Emily was the sixth reader at Story Shop 2017, the daily Edinburgh International Book Festival showcase of up-and-coming writers living and working in Edinburgh today.

Her appearance on Thu 17th August 2017 in the Spiegeltent was also broadcast live through the Periscope app.

Story Shop performances take roughly ten minutes and are free and unticketed.

You can hear the author read an extract of the story by clicking the play button on the photo above.
 

 

Originally from another City of Literature, namely Melbourne in Australia, Emily is the editor of Pride & Possibilities, the online journal for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, and the runner up for the 2017 Emerging Writer Award facilitated by Moniack Mhor/The Bridge Awards.

By day she works as a librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library.
 

 

Encounter
a short story by Emily Prince

I met her on the side of the road one early morning. She was waiting for a bus, using a stick to draw lines in the dust and looking strangely child-like, despite the fact she couldn’t have been far from my own age. Her hair was in two bunches, dirty and straggly, and her hands were covered in a thin film of dust. She looked up at me as the bus approached. She took in my lanky, hesitant frame, and my empty-tanked truck squatting behind me and asked.

‘You comin’ or what?’

I followed her onto the bus, leaving my truck and my life behind.

She was living in a basement flat in the closest village and was ‘on a break’ from university. She told me she was taking the bus to the city, where she was going to work in a café until she’d saved enough to buy a ticket to New Zealand. Then she was going to work in a ski resort over there. Her nails scratched at the skin of her thighs as she spoke, feathering the denim hem of her short-legged overalls. I hadn’t seen denim overalls in a while. She didn’t seem cold. Her face was made of soft angles and even colour, like an egg. She talked quickly, her words punctuated by little snapping sounds from the gum she was chewing.

The bus came to a stop and everyone began to climb off. Last stop blinked at me in red from the roof. The chewing girl looked up in mild surprise, not appearing to recognise the place outside. She stood and I followed her out of the bus.

‘Must’ve been the wrong bus,’ she murmured. She stood still for several seconds, staring into space as she thought. Then once more she looked at me and asked.

‘You comin’ or what?’

We started to walk, back the way we came. It wasn’t difficult, just very long. All we had to do was follow the road. The sun was high in the sky now, the morning having passed quickly in the bus. She continued to chatter, absentmindedly pulling flowers from the long roadside grass and sliding them into her hair. Her arms and shoulders were pinking slowly beneath the straps of her overalls and she took off her shoes when she got too hot. I walked beside her, listening the whole way. We stopped in one of the villages and I bought two bottles of water with some change in my jeans. She thanked me, and held the bottle at her side as she browsed the shelves, lingering over the tinned soup and stale bread rolls. She didn’t buy anything, and I wondered if she had any money. She hadn’t mentioned the city again, or another bus. Perhaps she was putting her adventure off for another day.

We got back to the bus stop when it was dark. My truck was still there and I realised I hadn’t thought of it once for the entire day. I hadn’t shown up to work, and there were seven messages on my phone in the glove box asking where I was. Someone had left a can of petrol behind my back tyre with a note.

I don’t know where you’ve gone, but whoever you are, you will probably need this.

I filled my tank and the truck roared to life, shattering the country night around us. She shrieked and laughed at her own fright.

‘Do you want a lift back home?’

‘Of course.’

She pointed out all the monsters hiding in the shadows as we drove.

‘Your headlights, see. They’re afraid to come out to your headlights, but you can see them very faintly.’ Her arm pointed out my window, reaching across me, and she smelt of dirt and sweat and cinnamon gone slightly rancid. I followed her gaze and had to squint as I looked out my side windows. All I could see was black. She laughed softly and her breath tickled my neck as she reached further forward.

‘They’re hard to see at first,’ she whispered and I felt her free hand curl around mine on the steering wheel. With feather-light force she pulled us over and I flicked off the headlights. And then, sure enough, as I watched, they came forward. They crawled and rolled and slid and walked upright and came forward all around the truck. They made me uneasy, with their shining eyes and their scaly lips, and I could see they were all unique. Some had fur, but only a few had feathers. The one closest to me had one eye, but the one crawling over the hood had what looked like thousands of eyes all over its body, complete with constantly retracting eyelids. They murmured and hummed and buzzed and mewed and clicked and she smiled at each of them in turn, as though they were her pets.

‘What do they want?’ I asked as a tongue flicked through the crack in my window and hit my arm. She leaned over me and kissed the spot it had touched.

‘Nothing much, just a toll,’ she took my hand, looking into my eyes, and I felt soft and safe, cradled in her gaze. She brought my hand to her lips and bit lightly into my finger.

A painless drop of bright blood rolled into her outstretched palm and she thanked me and as she smiled she bit down on her own lips and spat her own blood into her palm to join mine. She opened her window and flicked it outside and every single creature breathed in all at once and swooped and ducked around the other side of the road, into the anonymous black once more.

‘Let’s go,’ she said gently and she leaned across and started the car for me. I put my foot down and we continued to drive in silence.

‘Here is fine,’ she said after a minute, or maybe an hour. I looked around, beyond the glare of the headlights. Nothing looked different. It was a long, lonely stretch of road with fields reaching away on either side. There was nothing to distinguish this place from any other. The moon didn’t give out too much light and somewhere in the recesses of my mind I thought it could possibly be a bad idea to leave her here, but when I turned to tell her this, she kissed me very softly on the corner of my mouth and touched the side of my face.

‘You comin’ or what?’

Of course I am.
 

(c) Emily Prince, 2017

 

 

 


 

 

The 10-minute Story Shop performances will be streamed live online, so if you can’t make it to the Spiegeltent, you can still get a front-row seat.

Simply install the Periscope app from Google’s Play Store (android devices) or Apple’s iTunes store (iPhones and iPads) and keep an eye on the #storyshop2017 Twitter stream for broadcast announcements around 3pm during the entire festival to get your virtual front row seat.
 

 

Recordings of the performances will also appear on the City of Literature’s YouTube channel at a later date.