Slaying Genre: Stranger Fiction
Last month I took a hiatus from Slaying Genre to work with the amazing teen writers in Grub Street's YAWP Fellowship (for those you not yet in the know, YAWP stands for "Young Adult Writing Program"). These YAWPers kicked both genre and literary ass during the fellowship, churning out spooky tales, futuristic fables, and all manner of amazing writing. Don't believe me? Read on and see how Emma LeBlanc Perez takes one man's journey and one odd stranger and creates a creeptastic narrative you won't soon forget!
He takes one of the seats by the window. He has plenty of options on an Amtrak ride in the middle of the night. He’s running from someone he had loved, someone he had unwisely thought loved him back. As soon as he sits down, he notices a woman in the very back, sitting primly in the dead center of the row of seats. She has a bright red dress on, her dark hair hangs around her face, which is turned away as she peers through the windows looking out at the abandoned platform. He sighs and hunches over in his seat, shoving his balled-up hands into his pockets. He’s in no mood for conversation.
When the train pulls out, he lets his eyes close. The rest is a reprieve from the life that’s slowly but surely collapsing down around him. He slips into a dreamless sleep, only to be woken up much later by a sudden, sharp jerk of the train car. He jolts upright, looking around him blearily. He can’t see anything beyond his own reflection on the scratched, dirty windows—he’s never seen a night so dark before. He shifts in his seat and spots the woman again.
He jumps; she’s closer than before. And she has something with her now: a suitcase, slim and black. He could swear it wasn’t there before, but then again, he isn’t too much of an observant man, especially now. The woman still doesn’t look at him, or, when the train shudders again, do anything other than clutch the handle of the suitcase just a bit tighter. He turns his attention to the front of the car, suddenly feeling unwilling to acknowledge his travelling companion. They ride in silence as the shaking gets worse and worse. With one particularly violent tremor, he is thrown onto the grimy floor and utters a loud curse.
When he is able to crawl back into his seat, he finds the woman has moved yet again. She is at the very front of the train car, sitting with her stiff back to him. Then, she starts to move; he holds his breath, heartbeat resounding like claps of thunder in his ears. She twists in her seat painfully slowly, suitcase still balanced in her lap. With another jerk of the train, he finally sees her face. She’s smiling. He’s never seen a smile so wide—or with so many sharp teeth. The suitcase rattles as she sets it down gently on the ground. Her long, bony fingers flick open one of the latches. The rattling gets worse and he wishes he could escape. The suitcase is practically leaping off the floor and the woman has her dark eyes pinned on him, the overly stretched smile never leaving her gaunt face.
He begins to stand, only to be thrown back down by another violent shudder of the train car. He presses a steadying hand against the window, only to pull it away. It is white hot, as though it had been baking in the sun—the blackness outside seems to have a tight grip on the car even though by now they should be within view of the city lights. The woman frees the second latch. There’s a moment suspended in time where everything is still and his mind is clear for the first time in days. Then everything collapses. All he can see is the suitcase: twisting shapes of billowing smoke clawing their way out, shattering the windows as they escape into the inky black night. He covers his head to shield himself from the spray of burning hot glass shards as the cacophony of wails and shrieks reach deafening levels.
When the noise dies down and the glass stops flying, he lifts his head and sees a smoke being staring back at him with yellow glowing eyes. He tries to scramble backwards only to feel an iron grip clamp down on his throat. With one hand the being lifts him to his knees, to his feet, then off the ground. It holds him tight and he gets one last look at the woman, smiling wide, before the being carried out into the inky black night beyond the train car.
The woman, red dress and dark, hanging hair, is seated on the cleanest bench in the Amtrak station. Her hands are folded in her lap and she doesn’t look up from them as a man sits down on the bench beside her. He has a fresh pack of cigarettes in his hand and unwraps it, pinning one cigarette between his yellowing teeth. He pats himself down and, with a huff, turns to his companion.
“Just my luck I lose a brand new lighter. D’you got one on you, by any chance?”
She sits, head turned away, and says nothing. He sighs and gives his pockets a desperate final pat-down. He shifts in surprise and pulls out a cheap green lighter. He chuckles heartily and lights his cigarette, saying, “Whaddaya know! I knew it was here somewhere. Crazy how the universe works, isn’t it? One second something’s there, the next—” he snaps his fingers and shakes his head, taking a drag from the cigarette. Her dark hair hides rows of bared, sharp teeth filling a too-wide smile.
By Emma LeBlanc Perez
*From time to time work from amazing teen genre writers will be featured here. Know an awesome teen genre writer who is interested in writing? Send them to our FREE Saturday YAWP writing sessions!
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira