In 2011, Salomé Jones was a graduate student in London. She fell in love with the beautiful red telephone boxes she saw around the city. To her they were a place of magic. So she wrote a story set in and around one and put it up on her website, inviting writers to send in stories that connected to it in at least two ways. She began to get a lot of submissions, which she published on her site. Two years later, after a lot of work by Salome, Tim and numerous other writers and artists, Ghostwoods Books, then a fledgling company, published the book with the help of a successful Kickstarter. It was called Red Phone Box: A Darkly Magical Story Cycle.
Salomé has offered to run another experimental writing project here on the Ghostwoods Books’ website and we have said YES! But before we get started, we’d like to share the original story that started the Red Phone Box proect. with the original project cover designed by Gábor Csigas.
What a Little Moonlight Can Do
by Salomé Jones ©2013 (reprinted with permission)
It was not a normal London night. Amber gazed up at the full moon through the glass balcony doors. It was strange how the light it cast left the sky dark, but coated the tops of buildings and trees, cars and streets with a ghostly glow. It stencilled black outlines around places it couldn’t reach, more like ethereal rain than actual light.
She slid the glass door open and stepped out onto the balcony. The air was absolutely still, not like normal, windy London at all. She leaned against the railing and looked out over the city. As she did, she noticed that her arms and the front of her blouse were glowing. If only that liquid light could get inside her, sink into her veins, maybe she would brighten, stop missing Jon.
The sounds of the city floated up to her, perfectly clear, even though the street was over a hundred feet down. The hum of car engines, an occasional siren, the isolated sound of people laughing like they were the only ones in a big, dark room.
She looked through the window at the clock. 2:22 in the morning and still she couldn’t sleep. Two two two. Even the clock was mocking her now. There was no ‘two’ any more. Jon wasn’t coming back.
She had to do something, or she was going to cry. Again. She was so tired of crying. A walk. It was the perfect night for it. She went back into the flat, leaving the glass doors open to the night air. She crossed the room and stared at herself in the mirror on the wall above the sofa. Her hair needed combing, but she only ran her fingers through it. It would do. It was dark, after all. Who would see her?
She flipped the lights off. As she slid her jacket on, she noticed her arms and her shirt still looked like they were glowing. Funny. Did moonlight always do that?
She took the lift down to the ground floor and walked past the porter. He was watching TV behind the counter.
“Amber.” He inclined his head. “Going out late?”
“Just need a walk, James.” She forced a smile.
He nodded, like he knew the feeling. He said something else then. His Filipino accent sometimes confused her.
“Indigo starfish?” She repeated what she thought she’d heard.
“Riiiight.” He grinned and waved.
She waited until she was out the front door before she shook her head. Who knew what James meant? She turned left at the gate and kept going. She walked fast, the clicking of her heels echoing between the buildings on either side of the nearly empty street. The trouble was, she couldn’t escape her own thoughts.
Jon had left her for someone else. He’d never said so, but she knew it.
She crossed over the road when she reached the roundabout, and slowed for a moment at the corner, deciding which way to go. Probably that Alice. The one with the perfect teeth. It was always a risk, letting him play away from home. She peered down the first right, a dark, narrow street, a row of terraces and the entrance to a park. Maybe it was the redhead, the Spanish girl. What was her name? Gloria? She took a few steps toward the second right, bigger and brighter, more traffic, a pub. No, she was sure it was Alice. She retraced her steps and took the first right, picking up her pace again, moving in and out from under street lights, light dark light dark light, like the windows of a passing train.
He was undoubtedly with her right now. Maybe they were still awake. So new in the relationship, two in the morning, they were probably…
A shadow stepped out in front of her, right out of a terrace gate. Just a shadow, nothing in sight to have cast it. It meowed.
“Hi, kitty.” She’d never seen a cat out on the street in London before. Was it feral? As if answering her question it brushed up against her shins. She crouched down.
“Hello, little one.” She extended her index finger in greeting. The cat touched its nose to her fingertip. Its black fur made it all but invisible in the dark. When it looked up at her, its eyes glowed yellow gold. “What are you doing out here? You’re not lost, are you?”
The cat rubbed the side of its face against her hand.
“Ah. You, too, eh?” She smiled. “Night-time’s the worst, isn’t it?” She ran her hand down the cat’s sleek back.
A light came on inside the terrace whose gate the cat had appeared from. The door opened a crack and a woman’s voice hissed, “Max!” The cat turned and ran back through the gate and into the house. The door closed.
Amber straightened up and dusted her hands on the seat of her trousers. “Bye, Max. It was nice to meet you.” A wave of sadness welled up in her and something warm tickled down her cheek. Oh god, not again. So much fucking crying.
She started walking again, past more terraces, a bicycle stand, parked cars. She wished she could hear Jon’s voice. That would calm her down. If she could just talk to him… But she couldn’t. She’d tried. His mobile was disconnected, and she had no idea where he lived now. She reached the gate to the park. It was closed and locked. She guessed they didn’t want people in there after dark.
When she really needed to hear his voice, she called home and listened to his low rumble on the answer-phone. Hi, this is Jon. Leave a message for me or Amber and we’ll call you when we get in. She still couldn’t make herself change the recording, even though he’d been gone three weeks. Hearing it was like time-travelling back to when they were happy together.
She should call it now. Maybe it would help her stop crying. She paused along the low brick wall in front of the park, unzipped her jacket pocket, and fished inside for her cell phone. It wasn’t there. She had a sudden flash of it sitting on the nightstand, plugged into the charger. Damn. Her nose stung with tears. Pathetic. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and blinked to clear her vision.
She focussed her eyes on a spot of light across the street. A red phone box! That couldn’t be a coincidence. It was a sign. She was meant to call. She’d never actually used a phone box. She patted her pockets. She had some change, but she wasn’t sure how much it would be. There was only one way to find out.
She darted across the street and peered through the one of the glass window panes. It was lit from the inside. ‘60p Minimum,’ said a notice on the phone. She opened the door and stepped inside. She dug some coins out of her jacket pocket. She lifted the receiver and put the coins in the slot. The black plastic was cold against her ear. It felt strange, old and unwieldy. She dialled her own number and listened to it ringing.
There was a click right after the first ring. Weird. She thought it went over to the answer-phone on the third –
“Hello?” A man’s voice.
Oh good Christ. She’d dialled the wrong number. “I’m sorry. I must’ve –”
“Who is this?” Her heart jumped.
“Who do you think it is, loon? Where are you?”
“What?” How could this be? “You’re home?”
“That’s the sensible place to be at three in the morning.” It was Jon. It was really Jon.
“Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right there. Just don’t move.” She replaced the receiver in a rush. It fell from the cradle and dangled from its silver cord, but she didn’t care. She pushed open the door and hurtled out into the street, breaking into a run. He was home. She ran back past the terraces, the bike rack. He was home. She rounded the corner and crossed at the roundabout.
Oh god, she wasn’t even wearing any makeup. She must look like hell. At the front door, James buzzed her in.
“Hey,” he said.
“Indigo starfish?” She flashed him a smile.
“Yeah.” He laughed.
She got into the lift and pushed the button for her floor. Her heart raced almost painfully. The lift doors opened and she got off, holding herself to a fast walk. At the door to her flat, she ran her hands over her hair, licked her finger and wiped it under each eye, hoping she didn’t look like a raccoon. She put her key in the lock and turned the latch, pushing the door open. It was dark inside. She went in, not bothering to flip the light on.
“Hello?” She took off her jacket and hung it up. It gave off a faint glow. She looked at it more closely. Definitely glowing. So weird. She took off her shoes and put them on the shoe rack. Parts of them were glowing, too. She shook her head.
The flat was quiet.
Amber tiptoed across the lounge. Maybe he’d gone to bed already. It was late after all. God, it was late. Fatigue hit her all at once. She went into the bedroom. “Honey?”
There was a groan from the bed.
“Oh, thank God.” Amber stood staring at Jon’s dark form under the blankets.
“Where’ve you been?”
I could ask the same about you. But she didn’t. “Out for a walk. Couldn’t sleep.” She unbuttoned her blouse.
“I know. It’s just the moonlight.” She unzipped her trousers and pulled them off.
“Yeah, it’s some crazy full moon.” She unfastened her bra and slipped her panties down, adding them to the pile of her clothes on the floor.
“I don’t think moonlight makes people glow.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed and slid under the covers. “Neither did I.” He must have been there a while. It was warm already. God, she was so tired, like she’d been running marathons. “But it does.” She snuggled up against him.
“Let’s not talk about it now,” she whispered. “I missed you.”
* * *
She woke up to a darkened room. The curtains were drawn, but she could tell it was daylight by the glow seeping in at the bottom of the window. She sat up and looked at the clock. 7:30. Jon was still asleep next to her, his broad back facing her, his hair spread out on his pillow.
Wow, she’d had such a crazy dream. Moonlight makes you glow? And Jon running off with some girl named Alice? What was that about? Such a sense of relief to wake up and find him right next to her where he belonged.
She left him sleeping and went out to phone work. She was ill, she said. She’d be in tomorrow.
She went into the kitchen, still naked, and put some coffee on. While it was brewing, she went into the bathroom and brushed her hair and put on a little mascara. She heard Jon moving around in the bedroom. She went back to the kitchen and made his coffee, just the way he liked it. Cream and two sugars, right to the brim. She poured herself a cup and carried them both out to the coffee table. Jon was sitting at his desk. She could hear him typing. She walked past him, concentrating on the cups of coffee to make sure she didn’t spill any. She bent over to put them on the table.
She grinned and turned around. “Come and get–”
The man in Jon’s chair smiled at her. She screamed and took three steps back. In Jon’s chair, in Jon’s body. But his face wasn’t Jon’s.
“Amber? What’s the matter?”
“Who are you?” She was breathing hard. She reached over and grabbed the shawl she kept on the couch and held it up in front of herself.
“What the hell?” The man squinted at her. “What’s wrong with you? It’s me.”
“Me who?” She took another step back. “Who are you? How did you get in?” Her voice was getting shrill. God, what was happening?
“For Christsake, Amber.” The man was staring at her now, looking quite alarmed. “It’s me. Stuart!”