Prompt: a line taken from another writer’s work, illuminated in a pool of midnight
Agatha knelt down slowly, ignoring the damp that seeped slowly through the thick fabric of her skirt. Each move was careful, tentative: so as not to scare the girl away. She could barely see, the dim light of her lantern barely cut the edges of the darkness surrounding her, but she’s seen enough to call the shape squat before her a girl.
She was no more than five feet away from her now: close enough to see the flicker of the lantern reflected in the onyx globes of the girl’s eyes. There was no way to be sure without getting closer, but they appeared completely black: two giant pupils staring out from her thin, pale face.
The figure might have been girl-like, but the defensive crouch was pure animal: long, slender limbs bent, roped with muscles coiled tight and twitching, ready to spring toward her escape. She did not take her eyes from Agatha’s face.
Holding her breath, Agatha crept closer on her knees. “How did you get here, love?” she asked in her most quiet voice. “You must be lost. Are you cold?”
This last part she said with an edge of surprise. The lantern flared, the bright gust of light revealing the girl’s nakedness. Her skin, white as the belly of a fish and finely webbed with pale pink scars, was completely uncovered; exposed to the damp cold of the cave’s interior.
“H-here, my love,” Agatha whispered while creeping closer, “take my shawl.”
She meant to remove the thick, knitted shawl slowly and offer it out carefully to the girl. She caught herself off balance and slipped on the cold, slick surface of the rock; it caused her to lurch toward the girl with a terrified shriek.
In an instant, she was off. Agatha had had her cornered, her body blocking the only passage out of the little alcove they occupied; when she slipped, the girl took advantage, darting past her on all fours, fingers and toes spread wide to grip the slippery wet ground. When she passed, she knocked the lantern; it sputtered and slipped over with a crash that echoed off the stone walls of the cave.
Agatha watched as the girl, lit by the last flare of light, disappeared down one of the cave’s many passages, glowing limbs flashing and stringy black hair trailing behind her.
And then Agatha was plunged into darkness.
Prompt: (Setting) Train station
Author’s Notes: Could be read as a coda to “A More Painful Death”
I remember riding on the last day that the trains ran. Sometimes I like to fancy that it was The Last Train That Ever Ran, but I don’t think it was. Would have made for a better story, but no: I’ll settle for just saying I was there.
I’d spent the night on the platform floor. The train had been delayed: an hour, then two hours. I stopped counting once we’d passed midnight.
They’d already let us into the gate: I sat huddled with my luggage no more than a foot from the tracks. I was curled up atop my big suitcase with my head pillowed against the overnight bag. (The suitcase I’d had to leave behind. I remember a toddler sleeping above my head in the rack where I would have stowed it.) Exhaustion pulled like a hand dragging me down into unconsciousness, but every time I closed my eyes I was jerked awake by the image of a train screaming into the station just inches from my face.
Around five o’clock in the morning, there was a stir outside the glass doors that separated the platform from the rest of the station. People started pounding from both sides, and it was then I realized the doors were locked. I didn’t know then whether we were locked in or the others were locked out.
I heard the whistle of a train approaching. I’m still not sure if it was the train I’d bought a ticket for or not: I tried to see the number, but people were pushing and shoving and I was driven along with them like a cork on a stream. I almost sank in the writhing sea of elbows and legs. I started to fall, the current dragging me under, but a man grabbed my arm and pulled me up onto the train.
No sooner was I on than the train was moving again, pulling slowly away. The doors were still open and people were still clamoring to get on. I was stood just inside, on the very bottom step, clinging with one arm to the railing. The sounds of the train rushed through my head, the noise of the people just a dull, aching roar.
When we finally pulled away from the station, I got my first glimpse of the crowd that had been left behind. The doors had been broken, and the whole of the crowd came streaming through and onto the platform. In the distance we could hear the whistle of another train coming: but I don’t know if that one stopped.