Tuesday, 30 December 2008

The Root of All Evil #2

The smell followed the man onto the train, a sharp metallic odour that clung to his body as intimately as his own shadow. A black smell edged with silver.
Elaine Randolf, who was sitting in one of the window seats reading a book, glanced up, disturbed by his arrival, and peered out at the man from beneath the heavy fall of her fringe. A druggie, was her initial thought. Just my luck. Closely followed by: He smells how that Charlie Brown character (Pig-Pen?) looks.
The man stood just inside the doorway. An expression of indecision on his face as he looked first to the right, then to the left, eyeing up the carriage; empty apart from Elaine.
He was slightly taller than the norm. Lean. His dark hair parted in the middle and falling to his jawline in lank rats tails; a couple of wayward strands hung across his face. He was dressed in a black donkey jacket and jeans, scuffed work boots on his feet. In his right hand he was holding a navy blue sports holdall, a white Nike tick on its side. He looked like he hadn't slept in days. And if he had, thought Elaine, then by all appearances he had slept in his clothes.
But it was the man's eyes that caught her attention.
They were tainted with confusion. Troubled.
There was no other word to describe them. Elaine had come across the word countless times in the books she read so avidly...but had never thought it could be applied so fittingly to someone that lived in the 'real' world. How wrong she'd been.
This stranger's eyes were haunted, and if she had to hazard a guess, she would guess the ghosts that did the haunting were mean ones, with sharp claws and even sharper teeth. In the same instant she realized what the smell was. It was fear. The stench of human fear. And as the man began to walk towards her - following the path of his dark haunted eyes - she knew her own eyes had grown big and wide. Saucer eyes. She dropped her gaze back to the book on her lap, and prayed silently. Please God let him pass me by. Please don't let him sit near me.
But of course she knew it was only in stories that prayers got answered, so of course, just as she knew he would, the man stopped at her shoulder. His voice was dog-weary when he spoke. Spent. "That seat taken?"
Without lifting her eyes - her saucer eyes - from the pages of her book, Elaine shook her head; not trusting herself to speak.
The man sank down into the seat opposite her, his bent knees inches from her own. From behind the fall of her fringe she saw him drop the sports bag to the floor and kick it with the backs of his heels until it was half hidden beneath his seat. The bag nestled between a couple of stubbed out cigarette ends and an empty paper Coke-a-Cola cup; a bent straw poking up through the plastic lid.
A heavy silence descended, broken only by the whine of the train as it picked up speed.
Elaine stared down at her book, pretending to read, but all the meaning had gone out of the words. After barely two minutes had passed she could resist it no longer, and looked up.
The man had relaxed back against his seat, eyes closed. His forearms rested on his lap, his hands - swaying slightly from the motion of the train - hung down loosely between his thighs. His breathing was slow and heavy. Now that his eyes were shut, all expression had slipped from his face, and Elaine was surprised to realize he was younger than she had at first supposed. He appeared no more than twenty-one or twenty-two. Just a couple of years younger than herself. What on earth could have happened to this dark young stranger to have troubled him so deeply? Well, she guessed that was a question she would never know the answer to.
She gave a breathy little sigh and relaxed back against her own seat, staring out of the window at the passing scenery. Dusk had fallen and all outside was drab and grey. She would be glad to get home to a mug of coffee and her cat, Bocelli. Only two more stops to go. She let her mind drift, lose itself in the labyrinth of her thoughts, only to have her reverie broken minutes later by the train coming to a halt at the first of those two stops. Sittingbourne.
The man opposite her sat up straight as the train came to a standstill. He run a hand through his hair, making it stick up for a moment in crazy spikes before the weight of it once more pulled it down around his face. Without further ado he leapt to his feet - jarring hard against Elaine's knees as he did so - and headed for the doorway. Elaine watched him go, rubbing at her bruised legs.
A young man with the pressure of the world on his shoulders.
She frowned.
Something was wrong with the picture of him leaving the train. Something was missing.
His bag.
She leant forward, grabbed hold of the handles and pulled the holdall towards her, rising to her feet at the same time. She flopped back down. The bag was heavier than she'd expected. What did he have in there? The crown jewels? Her frown deepened. She pushed the thought hurriedly away and got back to her feet.
The young man was just stepping down onto the platform. He still had one foot on the train and one hand was still gripping the metal pole beside the doorway, when she called out.
"Hey - you forgot your bag."
The man froze.
In ultra slow motion he turned towards her. If Elaine had thought his eyes were haunted before, she had been mistaken. They were not haunted. They were possessed.
Possessed by the undead spirits themselves. As she watched, the man's face drained of colour, leaving his skin a ashen corpselike grey. He started to shake his head, small barely perceptible movements at first, then stronger and faster. His lips formed the shape of one word - No. The word seemed to spur him into action. He scrambled from the train, almost tripping over his own feet in his haste, regained his balance, and set off along the platform at a shambling run. He did not look back once.
Elaine stood in the aisle of the empty carriage with the stranger's bag in her hand and watched him go.
Her eyes were once again as big and round as saucers.

She was five minutes away from her own stop when Elaine decided to open the bag.
It hadn't been an easy decision to make, but in the end good old human curiosity had taken over and made the decision for her. She reached across, grasped the small metal tag of the zipper between her thumb and forefinger and pulled it open.
The bag was stuffed with money.
Five and ten pound notes.
Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.
She quickly zipped the bag up again, fingers shaking now and her heart hammering against her chest. From the fiery heat radiating from her face, she knew she had gone bright red.
"Oh.My.God." She said aloud.
Where the hell had it all come from?
Stolen. It must be stolen. That's why the young man had wanted rid of it. The police were most probably hot on his heels. Following right now.
Elaine actually turned her head and looked back over her shoulder, certain she would see a burly police officer striding up the aisle towards her, handcuffs extended, truncheon raised - did the police even carry truncheons these days? - but all that stared back at her were row upon row of empty seats.
She'd have to hand it in. as soon as she got off the train she'd have to hand it in.
She shook her head.
That was no good. They'd ask questions...and her fingerprints would be all over the holdall by now.
Besides - said a sneaky inner voice - apart from the guy, who knows you've got it?
Elaine felt her face grow warmer still.
She couldn't.
Could she?
Of course you could. Some of it at least. Test the water. Spend a bit. See what happens.
Elaine shook her head again, but not so vehemently this time.
Maybe she could.
Test the water.
So to speak.
But the bag? The police might be looking for the bag.
Swap it then.
Elaine looked across at her own bag sitting next to her on the other side of the seat; a big roomy cloth bag, one she'd bought from Accessorize so she'd no need to use environmentally-damaging carrier bags. It looked plenty big enough.
If you're going to do it, you need to do it quick. Your stop's coming up.
Elaine didn't need to be told twice.



laughingwolf said...


happy new year to you and yours :D

Akasha Savage said...

Thanks laughingwolf. Happy New Year tp you too! ;)

Stewart Sternberg said...

You have talent woman. However, allow me to suggest not publishing more on the blog. Instead, send it out. Publishers often consider this first electronic rights and will not accept a work that's been blogged.

Your writing style has flare and drama. I think urban fantasy suits you. I'd suggest a wee bit of economy, but after fighting with Rick Moore lo these last few years and getting nowhere with him on the topic, I'll back down from that.

By the way, "The smell followed the man onto the train, a sharp metallic odour that clung to his body as intimately as his own shadow. A black smell edged with silver."...if I were reading that in a Dresden or Hamilton novel, I'd run for my popcorn and hunker down for what I would be sure to be a good time.

Oh..and here's to the new year. All of us.

Akasha Savage said...

Aah..thanks Stewart for your wonderful comments.
I sometimes feel a bit torn between the devil and the deep blue sea! Not knowing what to do. In true writerly (is that a word?) fashion, I never really think my writing is good enough for publishing consumption...although that said, I did particularly like this story.
Perhaps I should chance sending it somewhere....

Chris Gough said...

Flows well and is an interesting concept. Couple of points that jarred with me a bit:

the smell- he seems to be some distance from her but she can smell him?

I'd change the Pig-Pen reference cos a lot of people won't get that and you don;t want confusion early on.

It's a bit of an anticlimax the jump from the guy leaving the train with saucer eyes to the next line of her opening the bag. Perhaps she needs to sweat over the conflict of opening it or not a bit more. Also seems like he just disappears - I think you need that last second look. Also, and this is a biggie, forgetting a big bag of money is a difficult one to believe - suspension of disbelief is tested a bit here! Not sure how to get around that but you might want to come back to it at some point.

sheoflittlebrain said...

I'm hooked! Before changing anything, you might want to submit it the way you wrote it to see what an editor might say..I would bet that most people know who Pig-pen is and if not..why would they stop reading?..and the "forgetting" of the bag of money gave me a clue as to scary things to come..I'm already saying, "No! Elaine! Don't open that bag!"

JR's Thumbprints said...

I agree with Sternberg on one point: You definitely have talent. As for blog post, first electronic rights, and publishing in general, when you're posting part of a larger work you needn't worry about this. I know of several writers who have published in literary journals after starting their short story or creative nonfiction piece on a blog. I hope you have a great New Year!

Oh, one more thing: My only criticism (or should I say: what I thought when reading this piece) is - Why didn't Elaine throw the bag to him? After a second, more careful reading, I see you covered your bases. He wasn't quite off the train at that point. Again, good stuff. I can't wait for more.

Akasha Savage said...

Thanks for all your comments. Let me answer what I can...

Chris Gough - believe me, he smelt so strong she could smell him!...and I agree with sheoflittlebrain...I'm laying a bet most people know who Pig-Pen is. Also, he didn't forget the bag - he didn't want the bag! - as to why, that will be answered in the second part of the story - which I will be posting pretty soon. Also, I don't know about yourself, but I, as a writer of dark fantasy, don't want to merely suspend disbelief...I want to shatter it...push it to the limit!

sheoflittlebrain - I'm glad you liked my tale, and I will be submitting it just as it stands. Over the years I have hardened myself somewhat to others 'advice';there is no way you can please all of the people all of the time...so now, mostly, if I'm happy with a piece of work, that's how it stays. :D

JR - thanks for your comment...especially about on-line rights...that's so a grey area with me. Incidentally - the bag was pretty heavy, not sure if Elain could have thrown it if she wanted to! ;)

Rick said...

Hello, Akasha, and Happy New Year! You're off to a rousing start with this story. Nice work.

Would you mind if I did a few edits on it as a Word .doc and sent it back. Most of it will deal with playing to your strengths, which are many, and seeing edits that will re-enforce that. Let me know if it's okay with you.

Alis said...

Hi Akasha - definitely looking forward to seeing how this one pans out...
Looks like you've got a great bunch of people commenting and critiquing here - nice one!

Akasha Savage said...

Rick - that would be so cool, can't wait to see what you do with it! :D

Alis - I've made some real bloggy friends just lately, it's so nice getting feedback on my writing. I'll be posting the conclusion of this story tomorrow. x

Ello said...

you are so awesome at this! Why don't you have a book out yet?!!! I love reading your writing. You always hook me so badly and I'm itching to know what happens next. Hurry up already!!!

Vesper said...

Wow, really excellent, Akasha! The writing, the rhythm, the mystery... everything! I'm very much looking forward to the second part.

Happy New Year!

Akasha Savage said...

Ello & Vesper - hello you two! The next part is been posted right now!! x