Gary Couzens is a British writer whose work has been published in The Magazine of
Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, The Third
Alternative, Peeping Tom, Psychotrope and Urges, and in the anthology
Bizarre Sex and Other Crimes of Passion (Richard Kasak Books). This story previously appeared in
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All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective
creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be
posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
by Gary Couzens
Part ThreeThe following morning, Penny boards the Intercity from Birmingham to Southampton via Reading and Basingstoke, a journey of close to four hours. Faint glimmerings of her migraine are still present; she wears tinted glasses to cut down glare.
She's grown accustomed to living in Birmingham: she went to University there and stayed on after graduation. She'd never been inclined to drift aimlessly like some of her friends, or go round the world in a year. She wanted a job and after a couple of months found one, with an insurance company. Since then, apart from Christmas and odd weekends and more significantly her father's funeral, she's never been back to Southampton, where she was born and brought up and where her mother and brother still live.
She finds an unreserved seat and tries to lift her suitcase up on the luggage rack as the train pulls out of New Street Station. She almost stumbles, and sweat breaks out on her forehead and under her arms. She looks frustratedly up; she's just that couple of inches too short to manage to push her case up all the way.
"Excuse me, Miss, do you need any help?"
She turns. A man in his early forties, hair greying, is standing in the aisle to her left. She nods and he reaches up and pushes the case in.
"Thanks," she says. "It's not easy when you're five foot two."
He smiles. "You're welcome." And walks past her, his copy of the Daily Telegraph under his arm. She watches him go. He's obviously sensed she wants to be alone. But he seemed quite safe, not the type to try it on. She's not dressed provocatively , as a rape-case judge might say: a loose peach-coloured top that doesn't show the shape of her small breasts, and black leggings. And that Miss jarred: she's always insisted on Ms.
Her concentration is too fragile for reading. She changes trains once, then twice. She sits back for the last forty-five minutes of her journey. But as the train pulls out of Winchester she becomes aware of a growing sense of unease. She realises that it's been with her since she got on this train at Basingstoke. A lowering disquiet, as if someone is staring directly at the nape of her neck. Once or twice she turns round but there is no-one there. Apart from her, the carriage is empty.