Saturday, 13 June 2015

SWC #2: Strangers

The very fab Ashley from [insert title here] is running a Summer Writing Camp. As a generally inept human I failed to write my story before the closing of round #1, but look, here I am, linking up for #2! To get to Ashley's post, click here.

If you enjoy reading this story even fractionally as much as I enjoyed writing it, you'll enjoy it quite a lot. (I hope you do.) As someone who is writing a novel, I am absolute horrible at short stories these days. I write a few poems, but apart from that it's just novel-novel-novel. My novel:
~ first person
~ historical fantasy setting
~ present tense

This story:
~ third person
~ present London setting
~ past tense.

Do you see? It is really, really good for me to write something other than my novel. So thank you, Ashley!

PS This is a first draft, and also probably contains typos because it's late and I couldn't be bothered to read it through. Don't hate me.


They sat next to each other on the train, still pretending to be strangers.
            Around them, the soft sounds of the carriage lulled the air toward sleep. The train whirred as it ate the miles of hills and fields; passengers read newspapers or paperback novels, or dozed with faces to the windows and headphones snaking from their ears. One of the men, red-haired and tousled, appeared to doze too. Only the man in the seat beside him knew that he was, in fact, utterly alert, and aware of every moving sound.       
            Flicking through the sports page, this man looked like any other traveller who might be going to London on a quiet afternoon when the dust motes swirled in the sunbeams. He was dark, bespectacled, unremarkable. He could be any nameless lawyer or clerk on a business trip; any brother, son or husband seeking an ordinary house in the suburbs where ordinary people waited for him. None of his fellow passengers could know that the wedding ring he wore was unweighted by a vow, picked instead to cultivate the very image they were swallowing whole.
            He flipped out his phone, tapped a few keys. I’m on the train, darling, see you later. Or, Can we moved that meeting to four on Tuesday? So the message he sent might be imagined, had anyone cared to watch. What no one could have guessed was the real line of text:
            She’s in the next carriage.
            He returned to the tennis news. Four minutes later, the dozing red-headed neighbour no one would have imagined he knew extracted his own phone. He scanned it briefly, allowed a small smile. Can’t wait to see you, one might have though it read, or You’ll be in London tonight? Fancy a drink? In truth, his sliver of smile stemmed from a different breed of anticipation. He was letting the man beside him know that yes, of course, he knew exactly the next carriage’s personnel. He was feeling the power that threaded his veins, the familiar warmth in his palms. He was thinking that it had, indeed, been far too long since he last fought a shadow eater.
            When the train reached Euston he appeared to be napping again. The dark-haired man folded his newspaper and stretched, pulling a briefcase from the overhead rack. He did not look at his red-haired neighbour, who was blinking and rubbing his eyes. Why would he? They were strangers. They stepped onto platform eight and were separated by the shifting crowd.

A woman in a long black coat checked her perfect make-up in a compact mirror as she moved through the station. If one had looked closely, they might have noticed that shadows swirled beneath her feet, darker than they should be and moving as if they were alive. She was a shadow eater, the most dangerous of bloodsuckers. She fed on darkness, calling the worst emotions of those around her and multiplying them. Only when her victim collapsed, shivering with despair, did she move to kill like the vampire she was. There were not many of her kind, but they were deadly.
            She passed the red-haired man, standing reading the train board, with no glance to spare. Her gaze was fixed ahead: on a boy, maybe nineteen, hands in his pockets, leaving the station. One might have noticed, as she followed, that his shadow seemed to darken, and flecks flew back to join her own. He frowned, turned up his music.
            The dark-haired man was buying a cup of coffee when she walked by. He rooted around for change, not looking up to see his train companion walking quickly from the station.
The teenage boy turned left, heading toward Trafalgar Square. His shoulders were hunched and now memories flew, unasked for, to his mind: the disappointment of his mother as she asked for his exam results. His younger sister crying as she came home from school. Clutching his drink as he watched the girl he’d wondered if he loved, entwined with a boy she’d met two hours ago at a party. He quickened his step. The woman quickened hers.
            The ginger man followed fifty yards behind, with the walk of one purposeful, but not rushing. In Euston station, his colleague would be paying for his coffee, maybe buying a sandwich. The man threw a coin to a busking violinist, smiled at some street performers. He loved London.
            The boy was slowing now, wondering if he could face the friend he was supposed to meet at the bar. His fists were clenched, his heartbeat increasing. The thought of seeing anyone made him feel sick. He didn’t want them, as every worry and doubt, every betrayal or cruel word, rushed to the surface. He turned into an alley and pulled his earphones out. His head was pounding. At his feet his shadowed seemed to be rippling, and looked too black, but of course that was stupid. He’d always been stupid, a loud voice in his mind told him, and never good enough …
            The woman entered the alley behind him. He glanced around, looked away, face burning. He was sweating. He could never be attractive; every beautiful woman loathed him. The girl he knew he loved – stupid, he was, and pathetic, falling in love – despised him. Why had he imagined he had a chance? He bent over, a physical ache filling him, and sank to his knees.
            His shadow streamed towards the smiling woman. She took a step, then another. Then felt pain slam into her side.          
            The red-haired man beamed light from his palms. It caught her, seared her, before she mustered her defences; then her shadows snapped around her and lanced towards him. He dodged the first blow, caught the second in the shin. They circled, deflecting white beams and black swirls. On the ground the boy did not look up, knowing, somehow, that he mustn’t.
            Shadows writhed from the woman and the ginger man danced away. The sent out stream after stream of light but she blocked each one, backing him toward the wall. A shadow sliced his ankle and he gasped with pain. For a second his defences fell and she smiled as she pulled at his own shadow. Misery loomed in his mind; he fought it down. A beam of light hit her shoulder.
            He pushed away from the wall and now they parried back and forth, sweat gleaming on both their brows. He drove her up the alley. His teeth were clenched. His muscles streamed with the strain of defending from both her physical blows and her attack on his mind.           
            His foot caught a cobble and he stumbled. She smiled a smile that tasted victory.
            “I don’t know why you mages bother,” she said. “You can’t win. And the mortals aren’t important … You think you’re noble, but you’re fools. You getting involved only means that I’ll feed twice tonight.”
            The man did not reply. He fought on, allowing himself to flag slightly. Nothing to make it obvious; just enough for her to think that she was winning, to let her play with him. She smiled as she deflected his light beams. She was still smiling when the dark-haired man entered the alley’s other end and slammed her in the back.
            She whirled, gasping, and they closed in on either side, beams flashing against the darkening street. Now she gathered all her strength, whipping shadows from either side, but as she sliced at the dark man she left herself exposed. With a flick of the palm the ginger man placed a beam in her neck, and she crumpled to the alley floor. Her scream was drowned by the shadows that twisted around and over her. They cloaked her in blackness. When they dissipated, her body was gone.
            The white-faced boy climbed to his feet, staring at the two men. He flinched as the one with glasses raised a hand. A soft beam of light flew from it to the boy, and he blinked twice, flooded by relief he did not quite understand.
            “You all right?” one man asked.
            “Yeah, thanks, mate,” he said. He shook his head. “I think I blacked out for a minute there … But I’m fine.” His best friend’s face, smiling, happy to see him, filled with love, flooded his mind. He saw their favourite bar, the music and the red painted walls speaking happiness, and grinned. “On my way for a pint.”
            The boy nodded. “Thanks. Will do.” He whistled as he sauntered away.
            The sky was the pale blue of summer twilight, smudged with the city’s orange light. Street music drifted down the alley, in harmony with the cars and sirens and the nightclubs’ bass. London was coming alive.
            The two men shook hands.
            “Not bad,” the dark one said.
            “Always a pleasure,” the other replied.
            With a nod they turned and departed the alley at either end. The streets pulsed with mortals, joyful in the summer night. Once again the two pretended to be strangers. They were content to move between the crowds of the carefree, those with no idea that they were saving the world, one happiness-stealing vampire at a time.


  1. This was amazing! I love the premise! It struck me as kind of an angels-and-demons type thing. And I love how you used names of actual places in London (I mean, I think, idk anything about London), that gave a really "real" feel to it. This was so cool, good job! ^.^

    Oh also, I finally did that top-ten-fave-book-characters tag! X)

    1. Thank you! Angels-and-demons is pretty accurate, actually, kinda what I was going for.
      Good! I really like urban fantasy/paranormal and I think that evocation of place is so important in books. My WIP novel is high fantasy so I get to make up my own places, which is fun .... but I'd love to write a novel set in our world. Maybe in London. I love London.

      Excellent! I'll be sure to read it :D

  2. This is so cool! I read "shadow eater" and thought, "This just got wildly interesting!" I love the whole concept of the shadow eater. I also liked how throughout the whole thing you still referred to the "strangers" by their hair color. You never once named them which helps seal the stranger thing, and gives rise to the question, "Do they really know each other? Or just somehow work together?" I love it!

    1. I'm glad! I like the concept also. That's something I might look into further. RE the names, I'm glad you liked it! That's what I was going for. I'm really pleased it came through.

  3. Really neat little short! Within the first few lines I felt like I was in the train being lulled into sleep.

    I've really enjoyed getting to read everyone's different takes on this prompt.

    1. Thanks! I'm really glad. I was trying to evoke a sense of atmosphere to contrast with the revelation fo the spies'/fighters'/mages'/whatevers' identities, so I'm pleased that came off.

      I've not had chance to read the others yet but I'm looking forward to it!


Thanks for commenting! :)