Undecipherable babble bubbled through the crowd as Chuck walked down Shaftsbury Avenue towards Piccadilly Circus. The taste of buffalo sauce still lingering in his mouth from the burger he’d eaten half hour before at a little burger joint in Soho before saying goodnight to his friends to head back to the coach station. No one on the street seemed to notice him as he weaved through the drunken crowds. Maybe getting the tube would be quicker, he thought, but at the same time didn’t like the idea of going down in the depths of the underground by himself.
Not even ten minutes had passed since he’d left Chrissie and Jon at the diner. They’d invited him out to go and see an art installation at the Tate Modern that at first, Chuck thought sounded cool until he was there and found it mind numbing. As they walked around, he felt himself getting smaller and smaller in the room, more detached from any emotion he was supposed to be feeling. Still it was good to see old friends again. They met in the late morning for a coffee before heading down to the museum and then walked along the Thames, across the Golden Jubilee Bridges and through Charring Cross station to head towards Soho. Chrissie loved a little vegan burger place and couldn’t speak highly enough of it to Chuck.
Once they’d eaten the trio split, with Chrissie and Jon heading to Leicester Square station, and Chuck making his own way back to Victoria Coach station. Once he was there it would be alright, but Piccadilly Circus was busier than he liked. So many people moving about, the blinding -lights from the overbearing screens and the diluted music from restaurants echoed all around him. The sound of quickening drums coming from a building matched the rhythm of his heart as he continued to make his way towards Pall Mall, the buildings towering over him. Even away from the busier area there were still tons of people, all walking with no obvious direction.
They were coming from all sides, out of alleyways, out of buildings, from taxis, and everywhere else. People seeped upwards from out of the cracks in the pavement making obstacles that Chuck was sure weren’t there moments before. There were even people clambering out of obnoxious musical rickshaws. Chuck shied away from the droves of chatting people. Their laughs echoing around him as they walked past him. In his eyes they were all taller than him, his head barely making it to their shoulders, and he was still shrinking.
Pall Mall was quieter but there was still the loud sounds of shouting, the brilliantly bright Christmas lights glaring out at him. Tourists scattered about to get night time pictures and selfies. The last hurrah before Christmas. Life didn’t seem anywhere near as bleak as the news said, although Chuck wasn’t apart of it. His hands in his pocket, head lowered and half covered in a scarf and hat. His overhead bag bounced on his lower back as he quickly stepped through the thinning crowds and down some steps onto The Mall.
Everything was quieter, and almost no one in sight. Chuck turned towards the palace and started walking, noting quickly that there wasn’t anyone walking the same way as him. The only other souls were walking the opposite way, hurrying past him at speed. Even though he knew the way to the station, he still hesitated with each step, wondering why there wasn’t anyone heading there too. Where were they all coming from, he thought. A man holding a bookshop bag, walked by and gave him as much space as possible. He was just as anxious as Chuck was and they both deliberately avoided each other’s eyes as they continued onward.
He reached the palace, lit up as if in celebration despite there being next to no one around. Just a few of general tourists taking selfies outside the gates. You could probably walk past the palace at any point and see someone taking a picture there, no matter how dark, late, or cold it was. Chuck hurried onwards, wanting to get the coach station as quickly as possible. The palace was out of sight and a new string of restaurants stood in his way, although no where near as busy as the ones earlier. If he carried on at the same pace, he would have about a thirty minute wait by the time he reached the station.
There were enough people out on the streets to stop him from feeling nervous, but not too many that caused a sense of dread to form inside. He crossed a road and then another and then reached a massive office building on his right. The entrance was just up a few steps and the lights were on inside with a few people sitting behind a reception desk laughing away with each other. That wasn’t what caught Chuck’s eye though. At the top of the steps, just next to the front entrance, was a small child holding a teddy bear up to his chest, crying and wailing. No one else seemed to care, but Chuck steps faltered and he stopped.
“Hey,” Chuck said, his voice wavering. “Are you okay?”
The boy didn’t respond, and Chuck took a couple of steps up towards the building. He didn’t realise, but the people inside behind the desk had spotted him as soon as he had stopped, their laughter stopping so they could watch the newcomer slowly approaching the building. Chuck stopped, he feet on two different steps.
“Where are your parents?”
Again, the boy didn’t stop crying. He was wailing so loud it hurt Chuck’s ears, but he couldn’t just leave him there. Not like everyone else. People were walking passed and not doing a thing.
“Look, I’m going to call the police so they come to help you, can you tell me your name at least?”
No reaction, at least not until Chuck started to unlock his phone to search for a local non-emergency number and the boy started crying even louder. The noise was like shards of glass being pushed into Chuck’s ears. His screams grew louder and louder. The lights on Chuck’s phone got brighter and bright, as if in response to the boy’s screams, the case grew warmer as well. He couldn’t take his eyes away from his screen that was starting to burn so bright it was leaving imprints on his eyes. At the same time his hand couldn’t withstand the heat any longer and he dropped the phone.
“Ow, what the f?” Chuck said to himself, forgetting about the boy for a moment, before censoring himself.
“Who are you?” Someone said.
Chuck turned around to find a woman about his age standing at the bottom of the stairs staring up at him.
“I’m guessing you can see me then,” she said.
To be continued…
PART TWO: https://ashleymanning.com/2022/12/30/magic-in-london-whistling-part-two/
Yesterday I started writing, planning to write around 500 words to post something short on here. I wrote just shy of 700 words last night and didn’t really know where it was going, but as I was heading to bed a story started to form in my mind. So when I woke up I started writing again. I’ve now forgotten pieces that I came up with last night, but the essence is still there. I’m hoping to continue the story further next week. Hope you enjoy it! Feedback is welcome as always!
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