Sam Thompson short story – ‘The Walker’

Sam Thompson, author of the Communion Town has kindly allowed us to publish a short story much in the vein of his brilliant debut novel.


The Walker


Where did I get the idea? All I know is that my suspicions began as soon as I arrived in the city. I had come here like everyone else, in search of the usual things: a room, a life, a district whose alleys and gardens I would call mine. I wanted to ride the trams, haunt the cafés and dine on the street food. I wanted to be changed beyond recognition. I wasn’t asking for more than that, and I certainly didn’t intend to write any of this down. Even then I knew that to do so would be a mistake.


But good intentions aren’t enough, and one sunny evening I stood on the pavement transfixed by the sight of an ornamental tree beside a set of iron railings. It was nothing, just a fragment of the city, but standing there in the smell of exhaust and magnolia I found myself unable to make sense of it. I couldn’t move on. Commuters were brushing past. Then a hand tugged at my sleeve and I turned to find a shabby figure looking up at me, grey-faced, half-starved but smiling as if he understood my predicament. He opened his mouth to speak.


Appalled, I fled, but the damage had been done. In the weeks that followed I fell out with my friends, caught a persistent cold and failed to keep my appointments. I grew weary and aggrieved. Running late for work I saw that face in the crowd. The flesh was patterned with bruises as if it had undergone surgery. Everyone knows what you’re after, I wanted to say as I pushed past: you can only tell one story at a time and I have my own to get on with. But did I still believe that? The idea was with me and I couldn’t shake it.


Indications mounted. At a tram stop I thought I heard a voice say ‘the ant will never know the anthill’, and that same night I dreamed that cities were built not from iron and brick but from memories. When I woke up I was on the point of recalling where I had seen this place before. Later, browsing bookstalls at the market, I opened an old paperback at the words remember how you came to this city… I left quickly but not before I had noticed the grey figure watching at a distance. It trailed me through the streets as if to demand credit where it was due.


I’m nervous, of course, but I won’t be leaving the city. That wouldn’t help. The figure is always with me, now, its hand always on my sleeve, and it is no longer willing to be ignored. Although I pretend otherwise I hear its voice all the time. We both know there is nothing I can do. In spite of myself, I have begun to listen.

Communion Town by Sam Thompson

Communion Town flat

The Man Booker longlisted novel is a meditation on how each of us conjures up our own city.

Every city is made of stories: stories that meet and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters.

Reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, the Man Booker-longlisted Communion Town is the story of a place that never looks the same way twice: a place imagined anew by each citizen who walks through the changing streets among voices half-heard, signs half-glimpsed and desires half-acknowledged.

Communion Town reveals the shadows and sinister inhabitants of a city that never appears the same way twice.

On crowded streets, in the town squares and half-empty tower blocks, the lonely and lost try to make a connection. A weary gumshoe pounds the reeking sidewalks, seeking someone he knows he will never find. Violence loiters in blind alleys, eager to embrace the unsuspecting and the reckless. Lovers are doomed to follow treacherous paths that were laid long before they first met.

This city is no ordinary place. Here, the underworld has surfaced; dreams melt into reality and memories are imagined before they are lived. Ghosts and monsters, refugees and travellers – the voices of Communion Town clamour to tell the stories of the city, stories that must be heard to be believed.

This is the story of a city.