“Safe Keeping” by Nemone Thornes

Image by Nick Fletcher

The cold storage plant is right on the water. Acres of metal the colour of dried sage. Some sections are taller than others. From here it looks like giant boxes plonked down next to each other, but when you get up close you can see it’s all joined.

The land slopes sharply upwards from the shore, so we have a good view of the plant, and the water. A line moves along the Sound, like a length of rope just under the surface. A wave trying to form. They never do.

Brendan and Matthew and I are having dinner at a place on the edge of the service town. We’re sitting outside because this is what they call summer, but it isn’t warm. It stays light until the early hours, and the light always seems the same. Very flat. Not much real sun. At the moment, the clouds are aubergine.

There’s the clank of crates rolling in or out of the container ship docked against the run of loading bays. We don’t know what’s in the crates. They say it’s food. I have the recurring idea that it’s all the same stuff, that it goes off on voyages and then eventually comes back unopened.

It’s day six. The end of day six. I’ve signed on for five years. Not sure that was a good idea.

What we do, all of us foreigners, is monitor the plant, tend it, keep it the right temperature, just above freezing. Matt has the most complicated job: fixing the machinery if there are malfunctions. He’s an engineer.

Tomorrow is our first day off, and we decide we’ll go walking in the rocky hills that rise behind the town. When we’ve finished the meal, we move on to a bar. We run into Dixie, who’s also new. She was on our flight over. There aren’t many women here. We ask her if she’d like to go on the walk with us.

The next morning, after a couple of hours, we find a valley with a single railway line running along its floor. There’s a high bridge over the line, and we go down to it. Dixie sees the thing on the tracks first.

“It’s a body.”

The track is a long, long way below the bridge. Matt has binoculars.

“It’s a skeleton.”

We take turns. It is a skeleton. Not a clean one; bits of old tissue are still sticking to it. It’s dark, like those mummies that people find in bogs. Brendan thinks that as well as the remains of tissue, it’s wearing clothes. Shreds of trousers, at least.

We wait for a long time, but no train comes. I want to see a train go through the body, and I wonder if the others feel the same.

Later in the afternoon, as we’re heading back, Brendan tells us the stories he’s been hearing from the old hands.

“Sometimes weird fish come in on the boats. Mutants, that kind of thing. They keep them. They’ve got a special pool, just for strange fish. And there’s a plesiosaur. Ture swears there is.”

“Has he actually seen it?” asks Dixie.

Ture hasn’t. Brendan says we should look for the pool, but Dixie won’t because she thinks it’s just a story. Matt won’t because he’s worried about getting into trouble for poking around.

“I’m not sure it would go down too well if we said we were looking for a secret pool with a plesiosaur in it,” he says. “As excuses go, it doesn’t sound very convincing. We’d probably be on the first plane out.” I tell Brendan I’ll look for the pool with him. I’m not too distressed by the thought of finding myself on a plane out.

Towards the end of the second week, Matt says he’s fed up of the company accommodation, and he rents a log cabin just outside the town. Dixie and I go up to see it.

It’s full of Platonic solids. Tetrahedrons and icosahedrons and the rest. I knew Matt before we came here; he’s the only one I did know. He was messing about with Platonic solids in England, but now he’s taken them up in a big way. He’s made about twenty already, cut from thin steel, all about the same size as a fist.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, but I can’t seem to stop.”

“Typical obsessional male behaviour,” Dixie says, on the way back. Next day, at lunch in the underground cafeteria, deep below the warehouses, she makes cubes out of slices of toast held together with toothpicks. She cuts the crusts off with surgical care, to form perfect squares.

In the third week, Brendan says he’s found something promising, and he asks me to go with him for a deeper investigation. We tell Dixie where we’re going. She changes her mind and wants to come too, but I say we need someone to stay behind, in case we get trapped somewhere. It’s supposed to be just cold storage, but Brendan’s heard that there are deep-freeze rooms. I don’t know if Brendan attracts rumours, or if he deliberately goes looking for them. Anyway, if there really are deep-freeze rooms, we don’t fancy getting stuck in one.

It’s a long cold walk. At the end of it, I’m impressed by what Brendan’s discovered–a plain iron door, about four metres high by two wide, behind a tall stack of crates. It’s not on the official map of the complex. It has three bolts on the bottom half. They were painted red, but most of the paint has flaked off. Looks like they’ve had a lot of use.

I think we’ll have a job with the door, but it opens easily. Behind it is a narrow corridor, only wide enough for one person. Wide door, very narrow corridor–I turn that one over as I follow Brendan into the darkness. We’ve brought torches.

The corridor slopes downwards, which makes me think of abattoirs. After five minutes or so the corridor ends at a steep, deeply ridged metal ramp. I think of abattoirs even more.

At the end there’s a massive room–another warehouse. Way up on the high ceiling, there are small lights. There’s just enough light to see by.

“I didn’t really believe it,” Brendan says.

In the middle of the concrete floor there is a huge square pool, about forty metres from side to side. In the dim light, it looks like black glass. It’s almost flush with the ground, the surface of the water is only a couple of centimetres lower. There’s no edging round it, no steps into it.

It’s warm in here.

We walk around the pool. When we reach the third side, we see movement. There are pale things, quite a long way down.

“Fish,” I say.

“They look more like worms,” Brendan says. He’s right.

A shape breaks the surface, out in the middle.

“See that?” says Brendan.

“I saw it.”

“A fin. The plesiosaur. All true.”

“Or something with fins.”

For half an hour or so we stare into the pool, lie down at its edge, shine the torches into it. We see more worms.

We go back, and find Dixie in the cafeteria. She’s using her bacon to make something complicated. We tell her about the pool and the thing with fins, and she says she has to see it. Then we decide to go out walking again tomorrow, which is a day off for all of us.

Dixie plays around with the bacon for the entire meal. “Look,” she says eventually. “Dodecahedron. With crispy rind.”

The next day, we follow the same route into the hills. We haven’t discussed it, but I think we all want to know if the body is still there.

It is. We look through the binoculars again, then we sit on the hillside and come up with theories. None of them fit. Eventually we continue the walk, but before we go very far, there’s the sound of a train. We get back down the hill to the bridge as quickly as we can; we’re scrambling, trying to run. When we reach it we can see the departing train very small in the distance, a pale blue, blocky thing that reminds me of the warehouses.

The body is still there, lying across both rails. The train went right through it. It looks untouched, exactly the same. No one says much for the rest of the walk.

We leave Matt in the town, but soon he comes down to find us. There’s something in his cabin, but he won’t say what. We all walk up there together. In the end, he can’t wait until we get to his place to tell us.

“The Platonic solids…they’ve turned into boats.”

We find them all squashed into boat shapes, and each now has a slim steel tube for a mast. We look carefully, and realise that the plastic sails are cut from margarine containers. English ones. “Omega 3” it says on one. “I can’t believe it’s not” on another.

“I only went out for ten minutes,” says Matt. “No one could have done it in that time.”

“I quite like them,” says Dixie.

We stay with Matt for a while. On the way back, we decide that as he’s so freaked out about the Platonic solids, we’ll go to the pool again tomorrow, and we’ll talk him out of his caution and take him with us. It will give him something else to think about. We were going to ask him to be our just-in-case man, but we know what’s in there now. I worry about those bolts on the outside of the door, though.

The next morning I walk to the plant with Brendan. There’s a flat barge drawn up at the loading bays. It’s painted the colour of rust, and it’s not carrying the usual sealed crates. The handlers are unhanding the catch straight into the facility. We get closer, and see that it looks like fat worms.

It strikes us both: the plesiosaur. They’re feeding it. We decide to leave going to the pool for another day. There’ll possibly be activity down there.

In the morning, we go. All four of us. As we come to the end of the corridor, I can see that the room is lighter.

The pool is gone. There’s nothing but a concrete floor. It looks like the same concrete floor, with the same marks and stains. It looks like it’s been there a long time.

“A big wind-up, then,” says Dixie.

“On my mother’s life,” says Brendan. “It was here.”

In the corner we find a pile of small icosahedrons made of thin steel. Matt swears they aren’t his.

“God, it’s cold in here,” Dixie says, and her breath forms aubergine clouds.


Nemone Thornes was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, and grew up in a small town near Huddersfield. Since starting to write serious short fiction in 2007, she has won prizes or been shortlisted in over twenty literary competitions. Her stories have been published by Leaf Books, Writers’ Forum, The Yorkshire Post and New Short Stories 5, the anthology of the 2011 Willesden Herald Prize.

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1 Comment

  1. M.

    Strange, and interesting. I took an actual chill at the end. Liked this story very much!