About a week ago, I finished re-writing chapter one. I wasn’t completely happy with how it was, so the new chapter is completely different from before. On another note, I changed my opinion of chapter names (again!), so now the chapters will just be named 1, 2, 3 and so on. Without (much) further ado, here’s the new version of chapter one!
I hope you think it’s a vast improvement on the original, and I’d appreciate some feedback if you have the time. Depending on how much time, you can either rate the chapter out of five, comment below, use the private contact form at the end of this post or, for the detailed responder, take the in-depth ‘What’s Your Thoughts On Chapter One?’ survey.
Wayne woke up from a dream-riddled sleep and smashed his head on the bunk above him. Not for the first time in his life – or the last – he groaned. Across the room Manuel sniggered.
“What’s this bed doing here?” he said in a goofy voice, miming Wayne’s collision.
The dozen or so kids that were still in the dormitory laughed. Wayne sighed. Manuel was one of the worst things about living the Orphanage, although the list of things he hated about the place went on and on.
He got up and went to the dining hall. He didn’t have to change; he slept in the sole pair of clothes he owned, a colourless T-shirt and a faded pair of shorts with a tear in the side. He tried to remember what he’d been dreaming about as he grabbed a disposable plastic plate and scooped a handful of beige-coloured soup onto it. The dream had seemed more realistic than most, but that wasn’t stopping it slipping through his fingers like sand. What he really needed was a quiet place where he could think in peace.
The grainy television across the hall blurted out a faded tune and three words flashed up across the screen; Emergan Morning News. The news team consisted of one greying male reporter. The city of Emergan had been a small inland town up until about twenty years ago. The discovery of a huge iron ore deposit several kilometres south of it had increased its population sixfold, and increased its size by at least three times that. It was a wonder that there was a whole channel dedicated to Emergan, although it generally showed the same programs as it’s parent company.
Manuel slid into the seat next to him. His plate looked a lot fuller than Wayne’s; he’d obviously forced some younger kid to abstain for the morning.
“Are you eating that?” he asked, sticking a thick finger into Wayne’s soup.
Wayne turned to look at Manuel. His usual henchmen weren’t here. He must’ve thought he could take Wayne by himself.
“Yes,” Wayne replied, looking at Manuel squarely.
Manuel seemed to realise that he wasn’t going to get anything out of this. Anything good, at least. He was far taller than Wayne, but skinny as a reed. It was his henchmen, Alvaro and Fred, who were the six-foot walls of muscle. Wayne was smaller, but solidly built.
Manuel’s eyes narrowed. He’d been in the orphanage for only two months, but during that time he’d come to expect others to follow his orders instantly and without reservation. He leaned forward and whispered in Wayne’s ear.
“The rubbish tip. Half an hour.”
Wayne raised an eyebrow.
“Or what?” he asked.
Manuel scanned the room. On the other side a group of ten year olds were watching the conflict with interest. They’d always done what Manuel had told them, but seeing Wayne they realised they could stand up to him.
“See those kids?” Manuel asked.
Wayne’s face stayed the same, but his heart missed a beat. Manuel could quite literally get away with murder in the orphanage. He could hurt or maim and say that it was an accident. No one would try to correct him. The staff of the orphanage loved Manuel; he was a charming boy, and he was a leader among his peers. It was only the orphans themselves who knew the real story.
Wayne stood up, sending his chair skidding back a few centimetres.
“You’re on,” he said.
Wayne walked away, leaving his breakfast untouched. He went through his normal morning’s routine, but there was an odd feeling about it. The knowledge of what was going to happen weighed him down like a cold stone in the bottom of his stomach.
He thought about backing out, possibly faking an injury or go to the staff. He shook his head. If he backed out, whatever happened to those ten year-olds would be on his conscience. If he faked an injury, the same thing would happen. If he went to the staff, he’d probably be laughed out of their office and they’d tell Manuel. Then he’d be an even better target. No, he had to go.
Twenty-five minutes later, Wayne made his way to the front of the orphanage and signed out. There was no staff member at the desk, but Wayne felt a little more secure as he left the orphanage and made his way to the tip. If he didn’t come back, the staff would be able to see using the clipboard. Then they might search for him, or ask people if they’d seen him.
The tip was probably the only thing in Emergan that was worse than the orphanage. It was manned by a skeleton crew of two workers, who were in the air-conditioned office at the front entrance. It wasn’t a scorching day, but there was nothing for the workers to do around the tip and Emergan were playing some international team on the television.
Wayne entered through the car exit gate. The office had a single window, which ran right along the other entrance. Wayne was slightly amazed that the tip was so easy to enter, but he guessed that it only held rubbish and scraps.
He rounded a head-high mound of rusty wheel rims. Ahead of him were a half-dozen kids from the orphanage. Wayne felt his heart slow a little and his stomach unclench. Manuel would be less likely to do anything bad in front of the others. A few of the kids saw him. They beckoned for him to come over, splitting in two to form a pathway.
Wayne walked towards them, but when he was a few metres from entering the path, he paused and frowned.
No one overheard us, he thought, thinking back to Manuel’s summons. I didn’t tell anyone, so it must have been Manuel. But why would he? He would want secrecy, so if he injured me he could get away with it.
Wayne studied the people in front of him again. Something seemed … not quite right. He didn’t quite recognise their faces. Their clothing was tattered, but it looked like it had been bought that way. Their shoes looked brand new, their logos still clearly visible.
“Bring him here!” a voice screeched over the heads of the crowd.
Wayne realised that he’d been tricked a millisecond before the crowd in front of him surged forward. The kids weren’t from the orphanage; they were from Manuel’s gang.
Wayne turned sprinted for the tip’s exit. The gang was barely metres behind him. Most of them were older than him, but their basketball shoes and various addictions meant that Wayne had increased his lead by several metres by the time he reached the mountain of rusty wheels.
He pulled at a wheel as he ran by the mound, sending a dozen wheels tumbling down the side of the heap. A gang member tripped over a rolling wheel, forcing those behind him to slow.
Wayne risked a quick glance back at the gang. They were strung out now, the ones who bothered to run more than a few metres to the toilet leading their peers.
Wayne rounded a pile of scrap metal. The brick fence of the tip was to his side, with rubbish piled up high against it. He was almost out of the tip. The exit was less than a hundred metres along the wall. He was going to make it!
Four gang members stepped through the exit. One lowered his phone from his ear and slipped it into his pocket.
Wayne stopped and felt his stomach drop. Manuel had outwitted him again. The gang members blocking the exit looked in no hurry to move. If they wanted to they would be on Wayne in seconds. Wayne could hear the sound of the other group catching up. He couldn’t go for the exit, and he couldn’t go back the way he’d came from. He could go sideways, and go deeper into the tip, but with sixteen people at his disposal, Manuel would find him in minutes.
Manuel clattered around the corner with his dozen followers arriving second later. Even from forty metres, Wayne could see the grin on Manuel’s face as he saw that his trap had worked perfectly. He advanced slowly towards Wayne, casually pulling out a switchblade. His face looked flushed. He’d been drinking.
Wayne took a step backwards. His foot hit the base of one of the mounds of rubbish that rested up against the wall.
Like a bolt from the heavens, Wayne realised how he was going to get out of this. He felt a smile return to his face.
“Yes,” Manuel slurred. “I think I’ll start with your ugly face.”
Wayne responded by turning to face the brick wall and scrambling up the mound of rubbish. Manuel let out a shout and charged towards him, but Wayne was half way up the junk pile by the time he got there. Manuel bent his arm back, and threw his switchblade at Wayne. Normally he would have hit from this range, but his aim had been effected by alcohol. The knife fell short of its target, hitting a bent piece of scrap metal and tumbling back down to the ground below.
Manuel bent to pick up his knife, but by the time he had straightened up Wayne had reached the top of the pile. Wayne scrambled over the wall and tumbled over it. He crashed into a woody bush. Its branches whipped into him, scoring his skin with numerous cuts. His ankle twisted awkwardly as the ground rose through the bush to crash into him. A sharp pain flared up in his wrist as he desperately tried to stop his head from hitting the ground. It was lucky the wall was only two and a half metres tall; if the drop had been any further his ankle probably would have snapped.
Wayne picked himself up from the ground. He was covered in dirt but he didn’t have time to brush it off. He pushed his way through the bushes, hearing the sound of Manuel’s directions behind him. A branch snapped backwards and hit him in the face. He kept going, crunching foliage underneath his feet.
The bushes finally fell away and he tumbled onto the pathway beside the tip. The four gang members who’d been blocking the exit were barely twenty metres away. The bigger group were just coming through the gate right now.
Wayne levered himself up from the ground. His bruised muscles screamed in progress. Wincing, he sprinted in the opposite direction from the gang, crossing over the road.
Every pounding stride was agony, but if the gang caught up to him it’d be a lot worse. He cut in between two buildings into a dank alleyway. It was barely wide enough for him; hopefully it’d slow the gang down. There was a broad bin halfway down. He tugged it to one side. It slammed to the ground and rubbish flowed out. Hopefully it’d give him an extra second.
He tried to think of a plan as he shot out of the alleyway. He had to lose the gang first and find somewhere to hide. Then … then he’d have to stay away from the orphanage for as long as possible. Hopefully by then Manuel would be sober and calm, although Wayne didn’t see how anything at the orphanage would ever be the same again.
He heard a crash behind him and turned to check it out. A half-smashed glass bottle skittered out of the alleyway. Wayne smiled. The bin had done its job.
He looked back ahead. The corner of a building was barely ten metres away. If he could get around it and out of sight before the gang came out of the alley, they’d have a hard time finding him.
Wayne doubled his stride, doubled his intensity and put everything he had into those last few metres. He flung a hand out to catch the corner of the building, swinging around the side. He had a brief glimpse of the alleyway’s exit before he disappeared behind the building. There was no sign of the gang.
He allowed himself a brief fist pump before sprinting towards the corner of another building. It was only when he got around it that he slowed to a walk. Even if the gang followed Wayne around the first building, they’d still have three possible routes to choose from, and from each of those routes another three choices. Hopefully it would force them to split up.
Emergan, however, wasn’t a very large city. Eventually the gang would find Wayne. He really needed to find a good hiding spot.
Maybe if I went into a shop, Wayne thought, thinking of the Palmpolis Plaza. It was the biggest shopping centre in Emergan, although that wasn’t saying much. It two stories tall and had dozens of shops. There were millions of places to hide.
If I went into one of those big stores, I could grab some clothes and hide in a change room, Wayne thought. They’re practically houses, and it’d be the last place Manuel would think to look.
There was only one problem with his plan. The Plaza was on the opposite side of town. He needed to find a bus to take him there, but with barely anything in his pockets it would have to be a one way trip.
He turned down another street. There was a bus stop a few metres ahead and a bus in the distance. Wayne covered the last few steps to the station and quickly checked the timetable.
“Damn,” he muttered.
The bus that was coming was forty-three, but he needed eighty-seven to go to the plaza. It came every half an hour.
He sat down on the empty bench and hunched to disguise his appearance. He didn’t have a watch, so he had no idea how long he had to wait. Every time he spotted a bus in the distance his heart leapt, but the first, second and third busses weren’t the ones he needed.
Time ticked by at an agonisingly slow rate. Eventually, eighty-seven appeared in the distance and lumbered towards Wayne. He breathed a sigh of relief.
The bus pulled up next to the station. Wayne brought his ticket and made his way to a seat, negotiating past two parents with a tiny child. For the first time that day he relaxed. The gang couldn’t touch him on this bus; security cameras would record. The gang liked to think they were tough, but really they were a bunch of rich, bored kids. It was people like Manuel and his henchmen who didn’t care if they were caught in the act.
The bus set off, trundling merrily down the street. A huge smile spread across Wayne’s face. It was a lovely day. There wasn’t a trace of clouds in the sky. He looked out the window. The building on the corner had a small garden in front of its entrance. In front of the building were three people. One had his back to the bus. They were arguing. Wayne looked at them closely. They seemed oddly familiar. As if sensing Wayne’s presence, the one who was doing most of the shouting turned to face the bus, which had slowed to round the corner.
It was Manuel.
“Oh crap,” Wayne muttered.
An ugly grin ripped Manuel’s face open. He bent down and picked up a rock from the garden behind him, and launched it at the bus’ window.
Manuel’s aim was off again. The rock would have missed Wayne by a mile, but the family a seat in front of him weren’t so lucky. Wayne had no idea why he did what he did next. He stood up and dove over the seat in front of him, sliding his body in between the window and the family.
The rock smashed into the window a millisecond later. The window fractured into hundreds of fragments, and the rock collided with Wayne’s chest. His ribcage cracked with an acrid, shrill sound. Shards of glass rained down on him, burrowing into his skin. He looked down at his chest. Dozens of splinters poked out. His blood streamed down his chest and dripped onto the street below.
Wayne felt a sharp tug and suddenly he was falling out of the window, following the droplets of rose-red blood. He tried to tell his arms to break his fall, but they refused to move. His skull cracked dryly and he came to a halt.
Manuel’s face appeared above him. The edges of his vision was cracked and fractured like the broken window of the bus and darkness was streaming in. Manuel’s lips moved up and down, but if he was saying something Wayne couldn’t hear the words.
Manuel raised something above his head, moved his lips once more and brought it down. Wayne felt something sharp puncture his neck.
Everything went black.
Thanks for reading!