When two strangers end up sharing a cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express, an intense friendship develops, one that can only have one ending … a nerve-shattering psychological thriller from bestselling author SJI Holliday
Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone.
Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available.
When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.
Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…
The body lies broken on the dusty, potholed track. The sky is a fading bruise of purple and grey, the alleyway illuminated by the faint lemony glow from one of the low-level windows at the back of the hotel. Parched, weedy-looking shrubs; gritty, dirty soil, and the ever-present hum of a generator somewhere close by mingles with the tinny sound of a radio from one of the rooms higher up. A mangy dog appears, its unclipped toenails scraping the cracked concrete. It sniffs. Whimpers. Before starting to lick at something dark and wet that’s pooling on the ground near the dead man’s head.
The hooded man pushes the body slowly with his boot and the dog starts circling, saliva dripping from its hungry mouth. The man makes a clicking noise with his tongue, stamps his foot once, hard.
The dog whimpers once more, then slinks away into the thick night.
‘Tell me what happened,’ the hooded man says. He spits out a chewed matchstick and takes a pack of crumpled cigarettes from his back pocket.
‘I told you on the phone.’ The young woman’s voice shakes as she tries to compose herself. ‘He fell … He was climbing up the balconies. He was nearly at ours. I … we … we shouted at him. We threw things. Tried to get him to stop. We told him we would call the police.’
‘What did he say?’ He lights a cigarette. Puts the used match back into the box.
‘Nothing. He just … He laughed. Then he said, “Let me in, little pig … Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and blow your house down.” It was creepy.’
The hooded man snorts. ‘What does this mean? “Little pig…”’
She shivers. ‘It’s from a nursery rhyme. It’s the Big Bad Wolf—’
‘Wasn’t he with Red Riding Hood?’
‘Another one.’ She shakes her head. ‘I guess there are lots of wolves in fairy tales.’
He blows a series of perfect smoke rings into the air above him. ‘Not just in fairy tales.’ He coughs up a ball of phlegm and spits it on the ground, and she feels a light spray misting across her sandalled feet.
She swallows hard, trying not to retch. Whimpers, just like the dog. ‘Please,’ she says. ‘Please help me.’
The hooded man shrugs. ‘Why don’t you go to police? If it was accident? Like you say?’
‘But … but what if they don’t believe it? I’ve heard things. Bad things.’
‘Bad things about wolves?’
Bad things about Russians, she thinks.
Finally, she looks him in the eye. Holds his gaze. He’s not that bad-looking. This is not the worst thing she’s ever done.
‘Please,’ she says. ‘Can you make this go away?’
He comes closer to her, stepping over the body. She can smell him now. His hot, stale sweat. She wonders when he last washed. She shudders, imagining the smell inside his clothes to be much, much worse. Hot acid roils up her throat and she swallows it back. She has no choice about this. She needs his help.
‘And the other girl?’ he says, blowing smoke slowly into her face. ‘Where is she now?’
‘She’s … I…’ Her eyes flit up and left, towards the balcony. His eyes follow, and then back to her again. His stare is hard, his expression unreadable.
She says it again, more pleading. More desperate. ‘Please. Can you make this go away?’
He grins, revealing sharp, wolfish teeth, and she hears the chink of metal on metal as he unclips his belt. There’s a brief pause, while he removes the cigarette and drops it on the ground, grinding it into the dirt, then without breaking eye contact, he slowly pulls down his zip. His huge, dark pupils gleam in the moonlight, full of want. She can’t look at him anymore.
She closes her eyes and tries to imagine herself somewhere else. With someone else. Somewhere far from here. Somewhere long ago.
He shuffles closer towards her and his trousers slide down to his ankles. The sour milk smell of him hits the back of her throat, but she won’t cry. She refuses to cry. She can do this. She has to.
He lays a rough, warm hand on top of her head, exerting just enough pressure to force her to her knees. Gravel cuts into her bare flesh, but she barely feels it. She is numb.
‘Oh yes, leetle peeg,’ he says, ‘I can make this go away.’
Thank you, S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday and Random Things Tours.
About the author
S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday is a scientist, writing coach and the bestselling author of five crime novels, including the Banktoun Trilogy (Black Wood, Willow Walk and The Damselfly), the festive chiller The Deaths of December and her creepy Gothic psychological thriller The Lingering. Her short story ‘Home From Home’ was published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and shortlisted for the CWA Margery Allingham Prize. Encapsulating her love of travel and claustrophobic settings, her latest novel, Violet, explores toxic friendships and the perils of talking to strangers, as well as drawing on her own journey on the Trans-Siberian Express over 10 years ago. All of her novels have been UK ebook number-one bestsellers. Susi was born and raised in Scotland and now divides her time between Edinburgh, London and as many other exciting places that she can fit in.
website : http://www.sjiholliday.com