The Moon Tunnel


There is one cast of characters that should be introduced to the reader before Philip Dryden and the rest: the long list of those who have helped in the writing of The Moon Tunnel. The possibility of missing someone out restricts the list to the main players. Beverley Cousins, my editor, and Faith Evans, my agent, have continued to be a class double act. Trevor Horwood, my copy-editor, was as eagle-eyed as any author could wish.

Special thanks go to David Palmer for introducing me to the nuances of the auction room and the work of Richard Dadd. Gloria and Jason Street gave valuable advice on Italian names. James Macleod and his family showed me round Harperley PoW Camp, County Durham, and I wish them well in their battle to preserve this historic monument. Inspiration also came from Leslie Oakey’s pamphlet ‘Ely Goes To War’. I must also thank Bill Amos, Reader in Evolutionary Genetics at Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology, for advice on the plausibility of using DNA analysis of bones to pin-point individuals. I am again grateful to the help provided by the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability at Putney, London, and happy to point out that donations can be made via Jenny Burgoyne cast an expert eye over both the manuscript and the proofs. Lastly, I must thank my wife Midge Gillies. She has got me out of so many plot jams by clear-headed intervention that I am in danger of taking her for granted.

One of the problems of living, and writing, in a city the size of a small town in the middle of nowhere is that everyone seems convinced the stories of Philip Dryden are somehow based in fact. They are not. If anyone recognizes themselves in The Moon Tunnel they are being more creative than I. All the characters – especially those descended from the prisoners once held in Ely’s PoW camp – are entirely fictitious. And a note on geography: I hope all those who love the Fens recognize the landscape, but I have played freely with place names and topography in order to help the plot and enrich the language.

The man in the moon tunnel stops and listens to the night above, shivering despite the sweat which trickles into his ears, making the drums flutter like the beat of pigeons’ wings. He stops crawling forward, bringing relief to the agony in his elbows and knees, and places his torch ahead, resting his forehead on his hands, shielding his face from the damp clay floor. The ring on his finger glitters by his eye and he thinks of her, feels her skin and traces, in his imagination, the S-curve of her waist and thigh. He holds the image like a talisman, pushing back the panic which makes him choke, feeling the mass of the suffocating earth above his head. His heartbeat fills the narrow space and he tries to conjure up the image of the sky above.

At that moment, as he lies paralysed below, the shadow of the night cloud begins to drift across the moon. Over the Fens life freezes as the shadow falls on the land, bringing darkness to the soaking fields and the silent river. Rats float with the sluggish stream on the Forty Foot; and pike in the Old West, moonbathing, slip to the safety of the banks. Eels, thrashing through the long grass to forage on the rotting carcass of a sheep, turn instantly to stone. Finally, the newly shrouded moon is gone, and the world below lies still and waiting.

He must go on, or die here. So he feels for the wooden panels in the tunnel side and counts on: 185, 186, 187. He focuses only on the numbers, blocking out the reality of what he is doing, of where he is, and what is above. The camp sleeps inside its flesh-tearing wire. A village of shadows, more substantial than the men themselves had ever been, diminished by their exile. The dreams of prisoners still pushing that night at the double-locked wooden shutters.

‘Buried alive,’ he thinks, and the fear makes him cry out despite himself.

He counts again, trying to ignore the panic that constricts his throat: 230, 231, 232, 233. He stops and curls his body so that he can play the torchlight on the wood. There it is: emblazoned on the single pine board in faded stencil: RED CROSS.

He slips the jimmy from his belt and between the panel edges, easing the wood out from the earth behind.