Laura woke with a start. She instinctively picked the small alarm clock on the bedside table and brought it close to her eyes. The thick red lines spelled out 8.30 am. She looked lazily around the room. The heavy green curtains were still drawn across the French doors that opened to the balcony. The little light that managed to filter through couldn’t give her a hint of how bright it was outside.
He stood on the grass, near the boundary wall, facing the building he had left just a minute earlier. He looked into the sky beyond the house. Dark clouds were moving in fast and menacingly from the west. Intermittent flashes of lightning tore across the horizon and the subsequent prolonged rumbles of thunder shook the very ground. Why he had come out here at this time of the night, he had no idea. He had just felt the urge to do it.
“What does it take to write a story that punches, Joe?”
“A pen, a piece of paper, working fingers, and a brain that’s at least half-functional.”
“Of course not. Only someone who’s never written anything that punches would take that as solid advice. By Jove, I haven’t used a pen to write anything since high school… The true answer is that I don’t really know.”
Jane was shouting. She liked to say that she was born with a more powerful throat-mounted amplifier than most people. She said she got it from her mother, whose booming voice had been her most outstanding characteristic.
“Oh, you look so beautiful, my darling.”
“Thanks, grandma. You know whose fault it is though.”
“You flatter me, darling. These old bones are fit for nothing but the grave.”
“I won’t have any of that talk grandma, not today. You know you’ve got centuries left in there.”
He had been cheating on her. He had been doing it for over a year. She had always known. But they had never talked about it. Neither of them dared bring it up. Him, for reasons she could only guess at. Her, because she could not bring herself to believe it. She could not confront that reality, so she dismissed the thought every time it occurred to her.
When he woke up, he was enveloped in thick darkness. There was dust in the air. It grated against his throat with every breath. He felt something shuffle next to him. Then his name was whispered. Softly. A name came into his mind. Leyla. He reached out his hand in the darkness. It got arrested midway. Something metallic clinked. A chain?
The sky was big and open, a vast blue canvas on which a few small clumps of clouds lazily drifted. Thomas stood in the middle of the graduation square and stared at the dais ahead of him. A few moments before, he had received his first class degree from the chancellor.
I can hear them breathing. Panting like hunting dogs. Each of them. Dusty air rushing through tensed tracheas. Blood pumping through strained jugulars. Feet pounding the pavement. Startled passers-by turning to locate the source of the commotion.
James stepped onto the aisle and flashed his instinctive smile, looking at no one in particular. He briefly scanned the interior of the minibus and smiled again when he noticed the empty seat beside the aisle on the second row from the back.