You're an underpaid civil servant who dreams of chucking it all to become a famous author. You live with your overbearing mother who always seems to interrupt when you're writing a key scene. Your imagination is dark, your inspiration the terrible things that happen to can happen to a young woman traveling alone . . . .Your terrifying short story about a horrible murder on an underground train is to be published. Even better, it will be made into a movie. A pretty young journalist is pursuing you.Except.You've been fired.The journalist wants an interview, not a date. The film's director wants you to make a few changes in your story. And, worst of all, your imagination has run dry. You'll just have to kill someone new . . . At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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May 01, 2007
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Excerpt from Secret Story by Ramsey Campbell
"Dudley, there's something I haven't been telling you," she said, and at once he was terrified that she knew.
Her first mistake was thinking he was mad.
As the train left the station he started to talk in a low passionate voice. They were alone in the carriage farthest from the driver, except for two beer bottles rolling about in their own stains and bumping together as if they were trying to mate on the unswept floor. Greta pretended she was moving away from them and not from the young man crouched low on his seat. She sat close to the doors into the next carriage and was taking the latest prize-winning bestseller by Dudley Smith out of her handbag when she saw he was talking to a mobile phone. "I don't know what you want," she could just hear. "I thought you said I gave you what you asked for. If that's not love I don't know what is."
She moved to sit with her back to him in case she embarrassed him. When the train pulled into Birkenhead Park she glanced over her shoulder--she could have been looking for someone on the platform. He'd slipped the phone into his discreetly elegant suit jacket and was staring straight ahead. Even at that distance she saw the unused intelligence in eyes blue as a summer sky; he looked mature beyond his years. His hair was neatly cropped, his nose straight, lips firm, chin square. She turned away before he caught her watching. Then four men in track suits stampeded over the pedestrian bridge.
They made for the front carriage. She let out a breath of relief and wished she'd taken the opportunity to make some remark to the young man. As the train gathered speed she opened her book. She was anxious to find out what happened next, but she hadn't finished a paragraph when she heard a door slam. The men were coming up the train.
She felt trapped by the overgrown embankments that were tarred with dark. Then an underground tunnel chased those away and closed with a roar around the train. The first man flung the door between the carriages wide, and the four of them strutted down the aisle. There was room for one of them next to her, and three on the facing seat. Before she could move closer to the young man with the phone, they boxed her in.
The man beside her put his feet up, blocking her escape. He smelled of sweat and tobacco smoke and too much aftershave--perhaps he'd slapped it on his bald grey scalp. The man opposite her gave her a loose wet grin with yellow teeth and a bloody gap in them under his broken nose. "On your own, love?"
"Must be," said the man in the middle and spat across the aisle. "She's got to read a book."
The man he'd spat past rolled up his purple sleeve and scratched a hairy tattoo of a skull inside a heart. "What's it about?"
Greta never liked to be rude. "Someone everybody thinks is ordinary," she said, "but really he's a master criminal."
"Sounds great," bloody-mouth seemed to think. "Give us a read of it."
He opened the paperback so wide she winced, and stuck his finger in. She would have asked him to be gentle, but the tattooed man took out a packet of cigarettes. "You can't smoke on the train," she said.
"We can do what we like, love," said the man with his legs up. "Plenty's said we can't and learned different."
"And plenty can't say much any more," the tattooed man said.
Gap-teeth crumpled a page out of his way. "This twat in your book's useless. Hasn't got a car and doesn't even nick one."
The train had stopped at Conway Park, where the lines were open to the sky. Greta always imagined the station was raising its roof to her. "May I have it back now, please?" she said.
"I've not had a read yet," said the man who'd spat.
"Me neither," said the tattooed man.
She didn't want to leave it with them--but as the train moved off, the reader threw the book to the man with his feet up, who bent it in half and ripped the spine apart. "Here, you have that bit and I'll have this."
Greta felt as if they'd torn her open. She could buy another copy--they were everywhere--but it was like having some precious part of herself damaged beyond repair. She restrained her tears and faced the tattooed man, who'd stuck a cigarette between his sneering lips. "The sign says no smoking," she said loud enough to be heard down the carriage. "It's dangerous."
"So are we," said spitter. "Who're you shouting for? Your friend's hiding. He'd better stay hid."
Greta twisted her head around to look. The young man must be crouching out of sight for fear of the gang, unless he'd left the train. The clunk of a lighter reclaimed her attention. The tattooed man lit his cigarette with a page of her book, then sailed it at her legs. "Don't do that," she said, trying to steady her voice as she brushed the paper to the floor and stamped on it. "That's just stupid."
"We say what's stupid," gap-teeth said, wiping a red trickle from the corner of his mouth. "You are for saying that."
"Shouldn't have," the tattooed man told her, setting fire to another page and poking it at her face.
"You can scream if you want," said the man with his legs up.
"We like it when they scream," spitter said.
Greta's eyes and nose stung with smoke. She knocked the burning page aside, showering the man next to her with sparks. "Watch what you're doing, love," he sniggered at saying.
The train was slowing. Had the driver seen her plight? Perhaps he was only getting ready for the station--Hamilton Square. "Excuse me, please," Greta said loudly. "This is my stop."
"Show us your ticket," the tattooed man said.
"It's not our stop, so it can't be yours," said the man with ash on his legs.
Greta was about to stand up when gap-teeth shoved a knee between hers and pulled out a knife. He flicked the blade free and rested it against the inside of her thigh. "Don't shout or you'll be no good to your boyfriend."
She had none just now. She could have sat with the young man behind her, too far away. As the train reached the platform, cold sharp metal inched up her thigh. The doors of the carriage opened as if they were gaping on her behalf. There was nobody to board the train, but she heard a shout. "Anybody here?"
"It's your friend," said the man with the knife. "He wants reinforcements."
Greta's heart leapt and sank. Nobody was coming to help. Why didn't the young man call the driver or go to him? Her forehead grew clammy with wondering as the doors shut tight. The train jerked forward and the knife nicked her thigh, and she thought she would do anything to make the man put it away. Then a voice behind her said, "Do you all know one another?"
"We don't know you," the man with his feet up said.
"Don't want to neither," said the tattooed man around his cigarette.
The young man sat across the aisle, planting his feet on either side of the sputum on the floor. "How about her?"
"She's with us," said the man with the knife.
Greta couldn't speak. She felt the blade advance another inch, and backed against the seat, but there was nowhere she could go. She almost didn't hear the young man say, "I'm surprised."
"Think we aren't good enough for her?"
"The other way round. I'd say you're lowering yourselves."
"She'll do for now," said the man with the knife, stroking her thigh with it under her skirt.
"I wouldn't want to be seen with her."
Greta thought his contempt was the worst of all. "Why not?" said the tattooed man, clanking and unclanking his lighter.
"I expect she's a virgin for a start."
"We'd like that."
"Or maybe she isn't. Did you see that look?" The young man peered at her. "Well, are you?"
"That's my business and nobody else's."
"Sounds like she isn't or she'd be boasting. Sounds as if she hasn't got a boyfriend either. You can see why, can't you?"
The four men were growing visibly uncomfortable. "We don't want to be her boyfriends," said the man next to her, closing a hand over her breast.
"On your way to meet some friends, are you?" the young man asked her. "I bet you work with them."
How could he know about her? Hearing him tell the gang felt like being raped. "If you had more friends," he said, "you wouldn't be reading a book."
"Can't you see what they did? They tore it up and he's been burning it."
"About all books are good for, do we think, gents? So can I join in the fun?"
"He's something, this character," the tattooed man said with an incredulous admiring laugh.
"Here's James Street," the man with the knife announced. "Time you fucked off, pal."
"How are you going to get me to do that?"
"With this," Greta's captor said, snatching out the knife.
She thought he'd cut her on the way to slashing the hem of her skirt, but the cold that ran down her thigh was only metal. The blade gleamed in the light from the station. "Off or I'll do her with it," he said. "And don't call anyone or she gets it."
"I keep telling you she's not worth it. You should listen," said the young man, but stood up.
At least he'd kept them talking and distracted them from doing worse to Greta. He stepped onto the deserted platform and hurried alongside the window. Greta's captor brandished the knife in front of her to remind him. The young man hesitated, and she felt as if her nose and mouth were stuffed with charred paper. Then he pointed at the gang, stubbing both forefingers on the glass.
"Bastard!" the man with the knife screamed. The young man sprinted into the carriage, and all the gang jumped up. Greta was afraid for him till two railway policemen strode past the window to board the train. The tattooed man threw the door between the carriages open. As the gang fled, the young man caught the spitter by the scruff of the neck and threw him face down in his own leavings. "That's it, wipe it up," he said.
When the police chased the gang off the train and up an escalator he sat at the far end of the seat opposite Greta. He didn't speak till the train moved off. "All right?" he said.
"Why, I shouldn't think I've ever felt better in my life."
"He didn't cut you, I meant."
Greta swept the pages that had been thrown into her lap onto the seat. "Oh no, I'm not hurt at all. Can't you see?"
"I'm sorry I didn't stop them ruining your book. It's all over the place though, isn't it?"
"It is now." She pressed her legs together so that they wouldn't shake when she stood up. "Here's my stop," she said.
She stepped down on the platform at Moorfields and hurried to the escalator that was taller than a house. The young man walked up the escalator beside hers. Though it was stopped, he easily kept pace with her. Halfway up he said, "I called the police, you know."
"Oh, did you?" Greta said as if he was a lying child. "How did you manage that on a mobile when we were in a tunnel?"
"I called before we went in."
"There wasn't anything to call about then," she felt clever for saying.
"I saw them get on smoking and come along the train. I could see they were heading for you and what they were like. I tried to call again when we were underground to make sure the police were waiting, but as you say, the phone wouldn't work. That's why I stayed low when I did."
"Well, if you really did all that, thank you."
She was being polite--more than she felt he deserved. They were at the top of the escalators now. A broad low corridor as white as cowardice stretched ahead. It was empty except for the echoes of her footsteps and the young man's alongside her. "Excuse me now," she panted. "I'm late."
"I don't mind hurrying. I wouldn't like to think you might end up in any more danger."
Even to Greta her voice and its echoes sounded shrill. "I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself now, thank you."
"Suppose you run into someone else like them?"
"At least they mightn't insult me in every single way they could think of."
"Is that meant to be me?"
"There's nobody else here."
"I thought the best idea was to pretend I was worse than them."
"Why did you have to pretend?"
"To take their minds off you. It seemed to work."
The passage ended at a bank of escalators half the height of the first one. The middle escalator was switched off. He climbed it as the stairs carried Greta upwards. "I just wanted to say--" he said.
Greta didn't care. She clattered up the rising metal steps, but he took his two at a time and was less breathless than Greta at the top. On either side a short tiled passage led to the Northern Line. She dashed up the stairs between them, which led to the exit to the street at the far end of a broad white corridor the length of a football pitch. "Are you sure you're all right?" the young man said.
She had to catch her breath. "I told you once."
"I was saying I expect everything I said about you was wrong."
"Most of it. Far too much."
"I was trying to shock them. Except . . ."
She was walking as fast as she had breaths for, but she used one to ask, "What?"
"I'm guessing you haven't got a boyfriend at the moment or you'd have threatened them with him."
"Are you looking for one?"
"I don't need to look."
"I mean, do you think you might like one who's shown he can take care of you?"
"I can take care of myself."
"Don't you think two can do it twice as well?"
They were at the corner of the passage. Beyond it was yet another deserted bank of escalators. "This isn't the way," she said. "I've gone wrong."
As she turned back, he did. "What do you think?" he said.
Her question seemed to scratch the walls. "What's the matter with you?"
"I don't think we should just part, do you? Not when we went through that together. Let me give you my number."
"No thank you."
"Or you can give me yours if you'd rather."
"Thanks even less."
She was hurrying, but he was faster. "Let me just escort you," he said, "till you get to wherever you're going."
Greta turned with her hand on the banister of the stairs that led down to the Northern Line. "Look, I was pretending I was lost before. I'm going the wrong way now."
"Seems like you don't know where you're going."
"Anywhere you aren't."
"No need to talk like that."
"What do you expect?"
"Respect for a start. When a gentleman used to defend a lady's honour he'd be sure of that, and a lot more."
"You really don't understand at all, do you?" Greta said and started down.
"I thought you weren't going that way."
"I am if it gets rid of you."
She was at the bottom of the stairs when he followed her. "I'll forget you said that. I honestly think it's my duty to stay with you even if it isn't appreciated. You never know what kind of maniac you might run into down here."
"I've got a pretty good idea."
"I'll come with you just the same."
"No. I can't think of any shorter way to put it. No."
"If you don't know by now you never will. I've been as polite as I'm going to be. If you don't leave me alone I'll be the one who calls the police."
"Shall I lend you my mobile? You know it won't work."
"If you don't go away I won't need a phone to make myself heard."
"Are you going to hurt my ears again? As you said, there's nobody else here. I think you're playing."
"No, I'm not playing."
She spat the last word in his face. As he wiped it off, his eyes grew so wide they seemed to flatten too. "You'd really call the police? You think I'm as bad as those criminals on the train."
"I think maybe you got your wish. You wanted to be worse."
She felt a sudden wind in her hair and heard underground thunder. "Here's a train. There'll be someone on it," she said and ran into the passage.
The platform was empty. All at once it put her in mind of the life she was running towards, and she wondered what she was running away from. He knew so much about her--what might he know that she didn't herself? It was too late for her to stop running. The fists that rammed her shoulders made sure of that. They flung her out of the passage, and she ran helplessly over the edge of the platform.
The train rumbled out of the tunnel no more than the length of a carriage away. That seemed enormously far to Greta in the moment it gave her to think. She'd heard that people saw their entire lives in such an instant, but there was so little of hers. She saw the front of the train tilt as if the driver was putting his head to one side in surprise. She had time to regret having run away from a life she would never know. Then the train knocked that out of her, and she felt nothing at all.