Here’s an experimental short story I knocked up on my morning train journey to work over the past two weeks.
* * * * *
‘I’ll be here when you get back, OK?’
Marianne said, phrasing it as a statement more than a question. She didn’t wait for Eli’s response and disappeared down the platform. Eli nodded anyway.
The icy concrete seeped through the worn soles of his suede loafers. He wore thick winter socks, but his feet stung anyhow. Eli had intended to buy a new pair for a while now but hadn’t gotten around to it. Each morning when the crisp air nibbled at his toes, it was just another reminder to buy new shoes. As usual, the thought would disappear soon after. Eli watched his breath hit the morning air and just as suddenly wisp away into the dark sky. He dug his hands deep into his coat pockets and jiggled his legs in a feeble attempt to generate warmth. He glanced at the luminous display above his head.
5:48:32… 33… 34
Only two minutes. The train was never late at this time of morning. Eli glanced down the far end of the platform. The end away from the steps, ticket office, and where other passengers usually huddled in small groups. He always wondered why they made the platform so long. Eli spotted a man standing quite still, very calm, and facing the tracks. He was a tall, well-built man, with short, cropped blonde hair. Very well built in fact, Eli thought, as he couldn’t help but notice the man’s thick arms and muscular chest threaten to burst through his tight black t-shirt. At this time of morning, at this time of year, the man oddly had no jacket, just a t-shirt. He didn’t seem concerned though. Eli noticed a band around the man’s upper right arm that said ‘security’. Eli knew they didn’t use security guards like that at a train station, and assumed he was on his way home from work. The man raised his hand. A faint glow appeared near his mouth, followed by a small, dirty puff of smoke. It must have been a long night, Eli thought.
As if he could sense a pair of intruding eyes cast over him, the burly man slowly turned his head toward Eli. The rest of his body stood statue-like. With his non-smoking hand, he gave Eli an ever-so-subtle wave. It was more of an acknowledgement than a wave. Eli snapped his neck back and faced the track in front of him, as if he’d committed a sin by looking down the platform. The squeal of the metal rail below the platform signaled the imminent arrival of the train, and proved a useful interruption. He looked back down the platform but the man was gone. Eli looked around but there was nowhere for him to go. The train was still rolling in and that end of the platform had no exits, no steps, and no toilet blocks. Nothing.
The train pulled up and Eli stepped across the miniscule gap and onto the carriage, his eyes glued down the platform the whole time. The man had vanished. Eli eventually pulled his eyes away from the window and found an empty seat, which was by no means a difficult task. The entire carriage was vacant. He found it eerie to be in a carriage alone, but on the other hand he relished the peace and quiet it offered for most of his journey. He imagined he was the only person to set his alarm and everyone else was still lying in bed, destined to be late to wherever they were supposed to be that morning.
Eli pulled out a notebook and his favourite black pen from his backpack. He loved to write and thought the man on the platform might make for an intriguing story opening. He looked around for more inspiration but found little. After all, there were no other passengers to watch, and he’d read the dull signs plastered around the carriage numerous times. His mobile phone started to vibrate against the seat. It was coming from his backpack. He quickly fumbled inside the front pocket and grabbed the small device. It was still vibrating, and the flashing screen showed a number he didn’t recognise. He swiped the green answer button and swung it up to his ear.
‘Hello? Who’s this?’
Suddenly a woman’s sickening cry of pain echoed through Eli’s eardrum. The phone went dead.
Eli sat stunned. He tried to contemplate the sound he heard. It was definitely a woman screaming but Eli now started to wonder whether it was for real. He dialed back the number but it rang out. He sat frozen in his seat, staring at the screen of his phone, hoping it would ring again. It didn’t. He tried the number again. Still no answer. Eli’s anxiety gradually eased off as he decided it must have been a prank call, and there was no further contact with the maybe not-so-distressed woman. Just in case, he switched his phone off silent, turned the volume up an extra notch, and tossed it into his backpack.
The train eventually reached Blakely Station. Commuters vaguely dotted the platform but it was by no means a large station. A lady entered the carriage and slowly made her way down the aisle toward Eli. He pegged her as early 60’s. Her grey hair was neatly tucked into a bob, and she wore what strongly resembled an airhostess uniform; a white blouse, partly covered by a tight blue jacket and topped with a sheer red scarf. She wore a neat grey skirt that most definitely went past her knees, and slip on shoes in the same blue shade to match her jacket. The lady passed row after row of empty seats, eventually choosing the vacant seat right next to Eli. She greeted him with a smile but didn’t say a word. Eli was taken aback. He contemplated asking her to move but quickly dismissed the rude thought. Eli then thought he could squeeze past her and move to another seat, but decided it was equally as impolite as the first option. He decided the older woman chose that particular seat for company. The train pulled away from Blakely, and the lady stared straight ahead. She didn’t read, play with her phone, talk to Eli, or look out the window. She didn’t do anything but sit still. Eli pondered speaking to her, just to disrupt his own feelings of awkwardness, but he held his tongue. Her hands were gently clasped together, resting easily on her lap. Eli then tried to ignore the woman, but her scent was strong. He thought he could smell strawberry-flavored perfume, mixed with air freshener and fly spray. Eli had a strong sense of smell, but not necessarily an accurate one.
As the train approached the next station, the lady unclasped her hands. An orange piece of paper, the size of a post-it note, was wedged between her fingers. Eli looked back to his notebook, but noticed in his peripheral vision that the lady was now holding the note out in his direction. He looked at her partly confused, partly suspicious. She nodded at him and then nodded in the direction of the note. Eli hesitantly eased the note from between her fingers. The lady immediately got up and left the carriage. She didn’t utter a word nor did she look back to see if Eli read the note. Eli watched through the window as the woman left the carriage, strutted down the platform, and up a set of stairs towards the main street above. He kept his eyes glued on her as he felt the train jolt once, then twice, then roll away from the station. Eli unfolded the orange note and the large gold writing sent a shiver down his spine.
‘DO NOT GET OFF THIS TRAIN!’
Eli quickly became anxious. His leg started to twitch uncontrollably and his fingers feverishly played with each other. He looked around to see if anyone else knew what was going on. The carriage was still empty. He eventually calmed himself down and scoffed at the absurdity of what had just happened. His leg slowed down and his breathing reverted to normal. He scrunched the note up and threw it on the ground. Eli wasn’t a litterbug by nature but he felt this instance was justified. After all, he didn’t want to give the old woman the satisfaction of knowing he even carried the note to the nearest garbage bin. But on the dull and dusty carriage floor of the train, the orange note still shone like a beacon, and Eli still felt a modicum of anxiety linger. At that moment, Eli spotted a transit officer enter the far end of the carriage. Eli noticed the man’s eyes were fixed on him the whole way. Eli figured it was because he was the only passenger in the carriage. Eli took out his travel pass, ready for inspection by the officer. He held it outstretched, waiting for the officer to take out his portable scanner and zap the pass to give Eli the all clear. But Officer Riviera, if his nametag was to be believed, wasn’t interested in the pass.
‘Don’t litter Sir.’
‘Excuse me?’ Eli said, confused.
The officer gestured down to the ground where the beacon still shone.
‘You better pick that up Sir.’
Riviera continued on down the carriage, bypassing two passengers that had since silently slipped into the carriage and sat several rows behind Eli. Eli put his pass away and snatched up the note. He read it again, hoping he’d imagined the whole thing and the words were somehow different now.
‘DO NOT GET OFF THIS TRAIN!’
He scrunched it up in frustration and this time tossed it into his backpack. Eli had no time for games. He was on his way to work and was due to get off in a few stops.
Milbank Station came and went, and with it the volume of passengers grew rapidly. This was always the point in Eli’s journey where the peace and quiet dwindled away, not that he had really experienced a peaceful morning as yet. Just to reinforce the potential increase of decibels in the carriage, a group of school children filtered in and dominated the remaining empty seats.
Across the aisle from Eli, sat a young boy no older than seven. Eli noticed he was Asian, and assumed Japanese. He was drawing in a sketchpad. Eli could see the page. The boy was scribbling mindless patterns and infantile doodles. There was certainly no artistic talent. Not that Eli could see anyway. But who was he to judge. The boy glanced up at Eli and smiled politely. The boy then turned to a new page and started scrawling with his pencil. Eli noticed his concentration and focus lifted a notch or three and he was drawing more intensely than before. Then Eli spotted in between the pages of the sketchpad, a smaller orange piece of paper, which he realised was what the young boy was focusing his attention on. Even from Eli’s angled perspective, this image was nothing like what the boy was demonstrating earlier. As the boy continued, Eli could see a face forming. Not what you would expect from a child though. This face was like a police sketch, like those Eli had seen hundreds of times in the movies. But this was better. More detailed, right down to the freckles just under the eyes and across the bridge of the nose, and the small dimple on the chin, just off-centre. The boy craned his neck back to take one last look at the sketch. When he was pleased with his work, he handed the note across the aisle to Eli and nodded. Eli reluctantly took the drawing, and the boy immediately returned to his sketchpad and his juvenile scrawling.
The boy looked up.
‘Why did you draw this?’
The boy shrugged. He closed his sketchpad and jammed into his already bulging backpack. He hoisted the weighty bag over his shoulder, and left the carriage. One boy sitting near him yelled out.
‘Maku! Where are you going?
When Maku didn’t turn around and answer, the boy gave up and turned back to his friends. The other boys didn’t seem to notice, or care that Maku had left. Eli looked at the drawing. His heart skipped a beat. It was of a woman, her age was hard to guess from the drawing but she looked fairly young. She had thick, long, and wavy hair. Her large eyes almost jumped off the paper. Eli immediately imagined them to be green, but the boy had only used a black pencil. The freckles were evenly placed under her eyes, and the dimple was a feature of her chin. Eli stared at the drawing for a few minutes before folding it up and ramming it into his coat pocket. He got up from his seat, grabbed his bag and was ready to make his way to the next carriage and a different seat. If someone was playing a prank on him, then his only option was to leave this cursed carriage and let some other poor sucker become the joker’s patsy. At that moment he realised his stop was coming next. As the train slowed at Hopny station, and the squeal of the wheels against the metal rail simultaneously disturbed everyone’s eardrums, Eli made his way to the end of the carriage.
Two ladies, both in wheelchairs, sat in front of the door that was soon to be sliding open. Eli noticed they bore a striking resemblance to each other. Dead ringers in fact, except for their clothes. One wore a mustard-coloured sweater, the other a jacket in an unusual shade of lime, almost fluorescent. The train stopped, and Eli expected them to either get out, or move out of the way. They did neither.
‘Excuse me ladies, I need to get out.’ Eli said with a frustrated smile, wondering why he had to point out the painfully obvious.
Mustard sweater smiled. Lime jacket followed suit.
‘You’re blocking the exit, Excuse me!’ Eli raised his voice as felt his frustration grow.
‘Sorry love, this isn’t your stop,’ mustard sweater replied.
Eli looked at her confused. He didn’t respond directly to the woman but rather let out a frustrated expletive, and fearing the jolt of the train leaving the platform, he raced to the other end of the carriage. The whistle to give the train driver the all clear pierced his eardrum as he made one final lunge and squeezed out the rickety metal door that was automatically closing.
The solid concrete foundation of the platform never felt so good. Between the security guard oblivious to the winter air, the creepy old airhostess, Riviera and his psychic ability to sniff out litter, the young Japanese artistic prodigy, and the wheelchair twins, it had been a bizarre morning and even that was a massive understatement. Eli couldn’t help but look at everyone around him at Hopny station with suspicion, but they seemed regular enough. No one approached him, no one was drawing, no one was waving orange paper around, and no one was blocking any exits. Eli never felt more ready to get to work. He approached the ticket gate, took out his pass, and swiped it against the scanner.
He tried again.
He walked toward an open gate, usually reserved for disabled access, and was stopped by an officer. He was a short, round man, who wore blue glasses, which complimented his blue transit uniform nicely. He had small trails of hair that started above both ears but couldn’t quite connect with each other at the top of his increasingly bald scalp. His nametag blandly identified him as ‘James’.
‘Sorry Sir, please go through the ticket gate.’
‘I tried, but it kept saying error,’ Eli explained.
The man scanned Eli’s pass with his own portable device.
‘I’m sorry Sir, but it looks like you’ve run out of credit.’
The man swiveled the device around to face Eli. The outdated green screen flashed ‘0.00’. Eli knew it wasn’t right. He’d only just topped his pass up the day before, but he wasn’t going to argue. James the transit officer had an air about him that screamed I don’t care, and I’m not going to help you.
‘Fine, where’s the top-up machine?’
‘Unfortunately our machines are offline this morning Sir. You’ll need to get back on the train and get off in two stops to use their machine. It shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes to get back here.’
Eli was ready to explode.
‘Are you serious?’
James shrugged, and Eli thought he spotted a slight smirk creep out the side of the officer’s mouth.
‘This is unbelievable!’ Eli looked around for someone else that might have been able to help him, but to no avail. He took a deep breath and snatched the card back from James.
‘Best o’ luck, buddy!’ James remarked. Eli summoned all his energy to refrain himself from throwing a right hook at James’ jaw. But getting angry would only make it worse, and it wouldn’t get Eli to work any quicker. He headed back down the steps to the platform and noticed a train was sitting at the platform with the doors open. No one was getting on or off. Eli was grateful for the timing and stepped into the carriage.
‘Welcome back,’ said mustard sweater, who had since rolled back into a less obstructive corner.
Lime jacket smiled and waved. Eli could only laugh to himself as he made his way through several carriages, attempting to get as far away from the twins as he could. He assumed the train was running early and had parked itself at the platform, waiting for time to catch up. He found an empty seat in an otherwise full carriage, and slouched into the increasingly worn vinyl. His foot anxiously tapped the floor, but competing conversations, headphones dialed up to ten, and a young child playing a violent-sounding video game on a tablet that had seen better days, immediately drowned the sound of his foot out.
A foul odour of stale smoke, week old beer, and urine, stung Eli’s nose. He glanced at the passenger beside him and quickly realised why the seat had remained vacant for so long. The man was early 70s, with a dirty grey mop perched on his head. Oily strands of hair dripped down both sides of his face, reaching a bushy grey-yellow beard, speckled with dirt and crumbs. The beard mostly covered a mouth with rotting teeth and cracked lips that had lost their luster decades ago. The man stared ahead with hollow eyes as he muttered to himself. The man wore at least three thick jackets when the temperature inside the train barely called for one, and they only served to create a sweaty oven of body heat, further fuelling the stench that engulfed the carriage. The man was either used to it, or oblivious to it, or both. Eli was disgusted, but equally sympathetic. He knew the man hadn’t likely chosen this path in his life, and that whatever dreams and desires he held in his younger life had long since dissolved.
‘Carriage #400, no smoking, no smoking, next stop Skoine, next stop Skoine.’
The man was repeating everything he read around the carriage. Then he turned to Eli.
‘You’re my best friend!’
Eli faintly smiled and turned away, trying to avoid eye contact with the man in the hope that he’d return to the signs. Eli’s wish was granted.
‘No smoking, you’re my best friend, carriage #400, please don’t put your feet on the seat.’
The train jolted a few times before slowing down for the next stop. Thanks to the old man’s educational ramblings, Eli knew it was Skoine, which was a small stop serving the hikers and mountain climbers in the region. The train station was only a short transfer away from Mt Skoine. As the train stopped, Eli noticed every single person in the carriage rise from their seat and head toward the ends of the carriage to exit the train. Eli was confused. Even at the most popular stops, he had never seen such a mass exodus. He anxiously wondered whether he’d missed an announcement through all the noise in the carriage and contemplated getting off as well. Even the man beside him got off the train and his mind seemingly existed on a different planet. Eli figured if the train terminated at that stop, sitting there a few more minutes would make no difference. He looked out the window and noticed that all the passengers who had gotten off were standing on the platform, as if they were waiting for another train. Eli finally decided to join them, but as he got up from his seat, the metal box clunked back to life and started to roll away from the platform. Elias took a breath and sat back. He would get off at the next stop, top up his train pass, and eventually get back to work.
The train suddenly came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no station, and no announcement from above. Eli looked out the window. He could see bush on one side, and a road running parallel to the train tracks on the other. A signal a few metres down the track flashed red. Eli turned around, expecting to see an empty carriage, but it wasn’t. He could see the top of someone’s head. Judging by the thick, wavy hair protruding just above the seat in front, it appeared to be a woman. As he was about to turn back around and face the front, he noticed it. Slowly making its way down the aisle was a stream of liquid. The dark, red liquid was coming from the direction of the woman. Eli debated whether to get up and take a closer look, or turn around an ignore it. He couldn’t ignore it. He got up from his seat and could now see the woman’s eyes. They were closed and she looked peaceful. Eli realised if she was asleep, that would explain why she didn’t get off at Skoine like everyone else.
Eli approached the woman, and the stark reality of what had happened to her suddenly became clear. Eli could see the stream of liquid was blood and there was more and more of it as he got closer. He reached the woman and a wave of dizziness crashed over him and engulfed his body. He quickly clutched the top of the seat to avoid losing his balance but kept his eyes focused firmly on the woman.
Through her stomach protruded a sharp, spear-like object. Eli assumed it had come through from the seat behind. The woman wouldn’t have known it was coming. Her phone was still wedged in her hand. The glass screen, and phone cover exhibiting little rabbits were both now dripping red and forever stained. Her long brown hair reached down to her wound, the ends highlighted by bloody red tips. Eli went to feel her neck for a pulse, but pulled back. He knew she was dead. He raced to the end of the carriage and pressed the emergency call button. No response. The train thundered down the tracks, bypassing several insignificant stops, and oblivious to the plight of its passengers. Eli returned to the woman, hoping she would suddenly move. She was still as dead and as bloody as she was moments earlier, but Eli noticed the object through her stomach was gone. He froze in fear, before his head turned like lightning in both directions to make sure someone wasn’t standing behind him ready to thrust the spear through his own stomach. He looked up and down the carriage and was relieved to learn he was alone. Well, aside from the dead woman in front of him.
Then it hit Eli like a tonne of bricks. He foraged around in his coat pocket. His hands were trembling, making the task more difficult. He pulled out the piece of orange paper and there she was. The sketch of the woman that now lay dead in front of him. Eli slumped into the seat behind the woman, and as he stared directly at the puncture in the back of the seat, he tried to make sense of everything. The train slowly took off again. Eli turned his attention to the window as the morning sun was starting to show itself. The trees and power lines whizzed past as the train continued on its linear journey. Eli was getting further away from work and he knew his boss would be furious if he was late. He pulled his phone from his pocket. His hands had stopped shaking and he was calm again.
He tossed his phone into his backpack and got ready to get off at the next stop. He just needed to top his card up and go back the other way. He’d work an extra hour or two back at work if he needed. Surely his boss would understand. Eli noticed the electronic display at the end of the carriage start to flash.
21. 21. 21.
Eli watched as it flashed the same number over and over. Eli assumed there was a malfunction as the screen usually only displayed the name of the next station. The flashing number was now accompanied by a high-pitched squeal. Eli stuck his fingers in his ear and looked away from the display. As he pointlessly turned his head away from the display, thinking it would lessen the impact of the squeal, he saw the number of the seat number across the aisle.
He moved across and sat in the seat. The flashing and high-pitched squealing stopped. He sat idle for a moment, before instinctively reaching under the seat in front of him. His fingertips felt the rough texture of the base of the seat, followed by some discarded chewing gum that made Eli’s skin crawl. Then he felt metal. A thin metal shaft, wedged up under the seat. He jiggled it loose and pulled the lightweight pole free. It was about a metre and a half long. A yellow shaft led to a spiky point at one end, and a handle at the other. Eli recognised it instantly as a ski pole. Eli looked at the handle closer and notice it had been engraved.
Best o’ luck, Buddy!
Neither a name nor initials accompanied the single phrase. Eli took a deep breath. He realised he was now holding the weapon used to murder the woman right in front of him. The blood on the tip of the pole said so. Eli dropped the pole onto the floor, got up, and quickly scurried along to the next carriage, neglecting to notice the bloody footprints following him part of the way. He went through several empty carriages before finally reaching one bursting with passengers. He found an empty seat and sat down. The next stop surely must be close.
Across the aisle from Eli sat four schoolgirls. Each one had a camera hanging around their neck, almost tourist-like. They were giggling as they looked through photographs together. Not on their phones. But old-fashioned physical photographs from a time gone by. One girl held the pile and flicked through the images quicker and quicker, as the giggling got louder. Eli skeptically wondered what could possibly be that funny as he tried to block out the noise. One slip of glossy white cardboard escaped the pack, and floated to the ground, delicately perching itself upon Eli’s left foot. It was face down. As he bent down to pick up the photo that the girls had so far neglected to notice, he spotted some faint scribble in the top right corner.
Me, Jamie & Tommy – Niseko slopes Feb 2016.
Eli turned the photo over, and there he stood. He was clad head to toe in ski gear, standing proudly atop the snow-covered peaks of Mt. Niseko, a popular ski resort near Sapporo, Japan. He wore his favourite red ski jacket, which just like his current day loafers required replacing a long time ago. His ski boots were also red, with black trimmings, and his head was crowned by a non-descript black beanie. Eli’s smile exuded a happiness he hadn’t experienced for a long time. Next to Eli stood a woman He stared at the woman and fell into a trance. Jamie was only as tall as Eli’s shoulders. Her hair had been pulled back and tucked away under a light pink beanie. Her ski jackets, pants, and boots were mostly white, providing little contrast to the snow behind. Her large, green eyes almost leapt out from the image, and the happiness on her face matched that of Eli’s. Next to the happy couple stood Tommy. Tommy was at least 6ft tall. The absence of a beanie meant Eli could see his short, cropped black hair. He wore lime green reflective sunglasses and a mustard coloured ski jacket. With black pants, and blue ski boots, Tommy was a fashionista’s nightmare.
‘Scuse me Mister?’
Eli was snapped from his trance. One of the girls across the aisle gestured for the photograph. He reluctantly handed it back. She slipped it under the bottom of the pile and the girls continued on. Eli left his seat and returned to the carriage where the woman still lay dead. Eli felt his heart skip a beat as he noticed a locket around her neck. Tiny specks of blood had disturbed the platinum shell. Eli gently reached toward her and opened the locket. The back of locket was engraved.
He clipped opened the locket to find two miniscule photographs. On the left side was a puppy, golden brown, lying in a field with a huge smile on its face. It looked happily exhausted as though it had been playing fetch for hours on end. On the right side stood the woman, locked in a warm embrace with a man. The photo had become scratched and Eli couldn’t identify the man. He closed the locket and clutched it tight in his hand. A tear threatened to escape his eye as he stood up in the aisle. The carriage was still empty, but for one man sitting at the end, his back turned to both Eli and Jamie. He looked toward the man and turned back to the woman.
This time her eyes were open. Her large green eyes reverberated through Eli’s soul. He’d lovingly gazed into these eyes a thousand times before. Jamie lay slumped in the seat, the blood still trickling from her stomach, down the side of the seat, and onto the floor. Eli started to walk toward the man at the other end of the carriage. As he slowly passed the empty seats, Eli noticed more and more empty beer cans scattered on the seats and the floor. Kirin Lager and Asahi. By the time he was near the man, Eli was wading through a sea of beer cans in the aisle, almost up to his knees. The tinny racket grabbed the man’s attention. Eli noticed he was wearing a mustard yellow jacket. A jacket thick enough to wear at the snow. He reached the end of the aisle and placed his hand on the man’s shoulder.
The 6ft frame stood up and turned to face Eli. Tommy removed his lime green sunglasses. In his other hand, he clutched the yellow ski pole. Blood was still dripping from the end.
‘I’m so, so sorry, man…’
* * *
Marianne stopped writing in her notebook and closed it softly.
‘Are you alright Eli?’
Eli still felt half-asleep but nodded. He understood the question. He stared blankly at the white ceiling in Marianne’s office. The clarity of what happened during that ski trip to Japan started to form in Eli’s mind. He regretted how close the trip was to providing an altogether different, and much happier memory. Tommy was a last-minute addition. He’d been made redundant at work two days before Eli & Jamie were set to leave. Eli felt sorry for his best friend and half-heartedly asked him along, thinking he wouldn’t accept the offer. Much to Jamie’s chagrin, Tommy found an empty seat on the plane and tagged along as the third wheel. She couldn’t get mad though. Only a month before, Tommy’s girlfriend left him for another man and Eli was a soft touch and a good friend. As a thank you, and in part because he’d received a hefty redundancy, Tommy bought Eli a new pair of skis, complete with an engraving on one handle.
Best o’ luck, buddy.
It was a friendly jab at Eli’s ability on the slopes, or lack thereof. Tommy was by far the superior skier and the he didn’t mind reminding Eli about it. The trio headed to Mt. Niseko for a week of skiing, before stopping over in Sapporo for a few nights. They were going to finish the trip with a few nights in Tokyo before flying home. They never made it to Tokyo.
One night in Sapporo, they went to the Riviera Nightclub. It was popular enough, but not overcrowded. Eli remembered he was feeling ill through the evening and decided to call it a night early. The hotel was only a few blocks away, and Tommy & Jamie had known each other for years, so Eli didn’t think twice about leaving them alone, although the words uttered by the security guard as Eli was leaving the nightclub have never left his conscience. The security guard was only joking at the time, but neither he nor Eli realised just how painfully prophetic his words proved to be.
Don’t leave her alone with him.
Eli later learned from the Sapporo Police, after one or two translation obstacles, that Tommy had become increasingly drunk at the Riviera. The security guard tossed him out on the street. Jamie hadn’t really drunk a lot but decided to go with him and escort him back to the hotel. The security footage indicated they left the club around 4.00am. The police told Eli that Jamie stopped by Tommy’s room first. The hotel cameras showed, in grainy black & white, Jamie entering Tommy’s room, and emerging some 30 seconds later with a coat. Eli remembers watching the footage. He wasn’t sure whether it was customary for the police to show a victim, and to this day he hasn’t decided whether he wanted to see it or not. Either way, it became etched in his mind.
After Jamie left the room, Tommy grabbed her arm and tried to forcefully usher her back inside his room. Jamie yanked her arm clear and pushed the intoxicated man backward. He staggered back through the doorway and disappeared into the room. According to witnesses in the adjacent hotel rooms, Jamie then started yelling at Tommy. As Jamie finishes her deluge of abuse, she starts off down the hallway away from Tommy, pulls her phone out, and starts dialing in a number. The footage then shows Tommy dash out of his room. He’s clutching a thin pole in his right hand. Just as Jamie raises the phone to her ear, Tommy lunges forward with the pole.
Eli remembers waking in his room that night to the vibration of his mobile phone beside him. He didn’t recognise the number and when he answered, he heard silence, followed by a woman’s shriek of pain. Although he didn’t recognise Jamie on the other end of the phone, that was the moment he knew something had gone terribly wrong. He didn’t have to wait long to find out. The arrival of lights and sirens shortly after, and the absence of Jamie from his warm bed, told him everything he needed to know.
Tommy always claimed afterward that he was trying to catch up to Jamie, lost his balance and tripped forward. After watching the footage showing Tommy purposely lunge forward and force the yellow ski pole straight through her lower back and out through her stomach, Eli collapsed onto the floor of the police station.
‘It’s been a year now Eli. Do you think the sessions are working?’ Marianne asked, explicitly knowing they were.
‘When you passed out in Japan, you suffered a massive trauma. It took you a long time to start to remember everything again. To remember what happened, but more importantly to remember Jamie and what she meant to you.’
Eli nodded again, this time with a tear rolling down his cheek. But Marianne was right. The hypnotherapy sessions had worked. Each week he recalled more and more detail, and although it was painful to experience over and over, Eli could feel again. This was real emotion. Something he hadn’t felt since Jamie was killed and he went completely numb. Eli left the comfort of Marianne’s office and headed down to the street. He bought himself a coffee from a nearby stall and walked a short distance to a park bench. He pulled out his phone, opened up an Internet browser and started typing.
A news article posted a week earlier explained that 28-year-old Thomas Milbank, unemployed, had been found guilty in a Sapporo courtroom of the murder of Jamie Blakely. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Eli read on. The murder occurred a year earlier at the Marks Inn Hotel in Sapporo. Police found Mr. Milbank was intoxicated and made sexual advances to Ms. Blakely who pushed him away. Mr. Milbank then grabbed a ski pole and stabbed Ms. Blakely through the stomach. She died at the hotel before the ambulance could arrive.
Eli closed the browser and dialed in a familiar number.
‘Marianne? Yeah, it’s Eli. I won’t need any more sessions. No, no, I’m sure. Ok. Thanks for everything. Bye.’
Eli switched his phone off and stuffed it into his pocket. He took a large gulp of coffee and eased back into the seat. He could feel the sun hit his face, and the laughter of children as they rode past on bikes prickled his ears. For the first time in a year, Eli finally felt content.
Eli then decided to make one more call.
‘Hello? I’d like to book a flight…’
* * *