As mentioned in my previous post, here’s the possible prologue for a new longer piece of work I’m writing. I’m not going to call it a novel – that’s far too terrifying!
The restaurant, with its peeling paintwork and dingy sign would be easy to miss were it not for the fish tank that fills the front window and obscures the restaurant’s patrons from anyone loitering outside. In the chill November night, the blue-green glow of the water casts a strange light on the damp pavement; two golden carp roll lazily around one another, catching the light from the street lamp. A middle-aged man rounds the corner and stops at the door, checking a small embossed card that he pulls from the pocket of his heavy wool coat. He glances around him, then pushes open the door, disappearing inside as the bell above the door announces his arrival.
Inside, the cloying smells of incense and sesame oil fill the air, which vibrates with conversation and the clatter of cheap crockery. Groups of people hunch around the tables, shovelling up noodles and rice and other assorted delicacies with wooden chopsticks.
The man follows the narrow aisle between the tables to the back of the room, turning slightly to one side to avoid catching anyone’s elbows as he passes. Head down, he ducks under a low beam and mounts a dark staircase hidden away in the corner next to the kitchen doors. At the top of the stairs, he finds himself in a small waiting area. The dark wooden floor is polished to a brilliant shine and a low table stands on a vividly patterned scarlet rug. Paper lanterns hang in the corners and give off a seductive, dangerous glow. The man sits gingerly on the bench that runs around the outside of the room. He sees a faint glow behind the frosted glass on the opposite wall but can’t make anything out. Hearing a creak on the stairs he’s just come up, he turns, watches for someone to appear. When no one does, he turns back, meaning to check his phone.
A woman is standing in front of him. Her dark almond eyes watch him, and she gestures towards the now open door of the frosted glass room without saying a word. The man stands and hands his card to her, giving a foolish half-bow that he instantly regrets. The woman ignores him and heads down the stairs.
As the man enters the frosted room, the heavy scent of jasmine and patchouli fills his nose. He feels a tightness in his head, and it takes him a moment to realise he’s not alone. A large man stands in the shadows at the back of the room and, on the ground, a young boy, no more than eight or nine years old, is perched unmoving on a large cushion of turquoise silk. His eyes are fixed on the man and, after a moment, he turns his hand over in a gesture that indicates the man should sit. Seeing that there are no chairs, the man folds himself awkwardly down on to a fat red cushion facing the boy. He feels cumbersome opposite such a tiny creature, but strangely nervous.
The man sits level with the boy, who continues to survey him with eyes like black olives; eyes that give nothing away. He clears his throat and the sound is loud in the silent room, the sumptuous furnishings doing nothing to muffle it. Just as he opens his mouth to speak, the boy cuts him off. He speaks in English, which surprises the man. Evidently it surprises the man in the shadows as well; he pushes away from the wall slightly.
“It is a difficult choice you have had to make; I don’t envy you.”
Suddenly, the man feels choked. He sees empathy in the boy’s eyes, feels the weight of forgiveness on his shoulders. He wants to apologise, to tell the boy it’s not personal and that, were circumstances different, he would never hurt a child. Instead, he takes a half-breath and launches himself forward, one hand fastening around the boy’s thin neck, the other pulling the ivory knife from his pocket. The boy doesn’t make a sound, and he doesn’t struggle. As the man raises his arm again and again, time seems to expand. He sees the arcs of scarlet hitting the frosted glass, the turquoise silk turning black as the blood pools on it. He sees the man in the corner reach for his gun and take aim. He closes his eyes.
With a violent start, I wake up. The room is the same as it always is – small, warm and filled with amber stripes from the streetlight outside shining in through the old wooden blinds.
Something’s changed, though. Maybe it’s me.