I've serialized pre-written novels here before but here is the first chapter of a new novel. I wrote this yesterday. I might finish the novel or I might not. Tell me if you think it's worth continuing with. It's been brewing in my mind for ages, although the plot has taken very different forms.
Between carrying his cup of hot chocolate to the balcony table and draining its last dregs, Laurence had decided to end it all. The decision came to him as coolly as a decision to…well, a decision to buy a cup of hot chocolate.
He wasn’t cool or decisive by nature. Usually, he fussed over every decision, every commitment. He worried and obsessed and vacillated.
But he was so, so tired. So tired.
He looked into the crowd below and marvelled at the utter exhaustion that he felt. Not a physical exhaustion, but an emotional one. But it went even deeper than emotional. Spiritual? The word made him cringe, but that’s what it amounted to.
Down below, people hurried and sauntered and queued, catching trains and getting off trains and waiting for trains. They all had somewhere to go, somebody waiting for them. Or if they hadn’t, then they anticipated having them in the future. The world ran on optimism, but Laurence’s reserves had run out.
He reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out two letters, two letters he had read over and over again in the past four days.
One was on headed paper and printed. He almost knew it off by heart. Now he merely scanned it, his eye skipping from one all-too-familiar phrase to the next: “Four years of excellent service as a teacher...unfortunate that a single incident…though you were undoubtedly provoked....reputation of the school…wish you all the best in your future career…”
As for the other letter, he could not even bear to read it a second time. Rather than being printed, it was written in the slanted, elegant handwriting that he knew so well. Its tone and its content was very different to most of the letters that he had read in that handwriting.
Suddenly, without premeditation, he tore both of them in half, then into smaller pieces, feeling a strange sense of relief as he did so.
He was still exhausted, but the grief seemed to diminish with every rip that he put through the paper. When they were ripped into pieces too tiny to be read—and who would want to read them, anyway?--- he rose from the table, feeling even more calm and resolved than before.
The weight of the past had lifted, but where was his future? He couldn’t see any. He was too tired for a future. Twenty-seven years of age, and he felt older than Methuselah.
“Attention, ladies and gentlemen, the train to 3:35 train to Cork is now boarding…”
He walked down the marble-effect winding stairway to the ground level of the train station. This had been his favourite place to come for tea since he’d come to Dublin to start college. He savoured the excitement of people coming and going, new stories beginning.
And all that would still go on, he thought to himself, as he made his way to the exit. The end of his own life seemed like a little thing to him right now. The great world would go on its way. Trains would arrive, trains would depart.
Epidemics would break out and then dissipate, because there were always enough people left living for the world to go on. There would be wars and rumours of wars, and then there would be movies and novels written about those wars, long after the blood had dried.
The world would not pause to notice the disappearance of Laurence Cahill. At another time, that thought would have depressed him. Now it made him feel strangely cheerful.
It was a dark November evening, a little past seven. He made his way to Trevelyan bridge. The rush hour was long over and there was not much traffic, wheeled or human.
“Spare some change?”
He looked down. A young woman, sitting with a blanket over her legs, was leaning against the parapet of the bridge and lifting a paper cup to him.
“Sure”, said Laurence. He took out his wallet, opened it, and glanced inside. There was a little over two hundred euro. He took it out, rolled the notes together, and dropped them into the woman’s cup while she stared at him. One last dramatic gesture. Why not?
She stared at the money in her cup for a few moments, and then looked up at him in suspicion. Then her hand moved like a stage magician’s, and the money disappeared under the blanket.
“Thanks”, she said, matter-of-factly, still looking at him guardedly.
Laurence nodded. What had he been expecting? Tears of gratitude? That would have just embarrassed him, anyway.
He walked along the bridge, staring into the bottle-green Liffey water, glowing with reflected light from street lamps.
The idea of climbing up onto the parapet and jumping into the river appealed to his sense of drama. But what would it actually be like—dying that way? How long would it take? How much would it hurt?
As he stood there, a bus pulled up alongside him.
It was a bus unlike any he had ever seen before. For a start, it was painted black—with red streaks of painted ‘blood’ running down the side. There were pictures of vampires, werewolves, tombstones, and other horror effects scattered here and there over its exterior. The windows were blacked out.
The door had opened, and a man in a black robe and hood, and with a face painted to resemble a skull, extended a card to Laurence. He was one of the tallest men Laurence had ever seen.
He took the card. It was red with splotchy black lettering and a drawing of a spider’s web in one corner. MONSTROUS MYSTERY TOUR, it announced. ONE FREE TOUR.
“What have you got to lose?”, asked the man with the skull-face. Probably a trained actor; he spoke with a deep, rasping voice.
“Why are you giving them out free?” asked Laurence.
“Promotion, isn’t it?” said Skull-face, his English accent creeping into his theatrical voice now. “We guarantee you’ll be back. The Monstrous Mystery Tour”—he rolled his r’s—“is so frightfully good that we expect that you’ll tell all your friends, too.”
“New thing, is it?”
“New to this territory”, said Skull-face.
Laurence fell silent. He had always had the kind of politeness—or was it just weakness?— that made it difficult to decline anything.
But it was more than that. He was a horror fan. His collection of scary movies ran into the hundreds. Anything with a
horror theme drew him—though it usually disappointed him, too.
And besides...this bus had pulled up beside him just as he was wondering what it would feel like to drown. Laurence was not religious—despite his love of horror, he didn’t really believe in anything supernatural, and if there was any kind of God he was sure it wasn’t the God of church, mosque and synagogue—but he could never shake a belief in something like Providence. Things happened for a reason. Sometimes. Maybe.
That very moment, he decided two things. First, that he was going to ride this mystery tour. Second, that he was going to go on living.
For the time being, at least.
“Sure”, said Laurence, stepping towards the bus. “I’ll give it a go.”