Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This time, Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
It was the afternoon of October 27th, the first day of British daylight savings time. An impending sense of urgency ran through me throughout the day; a strange twitch in the core of my brain informing me that night was falling sooner, danger was coming closer, and I needed to move.
I ran along the Thames most evenings, and during the summer had enjoyed the twin delights of light and, for the most part, warmth with my journey. Today would be different. The idea thrilled me, yet made me apprehensive at the same time.
Change didn't sit well with me. I often experienced irrational concerns that minute changes in my daily routine would cause a knock-on effect that would skew my comfort irreparably and, to some degree, also my sanity.
Perhaps my sanity had already been skewed years ago by an irreparable change that led me to feel this way.
Regardless, I found running to be my one constant. The pure act and motion delighted me in its consistency, the steady thud thud thud thud of my feet pounding the ground, matching my heartbeat and my heavy breathing. A sense of unity in this shared rhythm calmed me.
I set out at my usual time; I knew that I wouldn't make it to my destination before sundown. My unease disturbed me more than the idea of running in the dark, and I chose to ignore my urge to give it all up for the winter. This would, in itself, be a change I couldn't cope with.
Running is perhaps the most liberating activity one can do. Far from being lonely, it's a peaceful release, a rare opportunity to truly feel alone no matter where you are.
In a city of eight million, I couldn't give that up.
I set out along my usual route, westward from Tower Bridge along the north bank of the Thames. It was already nearing sunset. The air was thick with pink light.
Street lights had already started to switch on from buildings along the south side of the river, and I could make out the disjointed tip of the Shard faintly back-lit in yellow.
Urgency filled me as I passed under London Bridge; I spied Blackfriars ahead with the blue of the station already beginning to reflect in the river below. A bus bellowed as it passed over the bridge above me and I sped up, eager to out-run the sunset.
As I approached the steps at Blackfriars Bridge, the pink mist had faded to grey and I was unable to make out the faces of the pedestrians that walked towards me. I ran up the steps and emerged, exposed, atop the east footpath of the bridge. Red taillights trundled past on my right as I powered over the bridge, and the flashing lights of bikes weaved past as I ploughed on, avoiding the hip-height barrier that stopped me from falling into this artery of the city.
I chanced a peek over the balustrade and noticed a small motorboat pass by, travelling westward like me towards the last scraps of light on this winter evening. I quickened my pace, reminded of the urgency of the journey.
As I skipped down the steps on the south side of the bridge I realised it had arrived.
It was dark under the bridge and lights along the footpath held the strongest glow in my field of vision. A glance skyward revealed a streak of red so bright it made me catch my breath, like the belly of the sky had been butchered. I caught sight of the motorboat again — my companion in our race against the planet’s rotation.
I squeezed through the brightly lit alleyway at the foot of the Oxo Tower and was surprisingly jarred by the imitation of day that flashed for all of 15 seconds until I emerged in the dark of the South Bank.
My eyes adjusted to the luminance, soaked in a new view of the city.
Across the river I spied the illuminated fascia of Somerset House; a marvel of Neoclassical architecture, a bright white bulb of magnificence reflected back in perfection by the water. I wondered if I had ever appreciated it as much as I did at that moment.
I slowed my pace as I jogged beneath strings of light between trees along the South Bank that highlighted a gentle glow atop the heads of pedestrians and fellow runners that followed my route. We seemed to be travelling as one, migrating slowly towards the last known sighting of the sun.
It was night.
Everything I could see was illuminated by artificial brightness.
Individual colours, shapes and movements of light overwhelmed me and caught my attention as I glided by, slowing my progression towards my destination, but I didn’t care. I was no longer in a hurry.
I had lost sight of the motorboat; my companion was gone, but I didn’t miss it.
Instead, I felt a strong sense of awe at the changeover I had witnessed. Not just the world changing from day to night, but the parallel adjustment of the city, my city. Transforming as naturally and gradually as the sunset.
As I reached the steps at Waterloo Station my deep unease had almost completely lifted.
I entered the brightness of the station and turned back for one final look. “Until tomorrow,” I thought.
We’re still after your stories based on London at Night, which you should send to email@example.com. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
London at Night
- The Soho Nocturnes: Sebastian Groes tries to shatter the concrete dream that is London.
- The Station Clock: Peter Watson takes a slow walk to Euston.
- Asparagus and Syrian Gold: A guy on a blind date takes a risk… but will it pay off?
- The Patient Banker: Tom Dean has a visitor call in at a houseboat.
- An Afternoon Some Time Ago: Nathan Good takes a nostalgic ride on the London Eye.
- Easy Pickings: Kay Seeley is being vigilant on the South Bank.
- Stepping Stones: Alison Chandler goes on a night walk.
- One Summer in London: Angela M. Rodriguez steals a very personal item and then wears it at Notting Hill Carnival.
- Blackout on Fen Street: Seth Insua wishes away the city.
- The Man From BEER: Which bits of London would you delete? By David Ritchie.
- London Falls: Liz Hedgecock unleashes a digital wipeout on the city.
- They Walked: Adam MacLean ponders what would happen if London’s building just got up and left.
- The Wallbuilder: A great wall was built around London, not everyone was happy, by Jonathon Dean.
- Tastes Like Chicken: Glen Delaney retreats inside London’s oldest fortress.
- The Conqueror: Rebecca Sams filches a legendary London object.
- The Busker Ascends: Darren Lee brings plague to Leicester Square.
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- The Sender of Second Chances: Anthea Morrison records a chance encounter on a bus.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairy tale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Natural Disasters: Can you find love at the supermarket checkout, when your customer’s buying porn? Yoel Noorali enquires.
- NO! SUSHI: A relationship breaks down during a Japanese leaving party, by Clare Kane.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor (Part 2): Our debauched hero tussles with mannequins.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.
- Direction: Kevin Acott goes on a time-shifting pub crawl.
- RTA: Ryan Cartwright is involved in a traffic accident where all is not what it seems.
- Vegan Pigeon Eater: Rae Chambers sees a south London cafe get an unwelcome visitor.