Today we have something a little different. It's a short story by Indie Author Gareth Doble. Gareth asked me if I would publish it along with my feedback. He's a brave man! So, sit back and read the story. My feedback is at the end.
THE TIME STEALERS
By: Gareth Doble
The man moved frantically down the street, beads of sweat pouring off his face despite the cold winter morning air. His eyes looked all at once like that of a cornered jaguar and a tiny rabbit, running from the all-seeing eagle. His dark, greying hair hung damp and untamed in his face as he moved.
Even though it was early morning, the rush hour in the central business district of the city had begun and the streets were a literal sea of people, moving in great waves that coincided with the constant high tide of trains and buses, arriving every few minutes, flooding people into the city at the same time every day.
Thousands of people struggled through the crowds to get where they needed to be, yet he seemed to glide through the masses, like a ghost, unnoticed. He knew he wasn't invisible. It was just that he didn't seem to fit. Perhaps it was the crazed look in his eyes, or his unkempt appearance and old dirty clothing. He did not know, nor care anymore. The people in the crowds saw him, but simply moved away, either looking down or anywhere but straight at him. He was the oil in the great ocean of people flowing through the streets of the city. He picked up his pace then looked over his shoulder to check if they were following. “No one there.”
Glancing down at his wrist, checking the time he was surprised to notice that he wore no watch, despite repeating this ritual a number of times, every single day. A siren screamed suddenly, above the din of the people and traffic, and the man turned quickly down an alley, pushing himself against the wall and ducking down slightly, out of sight. His eyes darted left, then right, noticing for the first time two men in black suits with dark sunglasses standing across the street. They stood either side of the entrance to the central metro line station, one leant back, leafing through a magazine and the other seemingly on his phone. His glance darted back to his left down the street as the siren grew louder. The police cruiser flashed by in an instant, off down the street and the sirens faded as the city reverted back to its usual hum.
Following the police cruiser with an intense gaze until it was out of sight, he turned his attention back to the two men across the road. His mind raced and his heart rate quickened suddenly.
“I've seen them before. They were there that day when the others first came. They work for them, always watching. Like an army of spies, always there somewhere in the shadows,” he spoke in a hushed tone. A woman passed the entrance to the alleyway just as he spoke, pausing for a moment in confusion at the sight of the man at the edge of the alleyway, seemingly talking to somebody crouched beside him. He glared up at her, noticing her staring. She noticed that instead of malice there was genuine fear in his eyes, almost pleading to her for help. They held each other’s gaze for just a few seconds, before he looked back over the street. His face turned white.
“They're gone!” he said, gasping as he said it. The two men in black suits who had stood across the street only moments before had disappeared. He stood up, now ignoring the women, looking up and down the busy street searching for the men.
“We've got to move now! We have to get out of the city,” he said, still speaking to the companion that only he could see. His head was throbbing and his vision began blurring slightly as his heart pounded in his chest even harder now. His clothes were drenched in sweat as he made his way across the street toward the entrance to the central metro station. He had almost reached the middle of the street when he spotted one of the men again. He was standing beside a news stand, with his back to him, barely thirty feet away. He was rooted to the spot in the middle of the road, frozen. “What the hell? He wasn't there before. They appear from nowhere,” he said in a whisper to his companion. His mind churned, trying to force his body to move. He glanced to his left, as if looking at somebody. He frowned, the look of terror on his face deepened. “Where are you? Can you hear me? He looked frantically all around desperately searching for his friend.
It was then he was jarred out of his manic daze, by the harsh blare car horns.
“What the hell are you doing, you idiot. Get out the road!” he vaguely heard someone shouting in between the sound of the horns.”
“It’s happening again. They're taking it from me.....” the man spoke out loud to himself now, either ignoring or oblivious to the increasingly angry onlookers and drivers. His gaze whipped back to the news stand, just in time to see the man in the black suit staring straight at him. He removed his sunglasses and his piercing eyes locked onto his own. He could feel him inside his head. Looking to the left he noticed the other man had reappeared and now also moved towards him with the same look in his eyes.
The man turned round to go back the way he had come. The woman was still watching him. Seeing the terror on his face she approached him. “Are you okay Sir? Do you need help?” Her voice sounded so young and innocent. For an instant his heart leapt at the thought of somebody offering him some help. He was on the verge of asking her, before a voice placed doubt in his mind again. “No, no, no, this isn't right. It’s the Time! It's always the Time! Why can't any of you see it!” he almost shouted the words at her. Glancing sharply over his shoulder, he saw the two men in suits getting nearer. He turned and began sprinting toward the subway entrance. He bounded down the stairs, turning his head at the bottom just long enough to see the other two men at the top of the stairs, also running now. His heart felt like it would explode in his chest any second. He ran through the subway tunnels, vaguely heading in the direction of the main line platform. People scattered as the crazed man ploughed his way through the crowds.
He turned his head, the two men were gaining on him. He had reached the main platform now, which was heaving with hundreds of commuters, waiting for the imminent arrival of the next train.
He ducked down in the middle of the mass of people jostling for positions on the platform. Scanning the platform he saw no sign of his pursuers. His breathing was heavy, and he tried to slow it down and focus his thoughts now, when he suddenly felt a vice like grip on his arm.
The black suited man leant forward, whispering something in his ear. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. He could no longer hear the sounds of the station, everything silent now, apart from the large electronic clock hanging overhead, the seconds ticked by sounding like pistol shots. He thought he heard the sound of a train signalling its approach into the station.
Then, with one final explosion of energy he sent his free elbow crashing into the other man's face and broke free from his grip. Running forward now, the only way to go, he was almost at the platform edge and trying to turn and run along the edge. He tripped and stumbled, attempting to stop himself in vain, as he was suddenly falling into an abyss, helpless to stop himself.
A woman's scream rang out over the platform, as the man disappeared beneath the train. The entire station was suddenly deathly silent for a moment. After a few seconds, the scene was chaos as people rang for help on mass. The older looking man in the black suit stared on, unmoved. He glanced down the platform at the younger man, shaking his head as he put his sunglasses back on, and both left the station, unnoticed by anyone.
A man lay on the tracks in a dark tunnel. Just as he closed his eyes for the last time, he managed a little smile, reflecting on the irony, that in his desperation to defeat those who would steal his time, he now had none left to give. In some way he had won.
- I corrected a number of minor spelling errors but I did not correct any grammar or sentence structure
- There are several incorrect words in the context which I did not alter (e.g. 'on mass' should be 'en masse')
- There are several sentences that should start with a capital letter and are not continuations of the previous passage (these are mainly after spoken sections)
It's tough to give feedback about something in a forum such as this but if I could give a few generalities they would be as follows:
- It's important to decide on the reason behind a story and ensure you make that reason clear to the reader. I had no investment in the main character and therefore it didn't matter that he died at the end of the story. Why was he running? Who was the 'invisible' man? Who were the men chasing him? The list is endless. Bottom line, there are too many unknowns to make this story satisfying
- There are too many mixed tenses within paragraphs. Decide up front whether the story is going to be written in the past or present tense and stick to it unless there's a good reason not to
- Several sentences don't make clear who the subject is. (e.g. "He removed his sunglasses and his piercing eyes locked onto his own")
There are more things I could say, but I think I've made my main points. Sometimes when we have an idea for a short story we need to take a step back from it and ask ourselves what exactly we are trying to say to the reader? Adding metaphors and descriptions to a story are fine, providing they are serving a purpose in moving the story along (and embellishing it). In this case, the only story appears to be:
1/ Scared man crosses road.
2/ Scared man runs into subway.
3/ Scared man gets hit by train.
Bottom line, the story needs more substance.
Please keep writing, Gareth, and I look forward to reading some of your future works.