Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Wrong Stop, by Jack O'Sullivan (De Montfort University)

Matthew rapped his knuckles tentatively on the bus window. He could hear Toby panting by his feet, and stretched out a hand to pat him gingerly on the neck.
“Almost there, boy.”
He assumed that they were, anyway. The couple behind definitely said that they were getting off at Spinny Woods. His legs were starting to hurt in any case, from being sat so paralytically still. There was hardly any legroom on buses at the best of times, let alone with a hulking great Alsation snoozing on your feet.
As he expected, the bus started to slow to a stop. He ruffled Toby's ears and felt him pull away as he got to his feet. After a quick probe around with his free hand, Matthew let himself be steered along to the front, and after a quick turn and a sharp step, he felt his shoes touch solid pavement and heard the timid voices of the bus fade away as it squealed off. He jerked his head as a heavy gust hit him, and tugged on Toby's leash. Toby seemed fairly certain that he knew the way, as usual.
As they made their way along, Matthew heard a low rumble overhead, followed by what felt like mild drizzle. He knew it wouldn't stay a drizzle for long, and scowled at the thought. The first few pangs of cold were starting to force their way through his multiple coats as well. Typical winter. He tugged hard on Toby's lead and came to a stop, stretching his back with a melodramatic groan. A sneaking suspicion was spreading in his mind that he may have ended up at the wrong stop. This place certainly didn't seem ... what's the word? Well, it just didn't seem right. It was far too quiet.
For one thing, Matthew hadn't heard a single voice since getting off that bus. It always put him at unease when there wasn't enough to listen to – he thought the term “deafening silence” was a little fanciful, in his opinion, but it seemed appropriate now. He grimaced and fumbled to zip up his coat, seeing as the heavens seemed to be opening up fully now. There was a strong rush of water somewhere beneath him, much stronger than one that would form at the side of a road.
“Is there a river, Toby? Is there a river?”
Toby's ears twitched in response, before he resumed his staring contest with a sour-looking cat sat on a nearby bridge. Matthew sighed and flared his nostrils. What was that smell? Chocolates? This place is absolutely bizarre, he thought.
“Toby? Shall we go back to the bus stop Toby? Back to the bus stop?”
Matthew had come to the conclusion that he was not where he thought he was. If not for the pavement, it wouldn't have seemed like civilisation at all. At least the bus stop would stop him getting soaked, even if the next bus wasn't scheduled this side of Tuesday. He tugged gingerly on Toby's lead, but Toby would not budge.
“Toby? What's the matter? Come on, Toby!”
Toby had got past phase one of staring at the tabby, and had entered phase two: the cut throat ear-twitching session. Matthew gasped in exasperation, and yanked the lead fervently. Finally, Toby got up, rounding off a finishing leer at his smug feline adversary. Relieved, Matthew felt Toby leading him back, retracing their steps back to the bus shelter.
“Good boy, Toby, good boy.”
In fact, Matthew did not think that Toby had been good in the slightest, but it was good to know that they were on the way out of this strange little village, or town, or whatever it was. Away from its peculiar confectionery smell (he sniffed his palms just to double-check it wasn't him), and away from the supposed river. He cocked his head to one side. It would be nice to get out of the rain, too. It's chucking it down.

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