This is a short fiction story I wrote as part of a writing course I did in 2019. The course details can be found here. It was called Write Like A Grrrl and I would highly recommend it for anyone, at any level, who wants to gain some practical tools for creative writing. I think some of the course organisers may also be offering remote coaching whilst we’re in lock down.
There was no doubt in Alice’s mind that it was him; Mr Artichoke.
The top hat, the perfectly groomed moustache and beard, the mustard yellow brogues and the crisp, grey suit. All she needed now was for him to check the time so she could see his watch. She focussed on cleaning the coffee machine as she realised this meant what she had read in Emmeline’s diary was true. Alice wondered what to do. She certainly couldn’t let Mr Artichoke follow Emmeline; that would be a death sentence.
Alice cleaned the coffee machine again and looked over her shoulder. The man was standing a few metres away from her, quietly watching the clock on platform 1. He looked wealthy, not just in his attire but in his posture and his slow but sure movements.
He scanned the platform and looked back at the clock, then at the rail tracks, and to the clock again. He raised his wrist slowly and pulled his sleeve back, revealing a garish wrist watch.
Alice almost fell backwards as she leant to catch a glimpse of it.. It was the exact watch Emmeline had described; shiny, gold, with a black face and white hands. Pretty disgusting she thought, but then money can’t buy taste.
Alice stiffened as he began to approach the coffee station.
“Good day miss, may I order a coffee with milk please?”
“Yes of course sir. Would you like anything to eat as well?”
“No thank you miss I am quite alright, just the coffee will do. No sugar please.”
“Certainly sir, shan’t be long.”
Alice began to sweat as she made his coffee. He has good manners at least, she thought, then shook her head, remember Alice, this man intended to murder Emmeline and good manners count for nothing in this scenario.
“Everything okay miss?”
Oh good grief he’s paying attention.
“Yes, all in hand. Shan’t be long.”
Stop saying shan’t be long you idiot you’re not Miss Marple. Or are you…
She finished the coffee, gulped and turned around.
“Here we are. That will be one pound and thirty pence good sir.”
“Excellent, here you go. Thank you very much miss.”
“May I ask where it is you’re headed to today? I see so many people coming and going from this dreary little station that I often wonder what place they’re off to!”
“Ah, I see. I err…” For the first time since arriving on the platform Mr Artichoke looked uncomfortable. “I’m just making my way to Edinburgh from London, it’s for a work conference. I was excited to see this station, it’s well known for its history and I am in the business of history – I am an archeologist and historian.”
“Well, I’m sure this place is almost old enough to be considered ancient history!”
“Aha, yes, quite. So err, you work here do you? How long for?”
“I’ve been here for three years, serving travellers their coffee and tea. It’s an enjoyable job for a people watcher!”
“Aha, right. Well, maybe I’ll see you again tomorrow. Thank you for the coffee.”
Three days prior to serving Mr Artichoke a coffee, Alice had been working the early shift at the station. She had arrived at 3.30am in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm. The coffee station was prepped and open by 4.30am.
At this same time, the first train, which was bound for Edinburgh, pulled into platform 1.
And at this same time, Alice’s attention was drawn to a woman standing in the wind and pelting rain.
She had bright red hair and was wearing a tan coloured trench coat. She carried bags in varying sizes and as she struggled onto the train something large, black and rectangular fell from her pocket onto the wet platform.
Alice walked towards it with the intention of handing it back to the woman, but as she picked it up the train at platform 1 started pulling away. Alice stood there in the rain for a few seconds, before stuffing the item – which appeared to be a book – into her pinafore pocket and taking shelter from the rain back at the coffee station.
That evening at her Grandmother’s house, she took the damp book out and discovered it was in fact a diary – the red-haired woman’s diary! Alice decided to read just the first entry, but three hours later had read the entire thing.
The woman was called Emmeline. She was wealthy and well-travelled, and regularly went on expeditions to seek out rare artefacts or to discover the truth behind well known legends.
It was quite bizarre for Alice to read such unbelievable stories, because they were the sort of stories she had always hoped were true. Although Alice led a quiet life that she was very content with, she had always loved adventure. Since childhood she would devour books about expedition and adventure, starting a new one the second she finished her last. Deep down Alice had always wanted an adventure of her own
She discovered from reading the diary that Emmeline was in fact on the run from someone she called ‘Mr Artichoke’. A few months earlier Emmeline had travelled to Peru on an expedition, where she and her team had discovered something called the Mountain Stone. Mr Artichoke had been chasing her ever since.
He wanted to be the one who had discovered the Mountain Stone, and the way Emmeline wrote about him sent chills through Alice.
If he finds me with this stone, and I really do fear that he soon will, I shall not live past that meeting. He is so crazed by the power and respect he will enjoy if he presents himself as the owner of the Mountain Stone, that he will stop at nothing. He intends to murder me, and so I must flee.
I am going to a place I hope he will not suspect, and I am going now.
This was the last entry in Emmeline’s diary, and Alice had been thinking about it ever since.
Confronted with this knowledge of Emmeline’s quest and the danger she was in, Alice was ready to act.
Now, three days later at the train station, having just served coffee to Mr Artichoke, she knew she had to do something to help Emmeline reach safety.
“I think your train is actually departing from platform 2 sir! Just across the way! It is Edinburgh you’re headed to isn’t it?”
“Oh, are you sure? Why yes it is Edinburgh.”
“Yes I am quite sure, always platform 2 for the north!”
“Oh I see, well thank you miss, I shall make my way to platform 2.”
Mr Artichoke boarded his train to Edinburgh, which was in fact a train back to London.
In the following days there was no sign of Mr Artichoke and Alice was almost consumed by anticipation. Every single time anyone alighted a train from London she flinched, sometimes she tried to hide, but it was never him.
Four years after discovering the diary, Alice had never seen or heard of Mr Artichoke nor Emmeline again.
Then something happened.
On one particularly frosty morning, as she was preparing the coffee station at 3.30am, she heard footsteps approaching her from behind.
“Good morning, the coffee station will be open in approximately thirty min… oh my goodness, it’s you.”
Stood at the coffee station desk was Emmeline, smiling warmly at Alice.
“Alice! Congratulations on passing your first test. We’re very pleased with how you’ve performed over the last four years, and we’re now ready to speak to you directly.”
“You see, the diary I dropped and the man you met who you assumed to be Mr Artichoke, that was all a test. And I am delighted to say you passed! We do apologise for just how long the recruitment process takes, but we have to be sure beyond any doubt before we offer you the job.”
“What job? What company is it?”
“The Adventurers Guild my dear. You are the perfect candidate. You are discreet, you are brave, you can make quick decisions and you can keep a secret. If you want to find out more, you can call me on this number after you have finished your shift.”
Emmeline offered Alice an emerald green business card with a number written in gold ink.
She had always wanted an adventure of her own.