Sunday 5 July 2015

Oxford Circus, Saturday 21st December 1996

Some fiction from January 2014. Written as promotional material for a play that some of my friends were directing.

So I'm out of breath and doubled over, and I haven't run like that in years. And I'm laughing hard, so hard I think I might throw up, and there's a streak of english mustard on my bright white shirt, but in the heat of the platform I can't be arsed to cover it with my coat, and besides there's no one else around.

I hope that the train isn't showing up immediately, because at the moment I just want to revel in my own dangerously high blood-alcohol levels and bellow obscenities into the echoing tunnels. I do this, but it doesn't take very long to get old, and I find myself staggering, so I collapse onto a bench and think about whether the hangover will be gone by Christmas. I giggle at my own wit.

And then I wonder why there's no one else here.

I blink, because I must have missed something. It's midnight, and this is an underground station in central London, and there should be swarms of people rushing to get the last train, but there's no one else at all. As far as I know this is unprecedented, impossible. But I'm drunk, so there's probably a basic and vital and entirely reasonable detail that I've overlooked. I think, and think hard.

I had been running. I try to remember why. Was it from something? To something? And I had been laughing, hard. Was there a joke somewhere? Was it just relief?

I look at my watch. It's not midnight. It's two in the morning. Missed the last train.

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

Ok, so now new parts of the brain begin to whir and spin. There's probably a night bus, but I would need to work out which one I needed. A taxi would be easiest, but I don't have the money, either on me right now or in the bank account. The last round of beers had seen to that. Could I walk? How long would that take? Would I have to go through anywhere dangerous? Maybe just sleeping on the platform would be best.

I know I need to stand up and force myself through the winter night, but my legs feel too settled to respond to mental pressure. I'm deliberately ignoring the missing hours and the unexplained physical exertion, not out of nervousness, but because I've basically just got to get home and because that stuff isn't helping. I ignore my own laziness and stand the hell up.

Which is when a train arrives at the platform.

An unremarkable underground train, its windows wide, its paint predictably scuffed. The doors yawn open. The train is empty.

I check my watch again. Definitely 2am, but perhaps I knocked the watch, perhaps it's showing the wrong time. Perhaps. But I need to get home, and I definitely don't want to walk. We all make idiot decisions when we're drunk. I board the train.

No adverts, which is odd, and no map either, just plain white walls and scruffy red seats. I sit, warily. Machinery clanks beneath me, and we plunge into the blackness of the tunnel.

I'm fine. It is definitely the case that everything is fine. I'm heading home now, heading East. I relax, and try not to doze.

Which is when I realise that we've been in the dark for far too long. We should have hit a station by now.

I wait. I wait twenty minutes. The light in here is hard, electric, clinical. It has the quality of forgotten things. Outside there is nothing but darkness. The clattering of wheels on rails whispers like a torturer. I need to get out. I scream, bang on the windows, but no one answers. I sit back down again.

And then, from the windows, all the lights blaze on at once.

It takes a moment to adjust to what I'm seeing. It's not a platform, through those windows, it's an overhead view of those anonymous bright-white corridors that riddle the tube. We must be in the ceiling, looking down. Impossible of course, quite impossible. But here I am.

A man runs, panting, into view. With a start, I notice the streak of yellow mustard on the immaculate white shirt, the long coat hanging loose. It's me. He is – I am – panting heavily, decelerating after running hard, and just behind me is Katrina. Was she here tonight? How could she be? I hadn't seen her since Stroud. The sweetest of partings. She spat bile and I threw furniture.

But I realise that I remember almost nothing of this evening, nothing before I arrived at the platform. So I try not to think. I just watch.

Both Katrina and the version of myself below stop, breathe in, breathe out, drunk on relief. They (we?) say nothing, a wary glance is enough. Something has happened that's more important than us. There's no point in arguing.

A streak of coiled energy leaps into frame, and knocks Katrina to the ground. It's too fast to see clearly, a thing rippling with muscles and thick with hard, wiry hair. She is pummelled, repeatedly, into the tiles. The tiles crack. I just run.

All the lights flick off, both inside and outside the carriage. I'm swimming in oil-thick blackness.

Behind me, I can hear someone breathing.

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