Chapter One: Bursting with Life!
A cluster of brightly coloured chairs sat in uneasy conversation in the entrance hall. The red and blue and yellow beckoned but he hastened to look away, afraid they’d shift into swirling patterns like they had the last time he’d had an appointment.
From behind a cluttered counter the receptionist frowned and nodded, saying, “She’s expecting you,” before returning to sifting through a stack of papers. He clenched his teeth and slipped past, hugging the wall as he headed for the lift that lurked in the shadows at the back. At least she hadn’t sought to extract a conversation.
He hesitated at the door to the lift. He dreaded confined spaces but his meeting was under the rafters on the fifth floor and he couldn’t face the stairwell. Last time he’d dared go that way the stairs had taken umbrage and tossed him back down. He’d been lucky not to break his neck.
The door let out a tired groan as it shuddered open. You’d have thought it was unwilling to let him in. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was hard on his heels, he closed his eyes and stepped inside. He heard the door slide shut and blindly fumbled for the buttons, pressing the uppermost one. Bracing himself for the shudder as the lift began to rise, he cracked open his eyes and scanned the lift.
He shrieked or would have, had he not stuffed a fist in his mouth to stifle his cry. There, sitting cross legged on the floor surrounded by swirls of black lace over frayed jeans and a black bodice strapped tight with leather thongs, sat a girl. Her bright blue eyes sparkled as she grinned at him.
“You look like you could do with some company,” she said. Her black hair, erected in spikes on her head, swayed like drunken soldiers as she slid her back up the side of the lift and pushed herself to her feet.
She looked too alert and too thoughtfully dressed to be one of the young druggies or borderline children that frequented the Centre. He’d never seen her before and would have avoided her if he had. He certainly had no desire to engage in conversation. Yet, for all his aversion, the forest of colourful badges pinned to her bodice fascinated him. A rainbow rubbed shoulders with a raised fist. An out-stretched tongue reached for a dripping ice-cream next to a CND badge and a droopy eye. Words. Slogans. Comic characters. Shooting stars. Celebrities. Manga. Skulls. The whole works.
“You like my pins,” she remarked as she leaned closer, her words sending a cloud of warm vanilla wafting up his nose. He coughed, the fullness of the scent threatening to choke him. He backed away only to find himself cornered in the narrow confines of the lift.
Unclipping an effigy of a majestic oak perched on a hill, she stretched out and, tugging forward his lapel, carefully pinned the badge to his jacket. Unable to escape, he sensed every muscle in his body tense. Fearful he’d have another attack, he held his breath. He’d never been violent before, but the violence of his attacks made him wonder how he might react to this girl.
Ignoring his alarm, she stepped back to admire her work, saying, “I’m Tara, by the way.” When he crossed his arms gripping his chest and stubbornly refused to acknowledge her, she stretched out a hand and, extending her index finger, lightly pressed it against his lips, whispering, “Shhhh. Not a word.”
Alarmed that she might try to force a passage into his mouth and down his throat, he clenched his teeth and pursed his lips. Unperturbed, she withdrew her hand and laughed, a warm, liquid sound that rippled round the lift sending a shudder of both dread and desire through his rigid body.
The lift trembled in sympathy and groaned to a halt. Terrified they were stuck between floors, his eyes flew to the panel on the wall in search of the alarm button. “Four,” she announced and the door struggled open. The lift didn’t go any higher.
Freed at last, he turned and fled, bounding up the remaining stairs to the attic two at a time. The door was closed, sporting a sign, Do Not Disturb! He was tempted to ignore the warning, but instead he sank into one of the two chairs waiting on the landing, his heart hammering in his chest, and struggled to regain his breath. A dull murmur issued from within. The woman was late yet again.
It had been his imagination. Surely. Yet the girl seemed so real. He recalled her red lips, her flushed cheeks, her suntanned skin that must be so smooth to touch, her sparkling eyes as she smiled. He had the strange impression her body couldn’t contain all she was. As if she were bursting with life. In comparison, the rippling swirls in his kitchen were kids’ play.
He dare not look over his shoulder to check. His hand gingerly reached for his lapel, afraid he’d find the badge pinned there. His laboured breath caught in his throat. His fingers traced the form of the tree and settled on the mound at its base.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” a voice next to him said. How the hell had she managed to creep up on him?
He clenched his eyes shut and thrust fingers in his ears, trying to will her away. When the world started to shift around him, dissolving into telltale swirls of colour, some times he could force it back to normal with an effort of his mind. But this was different. He’d read about hallucinations. Sure he had. He’d read about it all. The girl might be a figment of his imagination, despite the alarming realness of her, but the pin was palpable. God damn it! He’d gripped it between his thumb and forefinger.
The office door opened and a young man in a raincoat sidled out. Vint recognised the Flasher, as he called him. The youth’s appointment was often scheduled before his. The youth hesitated in front of Vint his hands thrust deep in his pockets. “Your turn,” he said giving him a lecherous grin and continued on his way, the stairs swallowing him up.
“Come in,” a woman called from within.
“See you later,” the girl whispered in his ear.
Read the Prologue, Chapter Two or Chapter Three. Find out more about Bursting with Life! and buy a copy.