To celebrate the release of my book “The Split”, I’d like to share the first chapter with you all and hopefully get some comments and feedback in return! Writing fiction is so different to any other form of writing I’ve done, and I worked extremely hard to choose the right words to paint the pictures I envisioned in my head while dreaming up this story. I hope you enjoy what you read…
The Journey Begins
She was running through the night, clutching the small, precious bundle under her cloak tightly to her chest. It was deathly quiet, the only audible sound coming from the flickering streetlamps as they hummed and struggled into life. Her breath caught in her throat, a ball of burning exhaustion rising in her chest. She had been running for what felt like hours, but there was no time to stop and rest. As she sprinted down the street, she caught glimpses of the houses left desolate and empty, abandoned by their owners in fits of panic and hysteria. Cars were parked diagonally across driveways, their doors flung open, awaiting owners that would never return. Dustbins had been overturned and rubbish littered the street as far as the eye could see. Front doors had been left ajar, revealing eerily lit hallways. She wondered how much longer it would be until the power went out altogether, plunging Earth into a permanent darkness.
She turned the corner and continued to flee down another deserted road. The smell of the salt and seawater filling her nostrils and telling her that she was getting closer. She reached a metal sign cemented into the ground, twisted and warped from the heat of a passing solar flare. The top had come askew, but she could still make out the white lettering against the faded green background informing her that Pentewan train station was half a mile to the left.
Before she moved off, she peered into her cloak to check that her journey so far had not disturbed her cargo. Satisfied that all was well, she began to walk, continuing down another derelict street, the flickering lights taunting her as she went. She closed her eyes to block out her surroundings. For just one moment, she imagined that she was walking down the street on a perfectly ordinary evening, perhaps going to meet friends or returning home after a hard day’s work. She felt the echo of excitement rise inside of her as the sound of faint laughter filled her head, conjured somewhere from the depths of her memories from a time when normality still existed. The Wars on Earth, as they were collectively referred to, had broken out when she was barely a teenager and she struggled to remember a time when conflict and strife hadn’t dominated the day-to-day life of every citizen on Earth. The poverty and lack of resources that had ensued after the numerous wars had resulted in the rise of gangs and looters, causing the fight for survival to move from the battlefield and onto the streets. Once the peace of a mundane life had gone, nothing had ever been the same again.
Her thoughts had clouded her vision, but her legs had taken her to the right location. She arrived at the decrepit train station, flinching slightly at its ghostly appearance in the dark. She pulled a battered pocket watch from her cloak, a prized relic from the old days that she had found on her travels, and clicked it open to read the time, her cold breath illuminated in the clock’s glowing face. It was 11:40 p.m., which meant her train was due any second. Terrified she might have missed it, she began scanning the inky black tracks desperately, relief spreading through her body as two headlights pinpricked the horizon.
The silver metallic train pulled up and halted to a silent stop. Two of its doors opened smoothly, splitting in the middle and coming away so that they blended with the side of the carriage. Without hesitating, she stepped aboard, moving quietly through the dimly lit compartments. She didn’t need a ticket. There was no driver, no conductors and no ticket inspectors. They had all gone. The magnetic system that ran the trains had been left on, with nobody bothering to switch them off. The trains continued to run, picking up no one and taking them to nowhere. Occasionally, though, they had come in useful, allowing her to move about the country undetected as she had made her vital journey.
The seats were laid back in their reclining position, ready to take tired commuters into the night. A single coffee cup sat upright on one of the cold, white tables that connected one pair of seats to the other. She wondered how long it had been sat there for and under what circumstances it had been abandoned. The faint smell of sweat lingered in the air, almost completely masked by the steely odour of metal that emanated from the train’s walls. At the head of the carriage was an interactive screen, blinking slightly from years of damage and neglect. She walked over to it and activated it with a touch of her finger and was greeted by a clinical female voice as the screen sprung into life.
“Welcome to the I-Train,” the voice said. “The pioneering way to travel brought to you exclusively by The Interactive-Tech Company.”
She selected the main menu, bringing up a display that featured information on the journey. A small icon of a train moved along a virtual winding road, heading towards Charlestown, Cornwall which was marked by a large, red circle. Elsie pressed on the screen and the estimated time of arrival appeared before her, letting her know that she had only fifteen minutes before she would reach her destination.
She swallowed, the fear of failure creeping into her mind like an unwanted pest. She was yet to come up with a proper plan of action to take when she arrived at her journey’s end, and she had so little time to prepare. She was about to sit down and begin detailing a plot with all the information she had gathered so far, when a noise from the next carriage along startled her, causing her to stagger backwards.
She paused for a moment, unsure whether she should run and hide, but instinct told her not to be afraid. Boldly, she pressed her hand to the small, sensor by the side of the door that divided the compartments, causing it to slide open. As she stepped across the carriage’s threshold, she was greeted by a blonde-haired woman, sitting on a rear-facing seat, a tartan push-trolley sat between her legs. She was leaning forward on its handle, smiling coyly up at her new visitor. A middle-aged man sat hunched on the floor opposite her, his legs drawn up to his chest and his arms wrapped protectively round his body. He was so thin that he was almost skeletal. His sunken eyes stared fixated at the floor and his mouth hung open, forming whispered words that only he could understand.
“Hello, love,” the woman said cheerfully. “Come and take a seat.”
Elsie hesitated, glancing over at the man with slight alarm. The woman followed her gaze.
“Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s harmless,” she smiled.
Warily, Elsie moved through the carriage and sat on one of the forward-facing seats, swinging her body around carefully so that she could see the other woman.
“The name’s Grace,” the woman grinned toothlessly. She didn’t look particularly old, but her face was haggard, prematurely aged by hardship and sorrow.
“Elsie,” she replied. She wasn’t sure why, but she trusted Grace. It was clear that she had suffered great stress and loss and that somehow gave them a common ground to stand upon.
“I didn’t expect to see anyone on these trains,” Grace said after a moment. Her accent was hard and callous. Wherever she had grown up had left a lasting impression on her inflection.
“Neither did I,” Elsie replied.
“We’re going to see them off, Bernard and me,” Grace continued, gesturing to the man. He did not seem to recognise the sound of his own name and continued gawking, wide-eyed at the floor.
“Them?” Elsie asked.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Grace hissed. “Those who are dearly departing on the Mayfly. I reckon we ought to give them a great send off. Let them know how sorely they’ll be missed. Bunch of fools!”
She spat at the floor and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. There was a fury resonating from her eyes that Elsie had never seen in another human being.
“They think they’ve got it all planned out,” Grace ranted. “Leaving us less important people behind to rot like pieces of rubbish while they fly off to start their new world. Well they’re on a fool’s mission anyway. Mark my words they are. There is more to this than any of those stuck-up fools can begin to get their tiny minds around.”
Her eyes flashed with a passion that Elsie could only interpret as excitement.
“Are you talking about the conspiracy theories?” Elsie asked, beginning to feel she was trapped on the train with a madwoman.
“You’ve heard them too?” Grace said, her voice ragged with enthusiasm.
“Yes, I have,” Elsie replied flatly, her heart twinging with pain as she recalled the fate of the last person she had known to believe in the theories.
The bundle beneath Elsie’s cloak began to wriggle, causing the fabric to rearrange itself suspiciously.
“What have you got there?” Grace asked, her beady eyes detecting the movement.
“It’s nothing,” Elsie said quickly, stealing a glance through the cloak’s neck hole.
“Are you sure about that?” Grace pressed her as a soft cooing noise emitted from beneath the swathes of cloth.
Elsie said nothing, she knew her secret was out but had no desire to discuss the matter. The true magnitude of what she would lose if she failed to make it aboard The Mayfly was too terrible for her to acknowledge out loud. Grace seemed to understand this, continuing to speak without receiving a response.
“My husband left me, you know,” she informed Elsie. “We were married fifteen years. He had another son by his first wife. It caused a lot of problems between us. I can’t have children, you see, and I resented the boy for existing.”
Elsie nodded, unsure how best to respond to such a personal revelation.
“Anyway, his boy’s mum died. She was killed by looters in one of the Cities. Everything changed after that. My husband and I had both agreed we would stay on Earth come the day of The Split, whatever that meant. He believed in the theories too, you see. Had real evidence for them as well. But when he took his boy in, he changed his mind. Suddenly he was applying for The Mayfly, saying he had to give his son a chance of living. I told him I wasn’t going, no matter what, but he left anyway. Have you any idea how bad that feels? Being left to suffer and die by the one person who’s supposed to love and protect you?” she asked. The question was rhetorical, but it brought a fresh wave of pain to the surface of Elsie’s mind.
“I do actually,” she said. Grace regarded her shrewdly, a moment of silent understanding passing between them.
“Well then,” she nodded. “You know why I have to go and see them leave for myself. It’s not just humans on that ship, you know. I’ve heard whispers”
Elsie nodded but said no more on the subject. She was well aware of the conspiracy theory Grace was referring to and didn’t think it wise to voice her harsh opinions on the matter. The only thing which surprised her was how wide-spread the theory seemed to have become. Stupidly, she had assumed she was among the only few people to have heard it.
“What happened to him?” Elsie changed the subject, regarding Bernard with concern.
“Him? His family abandoned him. His parents have been dead a long while, mind, as most of ours have. He had a sister, though, but she married some rich bloke, got her and her kids a place on board and left him here to rot. Apparently, there was “no room” for him. Truth is I think she was ashamed. He doesn’t have any skills, you see, or money so he’s of “no use” to The Mayfly or the continuation of our species,” Grace explained with disgust.
“That’s terrible…” Elsie said after a moment. Grace nodded curtly. Whatever pity she had had for Bernard’s seemed to have been doused by the overpowering anger she felt towards all those leaving after The Split.
“What about you then?” Grace asked brazenly. “You got any nearest and dearest? Other than the obvious,” she nodded at Elsie’s cloak.
The question hit Elsie like a knife to the throat. She felt her chest closing in on itself in a futile attempt to cushion the pain to her heart that the words had caused her. She closed her eyes and bore the agony, letting it peak to an unbearable torment before it subsided, allowing her to breath once again.
“All dead,” she said thickly, hoping that would be enough to deter Grace from pressing her any further.
“They been gone a long time?”
“Years,” Elsie lied.
Her parents were long dead it was true, but it wasn’t the discussion of their absence that was causing her to silently crumble into dust. She could not even think of her more recent loss, for fear the pain would rip through her body and destroy her completely.
Grace seemed to accept this response and the conversation drifted into a comfortable silence. Elsie allowed herself to be lulled into pleasant numbness, concentrating on the whirring sound of the train’s mechanism as it pulled them forward into the night. Every so often, she stole a fleeting glance at Bernard, who hadn’t moved or changed his posture the entire time she had been in the carriage. She wondered what would happen to him and Grace after The Split, fighting the panicked thought that she might still be on Earth to find out.
The time fell away like rain drops sliding off soft skin and soon enough the robotic, female voice was announcing that they had almost reached Charlestown. Grace rose to her feet immediately, heaving a dazed Bernard into a slumped standing position beside her.
“Well, “she said, regarding Elsie with a look of comradery. “Good luck to you, love. We’re heading up the hills to get a good view of them leaving. If you need to, you can find us up there.”
Elsie attempted a smile, causing Grace’s previously hardened expression to be abducted by unconcealable pity. She raised two fingers to her head in a strange sort of salute and then turned to face the steel doors of the train, which was now slowing to a standstill. With one final lurch, they became stationary, the doors sliding open in one swift movement. Without looking back, Grace disembarked with surprising elegance, dragging Bernard limply behind her. They disappeared into the night. Suddenly, everything was quiet.
Mustering all the courage she could find, Elsie stepped onto the platform. Immediately, she was hit by two powerful sensations. The first was the sharp, crisp air that engulfed her body the moment the train doors shut behind her. It was a deeper degree of cold than she had felt earlier in the evening, and she clutched her arms around her traveling cloak protectively, drawing in as much heat as she could from her body. The second was the bittersweet sting of nostalgia as she took in the familiar appearance of Charlestown, the place that had made her heart leap with joy as a child.
She could still picture it now. Her mother curled up on the corner armchair in their holiday cottage, engrossed in a novel on her I-Reader, her father popping in and out from cooking in the kitchen to sing silly songs and take requests. Elsie would be sat on the window ledge, her bare feet swinging freely as she relished the relief of the cool evening air after a startlingly hot summers day. Her parents would put the 3D television on for her to keep her entertained while they went about their various tasks, but she sat with her back to it, ignoring its persistent noise as she stared out across the moon-bathed hills, that rose and fell all the way to the silent black sea beyond.
Shaking these thoughts from her mind, she made her way to the green, perforated steps that would lead her out of the train station and ascended, quickly reaching the street above. The shops and houses that flanked the road had once been bustling with tourists and cheerful residents, but were now haunted by echoes of voices and laughter. She walked past the Tall Ships sat bobbing gently in the bay, their decaying masts rising gloomily out of the mist. She rounded the final corner that would lead her to the beach and stopped still, her feet finding balance on the pebbled shore. She had arrived.
If you would like to read more of my book (and trust me, you have no idea how happy that would make me!) you can buy the Ebook on Amazon for just 1.99 or the paperback copy for 6.99: