they were told, Barry moving over to Linda, putting an arm around her, Alan finding solace in Nugâs company. One by one, the group drifted out of the cave, making their tired, uneasy way back around the bog-pools towards the encampment. Eventually, only Alan and Nug remained.
âHe was a good lad,â Alan said. âA bit obsessive at times, but a good lad. There was certainly no evil in him.â
âHe didnât deserve a death like that, thatâs for sure,â Nug replied. Then he glanced up. âSo what do you think?â
âAbout what I told you.â
Alan gave him a quizzical stare. âI never had you down for the superstitious type.â
Nug shrugged. âIâm not. Itâs just, well, this whole business seems wrong to me.â
Alan was about to reply, when they heard raised, heated voices from the direction of the tents. They looked at each other, then dashed out of the cave and scurried around the marsh, trying not to muddy themselves any more than they already had, in the process.
Two minutes later, they were back in the camp. The first person they met was David. He had a pale, vaguely child-like look about him. âYouâre not going to believe this,â he blurted out. âThe satellite phoneâs gone.â
Alan felt his hair prickle. âWhat?â
The others were standing around between the tents, gazing at each other in bewilderment. Professor Mercy stood in the centre, holding the waterproof satchel, which was now open and empty.
âIâll ask again,â she demanded of them, âis someone playing some kind of joke?â
âItâs a bloody unfunny one, if they are!â said Nug.
âWhere was it?â Alan asked.
She threw the empty sack on the floor. âIn the satchel, along with my mobile.â
âHas that gone too?â
Clive nodded grimly. âThey both have.â
âThereâs a surprise,â said Alan.
The Professor glanced sharply up at him. âAnd whatâs that supposed to mean?â
He shrugged and waved it away. âNothing â¦ Iâm just getting paranoid. Look, Craig had a phone, didnât he?â
There were a few mumbles in the positive. Uncomfortable glances were then exchanged.
âWell someone had better go and get it,â Linda finally said.
No-one moved, until Alan lurched off back in the direction of the cave. Dejectedly, Nug went with him.
Getting Craig back out of his shroud was harder than they expected. First off, the zip on the sleeping bag jammed, then the ground-sheet somehow got twisted and knotted beneath the body, so they actually had to lift and turn his dead-weight over, in order to free it. He slumped back and forth as they moved him, nothing now but clay â cold, ghoulish clay, for his flesh was hideously clammy to touch, and, in the dusky half-light, had turned the colour of bleach.
For all this, it was a futile endeavour. They went through Craigâs pockets and searched inside his clothes, even going so far as to strip off his sweater and take down his pants â¦ but though they found a wallet and two spare reels of film for his shattered camera, there was no trace of his mobile phone.
Alan knelt back up, now bathed in chill sweat. âNot here,â he said simply.
Nug stood. âObviously he dropped it when he fell.â
Alan gave him a cynical stare. âOh, obviously! â
âI hope youâre not thinking what I think youâre thinking.â
âItâs bloody convenient, isnât it?â Alan said.
Nug shook his head. He clearly didnât want to believe what his friend was implying.
Now Alan stood up too. âNug. No-oneâs nicked the sodding satellite phone! You know how expensive that piece of gear is. Donât you think sheâd have gone absolutely fucking berserk if it had really gone missing?â
âAny luck?â Professor Mercy asked
Valerie Lioudis, Kristopher Lioudis