Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sample Sunday - Nowhere To Go

I came across the idea of Sample Sunday on David Gaughran's blog. It's a simple idea: post on Twitter with the hashtag #samplesunday, and link the post to a sample of your work.

At the end of this post is a sample from one of the short stories in my crime collection, Nowhere To Go. It's a few hundred words from the opening of the story which gives the collection its title, and which was first published in print a couple of years ago in Hitchcock's. If you enjoy it, and want to read on, you can find the collection on Amazon (US | UK | DE) or on Smashwords. For a full sample short story check out the Derringer award-winning short One Step Closer, which is available for free on Smashwords.



Miller didn’t go out much now, because the more people there were, the lonelier he felt. He hid in his flat, watched TV, read the books that he had borrowed on quick, nervous expeditions to the library.
Sometimes though, he needed to remind himself that he was not alone. That night was one of those times. He had eaten a microwave meal and flipped channels but found nothing to watch that would not leave him either bored or anxious. So he pulled his battered laptop from under his sagging sofa, waited for it to grind into life, and then clicked on his bookmark.

He wandered at random at first: watched the endless press of people through Times Square, blurred streaks of light from car headlights on a rainy Kaiserplatz in Aachen, a solitary cyclist weaving from side to side across a bridge over the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. And then his town, the three public webcams that never showed much of any interest. But it was home, and it gave him a connection to the way that he used to live before the illness, and for a while it stopped the walls of his flat from pushing in too close.

Miller watched taxi drivers talking and smoking outside their cabs while they waited for the next train to come in. A man in a suit sprinted from the pub next to the station, late for his train. Miller clicked back, and then on to the link for the camera that overlooked the pier. Shapes bundled fat against the cold sat in darkness, waiting for the fish. A few feet below them a deeper darkness moved and surged. Miller preferred to watch the pier camera when the nights were lighter. When it was dark like this, the sea almost invisible but always moving, it made him anxious and a little sick. He went back again, picked the last link. This one had only appeared a few weeks earlier. He was not sure why anyone had put a camera there at all, let alone made the feed public. It wasn’t very reliable, sometimes there was a picture, sometimes just a page not found error.

The camera looked out over Burdon Square, a place that people went through, rather than to. A boarded-up Wesleyan chapel occupied most of one side, the short flight of stone steps to its door littered and stained. The wet asphalt of the road glowed orange from lights in the window of an interior design shop. Every few minutes, the light dimmed and changed into a different colour. Miller liked the orange best. Above and behind the shop, a high embankment curved away towards the distant Victorian arches of the station. Miller sat and watched, waiting for the light to change colour, because he had nothing else to do.

A movement caught his eye, something dark against the steps of the chapel. A man was standing there, as if he were looking for something that he had lost. The man turned, looked across the square, and Miller saw what had caught his attention. A woman hurried out of the square, unsteady on high heels, tugging down at the hem of her short black dress with one hand, clutching tight at her handbag with the other. Then there was movement above her, a train passing along the embankment, rectangles of pale yellow light flickering past for a moment, and then one final arc of blue as the overhead power cable sparked. The man took two steps back up the steps to the chapel, as if retreating from the square. A taxi drifted along the far side, slowed. The man stepped forward, raised a hand but the taxi accelerated away again, until it was just red lights, and then it was nothing at all.

The lights in the furniture shop window changed colour, warm orange to a sickly green that turned the air into thick water, deep under the sea.

They came from the alley at the side of the chapel, two of them, not particularly hurrying, walking towards the man. One wore a light coat, one a dark coat, and both pulled their hoods up as they walked. The man took a step out, then back, then stopped, no time any more, nowhere to go.
The figures did not seem to hurry, but they closed the gap very quickly, and then they were on him. One vicious punch to the gut dropped the man to his knees, and then a kick in the face threw him back on to the steps, where he flapped about like a fish just out of the water. Then there were more kicks, a stamp and then another, and then another, like they were trying to put out a fire, and the man on the ground did not move any more, and the two attackers suddenly broke away, drifted down the steps and out of sight, not hurrying any more than they had when they arrived.

Miller sat in horror, hand opening and closing over the mouse as if with one click he could pause time, with another rewind it. But there was nothing that he could do that would change anything. The light from the shop changed from green to red, and the square looked as if it was on fire. Miller took a deep breath, and hurried over to the phone on the kitchen wall. He took another breath and dialled.

He spoke to a calm voice, gave his name and address like a child lost in a store, and then described exactly what he had seen. He told the operator that he thought it best to phone the police first, but that they would need an ambulance too.

“I’ll get them straight there,” the woman said. “Can you tell me sir, is the victim conscious? Please don’t move him, but can you see if he is conscious?”

“I didn’t explain myself well,” Miller said. “I’m not actually there. I saw it on camera.”

“On camera, sir?”

“Yes, on my computer. I’m not a security guard or anything. It’s a public camera. You can watch it. On the computer.”

“Thank you sir,” the woman said, as if she didn’t understand what he meant but didn’t have the time to find out more. “We’ll send someone right away.”

When he went back to his computer, the browser had refreshed to an error page, the camera or the server down, and no matter how many times he clicked refresh, he could not get it back again.


Thanks for reading. You can read the rest of this story in Nowhere To Go, on Amazon (US | UK | DE) or on Smashwords. For a full sample short story check out the Derringer award-winning short One Step Closer, which is available for free on Smashwords.

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