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Which genre help
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MelBurke · 10/06/2019 17:36

Hello
I was hoping for some help, please!
I'm writing my first novel but I'm stuck on genre. It's not a massive deal yet because I'm not finished, however I'll need to decide on genre when I start approaching agents.
If I tell you it centres around psychic power, a fictional government department, and a murder, with a 25 year-old female protagonist, what genre would you say that is?!
I suspect 'soft sci-fi urban fantasy thriller' won't cut it!
thank you very much

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Zilla1 · 11/06/2019 11:54

Happy to be wrong but psychic could be in either sic fi or fantasy genre. What could appear to be telepathy hence sci fi could appear magical so I suppose it depends on your judgement how you've written the psychic elements. Do they feel more sci fi (mutant, alien, technological) or magical (witchery, fae, magic)?

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Sickofphd · 11/06/2019 12:06

This sounds to me like sci fi - could also be thriller if the psychic element is part of the bigger story of the murder/investigation?

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InvisibleHamster · 11/06/2019 13:37

Which books is it closest to in tone? Jim Butcher (urban fantasy) or Charles Stross (SF - ok fantasy etc as well depending)?

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 14:22

Thanks for the replies.

@Zilla1
I guess it feels more sci-if. The psychic powers are pre- and post-cognition in a government agency but without any explanation (yet; that’ll be for the sequelsGrin)

@Sickofphd
There is some thriller in there definitely. The psychic element does go towards solving a murder, but not all murders.

@invisiblehamster
Elements of both! Butcher for involvement in law enforcement and Stross for top secret agency!

In my novel there are no other-worldly beings; all humans and the usual animals! No made-up creatures. In modern-day UK.

I thought soft sci-fi because there’s no scientific basis for psychic powers.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 14:31

Thanks all for your help.

I’m hoping to make the main focus the government agency and the protagonist’s progression through it (sequels).
It feels more sci-if as there’s definitely no magic involved.
In terms of Butcher or Stross, it has elements of both: Butcher for law enforcement and Stross for top secret agency!
There are murders in the book but it’s not so much about whodunnit as a murder being the catalyst to the discovery of psychic powers for the protagonist.

There are no alternate dimensions or worlds, it’s based in modern-day UK, all characters are human, no make-believe creatures or anything.
I’m thinking soft sci-fi . . . something. I don’t think it will please real sci-fi fans!

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OutrageousFlavourLikeFreesias · 11/06/2019 14:59

Sounds like a great read - keep writing! I'd maybe have a look at books with similar themes and see how they're categorised. "Firestarter" and "Carrie" by Stephen King both came to mind for me. I'm sure there will be others.

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Zilla1 · 11/06/2019 15:53

I think you know your Sci fi and fantasy genre already so am wary to say this but I don't think all sci fi readers would expect there to be a fully-explained scientific basis. 'Hard' sic fi probably has an expectation for scientific accuracy and logic, other sub-genres by definition less so. I don't think Neuromancer gave much of an explanation of how the neural interfaces worked that enabled people to enter cyber space or experience the sims, rather it was how it anticipated cyberspace, corporates, the social impacts and so on (I know I'm probably wrong and any fan or critic will have me for toast about that example).

I suppose there's no end of 'pseudo' scientific ways someone could be psychic in a sci fi sense (mutant, gene introduced by others (Julian May, perhaps?), nanotech experiment, squids ...). It sounds like you have it worked out for future novels so good luck and I look forward to reading it when you get published.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 18:09

Oops. First reply didn’t show so re-wrote and now there are two. Sorry!

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 18:15

@OutrageousFlavourLikeFreesias
Thank you for your reply! That’s so encouraging that you like the sound of it! I saw similarities with King’s Carrie and The Dead Zone, had a little panic that my plot had already been done but doesn’t seem to have been. Phew!

@Zilla1
Thanks again. I appreciate your input as I was very confused about genre, but reflecting, I think it probably is sci-fi.

Should I post some of my draft? I’m just over halfway through. (I wouldn’t post it all, that would bore people)

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Zilla1 · 11/06/2019 18:28

It sounds interesting. I'd like to read it, Mel.

I'm just trying to write 3000 words for the Daily Mail first novel competition on an idea I've just had. They've excluded Sci Fi, fantasy and saga, unfortunately.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:28

Zilla1, exciting! Good luck with your writing. What's your idea?

I'll post some paragraphs here. It will be quite long so will do in stages. I'm not yet confident about where my chapter breaks should, hence paragraphs only at this stage.

Ok. Here we go.


When Leah came to, there was only darkness; not even a hint of light. Head pounding, Leah tried to sit up, finding with horror that she could neither put her hands by her sides to help herself, nor lift her head without meeting resistance after a couple of inches. A wave of panic went through her and she felt her breathing quicken.
Okay, calm down, she told herself. Do not panic. You don’t know where you are yet or what happened so just focus on your breathing, keep it steady, and take one step at a time. Let’s try this again.
Gingerly, Leah tried to separate her hands, then her feet. She realised with mounting panic that they were bound together. She could feel them, so their blood supply had not been cut off, but they were tied in a way that suggested no escape.
Escape? No, not escape. That makes me sound trapped. I can’t be trapped.
Heart beating fast, Leah fought to control her panic and the strong urge to scream.
I’m on my back, she realised abruptly. What am I doing on my back with my hands and feet tied in what feels like a shallow box with no light?

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:33

Leah tried to recall what had happened that evening. At least, she thought it was that evening – she had no idea now what day or night it was. The last she remembered was being out for the night with her friends, dancing to thumping, heavy music in a rather ropey-looking club with unisex toilets and a sticky, bubble-patterned carpeted floor underneath a partly-smashed glitter ball. The Red Star Lounge wasn’t the sort of place Leah and her friends usually frequented, but Amy’s new boyfriend Ash worked there and said he could get them in free and cover their drinks for the night. Leah, Amy, and Charlie had started the evening at Leah’s place, doing their makeup and hair whilst drinking generous measures of gin and tonic, before getting a taxi to the Red Star.
Two unfriendly bouncers almost frightened the women away, but a swift phone call to Ash saw the group permitted entry and escorted to the bar, whereupon Ash saw to it that they were each issued with a large tequila sunrise and a hand-stamp proclaiming them VIPs. The evening then progressed largely unremarkably; the clientele were older by some margin than Leah and her friends. Many were over-friendly, grabbing and groping uninvited.
It was after one too many gropings that Charlie had snapped and not only punched the offender in the face, but also emptied her glass over his head. He retaliated by launching himself at Charlie, who ducked out of the way just in time to see him land head-first into a nearby table, where he dropped to the floor, motionless.
At this point, Leah found herself grabbed roughly and turned her head enough to see one of the unfriendly bouncers, who was gripping her upper arm so tightly that it hurt, manoeuvring her towards what appeared to be a side entrance.
‘Get off! Get off me! What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Leah yelled.
‘You just assaulted one of our best customers, the bouncer snarled back at her, ‘so you’re out. The more you struggle, the more this’ll hurt you.’
‘No!’ Leah tried to wriggle free and kicked at the bouncer’s legs. ‘That wasn’t me! And anyway, it was because your “best customer” groped my friend against her will!’
The bouncer laughed as he hauled Leah over the threshold, bashing her ankle painfully against the door as he did so.
‘He can do whatever the hell he likes. Your friend was asking for it.’
He swung Leah around, holding her by the shoulders and bending down until his face was level with hers. He moved closer to her until their noses almost touched, and said, ‘Now get out. You’re banned.’ With a final shove which sent Leah into the wall opposite, he released her, disappearing back into the club, slamming the door behind him.
Shaken and borderline tearful, Leah took a couple of deep breaths to steady herself, and looked around. She was in an alley between the Red Star and a closed-down pub. A feeble street light gave little illumination. Leah opened her handbag, rooting around for her phone.
Shit. It’s not here, she thought. Did I drop it when that bell-end was manhandling me out the door? She checked again, then decided that the best thing would be to go to the front entrance of the club where at least there would be other people. If none of her friends emerged after 10 minutes, she would walk to find a taxi and head home; she still had her house keys in her bag.
Leah turned to make her way along the alley to the front of the club, wincing a little at the pain in her bashed ankle, when a voice behind her made her jump.
‘Excuse me,’ came a soft, low voice, almost a whisper.
Instinctively Leah turned towards the voice, saw a flash of light and felt her head snap back before everything went black.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:34

Leah kicked out around her as much as she was able in mounting panic, realising that she had only a few inches of space all around her before she met resistance. The darkness and lack of oxygen combined with the restriction of her body took over. Leah gave in to her scream of terror as the reality dawned that she had been buried alive.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:34

Melissa looked me over critically, tilting her head to one side, squinting a little.
‘Does that help you see better?’ I asked playfully, as I struck a pose to show my best side.
Melissa laughed. ‘No, but it makes you think I’m properly checking you out so that whatever feedback I give then sounds genuine and makes you think that I do actually give a shit what you wear for your date with Mr. On-Again-Off-Again.’
I stuck out my tongue at her. ‘Thanks mate,’ I said, with good-natured sarcasm. ‘I think this time will be different, though. I think he’s changed!’
Melissa raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes, but made no comment. She knew the ins and outs of my complicated relationship with James.
James and I got together, then bickered, broke up, got back together, broke up again. Repeat, for the last year. He is somewhat possessive and I am not about to be told who I can and can’t see. However, he’s hot, so I put up with it. This time, however, I really did feel as if he was turning a corner. Perhaps.
Melissa had come round for a catch-up on her way out with the gang whilst I got ready for my date. We were in my bedroom, makeup, clothes, and hair-styling tools strewn about. I live in a small two-bedroom semi-detached house, which I own and am immensely proud of. When my maternal grandmother passed away I inherited a very substantial sum of money which enabled me to put down a hefty deposit on a house, and decorate it how I wanted with the remainder. I subsequently have a manageable mortgage, which is just as well since my salary hasn’t yet reached “high” status. My house is my sanctuary. It has a hallway from the front door to the kitchen, which is at the back of the house and looks out over a small garden. The kitchen has a small table and chairs, at which I eat most of my meals and do general musing. The living room is off the hallway to the right, with a corner sofa for my friends and my big cuddle armchair which my cat Dot and I share. I also have a round dining table with four chairs for when the girls come round for dinner. I usually have to bring in the two chairs from the kitchen when we’re all there and we squish up together to fit around the table, bashing elbows, but I love to have my friends all together in my home. It fills the place with laughter and warmth. Upstairs is a landing, and at the rear of the house the second bedroom where I have a desk and chair, my computer, my books, and a sofa bed. My room is the front bedroom, and in between both bedrooms is my bathroom. My house is mostly furnished with stuff I have picked up from boot sales and charity shops, and which I have selected because I love. There’s no stylish all-grey rooms, but it feels welcoming, like a home, and it’s mine. I have a driveway which fits two cars provided both drivers can park, and the cul-de-sac I live in is in a fairly quiet, well-kept suburb. I know how lucky I am to be able to have chosen a home I wanted in a location I wanted, and I never take it for granted.
I turned away from Melissa, looking at my reflection in the mirror, adjusting the sit of my top so that it was perfect. I was wearing skinny jeans, boots, and a silk cami with a delicate chiffon overlayer with fluted sleeves. In deference to the cold, miserable November weather, I would accessorise with a very thick overcoat, scarf, and gloves.
I scrutinised myself, my face, wondering how I managed to get myself such a pain-in-the-ass boyfriend.
‘Cat? Hellooo?’
Melissa’s voice broke my concentration. She was holding out my phone when I turned to look at her.
‘It’s James,’ she said, holding the phone out to me.
On cue, I thought. He’s going to cancel.
I pressed green on the screen.
‘Hello?’
‘Sweetheart,’ came James’ voice. ‘I’m going to have to cancel tonight. I’m really sorry.’
I restrained myself from sighing down the phone, instead trying to maintain some dignity.
‘Oh. Okay,’ I said. ‘How come?’
‘Something came up at work,’ he said. ‘I have to stay late.’
A likely story. He’s a mechanic. They clock off at six on the dot. And usually go straight to the pub.
‘Oh. Okay,’ I said again. ‘Thanks for letting me know.’ I was pissed off. He cancels with thirty minutes’ notice.
‘I’ll call you tomorrow?’ he said.
I gritted my teeth, trying to keep my tone friendly. ‘Sure. Speak to you then.’
‘Sorry, sweetheart.’
‘No probs. Bye.’
‘Bye.’
I hung up. Melissa was looking at me with a knowing expression on her face. Then she grinned.
‘Now you’re free for the night, you can come out with us. Girls’ night!’ She clasped her hands together in theatrical delight.
Melissa is one of my best friends. We met at university, becoming inseparable. She’s a few years younger than me, a firecracker, the funniest and most generous person I know. She comes from a large, warm family and has an infectious laugh. She also works exceptionally hard, aiming to have her own accountancy firm by the time she’s twenty-five. I don’t know whether that’s possible (having never studied accountancy and with a healthy fear of numbers, myself) but if it is, she’ll be the one to pull it off.
I smiled despite myself. I had good friends.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:35

My name is Catherine McGowan - Cat to most - which suits me much better because Catherine is a name for poised, elegant women, one of which I am not. Cat is more ‘me’; I am pretty low-maintenance, happy to be alone, and enjoy sleeping. I’m average height, mostly in proportion (unless sleep takes over and I pass on running, or I drink too much). My complexion is normal, with zits just before I get my period, and my features nondescript. Still, whack a bit of makeup on me and I scrub up alright.
I’m twenty-five, in my local Council fast-track scheme. I’m in the administrative stream, but I figured fast-track is fast-track and I can’t imagine there are many fights for top positions in admin, so I think I stand a good chance of progression. As you can tell, I’m not especially ambitious, happy pootling along with my normal life.
Since I was dolled up for my date, Melissa made an emergency call to the others to tell them they were to up their game to match my level of effort. Within the hour we had driven to Tash’s house where we had been invited to spend the night, and got cracking on some cold Pinot. Tash lives about a five-minute car journey away, but it was cold and dark. Neither of us fancied the walk, and besides, Melissa had her car, so I wasn’t going to sniff at a lift.
Tash took a sip of her wine, then eyed me with interest.
‘How many times does he have to mess you about for you to dump him once and for all, then, Cat?’ she asked.
I sighed. The third degree.
‘He had to work late,’ I replied, surprising myself with how unconvincing I sounded. I thought I was more of an actress than that.
‘Ah, right. Yep, work.’ Tash wasn’t buying it. She, too, knew how flaky James was.
‘But I get to go out with you lot, so it’s a good thing he cancelled, right?’ I said, fake-cheerily. I was beginning to wish I’d stayed at home, taken off my makeup, put on my PJs and gone to bed.
‘Absolutely,’ Tash said, smiling. She looked to not want to go down the serious conversation route. Taking another sip of wine, Tash looked out the window as our other friends pulled up outside.
Tash (Natasha when she’s in trouble) has been my friend since the start of high school. She is fiercely loyal and warm-hearted. She studies law. When she qualifies, I hope to never be on the opposite side to her in a dispute.
The doorbell rang and Tash went to answer it. In barged Chloe, Rachel, and Samena, each carrying a bottle, Chloe teetering on precarious-looking heels.
‘Omigod Cat!!’ squealed Chloe, tripping her way prettily over to me. ‘I can’t believe he blew you off again! I’m so sorry, sweetie!’ She then engulfed me in a narcissus-clouded hug, and I mumbled something about ‘don’t worry about it,’ but by then she was already off around the room hugging and clouding everyone else.
Chloe is fairly new to our group, something of a wildcard. She had a different upbringing to the rest of us, having come from a wealthy family where she hasn’t had to do much for herself, with the kind of confidence that makes the insecure among us want to scream. Still, we bonded in the ladies’ room on a night out when her period snuck up on her - I gave a her a tampon, and the rest is history. I, meanwhile, have made sure ever since not to judge on first impressions and stereotypes.
Rachel and Samena waved, blowing me a kiss each from across the room, heading straight into the kitchen for wine glasses.
Rachel is another university friend. Her style is fifties-inspired, which suits her perfectly. She is a newly-qualified teacher. Despite periodically threatening to cut down on the girls’ nights lest photographic proof of her antics end up on social media, those threats thus far have been hollow. She’s totally dedicated, however, to her young charges in Reception class, with a warm, gentle manner which endears her to children and adults alike.
Samena, or Mena, has been my friend on and off since Year 1 of primary school. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, doing our fair share of drifting apart and back together over the years, but ultimately we will be friends forever. Mena is the fairly sensible one, being married already and a domestic manager while her husband Chris earns the money. She plans to try for a baby soon, so tonight would be one of her last hurrahs before then. She’s tall, elegant, and always appears put-together. She’s also straight-talking and kind. I love her a lot.
‘So, where to, ladies?’ asked Rachel, back in the living room with her glass of Pinot.
‘I won VIP ‘Grand Reopening’ tickets to that place that closed down a couple of years ago,’ said Mena with excitement. ‘It’s called Element.’
Recognition sparked in Tash.
‘Oh, yeah, I know where you mean,’ she said. ‘It used to be the Red Star Lounge.’

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HollowTalk · 11/06/2019 19:35

Actually this is a very popular genre in the US with Nora Roberts and Dean Koontz selling millions. Not all their books have a psychic element but a lot do.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:35

Finally, Leah was quiet. Honestly, it seemed as if she would never stop screaming, a howling, heart-rending sound that eventually trailed off into dry, racking sobs and whimpers, and now, silence. It didn’t mean she had expired yet, but she would be weak, her spirit broken – easy to finish off if needed. There was no fight left.
It had been pretty easy. She’d turned instinctively at the sound of someone speaking to her, even though not by name, the look on her face open and receptive. A people-pleaser. She was probably the same in her daily life, in all her relationships.
The camera flash was a stroke of genius; not only did it temporarily blind her enough that she couldn’t have seen anything, but there was also now a permanent photograph of the look on her face, the last moment before she had no idea what was going to happen to her. Definitely something to remember for next time.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:35

‘Where is this place exactly?’ I asked no-one in particular. We were in a taxi on our way to Element, in what looked to be a mostly-deserted industrial estate.
‘A minute or so more,’ the taxi driver said. ‘Just round that corner down there. See?’
As we turned the corner, he pointed towards a red-brick building that looked like it used to be a warehouse, sandwiched with an alley on each side between a closed-down pub and another warehouse. People were being dropped off all around. A line of party goers from the front door disappeared around the corner next to the adjacent warehouse. Local press were in attendance along with a reality-TV Z-lister who was there to open the new club, with camera flashes lighting up the comparative darkness of the surrounding area. We pulled over, settled up with the driver, and piled out of the taxi. I looked up at the club. A feeling of dread passed through me but within a second was gone. I figured I must have imagined it.
‘Caaaaaat?’ Chloe was calling to me. I moved to where the others were standing near the front of the line, where Mena was elbowing her way through the throng, waving her VIP tickets at the bouncers. After a minute or so she gestured excitedly for us to join her and I could feel the glares on my back of those without VIP tickets still waiting in line to get in as we passed through the door. People were jostling for position in the line, most looking extremely cold.
A slender, sparkly-eyed young woman dressed in a black and white tuxedo playsuit with nipped-in waist and plunging neckline attached VIP bands to our wrists. Another young woman who looked pretty much the same as the first handed us each- a glass of bubbly.
‘Welcome to Element, the area’s finest new nightspot,’ she purred, with a clipped-vowel, husky voice. ‘The VIP area is straight through, past the G-Floor and up the stairs to L1-Floor.’
‘The what now?’ I whispered to Tash.
‘I think she means the ground-floor dance floor and the first-floor dance floor,’ Tash whispered back to me.
‘Oh, okay,’ I said, feeling I’d stumbled into an alternative universe where a dance floor was not just a dance floor.
‘You’ll find our cocktail bar to the left,’ tuxedo-lady no. 2 was saying, gesturing with a slender, bronzed arm, ‘and over to the right is our beer, cider, and lager bar. The general bar, which sells all drinks, is to the rear. The champagne bar is in the VIP area where, once inside, you will be given first-class table service and complimentary champagne.’
Hmm, I thought. Free champagne. Things may be looking up.
‘Finally, if you’d prefer a cocktail or maybe something from the other bars instead of champagne, please ask your server, who will bring you whatever you need. Other bar drinks are regrettably non-complimentary,’ she added, ‘so I suggest you stay in the VIP area.’ She gave a dazzling smile, then with a wink and a swish of her hair was gone to welcome the next set of “VIPs”.
Like most nightclubs, Element was loud and hot. The dance floor I could see was packed with swaying bodies moving too closely together. The bars were queued five deep. More people were crowding through the door into the club. Go-go dancers in strategically-placed cages and gravity-defying, barely-there costumes went for it with gusto. The atmosphere buzzed, and I began to feel its influence. Okay. Maybe this place was pretty cool. At least I wasn’t at home alone, moping over James.
‘Okay, then!’ Rachel said, her sights set on the staircase. ‘Let’s get started!’.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:36

Several champagne-fuelled hours later, we called a unanimous end to the night. We’d danced, drank, and fended off advances from various wannabe Casanovas. There had been many conversations yelled in an attempt to be heard over the music, several group selfies, and one or two drunk dancing videos. Whilst Element looked likely to continue into the next day and night, we were beat, so Chloe disappeared to the ladies’ loos to call for a taxi. ‘All sor’ed,’ she yelled on her return. ‘She says the road’s been closed out the front though ‘cause there’s so many peoples, so vehicles access is round the back. ‘pparently there’s an alley down the side by that closed pub where we can get to the back. Innabout twenny minutes.’
It was still crowded but a few people were slowly starting to leave, so we decided to start to plough through the throng there and then to wait outside for the taxi, rather than let someone else beat us to it. We made our way out into the fresh, bracing air, and round to the alley accessing the back of the club.
I started to get the same feeling of dread as I had when we arrived, and the further down the alley we went, the stronger the feeling became. A wave of nausea passed over me, causing me to falter in my progress. I fought to regain control of my legs. As we approached what appeared to be a side exit from the club, my head became light, my breathing laboured; I stumbled slightly, my head spinning, before I lost consciousness.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:38

(author's note (ha):This next bit should be in italics but it isn't working!)

^I was outside the club in the alley, but everything was in black and white. In front of me was a dark figure, and in front of them, a young woman dressed for a night out.
‘Excuse me,’ the figure said softly. It had a strange, other-wordly voice, and I couldn't tell if the figure was male or female.
The young woman turned around, seeking the source of the voice behind her. Within a split second the figure had raised a camera to the woman’s face and with one hand, shot a picture. The other hand raised a mallet only to bring it hard into the woman’s left temple. I gasped in horror as the woman gave a startled ‘oh!’ of surprise before dropping, motionless, to the floor.
The figure stashed the mallet and camera in a black messenger bag that had been rested on the ground against the wall of the club, and slung it across their body. I tried to move forward, to help the woman, but I was rooted to the spot. I tried to yell but nothing came out. I was helpless, watching this scene, powerless to do anything to stop it. From the bag the figure removed a black sack and cable ties. They put the sack over the woman’s head and bound her hands together. Half-lifting, half-dragging her, the figure wrangled the woman’s limp body to a dark-coloured van parked at the back of the club, opened the back doors, and bundled her inside.
The figure slammed the van doors closed, looking around. In the feeble light of the only street lamp, I caught a look at the figure’s face as our eyes met. I felt a jolt of fear, then the moment passed. The figure got into the van and drove off. I clocked the number plate on the van before it got too far away to see any more.
I stood, alone, unable to move or make a sound, completely confused and horrified about what I had just seen.^

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:39

‘Cat. Cat? Cat!’ Melissa’s voice sounded very far away. I found myself in a crouch, hand against the wall to support myself. My heartbeat seemed to pound in my head, a pressure which threatened to force me back to the floor. With immense effort I managed to remain on my feet. My friends were in front of me further along the alley. They seemed very far away and I tried to call out to them, but I couldn’t find my voice.
What . . . just happened?
Melissa had turned around and was making her way back to me. ‘Come on, dude,’ Melissa was saying. ‘The taxi’s waiting.’
‘Wha’?’ I was struggling to understand exactly what was going on, what Melissa was saying. I still felt nauseated.
‘T-A-X-I,’ Melissa said, linking her arm through mine to help me up. We set off down the alley. I lurched along, my legs not wanting to support me. Melissa was struggling to hold me up. We reached the end of the alley and she turned to me, concerned. ‘The taxi’s over there,’ Melissa said, pointing. ‘Are you ‘kay, mate? I didn’t realise you had that much to drink! You look like you’re about to throw up . . . d’you need a minute?’
The taxi driver poked her head out of the car window, shouting across to us. ‘If she’s going to hurl, she can’t come in my taxi!’
‘I’m not. I’m not going to hurl,’ I managed weakly, fighting to bring myself fully back to the present.
‘Well, if you do, you pay for the clean-up,’ the taxi driver said.
‘Fine,’ I said, woozy. I was just relieved to sit down in the seven-seater. I rested my forehead against the window, welcoming the very real sensation of cold glass on my skin. The others were chattering away about what a good night they’d had and how much fun Element was. I, on the other hand, was trying to hold on to the details of whatever it was I had just seen. Or hadn’t seen. Or imagined. I raised my head and gave it a shake. Mena looked at me curiously.
‘Are you okay, Cat?’ she asked. ‘You’ve been weird since we walked down that alley.’
‘’m fine,’ I said, trying to smile. ‘Jus’ feel a bit light-headed. Maybe I need to lay off the bubblesss for a while.’
‘Are you sure?’ Mena didn’t seem convinced.
‘Really, ’m fine.” I looked out the window at the passing darkness, the occasional street light making ribbons of light.
‘You just seemed to be...looking at something the rest of us couldn’t see.’
I turned slowly back to Mena, startled through my drunken haze. My head ached at the movement. ‘Wha’ d’you say?’
‘I said, you seemed to be looking at something the rest of us couldn’t see,’ Mena repeated, and this time, there was something in her tone that I couldn’t identify.
I paused for a moment, my thoughts muddled, then said, ‘I think was the champagne.’ I leaned against the window again, fighting to keep my eyes open, but I lost the battle, giving in to my eyelids.
Before I’d closed my eyes I’d seen Mena regarding me thoughtfully. ‘Okay,’ I heard her say. ‘Let’s get home.’

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:39

Back at Tash’s we stumbled through the front door and kicked off our heels. I trailed behind the others, my legs feeling like lead.
‘Those shoes were killing me,’ Melissa groaned, crashing to the sofa. She reached down to massage her feet.
‘Mine too,’ Rachel said. She sank to the floor and stretched out her toes. ‘That’s better.’
Tash headed into the kitchen. ‘Who wants toast?’
Toast sounded like a very good idea. I hadn’t realised I was hungry, and at the mention of toast my stomach growled. We unanimously agreed that we wanted toast, and the next few minutes were spent in concentrated toast-production, accompanied by tea and coffee coordination.
In the living room we settled ourselves down to eat our toast. It was a welcome counteract to the effects of the free champagne – and whatever had happened to me in the alley - and although it didn’t really sober us up, we figured at least we’d have a decent shot at not being a complete state the next day. Mena was the only one who seemed to not be drunk, although she joined in with the tea-and-toast feast. I couldn’t work it out – she had been drinking as much as the rest of us. At least I thought she had.
‘Are you feeling better now, Cat?’ Melissa asked when we’d all finished eating. ‘You looked pretty out of it earlier. I thought you were going to properly collapse when Mel brought you out of the alley.’
‘We were saying, “Cat! Cat!” to you over and over, but you didn’t seem to hear us,’ Chloe added. ‘We thought someone had spiked your drink or something.’
‘I’m okay,’ I said, wondering if I really was. ‘I think I must’ve just had too much to drink, that’s all. And I was supposed to be having dinner with James, but that fell through, so I only grabbed a sausage roll to eat on the way here. It must have been not enough food and too much alcohol.’
‘Were you in pain?’ Rachel asked. ‘Mel said you were crouched down holding on to the wall.’
‘No, no pain,’ I said. Only horror and fear, I added silently. ‘I guess I was just . . . dizzy.’
‘I’m sure Cat is fine,’ said Mena suddenly. ‘She’s a bright spark. If she wasn’t fine she’d have said so.’
Everyone looked at Mena in surprise, since her voice had been a little sharp.
‘I just mean . . . she’s here, she says she feels fine, so she probably is fine,’ Mena said hastily. ‘Right, Cat?’ She looked at me intensely.
‘Er . . . right. Yeah, of course. I feel much better now,’ I said. And I did feel better. Confused, but better.
There was an awkward silence.
‘Right,’ said Tash. ‘Bed. Who gets to share with me tonigh’?’
When we stay at Tash’s, one of us sleeps with her in her bed, three more in the spare room, and one on the sofa. I wanted to think about what had happened in the alley so, suspecting I may be awake for some time, figured I’d need to be alone.
‘I’ll take the sofa,’ I volunteered.
‘Are you sure? Maybe you should share in case you’re not well in the night,’ said Chloe with concern.
I waved my hand in a dismissive gesture. ‘You’re so sweet, Chlo,’ I said. ‘But I’m sure I‘ll be fine. Besides, if I’m ill in the night it’ll be better if none of you have to deal with it.’ I smiled weakly, trying to make a joke.
‘Okay,’ said Tash, ‘see you t’morrow. You can shout if you need us, though.’
‘Night,’ said Rachel.
‘Nunight, sweetie,’ from Melissa.
‘Sleep tight, honey!’ chirped Chloe, ever perky.
‘Night all,’ I said.
‘Goodnight, Cat,’ Mena said.
The others all trooped upstairs, weary and a little off balance; all except Mena, who still appeared to be completely sober. She paused for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, looking at me, an odd expression on her face. I smiled, she smiled back, then carried on up the stairs.
I undressed, pulled my PJs from my overnight bag, and put them on. I used my cleansing wipes to remove my makeup then slathered moisturiser on my now-clean face. I could hear the girls upstairs, moving around as they all used the bathroom before going to bed. I nipped upstairs to use the bathroom once everyone else had finished before coming back downstairs to the sofa. I retrieved the guest pillow and quilt that Tash keeps in a blanket box in the living room (she’s usually the night-out hostess) and put them on the sofa. In the kitchen, I poured myself a glass of water and returned to the living room. I sank into the sofa, wrapped myself in the quilt, then, still upright, thought about what had happened in the alley.
I remembered feeling light-headed and – no. That wasn’t right. First I felt a feeling of dread, then I felt light-headed. My legs had been rubbery, protesting at having to hold me up. They wanted to give way. My stomach had churned and I remembered the struggle to keep down the champagne. The feeling of dread had increased the further down the alley I went. Or had it? I was also certainly now feeling the effects of the champagne, which frustrated me because I couldn’t think clearly. There was a door into the club . . . or was it an exit, not an entrance? And then – there were two people, who weren’t there before. A woman – young, dressed for a night out – she was moving away from the other person, who was behind her. She wasn’t moving properly – she had a slight limp. The person I who dragged her away had an unusual voice, soft and melodic. It could’ve been a man or a woman. Hang on a sec – did I also feel dread when I arrived at the club? Or did I imagine it? The whole thing was fading further and further away, and I struggled to keep the image in my mind.
‘Argh,’ I grumbled (quietly, so as not to disturb my sleeping friends).
I took a deep breath and a sip of my water, trying to focus my mind again, but it was no use. My eyelids were heavy. The room started to slowly spin around me. Realising that I was beaten, I padded to the kitchen to refill my water, brought it back to the living room where I placed it on the end-table before settling back on the sofa, snuggling under the quilt and sinking into the pillow.
As I started to drift off, I thought I saw in my mind’s eye the image of a person’s face, a person I didn’t know, just a glimpse as they turned towards me. But it was gone within a second and I was out in an instant.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:40

I awoke feeling groggy, with a dry mouth and a slight headache, to the sounds of someone doing things in the kitchen whilst trying to be quiet. This never works, but the gesture is appreciated all the same by those of us with hangovers.
A feeble light was peeking through the curtains, and the air had the feel of a miserable, damp November. It was tempting to hide under the blankets and try to go back to sleep, but I was awake now. Besides, as someone was up perhaps I could talk to them about last night without everyone piling on. I knew it would be discussed again, but if I could get the initial chat out of the way before everyone got up, perhaps it would help me to make sense of it in my own mind. I pushed back the quilt, sat up and stretched, before standing to tiptoe to the kitchen. I peered around the door frame to see Tash, with bird’s-nest hair, in her dressing gown and fluffy socks, at the counter. She was pouring hot water from the kettle into a green mug decorated with gold stars. ‘Hi,’ I whispered.
Tash turned to look at me. ‘Hiya,’ she whispered back, smiling. ‘Do you want a drink?’
‘I’ll have whatever you’re having,’ I whispered.
Tash took another mug – duck-egg blue with a ditsy flower pattern – from a cupboard and added a teabag, over which she poured steaming water. I grabbed the milk from the fridge and added a splash to my mug, put the milk back and closed the door. Giving my tea a good stir, I leaned back against the counter whilst I waited for the tea to brew.
‘How’s your head today?’ Tash asked me, in lowered tones.
‘Bit spaced out,’ I murmured back. ‘Yours?’
‘Ugh,’ she said.
‘I know how that feels,’ I chuckled quietly. We stood silently for a few moments, Tash sipping her steaming hot tea. Last night’s mascara was smudged around her eyes, giving her the look of a hungover panda.
I used a spoon to squeeze my teabag against the side of my mug before fishing it out and slinging it into the food waste. I took a sip of my tea. ‘Ahhh. That’s good,’ I said, savouring the comforting warmth.
Tash said, ‘Good night last night.’
‘Yeah,’ I said.
In a sudden flash, the face of the dark figure from last night appeared in my mind. I inhaled sharply at the jolt it gave me.
‘You alright?’ Tash asked, looking at me inquisitively. ‘I’m still a little worried about you. You were totally not yourself when we left that club.’
‘Er – yep. Yeah. I’m fine,’ I said. ‘Listen, Tash. Did anything . . . well . . . you know . . . weird . . . happen last night?’
Tash frowned. ‘I don’t think so, apart from you nearly falling over in an alley and acting like a zombie’ she said. ‘Why? What exactly do you mean by “weird”?’
‘I thought there was a – well...’ I started, then realised I didn’t know what I thought there was.
‘A what?’ asked Tash.
‘When we were in the alley on our way to the taxi, did you see anyone else there?’ I said.
‘Well, yeah. There were several people. Some groups of lads and girls. Someone was throwing up. Someone else was filming it,’ she added with distaste.
‘Yuck,’ I said. ‘But apart from those people – did you see anyone with – um – a mallet?’
Tash blinked at me. ‘A mallet? Cat, are you sure you’re alright? You seem . . . unsettled.’
‘Or a big dark-coloured van?’
‘No, not that I recall. Just a couple of people-carrier taxis. No vans.’
‘No mallets, no vans,’ I murmured to myself.
‘What?’ said Tash.
‘Nothing. I’m just hungover. It’s nothing,’ I said, frustrated at my own mind for letting me down.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:40

Maybe Leah should’ve had credit for her perseverance. She was still alive – just – even at the end, she tried to put up a feeble resistance. But the look on her face was a picture. She had resigned herself to her fate when, at the last minute, she saw daylight again, obviously thinking she was being rescued. She looked pathetically grateful for a few minutes and reached out with almost the last bit of strength she possessed. Then she realised that she wasn’t being rescued and, with any luck, hopefully wished that she was already dead. She tried to protect herself, putting her hands up to her head as she futilely tried to wriggle away. Her tear-streaked face was contorted with fear, her desperation palpable as she summoned whatever energy she had left to try to fight for her life.
Ultimately, she was no match.
None of them were.

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MelBurke · 11/06/2019 19:42

‘Maow.’
I stirred, groggy from sleep.
‘Maaow.’
The scratching started. ‘Ugh,’ I groaned. I turned over and put the pillow over my head. I could hear a steady patter of chilly November rain outside. A dull grey light framed my closed curtains.
‘MAAAAAOOW!’
Throwing off my covers, I got out of bed, threw on my robe and slippers, and opened the bedroom door. My cat, Dot, chirruped and wove around my ankles, purring loudly. ‘Hi, baby,’ I said, stooping to pet her. Dot has been with me since she was two-ish. I got her from an animal rescue centre. She’s four-ish now, and she makes me happy every day. We have the best conversations, especially when I try to talk to her in cat.
Dot said, ‘Maow. Birrrup.’
‘I know,’ I said. We pottered down the stairs together, me trying to avoid tripping over Dot as she pranced about in front of my feet, and headed to the kitchen to stick the kettle on.
My phone rang. Mena. I pressed green. ‘Yo.’
‘Hiya, mate,’ Mena’s voice said. ‘You okay?’
‘Yep,’ I said. ‘You?’
‘Yeah. I was wondering if you’re free for lunch today.’
I was supposed to be seeing James but, surprise, surprise, he’d cancelled on me again, so I had a free Saturday.
‘Sure. Sounds good,’ I said. ‘Text me the details.’
‘Will do. See you later.’

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