Stranger than Fiction by Jay Faulkner

Mar 31 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

“Wha …” I screamed as a sudden grip tightened on my shoulder and, as my shoes clattered across the concrete – giving little to no purchase – I was propelled towards the edge of the train station’s platform.

     I struggled, twisting back and forth, trying to grab at whoever was pushing, but couldn’t. One of the heels snagged, in a crack on the concrete floor, before my shoe was wrenched off. My bare foot scraped against the hard surface, skin ripping with a burst of pain but, suddenly, I had purchase. Ducking down, twisting around, I came face to chest with a grey suit. My brain, synapses firing faster than ever before, took in every detail of his form. Six foot tall. Average build. White shirt. Slender tie of a lighter grey. Dark hair. Clean-shaven. No anger, no malice, no emotion at all, on his face. The three-week self-defense course at the YMCA suddenly screamed out at me from the recess of my memory and I slapped out, as hard as I could. His head barely moved to the side. I brought my knee up – hard – into his groin. He didn’t even flinch. Slowly, impassively, he stared at me – through me – with grey eyes that barely seemed to register my existence.

* * *

“I’m sorry,” I faltered, in mid-recollection. “I just still can’t believe it happened to me!”

I winced at the sound of my voice. It made me sound weak. Unreliable. The positioning of the lights in the room meant that I couldn’t see their eyes, not clearly, but I knew what I would see there if I could. Doubt. I mean I felt it myself; I had been through it and even I couldn’t believe it. How could they?

“So you said, Ms. Maycock,” the older of the two men stated, impassively. His voice was calm. He must have sat there, so often, interviewing people just like me. Well maybe not ‘just’ like me; I was a journalist – I interviewed people too. I did it to sell their stories, though. He was a cop. He interviewed people to get the truth. I wasn’t even sure that I knew the meaning of the word anymore. If I couldn’t get a story I simply made the ‘news’ up. Any journalistic integrity I had had died the same day my dreams of writing for the major leagues did; the day I started writing for a dirt sheet that specialised in conspiracy theories, alien abduction and celebrity gossip.

‘The Truth’ was London’s answer to ‘The National Enquirer’ – but with fewer facts per square inch. Nick Flanagan, the owner of the rag, had come up with the name one night after knocking back a few pints. He had thought he was being clever when he dropped the ‘stranger than fiction’ part of the well-known phrase and used it for a monthly newssheet that had as much truth in it as a politician’s promises three days before election.

“Why don’t you start again?” The cop prompted. “From the beginning.” His younger colleague picked up a pen and waited, patiently, as I tried to recall what I wanted only to forget.

* * *

“Guys – and girl, of course” Nick said, with the quirk of his lips that passed for a smile, as he glanced my way, “I am pleased to tell you that we just had our best month on record … and that’s the truth.”

The belly laugh that erupted from him was echoed with lackluster noises from the other two staff reporters at ‘The Truth’, Colin Wright and Jamie Rogers. Nick Flanagan thought that it was the epitome of humour to work the title of his publication into at least one conversation per day; I had heard it too often to even pretend to find it funny. He didn’t notice that, nor that ‘his boys’ weren’t really laughing either. Had he cared for ‘the truth’, after all, he wouldn’t be where he was.

None of us would.

“Circulation is up by seventeen percent and the last issue peaked at thirteen hundred and four copies.” He beamed at the figures and I was reminded of a shark as his teeth flashed. A short, fat and balding shark but a shark nonetheless. It was the small, cold eyes that did it. Even when he laughed his eyes never lit up. Of course he hadn’t mentioned just why the figures had been so good last month, hadn’t mentioned that my story had been on the cover and that it was thanks to me that …

“Linda?”

“Yes?” I hated the smug look on Nick’s face as he realised – correctly – that I hadn’t been listening. “Sorry, Nick, I was miles away!”

“No need to apologise, love,” he glanced at the two men on either side of the table and winked. “Probably thinking of much more important things than our end of month wrap up, weren’t you? What was it then, shopping list?”

“No, I …”

“Don’t matter, love,” he cut me off. “Don’t need to know. What I was saying, while you were off wool-gathering, was that I’m going to take us all out tonight to celebrate. So, why don’t you go powder your nose – or whatever it is you do in the bogs – and let’s go get slaughtered!”

Jamie and Colin jumped to their feet, immediately. It wasn’t often that Nick put his hand in his pocket for anything, after all. We sometimes considered ourselves lucky just to get paid at the end of each month. Even that didn’t happen without the customary moaning about none of us being worth half of what he paid us. I had once looked up ‘tight’ in the dictionary but was disappointed when I didn’t find his photo there. They had their jackets on before Nick had even lumbered his bulk to a semi-vertical position; they wanted to take him up on the offer before his mood changed along with his mind.

“You guys go on,” I said, as I walked back to my desk. “I need to check a few emails first. I might have a lead on something for next month; Dave, the guy that tipped me off last time, says that he may be able to get more – something even bigger, he said …”

“Whatever,” Nick threw back over his shoulder as he led the other two out of the door and stood in front of the elevator. “You can tell me all about it at the pub. Don’t be long, though, or you’ll miss out on happy hour – and after that the next round is on you!”

The door to the office closed behind them as they waited at the elevator and, finally, their voices died out. Leaning back in my chair I quickly typed in the password and watched as the monitor flickered to life, then called up my email.

“Dammit …” I gave the mouse a shake, watching the cursor move contrary to my wishes. As the small arrow continued to dance, aimlessly, across the screen emails started to disappear, one by one. None of the guys were here to do the one thing they were good at – geek stuff – so I resorted to using my own, amazing, technical skills. When slapping the monitor, and shouting at it, didn’t work I bit off another frustrated curse and grabbed the phone. Nick’s number was quickly dialed before I realised that I was listening to silence. I looked into the receiver, as if I would be able to see why there was no dial tone, then was thankful I was alone; I would never have lived it down had any of the guys seen me looking helpless, like a damsel in distress, because I couldn’t get my email or phone to work.

“Oh shit …” The phone dropped from my hand, landing on the keyboard with a clatter, as my face was suddenly bathed in blue light. Even my limited technical knowledge was enough to know that a PC suddenly showing a blue screen, with the words ‘memory’ and ‘dump’ in the same sentence, wasn’t a ‘good thing’. I snatched my mobile phone, hitting the speed dial for Nick, as I hurried out of the office.

“Hi there, this is Nick …”

“Nick, you fuck!” I snarled into the silver Motorola as I hit the call button for the elevator. “It’s Linda …”

“I can’t get to the phone,” his voice intoned, “leave a message after the beep and I’ll get back to you.”

It took me a few seconds to realise that I was about to rant at an answer machine. In all the time I had worked for Nick I had never known him to turn his phone off; day or night he was always ready to take the call that would be, in his mind, a tip on the next big story. The fact that it never came, though, never stopped him. He never turned his phone off.

“Nick, it’s Linda.” I sighed, not really wanting to talk to a machine. “Your cheap-ass computer just ate my emails and then committed ritual suicide in front of my eyes. You had better get someone to get my shit back; I am not willing to lose everything on there! Also, you must have forgotten to pay the phone bill! We’ve been cut off – again – you idiot!”

A small tone rang out as the elevator doors began to open. I started to snap the phone closed but, with a smirk, I brought it close to my mouth again.

“… and make mine a double, you skinflint. If it wasn’t for my story you wouldn’t have the best numbers you have ever seen!” I grinned, stepping forwards. The phone fell from my hand, dropping into the darkness, as I scrabbled for balance. Grabbing the side of the doors I pulled myself backwards, staring down into the empty shaft where the elevator should have been. I heard my phone clatter of something further down in the darkness and then all went quiet. My heart, pounding, was the only sound that filled my ears.

“Stupid. Fucking. Building!” I staggered back from the abyss and watched, shaking, as the elevator doors closed – silently and slowly – as if nothing had happened. Twice, last month, the elevator had broken down but then it had simply got stuck between floors. This was the first time that it had nearly killed someone. Nearly killed me! “Nothing fucking works!”

Slamming open the doors to the fire escape I took the stairs down the three floors and walked out into the January night. My breath escaped in a cloud of vapour and I shivered; I told myself that it was from the cold but I knew – or at least the small part of me that I, big girl playing in a man’s World, normally ignored knew – that the near miss with the elevator had scared the shit out of me. Not literally, of course, but pretty damn close.

Turning left out of the building I hit the button on the pedestrian crossing, jabbing at it repeatedly as if that would make the lights change faster. I saw a lorry approaching but the crossing sign changed to green in my favour and so I stepped out into the road. The scream of tyres, and the blaring of a shrill horn, rent the silence of the night and, as I turned – eyes wide – towards the sound, I saw the grill of the lorry rushing towards me. Shoulders bunched, eyes closed in horror, and I held my hands out, Canute-like, as if by some miracle I could physically stop it from crushing me.

“Wha’ the Hell are ya playing at, ya stupid girl?”

Silence returned. My eyes opened. I was mere inches from the lorry; steam rising from the engine and the tyres. A face looked out from the side window, the most beautiful face that I had ever seen – simply because I was still alive.

“The man was green.”

“Wha’?”

“The man was green,” I repeated, this time with a voice above an inaudible murmur. “The little man on the crossing was green; that meant I could go.”

“Don’t be stupid, lass,” the driver spat down at the pavement. “My lights were green; they never changed. Ya nearly got yaself killed there!” Muttering curses he pulled his head back into the cab of the lorry and indicated that I should get out of his way. I didn’t need much encouragement and was across the road before he could change gear and start the lorry moving again. As the taillights faded into the distance I stood, alone, in the dark and felt my heart pumping harder than ever before. Twice in one night I had nearly been killed. I had nearly died! All I wanted to do was go home, wrap myself up with a hot water bottle, and go to sleep. I knew that, in the harsh light of morning, the guys would laugh at the silly little girl who let two accidents scare her so badly, though. I also knew that, in the morning, I would agree with them.

Looking down the street to the left I realised that I still had a fifteen minute walk to get to the pub. The drop of rain that hit me between the eyes made me turn, instead, to the right and scurry the three hundred feet to the entrance to the Tube station. I never liked taking the Tube at the best of times. Late at night, on my own, and having the sort of night that I was, was definitely not the ‘best of times’. Getting drenched was worse, though, and it was only two stops. I descended the steps, the sounds of rain fading behind me, and moved onto the deserted platform. The faint rumble in the dark tunnel, and the small rush of air that made my hair dance, let me know that I wouldn’t have long to wait for my train. I could almost taste the vodka and coke.

“Wha …” I screamed as a sudden grip tightened on my shoulder and, as my shoes clattered across the concrete – giving little to no purchase – I was propelled towards the edge of the train station’s platform.

I struggled, twisting back and forth, trying to grab at whoever was pushing, but couldn’t. One of the heels snagged, in a crack on the concrete floor, before my shoe was wrenched off. My bare foot scraped against the hard surface, skin ripping with a burst of pain but, suddenly, I had purchase. Ducking down, twisting around, I came face to chest with a grey suit. My brain, synapses firing faster than ever before, took in every detail of his form. Six foot tall. Average build. White shirt. Slender tie of a lighter grey. Dark hair. Clean-shaven. No anger, no malice, no emotion at all, on his face. The three-week self-defense course at the YMCA suddenly screamed out at me from the recess of my memory and I slapped out, as hard as I could. His head barely moved to the side. I brought my knee up – hard – into his groin. He didn’t even flinch. Slowly, impassively, he stared at me – through me – with grey eyes that barely seemed to register my existence.

The wind picked up behind me. The rumble of the approaching train grew louder. I squinted, dust and debris flying, hitting my face, and it was then – as he reached towards me once more – that I realised what was causing every fiber of my being, every nerve in my body, to scream in protest. It wasn’t the fear, it wasn’t the attack, it wasn’t even the knowledge I was about to die. I had hit him; I had kicked him where it should have hurt. The wind blew debris directly into his face, into his eyes, but he never reacted.

He never blinked!

Staring directly ahead, eyes fixed, he reached for me. I felt his fingers scrape across my nipple and, in an absurd moment, it hardened at his touch. Before he could grab me, though, I pulled at his wrist and – with a scream of terror and fury – dropped to the ground, hoping and praying that my momentum would move him.

Curled, foetal-like, face down on the platform, I watched his body collide with the incoming train. Like a meat balloon, he exploded. His blood and viscera drenched me.

* * *

     “… and then?”

I stared at the cop, as if seeing him for the first time, forgetting where I was – briefly – and taking a few seconds to free myself from the gripping fog of memory. I looked down at my hands, knuckles white, as I clenched them hard enough for the fingernails to draw thin lines of blood on my palms.

“And then?” Failing to choke back the laugh, that threatened to become a scream, I let it out in a gurgle of hysteria. “Then I came here so that you guys could have me repeat this over and over again while you look at me like I am mad!”

The door opened and a grey haired policeman peered in, nodding towards the other two. Standing up, lifting the file from the table, one of them walked over and listened as the older man whispered to him quickly before backing out of the room again. Indicating that his young colleague should follow him, the cop smiled.

“We’ll be back in a few moments, Ms. Maycock.”

* * *

“So, what do you think?” Richard Dawson, Detective Constable for all of four months, looked earnestly at his older colleague as the door to the interview room closed.

“I’ve just been told that there have been no reports of any incidents on the Tube tonight, Rich,” Detective Sergeant Andrew Magwood sighed quietly. “I sent someone to check out the address she gave us for the so-called ‘Truth’ of hers …”

“And?”

“There’s nothing there. The building is there, of course, but it’s disused and empty – looks like it has been for years,” Andrew continued. “No trace of the people that she supposedly works with, either. No social security numbers, no birth certificates. Nothing. They just don’t exist.”

“What about the blood?” Richard asked, confused. “She’s covered in it!”

“I don’t know, Rich. It may be an animal’s, it may be fake, I just don’t know,” Andrew admitted. “The initial tests show it definitely isn’t human, though, so we don’t have to worry about her being an insane serial killer!”

“Is that what you think, then?”

“What, that she’s a serial killer?”

“No,” Richard returned, quietly. “That she’s insane?”

“Maybe.”

“So, what now?” Richard asked, obviously concerned. “She needs help, doesn’t she?”

“Now, my son?” Andrew smiled, glancing over Richard’s shoulder towards the older policeman at the front desk. “Now you go and get me a coffee. And don’t worry – we will look after Ms. Maycock.”

As Richard disappeared further into the police station Andrew watched as two men – both six foot tall, both with dark hair, both clean-shaven, both dressed in grey suits with white shirts – entered the station.

Walking to the front desk he glanced at the newspaper they held out towards him. Linda Maycock’s by-line graced the front page beside the headline: “They walk amongst us! Who – or what – really runs the Country?” He handed them his file and, without a single word, pointed towards the interview room.

As they made their way towards the room, moving in silent symmetry, Detective Sergeant Andrew Magwood stared after them.

Unblinking.

– – – – –

Bio:

Jay Faulkner resides in Northern Ireland with his wife, Carole, and their two boys, Mackenzie and Nathaniel. He says that while he is a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer he’s mostly just a husband and father.

His work has been published widely, both online and in print anthologies, and was short-listed in the 2010 Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition. He is currently working on his first novel.

Jay founded, and edits, ‘With Painted Words’ – www.withpaintedwords.com – a creative writing site with inspiration from monthly image prompts, and ‘The WiFiles’ – www.thewifiles.com – an online speculative fiction magazine, published weekly.

He is a co-host, and contributor to, Following The Nerd – www.followingthenerd.com – for all the latest news, reviews, articles & information across all mediums on nerd culture.

For more information visit – www.jayfaulkner.com

 

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