Tuesday 30 November 2010

Yay! I did NaNo!

Phew! Finally NaNo is over and I made it past the 50K mark. My final word count, for the time being any how, is 50321 words.

Despite all my whinging and whining and general carrying on, I did end up quite enjoying the whole process. I now have a good chunk of a novel which I have ended up actually quite liking, and I'm looking forward to discecting it and then putting it all back together again. I really hope what I have the basis for could end up being something really special, but I still need to add a good 30k to it to make it a decent novel length, and a whole heap of editing needs to be done, of course.

One thing NaNo has taught me is that I am capable of sitting down and focusing on one thing. Okay, I may have sneaked off and done a couple of other things as well--I finished writing, submitted, and had a short story accepted during NaNo month, and I've also been working on a couple of other projects on the side as well. I think I still needed to do this to keep me sane, and it seems to have worked out okay.

With my new frame of mind, I have decided to dedicate each month to a different project, making sure that month's project always gets priority over everything else. I'm hoping this may make me more productive, and even a bit more organised, but we will see.

So, will I do NaNo again? Probably, though my husband will probably fall to the floor and weep, begging me not to! He has already threatened that if I do NaNo next year he will do Movember. Ahhh, I can see next November being a fun time in the Farrar household!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving and win The Dark Road

Hi guys,

Just a quicky to say happy thanksgiving to all my lovely friends over the pond. I hope you all have a wonderful day full of turkey, pumpkin pie and family.
You can also stop by Nicole Hadaway's new page, one of my fellow vamplit author's http://dandridgehouse.blogspot.com/2010/11/writers-wednesday-featuring-marissa.html
to win your copy of my new novel, The Dark Road.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday 24 November 2010

The Gracken by Lori R. Lopez

It's not often I stumble upon poets that I just absolutely LOVE, but I've recently had the good fortune of meeting Lori R Lopez via the Masters of Horror facebook page. She posted the following poem, and I just adore it and couldn't resist sharing it with everyone.
If you want to know more about Lori and read more of her work, you can find her at http://www.trilllogicinnoventions.com/. She would love to hear from you.

Now sit back and enjoy....


Six grackles on a limb once sat
To have a raucous bird-brained chat
Like magpie gossips they did sport
Then snoozed a bit with a sneerful snort
When just below them from the soil
A wickedness began to roil
And writhing upwards out of smirch
A peckish dauntling climbt the birch
This heathen gathered mass and crept
Up bark and branch to where they slept
The smudge begrudged them their sweet nap
And plucked most up in quite a flap
Drooling for these fickle bites
He gulped them down and set his sights
Upon the last who woke to glean
Himself alone, his pals unseen
And a monster they had conjured forth
Through gabbiness from malish pour'th
Of vicious rumors, slandrous spewl
These spouters summoned a pentaghoul
Five scowls he wore; five eyeballs glared
Five arms, five legs; five faces stared
Five birds he ate with fervent glee
The sixth, dessert would surely be
Licking lips, he reached a paw
To plunge the fowl down a single maw
This gracken had a case of greed
And six was more than he did need
The final bird held up a wing
To make him pause for one small thing:
"We made you mad, we made you mean
We made you brown and orange and green
We didn't make you such a glutton
And we forgot a shut-off button
So if you won't mind, I think I'll leave!"
The blackbird flew, to the gracken's peeve
And the monster slunk back in the dirt
His belly full but his feelings hurt.

Monday 22 November 2010

The Dark Road is now available to buy!

After a lot of hard work from myself and Gaynor at Vamplit Publishing, my second novel, The Dark Road, is now available to buy!

You can read sample chapters by clicking on the links just to the left of this post, or you can download 30% free from Smashwords.

If you've ever done the 'traveller' thing, you may even recognise the journey the characters in this novel take, as they try to make their way from Bangkok to Siem Reap in Cambodia. But the backpackers have more than just the normal travel problems to worry about, as they are plunged into a world of temples, curses, and long-dead kings.

It's a bargain at only $4.99 and I hope you'll all stop by http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/30776 to take a look!

Friday 19 November 2010

Win 'Let The Right One In' and more NaNo whining...

Eleven days to go and I cannot wait for this whole thing to be over. I am bored, bored, bored.
I don’t think it is the story—though it is women’s fiction, and I’ve not been able to introduce any ghosts/demons/vampires and general spooky/violent/gory stuff that I love. I read plenty of women’s fiction quite happily.
The thing that is throwing me is not being able to work on anything else. I normally veer between different projects, which keeps me excited and interested in what I am doing. I’ve got loads of other things I want to do and so feel resentful towards my poor Nano project, which really has done no harm to anyone.
I’m currently at 30555 words. Do I think I’ll make it to 50K? I don’t know, it’s doubtful at the moment, though I hate giving up on something or letting anything beat me! So I will continue to plod on and see what comes out the other end.
If you, too, wish to escape the tedium of NaNo, you can head to my Facebook Page where I am having a competition to win a copy of the novel, Let The Right One In.

Monday 15 November 2010

NaNoWriMo—Halfway There!

Hey everybody, can you believe we’re halfway through NaNo already??? Where the hell has the time gone?

I’m almost on track; current word count of 23,088, so should make it to the necessary 25K by the end of the day.

Of course, as always seems to be the way, several other projects have been thrown in my path, trying to distract me, and yes, I have definitely been distracted. However, unless something definite happens, I’m hoping to remain on track.

Is the novel actually any good though? I honestly still have no idea. I hope so. I really, really hope so—I wouldn’t be writing the story otherwise. But I don’t think it will be until I am able to give it a good scrub and polish that I’ll be able to decipher if it is a diamond in the rough, or just a plain rock.

Several people have offered to look at it for me (and thank you, you know who you are) but I NEVER allow anyone to see a WIP until it is exactly how I intend it to be—something that has prevented me joining crit groups.  How can anyone judge my work when it is not how I want to it to be?

How is everyone else getting on? Are you enjoying the whole experience or has it been a nightmare? On track, way ahead, or falling waaaaay behind? I’d love to hear your stories!

Thursday 11 November 2010

Chapter 4: The Border


This one’s late today, guys, due to a rather poorly baby—but better late than never!

The next thing Sasha knew, a small hand was pulling on her own.

The awkward position she had been sitting in had made her neck stiff and she could feel an imprint, a red tattoo, of the material from the seat pressed into her cheek.

Sasha realised she had slept.

Bleary eyed, she squinted out of the window, somehow expecting to be able to identify where she was. The road gave no clues and the surrounding countryside could have been anywhere in Asia. Small houses, that were really no more than shacks, dotted the countryside. Dirty-looking sheep and cows, with their bones poking painfully through their thin covering of fat, grazed the sparse ground. The Bangkok traffic had disappeared and Sasha felt like they were the only people on the road.

The small hand tugged again.

Surprised, having forgotten what had woken her, Sasha turned to see the bright blue eyes of the blond child staring at her.

"Hello," Sasha said. "What's up?"

Delighted she was awake, the boy scrambled up onto the seat beside her.

"Mum and Dad are still sleeping. They get mad if I wake them."

Sasha smiled, noticing that he didn't have any problems with him waking total strangers.

"And why would you want to wake them?"

The boy stuck a thumb into his mouth, suddenly shy, and mumbled something. Sasha gently prised the thumb back out and told him to say it again.

"Need to go toilet."

"Ah, I see.”

She leant forward and got the attention of the Thai boy in front.

"When are we stopping? This little boy needs to go to the toilet."

The Thai boy said something to the driver and he abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. Everyone on board started to move, roused by the sudden change in motion of the vehicle.

Sasha glanced back to see the child's mother wake. Immediately she looked frantically around her.

"He's up here," Sasha called out to her. "He needed to go to the toilet."

His mother jumped to her feet and moved to the front of the bus.

"I'm so sorry," she said. Her blue eyes were wide and Sasha noticed they were exactly the same colour as her son’s. "Was he bothering you?"

"No, not at all," Sasha said, lying slightly. "I don't think he wanted to disturb you."

"Hmm." The boy’s mother looked down at him disapprovingly, but was unable to hide her smile, and she ruffled his baby-fine white hair. "That doesn't sound like him at all."

The boy grinned around his thumb and his mum took his other hand. The Thai boy pulled open the door and the two of them climbed off.

Recognising a chance to stretch their legs, everyone else began to scramble to the front of the bus. One by one they followed the boy and his mother out onto the road.

The heat hit Sasha as soon as she stepped out of the door. Though she had thought the bus didn’t have air-conditioning, she was clearly wrong.

Without the smog, acting as a filter, the sun in the countryside was much more intense than in the city. The beams beat down on the top of Sasha’s head. Sweat ran down her back, making her thin cotton vest-top cling to her skin.

"You look like you could use some of this."

Sasha turned to see Josh holding out a bottle of water. The sight of it made her realise just how dry her throat was and she took it thankfully.

"I guess I forgot to pack some myself," she said. "I didn't think."

Josh shrugged. "No problem. Keep it. I've got another one in the bus."

The water was on the warmer side of cold, but Sasha took several long gulps. She hadn't had any breakfast and was amazed that she was capable of functioning without her morning cup of coffee.

As if reading her thoughts Josh said, "I don't think it's far to the border. We have to stop before it to get our visas checked and fill in some forms for the Cambodian officials, so we should be able to get something to eat there."

Sasha hoped that her visa was real. Her passport had been left at the desk and she had been called over to pick it up late last night. She had no idea what the visa was supposed to look like, as she had nothing to compare it to, and she simply had to pray that she’d not been ripped off or she’d be left floundering on the border like a refugee.

"I am a bit on the hungry side," she admitted. "But my stomach still thinks it's the middle of the night."

"You've only just arrived then?"

"Yeah, I got in from London yesterday, so I'm still a bit jet lagged."

"I'm not surprised," said Josh. "You didn't like Bangkok much then?"

"Oh, no. I love Bangkok. I've been there a couple of times before, but I'm just in a rush to meet someone."

Josh gave her a grin, but Sasha could see a hint of something else behind it.

"Sounds mysterious," he said. "Is there a story to that?"

"It's going to be a long trip," said Sasha, trying not to sound rude. She couldn't put her finger on the reason, but she did not feel like discussing her situation. "Plenty of time for stories."

She paused and held up the bottle. "Thanks for the water."

"No worries."

Sasha turned and got back onto the bus, happy to escape the direct sunlight and the heat. The Thai boy was rounding the others up, hustling them all like they were sheep being shepherded into a pen.

Josh had been right about being close to the border and within half-an-hour they pulled up at what looked like someone's house. The wooden building was completely isolated. Scrawny chickens ran around the outskirts of the property, scratching in the dusty dirt.

As the troop piled in a friendly Thai woman rushed over to them.

“Come, come,” she said, racing around, pulling out wooden benches from the tables. The inside was clean and spacious. Fans in each of the corners of the room kept the hot air moving.

“Please, sit,” she said.

Her enthusiasm was infectious. Sasha thought the woman probably only got a couple of busloads of people a week.

Sasha stood, feeling awkward. Everyone had already formed their own little groups and she was unsure of where to sit. She felt as if she were back in school and had walked into the canteen at lunch, only to find there was no one there she knew and no free tables. She didn’t want to sit with Josh. Though he seemed like a nice guy, she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.

The mother of the blond boy sat down at one of the tables and looked up to see Sasha standing there. The woman smiled and gave a slight nod of her head to beckon Sasha over. Relieved at not having to spend any more time hovering, Sasha happily went over and sat down opposite.

“Are you sure you don’t mind me joining you?” Sasha asked. “I hate to impose, just because I am friendless!”

The woman laughed. “No imposition, I promise. It’s nice to have someone else to talk to. As much as I love my family, you can hear the same stories once too often.”

“Hey!” her husband exclaimed, sitting down beside her. “I heard that. Are you telling me you don’t like my stories?”

“The first time they are funny,” she said, patting him reassuringly on the back of his hand. “It’s just by the tenth time I find myself zoning out a little.”

Her husband shrugged his broad shoulders and grinned. His teeth were white and straight in his tanned face.

“Ah, well. What can you do?”

“I’m Laura, by the way,” the woman said. “This is Greg, and that little terror over there is Ben.”

Sasha smiled. “Sasha,” she said.

The Thai woman was walking back around the tables. She put simple plastic menus listing chicken, shrimp, or beef with either noodle or rice in front of everyone.

Within a few minutes everyone had ordered and shortly after, a cold coke was placed on the table in front of Sasha. She drank it gratefully, needing the fluid, sugar, and caffeine.

“I am so impressed you are out here with your son,” Sasha said, speaking honestly. “Everyone I know takes their kids on package holidays to Majorca.”

"We wanted to raise Ben with as much of our own education as we possibly could," said Laura. "There is only so much a kid can learn stuck in a classroom, so we try to expose him to real life and the real world as much as possible."

"Isn't it difficult travelling with a child?" Sasha asked. "I have enough trouble getting myself from A to B, I can't imagine what it would be like trying to keep a small child entertained."

"Ben is great." She smiled at her son who was now crouching in the dirt, trying to poke at the chickens with a stick. "He seems to keep himself entertained and he is so outgoing he makes friends pretty quickly."

"Yeah, I noticed that."

"The Asian people love children too,” she continued. “They are twice as helpful when they see we have a child with us. If there are other kids around he’ll play with them. The language barrier doesn't seem to be a problem when you are six. A ball is a ball, and kids will play with it whatever country they are from."

Sasha couldn't agree more. She hoped that when she had children she would have the insight and ability to be able to show them the world and teach them about accepting other ways of life and cultures.

The food they had ordered was put in front of them and Ben was called back to the table. He sat down and eagerly devoured his chicken and rice, talking between mouthfuls about the places they had been and all the friends he had made.

Sasha still had a western stomach and after having seen the state of the cows and noted that they were a fair distance away from the sea, she too had opted for the chicken, but with noodles. Her stomach rumbled and she could barely get the food in quickly enough. It was amazing how good simple food tasted when she was really hungry.

Glancing around it looked as though everyone else was enjoying his or her meals as much as she was.

Josh, Goose, Dawn, and the two pierced girls were sitting on a table together. The young, dark couple were sitting together on another table. On another table, separate from everyone else, was the dreadlocked man. Sasha couldn’t help hoping that he stayed away from the rest of the group for the rest of the trip. He gave her the creeps.

The driver and the boy were eating with the woman who ran the restaurant. They were all talking loudly, quickly and all at once.

After the group had finished eating, forms were handed around for the Cambodian officials. Each of the travellers filled in reasons for their visits, along with passport and visa numbers. As Sasha copied from her passport, Josh spoke over her shoulder.

"It would probably be a good idea to buy some bits and pieces for the rest of the trip." He pointed over to a chest fridge, which contained bottles of water, very old cans of soft drinks and cans of beer. Wire baskets held packets of crisps and small loaves of bread. "We don't know what the border will be like or how long we will have to wait there."

"Wait there?" said Sasha, surprised. "What do we have to wait there for?"

"For our bus." He nodded over at the driver. "Those guys won't be coming into Cambodia with us. They'll want to get home to their families. It will be Cambodian people who drive us to Siem Reap."

"Of course," she said, feeling a little stupid.

"I wouldn't have known either if someone hadn't told me."

He smiled down at her. She was struck by the dark green of his eyes, the way the corners creased and, combined with dark curly hair that looked like it was spiralling out of control, Sasha realised he was extremely attractive. The thought made her cheeks flush.

Josh must have seen it for he glanced away, as though embarrassed for her. Sasha stared down at the table, lost for words. She was relieved when Goose interrupted them with a shout.

Everyone looked up. Goose was standing by the fridge, a can of beer in each hand.

"Hey guys!” he said. “Looks like I've found a way of making the trip more interesting!"

He went to throw a beer each to the two girls, but they both shook their heads and grimaced.

"I’ll pass. I'm struggling enough as it is," said Vicki.

"If I ever touch that stuff again it will be too soon," Steph added.

Dawn screwed up her tiny nose. “I can’t stand beer. I’m a purely vodka and white wine kind of girl.”

Goose, obviously disappointed, turned to Josh and Sasha.

"You two will join me though?"

"Goose," said Josh, unable to hide the weariness in his voice. "It's barely even lunch time and we've got the border crossing to deal with. Maybe later, yeah?"

"Well, I'm going to have one," he said, cracking open a can. "And I'll take the rest with me for later."

Goose called the owner over, pointed to all of the beer, and pushed a wad of cash into her hand. She looked delighted and started to help Goose transfer the cans of beer into his daypack.

"Is he a friend of yours?" asked Sasha.

"God no! I managed to meet him in a restaurant last night and I made the mistake of letting him know I was travelling to Cambodia today." Josh pulled a face. "There weren't supposed to be any buses running today for some reason, but a stroke of luck got me on this one."

"I offered them a ridiculous amount of money so I could travel today."

"Really? I paid the same price because I already had a ticket to leave the day after. The people who ran the guesthouse told me I could go today instead if I wanted to."

Sasha laughed. "I guess the amount of money I paid was enough in itself to get the locals to give up their bank holiday."

"Bank holiday? Was that the reason they gave you that they weren't travelling."

"Yes, it was." Sasha's brow creased in a frown. "Why, what did they tell you?"

"Nothing really,” he said, shaking his head. “They were very mysterious about it, they even seemed worried. That's why I was so surprised when they said I could travel today after all."

"Oh well. I guess the main thing is that we are here."

"Very true." Josh looked back over at the fridge. "I think we had better help ourselves to some supplies before Goose empties it."

"Good idea."

Sasha got up and together they went to the fridge. They both selected a couple of drinks, crisps and a loaf of bread. The bread was softer and fresher than Sasha had expected, but the idea of eating dry bread didn't appeal to her. It was easy to be picky when you had a stomach full of good food.

She paid for it anyway and put it all in her bag. Whatever happened in the next few hours at least she wasn't going to go hungry.

With full stomachs and paperwork clutched in their hands, they piled back onto the bus.

It turned out that they were still over an hour away from the border, but as they approached Sasha saw that there were large, concrete, multi-storey buildings on the Cambodian side. They stood like a strange oasis in the landscape; a surprising statement of wealth among the wooden shacks, dirt, and poverty. Even the banner-like sign stretching between two huge stone pillars, welcoming them to Cambodia, did not have the glamour of these buildings.

Curious, Sasha pointed them out to Josh.

"They're casinos built for rich Thai business men," he told her.

"Why can't they go to casinos in their own country?"

"Gambling is illegal in Thailand, so they build the casinos here for easy access. Unfortunately the locals don't benefit from them because they are all Thai owned and run."

"That's awful,” she said. “It must be horrible for them to see so much wealth when they have nothing."

"They don't know any different," said Josh with a sad smile. "And their government doesn't exactly do much to help."

The bus pulled over about five hundred yards from the border and everyone got out. One by one, they collected their bags from the roof and hoisted them onto their shoulders. They all thanked the Thai boy and the driver, who simply pointed to the border as if to tell them to go.

Sasha clutched her passport in her hand, feeling slightly sick. What would she do if they turned her away? Nothing had been said back at the restaurant, but these were officials and would be much more likely to spot a fraud. She started to regret her decision to push her visa through so quickly. To try to dispel the worry she conjured up an image of falling into Nick's arms, him ecstatic to see her, but even that didn’t help. The image prompted worries of its own.

Josh must have seen her turning grey for he turned his attention back to her.

"Are you okay?” he asked her. “You don't look too well."

Sasha pushed her passport into his hand.

"Does this look right to you?" she asked. "I had it all rushed through yesterday and I'm a bit worried it might be forged."

Josh flicked her passport open to where the slip of green paper was attached to one of the inside pages. He opened his own passport to an identical page and studied it, a small frown creasing lines between his eyes.

"What do you think?"

Josh looked back up at her. "Well, I'm no expert, but they look exactly the same to me. I'm sure you'll be fine – you’re not the typical illegal immigrant."

He smiled at her and she felt a weight lift from her heart. She chewed her lower lip nervously.

"I hope you are right."

"Stick with me. If they refuse you I'll smuggle you inside my bag."

"You'd never lift me."

"Want a bet?"

Taking Sasha completely by surprise Josh picked her up and flung her over his shoulder. She let out a little shriek and hit him on his back in protest. He set her back down, grinning.

"See? No problem. You're only a little heavier than my pack."

Sasha glanced down at Josh's huge, eighty litre bag.

"Charming," she said, but couldn't help grinning back. She smoothed down her hair and wished her face would go back to its normal colour.

"Maybe for the time being you should just try walking," Josh said. "Come on."

The rest of the group had already reached the border, so they trailed after them. Sasha felt better, but she couldn't shake the feeling of nervous apprehension. She wondered how much of it had to do with seeing Nick again.

She glanced guiltily out of the corner of one eye, catching the sun-freckled skin and strong profile of the man walking beside her. She didn't have time to analyse the little jolt inside her. Before she knew what was happening she was handing in her passport.

The small, dark-eyed man behind the counter stared her. Sasha trembled under his scrutiny and her cheeks burnt red once again. If only she had more control over her body's blood flow, it would make her life much easier. She tried to smile winningly at him, but felt as though she had just grimaced in pain. The man made no move to smile back. He just grunted as he returned her passport.

Relieved, Sasha grabbed her passport back. Josh had waited behind her so that if she had any problems she wouldn’t be left alone on the wrong side of the border. The small act of kindness had touched Sasha and when she set foot on Cambodian soil, even if it was hot and dusty, a sense of belonging and purpose strengthened her.

The group of travellers were ushered towards a couple of large tuk-tuks and the group shared nervous glances.

Steph was the first to voice their doubts.

"We're not going the rest of the way in that?"

"I'd heard horror stories about people being stuck in pick-up trucks for most of the journey, but this is ridiculous," said Josh, shaking his head.

"It would take forever," Steph said, doubt clear in her voice. She leaned over to the driver. "Hey? We go to Siem Reap in tuk-tuk?"

The driver looked at her blankly for a moment before processing what she had said. He burst out laughing, leaving Steph red-faced.

"No, no. Tuk-tuk only to bus station."

The group heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The sigh, however, was premature.

They were whisked through the streets. The tyres churned up the dust and it caught in the back of their throats and bit at their eyes. Sasha clung to the bars of the tuk-tuk, terrified they would tip over if they went around a corner too fast.

Within ten minutes they were deposited at the bus station.

The feeling of disbelief was starting to be all too common. The group disembarked and looked around them for something substantial. The building consisted of nothing more than bare, redbrick walls and a corrugated iron roof. There was no proper floor, only more dirt and dust. A couple of battered plastic chairs were the only furniture.

"I hope the bus isn't going to be too long," said the female part of the dark-haired couple.

Sasha realised this was the first time either of them had interacted with the group and she was surprise to hear not a foreign accent, but a soft Irish one.

"I'm sure it won't be," said her partner, lightly touching the back of her neck. He looked around at the rest of them. "What do you guys think?"

Sasha could see everyone look around at the uncomfortable surroundings, unable to give him the reassurance he was looking for.

“Well, I certainly don’t intend to stay in this dump for any length of time!” Dawn said. “Certainly not when there are perfectly decent hotels round the corner. We could just go to them and hit the bars.”

“I’m up for that!” said Goose, lifting a half-drunk can of beer up in a salute.

Dawn raised her eyebrows and chose to ignore him.

“How about you, Josh?” she asked, unable to hide the hope in her voice.

Josh frowned. "I'm sure we won't be here for too long. And you can’t just go wandering off. We’d never find you again. In the mean time, just use your pack to sit on. At least it is shaded."

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Fine, but it had better not be for long.”

Sasha glanced up at Josh as everyone found themselves their own seats and corners to settle in. Sasha saw him put his pack down where he was and she dropped her one bag down beside it. They both sat down on top of their packs and wriggled down to create small dents and pockets of comfort in the otherwise bursting bags. Though they were in the shade, the corrugated tin roof seemed to store up the heat, turning the little shelter into an oven.

"I hope you are right," Sasha said.

Josh raised an eyebrow and grinned at her. "So do I."

They sat in silence for a moment, taking in their sparse surroundings.

"Go on then," said Josh, "Tell me a story."

Sasha looked up at him in surprise. "What, like the three little pigs or something?"

"No, silly,” he laughed. “Your story."

Sasha stared at the ground. "I haven't really got one. My life is pretty regular really. I work as a recruitment consultant; I live in London; I have a cat. There isn't really a story to tell."

Josh laughed and lifted both hands, palm up, to the sky. "And what about all of this? If your life is so dull, what are you doing sitting in a shack on the Cambodian border?"

"I told you already. I am visiting someone."

"A someone in particular?"

Sasha realised that he wasn't going to give up without getting something out of her.

"Ten days ago my boyfriend, who works in Siem Reap, called me to say that he missed me terribly and that he had bought me a ticket to come out and see him. So I got on the plane and here I am."

Josh looked impressed. "Wow, that's commitment! You flew all the way out here just on a whim? So is that why you were so keen to get to Siem Reap today, because you missed him too?"

"Yes, of course," she said, her face reddening at both the white lie and the fact that she had just admitted to being spoken for. She realised she was embarrassed that she had basically been emotionally blackmailed into getting here so quickly. She would never admit to anyone that Nick would rather have been sunning himself on a beach in Bali then seeing his fiancé for the first time in a year. As she ran the situation over in her head the first thread of doubt wound its way into her heart. She tried to push it away, but it clung on like a poisonous tentacle.

“So how long has he worked out here for?” Josh asked.

“It’s been a year now,” said Sasha, her shoulders sagging.

“And you don’t mind?”

“I encouraged it,” Sasha said, her face falling further.

Josh saw her expression and tried to focus on the positive. “But he must fly back and see you?”

“Well, he was supposed to be on a plane about now, but he decided it would be better for me to come out here. We might end up flying on to Bali”

“Oh, right. That sounds like fun”

Josh could see Sasha’s mind heading somewhere else, but she wasn't allowed to focus on it for too long. Goose, who had been hanging out by himself outside of the shelter, poked his round face into the entrance. The heat and sun were taking its toll on his appearance, and he was red-faced and sweating heavily. Sasha knew the alcohol was probably not helping. He took another long swig from the can he was holding before yelling out to them.

"Hey! You guys! Come and look at this!"

Josh visibly grimaced at the sound of Goose’s voice and Sasha thought that he was just going to ignore him, but then Josh answered through tightened jaw.

"What is it Goose?"

"Come and see. You'll like it I promise."

Josh took a deep breath, trying to control his temper. "We’re fine here, Goose,” he said. “You come and show us."

"I can't," Goose whined. "You have to come here."

Josh looked at Sasha. "He's not going to shut up until I go, is he?"

Sasha smiled sympathetically and shook her head. Josh pushed himself to his feet and she stood to follow him.

"You don't have to come," Josh said. "He's my curse, I have to live with him."

"Don't be silly. Whatever it is it will be more entertaining than sitting there by myself." Sasha didn't even notice that she had just dismissed the other nine people sitting around her.

The pair walked back into the bright sunshine and simultaneously slipped their sunglasses off the tops of their heads to cover their eyes.

Sasha immediately saw what Goose had been getting excited about and her heart melted a little for him. Maybe he wasn't as bad as Josh had been making out?

Surrounding Goose in a semi-circle were a group of children aged anywhere from three to ten. Thread-bare t-shirts and ragged shorts hung from their bodies and their feet were dirty and bare. Their lustrous dark hair gleamed in the sunlight and large dark eyes peeped inquisitively from behind fingers and older children’s legs. They spoke to each other in gabbled Cambodian. One of them said something loudly and they all giggled, their hands over their mouths.

Sasha felt her own face break into a smile. Josh hankered down beside her so that he was on the same level as the children. He reached into his daypack and pulled out the bread and crisps that he had bought earlier. The children immediately left Goose and crowded round Josh. A girl of about four shyly tapped him on the arm, pointed to the bread, and then pointed to her mouth.

Breaking off just enough so that all the children would get some, Josh tore the bread into pieces. Delighted, each child snatched a piece before running off with brothers, sisters, or friends to a safe distance to compare and consume their prizes.

Sasha nipped back into the shelter and took her own bread from out of her bag, along with the crisps and fizzy drinks. Josh saw her and called out to her.

"You might want to save a little of that. We still don't know how long we are going to be here for."

Sasha shrugged dismissively, but then swiftly rethought. She didn't want to appear selfish, but she didn't want to get stuck in this kind of heat with no fluid. A bottle of water, a can of lemonade, and a small piece of the bread went back into her bag and then she took the rest out to the children.

Seeing her return with an arm full of food the children rushed back, smiles lighting their faces. Sasha pulled open the bags of crisps and taught the first child to cup his hands. The others immediately copied and she shook the slivers of fried potato into their hands, trying to be as fair as possible. Josh cracked open a can of lemonade and the children held the can in both hands, drinking from it solemnly, before passing it onto their neighbour.

Sasha knew this would be an image that would stay with her forever. She thought briefly about getting her camera out, but somehow it seemed wrong to want to take 'holiday snaps' of hungry children. They both sat huddled on the ground content to watch the children. The heat and sense of contentment lulled Sasha into a kind of trance, but it was swiftly broken by a yell from Josh.

"Goose! What the hell do you think you are doing?"

His sudden shout made Sasha jump. She looked over at where Goose was standing. What she saw made her jump up, astounded at the idiocy of the man.

"What?" protested Goose. "They like it - see?"

The children around Goose were not holding a can of soft drink; they were holding a can of beer.

Josh strode over and crouched down next to the child holding the can. Gently he took the can from the child's fingers.

"Sasha, have you got any more soft drinks?"

Sasha ran back into the shelter and took the last can of lemonade out of her bag. She took it back out and handed it to Josh. He cracked it open and took a tiny sip, and then made yummy noises. Then Josh took a sip of beer and screwed up his face as though the can contained diesel.

Immediately the child reached for the lemonade and Josh gave it to him before standing up. Goose stood a little way off, watching the scene with a sulky look on his face. Josh walked back up to him and pushed the beer can back into his hands, crushing it and spilling beer down Goose’s front at the same time.

"Hey! Watch it buddy!"

Josh's face got closer to Goose than was physically comfortable for either of them. The stink of stale sweat and alcohol washed over him and he spoke in a low controlled voice.

"If I see you pulling a stunt like that again, I will personally make sure you never get to Siem Reap. Do you understand?"

Goose stared back at Josh for a moment, then, seeing he was serious, shifted his gaze to the floor and pushed his foot around in the dust.

"Do you understand?" Josh said again.

Goose grunted a 'yes' and Josh turned away from him and walked back up to Sasha. The children had lost interest in them by now and had wandered away with their treats. Josh was shaking with anger and Sasha instinctively put a hand on his arm to calm him.

"I hate that there is always one who will spoil it for everyone else," he said.

"At least you were there to stop him."

"The problem is that there are people like him all over the world and quite often no one tells them what they are doing wrong. It’s stupidity and ignorance more than anything else."

Josh was right. Goose wasn't a bad person; he was just thoughtless and spoilt. He was someone who had never had to live with the consequence of his actions, so he did not see the effect that simple ill-mannered gestures had on the people he interacted with day in, day out. It was as if he had blinkers on and could only see what he wanted to see. He was now sitting back down with the two pierced girls who were chatting to him, having perked up after their naps on the bus. Sasha thought that no one else had witnessed the scene outside at first, but then she saw the dreadlocked man sitting alone at the front of the bus shelter. He smiled his strange, fanged smile. Sasha couldn’t tell if he was trying to be friendly or trying to be weird. She didn’t want to judge a book by its cover; he couldn’t help the way he looked. She gave a tentative smile, but he looked back down at the ground, concentrating on the cigarette he was rolling.

No one else appeared to pick up on the frosty atmosphere that surrounded Josh as they went back into the shelter.

Josh was almost tempted to pick up his bag and move it away from where Goose was sitting, but he realised that this was both childish and futile. They were going to be stuck in the very confined space of the bus for the next ten hours.

If it ever showed up.

As if thinking about the bus had conjured it up, a dirty white minibus pulled up outside of the shelter. No one spoke for a moment, a silent pact not to jinx the possibility that this was their ride, but then a young Cambodian boy jumped down from the passenger seat and hailed them from the entrance.

"Hello people!” he said. “Come, come! You want to sit in dirt all day?"

The group shuffled to their feet like old women. Though they were all pleased to see the bus; the size of it, rust, and apparent lack of air conditioning didn't make it look like the most comfortable ride.

"At least it's not a pick-up truck," Josh commented.

They all looked back round at him as if to say, ' well it might as well be'.

Once again packs were strapped to the roof and they all piled onto the bus. The seats were smaller and harder than the previous ones, but the group generally copied the seating pattern of earlier. The one exception was Josh and Dreadlocks. Josh slid across the aisle and into the seat next to Sasha.

He gave her an apologetic smile.

"I know I’m playing musical chairs,” he said. Then under his breath he added, "I just don't think I could stand ten hours sat next to that guy. I fear we would not both make it out alive."

Sasha laughed. "In that case you should definitely sit here."

"Thanks, I'll try not to bore you too much."

Sasha smiled, but didn’t answer him. So far, he’d been the most entertaining part of the journey.


Copyright © 2010 Marissa Farrar
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Chapter 3: The Beginning.

Sasha's alarm startled her from sleep. The small alarm clock played an annoying rendition of 'You Are My Sunshine' in an increasingly high-pitched tone. It was enough to raise even the undead from their unnatural sleep and over the years Sasha had found that this was the only alarm that she couldn't ignore.

Sleep had come easily to her, but she had woken continuously during the night. The strange bed, the hollow slamming of doors and unaccustomed heat had made it difficult for her to sleep undisturbed. She had the seven hour time difference to compete with and her body was telling her that now was the time to go to sleep, not to get up.

Steely determination was the only thing that got her legs swinging off the narrow bed and her weary head off the rock hard pillow.

Stumbling back along the corridor Sasha blasted herself with an ice cold shower, hoping to wash away the desire to crawl back into bed. Her shoulders and neck were stiff from carrying her pack around; her muscles unused to the exercise.

Her pack seemed to have doubled in both size and weight during the night. Sasha briefly debated the possibility of someone sneaking into her room and replacing her own pack with one stuffed full of bricks.

Bracing herself, she heaved the bag onto her sore shoulders. Every muscle groaned in pain as she prepared herself for the hike back down the seven flights of stairs.

Thank God, she could just sit on a bus for the whole of the next day. She intended to do nothing other than stare out of the window, doze and daydream about seeing Nick again.

Thinking about Nick, her heart gave a nervous jolt and her breath caught tight in her chest. She had checked her email again last night, but there was still no reply. Sasha prayed that he knew she was coming and was waiting for her. The idea that she would get there and he was already gone just didn't bear thinking about.

She wished for the thousandth time that he had gone somewhere a little less remote, somewhere that at least had mobile reception.

"Positive mental attitude," Sasha said, under her breath. "Thinking negatively will only tempt fate."

'What about preparing yourself for the worst?' an annoying voice, sounding suspiciously like her mother, chirped up in her head.

"Oh, shut up,” she answered out loud, ignoring the strange look she got from the young Thai girl she passed on the stairs. “He will be there and he will have got my email and be waiting with tickets to Bali in his outstretched hand…"

Sasha allowed herself to slip gently into this daydream as she continued to plod down the stairs, her knees and thighs trembling under the weight.

As she entered the main reception area, she was surprised to be blinking back bright sunshine. Her room and the stairwell had all been windowless and it was so early she had been expecting it to still be dark.

The locals all looked like they had been up for hours. Plates and dishes clattered and banged, and people shouted to each other. The smell of pancakes and toast tempted her, but she did not have time to stop for breakfast. The receptionist nodded as she dropped her key onto the reception desk and made her way through the guesthouse and out into the road.

Her years of London living had made her forget what it was like to have beautiful weather first thing in the morning. As she stepped out onto the street, the heat from the new day warmed her skin and the first jolt of excitement speared through her.

She was on an adventure.

Squinting against the bright light, she looked around for the bus. The street was empty apart from locals setting up their stalls. Sasha struggled again, this time to get out of her backpack and finally she dumped it on the ground. With a sigh, she sat down on top of it and rubbed her already aching thighs. She hadn't realised she was so unfit, obviously, her sporadic gym trips hadn't made much of an impact.

Sasha fished the paperback novel she was reading out of her daypack, but barely had a chance to open it before a minibus came bumbling around the corner.

She stood up and waited for it to stop in front of her. A young Thai boy, who was probably only in his early teens, jumped out of the passenger seat and waved at her.

"You have ticket to Cambodia?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, I do," Sasha answered, thinking, ‘where the hell did I put it?' Frantically searching her pockets, she located the piece of paper and handed it over to the boy, who in turn handed it to the driver. He just took the ticket, not even bothering to look at Sasha.

"This your bag?" the boy asked, as though there was a crowd of people waiting to embark.

Sasha nodded. He lifted it easily onto his back and threw it onto the roof, before securing it to the rest of the luggage that was already there.

"Thanks," she said, wondering if she should tip him.

At the door to the minibus, Sasha ducked her head down and pulled herself up into the vehicle. It was old and rusted and she could taste the scent of diesel on the back of her tongue. When she looked up, she was surprised to see the number of people already seated.

Right at the back of the vehicle was a young family; a blond mother and father and an even blonder boy of about six. They all had their eyes closed. The boy was lying across his parents’ legs, his head in his mother’s lap. Down the centre of six benches, three on either side, ran the middle aisle and on the right hand side sat two girls with piercings. Sasha was sure she recognised them from the restaurant she had eaten in the night before. On the opposite side of the aisle to them sat a couple with dark hair and tanned skin.

In front of the pierced girls were two men, opposite in looks. One was large and meaty with sandy coloured hair. Sasha could not see his face, as he’d twisted round in his seat to talk to the girls behind. In doing so, he was squashing his companion up against the window. The squashed man was glaring his annoyance at the large man and at first didn't notice the new person joining the group. When he looked up Sasha was sure she had seen something like surprise registering in his green eyes.

Across the aisle from the two men, a blonde girl was sitting alone. In front of the two men was a dread-locked man who was also on his own.

Sasha quickly realised all eyes were now turned on her, and she smiled and waved at them all, feeling like she was on a game show.

"Hi. I'm Sasha," she said, resisting the urge to add 'and I'm an alcoholic'.

The green-eyed man seemed to recover and leant out towards her, hand offered.

"I'm Josh," he said with a smile. He was about to say something else when his companion swivelled back around and got in first.

"Goose is the name,” the big guy said, “wear it out if you want."

"Hi Goose," said Sasha cautiously. "I'm Sasha."

"Good to have you along for the ride Sasha."

"Thanks. It was almost a ride I didn't get."

"Well, if you're ever in need for a different ride you know where to come."

Sasha watched, horrified, as he winked lewdly at her. Slowly she turned away, searching for somewhere to sit. Maybe she’d been mistaken and had taken his comment the wrong way?

She hoped that there were going to be better people than that guy on the trip.

The only free seat on the bus was just behind the driver, so she plonked herself into it and then twisted back round.

The two girls, sitting behind Goose and Josh, were the next to speak.

"Hi, I'm Steph," said the one with pink hair. Sasha thought she recognised an American or, more probably, Canadian accent. "This here is Vicki. You'll have to excuse us if we're not too chatty for the mo. We only got in about two hours ago."

Sasha grinned, recognising, in them, herself several years ago.

"No problem," she said, just glad to have some interesting people on board. "Talk when you've recovered."

The two girls grinned back at her before simultaneously plugging themselves into their iPods and shutting themselves off from the rest of the world.

She moved to get her own iPod out of her bag when she realised she was being stared at. From across the aisle she caught the eye of the lone man. He was in his late twenties. His hair was chin length, dirty blond with the front parts of it twisted into dreadlocks. Ice-blue eyes fixed her own with a look that sat somewhere between amusement and hostility. His head tilted to one side in a way that reminded Sasha of an animal listening for its prey. He smiled with his mouth only and Sasha saw that he had one canine that was completely out of line with the rest of his teeth, making it look like a fang.

Although only a fraction of a moment passed it was long enough to make Sasha uncomfortable and she shifted round, moving her gaze to the girl behind her.

She too was blonde, but in a completely different way. Her hair was as fluid as water and she swung it behind one shoulder as she leant forward, holding out a perfectly manicured hand.

“Hi, I’m Dawn,” she said, in an English accent. “It’s good to have another single woman along. I’ve only just got here and it’s all a bit scary.”

Sasha saw her eyes flicker to the dreadlocked man, but she quickly recovered.

The last thing Sasha felt like doing was making conversation with another London girl.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Sasha said and turned back around, continuing to rummage in her bag for her music.

Everyone else on the bus had lost interest in her, the early start taking its toll and they were all now either staring out of the window or asleep.

The boy who had hoisted her bag onto the roof finished securing it and swung open the passenger door, before jumping in beside the driver. The boy turned back to them, a wide smile revealing perfect, small white teeth.

"Okay, all ready?"

Most people managed an obligatory groan and the boy was about to turn back when Josh leant forward.

"Are we picking up anyone else?" he asked.

"No, no. The lady was last."

Relief washed through Josh as he realised that he wasn't going to have to spend the next fourteen hours squashed up against Goose on a tiny bus that didn't have air-conditioning. He pulled his body out of the gap between Goose's large frame and the hard metal of the bus and slid down the aisle to sit next to the scruffy-looking stranger in front of him. Josh knew that he was being inexcusably rude to Goose and could feel the annoyance of the stranger at suddenly having to share his seat, but he was past caring. Josh settled into the spare seat as though it was a feather bed.

He felt like he had just escaped death by torture.

Sasha had watched his antics with obvious amusement and Josh realised that he had not exactly been subtle. He didn't really care; this was a case of survival of the fittest.

Josh still couldn't believe that she was on the same bus as him. It never failed to surprise him how often he ran into the same people time and time again. It was true that most people were travelling the same routes, but they were covering huge distances and there were plenty of other variables to stop people from bumping into one another.

Not that he was complaining. This 'small-world-syndrome' had brought Goose into his life, but now, it seemed, it had also brought the dark-haired girl from the restaurant to compensate.

Josh frowned and forced himself to look away. The last thing he needed right now was another woman. He was no good for anyone and though he knew nothing about the woman on the other side of the bus, he was certain she deserved better.

Despite his best intentions, he glanced back over at Sasha. She was sitting with her eyes closed, her head rested against the window.

Josh sighed and turned to look out of his own window.

The bus rattled and shook going over the fairly smooth roads and Josh wondered what it would be like in Cambodia. Several other travellers had told him that there were no real roads in Cambodia, but he found this hard to believe. People had a tendency to exaggerate their stories for impact.

Because of the early hour, the busy streets of Bangkok were still not up to full speed, but they were getting there and it felt like every minute that passed brought more and more vehicles onto the roads.

At each set of traffic lights tuk-tuks, bicycles, cars, and motorbikes jostled for position. The minibus weaved and swerved between the traffic, threatening at any moment to hit or be hit. Horns blared continuously, not at anything in particular, but simply to be heard. Smog rose from every engine causing a layer of grey to hang above the city, dampening the sunshine.

Josh reached down into his daypack and pulled out a mangy-looking roll stuffed with some unidentifiable meat that he had bought the day before. He didn't know when they would be stopping next and had learnt from previous experiences that it was better to be prepared. Taking a bite out of the stale bread, he chewed the mouthful slowly, contemplating the journey ahead.


Copyright © 2010 Marissa Farrar
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Another Anthology Acceptance!

Yay! It seems I am on a roll!

I’ve just found out I’ve had my short story, After The Revelation, has been accepted by Pill Hill Press.

The anthology it has been accepted for is called 2013: The Aftermath, and is based on the end of the world as we know it happening in 2012. The stories in it are about what happens to the survivors after.

I loved writing the story and so easily could have developed it into a novel. I may even consider doing just that once the rights for the story are up.

This new acceptance has made me feel even less enthusiastic about my NaNo project. I’m now at 13,500 words, but I’m struggling and it feels like an effort. I can’t help but wonder if it is the story, but I hate to give up on anything, and I’ve not yet stared a novel I haven’t finished! I’m currently using my regular writing as motivation to hit my word count goals for my NaNo project. Sad, huh?

How are your Nano novels going? Anyone else struggling or is everyone else loving it?!!!

Chapter Two!

Chapter Two

An Unwanted Companion

"Hey, mister! You still want to go tomorrow?"

Startled, Josh Thomas looked up from the paperback he was reading. Standing above him was a young Thai girl, smiling. He recognised her as the daughter of Mr Kim, the man who ran the guesthouse where he was staying.

"I'm sorry?” he said. “What did you say?"

"My father say bus leave tomorrow now. You can go if want."


Josh was surprised. Neither he nor his fellow travellers had been able to work out why there was no bus available on Saturday. Although pressed for time, Josh had declined the offer to travel in a pickup truck instead. He would be risking his life, or his sanity at the very least, according to the stories he had heard.

"But I have already bought a ticket for the day after?" he said.

"It's okay. Just change ticket, no more money."

"Great!" Josh smiled at her. "Do I need to tell your father?"

"No, no," she answered. "I will tell him. Bus leave six o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Okay. Thanks."

She gave him a little bow and ran off.

Josh settled back in his seat. He picked his book back up, but he didn’t read any more of it, instead he just stared at the words, lost in his own thoughts.

It was great that he could leave tomorrow. He was on a bit of a whirlwind trip of South East Asia. A year previously he had bought a 'round-the-world' ticket. It had allowed him a certain number of flights from country to country within a year. He had, unfortunately, only made it through South America and then on to New Zealand before he had met a local girl called Kyla.

Josh moved into Kyla's flat almost immediately, but things hadn't quite panned out as they’d hoped. It soon became clear that they weren't as compatible as they first thought.

Josh cringed at the memory.

He had been stupid. Hoping he had finally found his home; the place where he could finally feel he belonged, he jumped into the relationship feet first.

Josh and Kyla had barely known each other when they moved in together. The things Josh had found exciting about Kyla—the partying, the reckless sense of humour and the unpredictability – quickly wore thin. He wanted to feel settled, but it seemed that was the last thing Kyla wanted.

One night she had gone out without him and hadn’t come home until late the next morning, reeking of booze, stoned out of her head and stinking of sex. When he’d asked her where she’d been, she’d laughed at him and told him to mind his own fucking business.

What had happened next was the worst thing Josh had ever done. Just the thought of it seemed to clutch at his throat, making him breathless. The memory stirred something dark and it writhed like a snake in his belly.

He pushed the memory away, not wanting to relive it.

He’d known it was time to leave. He had no other choice. The relationship had brought out a part of him that he’d never known existed and it scared him. He didn’t want to become that person and he had to get away as quickly as possible.

Deciding to do what he always did when he lost himself, when he didn’t know where his life was supposed to be taking him, he went back on the road.

Josh’s funds were running extremely low and he only had three flights left on his ticket. He decided to use one to fly from New Zealand to Bangkok and from there he would travel overland through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This plan allowed him to see as much of the continent as his lack of time and money allowed. He could then fly from Vietnam back to Bangkok and finally fly back to London.

Because of his tight schedule, gaining this extra day made all the difference. It meant that he could spend an extra day exploring the Cambodian temples of Angkor. A day that would have otherwise been wasted hanging out in the numerous Thai bars that lined the Khao San Road.

Josh was still puzzled at the guesthouse owner’s sudden change of mind. Mr Kim had been insistent, aggressive almost, when Josh had asked him for a ticket to Siem Reap for Saturday. Arguing had not got Josh anywhere, yet he had seen a flicker in Mr Kim’s eyes, a flicker of fear.

Well, whatever the problem was, it had obviously been sorted now. He would have to watch what he drank tonight if there was a 6am start, as Thai beer had a kick to it.

Josh shifted in his seat, trying to get more comfortable. With his left hand he rubbed at the swirls and lines of the tattoos etched into the skin of his opposite arm. His book remained open, but unread.

It was hard to believe he would be back in London in a few weeks and, although he had only been away for a year, it felt like a lifetime ago. His life back in London seemed unreal, disjointed from him somehow. He felt as though his past life had just been a dream and his only real life was the one he spent travelling. Even New Zealand felt like a movie he had watched.

He wondered if he would settle back into a 'normal' routine when he was back in London or if he would get itchy feet again almost immediately. Josh liked the idea of having a base again, an actual home he knew he was going to stay in rather than a temporary pit stop. He missed having his own things around him, having the comfort of routine and being able to sleep in his own bed. Everything he owned was in his backpack and most of it was battered and worn. It would be nice to have a normal life again.

Josh wasn't so keen on the idea of a job; a nine-to-five in an office. He had worked sporadically in New Zealand, but only in bit-time jobs in the bars that Kyla's family owned. It had kept his head above water, but only just. Sadly, he wasn't going to be in such a good position when he was back in London. Friends of his had agreed to let him stay in their spare room for a few weeks, or at least, until he got himself sorted. Josh didn't think he would find too much difficulty in finding work. He was in IT and there was still plenty of call for someone with his skills, but he couldn’t pretend the idea wasn’t suffocating.

Still, he had to get on with his life; he couldn't wander the earth forever.

Later that evening Josh found himself sitting in a restaurant, nursing an ice-cold beer despite his earlier good intentions, and pushing rice around his plate with his fork. Like most of the restaurants on the Khao San Road it opened out onto the street. There were so many chairs, tables, and people it was difficult to see where the road finished and where the restaurant started.

Loud music filled the restaurant and even the people sitting at the roadside tables had to raise their voices so friends and family, sitting only feet away, could hear them. Josh thought the music was up-to-date chart songs from back home, until he realised that the music was actually Thai covers, like well-sung karaoke.

He smiled to himself as two girls, both in their early twenties, jumped up and started to dance around their table. Both of the girls were pretty, but they had masked their looks with nose rings, lip rings and one even had bright pink hair. It wasn't long before a group of young men leapt to their feet to join them.

Other diners started to clap in time with the music. The girls twirled, and wriggled, and raised their hands in the air; responding the attention of their fellow dinners.

Josh's smile turned into a laugh. Thailand was a crazy place and almost nothing was taken too seriously. He looked around at the happy faces of every nationality possible, trying to print the scene on his memory like a photograph.

Then someone caught his eye and, for a moment, the noise and laughter of the restaurant faded into the background.

A young woman sat alone in the middle of the madness and seemed oblivious to it. Her long, dark hair hung down one side of her face. The fingers of her left hand twirled and twisted the ends of her hair absently, as though she was comforting herself. Her other hand held her fork, but she stared down at her plate of rice without lifting any of the food to her mouth. Here she was in one of the party capitals of the world and she just looked sad.

Josh watched as the girl snapped out of it. Her face broke into a smile and she started to clap, joining in with the rest of the restaurant.

The song ended and the pierced pair took a bow to their audience before sitting back down. They laughed at each other and hid their faces in their hands in sudden mock shyness. Josh looked back over at the girl who had caught his attention, wanting to go over and speak to her. She had picked up a book and had her face hidden in it. It was impossible for Josh to make eye contact with her. In fact, Josh thought, she didn't look like she wanted to talk to anyone.

What was he thinking anyway? The last thing he needed right now was to be distracted from the rest of his trip by another woman.

Before Josh could give the idea any more thought the chair opposite him was dragged back and filled by the large figure of a man, completely blocking his view.

Startled Josh looked up. The man in front of him was hugely overweight. Flesh fell in folds over the neck of his t-shirt and his belly strained against the thin material. He had small dark eyes that looked as though they’d been squashed into his face as an afterthought - a snowman in the flesh. Even his lips looked fat and fleshy.

"Alright mate!" the man said, talking loudly over the music. "Thought you looked like you could use this."

The stranger pushed another fresh glass of beer towards him. He saw Josh hesitate and nodded encouragingly before giving it another little shove as if sheer proximity to the drink would force Josh to accept it.

"Thanks," said Josh warily, "but I'm trying to avoid too much booze tonight. I've got an early start tomorrow and I've spent the last three days either drunk or hung-over."

"Ha-ha!” the man laughed. “I know the feeling! Where are you headed?"

Josh realised that this was going to turn into the typical travellers talk: where are you from, where are you going, where have you been…?

"Cambodia," said Josh. "Siem Reap to be precise. I'm getting a bus at six tomorrow morning and I've managed to miss enough forms of transport on this trip because of beer. I don't intend to add this one to the collection."

The man flung back his head and bellowed laughter, as though Josh had said the funniest thing in the world, and then held out a chubby hand.

"My name's Graham," he said, "but you can call me Goose, most of my friends do. You know Goose?"

Josh wasn't sure if this was supposed to be a rhetorical question and just stared at him blankly.

"Goose! From the film, Top Gun."

Josh smiled weakly.

"People like to have me by their side; be their wing man." Goose continued, apparently oblivious to Josh's lack of enthusiasm. "I'm a good man to have by your side."

He finished by giving Josh a wink and Josh cringed.

"And you are…? Goose asked, his hand still out held.

"Josh," said Josh, reluctantly putting his own hand into the one being offered to him. It felt exactly as Josh had anticipated - hot and clammy. He resisted the urge to openly wipe his hand on the napkin in front of him.

"So, Cambodia huh?" said Goose. "I hear it's a great place—they put weed on the pizzas don't they? I'm heading out there myself. Wanted to go now but there was some sort of problem with the buses." A frown squashed his forehead into a row of sausages. Then he realised something.

"Hey. How come you managed to get a ride?"

Josh shrugged. "Just lucky really. The guy in my guesthouse managed to sort it for me."

"Oh, wow! Really?" said Goose. "Which guesthouse are you in."

“Sawatdee House,” Josh told him, hoping he didn't know it. Unfortunately he did.

"Hey! I'm right next door."

Josh saw the idea light up on his face as clearly as if someone had just flicked a switch in brain.

"Why don't I come back with you and find out if they've got a spare seat. Then we could travel together and I could really be your wing man."

Goose raised his beer towards Josh. He had no other choice than to clink his own beer glass against it in a salute. Josh knew that it looked like he had just agreed to Goose's plan and did his best to back pedal.

"The thing is, Goose, I kind of prefer to travel alone."

Goose went unperturbed. "Don't be dumb. No one travels alone. You might start out alone, but no one actually travels alone."

Josh smiled through a clenched jaw. He couldn’t argue with Goose’s point. Everyone took similar routes and he often ended up travelling with other people.

Goose took his silence as a sign of agreement and clapped him on the shoulder with one of his meaty hands. Josh could almost feel the sweat print sinking through to his skin.

"Come on then, buddy. Drink up and we'll go and make sure I can get a seat."

Reluctantly Josh drained his glass. Though he had been trying to avoid beer he suddenly felt like he needed it. He slipped a folded bill under the empty mug, easily enough to cover what he had had. He pushed his chair back and stood up, clearing his view of where the dark-haired girl had been sitting. A blond man had taken her seat; she was nowhere to be seen.

It was obviously fate that he wouldn't meet a beautiful, melancholy woman and was destined to spend his time with this moron instead. He had obviously pissed someone off.

Josh stepped out into the busy, balmy night.

Within moments, a tiny Thai woman approached them. She was no bigger than a ten-year-old child and appeared to be wearing an incredibly bulky dress made of hundreds of strips of fabric. Each strip was a different colour and pattern: reds, greens, blacks, triangles, stripes and spots. On many of them tiny shells had been sown, and beads added to the array. It wasn't until she got closer that Josh realised that the bulkiness was actually hundreds of fabric belts and scarves that were wound about her body, she looked like an overzealous snake trainer.

She held part of her clothing out to them. Josh smiled and bowed his head gently, while his newfound 'friend' snatched up the large camera that hung around his neck and blinded her with its flash. The woman did not look surprised. She simply held out her hand towards them.

Goose stared back at her blankly and Josh nudged him in his side.

"If you take her picture you should buy a belt off of her."

"But I don't want a bloody belt." Goose said, blinking in surprise, his voice edged with irritation.

"It doesn't matter. It's only a couple of baht and it is a matter of respect."

Goose looked at Josh in annoyance, forgetting his buddy-buddy attitude for a moment. He must have seen the look on Josh’s face for his shoulders deflated.

"Well, I suppose they're alright," he grumbled. He took the belt from the woman and dropped sixty baht into her open palm. She smiled and nodded her thanks before moving on to the next tourist.

Josh and Goose continued their walk down the Khao San Road towards the guesthouse. To Josh it felt like a walk of shame. The closer they got Josh found himself crossing his fingers and hoping that the travel desk would be closed.

As they passed one of the VW vans, the lady-boys who adorned it whistled and cooed at the men. Josh smiled at them, ignoring their advances, but Goose stuck his middle finger up at them. The lady-boys showed no signs of being offended and continued their cat-calls.

“They must be kidding,” Goose said. “Who the hell do they think they are? Do I look like a gay-boy?”

Josh cringed at Goose’s choice of language. He wondered why Goose even bothered to leave London if he wasn't going to accept other people’s cultures. Goose was soon distracted by a group of attractive girls wandering past.

“Alright ladies?” he called out to them as they walked by.

The girls ignored him. Josh watched as Goose turned, walking backwards to leer and whistle. Goose was oblivious he was mimicking the calls of the lady-boys he so despised.

Josh stared at the ground, embarrassed, he could feel people summing him up and lumping him into the same category as this uncouth creature.

The pair finally reached the guesthouse. The travel desk was still open and manned by the young Thai girl who had told him of the ticket change earlier. She was talking to a blond couple, pointing out routes on a large map covering the whole of the desktop. She must have noticed or sensed that someone had come in as she looked up straightaway. She caught Josh's eye and smiled.


Goose saw the eye contact and jumped onto it immediately. He bustled up to the girl.

“My mate over there reckons you can get me on a bus to Siem Reap tomorrow,” he said, talking loudly over the conversation she was already having.

The young couple looked up in surprise and the Thai girl looked back over at Josh. Josh hid his face in one hand, marvelling at what incredible bad luck had brought this awful creature into his life.

"I am sorry sir," said the girl. "I am busy at moment, please come back in ten minutes."

"But it won't take a second."

"I am sorry sir," she repeated, this time slowly and loudly as though speaking to a small child. "You must to wait." Then she turned back to her couple and continued where she left off.

Goose stared back at her for longer than was necessary, then realised she was going to continue to ignore him. He turned away from her and skulked back to Josh, his demeanour that of a schoolboy who had just been dismissed. Josh was delighted at her rebuke and was even more so when she looked up at him and gave him a tiny secret smile. Goose said nothing and slumped down into a plastic chair beside Josh. He stared angrily at the girl until the couple stood up and walked away.

"Come on then," Goose said, leaping to his feet. "Let’s make sure I can get on that bus tomorrow."

Josh rolled his eyes at Goose's retreating back, but didn’t follow him up to the desk. Goose didn’t even notice. He had already started talking to the girl about his trip. He spoke quickly and loudly, gesturing with his hands. Josh realised she was nodding in return and he tried to send her desperate looks. He was hoping the fear in his eyes would make her realise what he was trying to say.

Goose shifted in his seat, the flimsy plastic bending precariously under his weight, and took out his wallet from his back pocket. He opened it and handed the girl a huge wad of notes. It was easily twice what Josh had paid, and the girl gave Josh that same cheeky smile.

Goose had been had, but he was getting the bus.

Josh sat down and put his head into his arms, suddenly exhausted. Goose slammed the ticket down on the table beside his head, making Josh jump.

"Time for a beer I think!" Goose declared.

Josh put his head back into his arms and mumbled into the crook of them. Goose thumped him on the shoulder for the tenth time in ten minutes and Josh wearily looked up at him.

"Come on, mate. You can sleep when you are dead. Let’s party!"

"Look Goose,” he said, shaking his head. “I really need some sleep. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

Even longer now, he thought.


Josh could see him switching back into sulky boy behaviour, so he stood up.

"I'll see you in the morning," Josh said, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t.


Copyright © 2010 Marissa Farrar
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

Monday 8 November 2010

A Chapter a Day!

DarkRoad To celebrate the up-coming release of my new novel, The Dark Road, I am going to be posting a chapter a day for the rest of this week. I hope you’ll take the time to read it and I would love to hear your thoughts!

Chapter One: The Arrival

When the phone rang Sasha Mills was tucked-up comfortably on the sofa, a half-drunk glass of wine sitting on the side
table, and Merlin, her Siamese cat, curled up beside her. It was a call she had been expecting. She still felt all of her muscles tighten in anticipation as she reached across and picked up the receiver.
“Hi baby.” The sound of Nick’s voice was starting to become more familiar than his face, but that didn’t stop her smiling.
“Hi you,” she said, squashing the phone between her ear and shoulder, settling back into the comforting arms of the sofa. “When are you coming home?”
Sasha asked every time he called, usually she was just teasing him, but this time, however, she was serious.
For the past twelve months, Nick had been teaching English to children in Cambodia. In a week, he was due to fly home to the flat they shared in London or at least they used to share. Sasha had been living alone in their flat while Nick's previous incarnation as a stockbroker still paid the rent.
They had been together for almost a year before he left. They had been happy, but Nick had become disillusioned with the rat race and decided he wanted to do something that made a difference to people’s lives. Having gone straight from university into work and she thought it was a great idea for him to spend a few months discovering that there was a world outside of London.Sasha supported his decision fully and she was the one who had suggested Cambodia. Having spent a number of months travelling there in her early twenties she’d been left with a lasting impression of the innocence and strength of the children.
A few months! That was all it was supposed to have been. Sasha could have gone with him; Nick wanted her to. However, she felt she had already finished that chapter of her life and she didn't want to retrace old steps. Naturally, she was upset when he left, but she truly believed that it would be good for him, good for them. He would return more fulfilled, more settled. Sasha never even contemplated the idea that he wouldn't want to come back.
When only silence answered her question, a horrible, sickening feeling churned with the wine she’d already drunk. Her right hand flicked unconsciously to her left and she nervously twisted the solitaire diamond band that bound her third finger.
"Nick?" She heard him sigh down the phone.
"Look Sash,” he said, “I've been thinking. Why don't you come out and join me for a bit? You could work out here. They are always looking for more teachers…"
The acid rose from her stomach and burnt the back of her throat, as they’d had this conversation before. The first time had been six months earlier when he was first due to come home.
"Please don't do this to me, Nick. You know I can't."
"Of course you can Sash." The enthusiasm in his voice only depressed her. "We can short-let the flat and your mum would look after Merlin. You know how she dotes on that cat."
Sasha sighed.
"It's not about that, and you know it. My life is here and I don't want to go away again. It would be like putting my life on hold.”
"Well, it's not much of a life is it, Sash? You go to work, watch telly and go out drinking in bars. No one is exactly going to notice if you are gone."
Sasha felt herself bristle and she clenched her teeth. "I may not be out changing the world, but I happen to love my life."
"More than me you mean." The bitterness in his voice was clear.
"You are the one who left me Nick, don't forget that!"
"I wanted to make a difference."
"How very noble..."
They fell silent, their hurt and anger buzzing down the phone line.
Eventually Sasha said, "So what are you really saying, Nick? That you don't want to come home?"
"I'm saying that I want you here."
"Just be fucking straight with me will you,” Sasha yelled. “Are you coming home or not?"
"I can't leave here, Sash. These people mean too much to me."
"And I don't mean shit!" She swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the burning lump that seemed to be choking her.
"Don't be ridiculous."
"I am not ridiculous!" She was shaking now. "It is not ridiculous to want my fiancé in the same country as me and it is not ridiculous to not want to go traipsing off to some foreign country at the drop of a hat."
When he spoke again, his voice was level and distant. "You know what Sasha, I don't know why I am even bothering to discuss this with you. I am not coming back, not yet at least, but I do want you here. I've changed my flight back to London to go to Bali for a couple of week’s holiday. I want you to come, but if you’re not here by the time I leave then I’ll just have to assume you don't want me enough to make the effort."
He hung up.
Sasha was left red-faced and furious, her mouth opening and closing, her fingers gripping the phone so tightly she thought she might need a chisel to prise them off it.
He was going to bloody Bali!
The sheer cheek of it. He could have come home for a couple of weeks, spent some time with her. Now, not only was he not coming home, but he also expected her to give up her life to fly out to him and he was going to bloody Bali!
Sasha let out a yell and flung the phone across the room. It landed with a crash and Merlin, who had been sleeping soundly, oblivious to the drama unfolding around him, shot out of his seat like a bullet.
"Oh, I'm sorry Merlin! I'm sorry baby. I didn't mean to scare you."
Sasha got up and tried to coax her shivering cat out from under the television stand. He let out a pitiful Siamese yowl. She reached under and pulled him out by the scruff of his neck. Clutching him in her arms, she buried her face into his soft fur and cried.
Despite the fact that they had not seen each other for a year Sasha still believed that Nick was her future. She had thought it from the moment they had met, but now she could see that future disintegrating. She was hurt by what he’d said about her life and she was bitterly disappointed that she would not have him back with her in London. Was she being selfish for not going? Was Nick right in thinking that her simple, normal life was not enough for her, not enough for them, or was he the one being selfish asking her to give up everything to be with him?
She didn't know what to think.
She had less than eight days to decide what to do. In eight days, she could be sitting at home, crying, while he was boarding a plane to fly away from her for good or she could be on a plane herself, going to meet him.
Her boss would go mad.
Was she seriously contemplating this?
Yes, she thought. Why not?
She could fly to Cambodia, then on to Bali, spend a couple of weeks with Nick--remind him what he was missing and then come home again. After all, it didn't have to be forever, just long enough to save their relationship. Perhaps it wasn't such hardship; she imagined there were loads of women who would love to be in her place. Sasha's tears subsided and she wiped her face in her cat's already damp fur.
The next morning Sasha jumped on the tube for the short ride to Angel Station, where her office was based. She had been working there as a recruitment consultant for almost three years now and had a good track record, but she couldn’t ignore the nerves that were tugging at her insides. She caught herself chewing at her nails, a habit she had dropped years ago. Disgusted, she pulled her hand away.
Her boss, Alison Killery, was only a few years older than Sasha, but she was one of those focused, career-minded women who always made Sasha feel slightly inferior and intimidated.
Sasha went to her own desk and sat down. She waited for Alison to drink her first cup of coffee and trawl through her emails before she got up the courage to approach her.
Alison looked up before Sasha reached her desk.
“Hey Sasha,” Alison said, smiling. “Everything alright?”
Sasha smiled back, nervously. Her heart was thumping audibly and the palms of her hands were sweaty.
“Actually,” she said, “I have a huge favour to ask.”
“That sounds ominous,” Alison said, raising her eyebrows.
Sasha took a deep breath. “I need the next three weeks off.” She hurried on before Alison could cut her off. “I’ve not had a holiday since last year and I know I’ve got days that I need to use up or else I could lose them, and Nick is still in Cambodia…”
“Nick is still in Cambodia?” Alison looked at her intently. “Isn’t he supposed to be coming back next week or something?”
“Yeah, but he’s sick.” The lie slipped out from nowhere. Sasha’s cheeks flushed with shame that she had just lied to her boss.
“Oh no,” Alison’s genuine dismay made Sasha feel even worse. “The poor thing. It’s nothing serious I hope.”
Sasha shook her head. “They don’t know yet.” Her mind ran through all of the sicknesses she could think of. “I think they’re testing for malaria.”
“When do you need to go?”
“As soon as possible,” Sasha said.
Alison leaned forwards and tapped out some keys on her computer. She frowned at the screen.
“Tony is supposed to be taking a long weekend next week. No one else is off, so I guess we can survive without you.”
Sasha had to stop herself hopping up and down, and clapping with excitement. Instead, she tried to put on a concerned, and yet, relieved face of a worried fiancé.
“Thanks Alison, I really appreciate it.”
She turned away from the desk and walked back to her own, keeping her smile tightly locked behind her lips. The small lie would mean she couldn’t exactly start raving about her trip to her colleagues, and she would have to tell everyone that Nick didn’t have malaria when she got back, but she would manage.
At least she was able to go.
Sasha spent the rest of the day trawling the Internet trying to find a flight. She was able to secure a flight from London to Bangkok, but then she would have to wait three days before she could fly into Siem Reap where Nick was.
When she had travelled to Cambodia before she had 'cheated' and flown from Bangkok, but that had been several years ago and it had not been as safe to travel overland as it was now.
Sasha typed an email to Nick telling him she was sorry and letting him know what her plans were. She knew that he normally picked up his emails on a Sunday, but as it was Monday today she realised that he would only get the email the day before, or even on the day she arrived. It wasn't ideal, but she had no other way of contacting him. Maybe he would have enough sense to check his emails sooner considering the circumstances. If he really did want her to come, and missed her, like he said he did, then surely he would be checking it every day hoping to hear from her.
Sasha pushed away the uncomfortable thought that he would have better things to do. She hoped there was a seat left for her on the fight to Bali.
That evening Sasha picked up the phone to her mother. After three rings her mum answered.
“Hi mum, it’s me.”
“Hello, Sasha-love. How are you?”
“I’ve got a favour to ask,” she said for the second time that day.
“Oh yes?”
“Nick has asked me to go away with him for three weeks and I wondered if you would like to flat-sit?”
“What do you mean, ‘Nick has asked you to go away’? Isn’t he supposed to be coming home?”
Sasha inwardly cringed. She didn’t want to have to explain things to her mother. Her mum wouldn’t hesitate to point out Nick’s flaws and right now Sasha didn’t want to hear them.
“Yes, but there has been a change of plan. He thought it would be nice for us to have a holiday together before he came home.”
She tried to tell herself that she wasn’t telling another lie; technically it would just be a holiday and Nick was still going to come home at some point.
Her mother’s pause told her more than words could, her disapproval radiating down the phone.
“Please Mum. Merlin would hate to be here by himself for three weeks and it’s just not the same getting someone to pop in and feed him. You know how he hates to be left by himself.”
Her mother huffed air out of her nose, snorting down the phone. “Well I suppose it would be nice to have some time away from your father.” She lowered her voice. “He’s caught a cold and he’s had the bloody football on all day. All he seems to do these days is sit in front of the telly and whinge.”
Sasha smiled. She knew her parents loved each other, but they’d been married over thirty years and even they needed time apart.
“So, is that a yes?”
“When are you supposed to be leaving?”
“In two days.”
“Wow, Sasha!” her mother didn’t even try to hide her surprise. “That’s short notice.”
“I know, but it’s been a bit of last minute thing. You won’t need to get here until the day after I leave. You’ve still got your keys haven’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“So will you do it?”
“I suppose so.”
“Thanks Mum,” Sasha said in relief. “I love you, and tell Dad I said I hope he gets better soon.”
She didn’t wait for her mum to say anything else. She didn’t want to push her luck.
The following two days passed in a blur. By the time Sasha had washed and packed all of the clothes she needed to take, then unpacked and repacked about four times, and tidied up any loose ends at work, the days flew by. Before she registered what she was doing, she was at the airport with her oversized rucksack adorning her back like the shell of a giant turtle.
The flight was pleasant enough. Years of long haul trips to the States, Australia, and New Zealand had quickly grown her immunity to boredom and she was able to enjoy sitting back with a paperback and relaxing after the past few days of frantic activity. She put the uncomfortable niggling feeling in the pit of her belly down to nerves over seeing Nick again for the first time in a year; nerves and excitement.
Once they landed, Sasha jumped on a bus taking her to the Khao San Road. She was much better off financially than in her backpacking days, but still, Sasha found herself heading back to the guesthouse where she had stayed years before.
Sasha walked up the street and was delighted to discover that very little had changed.
The guesthouse was off the main drag, but the street was still full of people. Backpackers were everywhere Sasha looked, standing in small groups talking, or buying things from the stalls that lined the street. The stalls sold everything from clothing and food, to burnt CDs and DVDs. Most of the stalls had music blasting from small stereo systems and the different songs jostled over one another. Underlying it all was the faint smell of stale beer and urine; an unpleasant reminder of the party that had, not only, happened the night before, but happened every night.
Ahead of Sasha was the guesthouse. The ground floor of the building opened onto the street with tables and chairs spilling out into the gutter. Inside scruffy travellers lazed on cushions chatting to each other, reading, or staring at the movie that was showing on a couple of televisions attached to the walls. A wall of large windows partitioned off a room filled with computers, where people sat, typing their stories to those they’d left back home.
That part was new, Sasha noted. No one had really used email when she had been travelling everything had been sent on postcards. She still believed that postcards were a much more personal way to let people know what was happening; there was something more intimate about actually writing to someone. Even so, she had to admit that it was much easier to stay in touch now than it had been only a few years ago. The use of Internet social networking sites meant that everyone could know exactly what everyone else was doing, wherever in the world.
On the opposite side of the street, food carts filled the air with their exotic spices and hissing steam. Noodles mixed with tiny fiery chillies, fried rice thrown onto searing skillets, indeterminable meats stuffed into rolls. All made and sold from the carts. Pancake mix cooked in front of the passers-by; chocolate and banana bound within crepe cases and served on thin paper plates. An elderly Thai woman nursed a cart stuffed full of fresh oranges, ice, and bottles of fresh juice.
"Orange juice ten baht…" she cried over and over again, her English words blending together causing people to frown in their efforts to decipher her – 'Onj-jue ten bah'. She must have said it a million times a day, always with a huge toothy smile, earnestly beckoning people over.
Despite the simplicity of their food preparation Sasha noticed how clean everything was – how clean everyone was – unlike some of the countries she had been to.
Sasha's stomach grumbled. She promised herself some Pad Thai noodles as soon as she had checked in.
Sasha made her way through the maze of travellers and up to the reception desk, which was situated on the back wall of the guesthouse. A young Thai girl was manning the desk. She looked up as Sasha approached.
“Hello,” the girl greeted her with a smile. “Welcome to Sun-Hi Guesthouse.”
“Hello,” Sasha said, putting her passport and three hundred Baht on the counter. “I need a room for the night.”
"You want room one night?" the girl said in surprise.
"I’ve been here before," Sasha said. “And I have to get to Cambodia tomorrow."
"You have visa?" she asked smiling, picking up Sasha’s passport and the money. She turned to where the room keys were hanging on a wooden board and selected one. Sasha stared at the girls back and then slowly raised her hand to her forehead in dismay.
Shit, shit, shit. She hadn’t even thought about needing a visa..
"How long does it normally take?" Sasha asked, hoping the desperation she felt wasn’t showing in her voice. Years ago she’d travelled to Cambodia from Vietnam, but she couldn’t remember getting a visa. It had been a long time ago and things had probably changed since then.
The girl placed the room key on the counter and then shrugged. "Two, maybe three days."
"No." Suddenly she felt like she was going to cry. "I have to get there before then. It’s really important."
"Maybe you pay extra money and you get quicker…?"
"Yes, yes,” she said, resisting the urge to reach across the counter and shake the girl by her shoulders. "I'll pay anything."
A smile tugged at the girl’s mouth and her delicate eyebrows rose at Sasha's outburst. She pointed to a man sitting behind a desk in the corner of the room.
"You talk to Dang. He will help you."
"Thank you so much. You've been really helpful." Sasha picked up the key and dragged her bags across the room.
The man behind the desk had looked more like a boy from a distance, but as she got closer she realised he was actually middle-aged. She marvelled at how people aged here, they either looked young or ancient and there didn't seem to be any in-between.
Dang looked up from his newspaper.
“Please, sit.” He smiled.
“Thank you.” Sasha sank onto a red plastic chair opposite. “I need a visa for Cambodia and I need it today. I have to travel tomorrow.” She leant forward, gripping the edge of the desk.
“Visa no problem,” Dang said, folding up his newspaper. “I can get visa, but tomorrow not good day to travel. Can get you to border, but not Siem Reap.”
Sasha sat back surprised.
"But you have notices everywhere advertising trips to Siem Reap." She glanced up at one hanging directly above his head. "And it says they run every day of the week."
"Yes, yes, but not tomorrow."
"Well…” she felt at a loss about what to say. “Why not tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow not good day to travel."
Sasha felt like she was going round in circles. She tried again.
"But is there a particular reason I cannot travel to Siem Reap tomorrow?"
Was it her imagination or was Dang looking uncomfortable? He shifted in his seat and fiddled with a pen on his desk, staring at it intently. Sasha bent her head and peered up under him, trying to catch his eye. She wondered if he didn't know the English for it.
"Is it a public holiday?" she suggested.
Dang looked up immediately, relief clear on his face. He nodded enthusiastically, a smile, once again, lighting his face.
"Yes, it is public holiday. No travel tomorrow."
"But I have to," Sasha said, starting to feel desperate. If she didn't travel tomorrow she would almost certainly miss Nick. The journey was a long one, twelve hours in Thai time, which meant about fifteen in English. If she couldn’t leave tomorrow her chances of catching him would be disappearing by the hour.
Her eyes burnt with hot tears. She was going to lose him.
"What about extra money?" she asked, thinking about the visa. "If I pay extra money can I go tomorrow?"
Again Dang looked uncomfortable, he picked the pen back up and turned his attention back to his fiddling. Sasha reached across the desk and grabbed his hand. He looked up.
"Please," she begged. "Please help me it's a matter of life or death. I simply have to leave tomorrow."
Dang gave her a tight smile and picked up the phone.
"I must make calls. Come back in one hour."
"Thank you. Thank you so much."
She shook his hand furiously. Dang took his hand back and then raised it as though to dismiss her.
Sasha pushed her chair back, stood up, heaved her backpack onto her back and picked up her room key.
"Thank you," she said again, but Dang was already talking rapid Thai on the phone. He didn’t even acknowledge her, so she turned and walked back through the guesthouse.
Behind the reception desk was the flight of stairs leading to the rooms. At the bottom of the stairs was a notice listing the room numbers and the coordinating floors they were on. Sasha glanced at the large wooden label attached to the key for her room. The number seventy-four was carved into it.
She saw which floor her room was on and groaned, eight flights of stairs with her backpack, she would never make it. Sasha glanced around hoping they may have installed a lift since she was last there. She wasn’t surprised to see they hadn’t. The girl behind reception caught her eye and she gestured up the stairs. Sasha smiled weakly and nodded.
"Okay," she said to herself. "Come on feet."
She made it up the stairs, but by the time she reached the top the thirty kilos on her back was taking its toll. The humidity was causing beads of sweat to drip into her cleavage. Sasha wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, the salt was stinging her eyes.
Her chest heaved, as her lungs laboured over the effort of breathing through the thick and cloying heat. She paused at the top of the stairs, catching her breath, and hanging onto the railing to stop her legs collapsing beneath her.
The long flight and lack of sleep was taking its toll. She glanced up to see another, smaller notice pointing her towards her room number. Forcing her legs to move again, she headed down the narrow hallway. The floor was cheap linoleum, like a hospital floor, and it squeaked beneath her flip-flops as she walked.
The room was nothing more than a square box with a window that looked onto another corridor. The only item of furniture was the bed. It was narrow and hard, like a prison bed, but she had never seen anything so inviting. She flicked the switch for the overhead fan and flung herself onto the bed.
Practically asleep with her eyes open Sasha stared at a crack in the ceiling and the fan that was washing tepid air over her.
The rapid spinning of the fan blades caused the whole contraption to swing ominously and for a moment Sasha imagined the carnage that would ensue if it broke loose.
That woke her up.
Her stomach grumbled loudly. She remembered her promise to herself of noodles after she had checked in, but her skin was covered in a film of dirt from travelling and the heat, so she unpacked her toiletries and towel and made her way back down the hallway to the showers. She walked past door after identical door. Muted music blared out from one of the rooms.
Sasha smiled a hello at a young couple who were holding hands and walking toward her. They nodded back politely before brushing past. Sasha, in that one moment, was very lonely and felt a pang of longing for Nick.
The showers were basic, but clean enough and there were three of them lined up, with the toilets and sinks in separate cubicles next door. Attached to each of the doors was a notice warning about peeping Toms.
Sasha rolled her eyes. Nothing changed.
The water was cold, but she didn't mind, it was a relief from the heat. The grime and sleep washed away, and she left the shower feeling both refreshed and famished.
Food first, she thought and then she would find out what had happened about her visa and ride for tomorrow.
Sasha dressed quickly and made it back down the stairs a lot faster than she had made it up. She stepped out into the hazy Bangkok sunshine and smiled to herself. Glancing around she allowed reminiscences of her time here before to wash over her like the heat that rose from the street. She could barely believe she was back.
During the day, the streets of Bangkok bustled with life, filled with an eclectic mix of tourists, businessmen and locals, but it was at night that the city showed its true colours. In the evening, the city became an adult’s fairground. Elephants walked the street begging for the peanuts their owners sold to tourists. Old VW vans, their roofs removed, were transformed into street bars selling cheap shots and cocktails, while the lady-boys danced in them, as if they were on floats in a carnival. Carts trundled around the street selling fried crickets, cockroaches, even scorpions for people to snack on; the Thai version of pork scratchings.
The memories made Sasha's smile blossom and she looked forward to the evening ahead. Any doubts she’d had, about seeing Nick again, were pushed to the furthest corner of her heart. 

I hope you’ll come back tomorrow for Chapter Two!

Copyright © 2010 Marissa Farrar
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental. No portion of this work may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.