In the following passage, Alice, the main character, is spending the summer working in
Alice notices a fly on the underside of her arm.
Insects are an occupational hazard at a dig, and for some reason there are more flies
higher up the mountain where she is working than at the main excavation site lower
Her concentration broken, Alice stands up and stretches. She unscrews the top of
her water bottle. It’s warm, but she’s too thirsty to care and drinks it down in great
gulps. Below, the heat haze shimmers above the dented tarmac of the road. Above
her, the sky is an endless blue.
It’s her first time in the Pyrenees, although she feels very much at home. In the
main camp on the lower slopes, Alice can see her colleagues standing under the big
canvas awning. She’s surprised they’ve stopped already. It’s early in the day to be
taking a break, but then the whole team is a bit demoralised. It’s hard work: the
digging, scraping, cataloguing, recording, and so far they’ve turned up little to justify
their efforts. They’ve come across only a few fragments of early medieval pots and
bowls, and a couple of arrowheads.
Alice is tempted to go down and join her colleagues. Her calves are already aching
from squatting. The muscles in her shoulders are tense. But she knows that if she
stops now, she’ll lose her momentum.
Hopefully, her luck’s about to change. Earlier, she’d noticed something glinting
beneath a large boulder, propped against the side of the mountain, almost as if it had
been placed there by a giant hand. Although she can’t make out what the object is,
even how big it is, she’s been digging all morning and she doesn’t think it will be
much longer before she can reach it.
She knows she should fetch someone. Alice is not a trained archaeologist, just a
volunteer. But it’s her last day on site and she wants to prove herself. If she goes
back down to the main camp now and admits she’s on to something, everybody will
want to be involved, and it will no longer be her discovery.
In the days and weeks to come, Alice will look back to this moment. She will
wonder at how different things might have been had she made the choice to go and
not to stay. If she had played by the rules.
She drains the last drop of water from the bottle and tosses it into her rucksack.
For the next hour or so, as the sun climbs higher in the sky and the temperature rises,
Alice carries on working. The only sounds are the scrape of metal on rock, the whine
of insects and the occasional buzz of a light aircraft in the distance.
Alice kneels down on the ground and leans her cheek and shoulder against the rock
for support. Then, with a flutter of excitement, she pushes her fingers deep into the
dark earth. Straight away, she knows she’s got something worth finding. It is smooth
to the touch, metal not stone. Grasping it firmly and telling herself not to expect too
much, slowly, slowly she eases the object out into the light.
The rich, cloying smell of wet soil fills her nose and throat, although she barely
notices. She is already lost in the past, captivated by the piece of history she cradles
in the palms of her hands. It is a heavy, round buckle, speckled black and green with
age and from its long burial.
Alice is so absorbed that she doesn’t notice the boulder shifting on its base. Then
something makes her look up. For a split second, the world seems to hang suspended,
out of space, out of time. She is mesmerised by the ancient slab of stone as it sways
and tilts, and then gracefully begins to fall towards her. At the very last moment, the
light fractures. The spell is broken. Alice throws herself out of the way, half
tumbling, half slithering sideways, just in time to avoid being crushed. The boulder
hits the ground with a dull thud, sending up a cloud of pale brown dust, then rolls
over and over, as if in slow motion, until it comes to rest further down the mountain.
Alice clutches desperately at the bushes and scrub to stop herself slipping any
further. For a moment she lies sprawled in the dirt, dizzy and disorientated. As it
sinks in how very close she came to being crushed, she turns cold. Takes a deep
breath. Waits for the world to stop spinning.
Gradually, the pounding in her head dies away. The sickness in her stomach settles
and everything starts to return to normal, enough for her to sit up and take stock.
Her knees are grazed and streaked with blood and she’s knocked her wrist where she
landed awkwardly, still clutching the buckle in her hand to protect it, but basically
she’s escaped with no more than a few cuts and bruises.
She gets to her feet and dusts herself down. She raises her hand, is about to call
out to attract someone’s attention when she notices that there’s a narrow opening
visible in the side of the mountain where the boulder had been standing. Like a
doorway cut into the rock.
She hesitates. Alice knows she should get somebody to come with her. It is stupid,
possibly even dangerous, to go in on her own without any sort of back-up. She knows
all the things that can go wrong. But something is drawing her in. It feels personal.
It’s her discovery.
She climbs back up. There is a dip in the ground at the mouth of the cave, where
the stone had stood guard. The damp earth is alive with the frantic writhing of
worms and beetles exposed suddenly to the light and heat after so long. Her cap lies
on the ground where it fell. Her trowel is there too, just where she left it.
Alice peers into the darkness. The opening is no more than five feet high and
about three feet wide and the edges are irregular and rough. It seems to be natural
rather than man-made.
Slowly, her eyes become accustomed to the gloom. Velvet black gives way to
charcoal grey and she sees that she is looking into a long, narrow tunnel.
Squeezing the buckle tightly in her hand, she takes a deep breath and steps forward
into the passageway. Straight away, the smell of long-hidden, underground air
surrounds her, filling her mouth and throat and lungs. It’s cool and damp, not the
dry, poisonous gases of a sealed cave she’s been warned about, so she guesses there
must be some source of fresh air.
Feeling nervous and slightly guilty, Alice wraps the buckle in a handkerchief and
pushes it into her pocket, then cautiously steps forward.
As she moves further in, she feels the chill air curl around her bare legs and arms
like a cat. She is walking downhill. She can feel the ground sloping away beneath
her feet, uneven and gritty. The scrunch of the stones and gravel is loud in the
confined, hushed space. She is aware of the daylight getting fainter and fainter at her
back, the further and deeper she goes.
Abruptly, she does not want to go on.
Adapted from the novel “Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse
What activity is Alice involved in?
“Insects are an occupational hazard . . . ” (Paragraph 2)
in your own words
what this means.
Look at Paragraphs 3 to 5.
things the writer tells us in Paragraph 3 which show that it is a hot
How does the writer emphasise that “It’s hard work”? (Paragraph 4)
) by sentence structure
) by word choice
Write down an expression from the passage which suggests the hard work has not
been worth it so far.
“Alice is tempted to go down and join her colleagues.” (Paragraph 5)
reasons why she is tempted to do this.
Look at Paragraph 7.
) the appropriate box to show whether the following statements about Alice
are True, False or Cannot Tell from the passage.
Look at Paragraph 10.
In Paragraph 10, the writer shows Alice’s
as she pushes her
hand into the soil.
Write down one
expression which shows her
at this point.
Write down one
expression which shows her
at this point.
Why does the writer repeat the word “slowly” in Paragraph 10?
She wants to show that she can do the job herself.
She does not like her colleagues.
She wants to share her discovery.
Look at Paragraphs 11 and 12.
Alice is “captivated” by the buckle she has found. (Paragraph 11)
other word from the next paragraph (Paragraph 12) which
shows how interested she is in the buckle.
reasons why Alice does not move out of the way of the boulder until the
Explain carefully what is surprising about the word “gracefully” in Paragraph 12.
Look at Paragraphs 13 to 16.
“ . . . dirt, dizzy and disorientated.” (Paragraph 13)
14. In your own words
, explain why Alice “turns cold”. (Paragraph 13)
Why do you think Alice does
“call out to attract someone’s attention”?
“. . . the stone had stood guard.” (Paragraph 17)
reasons why this expression is appropriate.
“Slowly, her eyes become accustomed to the gloom.” (Paragraph 19)
Explain how the writer develops this idea in the next sentence.
Look at Paragraph 21 to the end of the passage.
As Alice steps into the tunnel, she experiences
In your own words
explain what these
“Abruptly, she does not want to go on.” (Paragraph 23)
reasons why this is an effective ending to the passage.
Think about the passage as a whole.
The writer has written this story in the present tense.
Why do you think the writer has done this?
What do you think will happen next in the story?
) the answer which you think is most likely.
pieces of evidence from the passage to support your answer.
Alice will return to her colleagues.
Alice will go further into the cave and make an exciting discovery.
Alice will be trapped in the cave.
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