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Chapter 1 of the Follower - re-written

by Steerpike`s sister 

Posted: 07 June 2006
Word Count: 2356
Summary: I'd like what people think of this new version of Chapter 1, please. I've tried to make the whole more "active".
Related Works: Chap 7 The Follower • chapter 5 The follower • Chapter 6 The Follower • Chapters 4 & 5 of The Follower (Revised) • Fiction YA -chapter 1 of a novel: The Follower. • The Follower - chapter two • The Follower Chap 3 • The Follower Chapter 4 • 

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It was the hand on her shoulder that woke her. Yet when she opened her eyes she was lying alone in clean white sheets in a narrow bed, and the first thing she saw was the edge of the metal bed frame, ridiculously enlarged by its closeness, as if she had shrunk to the size of an eye. It was painted pale green, or perhaps, she thought, blue. The paint was peeling, and there was older, dark grey paint underneath. Next to the bed was a small white table. There was no one in sight.
The pressure of the five fingers on her skin was still so clear and precise that she sat up in bed and pulled aside the collar of her pyjama jacket, looking for the marks they had left. She expected to see five red, fading lozenges. But there were no marks. There was just brown skin, and, beneath it, the shape of the bone, moving back and forth as she wriggled her shoulder. Yet she could still feel the pressure of the hand that was not there; could not have touched her, calmly, firmly, as if to steady her.
She looked down at the pyjamas she was wearing. White cotton with pink and blue stripes. They looked as if they had been washed often. On her palms were small, red, crescent-shaped marks, where someone had dug their finger nails into her hand. Her left side felt bruised.
She sat up carefully, listening for any sound that might let her know where she was, scanning the room for clues.
It was a long, white, still room. The only sound was the infinite whirr of the electric clock on the wall. There were sixteen beds: all narrow, all painted pale green, or perhaps blue, (it was hard to tell) all with small white tables next to them. There were cut flowers in glass vases on some of the tables. Not on hers. All the beds were empty: pale and clean and made. The hands of the clock pointed to 11.30. Without quite knowing why, she felt uneasy. Her mouth was dust-dry. There was a glass of water by the side of her bed. She reached out and drank, it, thinking: someone will soon come. Minutes passed and no one came. Under the bed there were white slippers. They fitted her. Next to the bed there was a chair, and on the chair was a white cotton dressing gown. That fitted her too.
She put on the slippers and the gown, and went out hesitantly into the aisle between the beds. She thought: this is a hospital, and was glad she had worked that out. Yet she still felt wrong, as if she had forgotten something, or left something important behind. She worried at the feeling like a loose tooth. The pressure of the fingers was still firm on her shoulder. It felt like the touch of someone familiar, someone used to touching her. It might, she thought, have been my mother. She felt nothing when she thought mother. I don’t remember, she thought. I don’t think I have a mother.
“Hello?” she said.
Nobody answered.
At the far end of the ward was a glass door. She began to walk towards it, past tall windows which looked out onto a flat grey roof where mirror-pools of rainwater lay.
She pressed her face against the glass door. Behind it was a small office. The wall within was lined with shelves, crammed with yellow folders. A computer, its screen dark, stood on a desk. There were papers scattered around; a woman’s pink, comfortable cardigan hung over the back of the chair.
She pushed open the door and went in. On the desk, next to the computer, was a half-full mug of coffee. She touched it. It was still warm. The files all had words on their spines: collections of letters she had never seen together before. Names, she thought. And realised: I don’t know my name.
She stood still, only her heart racing like a cartoon character that has run off the edge of a cliff, and looks down too late, legs pummelling bare space. In the computer’s dark screen she was reflected, a small girl with eyes wide and frightened, black curly hair sticking out like a stop sign. Is that me? She could not remember ever seeing the person in the reflection before. How old am I? Thirteen? Fourteen? She looked down at her hands: thin brown fingers, each nail the colour and shape of a small candle flame. She had a dark freckle on the knuckle of her right thumb.
The hands seemed to fit the reflection. She lifted her hands to her hair and felt it and pulled it in front of her face. It looked like the hair she saw in the reflection. She reached up and took down a file from the shelf at random. Her reflection in the glass door was as transparent as she felt. But I don’t know who I am. I don’t know where I come from. I’ve got no name. She opened the file. Inside, she recognised the letters but not the language. She closed the file again and put it back on the shelf. As she did so, she heard the authoritative tap of shoes coming quickly along the corridor, and female voices, raised, indistinct. At once she thought: I’m not allowed to be here. She did not know where “here” was, but she was certain that if the women found her, she would be in trouble.
She turned round and went quickly out of the office, away from the ward, away from the approaching footsteps, out onto the landing. There was a big lift, wide enough to take trolleys and stretchers, but she already felt as if she was falling. She took the stairs.
She pulled back before she reached the lobby. Plastic plants masked her from view. A couple with a tiny baby, wrapped in a pink shawl, stood close together by the door. At the desk a man scratched his ear with a pencil and spoke to a woman in a white smock. A revolving door opened onto the pavement. Outside, cars were parked along the kerb, pigeons scratched and ruffled in the gutter. The couple stepped towards the exit, the man with his arm around the woman, the woman anchored to the baby as if the rest of the world was hardly there.
She took a quick breath and went after the couple. She kept her hand on the hem of the woman’s coat as they went through the doors and out onto the street. The woman, looking down at the baby, did not even notice her.
She let go of the woman’s coat quickly, blinked in the sudden natural light. The pigeons took fright and burst into the air in a scatter of wings. The couple did not look back as they crossed the road.
It was a long grey street of concrete buildings. The tarmac was patched where old potholes had been filled. It was not too cold; it could have been a northern city in summer, or a southern city in winter. There was rain in the gutter but the sky was blue and fresh. She thought: [quote]I shouldn’t be here. But where is here? What was I doing in a – a hospital?[/quote] Distantly she could hear the noise of busy people. Absently rubbing at her shoulder, where the ghostly pressure of the hand still rested, she set off to find them.

She found them at the other end of a back street, lined with old sleeping bags and flattened cardboard. Unseen, she watched as people hurried along a crowded street lined with shops. The street was packed with conversation in a language she could not understand. Under a café awning, two pale, dark-haired women sat drinking coffee, gesturing with cigarettes as they chatted, their handbags wedged between their feet under the table. One put her hand on the other’s arm and whispered something that made the other squawk with laughter and spill her coffee. A tall, blond family seriously examined the window of an electronics shop. The son, who seemed about fourteen, tapped the glass, pointing to a camera. Opposite were shops selling heavily embroidered clothes in strange colours. A woman dressed in a huge black robe walked past pushing a red buggy in which a little boy lay, watching the world. His face was three circles: two dark eyes and a dummy.
The girl made to step out into the street, hesitated, then went forward. She kept close to the edge of the street, hurrying along with her head down. No one noticed her. A man just in front talked into mid-air, waving his hands as if signalling to someone far away. Closer up she saw the ear piece and the microphone clipped to his jacket. On the other side of the road, a busker carefully laid down his guitar, bent and scooped up the change in his hat. The crowd disguised her, and only a few people glanced at her curiously. She tried to keep close to anyone who looked as if they might have a daughter. At times she could smell the sea, but it seemed to come from different directions according to the wind, and she could not follow it, it lost itself in corners and dead ends.
Hospitals; you get well or you die, she thought. Sometimes they operate, cut things off. Is that what happened to my memories? Could they have amputated them? Is that possible?
She glanced sideways at the shops. She recognised none of the signs or the words on the signs, except for one. Mariposa, read the sign above a shop selling fancy goods and greetings cards.
“Mariposa,” she said aloud. It sounded like a name.
She thought of trying to talk to someone, and rehearsed what she would say: I’ve been ill. I don’t know my name. I don’t know who I am. But every time she nervously looked at someone, thinking of approaching them, their breezy security, their certainty of who they were, where they came from and where they were going, turned her aside like a strong gale. And there still was that uneasy feeling: not allowed to be here.
At the end of the street there was a wide, cobbled square, surrounded by large stone buildings. One was decorated with black and gilt pillars. Seven wide steps led up to large brass doors. She watched people going in and out: a woman with three small children all holding hands, a sedate old man in a smart suit and a fur hat mounting the steps, one by one, making sure he had both shiny black shoes on each step before continuing upwards. But when she went closer, she saw a discreet board with some numbers on it, and saw that the people who went in paused at a small booth to open their bags and purses and hand something over. Money, she thought. Almost as she thought it, the same man she had seen earlier, talking into mid-air with his mobile phone head-set, walked past her and stopped, engrossed in listening to the person on the other end of the line. He folded his arms and nodded seriously, as if he were approving of the building with black and gilt pillars.
She looked down. She could see a corner of brown leather, sticking out of his trouser pocket. A careless movement would shake it loose, it would fall onto the floor and not be noticed, kicked into the gutter or down a drain. It would be easy to lean forward and just slide the wallet out.
I might be a thief, she thought, surprising herself. I don’t know. I could be anything.
The thought made her feel dizzy with possibility. She put her hand out, and hesitated. In the moment of hesitation, the man said something, exclaimed in agreement or disgust, and marched off, still talking to nobody.
She was left with her hand out as if she were going to shake hands with someone who had already gone. She blushed, and dropped her hand to her side, wondering if anyone had seen her.
On the other side of the square was a tall, thin building, with a square tower. The people going in and out did not seem to be paying anything.
Maybe, she thought, if I get to the top of the tower, I’ll be able to see where I am. She imagined – as precisely as if she were remembering it - a land spread beneath her familiar as an old tablecloth: a red desert, beyond that a plain of grass, perhaps mountains in the distance, something she could point to at once and say There’s so and so… or That’s the way out.
She craned her neck back to look up at the tower. At the top there were bells, hanging between great wheels. The clouds moved by swiftly behind the bells. She stepped back, feeling as if it were falling onto her. She caught a sudden smell of the sea, bright and immediate, carried by a fresh breeze.
She saw the wheels begin to turn, the bells to shiver and sway. Then the first note rang out, and the second, and the third, and then all of them at once, like the tolling of great waves upon a rocky shore, booming and breaking. She pressed her hands to her ears and screwed her eyes shut as if that would help close out the noise, but it crashed and echoed through her like a great heartbeat, like pounding blood. Her heartbeat and the smell of the sea and the thunder of the bells and her fear all seemed to mill and churn together in her, like rocks tossed and driven by huge waves, until she was no longer certain which was which. She shouted “Stop, stop,” but she could not hear herself. Finally the sound died away.
She opened her eyes to find herself in darkness.

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Comments by other Members

MF at 14:42 on 13 June 2006  Report this post
Very nice writing here. I think that you've certainly managed to work in a more "involved", less narrative feel to the piece, so kudos on the revision!

My attention is still somewhat likely to wander, though - at about the halfway point, I'm starting to itch for some action. Is there any way that you could change the rhythm a little, or break up some of th elonger paragraphs?

Steerpike`s sister at 17:22 on 13 June 2006  Report this post
I've since removed the episode when she thinks about taking the wallet (it didn't seem to fit so well with how the book later develops) so maybe that's helped speed things up a bit... book is currently with a friend's 12 year old daughter, so will be interesting to find out if she feels it too slow paced!

Colin-M at 12:17 on 14 June 2006  Report this post
Having the voice pulls the reader in much more than before. One of the most compelling things about a novel is being able to see inside someone else's head and hear their thoughts. I can only imagine how difficult this piece was to write from a third person perspective, and you probably have good reason for using 3rd person, but I can't help wondering if it would come to life a touch more if it was in first - purely because we're hearing all of these thoughts and feelings and worries. That aside, there is still a great feeling of isolation and fear here. Spooky stuff.

colin m

Steerpike`s sister at 12:32 on 14 June 2006  Report this post
I never really thought of having it in 1st person. It is meant to have a detached quality to it - she can't engage with anything she sees, she is a permanent foreigner, and I wanted that to come through in the style. She doesn't know who "I" is - it would be even harder, I think, to describe the experience of someone who has no idea who they are, from the 1st person. Also there's a number of stylistic, descriptive things, that I couldn't do in her voice.
Glad the fear, etc. comes through.

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