Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

A sneak peak at chapter 2  [ Up ]

With his head against the window, Darren watched the tracks glide along in front of his eyes. They were at once a blur and a definite shape; although a single point on the track could not be fixed upon, the track itself was there. All points blurred into one, and they showed a shape, a single shape. It was, however, the sum of its parts. He sighed, and felt the train pass from sleeper to sleeper with every beat of his skull against the plastic window. He ignored the dull and throbbing pain that came with it, and tried to focus.
    It had become harder these days. Everytime he tried to concentrate on something mundane and empty, his mind switched back to the pain that he attempted to escape from. The more he tried the faster it came, but the less he tried the harsher it came. He wondered if there even was an escape, a way out. You couldn't run away, it would always follow, because it lived only in your head; that didn't make it any less real, in fact it made it all the more real. He tried to conjure up an analogy, like broken legs or none at all. None of these seemed to fit. It was more as though a metal spike had been fixed on his head; the more he ran the more it was hammered in by some sort of imp, and yet if he stopped to run it began to drill in, shake his head. Best to pretend it wasn't even happening. Best to ignore it.
    The blur began to make more sense, to acquire all the grit and filth again. People began to rise from their seats, drones pre-programmed to do this by mere habit. They swarmed out of the automatic doors, and went around their lives. Ants, he thought, they are like ants. It's not an unfair comparison. They go around their lives, performing tasks to service the queen. Who, or what, was the queen?
    He waited for the crowds to die down, and leapt off the train. The tips of his soles touched light and soft against the cold and grey platform. He strode down the platform, watched a man who seemed distant and empty stamp his ticket. He looked into the man's eyes; to him they were focused on a list inside his head, protocol to be followed, things to be checked. After he pocketed the ticket, he walked out into the cold and barren street, and coughed in vain at the smog-filled air that crept into his lungs.
    Something came to him, an image; large hyena-like beasts that bounded around the city, that ploughed into the crowds and chewed at them. The people fled away, like a ripple in a pond, the crests their dashed open skulls. One broke off from the pack, began to run towards him. His knees gave way, and he dropped towards the ground and wrapped himself in his arms, tucking his knees in. He hid his face in the jumble of limbs, and heard the creature's breath above him. His voice became a mere whine, a whimper, within which was a plea, a prayer.
    It came closer, the sound of the creature's breath, until it neared his right shoulder, and then a bite.
    'Young man, are you alright?'
    He lifted his head. To his right stood an old man, sixty at the youngest, who pulled back his finger. The rest of the crowds spilled around them, eyes fixed firm on wherever they thought they were going. He unfurled, and rose to his feet.
    'Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks.'
    The old man did not seem persuaded. 'Are you sure?'
    'Yes. I just... I need to be going. I promised a friend I'd help set her up in her new apartment and look, thanks a lot, er...'
    'Alexander; Alexander Smith.'
    'Yeah, thanks Alexander, I appreciate your concern, but I really ought to be going.'
    His feet drummed out a beat on the pavement as he ran, ran to the source, the source of the pack. He darted around the people on the street, who kept their eyes locked dead centre upon their path of movement. He let his eyes drift around, an attempt to see anyone or anything looking at him. An opening drew his attention, and he stopped beside it, and looked into it. A bare and barren alleyway stared back.
    'There's nothing there, Darren, you big eejit. You can't act on every impulse, can you? Can you?'
    He turned around, and walked back the way he came. At the end of the alley, a solitary figure watched him leave.




A sneak peak at chapter 3  [ Up ]

An aluminium can crushed underfoot; the ends of it wrapped itself around his shoe, and Darren pried it off with the in-step of his left foot. He stooped down to pick it up off the ground, flicked his wrist and tossed it into the bin. Some kids giggled on the other side of road, clustered around a street lamp in the clamy rain of a midsummer's night. Darren noticed the same black and yellow cans in their hands. At times like this his mind shut itself in, ran into the cosy recesses of his brain. The world seemed to become more grey, more worthless, pointless. What a birthday it had been so far!, he thought. His mind threw up something:

Two-a-penny, three-a-penny, one year older;
Another year a wiser, another year a bolder.

and then was replaced with another rhyme, one that froze him to the ground, one that made the back of his lower legs twitch, his feet tense and his palms clenched. It went:

Ring-a-ring-a-rosey, a pocket full of posies,
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

His legs began to leap forward in great bounds, and his mind screamed out one word, a name: Willow!
    Behind him, the giggles of the street lamp kids erupted once more. It was pushed out of his mind by the screaming image in his head. Fifty metres further and already the laughter was a memory, though he was sure it continued. The back of his brain felt ice-cold. A crowd poured out from Rememberance Hall, in front of him; into the rain-drenched street. Somehow he was through it before he noticed it, and yet still the image screamed in his mind; Willow in an agony of indefinite length, ceaseless perhaps. If she's hurt, it's your fault, he told himself, without knowing why.
    He turned left through the gate into the apartments, up two flights of steps and down the catwalk. He paused at the door. What if she's entertaining someone? And you're more than half an hour early? Maybe she's not in trouble, maybe she's not...
    The image returned with full force to his brain, and he kicked to door open.




A sneak peak at chapter 4  [ Up ]

Nathan wheeled the luggage trolley out the green customs channel and out into the country, out into the world he always knew by more than just trashy soap operas and advertisements crammed with mindless drivel. Would that fate befall this cherished place, where he had lived most of his life?
    Lauren walked to the left of him, her arm wrapped in his. He felt the urge to relieve himself increase. In a smooth movement, he drew his lips to her ear, after nudging a few delicate strands of hair from it with his chin. A whisper glided out of his mouth.
    'I'm sorry, dear; I must leave you for a moment, for there are some things a person can't help.'. His lips moved across her cheek, and she in turn brushed her cheek against them. Their lips greeted each other, before they departed in a sigh. They rested their foreheads together.
    'Please don't take too long,', she said. He sensed her worry, her pre-emptive feeling of loss. He glided away, to the nearest bathroom, and locked himself in a cubicle; for 'modesty' as they called it in church on those blistering hot summer Sundays that almost melted the varnish off the pine pews, when the priest recited passages from Genesis as his parents fenced him in, unable to run out and play in the trees like normal boys, even if he worked up the brashness to try. Was he glad? It took a long time for him to realise that he was a normal boy, even if he wasn't in the trees at two on Sunday afternoons. Was.
    He unlocked the cubicle door and moved to one of the three sinks. The water poured onto the soap's lather, washing it down the plug-hole. I can remember almost all of it, he thought, as he squeezed more soap onto his hand. When Jared was one hundred and sixty-two, he became the father of Enoch. His hands dried in a moment under the warm stream of air. The earth was a formless wasteland, darkness covered the abyss.
    The inner door to the bathroom blasted open, by the back of a woman, her legs wrapped around a man. Both were younger than he was. Ripples started to appear around them, and Nathan blinked while he tried to make a quite exit. Hair like strands appeared around them, glowing red and pink, concentrated mainly around their waists. The man fumbled with some coins at the machine the girl was stuck between, and a box popped out. The whole background faded out, and the glow around them intensified. Now the strands seemed more like tentacles, that flayed around in the air, with a fiery orange core to them. Only around their waists did the tentacles join; in other places they seemed forced apart. The serpent tricked me into it.
    The tentacles of the man slowed down from the frenzy, followed by the woman's; Nathan realised he had been staring, staring for maybe three seconds. The man's head swivelled to face him. He began to move towards Nathan. Nathan tried to move, to discover he was rooted to the spot. A blood-red glow issued forth from the man's eyes. The woman became enveloped in a moss-green cloud; still the tentacles waved in the air on some invisible wind. It reminded him of Medusa and the other Gorgons. One look turns you to stone.
    'Stop fuckin' staring at my bird!', came a yell from the man, followed by a sharp pain in his chin. Nathan turned to face him again, and noticed the glow of anger and hate grow within him. It ebbed like the embers of a camp fire, yet ready to reignite again in an instant. The man grabbed Nathan's shirt and pulled it up to his chin. 'Listen, perv; get the fuck out before I make your face a bowl!'.
    Nathan's feet refused to move; in fact his entire body had gone limp, just like that day, on the beach in LA. His head felt light. A part of him wanted to leave, but another part wanted to stay and stop these two. He couldn't explain it to himself, but it seemed wrong, almost an abherration to the intimacy Lauren and himself had. With them it felt as though two halves had come together to make one; with these two, it seemed two came together to make half.
    He felt himself lifted away, heard a cry of 'Right then!', a door swung open, and then what he hoped was the outer door crunching against his back. The last glimpse he had of the couple, and of the shapes, was of the waist tentacles draw tighter as the pair resumed their previous position.
    He pushed himself slowly up, using the door as support. Pain rushed back as did the scenery, and he stroked his spine, as if that would help. He tried to ignore the sounds from inside the bathroom whilst he . The crowds near the exits parted, and there was Lauren; her head high. He moved towards her. As he did so, he noticed her drooped lower lip, and her raised eyebrows that framed nervous eyes. She looked at him. He took her in his arms, whispered in her ear. 'Lauren, what is it?'
    'Willow and Darren. They said they'd be here and they're never late. I can't help but feeling something's wrong with them,', she said, as she drew her head back. Nathan tried to pick some thought out through her eyes.
    'Like they had to go to hospital?'
    'Yes...'. She trailed off. Nathan plucked back his chin, with the attention she payed to it. 'What happened to you, Nate?'.
    He forced a laugh out from between his teeth. 'Funny story. I...I tripped over a wet floor sign after I managed not to slip on the actual wet. It's not showing, is it?'
    Her hand brushed his cheek, cupped it with the thumb stroking his cheekbones. Her hand felt warm, soft and caring; but who was he to share his pain with the woman he loved? His chin didn't sting as it did before; an injured dignity the worst of his wounds. He knew how she worried about him in LA. He had caught her with half-opened eyes, standing in the door-frame of the hotel bedroom. Her gaze rested upon him, and her expression he could only describe as a sigh. That hurt him as much as he could see it hurt her.
    He saw that sigh again on her face, and she said: 'Okay, Nate.'


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