Following on from my last blog post, as a little taster, I’ve made the decision to publish the first three chapters of The Gateway on this blog and also on Wattpad, after completing the second draft on each. I hope you enjoy, please feel free to leave any comments or if you think there are any improvements required.
Otherwise, Chapter Three will be up next 🙂
You can read Chapter One here.
‘All aboard!!’ yelled the guard as the last of the passengers alighted the train. The automatic doors closed with a hiss and Emmeline settled back into the blue and black speckled seat, clutching her holdall on the seat next to her as the carriage shuttled her off to the coast. Hills rolled by as the train gathered speed and she felt the tension seep from her shoulders, until she noticed the shaggy-haired young man opposite her. He was staring with a strange expression on his face. Emmeline eyeballed him back but he smirked, so she turned her attention to the passing scenery and ignored him.
The last two weeks had been an eye opener. Geoff Sweetman was actually on the wagon, and Joan seemed to have had a personality transplant, bossing both of them about and taking no nonsense. Emmeline wasn’t sure which was worse – the tension from before, or being at the mercy of the imposter who had possessed her former mouse of a mother. Her eyes flickered over the fields as they sped by, and Emmeline’s thoughts drifted to her sanctuary by the sea. It was a dilapidated mess, with seventies wallpaper and grubby carpets; but it was hers and she loved it. She didn’t have much interaction with anyone there, apart from her dear elderly neighbours. But that suited her.
Less than an hour later, the train announced its arrival at Parnham Sea Station. She stood and gathered her things.
The train came to a halt and after waiting for the throng of passengers to disembark first, Emmeline stepped onto the platform inhaling the fresh, coastal air, feeling clean and carefree. Home at last.
As she meandered along the platform, a man dressed in a grey suit rushed past her, shoving her aside. ‘Hey!’ yelled Emmeline, as he ran for his train. She rubbed her shoulder and grimaced as the bruising in her ribs throbbed. Ignorant sod! Then, to her surprise, he turned to look at her, shock frozen on his face.
‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there!’ he said as he continued to back away briskly, then turned on his heel and hopped on the train, pulling the door shut behind him. Emmeline blinked, sure that the doors had been automatic. The shrill blast of a whistle rang nearby to indicate their imminent departure, and she shook her head in confusion.
As she entered the station a guard tapped her on the shoulder. ‘Can I see your ticket, madam?’
She spun round in bewilderment, searching for the automatic gate, which would hungrily swallow her fare in return for letting her off the platform.
‘Yes,’ she frowned, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a thick, cardboard coupon. ‘Where are the gates?’ she asked him.
‘Gates? The station gates are where they’ve always been, at the front of the building.’
Emmeline whipped her head round, taking in her surroundings. A young platinum-blonde woman with rouge lips stood casually near the door, patting her wavy set hair with a white-gloved hand. A round suitcase stood at her feet and her other hand displayed a cigarette holder, its smoke trailing upwards as the ash burned idly. To Emmeline’s right, perched on a wooden bench, was another young lady with black, bobbed hair tucked under a red berry cloche hat, checking her watch and fiddling with a string of pearls. On closer inspection the station was filled with commuters looking like they were dressed for a 1920s film production.
‘Is someone filming here today?’ she asked.
‘Filming? Not that I know of. I think we’d be inundated with people wanting to get in on the action.’ He chuckled and then bent his head forward to peer at her face. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked. For a brief moment, Emmeline found herself rendered immobile by the intense blue eyes which were studying her own. She tore away from his penetrating gaze and looked up at his cap, PSS – Parnham Sea Station – imprinted above the peak, and took a step back to survey his dated uniform. Sure, she’d not visited for a couple of weeks, but what on earth was going on?
‘I – um –’ she squeaked as she backed away from him. He handed back her ticket with furrowed brows and Emmeline studied his gentle mouth, perfectly set on his clean shaven face, the lines of his jaw clenching as he watched her, bewildered.
After one last glance at the ticket detective, she shot through the station, clutching her coupon, suddenly aware of its thick cardboard presence. Wasn’t the ticket she’d purchased a credit-card sized, flimsy piece of cardboard? Or had they changed them? She would have noticed when she’d bought it, surely. She thrust the little tag into her pocket and burst through the front door to the outside world, inhaling a lungful of fresh air. Either she had fallen asleep on the train and was dreaming, or something was very, very awry. A woman dressed in a pencil skirt and tailored jacket approached the door into the lobby.
‘Excuse me,’ Emmeline stood with her hands on her hips and steadied her breathing, taking in the woman’s more modern attire. ‘What is the date today?’ she asked. The other woman stopped and looked at her watch. ‘It’s 27th September,’ she smiled.
‘Thanks,’ replied Emmeline, watching the woman’s retreating back. Obviously. She bit her lip and looked around, then spotted a paper sitting on a green iron bench outside the entrance to the station and wandered over, picking it up and peering at the top. September 27th, 2012. Of course it was. She cupped her hands gently around her face and looked through the window into the station. The automatic ticket gates stood evidently at the entrance to the platform, indifferent to the little game they had just played with her mind. There was no sign of the ticket officer. She shook her head in confusion and walked over to the bus stop, and boarded the waiting bus which would take her home.
Striding up the garden path towards the front door, Emmeline made a mental note to pull some weeds up from the concrete path edge and was suddenly accosted by a silver tabby cat, snaking its way around her legs in a greeting. She dumped her bag on the doorstep and fished her keys out of her purse.
‘Hey, Herbie!’ She stooped down to collect the bundle of fur into a cuddle, being careful not to prod him with the keys. ‘I missed you too, fella!’ Herbie purred and dribbled on her wrist as she stroked his excited head. She opened the door and the cat shot through, meowing frantically and darting back and forth from the kitchen. ‘OK, OK!’ she laughed, then pulled out a tin of cat meat and filled his bowl.
Emmeline had a cat-share arrangement with her next-door neighbours. She’d fallen in love with the tabby a few months ago when the cat belonging to the Bennett’s other neighbour had had kittens. Mr and Mrs Bennett had agreed to care for Herbie during the week while Emmeline was working and Emmeline supplied the food and the cost of the veterinary care.
She climbed the worn, dull green carpeted stairs to her bedroom, hauled her bag onto the bed and proceeded to unpack her neatly folded clothes, placing them carefully into a vintage chest of drawers. The only sound in the house was the bedside clock as it ticked away noisily. She shoved her bag across the wooden floor and took a deep breath, and then opened a window to let some fresh air in to dispel the mustiness. She sat down on the bed, fondly stroking the green gingham bedspread. The muslin curtains billowed in the breeze as she took off her shoes and socks and spread her toes through the sheep-skin rug she’d found at a flea market in Parnham a few weeks ago. Her eyes swept the room as she admired the wooden floor. Bit by bit, she was getting there. On her last visit Emmeline had been busy refurbishing the bedroom and had pulled up the carpets, hired a sanding machine and stripped the floor boards before protecting them with a light wood varnish. The curtains were her handiwork, crafted on the second-hand sewing machine Mrs Bennett had donated to her.
There was a knock at the front door. ‘Emmeline? Yoo hoo!’ Elsie Bennett’s voice called up the stairs. ‘I brought you a casserole, love! Ernie said it’s top notch!’ Emmeline left the vintage beauty of her bedroom and descended the stairs slowly, still feeling bruised and battered from the accident.
‘Elsie!’ She enveloped her in a warm embrace. ‘How lovely to see you,’ Elsie gave a little squeeze in return and Emmeline gave a small cry as she pulled away, wincing.
‘What’s wrong, dear?’ asked Elsie.
Emmeline smiled meekly at her and shrugged her shoulders. ‘I had a bit of an accident a couple of weeks ago; my car was hit on the motorway on my way here,’ She confessed as warming, pungent aromas of thyme and chicken filled her senses. ‘Mmm, that smells delicious!’ she said, changing the subject.
‘What?’ Elsie’s eyebrows shot up in a state of distress. ‘Oh my goodness, you poor thing!’ she gasped.
Emmeline waved Elsie’s concern away. ‘I’m fine, honestly! Just a couple of broken ribs which are healing slowly and a black eye – which is now yellow, underneath some cleverly applied make-up.’ She lifted the lid off the casserole. ‘That looks amazing,’
Elsie looked at the casserole. ‘Just pop it in the oven, dear, on a low heat, until you’re ready for it.’ She looked back up at Emmeline and frowned. ‘So – that’s why you haven’t been here for the last couple of weeks then?’ she probed. ‘Only we didn’t get your message until last weekend and we’ve been worried! Herbie’s missed you terribly.’ She smiled kindly.
At that moment, Emmeline wondered why she didn’t just move here permanently. She was missed. Even if only by my cat and my neighbours. She sighed, and thought of Geoff and Joan, wondering how long this strange pretence could last before her father buckled and started drinking again and her mother crumpled under the disappointment. They needed her. How could she even be so selfish as to think that she could put herself first like that? Besides, she earned good money at work; when I’m hitting target, she thought. A picture of her boss’s face appeared and she shuddered in irritation at Louisa’s existence infiltrating her refuge. ‘Go away,’ she muttered under her breath as she mentally watched Louisa pace the meeting room, flinging buzz words and wasted enthusiasm around.
‘What was that dear?’ Elsie brought Emmeline back to the present.
‘Nothing, sorry, I’ve been in an odd frame of mind today,’ her thoughts wandered back to the confusion at the train station.
‘Well, if you need anything, you know where we are,’ Elsie studied Emmeline, concern creasing her papery face.
‘Thanks, Elsie. I think I’m just going to open a bottle of wine and enjoy your lovely cooking with some old black and white movies on the TV!’ She stretched pleasantly at the thought, feeling exhausted already and looking forward to curling up with Herbie and shutting the world out. Tomorrow was a brand new day; perhaps she might go for a browse among the second hand shops and take a stroll along the beach before tea time.
‘You enjoy, Emmeline,’ she paused, her hand hovering on the door knob. ‘Do you know, there’s something different about you today?’
‘Huh?’ She had been watching Herbie curling himself round and round, trying to find a comfy spot on the sofa.
‘I can’t quite put my finger on it,’ she tapped her lip with her forefinger. ‘You seem, I don’t know… stronger somehow,’ she said, then shrugged. ‘Well, enjoy your evening dear; holler if you need anything at all. I must get back to Ernie.’ She kissed Emmeline on the cheek before closing the door behind her, leaving them both in peace.
Stronger? Who was she kidding? Emmeline was clearly losing the plot. She put the casserole in the oven on a low heat and lit the fire, then popped open a bottle of Shiraz and joined the cat on the sofa to see what the television had to offer.