FICTION: At Goodge Street by Frances Gow

One day, I saw her at Goodge Street. She stepped off the tube, holding another man’s hand. I stumbled. Someone knocked into me from behind and I turned to glare at him. There was a gasp and the space opened up around me. The crash of the tube doors echoed down the length of the platform as the wind whipped up a frenzy of dust and discarded newspaper pages. The antiquated lift rattled up, out of the bowels of London. Pressed together like tortured souls, I was close enough to breathe down her neck. She snapped her head around and caught my gaze, and her eyes shifted from coal black to a wistful azure. A playful smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. We burst out into the bright summer’s day on Tottenham Court Road and she led her man, dodging the traffic, on a trajectory towards Heal’s. Much later when I asked, she implied that he was just a friend; someone with whom to pass the time of day. The warmth of her smile didn’t reach her eyes and then I felt guilty for even asking.

I followed her that same day after we stepped off the tube. Through the department of designer collectables and on to look at sofas, lost in the grey fabric of a swivel love seat. She saw me watching, said something to her friend and they laughed. Her eyes glittered with mischief, her friend oblivious to her destructive instinct. I watched her dance between the sofa beds and occasional tables and imagined how she might look with a garland of skulls around her neck and a skirt of dismembered arms.

One day, she stole my seed and we gave birth to a monster. Our son is now an asset management guru in New York. Educated, molded and primed to take over the world. This was her idea of liberation. Each time I tried to intervene, she cut me down with her cruel words and left me weeping in dark and comfortless sorrow.

But her capacity for love was absolute. The coquettish smile that lingered always on her lips, the invitation in her eyes to catch her if I can. Always one step ahead while I lagged painfully behind, never quite able to reach her, never quite able to rival her.

“You’re asking too much,” she said as I fell into step behind her. We returned to Goodge Street, our favourite place for a cappuccino and a pastry after hitting the stores. She had no qualms about bleeding me dry of money either. Before I had a chance to respond, she was off again in her own sweet world, chasing the dreams of tomorrow.

“What…,” I started. But she was already out of earshot. I turned the corner and there she was, negotiating a table and a hot steaming cup of devil’s brew in the dwindling late afternoon light.

“Anyway,” she said, looking around to see if I was listening. The lone man sitting at the next table looked quizzically at her, before he realised she was talking to me. She shrugged. “Samuel comes back tomorrow and needs a place to stay.” Samuel. It was always about the monster. So where did I feature in all of this? I worked, I paid, struggled to Goodge Street to meet her so we could go shopping in Habitat. I watched her dance around the home decor like some fairy queen of furnishings. Then when she’d had enough, she disappeared like a child playing hide and seek. She chatted away like she had no care whether I was listening or not and as the day bled into night, she gathered up her shopping bags.

Threading her way through the West End crowds, she didn’t even bother to check whether I was following her. My head was a jumble of confusion. What did I do this time? I wasn’t rude about Samuel and I didn’t curb her ridiculous spending habits. It was she who ignored me most of the time, making fun of my presence and squandering my trust. I saw her disappear around a corner and sprinted to catch up, dodging the ambulant theatregoers with practised ease. I knocked into a man in front of me.

“Hey, watch where you’re…” the man’s eyes widened.

“Sorry,” I said.

“No worries, no worries,” the man said holding his hands up.

I finally caught up with her just before she was about to vanish into the underground station. But then she stopped. She stopped dead in her tracks, her shopping bags clutched to her side. I stopped too. Finally, she remembered me. She remembered our history. Goodge Street was our station; the place where destiny hung in the balance. She turned on her heel and stalked back towards me. Inches away from my face, she hissed at me like a viper.

“Stop following me, you freak,” she said.

Then her eyes widened, first with shock, then realisation. She dropped the shopping bags either side of her feet. Her mouth made a little ‘o’ shape, then emitted a small plaintive sigh. I stepped back, withdrew the knife and watched her crumple to the pavement. I walked away to a chorus of cries and screams. I couldn’t resist a little smile. That got her attention.

#

The next time I saw Kali, she was travelling on the southbound Northern Line. She got on at Chalk Farm and settled into a seat opposite me. I kept my head down amidst the bustle of weekend travellers, hoping she might not notice me there, hiding behind my lies. I had thought she might come after me. In fact, I looked forward to it with an appetite that could not be sated by the blood of humans.

When she didn’t take the bait, I started a riot. That had been fun; find a suitable small time thug under police surveillance, plant a weapon, whisper into the right ears and behold. Let human nature do the rest. The fires that raged across the capital had warmed my heart and filled the empty space left by her darkness. For a while.

I glanced over at her between the gaps. Passengers stood like vultures, waiting for a chance to swoop down on empty seats. She was smiling to herself, body swaying from side to side in rhythm with the train’s motion, dressed as though she had just stepped out of an advert for John Lewis.

Well the riot had not been enough to flush her out, so then I decided to travel to India, land of our forefathers, to stir up some trouble with the women’s movement, such as it was. Apparently, they still have some way to go. A trail of destruction followed me across the east from Egypt to Syria, from India to Burma. Perhaps she really didn’t care what happened to these people. Perhaps all I needed to do was remind her of who she really was.

I leant forward, pointed a finger at the floor and a space appeared between us. A tall bearded man looked in confusion at the oval of emptiness, and then glanced at me. A small shake of my head and he stayed put. Then she saw me. Her eyes flashed amber and her skin turned a mottled grey.

Someone screamed.

Someone pulled the emergency stop. Now why would you do that? I laughed in the face of it; a stream of expletives flying from my mouth like projectile vomit. The lights flickered off as the train came to a screeching halt and bodies flew across the carriage in wanton abandon.

From the darkness and the screaming she emerged, cutting a swathe through the bodies in her path. She even had the audacity to step on some poor soul’s head. What impressed me most was her transformation. The cotton frock had been replaced by a tiger’s skin, her costume jewelry cast off in favour of a necklace of human bones. Before I had time to react, she was upon me, a single claw-like hand around my neck, pinning me to the carriage window.

She looked at me with the curiosity of a child discovering a new game, tilting her head to one side. A curl of smoke escaped her lips and she leaned forward, pressing her face right up into mine. The scent of charred flesh filled my nostrils.

“Raktabija,” she said, voice hissing through her fangs. “You bait me still. What is it you want from this world?” Interesting question. I hadn’t expected that one. I shrugged, such as I was able to with my body half elevated and pressed to the glass wall.

“What does anyone want from this world? Money? Power? Eternal life?” The word ‘life’ came out more like a squawk, as she tightened her grip on my throat. The mayhem around us seemed to fade into a background hum, though I was aware of a constant thud as people tried first to prise open the doors, then with little success began to hit the locking mechanism. So strong is the will for survival. Kali paid them no heed.

“And what about love?” she said. I smiled and her grip loosened for just one moment. She leaned closer, her breath scorching a trail on my skin. Then she opened her mouth, resting the tips of her fangs on my neck. A shiver ran through me and for a moment I thought she might kiss me. Her eyelids fluttered in delirious pleasure before she bit down hard.

My body arched back and I let out a cry. The humans clapped their hands over their ears, eyes flitting in our direction before resuming attempts to escape with renewed vigour.

She sucked at my neck like a breastfeeding baby, drawing my life force, then paused for breath. The pallor of her cheeks flushed crimson. I watched my blood take effect as her eyes bulged and her veins pulsed with the potential for destruction. She shook her head and a small drop of my blood flew from her lips. Her head turned to one side and she arched an eyebrow, watching the droplet make a slow motion descent to the floor. A split second too late, she released her grip on my throat and reached for the errant drop. I smiled to myself, as I slumped back down to the seat and listened for the gentle splosh as my seed hit home.

In a rage, Kali stalked the length of the carriage, swatting people aside like irritating flies. They lay in heaps like forgotten toys in a sleeping child’s room, all bloody and broken. She ripped off the doors of the train and disappeared down the tunnel, leaving me as usual to clean up the mess. Gradually, the remaining passengers picked themselves up, dusted off their lost dignity and shuffled in a daze towards the open exit.

I smiled to myself and picked up the tiny sprawling mass that had emerged from my blood. Before she could return to finish her work, I scooped it into my palm; it felt soft and sticky like a warm little jellyfish. I cosseted it inside my pocket and ambled towards the exit, wondering where to place our latest creation.

Over the next age of humans, Kali went on a rampage across the globe, drunk on the blood of her enemies and intent on purging the world of demons that threatened the cosmic order. Her rage caused hurricanes in the southern lands and tsunamis in the east. Volcanoes filled the atmosphere with ash and the polar ice caps began to melt with the heat of her wrath.

Finally we caught up in her temple at Kalighata, where the people made a daily sacrifice of goats in Kali’s name. A poor substitute for human blood, in my opinion. Funny really, I could imagine myself back at Goodge Street, with the hustle of London life replicated by Kali’s many servants. Even her temple looked like a version of the soft furnishings department in Heal’s; all soft leather covers and multi-coloured textile squares. I absently wondered which beasts she had skinned to complete her collection. And then she appeared, stepping down from her dais like a bloodthirsty creature of the night. In one hand she held a severed head, gripped by the tendrils of hair that hung below its neckline like a spray of rat-tails. In the other hand she held a square of cloth; plain and blue. I laughed out loud.

“Really? Have you seen yourself lately?” I said. Her lips curled back in a grimace, fangs glistening with fresh blood.

“Let me introduce you to someone,” she said. A grey wolf appeared at her side and lunged for me. I ducked, turned and thrust a kick out to meet the advancing animal. My foot hit its side and it whined before resuming the attack. Another wolf appeared to my left side and as I swung around to aim a kick at its head, the first wolf clamped its jaws around my forearm and began to pull. The pain hit me like a lightning strike and I screamed. It fell away from me and ran with its tail between its legs, but the damage had been done and my blood splattered in thick warm droplets across the temple floor.

“I said no blood,” she said, swinging the head around by its tresses and launching it at the departing wolf. It landed with a thump on the animal’s backside. The wolf yelped and jumped further into the shadows of the room. The other one was jumping ineffectively on the squirming replicas, which rose from my blood and wriggled on the ground trying to make some sense out of their sudden exposure to this world. “Do I have to do everything myself?” Kali strode towards me, twirling the square of cloth between her fingers.

Her eyes glistened with moisture and I said, “You know, you really should have killed me while you had the chance. Sucked me dry and saved the world from your own drunken rampages.”

She shrugged. “They have survived worse, these people. Besides, there is more than one way to skin a cat.” She tightened the tiger’s pelt around her shoulders. For a moment I stood in awe of her, aching for her touch despite her being intent on destroying me. The wolves had transformed back into thugs and attempted to subdue my progeny, without further bloodshed. I looked at the blue square in her fist.

“Hmm. Strangulation. That could work,” I said. The words barely left my lips before she was on top of me, claws curled around my throat, the piece of cloth wrapped around my neck like a gentleman’s cravat. I fell back to the ground and she straddled me, squeezing with a slow determination, gazing into my eyes with a perverse kind of pleasure. My breath shortened, my life force drained. Head dizzy, weak. A shadow crept in around the edges of my conscience. I closed my eyes and we were no longer in Kali’s temple, we were on the pavement back in Goodge Street.

A crowd had gathered around this strange spectacle. She sat astride me, fingers pincer-like on my throat and slippery with her own blood. Her other hand was clasped to her side, as though trying to stop herself from falling apart. Her hair flopped across her face, hiding the agonising expression on her angelic face.

The knife was still in my hand, so I made a move to raise it, but some clever dick from the crowd leapt in and kicked it out of my hand. Sirens wailed and someone was screaming. Then I realised that it was me. For all those weeks I had watched, waited, followed. If I couldn’t have her, then why should anyone else?

“You were right,” I said, “about love…”

She frowned at me. “I’ll see you in court, freak. My lawyer will eat you up for breakfast and spit out your bones.”

Several police officers pushed through the crowd. It took two of them to prise her off me and three more to roll me over, twist my arms behind me. The cold metal of the handcuffs bit into my skin and I laughed all the while. They hauled me to my feet and marched me away. I looked over my shoulder and caught her amber gaze. Her lips curled back just a fraction, enough to catch the glint of fangs behind her smile.

Frances Gow

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I am a writer of speculative fiction, which crosses the boundaries between Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, with previous publication success in a variety of small press magazines and two novels published by Double Dragon Publishing.

If you enjoyed ‘At Goodge Street’ feel free to discover Frances Gow on her social media platforms;

Twitter – @francesgow

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FGLaval/

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.co.uk/francesgow/

Tumblr https://francesgow.tumblr.com/

Google+ https://plus.google.com/109817572795107520076

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/francesgow

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