him, squinting through the haze at one particular spot.
She had to point to show him where. It was no ordinary hole. It was a vast cavern of yawning blackness, pitch and flat against the dappled dark of the cliff-face. At a glance, it could easily be missed, but once seen, it was undeniable.
"What do you think is up there?" she whispered into his ear.
"I don't know. Nothing, probably."
She punched him on the shoulder.
"How boring!" she said. "Come up with something better."
He returned her challenging stare for a whole twenty seconds before he realised that she was being serious.
"Okay," he said. "I think it's a smuggler's hide out."
She liked this much more, and squeezed his arm tightly.
"Let's climb up and see!"
She made as though to run to base of the cliff, but he caught her hand and pulled her back.
"Are you mad? That must be thirty, forty foot up in the air. You can't climb that high!"
She tried to shake him off, her face set in grim determination.
How silly of him to forget that this girl was someone you never, ever said the word 'can't' to.
He doubled his hold on her hand, trying to toe the line between gentle and firm, enough to be serious, rather than controlling.
"Please don't, Hannah."
Her hand went limp in his and her lower lip slipped out. "It's dangerous," he said, reeling her back in. "It would be a shame to end the week with a trip to the hospital."
She let loose a deep, long-suffering sigh and poked him hard in the middle of the chest as he wrapped her up in his arms.
"You're no fun," she said. It sounded like she was delivering a death sentence.
He checked his watch over her shoulder, and smiled in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"It's coming up to seven, it's going to get dark soon. Why don't we head back to the others?"
She looked up at him, her blue eyes tinted grey in the dimming light. She pushed out her lips in a thoughtful pout.
"Okay," she said.
By the time they reached the rise of rock that divided the two coves, it had already darkened into dusk. It became hard to see where the rocks were sharp, slick with weed, or pocketed with icy pools. When they got to the top, something made Hannah look back, some inherent curiosity, and her hand clenched around his.
"Matthew," she whispered, her voice sending a shudder down his spine. "Look."
Through her grip, he could feel her palm trembling. He knew that the last thing he wanted to do was turn his head and see what she was seeing, yet he couldn't help himself.
The hole in the cliff was lit up like a beacon. Bright gold poured out of it, diffusing into the mists of the night, revealing it to be more than natural design. It showed a straight cut floor, and gracefully curving sides that rose into an archway grand enough for any cathedral. Nature was never than tidy.
"It's beautiful," Hannah said, her voice drenched in wonder.
"Come on, let's go," Matthew said, taking the first step down onto the other side, coaxing her to follow with a gentle pull.
"Go?" Hannah said, holding her ground. "How can we go? There's something up there."
"Why don't we ask about it back at the pub?" he said. He had meant to bring back reality, to somehow ground this moment into the normal, but it weakened on his lips to nothing more than a reverential whisper.
With her other hand, she groped for his, seizing it up in her trembling grip.
"Let's go and look," she said. His gaze slid past her to that shining doorway, and an icy fist of fear impaled his gut. He tried to say no, but his lungs were empty. He shook his head. Her grip tightened around his hands, and in her fingers, he could feel something else, something beyond her normal self. It was a seething, burning drive that begged to go back to the cliff, to scramble up its treacherous face and discover its secrets. It was a part of her he knew he could never understand.
"Come with me!" she said. It wasn't a request, it was an order, and it finally gave him back his voice.
Her grip went limp. The night hid her face, but he could feel the loathing coming off of her in waves. He took advantage of her silence. "Let's just go back to the pub, ask some of the locals what the deal is with...whatever that is, and then we'll all have one more drink, and call it a night, okay?"
She shook off his hands.
"Fine," she said, before taking the first steps down the rock-face.
For the entire journey back to the pub, she wouldn't look at him. The few times he tried to catch up her hand she flinched away. He talked, but she didn't respond, and it wasn't until they stepped into the warmth of the pub that she seemed to return to some semblance of her normal self.
His friends had become very merry in his absence, and were keen to know if they'd found anything interesting down on the beach. To Matthew's surprise, Hannah was quick to say no. He took this to mean that she had put the sight behind her, that now she was back amongst other people, the curious magnetism inside of her had dwindled, if not died. He watched her slip outside with Rosie, no doubt hoping to scavange a cheeky cigarette, while he ordered another lot of drinks with Jody.
"I'll tell you, mate," Jody said, as he handed the cash for his part of the round over to the bartender. "You have bagged yourself a stunner there. Where did you find her?"
Matthew shrugged and grinned into his pint.
"You know," he said. "Around."
Jody shook his head and scoffed.
"You lucky son of a bitch," he said. "Whenever I look around, all I find is prudes and psychopaths."
"You're obviously not looking in the right places," Rosie interrupted, elbowing in between them, reeking of smoke and tobacco.
"Like you'd know," Jody said, handing her the bottle of cider.
Rosie pulled a face at him as she took it, and made a point of turning her back to him.
"You've found yourself a wild one Matthew," she said, nudging him in the ribs.
Matthew's grin spread tenfold.
"Yeah, I have," he said, with a quick glance to where Pete and Kath had commandeered a sofa by the fire-place, frowning when he saw Hannah wasn't with them. "Where is she by the way?"
Rosie shrugged, cutting short her sip of cider to answer.
"She's still outside as far as I know. She said she wasn't ready to come in yet."
Something inside Matthew clenched in horror.
"Watch this a second," he heard himself say, as he placed his glass onto the bar. He ignored Jody and Rosie's protests, and ran for the door. The porch outside was empty, except for a pair of sand covered boots. Hannah's boots.
He called her name – screamed it – but got no answer. As he ran back down to the beach, he was vaguely aware that some, or possibly all of his friends were following, but he didn't care. The sand kicked up in his sprint showered down into his boots and shot up his jeans, but it didn't slow him down. He nearly fell up the rise of rock three times in his haste, and as he staggered to the top, he saw a sight that made his pounding heart stop dead as though crushed by an iron fist.
There was nothing. Just darkness.
End AN: This isn't actually how I wanted to end it, but going for the drama meant that it was just too long :(
Hope you enjoyed it - Feedback is, of course, much loved...