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Secret Story
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Secret Story

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Author: Ramsey Campbell
Publisher: Tor, 2007
PS Publishing, 2005
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Humorous Horror
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Synopsis

You're an underpaid civil servant who dreams of chucking it all to become a famous author. You live with your overbearing mother who always seems to interrupt when you're writing a key scene. Your imagination is dark, your inspiration the terrible things that happen to can happen to a young woman traveling alone....

Your terrifying short story about a horrible murder on an underground train is to be published. Even better, it will be made into a movie. A pretty young journalist is pursuing you.

Except.

You've been fired.

The journalist wants an interview, not a date.

The film's director wants you to make a few changes in your story.

And, worst of all, your imagination has run dry.

You'll just have to kill someone new...


Excerpt

Chapter One

"Dudley, there's something I haven't been telling you," she said, and at once he was terrified that she knew.

Chapter Two

Her first mistake was thinking he was mad.

As the train left the station he started to talk in a low passionate voice. They were alone in the carriage farthest from the driver, except for two beer bottles rolling about in their own stains and bumping together as if they were trying to mate on the unswept floor. Greta pretended she was moving away from them and not from the young man crouched low on his seat. She sat close to the doors into the next carriage and was taking the latest prize-winning bestseller by Dudley Smith out of her handbag when she saw he was talking to a mobile phone. "I don't know what you want," she could just hear. "I thought you said I gave you what you asked for. If that's not love I don't know what is."

She moved to sit with her back to him in case she embarrassed him. When the train pulled into Birkenhead Park she glanced over her shoulder—she could have been looking for someone on the platform. He'd slipped the phone into his discreetly elegant suit jacket and was staring straight ahead. Even at that distance she saw the unused intelligence in eyes blue as a summer sky; he looked mature beyond his years. His hair was neatly cropped, his nose straight, lips firm, chin square. She turned away before he caught her watching. Then four men in track suits stampeded over the pedestrian bridge.

They made for the front carriage. She let out a breath of relief and wished she'd taken the opportunity to make some remark to the young man. As the train gathered speed she opened her book. She was anxious to find out what happened next, but she hadn't finished a paragraph when she heard a door slam. The men were coming up the train.

She felt trapped by the overgrown embankments that were tarred with dark. Then an underground tunnel chased those away and closed with a roar around the train. The first man flung the door between the carriages wide, and the four of them strutted down the aisle. There was room for one of them next to her, and three on the facing seat. Before she could move closer to the young man with the phone, they boxed her in.

The man beside her put his feet up, blocking her escape. He smelled of sweat and tobacco smoke and too much aftershave—perhaps he'd slapped it on his bald grey scalp. The man opposite her gave her a loose wet grin with yellow teeth and a bloody gap in them under his broken nose. "On your own, love?"

"Must be," said the man in the middle and spat across the aisle. "She's got to read a book."

The man he'd spat past rolled up his purple sleeve and scratched a hairy tattoo of a skull inside a heart. "What's it about?"

Greta never liked to be rude. "Someone everybody thinks is ordinary," she said, "but really he's a master criminal."

"Sounds great," bloody-mouth seemed to think. "Give us a read of it."

He opened the paperback so wide she winced, and stuck his finger in. She would have asked him to be gentle, but the tattooed man took out a packet of cigarettes. "You can't smoke on the train," she said.

"We can do what we like, love," said the man with his legs up. "Plenty's said we can't and learned different."

"And plenty can't say much any more," the tattooed man said.

Gap-teeth crumpled a page out of his way. "This twat in your book's useless. Hasn't got a car and doesn't even nick one."

The train had stopped at Conway Park, where the lines were open to the sky. Greta always imagined the station was raising its roof to her. "May I have it back now, please?" she said.

"I've not had a read yet," said the man who'd spat.

"Me neither," said the tattooed man.

She didn't want to leave it with them—but as the train moved off, the reader threw the book to the man with his feet up, who bent it in half and ripped the spine apart. "Here, you have that bit and I'll have this."

Greta felt as if they'd torn her open. She could buy another copy—they were everywhere—but it was like having some precious part of herself damaged beyond repair. She restrained her tears and faced the tattooed man, who'd stuck a cigarette between his sneering lips. "The sign says no smoking," she said loud enough to be heard down the carriage. "It's dangerous."

"So are we," said spitter. "Who're you shouting for? Your friend's hiding. He'd better stay hid."

Greta twisted her head around to look. The young man must be crouching out of sight for fear of the gang, unless he'd left the train. The clunk of a lighter reclaimed her attention. The tattooed man lit his cigarette with a page of her book, then sailed it at her legs. "Don't do that," she said, trying to steady her voice as she brushed the paper to the floor and stamped on it. "That's just stupid."

"We say what's stupid," gap-teeth said, wiping a red trickle from the corner of his mouth. "You are for saying that."

"Shouldn't have," the tattooed man told her, setting fire to another page and poking it at her face.

"You can scream if you want," said the man with his legs up.

"We like it when they scream," spitter said.

Greta's eyes and nose stung with smoke. She knocked the burning page aside, showering the man next to her with sparks. "Watch what you're doing, love," he sniggered at saying.

The train was slowing. Had the driver seen her plight? Perhaps he was only getting ready for the station—Hamilton Square. "Excuse me, please," Greta said loudly. "This is my stop."

"Show us your ticket," the tattooed man said.

"It's not our stop, so it can't be yours," said the man with ash on his legs.

Greta was about to stand up when gap-teeth shoved a knee between hers and pulled out a knife. He flicked the blade free and rested it against the inside of her thigh. "Don't shout or you'll be no good to your boyfriend."

She had none just now. She could have sat with the young man behind her, too far away. As the train reached the platform, cold sharp metal inched up her thigh. The doors of the carriage opened as if they were gaping on her behalf. There was nobody to board the train, but she heard a shout. "Anybody here?"

"It's your friend," said the man with the knife. "He wants reinforcements."

Greta's heart leapt and sank. Nobody was coming to help. Why didn't the young man call the driver or go to him? Her forehead grew clammy with wondering as the doors shut tight. The train jerked forward and the knife nicked her thigh, and she thought she would do anything to make the man put it away. Then a voice behind her said, "Do you all know one another?"

"We don't know you," the man with his feet up said.

"Don't want to neither," said the tattooed man around his cigarette.

The young man sat across the aisle, planting his feet on either side of the sputum on the floor. "How about her?"

"She's with us," said the man with the knife.

Greta couldn't speak. She felt the blade advance another inch, and backed against the seat, but there was nowhere she could go. She almost didn't hear the young man say, "I'm surprised."

"Think we aren't good enough for her?"

"The other way round. I'd say you're lowering yourselves."

"She'll do for now," said the man with the knife, stroking her thigh with it under her skirt.

"I wouldn't want to be seen with her."

Greta thought his contempt was the worst of all. "Why not?" said the tattooed man, clanking and unclanking his lighter.

"I expect she's a virgin for a start."

"We'd like that."

"Or maybe she isn't. Did you see that look?" The young man peered at her. "Well, are you?"

"That's my business and nobody else's."

"Sounds like she isn't or she'd be boasting. Sounds as if she hasn't got a boyfriend either. You can see why, can't you?"

The four men were growing visibly uncomfortable. "We don't want to be her boyfriends," said the man next to her, closing a hand over her breast.

"On your way to meet some friends, are you?" the young man asked her. "I bet you work with them."

How could he know about her? Hearing him tell the gang felt like being raped. "If you had more friends," he said, "you wouldn't be reading a book."

"Can't you see what they did? They tore it up and he's been burning it."

Copyright © 2005 by Ramsey Campbell


Reviews

Secret Story

- Badseedgirl
  (9/30/2014)

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