For most of Jake’s life he had been receiving advice. Mainly from his mother a very forceful and strident woman who insisted throughout his growing that he heed one piece of advice above all others.
Don’t do near the Grotto anytime after dark.
His mother’s persistence paid off as Jake did stay away. Amongst his mates he was mistaken for a fool, a mummy’s boy, too soft to accept the dare to go to the Grotto. Mind you none of them had done so either, but they saw Jake as a soft touch, one who blushed easily when spoken to, one who was in their eyes manipulable.
But Jake remembered his mother’s words and in particular her words spoken to a neighbour one day: ‘People get lost in the Grotto and some never return and those who do, return as something else.’
These words stayed with him as he grew up, the boy grew into a man and became a police officer and then later when his back gave out a private investigator.
In his forty-fifth year he was asked to look into the disappearance of Emily Boughton. Emily was last seen leaving her house after telling her parents that she was going to meet friends before going clubbing.
After a month the police gave up the search. The parents turned to Jake.
Her friends reported that she had gone to the Grotto as part of a drunken dare; they last saw her walking through the Grotto gates disappearing into the gathering mist.
All attempts to find her had failed. There was nothing the police found to suggest that she had even been inside the Grotto. Then again all the police searches had happened in daylight.
Jake had read and re read the evidence in the police files. There was very little to go on and his mother’s childhood advice about the Grotto still rang in his ears. He decided to go look for himself and laid out a plan with Phillis Lynn his secretary, to go and look in the Grotto after dark, leaving his phone open all the while thereby he believed he could report to Phillis constantly who would record his conversation and so maintain a record of his venture.
To Jake this seemed a reasonable strategy.
At 8pm that evening he set off. The Grotto was in fact an old garden, set up by a family now long dead but who expended a lot of money in beautifying this one part of town. Their demise meant the town took over the upkeep of the Grotto for in its own way it was an attractive place to wander during the daylight at any rate. Stories abounded in the community as to the disappearance of many locals over the years.
Even in the dead of night the Grotto was a pleasant place to wander in. Flowers bloomed and every plant had a healthy glow. All the while Jake chatted to Phillis who had faithfully turned on the recorder in the office and settled herself down to a long and boring evening. With Jake prattling on it was long before Phillis fell asleep.
She woke some hours later. The recorder still recoding, but what was it recording. All she could hear was a repeated rattling and swishing sound.
She picked up the phone and called Jake several times, but there was no answer.
She tried again and again but there was no reply.
She stopped the recorder and rewound to a point she thought he might still be talking. He was still talking, describing the Grotto in moonlight. He sounded excited to be there like he was discovering a whole new world.
Then in mid sentence he stopped. What she heard then was the rattling and swishing. It was as if Jake had been cut off half way through a word and then silence.
Panicking she called the police, then his mother, who despite her age was a still a spritely and knowledgeable woman. She listened to Phillis’ story said thank you and hung up.
The police came, took down her statement, her voice shaky, as this was not how the evening was meant to go.
Phillis was sitting at her desk when she looked up.
It was Jake; he was beaming at her, his smile as broad as ever. She had never felt such relief as she did at that moment. Jake was back, he was safe, thank God she thought to herself. Behind him stood his mother looking steely eyed at Phillis.
His explanation of being out of mobile range seemed to be reasonable to her. She didn’t care really for to fall asleep on the job was not something she wanted everyone to know.
She gathered her things to make an exit and as she was leaving the office Jake called to her: ‘Phillis its ok, sleeping on the job happens, we’ll talk tomorrow.’
She stopped for a second wondering how he knew but dismissed the thought as getting home was now her priority. As she closed the office door she felt a shiver go down her spine for she could hear a familiar rattle emanate from Jake’s office.