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  • Natasha Watts

Writer in Motion: First Draft

Note: This is a first draft of a short story, loosely inspired by a photo prompt as part of Writer in Motion. Through the month of August, it will undergo three revisions, which I will also post on the blog.



“Come on, Shelby. You’re bumming me out.”

Dylan’s plea wheedles its way into my skull like a worm taking to soil. I shudder and look up. He’s across from me at the table, countryside flying by out the window of our Flåmsbana train car. There are still drops of water in his neatly trimmed beard from our rainy stop at the Kjosfossen waterfall. I reach forward with my cloth napkin, pat at the moisture.

His eyes widen hopefully at the touch. I hadn’t spoken to him since we’d re-boarded at Kjosfossen, hadn’t accepted the hand he offered as we climbed into our car. I blanch at the image, because it reminds me of the small, velvet box I’d found in his luggage.

Dylan’s face drops, perhaps in response to my expression. He looks so much like Charlie, the sullen basset hound I’d grown up with, that my mouth ticks upward.

I squeeze the little wooden doll I’d picked up at the souvenir shop in Myrdal. Her long, blond hair is made from some type of rough animal fiber, and her eyes are two black beads.

I say, “It’s okay. I’m sorry for being such a jerk.”

Now Dylan looks like Charlie the only time he was happy--when given his monthly rawhide bone. He grapples across the table to clutch my fingers, and I almost pull away.

“There you go,” he says gently, like I’m a skittish mare. “That wasn’t so hard, was it? I’m sorry, you’re sorry, we’re all sorry. Now we can enjoy the scenery we paid hundreds of dollars to see.”

I turn toward the window, meaning to look away after a cursory glance at the landscape. But I’m stopped by the deep greens of the rain-littered mountainside, every blade of grass erect and swelling with moisture. To the right of the train, the river Flåmselvi slams itself into jutting rocks in an enthusiasm fed by the afternoon rains. I gasp as a hook catches my innards and pulls--an invisible weapon that tugs me toward the sight.

I clutch at the doll like it will anchor me in my seat. The second pull is stronger, more insistent. This time, I feel drawn forward, in the direction the train travels. While the first pull was the tease of a fisherman who’s testing his line, the second was the hook set and drawing in the prize.

“Shelby?”

I look up. Charlie the basset hound is there again. Or Dylan, I mean. He towers over me.

“Are you sick? Do you need to vomit?”

I realize then that I am clutching my stomach. I straighten, slowly, trying to look casual, and drape my hand over the back of the chair next to me. “No, I’m okay. Just feeling motion sick.”

“Well, hang in there.” He sits back down, pulls up his Norwegian newspaper. I can already see his eyes darting across the page, and his mouth twitches like he can barely stop himself from mouthing along, brain catching up to discern the meaning. “We should be close to the next stop.”

The air blackens--we’re going through a tunnel that’s been stabbed through the shoulder blade of the fjord-ish mountains. We fall silent.

Then we’re out, and the view bursts upon us like bird shit splattering on a windshield. The sky, painted in half-gray, half-white clouds; black rocks streaking through the brightening green; a narrow waterfall spilling out from a peak directly ahead of us. The train track ahead, curving one last time at the knees of a tiny, yellow depot building.

“Berekvam,” a pleasant voice on the intercom announces as the train slows to a stop. “Please watch your step as you exit.”

The hook wriggles inside me at the name. I glance out our window, above the little depot, at a crimson house with white trim on the mountainside. Against the foliage, it looks like a drop of blood on a bed of ivy.

I almost do vomit, then, at the sudden and urgent need to leave the train.

“Jesus, God Almighty!” I cry out.

Dylan takes it as a sign I was telling the truth about my motion sickness, and he ushers me through the standing passengers to the exit of the train.

The pulling eases a little once we’re off the train, and I can look up the mountainside at the red house. I’m not being pulled to the house, now, I realize--but above it, into the forested area that stretches over the peaks and valleys. I resist for now, and it goes just a bit slack, as if allowing me.

“Do you want to hit up the bathroom while I take some photos?” he says. “Since you’re too prissy to go on the train, this will have to do.”

I shake my head.

“Don’t lie--” he begins teasingly.

“I’m not lying.” My voice comes out sharper than I intend. I rearrange my features into a smile. “I’m fine, I really am. Great, actually.”

“You are?” Charlie with the bone again. “That’s good, that’s good. You know, actually. I’m going to go grab something from my bag. You look around, I’ll be out in a minute.”

The second he’s out of sight, the hook tugs again, as if asking a question. Finally, finally, I am ready to say yes. I breathe my consent into my chest, and when I exhale, something black and delicious blossoms in my stomach.

I spin toward the mountainside, toward the impenetrable forest, and my hand goes to the wood doll inside my pocket. I step with purpose, up around the little yellow depot, past the last group of my fellow train passengers, who have stopped in the middle of the gravel road to take photos. I brush past someone, and realize they were coming from the opposite direction, walking as if from the direction of the trees. I turn to look at her after we pass, and our eyes meet. She is blond, with wavy hair that nearly reaches her waist.

But her eyes . . her eyes are black, like blood has overtaken the white.

She nods at me.

I nod back, then turn again to venture into the trees.


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© 2016 by Natasha Watts

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