The idea of the Next Chapter is to write a collaborative story across one month and four towns. I will write the opening chapter of a story. Each week, I’ll work with a writing group to complete a subsequent chapter. The following week’s group will have to build on the chapters which the previous group have produced so that, across the course of the month, we will have a five part story, written by a collective of all those who participate in the project. In order to allow our writers some thinking time, I’ll post the previous chapter on this blog each week. At the end of the month, I’ll compile the whole story and make it available here. Therefore, to give our first group in Banbridge Library tomorrow a chance to start thinking of their part of the story, here is my contribution: the opening chapter.
The rain set in early, leaving the streets slick by the time the crowd poured out of the cinema. As he emerged out into the night air, John felt a momentary disorientation. When they had gone in to watch the movie it had been dry and bright. Now a fine miasma draped itself on the city, haloing the streetlights that stretched the length of the Strand Road.
Will we go for a drink?’ Kate asked.
John felt her small hand manoeuvre around his forearm, linking his arm and pulling him closer to her. She leant her head briefly against his shoulder, the fresh scent of her shampoo still detectable over the smell of stale popcorn lingering on their clothes.
He heard the sudden thud of feet, the splashing as someone behind them ran through a puddle towards them. John turned, his shoulders already rounding as he crouched slightly, his hands balling into fists.
A jogger, the white cord of his iPod earphones dangling in front of him, swung in a wide berth past them, nodding his head in acknowledgement of their presence, his eyes always on Kate. He smiled lightly at her as he passed. Winked.
‘Tosser,’ John spat in the man’s wake.
‘It’s alright, John,’ Kate said.
‘He was eyeing you up.’
‘He was just some guy,’ she said, taking his arm again, feeling the muscles still tensed.
They moved on, towards the pub. They heard more splashing now, the scuffle of feet on the ground. Presumably more joggers, John thought. He was slower this time in turning, reluctant to appear too jumpy.
As a result, he did not see the figure coming towards him until it was too late to arrest the approaching man’s movement. He ran into John, full force, the two of them tumbling to the wet ground in a tangle of limbs.
‘John’ Kate shouted, pulling at the man to move him from where he lay on top of her boyfriend.
The man, apologising to Kate, managed to make it to his feet. He looked down at where John lay curled with his hands clasped around his stomach, as if winded.
‘Keith says hello,’ the man said viciously, kicking at John.
‘Get off him,’ Kate shouted, lunging at the man, but he had regained his balance now and shifted quickly away from her, leaving her flailing against the night air. Then he was off again, pulling his hood over his head, sprinting towards the corner of Clarendon Street, disappearing from view.
‘John, are you aright?’ Kate said, stooping to help him up from the ground.
John rolled onto his back, lifting his hands towards the light. The blood on his fingers was tar-black under the orange street-lamp’s glow. It was spreading on his shirt now, already blooming vividly against the white cotton he wore and in which, Kate could now see a jagged tear where the knife had pierced him.
‘John,’ Kate cried. ‘John? What happened?’
She knelt, screaming for someone to help. Others who had left the cinema at the same time as them were still nearby. An older couple came running to Kate.
‘Is he alright?’ the woman asked.
‘I think he’s been stabbed,’ Kate cried.
‘What’s his name?’
The older man knelt now, taking control while his wife fumbled with her phone to call for help.
‘John,’ Kate managed.
‘John? Can you hear me, John?’
The man leaned over him, turning his cheek, bringing it close to John’s mouth as if to feel for his breath.
John’s fingers felt cold now, the stickiness of the blood almost alien, as if belonging to someone else. He could see Kate, the curls of her blond hair spilling onto her face.
‘John? Are you okay?’ the man repeated. ‘Can you hear me, John?’
‘My…’ John started to say, but his mouth was suddenly dry. He swallowed. The streetlights above him seemed to be dulling now, the rain on his face suddenly cool on his skin.
‘My name’s not John,’ he whispered to the growing darkness.