Slow River - Nicola Griffith Page 0,1

cleared a little. She had to find somewhere to hide. And she had to get warm.

Rain fell on her lip and she licked it off automatically, feeling confused. Why should she hide? Surely there were people who would love her and care for her, tend her gently and clean her wounds, if she just let them know where she was. But Hide, said the voice from her crocodile brain, Hide!, and her muscles jumped and sweat started on her flanks, and the slick gray memory like a balloon in her head swelled and threatened to burst.

She crawled toward the newstank because its lurid colors, the series of news pictures flashing over and over in its endless cycle, imitated life. She sat on the road in the rain in the middle of the night, naked, and bathed in the colors as if they were filtered sunlight, warm and safe.

It took her a while to realize what she was seeing: herself. Herself sitting naked on a chair, blindfolded, begging her family to please, please pay what her kidnappers wanted.

The pictures were like a can opener, ripping open the bubble in her head, drenching her with images: the kidnap, the humiliation, the camera filming it all. “So your family will see we’re serious,” he had said. Day after day of it. An eighteenth birthday spent huddled naked in a tent in the middle of a room, with nothing but a plastic slop bucket for company. And here it was, in color: her naked and weeping, a man ranting at the camera, demanding more money. Her tied to a chair, begging for food. Begging . . .

And the whole world had seen this. The whole world had seen her naked, physically and mentally, while they ate their breakfast or took the passenger slide to work. Or maybe drinking coffee at home they had been caught by the cleverly put-together images and decided, What the hell, may as well pay to download the whole story. And she remembered her kidnappers, one who had always smelled of frying fish, half leading, half carrying her out into the barnyard because she was supposed to be dopey with the drugs she had palmed, the other one rolling new transparent plasthene out on the floor of the open van. She remembered the smell of rain on the farm implements rusting by a wall, and the panic. The panic as she thought, This is it. They’re going to kill me. And the absolute determination to fight one last time, the way the metallic blanket had felt as it slid off her shoulders, how she pushed the man by her side, dropped the cold, thin spike of metal into her palm and turned. Remembered the look on his face as his eyes met hers, as he knew she was going to kill him, as she knew she was going to shove the sharp metal into his throat, and she did. She remembered the tight gurgle as he fell, pulling her with him, crashing into a pile of metal. The ancient plough blade opening her own back from shoulder to lumbar vertebrae. The shouting of the other man as he jumped from the van, stumbling on the cobbles, pulling her up, checking the man on the ground, shouting, “You killed him you stupid bitch, you killed him!” The way her body would not work, would not obey her urge to run; how he pushed her roughly into the van and slammed the doors. And her blood, dripping on the plasthene sheet; thinking, Oh, so that’s what it’s for. Remembered him telling the van where to go, the blood on his hands. The way he cursed her for a fool: hadn’t she known they were letting her go? But she hadn’t. She thoght they were going to kill her. And then the sad look, the way he shook his head and said: Sorry, but you’ve forced me to do this and at least you won’t feel any pain . . . And the panic again; scrabbling blindly at the handle behind her; the door falling open. She remembered beginning the slow tumble backward, the simultaneous flooding sting of the nasal drug that should have been fatal. . .

But she was alive. Alive enough to sit in the rain, skin stained with pictures of herself, and remember everything.

A taxi hummed past.

She did not call out, but she was not sure if that was because she was too weak, or because she was afraid. The