The below short story was written by four separate writers, each writing 500 words. The writers ranged in experience, age, background and gender. They wrote them at different times, in different locations, and with different ideas about where the story was going. Together, however, they created a character, context, conflict and hints at a wider plot that could further be explored.
Thank you to Lewis Bates, Joshua Elliot, Shannon Birch and Carl Sealeaf for contributing.
Here's our first writers' relay. We hope you enjoy it!
Dean felt the cold gravel pressed against his cheek. Opening his eyes, he pushed the ground away from his body, lifting himself to his knees. Deans mind whirled. His body swayed. The alley was dark but for the opening to his right that was flooded by a blinding streetlight. Dean took a deep breathe. Streetlights meant roads. Roads meant people. People meant a brief moment of safety before She returned.
He pressed his hand against the chill of the brickwork to his left. Shifting weight from left hand to right foot, Dean brought himself to one knee. With another deep breathe, he lifted to a stand. Gravel rolled from his cheekbone, as the wind caught the warm flux leaking from his eyebrow. No time to worry about that. He began toward the light. White hot pain shot through his Achilles with each stride of his left foot. No time to worry about that.
The streetlights were further burning his retinas with every step. As he inched closer, the tear of car tyres on wet Tarmac filled the night air. Dean came to the end of the alley, shot glances left, right, and one over his shoulder, before coming to rest against a shop wall parallel to the road. He reached with his hand toward his coat pocket, but the haze filling his mind made the unfastening of the button seem cryptic. Eventually it gave, and in dug his hand searching for the cold of his mobile. Got it. In his hurry, it was unlocked before it had left the warmth of his pocket, and already in his contacts. The screen blurred as he scrolled through the names, stopping at 'M'.
Phone pressed against his ear, Dean took this chance to take in the streets activity. People filtered in and out of shops, laughing and joking, last minute Christmas gifts and clutch purses in hand.
"You have reached the voicemail service for-", Deans dejected head fell back against the wall, wanting to avoid the monotony of the automated voice.
"Hi mom, it's only me.... I won't be home for Mass tonight, but I'll be there in the morning". He did his best to sound breezy, but he wasn't so sure. He didn't want her to worry. He hated it when she worried.
"See you", and with that he clicked end call, and slid the phone back into his pocket.
Not sure which way to turn, he headed left, where a young family had just exited a toy shop. He limped his way down the street, doing his utmost to ignore the pain. Every few steps he shot a glance over his right shoulder, praying she wouldn't be there. He beheld the black canvas of night overhead with his mind on his phone call. Mom was usually in bed exhausted before the light had left the sky. Through pursed lips Dean prayed that was the case. And smiled at the thought of mom.
The feeling of nostalgia deserted him as a figure...
... of eight formed in the black sky, a lone string of stars twisting into two knotted eyes. She was back.
The cold gravel felt Dean pressed against it. The wall curled its brick lip. The streetlights watched him walk beneath them. The wet, tearing tarmac took one upward look at Dean and turned to hot sticky liquid, clinging to the soles of his feet. Dean started to limp/run through the crowds and the Christmas shopping, losing his phone in the crush. She had control over everything; the city was hers. The pavement was on her side; widening the cracks between its separate slabs, snapping at his heels. The walls too; shifting, making a maze of streets Dean once knew. Windows spat glass at him as he ran and a streetlamp sprung like a scorpion tail, narrowly missing his back. Every inanimate part of the city was a means for his murder. She had turned Birmingham against him, causing it to fold in on itself and collapse around Dean. The eyes in the night sky twinkled in sadistic delight.
‘Impossible’ thought Dean.
The shifting streets had led him back to the toy shop, to the crowd of Christmas shoppers and the boiling, aqueous road. What struck Dean first was the silence… then the crowd turned to face him, unanimous. In every socket in every head there was a black night sky and in every black night sky there was a star in the place of a pupil; every one of them trained on Dean. Now, not only were the material parts of the city against him but the crowd too, their eyes replaced with Hers. The bags dropped from their hands, already outstretching towards him. The Bullring followed suit, the scaled back of Selfridges rising and writhing as the architecture of the city continued its crawl towards Dean.
He thought of Mom again and ran into the nearest phone box. He dialed the number he knew off by heart. Again the machine answered for her.
‘You have reached the voicemail service for – ’
‘Mom. Mom, it’s me. It’s Dean again. Don’t go outside. Whatever you do, don’t go outside. Forget the shopping. Forget Christmas. Don’t. Go. Out –’
Dean screamed; blood filled his ear. He ripped the phone handset from the side of his face, its newly-formed teeth snapping. The cord of the telephone writhed, wrapping around him like a snake. The glass panels of the phone box shattered as its walls closed in on Dean. The accumulated sounds of the city seemed to bubble over into a prolonged, diabolical giggle. She looked down on Dean and...
....as if in pity backed away. The buildings that had once looked down on him ready to tear him limb from limb, crawled and writhed back to their posts. Their eyes still fixated on Deans shaking body. Blood, thick and warm trickled down Dean’s neck, but he didn’t care, his eyes were fixated on his surroundings.
A dark sickness rose in the pit of his stomach causing him to launch forwards into a world of darkness as his stomach threw out everything it once owned. His throat stinging, he wiped his mouth, his eyes watering as he took in his new surroundings. He was in a room with glowing red lights creating a dark cascade on the far side.
“What the-“ his words were cut off by a door crashing open behind him, he turned expecting to see someone there, waiting for him. But no one was there, a dark corridor was all that lay before him. The cold air was crawling its way out of the corridor sucking the warmth out of the room he was in, his throat dry Dean looked around. He was certain the darkness was getting closer, but maybe it was just his mind playing tricks. After all, buildings coming to life and attacking him, his phone biting his ear, none of that could have really happened? Things like that just don’t exist. Do they? Dean could feel the panic in the back of his mind trickling through his body, his palms sweating, his knees shaking. He couldn’t control it now, his heart was racing and his mind was spinning. What he had once thought impossible was possible.
“Pull yourself together Dean,” he muttered shaking his head. The corridor was beckoning him, as if some force was pulling him like a magnet towards it. He took one step forward…
“Wake up! Sir, Wake up!” A voice shouted, a hand tugged on Dean’s shoulder pulling him back into his reality. He was in Birmingham, as he turned his head he felt the dry blood pull at the hairs on his neck. Wincing he looked around himself, the city was burning. A man sat on his heels his dark eyes penetrating Deans.
“Gave us a scare then, friend,” his voice had a tint of an accent Dean couldn’t quite place. But while he was eager to know who this new person was, he couldn’t keep his eyes away from the figure that hovered above them in the sky. The city was burning. Getting to his feet, slowly and with the help of the man, Dean put a hand to his head. He was still bleeding.
“My phone –“
“It’s gone, it scurried off when they all went back to normal,” the man gestured to the buildings, his face blank as he returned Deans stare.
“But my mom-“
“Won’t have any idea,” was his short reply as he began to walk away.
“Are you coming?”
“Who are you?” Dean asked. The man paused in his step...
... “Sir?” he asked warily.
Dean kept quiet. There was nothing familiar about this man, nothing he recognised in his features or his clothes or his eyes. Still, he registered the concern in his voice. Compassion. Something cultivated over years, perhaps.
“Have you started forgetting again sir?” he asked, more urgently this time. Panic blossomed in the stranger's eyes.
“Christ, she's back in your head, isn't she?” There was a tremble in his voice now. He unclipped a walkie-talkie from his belt. “Oh God Dean, I'm so sorry. I'm so goddamn sorry.”
Dean ran on impulse. His mind was still sluggish and blurred, but at least his body worked. The pain in his legs was gone, but he had no idea where he was running to, or from. If only he had time to think! If only the space between strides was enough for him to start piecing together what was happening to him.
The slow hum of a helicopter and approaching shouts filled his senses, along with a growing sense of panic. There was smoke now, and even less space to think. Less space to stand. Something in the gas. His limbs started failing him, dragging him to the floor. A face hovered above him, full of compassion, then he blacked out.
Dean awoke with his back against a hard, cold surface. His arms and legs were strapped down, but he was otherwise unharmed. He was surrounded by a swarm of people; men in uniform, women, children. Next to him worked a doctor.
He spoke slowly and gravely. “I know you can't remember me right now, Sir, but I need you to trust me. She has broken into your mind. Soon, your thoughts will be hers, your body will be hers, and you will die. Do you understand?”
“Good. Now, this is a sedative. It will render you unconscious long enough to confront her, but beyond this we cannot help you. Kill her, or be killed. Good luck.”
There was a pain in his arm, then he was under again.
Dean bolted awake. Everywhere was white. Every wall, every floor-to-ceiling column, even the air. Nothing cast a shadow, except Dean. Shimmering in the centre of the room, with skin that burned with light; eyes like stars, was her. She flashed a brilliant smile, and her teeth were diamonds.
“You don't look happy to see me, honey. But then, I suppose you don't remember me, do you?”
Dean trembled. “Oh, I remember enough.”
She laughed, and the air shattered like glass. Dean's body was freed, and he found himself bounding towards her. He reached into his pocket, searching for a knife. His phone vibrated against his hand. “I'll kill you, I swear I'll end this!”
She smiled, and he plunged the knife into her. She folded, skin turning an oily grey, and lay in a pile at his feet. His phone buzzed.
Her voice was singing glass. “Hello dear.”