The Last Train: Part Three

I hugged my briefcase as we sat down in a corner of the bar. My eyes were no longer drawn to the unusual individuals that were laughing, drinking and chatting. Instead, my gaze was on Maddie, who was now sipping a green drink in a glass that was shaped like a flower.

“Are you sure you don’t want a drink?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I just want some clarity. Why am I not ready?”

“Only you know. But usually it’s fear. Fear of something.” She took another sip and touched her earlobe.

“Why all the questions? Why am I supposed to be ready to answer questions. What does any of that have to do with getting out of here?”

“That’s because this is not a destination.”

“Right. It’s a journey. But a journey to what? Where am I going? Home? Because that’s the only place I want to go to.”

“Yes, but are you willing to get there, that’s the question. You said you were, but you’re not. Otherwise you would be by now.” Her voice had gotten softer, like the melody of a broken song.

“What do I do if I won’t ever get ready?”

She glanced around the establishment. Look around, that’s your answer.”

I swallowed. “You mean, all those people?”

She took another sip.

“But they look nothing like me. They’re not from the same place as I am, right?”

“They were, but just like decorations, at some point it all becomes one with the room. It blends in like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And maybe it is. Maybe it’s survival. Or acceptance.”

“I don’t want to accept. I just want to go home.”

“But is that what you truly want?”

I looked at the ribbon on my briefcase. “I don’t know.”

“Good. Then think about what it means to be home, for you. What needs to be achieved in order for you to get home.”

A short while ago I would have answered: ‘Some bloody good directions instead of talking deer and strange ponds.’ Instead, I uttered the word that had been stuck in my throat for a while and had difficulty coming out: “Forgiveness.”

Maddie grinned an extra mischievous grin. “Then I know our next stop.”

 

“Are we there yet?” I asked after what felt like an hour of walking. All this while my thoughts had taken a seat in my head and refused to leave. I hadn’t even realised Maddie had been whistling a tune. I rubbed my forehead and paused my thoughts for the moment.

She stopped whistling as quickly as she stopped in her tracks. She turned around and took a step closer to me. Personal space was not a concept to her because our noses were almost touching.

“We’re here. Are you ready?” she whispered.

I swallowed.

“Excellent,” she said loudly and dashed backwards. We had reached the bottom of a hill, where a large, broad willow stood. Its branches reached to the ground as if it was too sad to lift them to the sky.

Maddie walked towards it and I followed.

“Knock, knock,” she said and laughed like a hissing cat.

“Not funny,” a voice said.

Without thinking I took a step back. “Who was that? It sounded so close,” I whispered to Maddie.

“Why, the tree of course,” she said.

I cleared my throat. “Of course.”

“Who wants to pass?” The tree asked and out of the bark appeared a face as if someone was pressing it against the wood from inside the tree, trying to break free.

“George wants to pass.” She stepped aside and held out a hand to me.

“George wants to pass.” The tree let the words role of his tongue, his voice low and deep with rough edges.

“May George pass?” Maddie asked.

The tree grumbled something as if contemplating his answer. Then silence returned to the woods. One fly buzzed past me and hovered in front of the tree before doing the same with Maddie.               She kept staring at the tree.

Buzzing.

A breeze swayed the tree’s branches.

Buzzing.

Maddie didn’t blink.

Buzz—she moved her hands forward in a sharp motion and smacked the fly between her hand. When she rubbed her hands together yellow dust fell down.

I was surprised by the fact that I wasn’t surprised anymore.

“Yes. He. May. Pass.” The tree spoke slowly, interrupting any other thoughts I would have had about the fly that turned into yellow dust.

“Excellent. Thank you.” She bowed and tipped her hat before turning to me.

My eyes were still on the tree, whose face had sunken deeper into the bark until it looked like a regular willow tree again.

“This you must do on your own, because only you know what you must do.” She grinned and held out her arm to the path that led up to the hill, where there were no orange trees to light the way.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Do you trust me?”

“Strangely enough I do.”

“Then good luck and I hope I won’t see you again.”

“Wait, so if I succeed, then you won’t see me again?”
“That’s right.”

I shifted my weight on my other leg. “But, then…I mean…”

“Ah, George, will you miss me?”

I cleared my throat. “I didn’t say that, I mean, I just wanted to get to know you more, I guess.”
“Trust me, it will be a good thing if you don’t.”

“Will you be okay?”

“Of course. This is my home.”

“Has it always been?”

“I don’t think so, but the longer I’m here, the more I forget where I once was from.”
“Have you been here long?”

“It feels that way, but time is different here.”

I nodded. “Thank you for helping me.”

“It’s my pleasure.” She bowed to me and winked.

“Take care.” I smiled and started walking up the sandy, dark path as I felt Maddie’s eyes on my back. It wasn’t until I reached the top when I turned around and all the orange trees had gone out below me and there was only a sea of darkness that had swallowed my peculiar friend.

There was a well on top of the hill and the full moon shone enough light for me to see things clearly enough. Like the short grass that surrounded the well and the one flower that stood a few feet away from me. It was a tulip. They had been her favourite.

I walked up to the well, feeling that this is where it would all begin. Or end, rather. I put down the briefcase on the bricked edge and took off the ribbon. Then I placed the briefcase on the soft grass and rested one hand on the cold stones of the well as I leaned forward and stared into nothing but black. It felt like it was staring back at me. And I wanted to see it, even though I also didn’t want to see it.

I let go of the ribbon. “Forgive me.” The darkness swallowed the ribbon but I knew it was still descending, I knew it was getting closer and then I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again I was at home. The home I had lived in with her and I looked at the calendar which hung above the bin in the country-style kitchen. It was that day. Today was that day.

I heard her hum as she came down the stairs, always that same tune, that tune that I had missed so much. I felt the tears well up and blinked repeatedly so I could see her clearly when she waltzed into the room. And when she did I couldn’t help but shriek and run over to her, clinging to her tightly, inhaling her lavender scent and touch her golden hair that reached between her shoulder blades.

“Love, what are you doing? Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice soft and high, laced with the warmth of a crackling fire.

“Yeah, I’m fine, sorry.” I cleared my throat and let her go as I stared into her light-blue eyes that searched mine with curiosity and concern. Her eyes had been the clearest thing about her I’d remembered, I’d see those every night as I woke up from my nightmare.

I touched her cheek. “I’ve missed you.” And I kissed her hard and soft at the same time. When I pulled back there was even more confusion written on her face.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You know I just saw you when I woke up, right?” Her mouth unfolded into a smile and I held her close again.

She laughed this time and I felt her body shake. “What is wrong with you? Did you have a bad dream or something?”

“Yes, you could say that.”

“Well, I’m late for work, so I don’t have time for breakfast and I’ll have to take your car.”

I swallowed and felt like somewhere inside my stomach I was being set on fire. “Err, are you sure that you want to go? Maybe you can stay home and—” my voice trailed off. I knew these words wouldn’t help. This wasn’t a second chance, this was a second viewing. Front row seat. A chance to say what I needed to say, a chance to see it very clearly.

“No, no, I can’t do that. I have a very important day, I told you.” She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. She then grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and tucked it into her bag. “I’ll see you tonight, have a nice day.”

The fire in the pit of my stomach grew wider. “Wait.” I followed her to the door where she had her coat over her arm and my car keys in her hand.

I touched her elbow. “I love you.”

She smiled. “I love you too.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For letting you go, for letting you leave.”

“What are you talking about? You really did have a bad dream, didn’t you?” She frowned and handed me her coat and the car keys. “Hold this.” From her hair wrist she undid a pink ribbon and she bent down next to the stairs where my briefcase was. She tied the ribbon around the handle and stood back up. “There, it’s a lucky ribbon and it will keep your nightmares and worries at bay.” She kissed me on my lips and grabbed the coat and the keys. “Now I really have to go or I’ll be super late.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Sometimes things just happen. It’s called bad luck.” She waved at me before the door closed behind her.

“It’s not my fault,” I repeated and closed my eyes. “It just happened.” The next images that flew through my mind were of the phone call, the hospital, the doctor, the funeral. And finally there was nothing but black around me. My eyes were closed. I lifted my eyelids as they fluttered against the harsh lights of the carriage.

Outside the window was the familiar sign that indicated I had arrived at my local train station. “I’m home,” I yelled with unexpected enthusiasm. I got up and ran out while the doors were still open. It was like the train had been waiting for me. The doors closed soon after I stood on the platform and I embraced the chilly breeze that swept right through me.

Maybe it had all been a dream, I thought as a sigh escaped my lungs. The thought planted roots in my mind as I started heading home but when I stopped at a crossing, I forced myself to look down.

The ribbon was gone.

 

 

THE END

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The Last Train: Part Two

We walked for a whole minute in total silence when Maddie began to hum a tune. She even added a little hop every once in a while. All the while I thought about what I could say to her, what I could ask her, but somehow all the words in my head crashed into each other and became a tangled mess.

We reached a crossroad with wooden signs. One pointed to the right and said: left. And the other pointed to the left and said: right.

I looked at Maddie who had placed her slender claw-like fingers on her chin. “It seems like a riddle, don’t you think? Something that can trick you before your eye can blink.” She laughed like a broken violin again.

“Well, right can mean two things, so I think the sign that says right refers to the correct way.” I paused. “Right?”

Maddie’s lips burst into a smile, this time revealing her teeth as white as bone. “Whatever you say, my friend. Your way is my way and therefore always the right way.”

I curled my hands into fists. “Okay, this is too weird and I can’t take it anymore. I don’t care what happens. I don’t care if you’re a crazy serial killer that wants to kill me, but just tell me where I am, how I got here and who you are!” I breathed heavily and became aware of the red ribbon that danced against my wrist because of the breeze that rushed through these woods.

“My, my, why didn’t you tell me you were scared, I don’t want you to think I never cared.” She placed her hand in front of her mouth. “Oops, once you start rhyming it’s hard to stop.”

“Th—that’s okay. It’s just a little…unusual.”

She grinned. “Unusual is a nice word isn’t it? I suppose that is the best way to describe this place.”

“And what place is this?”

She put her fingers together and started to pace around me. “Well, it’s kind of your place. And kind of mine. It’s like your subconscious is visiting my world. Only it’s not really your subconscious, you are in fact really here. But your part of this world is made up out of your subconscious. And now we get to try and bring you home.”

“Home? So you mean, I can actually get out of here?”

“Most definitely. This world is a journey, not a destination.” Maddie touched the rim of her hat. “The question is, which way do you want to go?” She pointed to the signs.

“Left, because the sign says it’s the right way.”

Maddie’s black, thin eyebrow shot up. “How do you know?”

“It says so on the sign.”

“But how do you know the right way for the sign, is the right way for you?”

“It isn’t?”

Maddie moved her arms to her side and shrugged. “Only you know the right way. I’m just here to keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?”

At that moment a cry came from the woods. Something that didn’t come from a human, nor from an animal.

“From something like that?” I asked.

“Something like that.” Maddie gestured to the left path and then to the right. She held up her hands like a scale and moved them up and down. “Which one is the right one, George?”

“Then we go right.” I turned to my right and started walking in a rapid pace.

“Excellent, the boy has made a choice.” Maddie made a twirl and then dashed after me.

“So why am I here? Why am I brought to your…world, or whatever?” I asked without looking up.

“I don’t know why they come to me, but they all have something untold buried inside of them, something that they need to uncover here.”

I huffed. “That’s ridiculous. I’m perfectly fine.”

The shrubs beneath one of the orange trees rustled. We both stopped in our tracks as I stopped breathing for a moment.

The shrubs rustled and rustled like something huge was trying to come through. I was afraid to speak and held my briefcase in front of my chest. Whatever it was, I would fight it. I would make it—

From the bushes hopped a baby deer.

I let out a short, high-pitched scream out of surprise then slapped my hand in front of my mouth. “Sorry,” I mumbled.

Maddie ran her long finger nail over my cheek. “I like men who scream like girls.”

I frowned and took a side-ways step away from her.

“I need to show you something,” a little boy’s voice said.

I looked at the deer. “D—did you just s—speak?”

“Yes,” the deer said.

“But you’re a deer.”

“No, I look like a deer. But that doesn’t make me one.”

“It doesn’t?”

The deer shook his head. “Follow me.”

I looked at Maddie.

“If he says you should follow him, then you should follow him.”

We both followed the deer off the trail to a small pond and a large oak tree with a door. The deer stopped at the pond and turned to me. “Normal reflections show you the opposite of what is true, but here it shows you the opposite of what is false.” With that statement the young deer dashed off and disappeared between the shrubbery and trees.

I looked at the oak tree and its door, the pond and back at Maddie. “What did the deer mean?” I scratched my head. “Never thought I’d say that in my life.”

“It means you should never look at the surface, but rather beneath it.” She gestured to the pond.

“More cryptic messages, great.”

“Shall I hold that?” Maddie held out her hand as she glanced at the briefcase.

“No, no thank you.” I gripped it tighter.

“I really think you should. You’ll get it back as soon as you’re done. I’ll guard it with my life, if that’s what you want.”

“You won’t do anything with it?”

“Of course not. That would be wrong. You’re my guest. I told you, I’m here to protect you.”

I nodded and pursed my lips. I touched the ribbon before I handed the briefcase over.

Maddie bowed and gestured toward the pond before holding the handle with both hands and standing up straight like she was a guard that wouldn’t let anyone come near me or the briefcase.

This made the muscles in my neck relax as I stepped closer to the pond and kneeled. I looked into my reflection, but didn’t see anything. Just the clear water that reflected some of the light behind me. I leaned in closer and just before I was ready to turn back to Maddie a hand shot up from the water, grabbed me by the face and pulled me in. I tried to scream and flung my arms and legs. Nothing happened and I could still breathe. When I opened my eyes, I was sitting in an office with a sofa, bookcases, a mahogany desk and diplomas on the wall.

A man sat behind the desk. He had glasses on and was bald.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Welcome, Mr. Giovanni,” the man said.

“How do you know my last name?”

“Let’s talk about your problems, shall we?” He grabbed a notebook and pen and leaned back in his office chair.

“My problems? I only have one, really and that’s being stuck in here.”

“Really and what about the ribbon?” He took the tip of his pen and dipped it on his tongue.

“What do you know about the ribbon?” I asked, growing itchier by the second and wishing I had kept my briefcase with me.

“How do you feel, knowing she’s not here anymore?”

“You don’t know anything about it.”

He scribbled something.

“Stop writing, there’s nothing to write. It’s none of your business.”

“It is, because it troubles you so. Sharing is caring. Why don’t you tell me what’s beneath the surface?” His voice was heavy and his eyes light.

I wanted to protest and shout, but instead I blinked a few times and sat back into the sofa. My limbs began to feel heavier. “I don’t now…she’s gone. She left me.”

“Why did she leave you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t remember. She was just gone one day, all her stuff was still there, her scent was still there, but she never came back to me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why.”

“Hmm.” The man scribbled some more. “Are you sure you don’t remember? I think you do, you just have to open that door.”

A door appeared in the middle of the office.

I blinked and stared at it, unsure if it was real or just my imagination. I looked back at the man, but he’d disappeared. The entire office had disappeared and there was nothing but me and that door. The door hummed.

I stretched out my hand and touched the door handle. The door started vibrating and I pulled my hand away. The moment I did I was launched backwards, feeling the cold air around me before hitting the ground but instead of embracing a rush of pain, the ground lowered under my weight and then shot me back up like a trampoline. I waved my arms in the air and somehow managed to land on my feet, but this time the ground stayed as it was.

“Holy hell,” I said. I felt my arms and stomach to make sure I wasn’t hurt and then glanced around for Maddie. She was nowhere to be seen, but the door in the tree was ajar. I walked around the pond and edged closer to the door. My hand trembled as I grabbed the door knob, what would I find this time?

Inside the tree were a few wooden steps that led downstairs to a big place that looked like a bar of some sort. Strings with white-coloured lights hung up on the wooden ceiling and the place was packed with strange-looking people. A woman dressed in a yellow dress with actual flowers at the bottom and butterflies in her hair. She had green lipstick on and her eyes were purple. She winked at me as she passed me.

I scanned the people at a nearby table, taking in the snake that was wrapped around the neck of silver-haired woman when Maddie’s distinct laughter drew my gaze to the bar. She was talking to a man who only had one eye in the middle of his head. My briefcase was placed on the seat next to her. I sighed with relief and dashed towards it.

I grabbed the handle and turned to Maddie. “Maddie,” I said, my voice smaller than I had intended.

She looked up, her eyes widening as she saw me. “George, you made it back. That’s too bad, you seemed like you might be ready.” She took a sip of her drink. “Oh, well, I suppose the journey continues then. First, I’ll get you a drink. You’re gonna need one.”

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The Last Train: Part One

This story was born out of a writing challenge by a twitter friend. I was supposed to write about: a man who catches the wrong train home and ends up in place he has never seen or heard of, an adventure begins…

THE LAST TRAIN

My footsteps sounded hollow on the pavement and I nearly tripped over a loosened tile. Running three days a week had prepared me well for this joyous moment where my boss made me work late and I had to run a whole three blocks to the train station in hopes of catching the last train home.

I ran up the stone steps to the station and rushed through the hall only to crash into an older gentleman. I didn’t even look back at him as I shouted my apology. From the corner of my eye, I only saw his dropped cane.

The train stood by the platform on the opposite side and I dashed down stone stairs, ran and then made my way up stone stairs again. By the time I had reached the right platform, the whistle was blown, the doors closed and to my horror I watched the train drive off, going faster and faster, accompanied by a grating roar.

“Damn it,” I panted and fell to my knees which shot up a pain right through to my thighs. I clutched my briefcase. A red ribbon was tied to the handle and it danced in the gentle breeze of this spring evening.  How was I going to get home now? This was the last train.

I grunted and rose to my feet. A hotel was my only option. I looked up at the darkening sky.

“There’s another train coming,” a male voice said.

I spun around, my heart beating faster at the sudden intrusion of silence.

It was an older man, with a hat and a cane.

“Oh, sir, was it you I ran into earlier? I hope you didn’t—”

“It comes in ten minutes. I suggest you buy yourself a snack. You might get peckish.” The man grinned and revealed a golden tooth among the other pearly white ones. He twirled his cane. It had a rabbit on the top.

“Well, are you sure? I mean, this was the last train according to the—”

“Nothing is fixed, my boy. Nothing is fixed.”

“Right,” I said. Not sure if he enjoyed being rude or if he was simply too impatient to let me finish my…

“Better get yourself a snack, boy. Hunger can’t be stilled with air.” He grinned again.

“Right.” I nodded and walked past him, back down the stone steps, but not before turning around. He was still there, his broad, straightened back towards me. His long coat nearly reached is ankles and both his hands rested on the rabbit cane. He reminded me of a nineteenth century lord that had somehow taken a wrong turn.

I continued down the steps and walked back to the first platform, which held a small kiosk. I grabbed a sandwich and a bag of crisps. How had the man even known I was getting hungry? Probably a lucky guess since it was late and I obviously just came from work. Inwardly I chuckled at my paranoia. When I turned to pay for my food, there was nobody there to pay. “Hello?” I asked. I glanced around and leaned over the counter.

When I walked back out to find someone, the older man on the opposite platform said: “Tick-tock, my boy. Tick-tock.” He took something out of his breast pocket that resembled a pocket watch.

I swallowed and fished my wallet out of my pocket. I placed enough money on the counter before running back the way to the other side of the small train station. The man was still on the platform and didn’t look up as I passed him, instead he stared at his pocket watch.

“Is it coming?” I looked into the distance and saw headlights growing bigger. “Is that it?” I turned to the older man, but he was gone.

“Sir?” I glanced around and wanted to go down the stairs, but the train arrived with squeaking sound. A sound which, moments ago, I was afraid I wasn’t going to hear again on this Thursday night.

The train was smaller than the one I usually took and the sign on the side was turned off. Nothing to indicate where it was going. It seemed this entire train station was switched off and this train and I were the only moving things.

My footsteps sounded hollow as I took deliberate steps towards the metal beast and entered its belly. As soon as I’d stepped inside, the doors closed. The train took off soundlessly and I sat down in the closest seat, by the window.

The train smelt different but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I placed my briefcase beside me and touched the ribbon. It reassured me, because even though she wasn’t there anymore, the ribbon made it feel like she was always with me.

I ate my sandwich and put the bag of crisps in my suitcase. Then I rested my eyes as the stress of the day began to drain from my body.

Five minutes must have passed before I opened them again and by now it was too dark to even see where I was, but the train was slowing down and then came to halt. Its doors slid open and as if to politely kick me out, the lights turned off.

“Hey,” I shouted, as if the train could hear me. The stress of the day came creeping back in as I picked up my suitcase and stepped out of the train.

“Hello?” I shouted and looked around. We were on a platform, but it was small and without signs…or a train station. It was surrounded by grass and tall trees for as far as I could make out.

“Damn it.” I walked to the front of the train to address the train driver, but before I could reach it, the doors of the train closed and it went on its way again, in total darkness.

“Wait! Wait!” I couldn’t run any further because I would have fallen off the platform and since that would still make my day worse I just cursed and kicked the lamppost next to me, which was providing faint light. As I kicked it, the light flickered and then turned off.

I sighed and felt like crying, but instead I took out my mobile and used its light to shine ahead of me. Civilisation had to be close-by, so I followed a narrow, sandy path into the woods whilst humming a tune to drive out the silence of the night.

Eventually I reached a meadow at the outskirts of the woods and paused to look at the night sky, which held little, sparkling diamonds.

Leaves rustled to my right and I turned to shine the light. Nothing. When I turned back to look at the meadow a woman stood in front of me.

I screamed and stumbled backwards, nearly falling over, but the slender hand grabbed my wrist and pulled me forwards before I could hit the ground and make a fool out of myself.

“Thank you, miss.” I shone the light upwards so we could see each other’s faces. My breathing paused for a moment because there was something about this woman. Something quite unusual. She was pretty, perhaps even beautiful, but in her eyes there was something that made you shiver. Not a good kind of shiver, nor a bad, just a shiver.

She unfolded her lips into a smile. “Maddie, please.” Her voice was like the silver of the moon.

“I’m George,” I said.

“George,” she purred. “What a nice name.” She had her black hair pinned up, but thick curly locks sprouted out from under her black hat. Her eyes were a mixture of colours I couldn’t quite make out due to the poor lighting, but they were captivating and just by looking into her eyes I somehow knew what it must feel like for a fly to become trapped in a spider’s web.

“It seems you are lost, George,” she said. “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”

“Y-yes, I hope you can be.” I gripped my briefcase tighter. “I need to get home.”

“Ah, yes. Home. Right you are, for home is where we belong.” She didn’t blink.

“Err, right. Yes.” The older man with the cane popped into my head and the question of whether or not he was a part of this journey balanced on my lips. I decided to swallow it. For now.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“In the woods, I’d say. Why don’t you put that shiny thing away, you never know what it might attract.”

“You mean mosquitoes?”

One corner of her lips pulled upwards. “Besides, you need at least one hand free here. It’s advisable.”

“Oh. I see.” Except that I didn’t really see. But that shivering feeling she brought up in me, prevented me from asking any further. I turned off the light on my phone and slid it back into my pocket. We were now surrounded by the darkness of the night. I could make out her contours and I could somehow see her eyes quite clearly and wondered if she could see mine as well, including the fear that danced behind them.

“It’s dark,” I said.

“It is. But that can be changed. That’s why we have orange trees along each path.”

“Orange trees?” I frowned and became more and more convinced that she was in fact, crazy.

“You just have to clap your hands three times. Go ahead.”

“I have to clap my hands three times and then what?”

“There will be light.” Her laughter sounded like a broken violin.

I gripped my briefcase tighter. “Why don’t you clap?”

“I don’t need the light, George. You do.”

I cleared my throat and glanced around me. The vague outline of trees, but other than that, darkness. The reason people didn’t like the dark was because it hid things and nobody liked not to be able to see what was around them. I touched my tie and put my briefcase between my legs, pressing them close so that nothing could take it away. At least not without me feeling it.

I clapped my hands three times, feeling much like an idiot as I did, but my inner sceptic was silenced when all the oranges in the orange trees along the path, as far as I could see, lit up like bulbs.

“Wow.” I picked up my suitcase and took a few steps forward. The entire path and the trees and shrubbery behind the orange trees were lit up in an orange-yellow glow. It no longer looked spooky.

“Three is a lucky number,” Maddie said as she whirled past me. “Now, let’s get you home.”

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Shadow of a Doubt

In one swift motion Yumi Yoshida turned around. There was nothing to see, the car park was empty except for her Yamaha motorcycle and one dark Mercedes. She heard the sound of a howling dog again. It sounded like it came from the adjoining park. If you could even call it that, it was just trees and a sea of grass stretched out as far as the eye could see. Nothing but total darkness surrounded the car park and the pub she was heading towards.

Yumi turned back and kept her eyes on the pub. She had been here before to check out the place, but she hadn’t yet been inside. The ice cold wind caused her to shiver and she quickened her pace. She could hear the rapid tapping sound of her high heels on the pavement that was still wet from the rain earlier that evening. She brushed her hair out of her face and checked her watch. It was exactly midnight. A few lampposts poorly lit up the car park. From a distance it would seem like the pub and car park were floating in darkness, like a miniscule planet floating in space.

Walking in an empty car park towards a pub that was situated on a hill in the middle of nowhere at midnight may have sparked fear in any woman in her late twenties but not in Yumi Yoshida. She was the kind of woman who could handle herself. She had moved to London from Kyoto when she was ten and ever since she turned eighteen she had been moving around the country doing what she did best.

She reached the back of the establishment and stepped into a red telephone box that was placed at the left corner. There was an old, wet newspaper on the floor with a distorted picture of some child, and the phone was hanging off the hook. It smelled like urine and coffee. Yumi picked the phone up by the cord and took out a handkerchief to clean the phone before putting it to her ear.

A brief moment later she stepped out of the telephone box and walked to the front of the building. She stopped to look inside. It was a small pub with bad lighting. The radio was playing popmusic in the background. Behind the bar stood a middle aged bartender cleaning a couple of beerglasses, she couldn’t see his face. In the reflection of the window, she saw her long, dark hair frame her face. Her long fringe covered her eyebrows and beneath the dark strands she could see her lightblue contacts. She only ever put them in when she had to work.

She stepped inside and smelled fish, chips and grease. She walked straight on to the only other person sitting in the pub. His back was turned towards her. “Is this seat taken?” she asked and sat down without awaiting a reply.

“Go ahead,” said the man and pushed his glasses back. It was a man in his thirties with short, sandy hair and hazelnut eyes. He wore a grey suit with a deep-purple shirt and violet tie. “You must be…”

“I am, Mr. Stone,” Yumi interrupted.

“So, what should I call you?”

“Call me Yami.”

“Is that your real name?” he asked.

“Almost, but the meaning is more accurate.”

“What does it mean?”

“I’ll tell you later. First things first.”

The man nodded and touched his glasses again. “Well, I’m married.”

“They always are. I assumed that’s why you contacted me.”

He looked down at his coffee and moved in his chair. He then loosened his tie before he spoke again, somewhat softer than before. “Her name is Heather and here’s her picture.” From his breast pocket he took a picture and slid it to her side of the table. Yumi picked it up and saw it was a picture of them together, holding each other and smiling, happy and unaware. They seemed so at ease, so at home with each other no matter where they would be. How could it have come to this? There is no such thing as true, unconditional love, except maybe with babies and dogs. She couldn’t help but wonder if it meant that the smarter you are, the less you become capable of loving.

Yumi snorted. The man looked up. “I got it,” she said and wanted to slide the picture back but the man said: “No, keep it. I don’t need it anymore.” He then finished his coffee and they sat in silence for a moment. Yumi was observing him and couldn’t help but think he didn’t seem like the type of man who was capable of doing any harm. Usually she could tell for sure, and if she couldn’t she had time to shadow someone, but in this case everything had gone so fast. It seemed understandable considering the case.

“Do you have many…clients?” he suddenly asked, breaking the silence and interrupting her in her thoughts.

“I have enough,” was her reply.

“Don’t you ever find it difficult? I mean, because you’re a woman…well, I mean…”

“No, I don’t. I’m good at what I do, which means people are willing to pay for something I can give them. It’s that simple.”

“Is it really that easy?”

She just tapped her fingers on the table. It didn’t make a sound though, because she was still wearing her gloves. She narrowed her eyes at him.

He had a frown on his face and was unconsiously tapping his indexfinger on his watch. “Life really is all about money, isn’t it?” His voice sounded gentle. Yumi remained silent. He got up to go to the lavatory and excused himself.

Yumi leaned back and let out a sigh. She still had the picture in her hand and looked at it again. She was actually thankful for the life she had, at least she had the chance to do something meaningful.

After a couple of minutes she saw Mr. Stone coming out of the lavatory and got up. She gestured towards the exit and dropped a twenty pound note at the bar. Then she walked towards the door with Mr. Stone on her heels.

Together they walked past the building back to the car park. Yumi closed her eyes when the cold wind struck against her face. She had kept on her leather jacket and gloves inside, which made the drop in temperature very welcome. “You said both was fine, but I brought cash with me. I figured that would be harder to trace,” Mr. Stone suddenly explained.

“It is,” Yumi said coldly.

He unlocked the car with his key fob as they nearly reached it. Yumi looked around and noticed it was still as deserted as when she had arrived. The car was right beneath a lamppost and when Mr. Stone opened a briefcase in the trunk she could clearly see all the money in it. “Half up front and after, right?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone. That’s correct.”

“Considering what you’re about to do, you can call me…”

“No,” Yumi interrupted. “I don’t want to know any first names. It’s easier that way.”

“But then…you know my wife’s name.” The light of the lamppost reflected in his glasses.

“That’s not a problem in this case,” Yumi answered and walked slowly to his other side.

“You know, you still haven’t told me what your name means.”

“Darkness.”

He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again.

“Why do you want to do this to your wife?”

He grimaced. Not in an evil way, but more like he was disguising his discomfort. He put his hand in his jacket and Yumi automatically reached for her gun. He took out a picture and handed it to her. It was the picture of a little boy. He had brown hair and freckles and his broad smile showed he was missing two front teeth.

“That’s my son. He was from my first marriage.”

“Was?”

“Yes, he died a few months ago. My wife has always treated him very poorly, without me knowing. I was always at work and even though I noticed he was mostly quiet, I thought it was because he missed his mother. But then I found his diary and even though his death was technically an accident, I can’t help but feel she’s responsible. I can’t even look at her anymore and I don’t remember the last time I said more than a sentence to her.”

“So you never abused her daughter?”

“What? What are you talking about? We don’t even have children together.”

“I see. Well, that’s what she told me.”

He looked down and fumbled his watch.

“I’m saying she found out what you were going to do and she wanted to beat you to it.”

Even though it was cold outside, little drops of sweat began to form on his forehead. He was mumbling incoherently.

Yumi closed the trunk. “Don’t worry, I don’t take money from a dead man.”

She saw him tremble. “If you’re going to kill me, just do…”

“No.”

Everything happened fast from that moment on. She’d taken her knife and cut the palm of his hand. Following her instructions he had held his hand over the front seat of his car. He had put his tie around his hand to stop the blood from spilling on the ground. He left his car keys in the ignition and only took the briefcase. It didn’t matter if his wife thought she’d taken the money. Now, he had a chance to start over.

Yumi walked back to the telephone box and dialed the number she had dialed before. “It is done,” Yumi coldly stated.

“I’m transferring the other half now,” the woman said.

“Alright, Mrs. Stone, goodbye.”

Yumi took a deep breath before stepping out in the cold wind. Her black hair moved fiercely in front of her face, dancing. She ripped up the picture of the happy couple and the wind blew away the pieces into the darkness.

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