Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday Flash - I Thought I Knew Him

I’m sure I know the guy opposite me on the train. Only problem is, I can't remember how or why.

I pretend to read my book, but I sneak a look over the top of the pages. He has straight hair the colour of wet sand – straight except for the random kink just behind his right ear. He looks to be in his late twenties, but the cluster of spots around his mouth make him look like a gawky teenager. He fiddles with his phone, sliding his finger across the screen with merry abandon.

Ah! Matt! That’s his name. I met him on Match.com, and we had our first date in a cramped basement bar in Soho. He started every sentence with "So, like, yeah" and didn’t buy me a single drink all night. He regaled me with tales of his exploits in information distribution. It turned out he was a postman. There wasn’t a second date.

He looks up and out of the window, his attention caught by a woman pirouetting on a roof terrace above the railway line. I kick myself – he isn’t Matt. No, I recognise that slightly creepy half-smile as he watches the bikini-clad ballerina. It’s Peter, the guy who used to live downstairs when I had the flat in Putney with the leaky bathroom ceiling. He tried to flirt with me whenever he saw me on the stairs.

I wriggle down in my seat hoping he doesn’t look my way. He turns away from the window and starts rifling through his bag. I risk another look at him and I realise he’s not Peter at all. Peter would never carry a messenger bag anywhere. I’m sure I’ve seen that bag before, and then I remember where – on Brighton beach, just after I got hit in the face by a stray Frisbee. Ah yes, this guy must be Colt, the American boy who couldn’t apologise enough for his bad throw. We spent a glorious afternoon on the pier, and he gave me his number. I got mugged that night, and lost my phone.

Before I can say hi and apologise for never getting in touch, the man stands up. He slings the bag over his shoulder and walks down the carriage towards the doors. As he gets off the train, I realise it is not Colt. In fact, I never knew him at all.

A woman gets onto the train and throws herself into the seat opposite. She prods icons on her smartphone, and curses when the wrong app pops up. That smudged red lipstick and crooked black eyeliner looks so familiar. I’m sure I know her. She looks an awful lot like Denise, the woman who used to cut my hair in Crouch End. There again, she could be Natalya, the girl I shared a flat with throughout university. Wow, time has not been kind to her if she is.

She looks up at me. It takes me a few moments to realise she’s actually looking through me. I finally remember, as if I can ever really forget, but being dead can screw with your sense of perspective on things.

The train lurches out of the station and I turn away from the window. I don’t need to see where I died again. I sigh, and the woman opposite shudders. Goosebumps prickle along her bare forearm. I sigh again out of sheer devilment, and she stares at my empty seat. I muster up the energy to glare. She might think it’s bad to be haunted, but just you try being dead and haunted by your memories. I’ve got a whole lifetime of them – and an eternity in which to replay them.

37 comments:

Sam said...

Some wonderful misdirection in this, and the last paragraphs hits like a sledgehammer, especially its first sentence. I think it's the peppering of small details and placenames throughout that makes this one I'll remember for quite a while.

Chuck Allen said...

I guess being dead would screw with your sense of perspective. Nice twist!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

What a horrible way to spend eternity.

Sulci Collective said...

Terrific work Icy, really enjoyed this

marc nash

li said...

Great piece! A nice twist at the end (although the living are also haunted by memories and frequently paste the faces of the long-lost onto the faces of strangers).

Laurita said...

Wow, Icy. This one gave me chills. Haunted by memories, how sad. Fantastic job on this one.

FARfetched said...

"being dead can screw with your sense of perspective." Great hub, and the story turns so smoothly around it!

demonesprit said...

What a twist! Poor thing, to remember and remember, but not really remember at all ... good story.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Sam - Thank you! I wanted to try out a more "conversational" style of narration.

Chuck - M.Night doesn't do twists any more, so now I have to!

Tim - Yep. I can't think of many things that would be worse.

Marc - Thanks!

Li - Yes, I know that the living do this, but they only have a finite amount of time in which to do it. If you're dead...it's just going to keep on happening.

Laurita - Thank you! I hadn't done a proper ghost story for a while (aside from Fowlis' most recent outing) and wanted to do another.

FAR - Of course, this isn't from personal experience!

Janet - You have to wonder how often she has to remind herself she's dead.

flyingscribbler said...

This one left me with so many questions. What happened to her at that station? How long ago? Is she angry?
It's a great piece of writing. You always come up with the goods.
Maybe I'm getting to know your style, but I guessed she was coming form another place. (Actually, I was hoping she was-is that weird?).

theothersideofdeanna said...

Wow, I can't believe that, even though I knew it was paranormal, I didn't see that coming. I thought all the people she was seeing were the dead ones. Excellent job Icy!

John Wiswell said...

I'm such a typical man. I saw "bikini-clad ballerina" and paused to go back. What'd I miss? Half-naked girls where?

Is there actually a Crouch End? I know only of Stephen King's short story. Would be a wicked reference if you threw it out only for him. That also makes me a typical ignorant U.S. reader.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Justin - I don't think she's angry per se, more just bored. And it's not weird at all!

Deanna - Originally it was going to end with her realising she didn't know the woman either but the protagonist just kept talking...

John - It was my ever-so-subtle nod to Rear Window (see, Hitchcock does make an appearance everywhere!) And yep, Crouch End does exist. http://www.crouch-end.com/ Home to Shaun of the Dead!

laradunning said...

I like the thought process of the characters and the ending that is a zinger.

Al Bruno III said...

Nice job!

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

That's some wallop there at the end. Love the build up, and the meandering remembrances.

storytreasury said...

Really nice twist at the end there. I wasn't expecting her to be a ghost.

Kevin Michaels said...

Excellent story and some really vivid images. This took me somewhere I hadn't anticipated - nice twist...totally unexpected and very well done.
KM

Harry said...

Spooky cool piece with your usual flair for interesting details. I particularly liked the, "woman pirouetting on a roof terrace"

Great work Icy!

Steve Green said...

As Sam already commented, great misdirection, and a nice twist in the end.

I felt a deep sadness, and sense of confusion in the protagonist.

Helen said...

Nice twist! I never guessed it., I thought the piece was going in a whole different direction. Good writing.

Reginald Golding said...

This one left me with a chill; I love to think this kind of thing happens every day...

Tony Noland said...

I agree with Sam - the terrific misdirection caught me completely off-guard. Well done!

Donald Conrad said...

Great bit of flash here, lovely use of misdirection. Thanks, I enjoyed it.

daniellelapaglia said...

Another great one, Icy. You pulled us in one direction then flipped it at the end. I love that. I saw your comment to John & Rear Window is one of my favorites.

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

Icy, that was just fantastic! I loved and adored it, seriously interesting... at first, the "not knowing how she knew someone" - so interesting and realistic. And then the ending; completely unexpected and glorious. Wow! Peg this as one of my favourites of yours!

Jason Coggins said...

Being trapped for eternity with nothing but your memories for company is horrible prospect enough, but when those memories degenerate as they are here now that's plain scary. Early on-set Alzheimer's is no joke if you're a spectre.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Loved this.Excellent ending.

Stephen said...

I liked the gradual change in her concept of the different characters she may or may not be remembering, and a great idea as a symptom of being dead.

Given my memory for names and faces, I may already be dead. lol.

Very well written, Icy.
St.

brainhaze said...

This is brilliant - I love it so much I read it twice. Great work Icy. This could easily be expanded into the beginning of a novel. The constant changing and making the reader switch its perspective on the different characters, never gives you a chance to actually think what the girl who is questioning who they are is doing there...brilliant

Icy Sedgwick said...

Lara - I often find myself looking at someone and wondering where I know them from but hopefully I'm not dead too.

Al - Thanks!

Raven - I tend to find I wander off on unrelated tangents when I think about certain people.

Storytreasury - Glad you liked it!

Kevin - Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Harry - The Devil is in the details! I usually spot random stuff, rather than the obvious, so my characters tend to do the same.

Steve - I think I'd be sad too if I had to ride the same train every day for eternity.

Helen - Teehee, glad the twist worked!

Reginald - Well there always is at least one empty seat in a carriage...

Tony - Ha, M.Night should stop writing movies and let me do it instead!

Donald - Good! Glad you liked it!

Danni - I've been experimenting more with misdirection...it's kind of fun!

Cathy - Yeah, the opening sentence was from a text I actually sent someone on a train - I was convinced I knew the guy opposite but wasn't sure why. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

Jason - You have to wonder how far her memories will actually degenerate, or if she'll end up wandering eternity with absolutely nothing for company. Gosh, that's a horrible thought.

Virginia - Thanks!

Stephen - I'm good with names and faces, but can never remember where I met them! So this will probably be me at some point in the hopefully distant future!

Brainhaze - I'm glad you enjoyed it! I aim to please. ^_^

AidanF said...

I'm not ghost but I can relate to seeing people thinking that I should know them somehow, but not being able to figure out why. She seems to have had a sad life. I particularly liked her reminiscence of Colt.

ibc4 said...

Late to the party, sorry.

But what a party - what a great story. Pace that never lets up and a narrative that engages so quickly and so completely that the twist is a real hammer blow.

Brilliant writing, Icy, but then I've come to expect nothing less.

PJ said...

Wonderful twist, Icy and beautiful little details sprinkled throughout :-)

Icy Sedgwick said...

Aidan - Yeah, she's one of my 'sadder' characters.

Ian - Gee... *blushes*

PJ - I do love my details!

afullnessinbrevity said...

Lovely conversational style of writing. It works really well and the ending is classy Icy. Love the little details. Great piece.
Adam B @revhappiness

lmstull.com said...

Oh this was just utterly fantastic! I still have chills from reading it! GRREAT work Icy!

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