For your reading pleasure, I’ve dug out a short thriller that I wrote back in 2002. Using the utmost restraint, I’ve copied it as it was originally written and resisted the urge to edit or make alterations; trust me, I wanted to! There’s a lot I’d do differently now, but it has a rough charm to it which I’m reluctant to tamper with. So you’ll simply need to put up with the filler words, hackneyed phrases, and my zealous use of the word “tried”. It was fun to revisit this old piece, especially when I see how much I’ve developed over the years. I hope you enjoy it, warts an’ all.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I tried to open my eyes again, but it hurt my head too much. I could taste blood and dirt inside my mouth. I moved to spit but the crushing pain in my jaw caused me to whimper. Bloody saliva dribbled down the side of my face from swollen lips. I was lying down? What the hell had happened to me?
I remembered being in the bar… Sylvia’s birthday. I remembered leaving with Rob, and then we parted ways at the corner of Frederick Street, then… then… Then what? I couldn’t remember! The dull ache in the back of my head spread across my skull and I felt myself spinning uncontrollably into darkness.
The sound of distant music brought me hurtling back to the threshold of my consciousness. Was that Glen Millar? I heard an agonising moan that sounded nearer. Realising that I had made the noise, I forced myself to mentally pull from the grip of the limbo that had so strong a hold. I strained once more to open my eyes, mustering all of my strength to combat the excruciating pain that I knew was to come.
It wasn’t bright, but my eyes stung and started to water, causing me to blink several times before I could even consider trying to focus on my surroundings. I brought a hand up to the back of my skull and held my breath as I tentatively placed my fingers to my crown. The sensation fo touching the sticky matt of hair did not in any way detract from the sharp jolt of pain that shuddered over my whole body, causing my arms and legs to twitch in protest.
I had a sudden flash of being in a dark street, a tall, well-built man approaching me, asking for the time, his voice deep and well spoken. I go to look at my watch, then suddenly he strikes out, his fist connects sharply with my jaw and I am knocked to the ground. He advances upon me, I am hit from behind…then…
I looked around the unfamiliar room, my fear mounting as I did so. I slowly dragged myself to a sitting position on what appeared to be the base of a single bed. I looked down to where my head had been and in my rising panic I swallowed back the scream that rose in my throat. The dark patch of dry blood on the rough, grubby blue fabric told me that I must have been unconscious for some time.
The room was small, damp and bare, lit by a bare bulb hanging dangerously low. The walls were a dirty rust colour and appeared to have been stripped of paper. On closer inspection, I saw that they were in fact soiled from rising damp and were decaying. The floor was covered with rotten underlay, and here and there were patches where it had disintegrated completely, exposing the dirty planks beneath. The room smelled musty, like old damp clothes and newspapers. On the opposite wall there was a small window streaked with dirt. It was impossible to tell which side of the pane was filthier. Outside was pitch black, no orange glare from streetlights, no lights from other buildings, no indication of what time it was. Come to think of it, I didn’t even know what day it was. I felt the sobs rise in my throat and I whined like a child, unable to control myself. What the fuck was going on? Where was I? What the hell was I doing here? Who did this to me? I want my Dad…
The music continued to float through the walls and I recognised it as Moonlight Serenade. It had been a favourite of my Grandfather, but the fondness of the memory did little to soothe my nerves, and the melody took on an eerie quality that made me shiver. I was overcome with the notion that something terrible was about to happen. I swallowed back my tears and looked toward the doorway across the room. I strained to stand up, and walked unsteadily towards it. Reached out my arm and turned the handle. It was locked. I vainly tried to push against it but I knew even as I did that there was no point. Trapped. I looked up at the window. It was high, but if I could reach it there was a good chance that I could squeeze out of it. I realised how crazy this idea was, as I had no idea how far from the ground I was, but I would scale the building if I damn well had to. Anything was better than waiting to see what was on the other side of that door.
I crossed the room to the window, trying to step as quietly as I could, for fear that any noise would raise alarm to unwanted company. My sand as I realised that I would never reach the latch without the aid of something to stand on. I looked towards the bed. It was my only hope. I hastily moved back across the room and tried to drag the light plywood toward the window as quietly as possible. It made a couple of dull thuds as I tried to lift one of the legs that had caught on the tattered underlay. I bent down to try and detach the material from the bed leg.
“Looks as though you have a bit of a problem there.”
I froze. I recognised the voice as the one that had stopped me in the street. In two quick steps he moved toward me and grabbed me by the hair at the back of my head. I howled in agony as the pain from my fresh wound shot through my body like a bolt of lightning, which caused me to lose my balance. He flung me face down on top of the bed. I cried out, desperately trying to pick myself up. I succeeded in turning onto my side and I looked up at the dark figure. It was hard to make out his features as the light was behind him. He loomed over me, yet he did not reach for me. He just stood there, looking at me.
“What the hell do you want from me?” My voice trembled as I backed away from the large figure towering above me.
“Your father has something of great importance to us. We decided to take something that was equally as valuable to him,” he drawled.
My eyes widened as I stammered, “I’m- I’m a hostage? But- but we don’t have any money!”
He chuckled menacingly. “I don’t care.” Then, in a low whisper, he leaned toward me, his face so close I could feel his breath on my cheeks, “Who said anything about a hostage?”
A strange sensation flooded through me and I balled my hand into a fist, bringing it up sharply, connecting with his groin. He doubled over and I sprang up and ran toward the open door. I cried out as I felt his arms wrap around my body, my own arms trapped beneath his crushing grip. I kicked wildly, causing him to stumble backwards, crashing down upon the small plywood bed base. There was an almighty noise as the bed broke and we both landed on the floor. He lost his grip for just a second. That was all I needed. I elbowed him in th ribs and rolled off his body and grabbed a broken plan from the bed. Hauling myself up, I swung and hit him across the face with it as he tried to sit up. The wood made a slapping noise as it met with the side of his head. I frantically repeated the action several more times, screaming like a wild animal as I did so, in a blind fury, not stopping until his face was battered and dripping with blood. I then kicked him as hard as I could in his crotch, and he groaned loudly as he fell backward, landing on the floor with a loud thud. That was my cue to get the fuck out of there.
I ran as fast as I could from the room, still carrying my makeshift weapon. I saw the front door at the end of the small hallway and made a beeline for it, hoping that no one stopped me on my way. I fumbled over the lock, frantically looking over my shoulder to make sure that I wasn’t being followed. I flung open the door and ran out onto a brightly lit landing. I had lived in Edinburgh long enough to recognise the badly painted walls and the foul stench of urine – a council block. I ran as fast as I could, the pounding of my feet echoing loudly as I passed several doors that I knew would never open to me, no matter how loudly I knocked or screamed for help.. I finally found a lift, and I pressed the button wildly, as if repeating the action would make it arrive quicker. I looked over my shoulder. I was not being followed… yet. My heart was thumping loudly, hurting my chest, the years of smoking taking their toll. The doors opened and I jumped into the lift, pressing the ground floor button, trying to catch my breath. The doors closed in time for me to see Him stagger out of the doorway at the other end of the landing.
As the lift took me down I shook violently with sobs. Dear God, please, please let me live. If I get out of this I will never doubt your existence again and I promise to be a good person. Please, please, please!
I must have been on one of the top floors, as the lift took a good minute to reach the ground floor. As the doors opened I held the piece of broken wood up high, and it shook in my trembling hands as I slowly stepped out of the lift. He was nowhere to be seen. I ran crashing through the entrance doors out onto the street and kept going.
I looked about as I ran, relief washing over me. I recognised my surroundings. I was in Dumbie Dykes. No wonder I hadn’t seen anything from the window of my small prison. Directly behind the housing scheme is Arthur’s Seat, and extinct volcano that looms so high it can be seen from most points in Edinburgh. It was also slap-bang in the centre of the city. I ran out onto the main road, and as if my prayers had been answered, I saw the yellow light of a vacant taxi. I ran out in front of it, waving my arms wildly. The cab screeched to a halt, and I ran round to the door and jumped in.
“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?” the cab driver asked, as he turned to stare at my battered face.
“I was attacked,” I managed to say between gasping for air, “Take me to the police station…”
“Nah, no way. I’m taking you to the infirmary, I’ll notify the police on the way.”
“Please,” I begged, “He’s still after me…”
The cab driver needed no further prompting and swung the cab around and drove toward the hospital. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re going to be all right. You’re safe now.”
“I hope so,” I whispered, then slumped back as I fell into unconsciousness.
Comment on what I would have done differently: All the "trieds" and the "tryings" are awful! The filler words and the unoriginal phrases irritate me also. My desire is to rip this up and cut it down to its suspenseful essence. Removing the unnecessary commas and the repetitions to make a smoother, less cumbersome read, would be my starting point. I don’t like the way I’ve structured the last line. If I was to re-write it now, it would read something like: “I hope so,” the words exhaled in a whisper. I slumped and fell into unconsciousness.
I imagine in another eleven years I’d write it more differently still.