Walking away hadn't made it any less painful. The knowledge of Harry's death had dragged along with Tilda, as if it were tied to her by a chain. For the first day of the expedition she'd tried keeping her mind clear, wiping it of all regret, sadness and culpability. She was no longer at Cragside, so the affairs and events of that place no longer belonged to her. She was a new person, out in the wild - a Tilda unsullied by what had come before.
It hadn't worked. Perhaps for a couple of hours she had been diverted by the novelty of being beyond the borders of Cragside and by the landscape they'd found themselves in, but then it had all rushed back, stronger than before, worse than before. The inescapable question that had haunted her all the previous night, which had forced her to consider joining Eva's little escapade in the first place. The question that punctuated every one of her thoughts.
Did I kill Harry?
She hadn't dared utter the thought to anybody else, for fear that they'd simply confirm it. Or, worse, attempt and fail to convince her otherwise. Nonetheless she was sure that they were all thinking it, each of them: Eva in her analytical, logical way; Rufus embellishing it with some kind of dramatic emotive twist; Ramin unemotionally prodding at the morality and consequences; Robin making it worse by being kind while secretly judging. Erik, at least, would keep an open mind, or be otherwise distracted by a passing insect. But, then, he didn't understand what was going on at the best of times. He wouldn't know what death meant.
Not that any of them were experts. It hadn't happened before.
The gaping maw of the cave beckoned them in but Eva had paused at the entrance, peering into the darkness. Tilda leaned over her shoulder. "What's in there?"
"I can't see a thing," Eva said. "It's so dark."
"There's a light there," Tilda said, pointing at the blinking red dot, set back into the cave. "Might as well go check it out." She pushed past Eva and walked into the darkness, with false confidence at first and then with increasing apprehension. Beyond the immediate surroundings of the entrance the light dropped away to nothing, to the point where she couldn't see her own feet in front of her. The ground felt level, though, and smooth, so she took one step a time towards the blinking red light. It took perhaps twenty tentative steps to reach it.
Reaching out, Tilda gingerly felt around the small light. It was a button, about the size of her palm, set into a larger surface about waist-height, which felt perhaps like it was made of metal. Certainly not rock or anything natural - it was far too perfect in its texture. As her fingers brushed over the button, the red light blinked off and didn't come back.
"The light's gone off! I think it's a button, should I press it?"
"Probably not!" called Robin. "We don't know what it does!"
Tilda looked back towards the glowing oval where the others were stood, silhouetted against the outside. "It's not like it's going to open up a trapdoor underneath me, guys."
"I'm coming in," Eva said. "Keep talking, I still can't see a thing."
"I'm over here," Tilda said, speaking loudly. "The ground seems pretty easy to walk on, so don't worry about tripping over yourself. There's some kind of smooth surface here. A desk, maybe?"
Eva's hand rested on Tilda's shoulder. "It's really dark in here," she said, needlessly.
"Are you afraid of the dark, Miss Rationality?"
"Maybe. Where's the button?"
"Just here," Tilda said, taking Eva's hand and moving it to where the blinking light had been. "But it's not flashing anymore."
YOU ARE READING
No Adults AllowedScience Fiction
The grown-ups are all gone and children rule the new world. The new weekly adventure from the writer of the Watty-winning A Day of Faces and The Mechanical Crown throws you into a strange utopia: resources are plentiful, the climate has stabilised...