The following is a recent competition entry submitted for the Orange/Grazia Magazine First Chapter Writing Competition which closed earlier this month. The first paragraph of the story (shown here in bold itallics) was written by published author Rosamund Lupton. The competition brief was to write between 800 – 1,000 words of the story to follow directly on from Rosamunds scenario. My entry is shown in normal font beneath it.
The swaying of the train made her hands grip around her bag as if it was anchored and could support her. Outside the window, the trees were a blur of greens and it seemed to the woman as if it were the trees not the train which were moving, hurrying away from her, putting green distance between them. She’d started the journey with clearly defined logical reasons for it, which she’d neatly stacked up like a wall. But the rocking of the train, the judder as it had speeded up, had toppled them and the truth was now visible, poking out and ugly to her. Outside the window the moving haze of green trees was replaced by the still hard edges of a grey platform. She’d arrived.
Looking across at Aurelia she felt a bolt of guilt, the girl was a wreck. She reminded herself that there was no room for truth in this web of lies. No, brick it up again, it didn’t matter. This was business, the girl was cargo. Just get her there, get the money, and get out.
Aurelia didn’t know where they were; she could barely speak much English let alone read the signs on the platform. She only knew that she must have been thousands of miles from home and wished her drug saturated limbs would rush her back there.
Janet had lingered closer than a shadow for the entire journey, even following her inside the toilet cubicle. None of the other passengers seemed to find this odd, and that confused Aurelia. Back home she was sure somebody would have intervened, but memories of home were foggy now.
As they waited for the carriage doors to open, Aurelia comforted herself by tracing the elaborately stitched pattern on the soft fabric of her cardigan. Moving her fingertip back and forth she remembered how proud she’d been to unwrap it on her fifteenth birthday back in June, and yet today she had mixed emotions for it. The cardigan had been the very item that had sparked this fateful connection. During their first stilted conversation Janet had noted the similarity between the embroidery on it, and that of the pattern on her handbag. Aurelia was now very clear that Janet was not in fact a model agent and the sight of that handbag this afternoon represented something much more sinister.
“Remember what I told you Aurelia. Try to run, leave or talk to anyone and you know what happens. Don’t you?”
Her blood ran cold at Janet’s whisper, so hot and close in her ear it felt like it might have been coming from deep inside her head. The state she was in she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t, but she got the message, she’d pick that up loud and clear on the first night when her thoughts were still innocent and clear.
“You hear me little girl? Understand that bit of English?” she questioned again.
With that Janet pulled her into the swell of the commuters, all the while squeezing her arm so tight she could almost feel her thumb prints on her bones. Aurelia stumbled compliantly alongside her, eyes rolling back every now and then as the floor ebbed and flowed beneath her feet.
Making their way out into the city, the streets thronged with people yet she felt more alone than ever before. She took in the sights and sounds around her, people bobbing along in unison, talking on mobile phones, looking only at the floor. The drugs blurred the colours of the multicultural scene into a vivid tapestry that reminded her of the one hung in her mother’s bedroom. The city’s buildings were tall grey stalagmites that charged into the sky like missiles, with the exception of one imposing space bubble looking structure with silver spheres dotted all over it. Huge slogans and photos of young women with ‘come to bed’ eyes lounged in the curves of it.
Janet and Aurelia moved swiftly on to who knows where, the sound of cash registers and credit cards jostling for attention in the background noise. That was the language of the city, everybody and everything could be bought, no humanity here only credit and consumption. It was only then, for the first time in the weeks since being snatched, that her eyes began to overflow, the salt of her tears stinging the small lesions that had begun forming on her chin. She was here to be consumed by the highest bidder and nobody would hear her cries above the volume of the city, not matter how loud she was.
Janet spotted her tear stains “Come with me you silly girl.” she sneered, too close again.
The pair veered sharply off the main route, swallowed up by a small anonymous side street. Aurelia’s face burned with shame as Janet pushed her against a wall and grasped at her small breast
“This is all you have to offer now, meat for a man.” Her acrylic nails caught the skin, drawing small spots of blood that rose from her fragile skin.
Janet leaned in close again “You are dead now; you have no feelings, nothing to cry for anymore. Understand? It’s the only way to survive. No fighting back, just take it.”
Black spots danced before Aurelia’s eyes making her dizzy and nauseous. Janet released her grip, stepping back from her as she stooped over to vomit.
“Christ!” She pulled a handkerchief from her bag and wiped the splats from the side of her stiletto boot. “Oh, so you’re sick now? You just wait, this isn’t going to get any better for you sweet little Aurelia, you’re going to wish you had never been born.”
With that she turned her back expecting the girl to follow, but something inside Aurelia switched at that moment. It was as though vomiting had emptied her of every last glimmer of her lost childhood, replacing it with nothing but pitch black. Her head clearer now, she was overcome with a strength previously unknown to her small frame. Launching herself at Janet, she grabbed the long strap of that cursed handbag and looped it over her head and around her throat before pulling it tight. Shocked at her response but too afraid to let go, she pulled tighter and tighter still until she could hear only rasping noises.
Whispering in her ear, Aurelia uttered her first words since being snatched, “But I am born Janet. I’m born again, today.”
Now she was choosing to be uncomfortably close, and she wasn’t letting go. Aurelia realised that whilst she hadn’t been taught much English in her young life, this city had already taught her how to trade. Today she would trade one woman’s ending for her own new beginning.
(998 words, written by Vanessa Matthews)
If you are interested in finding out more about the setting for this story, the descriptions were based on Birmingham, UK and makes reference to the city’s iconic Bullring building. Search Birmingham Bullring on Google images to view.