Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Pandemonium - first chapter

Been a few weeks since Pandemonium was published and I've been meaning to share more about it. But with real life of shifts and the plague, it's been a strange time. Anyway, here's the opening to my new one. And if it floats your boat, you know what to do with the link at the end.

Be safe, people.

The man strode straight towards Hannah Wilson, looking as if he was eager to greet a friend. In the second before she realised his wide smile was utterly fake, she registered the small, black object clasped in his hand. Then he was upon her.
“Hannah.” There was nothing in the word but friendliness and surprise. “Good to see you.”
He embraced her with a frightening tightness, pulled back a little and shoved his mouth against her ear. “I have a gun. If you don’t do exactly what I say, I’ll shoot you right here.”
Metal pressed against Hannah’s stomach, cold through her thin jacket.
“You’re going to come with me. You won’t make a sound. Understood?”
Hannah understood nothing. They were on the High Street with crowds of the usual tourists and workers and locals on all sides as the early evening ticked closer to night in Edinburgh. The office was two minutes behind, the bus-stop another five around the corner and hundreds of people flowed past while this man held a gun into her stomach.
Hannah’s mind stuttered and threw off the barrage of emotions: confusion, fear and a surety that none of this was happening. A single thought buried everything else. Scream. Scream your head off.
Moving with a terrible speed, the man’s face swooped forward, blocking out light and people, even blocking the smells of the damp ground.
His mouth hit hers, the sudden kiss crushing any chance of calling for help. His sealed lips were warm, repulsive, and his hand on her lower back pressing them together made pulling free impossible.
He eased away no more than half an inch. “Don’t make a fucking sound, Hannah.”
She couldn’t. While the man walked her over the road and the old buildings watched and the people passed by, she couldn’t make the tiniest squeak. Not aloud, anyway. Inside, she shrieked at the people on every side; she begged them for help and she shouted the word gun over and over.
If you can’t scream, then run.
As if he’d heard the thought, the man tightened his hold on her side, the pressure increasing to a painful level. They reached the opposite pavement; he shoved through four tourists blocking the way and turned into St Giles’ Street which was slightly quieter than the road behind. A few office workers further along strode away from the noise of the High Street, and Hannah’s mind gave another stutter. She saw the faded briefcase a man held; she saw a splash of puddle water strike a woman’s bare ankle and the woman walk on without looking down. Six or seven pigeons came from nowhere to streak overhead. A few drops of rain landed on Hannah’s arm, and through everything, the shout for help in her head couldn’t make it to her mouth.
 Several cars were parked in a line, a white van at the end of the row. He steered her towards it, still with his fierce grip. They reached the same puddle that marked the woman’s leg, and the man’s big stride pulled them over it.
“Okay.” He spoke normally, apparently unconcerned about the people still in sight. Nobody was close enough to hear in any case. “That’s my van. You’ll get in the back and you’ll do it fast or I’ll shoot you.”
“Please,” Hannah whispered.
“Just do what I say and you’ll be fine.”
This was really happening. She was about to be kidnapped in broad daylight, kidnapped slap bang in the middle of a city, the capital city, for Christ’s sake.
One of the rear doors opened as they drew level with the side of the van and that did it. She took another breath and he hissed at her. “You make a sound and your mother’s dead, Hannah.”
“What? No, please.”
“Get in the van.”
The words rolled in on a wave; a dark, crashing sea swallowing a beach.
“In the van, Hannah. Right now.”
Five thirty on a Friday and the damp pavements of Edinburgh now steaming as the showers from the early afternoon vanished and the sun came out for a couple of hours. Five thirty on a Friday and the weekend ready for her, another weekend of the long hours of looking after her mum while Aunt Janey did what she could. Except they both knew Janey wanted to be away because she’d been in Hannah’s house the entire week and Monday was coming much too quickly and it would all start again.
Hannah remained perfectly still. Someone had to be seeing this. Someone. She was in the middle of a city. Not just any city. Edinburgh. You couldn’t move without walking into someone round here. Tourist, student, resident, old, young. Everybody was here but nobody was anywhere near her but the big man with his gun.
A small degree of self-control took over. It’d barely been three seconds since the man last spoke. The nearest people were still at least thirty feet away and there was no reason for them to be paying attention to this. Chances were she wouldn’t in their position. The only way out was to attract attention.
“Last chance. In the van.”
The obscene lack of light inside the back of the vehicle held the potential for every awful thing in the world. She finally looked the man in the eye. Tiredness and truth were etched in his face, and Hannah knew what would happen if she refused.
He would kill her and he would kill her mother.
And what happens if you get in the van? Is this real? Is it?
It was. And she had no choice.
Moving on feet that felt like rocks, Hannah stumbled forward. The man shifted to his side, shielding the gun with his other arm. Up close, he seemed even bigger. Way past six feet and solid with it. No crappy fast food for this guy. No nights boozing. This man was all about exercise and muscle.
The shout seemed to come from all directions. Hannah jerked away from the man with the gun, moving off him for the first time since he said her name and his fake smile swallowed her.
“Hey. What’s going on?”
Emerging from a shop doorway, a middle-aged guy crossed to them. The gunman swore under his breath, pulled Hannah closer and strode towards the older man.
“Everything okay?” the guy from the doorway asked, frowning, eyes darting from Hannah to the man who held her.
The gunman swung his hand, forming a fist at the last second. It smashed into the other man’s nose and mouth, knocking him backwards. He fell, reaching for his mouth, blood flying with him. The gunman was already moving away, turning Hannah with him.
“In the fucking van right now.”
He pushed her, hard. Hannah’s flailing hands hit doors. A second figure loomed out of the van, grabbed both of her wrists and pulled. At the same time, he twisted, spinning as gracefully as a ballerina, and shoved her. She tripped and fell on something soft. The bigger man jumped up and slammed the doors.
“Drive,” he bellowed.
Hannah’s voice, shocked into numb silence, returned. She screamed. Her throat burned. She screamed again and made it upright. A spinning light illuminated her surroundings; shadows and brightness danced together. An arm rose, gloom licked around the shape, then fell away as the arm pushed her back down. Someone, perhaps the man who’d pulled her, slapped his hand against her mouth. She yelled against the horrendous feel of his flesh and kicked out. Her foot hit something that might have been a leg but the hand remained.
They shoved her towards the van’s side; the seal on her mouth vanished and as she drew another breath, a gag covered her lips.
Hannah thrashed from side to side. The men bracketed her, their heavier weight forcing her to still. Both of them grabbed her hands and pulled. A second later, metal hit her wrists and she realised what was happening.
Moving fast, the men cuffed Hannah to a metal pole jutting from the wall, and pushed more of the mattress underneath her body. The torchlight skimmed over the gag and cuffs and settled again on her face. Bumps in the road caused the van to shake, and the noise of the vehicle turned all the sounds into a meaningless mix. One of those sounds broke through a moment later. Her name.
“Hannah?” The second man said it again. He’d crouched opposite. The one who’d grabbed her shone the torch over his face, revealing his features. “Hannah?”
For the first time, the man’s accent registered. Unlike the first guy who’d sounded local, he was English. Northern was about all she could say. “Can you hear me?” He leaned closer and she kicked as hard as she could.
He was fast. Even so, her shoe hit a glancing blow on his chin. He swore, grabbed her ankles and held them to the mattress.
“I don’t want to have to tie your feet but I will. Blink once if you understand that.”
Hannah made no move at all. Sweaty strands of hair had fallen over her forehead. Madly, she wanted more than anything to push those strands back from her face.
“Come on, Hannah. I know you understand me. Just blink once.”
Her hate for the nameless man a blazing fire, Hannah blinked.
“Good. Now listen. We won’t hurt you. I promise. We’re not going to rape you or hurt you or anything like that. You’ve got no reason to believe me, I know, but it’s true. You’re completely safe.”
I want to kill you, Hannah thought
“We’re sorry about the cuffs and the gag, but we need you to keep still and quiet. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe we can take the gag off in a bit.”
“Jay,” the other man said. The warning in his voice was unmistakeable.
“Oh, what? We leave her gagged all the way? Come on.”
She knew his name. They wouldn’t let her go if she knew names.
Oh, Jesus Christ, I am in trouble here.
The first man sifted through her handbag, found her iPhone and placed it on the floor. Without hesitation, he smashed it into pieces with the butt of his gun. Each impact of the weapon made Hannah want to cry out. When the man finished, he shoved the wrecked device to a corner.
“We’ve got a long journey,” Jay said. “Try to be comfortable, okay? And no kicking. I really don’t want to have to tie your legs.”
They slid away; the illumination remained on her face for a moment, then dropped to her mid-section. The van slowed. Hannah caught a few seconds of noise from the traffic before their speed increased. They turned what might have been left, gears crunching, and drew alongside what had to be a bus.
Still in the city. Work no more than a couple of miles behind. Mum and Aunt Janey at home, both waiting for her, Janey especially. She wouldn’t be able to leave until Hannah got home. And Mum in her chair, sitting where she could see the telly and the front window, placed there where they pretended she had a choice but to sit. And all the noise and people and life of Edinburgh right outside while she was tied up in the back of this fucking van, tied up, tied up, fucking tied—
Hannah squashed her panic and listened. The bus moved on. There was still a fair bit of traffic on all sides. And someone other than the man from the shop had to have seen her being grabbed. Seen it or heard it. This was Edinburgh. Thousands of people all around; people walking, driving, looking from windows. She’d been seen. Had to have been.
You can’t rely on that. You do and you’re dead.
Hannah breathed through her nose, calming herself, listening for anything outside that might help her. A police siren, a traffic jam. Anything.
She heard nothing but the occasional honk of a horn and the crunch of the unseen driver changing gears. She saw nothing but the torch light resting on her stomach. And she felt nothing but the steady, unblinking gaze of the two men who’d pulled her into their van.
When Jay spoke to the other man, telling him to phone the others and report they had her, Hannah barely managed to keep a sob inside.


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