So… I’ve been writing. It’s been about 10 years since I last wrote creatively — proper fiction that is, rather than the telling of stories, which I’ve always done, and will continue to do.
This is my first attempt, and it took about 2 hours to do. I’m under no illusions here; it’s probably not amazing, but hopefully it’s at least ‘good’. Read it, and then read it again. Then, when you’re done, and you’ve thought about it a little, tell me what you think. I am aware that the formatting isn’t ideal, but I’ve tried my best for now (and it will be better next time). I should probably provide a downloadable PDF! Next time; next chapter! Also, if you are reading this in an RSS reader, you probably want to view it on my blog instead.
This is the beginning of a short story — though it could be the middle of a slightly-longer story, but committing to anything more than a short story would probably be unwise, given just how rusty I am!
The beggar flinched as a man sprinted past him and burst out of the backstreet. He raised his hand to make a rude gesture and say something weakly scathing when a second man ran by, clipping the beggar’s outstretched arm, unbalancing him enough to send him careening into a wall.
‘Shit’ the beggar said, his anger quickly deflating. Moments ago he’d been all worked up to insult the first man’s mother, and now… now, a well-dressed stranger was picking himself up off the floor, shaking out the tail of his jacket.
‘What…?’ the man mumbled, nonplussed and exhausted. Picking at a few pieces of stubborn refuse, he turned around to face the beggar. ‘Sorry about that. I was just chasing after him… and now I seem to be covered in…’ he lifted his jacket to his nose to noisily sniff ‘coffee? Why do I smell of coffee?’
‘You knocked over my cup,’ the beggar informed him. ‘But it was cold; don’t worry about it.’
‘I’ll fetch you another; it’s the least I can do.’ He smiled apologetically down at the beggar, already forgetting the damage done to his expensive jacket.
Reaching down to right the spilled cup, he noticed the dog ends of some cigarettes and other assorted jetsam in the cold, light-brown slurry the coffee had created. It also smelt a little alcoholic — interesting, he thought, that a beggar could afford such luxuries. Shrugging, he stepped out of the alley and looked around for his friend.
‘Gabe?’ he shouted, waiting for a response. When none came, he bent over to catch his breath. With his head between his legs he could see that the beggar was gone.
‘Anthony!’ Gabriel called from the doorway of a café further up the street. ‘Over here!’
Slowly straightening himself, Anthony began walking down the cold, cobbled street, fighting back the cramps and the exhaustion. In those 100 yards to the café, Anthony wondered how he’d ended up here, in the middle of a deserted street. A deserted street in a small English town; a town seemingly so far removed from civilisation that it didn’t even have street lamps.
He stopped at the bright entrance to the café, smiling wearily at Gabe who was sitting down at a table, already nursing a hot cup of coffee, his favourite. Smiling, after everything they’d been through. It was that infectious enthusiasm – that ready, cheeky grin – that had dragged him, kicking and screaming, along for the ride. Yet again he had been reeled in by his enigmatic friend to set off on another reckless flight of fancy.
‘Perhaps ‘friend’ is too strong a term,’ he muttered remorsefully to himself as he stumbled across the cheap plastic flooring and slumped into the chair opposite Gabriel.
Catching the eye of the only waitress – the owner – Gabriel quickly another coffee.
‘You know I don’t like coffee, Gabe.’ Anthony sighed; they’d done this dance before. It felt like they’d done this very same dance in every damn café in England. ‘Tea. I like tea. Well brewed tea, with a little milk. Tea.’
‘I’ll convert you eventually, trust me,’ Gabriel said with a grin; that same grin that Anthony had seen all too often. Through America, Ireland and now England it had been that grin, accompanied by his unerring, unswerving confidence that had secured the information they had so desperately sought and fought for. It was the same information that had led them, ultimately, to this dingy, Formica-tabled café. Anthony nodded a thank you at the old, wrinkled owner of the café as she retreated back behind the counter and lifted the cup of coffee.
‘You know, I won’t enjoy this,’ Anthony said wryly, the slightest trace of a grin forming at the corner of his lips. He couldn’t help it – there was something about Gabriel, of that much he was certain; he just didn’t know what. They’d done this dance before, and every time Anthony had ended up grinning like a fool and drinking the damn coffee. He lifted the cup to his lips and sipped it quietly. ‘It might taste like shit, but right now – and don’t quote me on this – it’s just what I need.’
‘It couldn’t be helped, Ant. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.’
‘It’s always avoidable! And Gabe?’
‘Yeah?’ He was still grinning; grinning like some kind self-righteous imp.
‘Don’t call me Ant, you know I hate it almost as much as I hate this coffee,’ he stated hotly, before gulping the rest of it down with a grimace. ‘You said this time things would be different. You always say that though; I shouldn’t be surprised…’
‘Look, Ant. Anthony. We got what we needed! Surely, in the grand scale of things, that’s all that matters.’ It was a statement, not a question. Anthony had been here before; he’d heard it all before. Same shit, different town – and the same coffee.
‘We didn’t even go back to check on the kid…’Anthony gently reminded him as he looked down into the dregs of his coffee, unable to look at his friend. Through the corner of his vision he saw Gabriel’s grin quickly fade and his brow furrow. He was actually sad; an emotion Anthony had seen in Gabriel’s face only a handful of times since they were kids. Gabriel gently put down his coffee cup and reached into the pocket of his leather jacket for some money. He was already grinning again, by the time Anthony looked up, but not quite so broadly.
‘I’ll pay for both of us,’ Gabe said eagerly, as if that would somehow make up for the atrocity that Anthony and Gabriel had just perpetrated. Anthony nodded; he was still too numb from what had happened less than an hour ago to argue. He reached into his jacket, and touched his fingers gently to the wound; it was warm and sticky. The bleeding had started again.
‘I must’ve torn the stitches back in the alley,’ Anthony said quietly, wincing as his fingers continued their exploration. ‘Why did you have to run? Running draws attention; that beggar –’
‘Because we had to get away quickly. Trust me,’ Gabriel interjected, quickly rising to his feet and striding over to the door, his enthusiasm fully restored. Gabe opened the door and a siren could be heard in the distance; he grinned. ‘We should get going, Ant’
‘Is that a fire engine?’ Anthony asked, alarmed. Fragments of the last hour were bubbling up from the groggy depths of his memory, ready to be freshly analysed. Slowly he pieced them together to form a complete vision; a vision that he immediately regretted seeing. He gaped at Gabriel, aghast at what his friend had set in motion.
‘I told you, we should get going.’