I had a fantastic day yesterday (well, apart from the late evening part but I'll come to that later) and met up with Helen and Leigh (both absolutely lovely and neither of them big men called Dave!) to go on a one day 'Twist in the Tale' short story course.
And what a great course it was. Okay so there wasn't a magical formula for writing twist in the tale stories (damn!) but the process was de-mystified and we even got to try writing some openings ourselves. "No way!" I thought when Della asked us to write a few openings in 10 minutes "I can't just write something on demand. I need to have a think first!" but I managed to write three different openings from some photo prompts and even read them out to the group without swallowing my tongue. We brainstormed possible twists as a group and I think I've got at least one (if not three) possible twist stories I can work on and send out. Result!
After the course Womag joined us and we all piled into the nearest pub. Time flew as we nattered and nattered and nattered like old friends (despite the fact most of us had only just met) and swapped writerly gossip (yeah, wouldn't you like to know ;o)) and talked about what we were working on, what we wanted to work on, problems, markets, all kinds of stuff. Womag left first to go and get her dinner and the three of us continued to chat until we suddenly realised it was 7.30pm and we'd been gabbing on for three hours!
Leigh kindly drove me back to Littlehampton station so I could get the train home to Brighton and I only had to wait fifteen minutes for the 9.36pm train to leave. As I strolled down the platform I passed a girl in pink who was carrying a bag over her shoulder and lurching a bit. At first I thought she might be drunk but, when I heard her ask the guard which train it was I realised she probably had learning difficulties and thought nothing more of it.
About five minutes into the journey I heard some Geordie lads chatting to her. They were several seats behind me so I didn't look round but I was concerned for her and I worried that maybe the lads were mocking her or something but it seemed pretty friendly and lighthearted so I dipped back into my magazine.
A few minutes later the girl lurched up the carriage and threw herself into a chair around a table, two rows in front of me. She made a call on her mobile and seemed to be begging some guy to see her and telling him she was really sorry for something. At one point all I could hear was "Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello." Whoever she'd been talking to had put the phone down on her.
The train drew into Goring station and one of the Geordie lads approached the girl who was now slumped back in her seat.
"You said you had to get off here," he said.
The girl looked at him blankly.
"This is Goring," he said. "You said you wanted to get off here."
"Come here," the girl slurred, moving her pelvis provocatively. "You know you want to."
"No," the man said. "I don't know what you mean. We're at Goring love, you need to get off."
The girl continued to beckon him and I glanced across the aisle to the blonde haired woman who was sitting opposite me and she frowned. We were both worried. What was going on? What was wrong with the girl and who were the men? And was the girl drunk? She was now mumbling incoherently, she'd knocked her bag to the floor and there was liquid all over her table.
I stood up.
"Where are you going? What stop?" I asked the pink girl. "This is Goring. Do you need to get off?"
The girl shook her head at me, wriggled in her seat and mumbled nonsensical words at me. Her mouth gaped to the side as she talked and her eyes were wild and unfocussed. Learning difficulties or not she was very definitely off her head now. Whether it was drugs, alcohol or a combination of the two I couldn't be sure.
When the train pulled out of the station and the man turned to walk back down the aisle I asked him if he knew the girl. "No," he said, "but she was on the same bus as us on the way to the Littlehampton station."
I turned back to the blonde girl.
"We need to do something," I said. "She's missed her stop and if she goes all the way to Brighton she's in no state to find her way back."
"I'll get the conductor," the blonde girl said and disappeared up the aisle.
When I sat back down pink girl had disappeared. I looked up and down the aisle but there was no sign of her so I assumed she'd gone to the loo. I picked up her bag from the floor and put back the contents that had spilled everywhere when it had fallen - including an almost empty bottle of vodka - placed it on the table, then sat back down.
A few minutes later the pink girl wandered back down the aisle, followed by the blonde girl and a female guard. The guard took one look at pink girl, rolled her eyes and asked some questions that weren't answered. Pink girl lurched out of her seat and the guard and blonde girl backed away. As pink girl moved down the aisle she spotted me, clambered onto the seat beside me and tried to wrap herself around me, slurring "Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah." I moved her away as gently as I could and told her to sit back down in her seat.
Unfortunately for blonde girl, who was now sitting in her seat, pink girl chose to sit next to her instead.
"Come on baby," pink girl slurred at her. "Come on baby. You know you want to."
Before we knew what was happening pink girl had undone her trousers, pushed them down to her ankles and started to pleasure herself.
Blonde girl looked at me in horror and I stared back at her, totally stunned. The guard hurried to the radio to tell the driver to stop at the next station.
"Help me," the blonde girl said as we pulled into the station. "I need to get off here."
She was standing up but, with pink girl touching herself beside her there was no way she could get back out to the aisle. I stood up but there was no way I wanted to touch or interact with pink girl. I had no idea what she might do next.
"You'll have to push past her," I said helplessly.
Blonde girl carefully pushed pink girl and practically ran down the aisle to the next carriage. I decided to move a few seats away too.
When the train pulled into Lancing station the guard had had enough. She got pink girl up and told her she had to leave the train. Pink girl, still in just her knickers, was ejected onto the platform.
"You can't do that," several passengers (including me) cried. "She'll wander to the end of the train and fall onto the tracks."
"I'm not having her on this train," the guard said, throwing her bag and trousers after her. "And I'm calling the police so chill out."
For the next couple of minutes we all watched, horrified, as pink girl repeatedly threw herself at the train doors, banging to get back in. As she did so her mobile, that had fallen under the seat where she'd been sitting, started ringing and the guard answered it. She talked to whoever was on the other line and told them to come and collect pink girl then opened the door so they could talk to her. Pink girl fell into the train.
"Come on baby," she said, flat on her back, staring up at the guard. "Come on baby you know you want to."
By this point the train had been in the station much longer than it should have an several passengers from the adjoining carriage had piled into ours and were standing around pink girl, staring down at her. Some suggested just throwing her off the train, others said she should be covered up. It was quite sick really, the number of people who turned up and stared as pink girl lay on the floor of the carriage with her hand between her legs. I just stayed in my seat. Too many people were getting involved and it was turning into a bizarre and slightly grotesque farce.
One girl, barely out of her teens, who claimed her mother worked in special needs stared down at pink girl and said, in a very matronly tone, "Put your trousers on right now or you'll be arrested and you don't want that to happen to you. Put your trousers on NOW."
Finally, finally the police turned up and lifted her out of the train and onto the platform. And the train pulled off. I heard someone mention something about pink girl 'just getting out of hospital today'. What kind of hospital I don't know.
I'm not sure how it's come across in the telling but the whole thing was really quite disturbing. I've never felt quite so powerless before. I couldn't communicate with this girl, no one could and I had no idea how to help. I was just glad when the police turned up and took over. At least then I knew she was safe.
Soooooooooooooo..... a very, very odd end to what, otherwise, was a wonderful day. Thank you to Leigh, Helen and Womag for making it even more special.