Writer in Motion: Second Draft
Note: This is a second draft of a short story, loosely inspired by a photo prompt as part of Writer in Motion. See the first draft here.
“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 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’d been ignoring him since Kjosfossen, when he’d berated me for wearing inappropriate traveling shoes, even refusing the hand he’d offered as we’d climbed back 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 in response to my expression. He looks so much like Charlie, the sullen basset hound from my childhood, that my mouth ticks upward.
I squeeze the little wooden doll I’d gotten at a souvenir shop in Myrdal. Her long, blond hair is made from rough animal fiber, and her eyes are black beads.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was just being moody.”
Now Dylan looks like Charlie the only time he was happy--when given his monthly rawhide bone. Dylan grapples across the table to clutch my fingers.
“There you go,” he coos, 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 sight of the river Flåmselvi. She slams herself into jutting rocks in a frenzy fed by the afternoon rains. The deep green mountainside spreads above, every blade of grass erect and glistening with moisture.
I gasp as a hook catches my innards and pulls--an invisible weapon that tugs me toward the landscape. I clutch at the doll like it will anchor me in my seat.
The second pull is more insistent. While the first was the tease of a fisherman testing his line, the second was the hook set and drawing in the prize.
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’m clutching my stomach. I straighten, trying to look casual, and drape my arm over the back of the booth. “No. Just a bit motion sick.”
“Well, hang in there.” He sits back down, pulls up his Norwegian newspaper. His eyes dart 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,” he says in an afterthought.
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 scene blossoms with a violent brightness. The sky, painted with gray slashes of cloud; dark rocks mottled across the forest’s fathomless green; a narrow waterfall gushing from a mountain peak.
The train slows at the knees of a tiny, yellow depot building.
“Berekvam,” says a pleasant voice on the intercom.
The hook wriggles inside me at the name. I glance out our window, above the little depot, at a crimson house with white trim. 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. He ushers me through staring passengers to the exit.
Bile in my mouth, I look up the mountainside. I’m not being pulled to the red house, exactly, but above it--into the forested area that stretches over the peaks and valleys. I resist for now, and it goes a bit slack, as if allowing me.
“Better?” Dylan asks.
I grunt my agreement.
“Do you want to hit up the bathroom anyway?” he says. “Since you’re too prissy to go on the train, this might be your last chance for a while.”
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. 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 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 doll inside my pocket. I step with purpose, up around the little depot, past the last group of my fellow train passengers, who have stopped in the gravel road to take photos. I brush past someone, and realize they were coming from the opposite direction, as if from the trees. We turn to look at each other, still walking. 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.