This is the opening of Chapter 3 and starts where the last excerpt closed. Of course, the weight and nuances of the previous chapters are coming to bear, but something is always lost when sampling. The book was not written to be serialised, LOL.
The rain started as a soft drizzle around three. By four-thirty it was hammering against the windows, and by six any self-respecting boat-builder was looking to make a start on an Ark.
Nick lay on top of his rumpled bedclothes wondering if it was worth making a move. Surely Hodgson wasn’t so obsessed as to have them tearing about the field in this? Then again, he probably was. He would rationalise it, wouldn’t he? Professionalism, he would call it.
‘If a little rain puts you off a mere training session, how can you expect to be picked for the big matches?’
Nick could hear the man’s voice as clearly as if he were standing in the doorway, see him in his mind’s eye, hands on hips, the muscle of his youth fighting hard not to turn to flab.
‘When I had my trial for the England Under 21s...’
No doubt they would have to endure all that crap again, too.
He dragged himself up, crossing to the basin to rub the damp flannel over his face. It felt as if it had been dipped in iced water, not simply laid across the basin’s side, and it brought him round faster than he had anticipated. Had he a temperature? He tested his forehead and neck with the palm of one hand. Could be. The glands below his ears were a bit spongy.
His kit still sat in its bag by the door, and he glanced across to it, wondering which way to jump. He didn’t feel sick, did he? No, he didn’t feel sick. Oh, what the hell. He’d risk it; do as Murray suggested and drop a whining line in Hodgson’s ear to cover himself.
His supposedly rainproof jacket was seeping across the shoulders before he had turned the corner of the Law building. Why didn’t this university have covered walkways? Yorkshire was hardly abutting the South of France.
Head down, he plodded along the deserted pavement, the rain thudding into his back and against his hood, blunt needles determined to reach his skin. And then something solid hit him just above the kidneys and he spun round, an arm automatically rising in defence. Murray was gesticulating from a doorway.
‘Nick, you plonker! Didn’t you hear me calling you? Where the hell are you going?’
Leaving the wide pathway, he crossed the sodden grass to stand just outside the shelter of the open porch. Murray was wearing a sweater over a white-collared rugby shirt, but it wasn’t the sort worn to play a game. By his feet was a training bag, but it was full of books, Nick could tell by the regular shape of the bulges carved in the blue nylon.
‘Rugby? First training tonight? Ring any bells?’
‘You’ve got to be kidding. It’ll be off.’
He watched Murray look into the rain. It didn’t feel as cold as it had. Quite refreshing, in fact. Lifting his head slightly, Nick let a squall pass the edge of his hood to dance on his face. If he were honest, it felt quite invigorating.
‘Bastard!’ Murray spat. ‘It won’t be, will it? Hodgson will use the weather for one of his separating-the-men-from-the-boys routines.’
He pointed to the bag at his feet. ‘I’ve got to dump these and grab my gear. Do us both a favour, eh? You’re passing the Union. Look in to see if a cancellation has been posted. If it has, pull a couple of beers in the Sanctuary. I’ll look in on my way by. If you aren’t there... Nick, are you okay?’
Nick blinked the rain from his eyelashes. ‘Yeah. Sure.’
‘Thrown up again?’
‘Oh, for xxxx's sake. Just get your arse in gear. The session will be on, I’m telling you.’
Turning to cut across the grass, he pushed back the hood of his jacket to let the full force of the rain pour over his head.
He hardly passed anyone on his way to University House, but it was the normal crush inside. He found it amusing how the other students gave him room as he mounted the stairs. There was a lot to be said for leaving a puddle as he walked.
There was no room to give on the floor above. The walls of the narrow corridor ran with society and club notice boards. The sports boards were on the wall in the wi-fi lounge beyond, and he was pushed and sworn at for drenching those he passed.
He drew alongside the section designated for the Union teams, and although he turned to face the ochre board he made no attempt to focus on the notices displayed. The short hairs on the back of his neck were horripilating, a frisson skittering down his spine. Something had caught in his peripheral vision back along the corridor. Six steps and he was standing before her, the individual locks of her hair rising around her head, defying gravity.
Sounds rushed at him down a long echoing tube, and he broke into the real world, his eyes close to the poster, his fingers resting on the stylised pen-and-ink drawing. He glanced left and right, feeling awkward, checking where he was, checking who was with him. No one seemed surprised that he was standing so close to the wall. One of the employed admin staff passed, reading papers from a folder. A group of young women spoke breathlessly, their voices cutting one across another in their exuberance. Shrill laughter erupted from an open office door.
He returned his attention to the notice board, to the drawing beneath his fingers. It wasn’t of Alice, not truly of Alice. It was a head and shoulders depiction of a young woman with tendrils of shoulder-length hair rising like leafy branches around her head, her neck extended, the picture giving the impression of a slender tree. His fingertips traced each undulating lock. Not Alice, no. Not anyone. Just a female. Any female.
The background colour of the notice seeped into his perception. A pale leaf-green. Black lines focused into crisp lettering.
Mother Earth Society
Next Meeting: 18 October M/Room 3
Samhain Celebrations - Preliminary Discussion
A name inked out. Hankins? Hawkins? His gaze rose to the subject heading the section of board: Environmental/Conservation. There was a smaller notice, something about bats, another giving details of clearing a canal.
Nick looked down the narrow corridor, now empty and strangely tunnel-like. Someone stood in the open doorway of the wi-fi lounge, the bright lighting of the area casting his mass into silhouette. Nick could see others crossing behind him, but they were oddly muted, curiously out of time.
Behind Nick a door opened, and a woman came hurrying along the corridor fighting her way into a bulky coat. She passed Nick almost at a run, the draught she created sweeping over him, bringing the clack of her heels and the smell of her perfume sharply to his senses. Noise rose around him — the rhythmic wheeze of a photocopier, the drone of distant conversation, the ringing of a telephone — filling the corridor with a normality he had not realised was missing.
‘Blakey! It is you, y’bastard.’
Bernie Colwyn was striding towards him. Bernie Colwyn, prop-forward. He smacked both hands against Nick’s shoulders and Nick shuddered beneath the onslaught.
‘Good t’see ya, mate!’ he enthused. ‘Ready for the off? If you’ve come looking for a cancellation you’ve forgotten Hodgson’s little quirks.’
Nick watched Bernie’s smile dissolve into a frown, and then erupt again into an eye-twinkling grin.
‘Whatever you’re on, mucker, save some for me. I’ll have it later.’ An arm waltzed him around. ‘C’mon now. Let’s go kick the shit outta these freshers.’
Blokes' talk to blokes begins to take off at this point so bear in mind that a couple of the euphemisms used don't read as limp in the novel, but this is an open blog and such things have to be taken into consideration.
If you've been following you'll realise that Nick's character is beginning to change; if you've been following from the start you'll be realising why, and how. I'd be interested in hearing how other authors handle gentle transitions like these, and how readers react when coming to realise that a seemingly innocuous backdrop carries sinister undertones. Do you read back to discern the how and the when... or is that just something writers do?
I'll be back next Sunday to take you into the heart of a rugby training session. Thanks for calling by. Feel free to leave a comment and Re-Tweet.