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U3A Writing: The Pits

Ken is trapped in a pit, and the water is rising. Will his wife Jeannie save him from drowning?

Derek McQueen tells a dramatic tale.

It was 6-15am and Ken Watson was anxious not to wake his wife Jeannie. He normally got up for work at half past seven, to be at the chemical plant for 8-15.
This morning he had a special problem. Heavy rain had caused the underground soaking pits to fill to unprecedented and dangerous levels. It had to be sorted out before the shop floor chemical workers came on shift.

“What are you doing Ken?” Jeannie said. He had been creeping quietly around the bedroom to no purpose. “It’s only a quarter past six. It’s still dark.”

“Sorry love,” Ken said. “I’m going in an hour early. There’s a chance of flooding in the plant. Shall I bring you a cup of tea before I leave.”

Ken took his wife tea every day, just before he left for work.

“No thanks love, I’ll try and get back to sleep. See you later. Take care.”

Downstairs, Ken switched on the Apple Mac computer, checking for emails. He and Jeannie were both computer enthusiasts and accessed the one machine with their own user name and separate passwords. After deleting several incoming messages, Ken finished his Marmite toast, downed the mug of tea and was out of the door at exactly twenty to seven.

The Modol Chemicals plant was just a ten-minute drive from the Watson’s semi on the outskirts of Carlisle. They had lived at 29 Trickett Drive from being married six years before. Ken took his Honda scooter so that Jeannie could use the Mondeo later. Tuesday was Tesco day.

It was still raining heavily as Ken made his way, through pools of standing water, toward the sinister, grey outline of the soaking pit building. The plant was deserted save for one or two security people. It looked eerie in the half-light of that February morning.

There were three circular pits or tanks in the Soaking Pit Building, each one twenty-five feet deep and lined with white tiles. On the floor of all three of the ten feet diameter tanks, a heavy cast iron grill was set in the centre. None of them had been opened for as long as Ken could remember. The Soaking Pits had played an important role in the processing of chemicals in the past but had been virtually unused in the last twenty years.

Ken made his way down two flights of stairs, to the Soaking Pit floor. Water was pouring into all three tanks – another couple of hours and that section of the plant would be under water causing mayhem. He hurried to the pump control panel, back up one flight of stairs and threw all three starter switches to ‘On’. After a few seconds delay, there was a roar as the pumps kicked in thrusting hundreds of gallons of water through underground pipes and concrete ducts out of the plant.

‘Thank God the Modol was built by the river,’ Ken thought as the levels in the pits began to fall.

Once emptied by the powerful pumps, Ken had planned to examine the iron grills in the base of each tank. He felt certain that they were jammed and hoped to free them. He switched off the pump and climbed down a narrow metal ladder into Pit number 3. As he suspected, the grill refused to move - it was rusted tight shut. Ken inserted a lever bar into the grill: steadied it with his boot and heaved on the bar with all his weight. Suddenly, the 200 lb grill came free and then fell back as the lever bar shot out. Ken screamed when the iron grill struck his boot, smashing his anklebone. He couldn’t move. He was trapped.

Floodwater was still pouring into the tanks. Pits 1 and 2 still had their pumps running and were easily coping with the inrush. Pump no 3 was switched off and the water was already a foot deep. Another four and he would drown if no help came. Men weren’t due in the plant for another 45 minutes. Slowly the freezing water climbed up Ken’s agonised body. He had to stand upright to survive.


Jeannie couldn’t get back to sleep after Ken had left the house. As she was waiting for the kettle to boil, she noticed that the computer was on.
‘Not like Ken,’ she thought. His mail was still on the screen – even more unusual. She thought he was a bit secretive about his e-mail correspondence at times.
Sipping her favourite Earl Grey tea, Jeannie began to read some of
Ken’s messages.

‘Who in hells name is Mary?’ she asked herself. Unbelievably, Ken had been corresponding with this woman ‘maryjackson@btopenworld.com for weeks – probably months or maybe even longer. Messages of unswerving love and recollections of nights of passion were there on the screen, before Jeannie’s eyes.

As she began to weep, more horrific messages were unlocked.

Shock and tears gave way to anger and bitterness at the way the man she loved had betrayed her.

“Right - I’ll show the bastard,” Jeannie shouted out loud.

She snatched the biggest of the kitchen carving knives, on her way out of the house, jumped into the Ford Mondeo and headed for Modol Chemicals. She was there in six minutes flat.

‘Right, the Soaking Pit building – that’s where the treacherous swine said he was going.’

At the bottom of the stairway Jeannie saw her husband. The water was now up to Ken’s chin. His face was bloodless and contorted with pain.

“Thank God you’re here Jeannie,” he screamed. “I’m trapped. I can’t move. Get some help please. Thank God you found me in time Jeannie.”

“I’ll email Mary to come and help you - you slime-ball,” Jeannie spat out, all compassion gone. “If she’s as good in bed as you say in your love letters, maybe she’s good at swimming as well. You’re the pits Kenneth.”

She hurled the knife into the water, turned and went slowly back up the stairway.
Ken’s screaming stopped as she reached the top.


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