Flash Fiction Friday: Excerpt from RUNNING AWAY, the RUNNING HOME sequel
TODAY’S BREW: Egg nog coffee! For all the best things in life.
I’m trying to breathe here, but it isn’t really working.
I promised you all an excerpt from the Bethlem Royal Hospital scene in the sequel to RUNNING HOME, and here she is! I didn’t give you alllll of it, but hopefully enough to whet your appetite and not feel spoiled. You very briefly meet a new character who I’m inappropriately obsessed with, and see something monumental for Eliza, right when she needs it. I hope you all feel it like I do. Thanks so much for reading.
Excerpt from RUNNING AWAY
*work in progress*
“You’re a Stephen King book waiting to be written, woman,” he said out of the corner of his mouth, nodding at a matronly nurse who looked like she could use a little mental help herself. “But I have to say, I’m impressed with how you’re holding yourself together.”
I tore my eyes away from the doors at the end of the hall, suddenly curious about him. “What was it like for you the first time you fed?”
The scent of old smoke from him. I wondered if it was consuming him or giving him strength.
“Angry. Sad. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to, of course. And the man I killed wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to die.” He was quiet, but the fire in him blazed so much I thought it might singe me next to him. I couldn’t believe the expressionless people around us didn’t feel it.
We went through the set of double doors at the end of the hallway, and I saw the sign for the kitchen. It was all I could do not to run there, leaving every questioning staff member and Kieran behind. I wanted her more than anything in the world.
“You knew the man,” I said before I realized I’d said it. I was transfixed on the kitchen doors, my fangs impossible to retract.
“I did. But how did you know that?” Kieran said from next to me.
“I don’t know. I’m sorry you had to do that to your friend. It should never happen that way.”
The kitchen loomed ever closer.
“You’re creeping me out, Eliza Morgan,” he said, but I couldn’t look at him to see how much he was kidding.
We’d arrived at the kitchen doors. They were as foreboding as all the others we’d passed with droning buzz that opened them.
“Do you want me to go in there with you?” he whispered.
Clara was whistling from the other side of the dingy white doors. I put my hand on the door, and wanted to cry.
I pushed open the door, Kieran at my side.
The hospital kitchen was a jail cell in itself. Water-stained walls brought shadows of metal pipes to life, industrial puppets clanking and banging from within. Cracks littered every ceramic tile on the walls over the sink and stove, discolored and rusty like the slop basins and trash barrels around them. The cabinets would never be white again, the window never quite clear. One wall was cement, blackened in spots with age and damage. Every corner underneath the rusty metal work surfaces was brown with leakage and dirt that could never be hidden. Nobody may be looking there, but the grunge seeped onto the floor, as old as the horror that lived here. It was vacant of scent, not like any kitchen should be; there was no soup boiling, or cooking meat wafting through the air, or even cleaning fluid. Empty. The huge window over the sink housed a sadly spinning fan at the top, high enough that an inmate couldn’t reach it to escape.
And under that streaked window that looked out to nowhere, a gleaming thing in the yellowing disease of this place. Clara stood with her back to us, humming sweetly as her body gently shook with the scrubbing of dishes. Stacks more waited for the same. Stacks had already been done. And still, she hummed, despite the relentless filth here.
“Clara,” I said, not with a whisper. There was nothing to hide from her.
She spun on us, the whites of her eyes the brightest thing I’d seen in London.
“Oh,” she said, her fear spreading to a welcoming smile. She dried her hands as she walked towards us, her shapeless skirt swishing around her, and wiped a tendril of orange-ish frizz out of her eye. “I wasn’t expecting any visitors.” She positively glowed with simple happiness that was too good for the hospital, and yet so desperately necessary.
I hated what I was going to do, and wanted it even still.
“We aren’t really here to visit, Clara,” I said, looking as hard into her eyes as I could while her heart still beat.
Her eyes slid between me and Kieran. Panic set in, making her back away. God only knew the kind of danger she’d found herself in this place. But I would be the last danger she faced.
“What do you want? I don’t have anything,” she pleaded. Kieran was shuffling his feet in my peripheral vision, rubbing his fingers together, wishing he had a cigarette I was sure.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, not knowing what else to say. She laughed at him. She may be sweet, but she wasn’t stupid.
But within a beat of her heart, her shoulders relaxed, and she stopped backing away. She looked at me, confused, but becoming less afraid, until there was no fear there at all. I made to walk slowly to her, but realized that was a human thing to do, a human thing that would frighten her again, make her think I was trying to diffuse the situation.
So I pictured myself next to her, and I was. She gasped, but her eyes remained unafraid as she met mine.
“That smell—“ she muttered.
“What do you smell?” I said. So, this was my first thrall. Designed especially for my victim.
She breathed in deep. “Peonies.”
I went cold at the mention of Kat’s favorite scent, the one she wore no matter what the season or event. Clara reminded me of her; the decided obliviousness to the cruelties around them. That light in them that created happiness wherever they went. Tears sprung to my eyes, and I touched Clara’s hair, remembering Kat’s red locks, and thought Clara’s might be that beautiful if she had the mind to bother with it.
“Clara, I’m so sorry for what I’m about to do.”
Her eyes welled with tears, and something in me responded.
“My mother had peony perfume,” she said quietly. It was hard to say who was more mesmerized, her or me. She gasped suddenly, a tiny noise. “And when she smelled just like that,” she said, pointing her finger at me, “a mix of lemon pie and peonies, I knew she had something bad to tell me. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, she put on a squirt of her perfume, and made me a lemon pie. She hated that pie, said it wasn’t sweet enough. I told her I had all the sweet I needed when I smelled her perfume and saw her smile. We were alone, you see. Always alone, and she was so sick. I loved her more than anything. Even when she had to tell me bad things.”
My throat was thick with tears I couldn’t bear to shed for her. I wanted to hold her, and kill her.
“You have bad things to tell me right now, don’t you?” she asked, entranced.
I closed my eyes ever so briefly, and hoped she had wonderful love in life. I hoped she wouldn’t remember how awful I was in her last breath. I wished it wasn’t all my fault. Kat, I wish it wasn’t all my fault.
“I forgive you,” she said.
And with a roar that deafened only me, I plunged my fangs into her neck.