‘I can’t see a thing!’ Winefry exclaimed as the cave wall finally closed, leaving them to only wonder at the fate of the screaming girl, the lady of light and the border terriers. Before adding in a panic, ‘Scragg? Scragg? Are you there?’
‘Yes, I’m here. Stop worrying. I’m trying to work out the best way to go,’ Scragg replied.
‘Work out what? I can’t see a thing. It’s pitch-black!’
'Well, it's not pitch-black for me. Maybe it's my cat's eyes or …, or maybe it's the lady of light and what she said about seeing the light? Whatever it is, I can see enough to tell that we have options.’
‘Options? What do you mean options?’ Winefry was obviously rather flustered.
Scragg gave a little sigh before explaining, ‘We can go one of seven ways as far as I can tell. Now be quiet a moment, I’m trying to make out the signs above the passageways.’
Being silent in the darkness proved not to be one of Winefry’s skills as he started to ply Scragg with questions about what the signs looked like.
The seven passageways had seven different signs, which they eventually realised related to an image of a special key drawn on the wall that had closed up behind them. Scragg might never have seen the image if she hadn't become so exasperated with Winefry’s constant questioning that she’d turned around to scream into her paws. When she did see it, she screamed anyway but more to wind Winefry up than anything.
Eventually, she started to explain the image to Winefry. ‘It looks like a key of some sort, but instead of just one locky thing coming off the main shaft, it seems to have six.’
Winefry was intrigued, even though he was most definitely not in his element when sitting in total darkness. Maybe it was the decades of being left in the eaves of the Manor that had done it, but darkness was something Winefry did not like!
‘Is there anything else about the key that looks unusual?’ he asked Scragg.
‘You mean apart from that fact that it has six locky things?’ Scragg responded a little rudely.
Winefry ignored this and asked another question. ‘Well, if it has six lock-opening parts, it might be quite difficult to put into the keyhole and turn in the lock. Is there anything else you notice about it?’
This was rather a good question, and Scragg felt a little ashamed of her previous outburst. So, rather sheepishly (although Winefry wouldn't know because of the apparent total darkness he was in), Scragg walked over to the image of the key and took a closer look.
‘Well, the shafty part is quite fat and has what look like 6 flat sides to it – what’s that a polygon or something?’
‘That would be a hexagon,’ Winefry answered without any emotion. ‘Anything else?’ he added.
‘A hexagon. Right,’ Scragg repeated. ‘So, this hexagon shaft seems to have little grooves around the locky parts – on each of the sides I can see. So, if I had to guess, it looks like the six locky or unlocky parts – what are they called by the way?’
Again, without much emotion and without thinking about how he knew it, Winefry answered, 'It's called a 'bit,' and obviously this key has six bits that fit into the six grooves in the hexagonal shank. Is that what you were going to say?'
Scragg nodded but then realised Winefry couldn’t see her and gave a rather huffish ‘Yes,’ before asking, ‘How do you know so much about keys anyway?’
Winefry ignored her and instead asked, ‘The bow, what’s that like?’
Silence. It seemed Scragg was getting a little frustrated with this new ‘game’ and didn’t want to play any more!
So, with a small sigh, Winefry explained. ‘It’s usually a ring part at the other end of the shank or shaft that you hold the key by and it helps you to turn the key in the lock. I assume it’s got quite a big bow?’ At that, Winefry paused, not expecting and not getting any answer from the petulant cat. Then a moment later, Winefry added, ‘I’m sorry if I’m winding you up, I don’t mean to, it’s just that being in the dark is playing havoc with my nerves. And in answer to your question about how I know so much about keys … I have absolutely no idea. Although I am beginning to wonder if maybe the lady of light passed it on to me somehow? Anyway, please, what can you tell me about the bow?’
What Winefry couldn’t see was Scragg shaking her head at him and his frankly incredible knowledge about keys. However, he had apologised, and the image was there... So, taking a closer look, she replied, 'Well, this 'bow' thing looks big. In fact, I think you could probably hold it with two hands if you needed to. It's oval, not a circle, it has writing on it which I can't read and ...'
‘What do you mean you can’t read it?’ Winefry interrupted. ‘Is it too faint or in some kind of strange language?’
Scragg’s frustration was quickly moving on to outright annoyance at Winefry’s constant interruptions. ‘Let me clarify this for you ‘Sir Winefry',' Scragg replied. 'There are lots of shapes around the oval 'bow' that look like the kind of shapes I've seen people looking at in the Manor. However, I am a cat and have not been taught to read. Although judging by your tone, and because you are obviously such a very well-educated WINE BOTTLE, I can only assume that you would be able to decipher them were it not for the fact that you are as blind as a … I don't know what - in the dark, and have to rely on this ignorant cat!'
Their conversation was in danger of descending into an out and out row. Obviously, Scragg couldn't read, and Winefry couldn't see to read. It would be a thankless and pointless task for the cat to explain each and every symbol in the hope the wine bottle could work out what they actually said. Especially not if they were in some strange, ancient or obscure language. So, Winefry thought better of it. If the lady of light had sent them here and they couldn’t get full answers, they had to trust she knew what she was doing. Also, the darkness was starting to get to Winefry, and he didn't want to stay put any longer than necessary.
With that, Winefry actually apologised to Scragg, which really took the wind out of her sails as she was about to let rip at the wine bottle, and was slightly disappointed not to be able to have a good shouting match.
After apologising, Winefry asked one last question. ‘I’m sorry to ask Scragg,’ he said carefully, ‘but is there anything else you think may be worth noting about the key before we move on?’
As it happened, there was, and Scragg had already noticed it. On the shank above each groove, and on the top edge of each bit, there was a small raised icon. When she took a closer look, she turned so quickly, she almost knocked Winefry over. Then she shrieked, ‘The symbols!’
‘The symbols on the bow?’ Winefry asked, confused.
'No, of course not,' Scragg carried on as if Winefry should somehow be following her thought pattern while totally in the dark. ‘The symbols on the hexagonal shafty bit and the end thingies.’
‘You mean the shank and the bits?’
'Yes, yes, whatever. Each one has a symbol on it so that the locky parts can slot into the right place on the shafty bit’. Winefry said nothing. He didn't feel that correcting her at this point would prove helpful. 'And,' Scragg hurried on, 'I've just seen that above each of the seven passageways there's a symbol - and six of them are the same as the symbols for each locky part! The seventh symbol shows the shafty thing with the oval end.'
Winefry understood at once. ‘So ...,’ he started.
Scragg interrupted. 'Yes. The symbols show us where we can find each and every part of the key. We need to follow the passageway that leads to each part. So, I'll follow this one, and you can follow that one and we'll ….' At this, Scragg paused. 'Oh,' she said as she looked at the wine bottle blinded by the darkness. 'You can't go on your own, can you?'
‘Sorry Scragg,’ Winefry confessed. 'I can't see a thing and, to be honest with you, the darkness is getting to me. If you leave me on my own, I probably won't make it.' He trailed off at this point.
Scragg understood. The lady of light had put them together for a reason and, because of that, they needed each other. So, fixing a smile on her face, even though Winefry wouldn't be able to see it, Scragg answered, 'No, we need to go together. It may take a little longer, but you need me, and I need you. After all, I can see, but you can read and who knows how important that will be? I guess the real question is; which passageway do we explore first?’
‘I think,’ Winefry muttered after a few moments of thoughtful silence, ‘that the first thing to get is the shank… er the shafty thingy with the oval end. Because if we have that, we can tell what it says and we also have a place to put the 6 bits when we get them. So, if you can see which passageway has the icon for the … shafty thingy over it, then let’s go down there.’
A moment later, Winefry heard Scragg’s voice announce, ‘This way!’ Then, Winefry almost leapt off the ground as something furry brushed his hand. That cat really could move silently. As Winefry thought he heard Scragg stifling a laugh, he felt the fur again and heard Scragg’s voice say, ‘Well? Grab hold! OUCH – not that hard!’ And their journey began.
Winefry’s desperate hope that the journey would be quick and straightforward was soon proved wrong as the two of them trudged for hours in total blackness for Winefry and murky gloom for Scragg. The tunnel stayed narrow and never once opened up for them to walk side by side. As it was, because Winefry was utterly blinded by the darkness, he needed to walk behind Scragg, gently holding onto her tail.
That said, his ears still worked – maybe a little too well as, when he heard noises in the darkness that obviously weren’t from Scrag, he would jump and grab at Scragg’s tail a bit too hard!
By the time they decided to stop for a rest, Scragg was pretty fed up with Winefry and, after mumbling a few words, went off in the darkness to be by herself for a while.
Winefry tried to rest but couldn’t because of the thoughts running through his mind, combined with the noises in the darkness. The darkness was taking a far higher toll on him than it was on Scragg.
As the journey went on, hour after hour - maybe even day after day - when they did stop, Winefry would fall to the ground exhausted but unable to rest. Each time Scragg would go off, and Winefry’s fears would run wild.
What Scragg was actually doing was hunting for food. The passageway seemed to have a few small vermin to prey upon. With her extraordinarily good eyesight, Scragg found it easy to catch what she needed. But Winefry didn't have a mouth, and she had never actually seen him eat. So she knew it would be no use offering him some of what she caught. She was starting to get seriously worried about the wine bottle. His courage, his strength, seemed to be draining out of him, the longer the journey took. It was almost like someone had taken out his cork. She could tell his condition was deteriorating. The wax around his cork was bubbling, and the edges of his label were starting to shred.
But worst of all was the look in his unseeing eyes. They needed to get out of the darkness, but that wasn't in her control. All she could do was keep going, hoping that an end would come at some point.
She really started to worry when he began to stop more often, exhausted. If they carried on at this rate, Scragg would end up having to pull the bottle through the tunnels, and she didn't even know if that was possible.
The final straw came when Scragg noticed Winefry’s eyes were no longer open, but had become slits staring at nothing. Scragg found herself talking into the darkness. Winefry didn’t or couldn’t answer as he held her tail loosely, with his feet dragging along the ground. But it wasn’t Winefry that Scragg was talking to. Instead, she spoke to the lady of light, as they staggered slowly on in the endless tunnel with Winefry stumbling along behind her, a gentle drag on her tail.
'You sent us on this journey,' she started. 'We're doing this at your bidding, but Winefry can't carry on much longer. He's failing. I don't know what to do. You told me that I would see light; that when no-one could see it, I would and that I was to follow it. But instead, all I see is a dimly lit passageway with no end in sight, and if we don't get out of this soon, Winefry won't get out at all.'
But Scragg was also losing focus in this dimly lit world. Suddenly she realised with a jolt that the gentle pulling behind her had ceased. And then she was running - running back to search for Winefry in the darkness, finding him lying face down on the floor, unmoving.
Then Scragg wasn't talking any more, she was screaming, screaming at the lady of light who had sent them on this desperate journey. A journey that was killing Winefry and threatening her with endless loneliness. 'You sent us here! Why have you abandoned us?' Then, turning Winefry over, she took a closer look. It was impossible to tell if there was any life left in the bottle or not! It wasn't as if a wine bottle breathed or had a pulse. So Scragg screamed all the more, and she wept bitter tears. This dimly-lit place had been just about bearable with Winefry, but not now, not with him unable to go on or maybe even dead?
She was aware of her isolation, of having to go on in that place on her own. At that point, her screaming turned from bitterness to pleading. She was begging, begging for the lady of light to help. To keep her promise and show her the light they needed to escape this place of isolation and darkness. As she begged, with all pride and self-belief long since dead, she acknowledged that no matter how hard she tried and how far they went, they would never be able to find their way out unless the lady showed her.
All the sobbing and crying took its toll on the poor cat who hunched over the wine bottle and covered it with her tears. Quite how long she was like that she couldn't tell. Maybe she slept, perhaps it was a dream, but as she looked up again, her vision blurred, she realised that the dimly-lit tunnel was lighter than before. At first, she thought it was a dream or a trick of the eye. But a few moments later, it was undeniable, the passageway was getting lighter. As it grew brighter, she could see up and down the tunnel, and it looked like it had no end, that there was no way of escape. But still, the passageway grew lighter, although now, it wasn't a general light, but a specific point of light that seemed to be coming from the wall itself, a little further on.
Everything in Scragg wanted to race to that point of light, but something else told her that, if she did, she might never find Winefry again. So, in constant terror that the growing light patch would fade, Scragg struggled and scratched and clawed her way with Winefry towards the light. The closer she got, the more it looked like Winefry was dead, but she was determined not to leave him.
Again Scragg's tears of anger, frustration and fear flowed over the wine bottle until, at last, she managed to drag it to the patch of light. And that was all it was – a patch of light in the wall of an endless tunnel, but it was also hope. The lady of light had promised that Scragg would be able to see the light and told her to follow it even when no one else would.
She had seen the light and gone to it, bringing the lifeless Winefry with her. But now she was there, she had no idea what to do? It seemed hopeless until she realised that she had come to the light. She had looked at the light. She had hoped that the light was the answer. But what she hadn't done was to go into the light.
So, standing the wine bottle up, she grabbed hold of it as best she could and, using the very last reserve of her energy, they both fell into the patch of light in the wall of the endless tunnel.
Then exhaustion dragged her towards unconsciousness. For all she knew was a gentle voice talking to her about coming to the end of themselves to find the real way forward, before the nothingness of deep, deep sleep.