Continuing our series of short fiction set in, or influenced by London. This week’s story is by Helen Shay, on a hunt for a lost sister and lost love.
"Six is an unlucky number!"
Madeleine bellowed at me. Because she’s the eldest, she thinks she’s in charge. It was the same when we assembled in the tunnel at midnight.
"One, two, three, four, five, six and…." shouted Madeleine, pointedly halting. "Sorry, there’s no 'and' anymore. Just six."
I shuffled uncomfortably on the line. The silence was suddenly interrupted as a train passed through us. It blinked with electric light, in which we saw its matt passengers — weary party-goers — heading home. It didn’t look like it had been a very good party.
When it had gone, the sisters — Madeleine, Marianne, Margaret and even meek and mild Mary — all ‘tut tutted’ at me. Their ‘tuts’ were loaded with subtext. 'Why didn’t you look after baby sister? You know Mo’s the youngest and flightiest of us. It’s your fault she’s gone missing, May.'
What could I say? It was true. Another train came into the station, stopping this time. We all froze and subdued our glimmer. It wouldn’t do to let the matts glimpse any sign of us, now we were into the witching hour and the full glamour was upon us. Poor humans with their matt lives, they could never guess what is was to be born gloss. How they would envy our freedom, if they knew the fun of being fae! Sometimes we’d remember our country cousins, frolicking among wild flowers in woods at midsummer. But we had chosen the city life. The underground was our home. And we loved London.
The sisters huddled together, as the matts left the train. We’ve always been grateful for that kind man who booms out, ‘Mind the gap!’ It gives us space, so they don’t all charge through us as they disembark. Not that we’d feel anything, but it’s an invasion of privacy having commuters step into you. They of course never notice us, except for the odd one with a special sense, but even they can’t quite make us out and dismiss us as tricks of the light. But we are modern-day fairies, the ultimate in urban myth!
As the train doors slid together, I took my chance to sneak on board. Let Madeleine rage! At least I’d try to put things right. I missed Mo. We’d been so close until that crazy row. How could we let something like that come between us — a boy?
I spent the night travelling the underground. I asked the elephant at the castle if he’d seen anything. He’s got a great memory. He’d heard of Mo being sighted behind the shepherd’s bush but when I got there, there was no sign of her. I tried the black friars but with their vow of silence, they weren’t much use. There was nothing for it but to consult the angel — the nearest we have to any oracle, only she insists on talking in pidgin rhyming slang, pretending to be cockney.
"I’ve been on the dog and bone to every sprite and spirit in zones one to four. They’ll keep their mincers peeled and have a butcher’s for her. I suggest you get off your Aris and use your plates, Mae the Fae!"
"You’re an angel," I said, thinking ‘thanks for nothing’.
Maybe the King could help. But he’s so superior since the matts revamped his station. He thinks he’s real royalty now and wants to drop the ‘cross’ from his name. Instead I took a walk (or ‘Duke of York’ if you’re a wannabe Bow bells angel) down Euston Road to the British Library. All that knowledge there, someone must know something. So I tried Pythagoras, that lumbering carved hulk outside the entrance.
"You came to the right person," he said. "After all, I know all about triangles."
Afraid he might give me a maths lesson, I explained I just wanted to find Mo.
"Exactly," he said. "And I have just the theorem for you!"
This was going to be hard work.
"After all, we are talking of love triangles here, aren’t we?" he whispered.
"Then you know where to go," he said.
"Up your hypotenuse!" I muttered.
But I knew he was right. I went where I should have started my search. It was still too early for many matts to be out, even those booked on Eurostar. The palatial hotel was quiet. I weaved my way onto the deserted terrace at the back. A few yards away were the lovers.
Living in London, you get to know a lot of art and sculpture. Even so, those two always took my breath away — frozen as they were forever in that bitter-sweet embrace of union and parting. "You’re too much of a romantic!" Madeleine always said. But I like to think of myself as a ‘Romantic’ with a capital ‘R’. And you would have to be made of stone yourself not to be touched by the sight of that statue.
"May, what you doing here?" murmured a frightened voice.
It was Mo. She was knelt by the wall, scared and tearful.
I ran and hugged her tight.
"Forgive me," I begged. "I had no right to have a go at you."
"I couldn’t help falling for him as well," she said.
"As if he’d love either of us," I said.
"Oh, but I do!" came a voice from behind.
There he was — that gorgeous young soldier with the halo that glimmered brighter than anything I’d ever seen.
"As I do everyone," he continued. "But I’m far too busy being a saint to have time for girls."
Pancras gave us a wink and we left. On the Victoria line with a few die-hard buskers and shift workers, Mo and I cuddled, invisible to the matts.
"Fancy putting a crush before what we share!" Mo said.
I smiled at her wisdom. Perhaps it was I who had been the one lost, even though she ran away. Now we would always be seven sisters. That was a lucky number.
We’re still after your stories — particularly about London's green spaces — which you should send to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
- The Wishing Duck of Regent's Park: Be careful what you wish for.
- The Strangest Suitor: An unconventional Prince Charming.
- Mud Man: A quietly heartbreaking tale from the canal.
- The Fingernail Fairy: Do you believe in her?
- The Last Train: A fairy godmother on the tube.
- Waterloo Sunrise: A dawn encounter on Waterloo Bridge.
For children/by children
- The Lion: Something’s up in Trafalgar Square.
- Lyndon The Greatest Thief in London: A light fingered robber meets the Queen.
- Beyond the Central Line: Notting Hill Gate looks different today…
- The Makings of a Killer: A dark encounter in Southwark.
- Places to Hide a T-Rex in London: About time someone tackled this one.
- The Modern Fire of London: A sneezing dragon is a dangerous thing.
- The Let Down Competition: A mango has a fight with a pig.
General London fiction
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
- The Guardian of Travellers: Victoria Coach Station passengers take the advice of a sage.
- Graphic Novels: A celebrated novelist finds inspiration in Shoreditch Library.
- Not Enough: A family struggles to get by.
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 Race: Susanna James races against the dying of the light.
- Sirens of the Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- Mark: A struggling actor becomes a hero of the people.
Christmas in London
- The Ghost of Christmas Replete: David Croser shares a Christmas tale set in the bleak midwinter.
- Keep the Change: Lee Hamblin takes a sneaky taxi ride.
- Night Bus Dreams: Michelle Surtees-Myers is picked up by an enchanted night bus.
- 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.
- Sirens Of The Tideway: Emily Williams recounts a ghostly police chase.
- 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.
- Routine: The importance of the day-to-day, by Clare Kane.
- 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.