I was recently browsing in an antiquarian bookshop in the West Country when, at the bottom of a 'Lucky Dip' cardboard box of uncatalogued items, I came across an extract of a handwritten journal. It was unlabelled except for what I took to be initials: A.M.T. My interest was piqued, and I read on.
It was my custom midweek to take a long walk around the Combe to clear my head of day-to-day matters and to contemplate the theme of my next Sunday sermon. This particular day in early November was no exception, despite the unpromising skies, and all was well until, midway through my walk, the heavens unleashed a mighty downpour. I hastened for some natural cover, a large cleft in the cliffside. This was not ideal, but still it afforded me some shelter from the driving rain, which persisted for a considerable time. So hard and regular was the drumming of the rain all around that it suggested to me a form of natural rhythm and, instead of thoughts of my forthcoming sermon, I was drawn to compose a poem, which I believe shows some promise should I have chance to develop it further.
But my reveries were interrupted by a man's voice calling in the distance. I ventured to look outside my crevice, and through the rain I could make out a bedraggled figure stumbling down from higher ground. I rushed towards him as quickly as I could; the nearer I got, the more I could see that he was distressed and dishevelled in equal measure. Upon seeing that I was a clergyman, the man became even more animated and beseeched me to accompany him back up the slope with utmost haste. I felt quite the opposite, that we should head for the village to get this man calmed, cleaned, and rested as soon as possible, for it was clear that whatever ordeal he had suffered, its demands and duration had been considerable. But he was adamant that time was of the essence, so up we climbed.
After quite a trek we arrived at a deep, ominous opening unto the underworld, at which the man agitatedly pointed. He recounted that in recent weeks there had been several reports of a dark spirit in the Combe. He tended a herd of goats on the hillside and they had been disappearing with increasing frequency as All Hallows' Eve had approached (two nights previous in the chronology of this tale). In desperation, the man had chosen to keep vigil over his herd on that fateful night. He explained that around midnight (or so he estimated) he had heard a great commotion involving his animals, a little way distant from his camp. By the light of a single lantern, he had followed the distressed calls to this cave. He had summoned all his courage and entered. Beyond this, however, he could elaborate very little, other than to confirm that he had descended very far and experienced many terrors - whether self-induced or by some external agent, I could not reliably ascertain. At some stage his lantern had been extinguished, and how he navigated his way out in the pitch darkness I shall never comprehend. He had finally emerged only shortly before encountering myself in the Combe, so indeed his experience had been most harrowing and protracted.
In response to his exigent pleas regarding the fate of the beasts that represented his rapidly diminishing livelihood, I somewhat reluctantly agreed to help. He had it fixed in his mind that, given my calling, I should be able to combat and ultimately exorcise the dark spirit within. Of this I was not confident, but I felt it was my duty to try to protect my flock, just as he had tried to protect his. With his lantern reclaimed and re-ignited, I gingerly took my first steps into the tenebrous depths ...
Frustratingly, the journal extract finished there! The rest of the pages had been torn from their binding. But being reasonably adventurous by nature, I could not leave this tale dangling and decided to see what else I could learn. If you are of a robust disposition, you may wish to follow my link here, but be warned that the path of the cleric and the goat-herd is a physically and mentally demanding one. You may wish to sit this one out instead.
Virtual Reward - 2017/2018
This Virtual Cache is part of a limited release of Virtuals created between August 24, 2017 and August 24, 2018. Only 4,000 cache owners were given the opportunity to hide a Virtual Cache. Learn more about Virtual Rewards on the Geocaching Blog.