A Collection of Short Stories, Rhyme and Extracts.
Copyright Philip Gilliver 2017
Snow White and the Seven Samurai
(Original Version of the Brothers Grimm Tale. Found in the back of a wardrobe in [Heidelberg.)
Long ago, and under a snowy sky, back in the days when you didn’t have to wait until the summer before you go out sledding, a queen, was sitting in a castle tower and looking over the land. As she was sewing at the time, this was a foolish thing to do, as soon she pricked her finger. As the drops of blood fell on her lap, she thought not about whether there were any plasters left in medicine cupboard, but of how the redness of the blood reminded her that she was approaching her late thirties and still childless.
The king, who was quite old, had been shooting blanks for the past few years, which was always why he was so useless on hunting trips.
Soon after that, after trying IVF treatment, they had a child, and her face was as white as snow, and she was beautiful. Her hair was red like the blood. But the queen died not long afterwards, so she wouldn’t be around to tell her about tanning studios.
A year later, fed up of looking after a screaming child, the king, took another wife. The new one was not like the old one, she was beautiful and vain, and could not bare the thought that there could ever be another looker in the kingdom.
Everywhere she went, she took with her, her mobile phone, good contract, unlimited texts. She would often pick it up after glancing into her step-daughter’s face and enter the following words into her social network status.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET
HOW MANY LIKES CAN MY PROFILE PIC GET?
And she would get loads.
And she was confident that the world of the Internet really thought she was the most beautiful, and was happy with life.
But babies don’t stay babies forever. Snow-White, as the little mite was called, was one day, seven years old, which meant that she already had her own mobile phone and a fairly active social media presence.
One day, after admiring herself in the mirror for an hour, her favourite hobby, the queen posted these words again to her digital friends.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET
HOW MANY LIKES CAN MY PROFILE PIC GET?
But she had very little response, until one bright spark replied in a comment.
NOW YOU’VE REALLY LOST THE GIG
COMPARED TO YOUR STEP-DAUGHTER, YOU’RE A PIG.
Reading this, the queen’s face reddened with rage. Her bosoms heaved themselves into a frenzy with the anger. She hated that girl so much and the envy swelled up inside her until it spilled from her ears and her eyeballs. She called upon the castle huntsman and told him to take the little girl into the woods and kill her.
‘Bring me some of her internal organs as proof!’ she bellowed.
The woodsman, being a complete and utter psychopath in nature, agreed straight away. But as soon as he got his knife out and put it to her throat, Snow-White pleaded with him. ‘Please don’t kill me!’
The woodsman replied, ‘Fair enough!’ and let her go. He told her to run away and find a shack somewhere and claim squatter’s rights.
As the man watched her skipping away all full of life and breathing oxygen, he thought about his promise to the queen, about bringing back removed organs. Luckily, a baby bear happened by, and so he was able to slice it open and remove its liver and one of the lungs. He took them back for the queen, who had them cooked and salted so that she could eat them in front of her favourite cockney soap opera.
Meanwhile, in the forest, the child was lost and all alone, not only that, she’d forgotten to put her trainers on before she’d left. Her feet were all cut and bruised. She would have been easy prey for the wild beasts, but for some odd reason, they just smiled at her as the passed. Some offered her mints.
Then around the time of the evening, she spied a small cottage and entered it, without knocking. The cottage had a sort of oriental feel about it. There were long, thin swords over the hearth, with bounded handles. On the wall was a white flag with a large red dot in the centre of it.
‘Italians!’ she muttered to herself.
In the middle of the room, there was a large, wooden table. On the table were seven bowls containing rice and raw fish. Beside the bowls were seven small pairs of chopsticks and bottles of a curious fruit juice called Sake.
All of this made her feel so hungry and thirsty, that she ate some of the fish from each plate and washed it down with some sake juice.
When she’d finished, she was tired, so she looked for a bed. She couldn’t find a single one, although there were seven futons on the floor by the wall.
Soon, he tired eyes closed and she was fast asleep.
Some time in the night, the cottage owners returned; seven sturdy, samurai warriors, back from wandering the land, offering their services to the people of the people of the land, desperate for revenge on brutal landlords. Having lit their seven candles, they could soon see that the place wasn’t the same as how they’d left it.
The first samurai said, ‘Whoever has eaten from my bowl, has dishonoured me.’
The second said, ‘Whoever has been eating my rice, has dishonoured me.’
The third said, ‘Whoever has been eating my sushi, has dishonoured me.’
The fourth said, ‘Whoever has been using my chopsticks, has dishonoured me.’
The fifth said, ‘Whoever has been drinking my sake, has dishonoured me.’
The sixth said, ‘Whoever has been sitting in my chair, has dishonoured me.’
The seventh said, ‘And I suppose it’s me who is going to have to do the tidying up again.’
Then the first samurai turned and saw that in one of the futons there was a small girl. Despite the kerfuffle, she had remained asleep. He summoned the rest, who were at his side at an instant, swords ready to be drawn for honourable, violent, slaughter.
Then, as they looked further, they saw that it was a beautiful little child, who had obviously wandered in for a rest.
What a cute little kid, they all chanted, although not so loud as to wake her.
In the morning Snow-White awoke to the strangest sight, seven stocky little men in full body armour and swords, much like the ones hanging over the mantlepiece.
The men told her not to be afraid, and asked her who she was and why she had come to their house.
She answered them, ‘My name is Snow-White, and I have ran away from my step-mother who wants to kill me and eat my offal.’
‘So, you want revenge,’ said one of them, ‘you want us to lay siege to your castle and disembowel the queen?’
‘I wasn’t going to say that,’ replied snow-white, ‘but now you say that, it is actually a good idea.’
The samurai told her what it could cost, a bowl of sake a day, plus expenses.
But poor snow-white had no money at all, no money for rice, sake, or even steel polish to shine their ever-so sharp swords.
The samurai went away and thought about it and then came back to her with a proposition.
‘If you take care of the house for us, wash, cook, clean up and polish our armour, and keep our swords good and sharp, then we will let you stay, and we will send your step-mother to meet her ancestors, in a most violent yet, respectable manner.’
To Snow-White, this was acceptable. It made her very happy enough to let out a smile.
Over the next few days, she managed to keep the house clean and the swords razor-sharp, and the Samurai were pleased with her service.
Each morning, the bold warriors went up into the mountains to train for the upcoming battle. When they returned, Snow-White had the bowls of rice and raw fish, which she found in the Coi pond, on the table for them ready to eat.
One evening at supper, they told her that her stepmother may soon learn the truth and come looking for her, and so she must beware.
Snow-White agreed to be vigilant.
But back at the castle, the queen was confident that she was still the kingdom’s greatest looker. She had even eaten the small child she believed, and that it was probably good for her complexion, it was shiny and smooth. She picked up her phone again and entered the same words into her status.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET
HOW MANY LIKES CAN MY PROFILE PIC GET?
And again there was little response.
Then after an hour, and the queen was most patient when it came to waiting for responses, there came a response.
SNOW-WHITE IS STILL OUR FAVOURITE PIC
DELETE YOURS NOW, IT MAKES US SICK
At first reading this, she was confused, and then she was horrified. She commented…
BUT THE LITTLE BITCH IS DEAD
OR AT LEAST, THAT’S WHAT THE WOODSMAN SAID
Soon there was another response.
BELIEVE THAT IF YOU REALLY PLEASE
BUT SHE LIVES IN THE FOREST WITH THE JAPANESE
‘That woodsman lied to me!’ she ranted, and once again she was filled with with thoughts of finding the girl and killing her.
For a while she paced the room, waiting for an idea to land inside her head. She had to rid the land of this horrid little girl. Only then can she be the land’s loveliest looker.
Then it hit her, if she dressed up in old clothes and painted her face to make it look old and ugly, like a pedlar woman, then Snow White wouldn’t recognise her from Adam.
In disguise, she wandered through the forest, to the hut of the samurai.
When she saw that there were no horses tethered outside, she knew that they were not at home. The queen had taken with her, a bag containing some food to sell. She knocked on the door three times and waited for a voice.
‘There is nobody at home!’ came the response, ‘Not even me!’
The queen knew the voice at once, it was her wretched step-daughter. The rumours were true, she was indeed here, in this place.
‘Do not fear, little one, it is but the pizza delivery… old woman!’
Snow-White wanted to be cautious, and knew that it would be wrong to open the door to strangers, but she did yearn so, for a stuffed-crust pepperoni and a side-order of garlic bread.
When she did finally answer the door, and she still knew that it could be a mistake, she saw the old woman with the fine Italian fast food delights, and her mouth watered at the smells of the melted cheese coming from the box, so suddenly waved in her face.
‘I have no money, I am afraid,’ she said.
The queen, whose nose was almost indistinguishable from all of the warts on her face said, ‘No matter, child, for we at Luigi’s are having a special on this week, free pizzas for today only.’ So, seeing the girl’s mouth already open and ready, the queen stuffed as much pizza in it as humanly possible, so much so, that the poor girl collapsed on the floor. The queen now happy, walked away leaving her to die.
Later that day, the samurai returned from the mountains, singing old, familiar drinking songs of happy times and violent slaughter. When they saw little Snow-White on the ground, not moving very much, they were alarmed. One of them kicked her with his boot to see if she would flinch, but she did not, another suggested giving the girl an honourable burial, another still, suggested trying CPR first. As soon as she started chest compressions, a tiny wedge of pepperoni and cheese flew out of her mouth and landed on the other side of the room, and she emitted a heavy breath.
‘Thank you so much, you wonderful Chinese people,’ she exclaimed, and told them the interesting story that led to her being on the floor on the brink of death.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, the triumphant queen had her nose against her phone again.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET
HOW MANY LIKES CAN MY PROFILE PIC GET?
She soon received her reply comment.
OH DELUSIONED QUEEN, YOU’RE SO LAST WEEK,
SNOW-WHITE IS THE ONE WHO IS STILL CHIC!
These words filled her heart with rage and her eyes with reddened hate.
‘How dare that lass have the cheek to still be alive,’ she ranted. She hot-footed it to the kitchen, and there she cooked up another batch of pizzas. This time she added cyanide, which was her favourite poison and perfume.
The queen was no fool, she waited again for the samurai to leave. As they rode off up the road, she came out from behind the bushes. She was once again in the clothes of the elderly pizza delivery woman.
Wanting to waste as little time as possible, she rapped on the door.
When Snow-White answered, she was shocked, remembering what happened last time. ‘You!’ she exclaimed, ‘you are the old woman who gave me pizza and almost made me choke!’
‘Oh, no!’ said the old woman-potential murderer, ‘That was not me at all. I am a completely different pizza-delivering pensioner.’
‘But you look so much like her,’ said Snow-White.
‘We all look the same,’ replied the old woman, ‘it’s the job, it does that to you.’
‘Oh!’ said Snow-White.
‘So, will you try my delicious pizza?’ the woman waved her bony hands over the cheesy delights as she spoke.
‘It is very tempting,’ said Snow-White. ‘The new all raw fish and rice diet is quite boring, and the juice these guys drink all the time, makes me forget how to stand up.’
Snow-White hesitated before grabbing an edge of crust, but picked it up with ease. Meanwhile, the queen gave her a huge smile, and unbeknownst to the girl, behind it was such evil and spite.
As the girl bit into the pizza the smile broadened beyond physical capacity, when the expression in her face, suddenly changed to horror and she grasped her throat and fell to the ground like a daisy in a snow fall, the queen couldn’t help but give her a round of applause.
She then returned to the castle full of glee, there, in her favourite room, she picked up her mobile phone and asked again.
PEOPLE, PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET
HOW MANY LIKES CAN MY PROFILE PIC GET?
This time, came the response she had so longed for.
BABE LET ME THINK THIS THROUGH,
WELL WHAT DO YOU KNOW?
DAMN, IT’S YOU!
And there were forty-seven likes, and one share. Then she knew that Snow-White was truly dead.
When the samurai once again returned, they saw Snow-White lying on the floor once again. This time they knew that she was really dead; for her skin was even paler white, whiter than snow even, and that is very difficult to achieve, even by a dead person. Altogether, they lifter her up and placed her on the table.
‘Now we must kill her!’ said one.
‘Why?’ replied another, ‘She is already dead, idiot!’
‘No,’ said the first one, ‘I meant the queen. We have been training hard in the mountains, and now is the time to take revenge.’
The others heartily agreed.
‘Shall we bury her first?’ said one.
‘No,’ replied the leader, ‘the girl is a princess, and needs to be treated with respect.’
‘I know,’ said another. ‘There is this man I know on the other side of the forest who makes glass coffins. I don’t know why. I’ve always thought he had mental issues. He has never sold a single one. Now might be the time to give him some business.’
The rest agreed, and they visited the man, slaughtered him, because they had no money, and took one of the coffins. But when they tried to lay Snow-White in it, they found that it was too short, so they returned for another. They repeated this exercise another five times before they finally got it right, and the samurai mounted their horses and went screaming off to the castle.
When they reached the castle, they sliced up the guards with their brilliantly shiny swords (courtesy of Snow-White’s excellent sharpening skills.)
The army was alerted and emerged from the garrison fully armed and fought against them. The samurai fought bravely, but not so well. Many of them were lost. Two days training in the mountains was not enough for this battle. When the fight was over, the two remaining samurai were taken prisoner by the queen.
Meanwhile, the son of a king from a neighbouring kingdom was riding past the cottage, when he saw the friendly-looking structure, with its flowers around the door and the curious writing on the walls, and the severed heads of old enemies by the gate, he stopped, dismounted his steed and knocked on the front door in order to ask for a glass of water. But the door was open, and so he wandered in. His eyes widened when he looked upon the glass coffin and the girl inside, the most beautiful girl he had seen in his life.
The prince did the most stupid thing, and removed the lid from the coffin, and examined the corpse. He noted a curious smell from her lips, it was the scent of almonds. He then opened the girl’s mouth. On her tongue was a small piece of poisoned pizza. He took it out, as no girl that good looking, should be buried with a mouthful of take-out.
As soon as he did this, something remarkable happened, and Snow-White awoke from her sleepy death and thanked him. Straight away, they fell deeply in love, it was what they did in those days. The planet wasn’t very highly populated.
And they mounted the prince’s horse and returned to the neighbouring kingdom, where they got married and as was requisite at this time, live happily ever after.
The two remaining samurai somehow managed to overcome the guards in the dungeon, stole back their swords and escaped. Before they did so, they snuck in to the queen’s bed chamber, where they killed her in her sleep.
When the newly-renamed Two Samurai returned to the samurai cottage and saw the empty glass coffin, they wept. Not only had they lost five of their friends in battle, some rotten swine had stolen the body of Snow-White.
The Curious Tale of Hettie, the Possible Witch
Not that long ago…
There was a witch in the village of Scrumply Mangle, who didn’t know she was a witch. She didn’t know she was, until she began unwarily on a trail to what would be her eventual destruction.
It began one blustery autumn morning with a meowing at her front door. She thought nothing of it at first, and then it began to bother her, that there might be something just on the other side of her door that might require help. So, with all the positive will of a thousand Florence Nightingales, she launched herself out of her seat and opened the door and found that she was staring into the sad little eyes of the cutest shiny black cat. Hettie didn’t know this at the time, but this was the first step to Burny Hill, where she would have her bottom set alight to the joy of a gasping crowd.
Regardless of all of this, she kept the cat, as she was sure that it was a stray. There was nothing around its neck to indicate otherwise and she thought it would be something pleasant for her baby daughter, Holly to look at from her cot. She fed it daily and adorned it with a name; Milky. Milky was moulting and shed a lot of hairs on her rug. They stuck as if they had little hooks. No matter how hard she brushed, all that happened was that the bristles fell off her broom and as sure as eggs is breakfast, it was soon time to head off down to the hardware store for a replacement. Hettie returned with such a marvellous broom. It wasn’t often she treated herself to things, but it had such sturdy bristles and a polished birch handle, what more could a girl want? She gave it pride of place by the hearth where apart from being something very useful, it was like ornament.
Soon, the winter came with the most biting winds. At these times she could only ever think of making good, wholesome, stew. Stews are just the thing to have for the cold, and you could keep the pot on the fire and keep throwing things on it. Stews are the gifts that keep on giving. So that’s what she did, she found her pot and threw in pieces of rabbit, vegetables, water, stock and seasoning and watched it bubble away, this was quite soothing, entertaining in a way, especially when you can’t afford a television, and you don’t have a gentleman to escort you to the theatre.
But one day after returning from a shopping excursion, she noticed that something was wrong. The fire underneath the pot had gone out and the cottage was filled with steam and smoke. She looked in the hearth to find the flames had been doused by the contents of the pot because there was a large hole burnt in the bottom of it.
Such frustration, it was, to have lunch fall out of the pot like that, so much work. They say you put a lot of love in a stew.
So Hettie returned to the hardware store where she attained her broom and found there, a sturdy-looking black, iron cauldron. It took her ages to get home, as dragging it along the ground was like pulling a VolksWagon with the brakes on. But she got there after hours. But no sooner that she’d had it in place on the chains, there was a sturdy knock on the door.
‘Hettie Little!’ the cry was painfully familiar, the witch-deviner.
‘Hello?’ Her arms were hanging by her sides like wet ropes and her back had assumed a new shape, but she made it to the door and opened it. Sure enough, there he was, Thomas Hookie. ‘I think you know why I’m here. Or do I need to point it out.’
Hettie scanned the room and then realized. ‘Bugger!’
‘Laws is laws Hettie,’ boomed Hookie. ‘They has to be obeyed.’
Hettie sighed and glanced at her daughter and then at Milky. ‘S’pose that’s so. Can I ask a favour?’
‘You know we can’t Hettie. You are a witch now girl and although you have done such marvellous work for charity and you’re always so keen to help, I’m afraid I am not permitted in my duties to trust you now.’
‘I was just wondering if you could take Hollie and the cat to my brother Leonard at the bookshop.’
As they were going through the door Hettie said the thing that had been buzzing on her brain for quite awhile. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘in the rest of Britain burning someone for witchcraft has been illegal since the 18th Century?’
‘I know,’ said Thomas Hookie, ‘but the message hasn’t got to us yet.’ Before they left, she approached her daughter’s cot where she lay gazing at the rafters and giggling. ‘Whatever you do,’ she said, ‘always keep your magic in your head,’ and she kissed her forehead.
Hettie Little was taken to Burny Hill and a fire was put under her. But soon as the flames started licking her legs, she vanished as if she was never there.
Barry glanced at the offending monster in the mirror, that long scraggy, grey follicle of evil, goading him, mocking him to his very core. “Look at you, you’re not handsome anymore, are you mate? You couldn’t pull an elastic band, could you, ugly old sod! You’re past it, over the hill!” The more he looked, the more he stared, the more the anger swelled inside. He could stand it no longer. With gritted teeth and snarling like a Grizzly bear, he snatched the tweezers from the drawer and plucked the horrible thing away, leaving a completely bald and shiny head.
If I were a horse instead of a man
I’d gallop away as fast as I can (could)
over the meadow and past the trees
far away from the glue factories.
[_Last Man Standing _]
I can remember what she‘d said to me as clear as day and it really hurt. ‘You drink too much, you’re narcissistic, you always wear too much aftershave, you’re tight-fisted and what’s more…’
I didn’t mind any of these things, they were fine. In fact, I sort of took them as a compliment. Narcissistic? Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? I was always too good-looking for her and she knew it. Too much aftershave? You could never wear too much aftershave. Tight- fisted? I was always spending money, new shirts, male grooming products, bar bills, gym membership. No, it was the last part that shook me.
She said ‘I wouldn’t touch you with the longest bargepole in the whole of the British Isles.’ How dare she say that? How dare she put a chink in my ego armour? I used to really like her too; in fact, once or twice I might have gone as far as to say that she had been the like of my entire life. And there weren’t many women I’d said that about. So it took me longer to recover from her brush off than it would have done with others – a record thirty-five point nine seconds. I couldn’t see any point in pining any longer. James ‘Bond’ Fisher did not waste time on lost causes, so many women, so little time and all that.
No, I didn’t let the grass grow under my feet. In my view a metrosexual man like me slapped on some moisturiser, a little man make-up, donned his sharpest threads and display the results for all to see like the peacock he was. It could be a costly exercise, but worth it when everything you’re buying is for you.
The only problem with going out more was that I kept bumping into Rebecca – and Lee. Lee was my best friend and drinking pal. Or at least he was until he told me he and Rebecca were engaged. I used to like Lee until then. But now I could see he was ugly. Not only that, he was chubby and slightly bald. He came in useful at times, though: when we stood together at the bar it was even more obvious to all and sundry which one of us was the looker and which one was Quasimodo.
So I had to drink on my own and that wasn’t good because it led to me drinking even more.
The trouble was I ended up liking it even more. The fizzy, tingling feeling I got as the world melted around me and the fact that whatever I said and whoever I said it to, there wasn’t a single person who wouldn’t be hanging on my every single word with utter fascination. They called me the bore, and I was flattered. Obviously they were referring to the drill attachment. Hey, James Fisher the love machine! I would thank them with a knowing wink and strut off feeling like a sex god.
Then I discovered that there was a downside to this party superstar lifestyle. The heavy drinking became a surreal mystery game, the where was James Fisher going to wake up tomorrow morning game? I started waking up in the weirdest places; people’s gardens, shop doorways, under bridges and even behind plastic wheelie-bins. I hated that part. It was so unhygienic and uncool and that wasn’t me at all. Only I thought that the nights before made it worth the suffering. That particular morning was completely different.
With the loud music and the shouting and the clinking of glasses still in my head, I awoke on a cold, damp pavement with my head in the gutter. That wasn’t the worst part. There were these beer and kebab stains all over my shirt, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. In the corner of my eye I could just make out the church spire, which meant that I was lying approximately 1.5 miles away from my wardrobe.
I never could bear the idea of spending another moment looking less than perfect, but there didn’t appear to be anybody about and so I thought I could probably get away with it if I used my head. I think I managed to get to my feet with a minimum of wobble. My head ached, as if it had a heavy metal band jamming on it. That twentieth pint of lager I had must have been off.
Apart from that it was remarkably quiet and this wasn’t normal. As soon as I’d inhaled a couple of lungs full of fresh air and cleared my head a little I glanced at the time on my mobile phone. It was fast approaching noon. I rubbed my eyes and squinted in all directions and there wasn’t a soul about.
Odd, I thought, if it’d been a Sunday I could have half-understood the empty streets but it wasn’t. This was 11.55 on a Saturday, so unless I’d somehow managed to sleep through a whole day there should have been some noise and people at least. So I decided to investigate: who wouldn’t?
Fastening the top two buttons of my shirt (well, I still had to be presentable) I headed off into the heart of the town. Each time I got to a side street or a turning I stopped and called out. I did this until I reached the shopping arcade and that looked just as dead. On the way I noted a number of badly parked cars at the roadside. All of the doors were open as the drivers and their passengers had got out in a hurry and made a run for it. I stopped for a moment by an electrical store and viewed the static on the display TVs. What the hell was going on?
I carried on walking around the mall listening to the whispering sound that my fine Gucci shoes made on the ceramic floor tiles as I went. I was thirsty by then. There was a coffee machine on the third floor and it was calling to me. So I jogged up the frozen escalator and up the stairwell to get to it. What a waste of time that was, the damned thing was lifeless. I plugged it in at the wall and although it did eventually spit me out some latté into my cardboard cup it was stone cold. At least I could go into the adjoining multi-storey car park and I would I get a good view of the town from the top level. From there I would be able to see where everybody had gone. My next thought was that I’d been caught in the middle of some national emergency and everyone had to be evacuated. Though if that was the case, then why didn’t somebody wake me up and get me to safety? It was all very odd and very worrying. I stayed in the car park for ages scanning the ground for signs of life and feeling dizzy at times – heights not being my thing.
As my eyes scrutinised the pavements for movement certain things started entering my mind like uninvited guests at a private party. I wondered if I had ever been alone before. Me? The man? Of course I hadn’t. Guys like me are never alone. I couldn’t believe that I could be the only person left in town.
About three o’clock, just as I was giving my eyes a rest I thought I heard something. It was like an eerie whistling sound as if somebody had given a quick blast through a wooden flute in an echoey corridor, or perhaps an owl. I had to see, but where was it coming from? My head couldn’t tell it was too confused to think. And then I saw it. I didn’t know what the hell it was; it was there for a second for sure and then it wasn’t. What? I couldn’t be sure. My mind told me it was about man-size and black, and that it went in the direction of the Square. It’s surprising how fast a person can run if he is desperate for somebody to talk to. I was a blur as I left the car park.
As I was getting closer to the end of the street a weird sensation came over me. I’d stopped thinking about my appearance. What if this other person was a tabloid journalist? I envisaged the headlines.
JAMES FISHER SPOTTED IN DANGER ZONE WITH LAGER STAINS ON SHIRT SHOCK.
I would never have lived it down. People would point at me as I passed. There goes James. He used to be the most beautiful man on the planet, but now he’s just a yob who sleeps in dustbins.
So before I went any further I thought a little shopping was in order. I dipped into a men’s fashion outlet and swapped my shirt with the one the mannequin in the doorway was wearing. So that it wasn’t stealing, I put the right money in the till with a note, explaining that I was correcting a serious wardrobe disaster.
I carried on to the Square. For a few minutes there was nobody. I thought about looking for somewhere to sit and wait. I don’t know what it was, a voice in my head, a hunch or what but something told me to stay put and to turn around. I did this very slowly. What I saw gave me a start. About twenty or thirty feet away from me was a man in black robes. At least I’d assumed it was a man, it looked like a man. He was quite tall and slim. He was standing outside the newsagents’ waving at me, as if he wanted to tell me something.
‘Me?’ I yelled in his direction. ‘You want me? What do you want?’
I expected him to shout something back, but he didn’t. He just carried on giving me the same hand gesture which was a sort of ghostly ‘come hither’ thing.
‘Not until you tell me what you want,’ I called back at him. ‘Are you with the police?’
Now that was stupid. Quite obviously he wasn’t a copper. He wasn’t exactly dressed like one, unless he was from the undercover evil wizard division. I moved closer to him, just another foot or so. I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted to trust somebody who dressed like that in broad daylight.
‘Just tell me what’s going on,’ I said. ‘Where is everybody?’
I don’t know what kind of a response I expected to get from such a mysterious being, but he wasn’t keen to say anything. Perhaps it was intentional; maybe he was to freak me out a little. What he did do was to slowly shake his head. I couldn’t see his face, as the hood of his cape obscured it. He was like some black monk of doom.
‘What happened then?’ I said. ‘All I know is, that I went out last night, possibly had a little too much to drink and when I woke up there was this, no-one. Is this something to do with you?’
There wasn’t even a gesture this time. He raised his head and I caught a little of his face, his pointed white chin.
‘What are you?’ I asked him, it. I have to confess I was a little scared, although I think I hid it well.
Then he looked at me, straight in the eye. I couldn’t see anything much, a tunnel of darkness, but somehow I knew he was staring straight at me. It was suddenly very cold. There I was standing in the middle of the street with the rays of the sun beating down on a July afternoon, yet I was shivering inside. How stupid was that? That was it, my mind was made up. From that moment on this thing, whatever it was, wasn’t a person but a thing.
And it was now moving slowly towards me.
‘Stop there! I cried. ‘Stop there right now or I’m running away’ (as if I could.) I have to confess here that the second part of that sentence wasn’t supposed to come out. Not that it mattered, the thing ignored me anyway. Another stupid move, I closed my eyes. A natural reaction when you are afraid. I hoped that it would have gone by the time I opened them again. I felt a blast of cold air from the movement of his cape against my cheek, so I knew it was close. Then to my surprise, he didn’t kill me. He prised my hand open and put something in it. Furtively, I tilted my head downwards and had a peak. It was a newspaper.
Now why, I thought would he want to give me a newspaper? Did he want me to finish the crossword? Did it want me to give my thoughts on what was going on in the Middle East? I couldn’t anyway. It was the Daily Telegraph and I never could understand all the long words in it. I raised my head to tell him this and that was a massive mistake because as soon as it caught me looking it threw the hood back so that I could get a proper view of it.
And I ran away. I had never done that in my life until then. I’ve strutted in my time, I’ve cruised and I’ve even swaggered along, but never had I run from anything. It was not a cool thing to do. My thinking is, that if girls ever saw you doing it, they would never fancy you.
It was the face, which made me run, that bony, white face like a skull. Not that you could call it a face. It had eye sockets, no eyes, though, nothing, that might have at one time been a nose, a sort of mouth, or rather a jagged crescent hole like a Halloween pumpkin. I ran until
I was around the corner and stopped to catch my breath. As I have already said, running wasn’t something I did. I rested my back against the wall of the bookies and when I felt better I checked to see if the creepy thing was following me. It was gone.
So why was I given a newspaper? That was a curious thing for deathly spectre to give a man. I had to see why, and the words on the front page hit my chest like a sledgehammer.
MYSTERIOUS SUPERBUG WILL ANNIHILATE THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF EARTH.
This was too much for my mind. I slid down the wall and my bottom hit the pavement. No, I couldn’t believe it, everybody gone? That was a disturbing thought.
The best thing to do, would be to try to phone somebody, but who? I checked through the directory on my phone and it was empty. Of course it was. I was a lone wolf, a predatory peacock, a ship that passed in the night. I didn’t have any friends to call. Lee wasn’t even listed, every time I’d asked him for his number he said he’d give it to me later. I had an idea. I dialled a number at random, any number, the first eleven digits that came into my head,
I let it ring much longer that I usually did and to my relief there was a voice.
‘Thank god!’ I said, ‘then it isn’t true, there is somebody else.’ I was so relieved to hear another human voice. Then I caught what she was actually saying,
‘… But I assure you your call is very important to us. If you would like to stay on the line one of our trained customer advisers will be happy to assist you with your query…’
But there was no giving up for James Fisher. I actually tried a few numbers before I gave up, third time lucky et cetera, and then fourth time and fifth time. For my efforts, all I got was endless annoying ringing noises.
That’s it then, I thought. I really was alone. Suddenly I didn’t feel so cool or so attractive. The previous night I’d been James the man. No matter where I went in, town someone would say, there’s James and he’s looking good.
Not now, there wasn’t another soul left to talk to, to chat to, to chat up, to laugh with, to drink with and worst of all, nobody to tell me how great I was, or how much they wanted to be like me.
I felt so depressed. I carried on walking, without a thought about which direction I was going in. Where was I going? Just moving, just putting one foot in front of another until I ran out of ground to put my feet on. As I considered my situation, I thought about the things that were in my head earlier at the car park. Yes of course I’d been alone, many times in fact and never knew it. When you thought about it, it was entirely possible to be in a crowded room and still be all alone. Had I been kidding myself all this time? I’d been to hundreds of drinking places in my time and always thought the reason nobody wanted to talk to me was because I looked too special, that they were weighing me up to see if I would find their company insulting. This was food for thought if nothing else.
I ended up by a bridge and stopped to look at the muddy-brown river rushing beneath me. How inviting it looked, how cold and deep. I thought it wouldn’t really matter now if I threw myself in and disappeared like all of the others on the planet and the human race would be no more. Would the last one out of the building, turn off the lights! Goodnight and thank you!
So I climbed onto the ledge and closed my eyes again. Now there was a thought, do I keep them closed when I jump in or do I keep them open? I hadn’t committed suicide before and didn’t know what the proper protocol was.
What I did know was that, if you were going to do it, then you should do it quickly, without thinking about it too much. I could have been standing there all night and still not decided. I started counting, backwards like they used to do at Cape Kennedy. Only where should I start? Ten was too soon. No, a hundred? Too far away. Twenty would be a perfect number, just as long as I counted slowly.
I must have counted down from twenty, ten times before I realised it was a hopeless cause. My legs hadn’t stopped wobbling and it was putting me off. I kept losing my place and needed to start again. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. It would have taken me ages to die anyway. I was a strong swimmer so drowning would’ve been extremely difficult.
I also had a vision of all the old footage of corpses in police that had been dragged from lakes and beaches. Apparently your body soaks up the water, and you balloon to unrecognisable proportions. No way was I going to put on a few pounds even if I wasn’t going to be alive to feel bad about it. What if somebody found me? What if it was someone who knew me? I couldn’t take that risk.
Then – hang on a cotton-picking minute!
Of course, none of this was going to be a problem. I didn’t have to die, because it was all complete and utter garbage.
God, I was thick! Why didn’t I see it before? What I’d been holding in my hand all along was a newspaper, that very morning’s edition to be precise. So if everybody else in the world was dead who printed it?
What was going on? I knew damned well what was going on, it was Lee. Sometimes we would play tricks on our colleagues at the office. Grand things like printing off fake lottery tickets and tell people they’d won or posting them out letters from the clap clinic. Once we even put together a TV news bulletin and fed it into someone’s TV telling him there was a cholera epidemic and he would have to stay indoors and not eat or drink anything for three days, and it was his birthday. We never saw a grown man cry so much. I believed that things like that made you incredibly popular with folk, as they know in an instant you were such a fun person to spend time with.
Yes, this was Lee’s doing, although how he’d managed to empty the town was anybody’s guess. I stormed back towards the town to have it out with him. I didn’t have to look very far. He’d been following me all along, watching me get stressed out no doubt, waiting to catch a glimpse at the horror on my face so he could laugh about it. I guessed Rebecca wouldn’t have been too far behind him. When I caught up with him, he was standing by the fountain outside the town hall, waiting for me to say something, to say that he’d got me and that my reputation was now ruined. Thanks.
‘The game’s up mate,’ I said, pushing him on the shoulder. ‘I knew what you were up to from the start so I win, you can take that stupid mask off.’
But it wasn’t Lee. I’d been right the first time. I was close enough to tell and it definitely wasn’t him. There was nothing human about him at all. If I had to compare him to anything I would have to say that up close he was like a robot or an animatronic figure like the ones in Disneyworld. It was watching the way his head glided around on his neck that made me think that. Like there should be some sort of whirring sound to go along with it.
And so I did something even more stupid. I was so convinced that my deductions were right this time that I tried to pull off his cloak with several determined and awkward jerks. Another mistake, a bony hand gripped my throat, another disappeared inside its garb and went it came out again it was holding a scythe.
This time, to my horror it spoke. ‘Now you must die,’ it said with a croaky whispery voice. I whimpered like a frightened child, ‘W-why?’
‘Because I am Death and I have come for you, James Fisher, the last of the human race.’
‘I’ll run away again,’ I croaked in its grip. ‘You won’t catch me next time!’
‘Yes, I will,’ said Death. ‘You cannot escape me. This has been a busy time for me, but now it is over.’ Then he told me that we were going to count together and not to fear anything because it would be all over soon, and we did.
‘Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…
I really didn’t want to die. I pleaded with him like a feeble old woman, and was quite ashamed to say my eyes were welling up with tears. To someone like me that was the equivalent of wetting yourself.
‘Five… four… three… two… awake!’
Awake, what did he mean awake? I was sure whatever death was, it must have been something completely opposite to that. My eyes were still closed, I was still afraid to open them. I detected changes in my environment. It wasn’t cold any more it was quite warm. My forehead was soaked in sweat and so was my chest and there was the strong smell of stale beer. And then to my amazement a roomful of people started clapping.
No, it wasn’t the end of the world at all, or a mad dream, but me standing on a wooden stage in a working men’s club like an idiot. It was Lee’s stag do and I remembered then that he’d dared me to volunteer myself for the hypnotist.
And on that night I surprised myself. Usually I would have had a go at Lee for doing this, for making me lose my cool in front of so many people, but I didn’t. What I actually did was to walk calmly off the stage and into the audience. Lee was sitting in the front row and when I approached him, he looked concerned for a moment. I held out my hand and he took it gladly.
‘I really deserved that, didn’t I?’ I said confidently.
Ode to a Tesco trolley (by William Shakespeare)
Oh Tesco trolley when thou dost shift
Why dost thou veerest to the left?
Whilst mine eyes art affixt ‘pon things for tea
Though ploughest into tins of peas.
What demonic toying,
thrusts thy handles ‘gainst mine groin.
Oh agony for sake of lunch,
Thou givest such unfair walnut crunch.
Most fortunate protection tis sold,
but Tesco’s cod pieces are so cold.
I wandered lonely as a crowd,
but not all that alone,
since I went mad and then allowed,
myself to become cloned”
Frankie rolled his eyes at Jane
She laughed and rolled them back again.
He offered his heart on bended knee
She took it from him gracefully.
Then tenderly she took his hand
They rolled playfully on the sand.
Then Frankie said with melancholy
You only want me for my body.
Going to a Public Lavatory
(An excerpt from “Stupid Yoomins”)
When it comes to the odd behaviour of male Yoomins, nothing is more fascinating than that which goes on in public conveniences.
For instance, your average male public toilet is a complete wonderland of wall-based urinals, but this kind of Yoomin knows that there is a specific rule involved, you just don’t walk in and pee in the nearest receptacle, that would be ludicrous. Instead, what happens is as follows. The first Yoomin walks in, glances at the never-ending line of urinals and stops to think. He is probably looking at twenty or even forty while he is doing this, still he must think about the situation very, very carefully before taking any further steps. When he has finished thinking, he would have remembered that the rule is, if there is absolutely nobody else in the building, then he must pee in either the one on the very far right, or the very far left. That way, the second Yoomin can go to the one on the opposite side, safe in the knowledge that there is nobody close by to observe the size of his penis.
Not a word must be said during this time, and faces must be directed at the wall in front of you. After all, you don’t want the person standing several yards beside you, thinking that you are just the type of Yoomin who likes parading in his wife’s bra and panties when you are alone in the house.
The situation gets slightly more difficult when the third Yoomin enters. But on seeing the other two, he soon realises that the thing to do, is to go in the urinal that is exactly – that is EXACTLY equidistant to the one on the furthest right and the furthest left. If he has got the mathematics correct, and he hopes to God he has, then both of the others will be too far away to be staring at his penis.
The fourth Yoomin to arrive is faced with a horrible dilemma. He knows that the three who are already there, are now locked frozen with fear. For this has now from their perspective, become a which of those blokes standing there having a piss, do you fancy the most competition. The Yoomin on the far right is now hoping that the person goes to pee in between the far left and the one in the exact centre and vice versa. Then the problem of unwarranted penis observation would be there’s.
They needn’t have worried about it. If the fourth Yoomin has remembered the rules correctly, he will go into one of the cubicles instead, leaving the others free of stress.
Yes, he does – phew!
It is perfectly acceptable to forget these rules if you have already consumed twelve cans of extra strength lager, in which case you can feel perfectly free to pee down the leg of the Yoomin standing next you, whilst bragging about how much you like taking the piss out of your wife, by parading around the house in her bra and panties while she is not around.
There is much to say about the lavatories of females, apart from that they are so popular with users, that there is normally always a queue outside each one.
Whilst walking home today did I
Spy a great big owl
I thought he might be Welsh so I
Assumed his name was “Hywell”.
There was a man in Kent,
who into the woods did went.
The long tall trees,
made him wobble at the knees,
but he discovered his artistic bent.
How the Dinosaurs became Such Great Cheese Lovers.
(An Excerpt from “Jurassic Jack and the Search For the Scary Thing”)
It was on the day which they all called the day of the great change, even though everyone else called it Thursday. Nobody had any idea that something really bad was about to happen. The sun was shining in the sky as normal. All the little dinos were dancing in the fields with a happy tune in their heart, and a big grin on their spiky lips. But there was to be a big food shortage. Someone pointed out, that if they didn’t stop eating each other soon there would be nothing left.
They talked about options. They talked about changing to an all-pasta diet. They even talked about the possibilities of all becoming vegetarians. In the end they couldn’t agree on anything. So it was left for the Gallimimuses to sort out.
Now let me tell you about the Gallimimuses. They were all swats. If they had ever gone to school they would have all been in the chess club. They would have brought sandwiches to school that their mummies would have cut nice and straight, using a ruler and a spirit level. They were nothing more than a big bunch of swatty egg-headed boffins, who liked fiddle about with test tubes.
Finally after a week behind closed doors they come up with a brand new invention. It was called human beings.
‘What are those things?’ asked the curious Velociraptors, who were starting to look a bit on the skinny side.
‘They are French cheese shop owners!’ announced the Gallimimuses, ‘and they’re going to be very good at making cheese!’
You see? Gallimimuses are extremely clever.
Soon there were lots of Frenchmen with little cheese shops. The dinosaurs stopped eating each other and ate the savoury yellow stuff instead.
As time rolled on all the dinos were cheese mad.
Gorgonzola was the big favourite. Unless you were a Triceratops. Those big lumps liked a splat of French brie on a nice warm croissant with a dollop of sweet chutney.
Then of course there were Stegosaurus’.
Don’t talk to me about Stegosaurus,’ they would never shift from anything that didn’t resemble Edam.
But soon they ran out of cheese and the dinos did something really stupid. Before anyone had the chance to make up another batch, they ate up all the Frenchmen instead.
With no Frenchmen around to make any more cheese, they went back to eating each other again.
Well it’s one idea anyway. Not one that anybody else has thought of, but an idea nonetheless.
‘Well perhaps you’ve got something,’ said Pedro watching Jack down his last wedge of Cheddar. He was looking at the guy’s expanding waistline. ‘Perhaps you could do with the exercise.’
‘Fantastic!’ said Jack, ‘to Britain I go!’
(An excerpt from “A Diary of Two Brians”)
I had quite an interesting time in town yesterday. I wasn’t there to purchase anything, merely to return the present I bought for my wife Kirsty. She wasn’t very pleased with the SuckMaster 450 Vibromatic Deluxe, but only when she found out it was a vacuum cleaner. As with all things purchased by yours truly, I was compelled to try it out. In my honest opinion, it failed to perform to the specifications of the one in the commercial. In short, it proved incapable of sucking up the pound of carpet tacks like the one in the ad.
Here follows a transcript of the conversation between myself and Mrs. Verity Longton, (as it said on her name badge.)
‘Why on Earth would you want it to suck up a pound of carpet nails?’
‘Because your TV advertisement says it should. Have you not seen it Mrs. Longton? It has been on fairly frequently. In the aforementioned advertisement, the lady is dusting when she accidentally spills her husband’s jar of nails. Let us forget for the moment that the living room is hardly the place for a jar of nails, nevertheless they end up on her rug. She gives a heavy sigh and runs your cleaner over them. A stupid exercise I agree, but in one simple movement back and forth, and miraculously they are all gone.’
‘Firstly, it is not my advert or my cleaner, and secondly, couldn’t you have just picked them up with your hands? It would have only taken you a minute.’
I reminded her most insistently, that the advertisement was boasting the fact that there should have been no need. The law clearly states that claiming that a product can perform in a way that it actually can’t, is in fact false advertisement. This is a clear breach of the Trades Description Act of 1972. I could have taken her and her defective sucking implement to the highest courts in the land and come out grinning.
She asked me if I was “for real,” a term as yet unfamiliar to me and one to look up.
In the end justice prevailed. Of course in retrospect, it was a shame to have had to hold up a queue of sixteen people waiting to buy a lottery ticket.
I told Kirsty about this on my return. She was dashing about the place, applying various commercial products to her person, getting ready to go out again. She was wearing her sparkling black dress that goes too far above her knees, her stiletto shoes and her fish-nets. You could tell she’d had her hair done at the salon. When asked where she was off to, she replied that she was off to the gym. She is a tease that woman.
It wasn’t that the floor was cold
It wasn’t that we were too old.
It’s just that she had said to me
The first to wake up makes the tea
[_ Me- Subject To Change _]
I wish that I could somehow be
Someone else instead of me.
Some other sod can have my tum,
My split ends and my fat bum,
Wear my shoes with massive holes
And spend a lifetime on the dole.
It just seems so wrong to me, Jessica Ennis
That with a surname like yours, you’re not playing tennis.
That people like it when it snows,
But I really think it might
(An excerpt from “Stupid Yoomins”)
With the exception of self-destruction, there is nothing Yoomins love more than queuing. If you are in a place and you stand still for long enough, it is almost guaranteed that in literally no time at all, there will be another person standing right behind you. The reason for this probably stems from prehistoric times, when someone was was about to be attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger, it would have been a much better idea to be standing behind them, than in front of them. These days, it is more likely to be that if there is someone who is not moving then he or she is waiting for something interesting to happen. But with the occupation of queuing, comes a most peculiar kind of etiquette.
Firstly, it is always necessary to remain at a respectable distance. It would be odd to be in a queue and pull out some sort of measuring device, so you will have to use your imagination. Let us say that there should be an imaginary heavily pregnant woman in between you and the person in front.
Please note, that standing behind a person for a very long time is acceptable, however being behind someone for the same amount of time while you are moving, is called ‘stalking’ and may result in a period of internment.
An annoying aspect of queuing is something called ‘queue jumping’. This is when a person at the back of the queue has recognised someone a lot closer to the front, perhaps they’d said hello at a party, or recognised them from another queue. They may not necessarily like talking to the person, but it is an ideal opportunity. So they approach the person (who won’t even remember them), and chat as if they had grown up in adjacent domiciles. Then, as if you hadn’t noticed their little sleight of hand at all, they slide in comfortably.
This action will stir up all sorts of emotions in you, mainly the one Yoomins like to all, ‘pissed off’. But you won’t say anything, it isn’t right. Although you they won’t see you, you will stare into the backs of their heads, as if there was some hidden superpower you haven’t yet tapped, intense, burning laser-vision, which will inevitably cause their head to
Note, it isn’t advisable to use your actual intense, burning laser-vision capability on Earth. Causing someone’s head to explode is against several of Earth’s laws.
Another annoying thing might be, could be this. You are going into town for some shopping. You decide to take the bus. You arrive first. Wonderful, you will be the very first to board. Smugly, you view all of the ‘losers’ piling up behind you, comfortable in the knowledge that they will have to wait for you to get on, the most important person waiting for a bus that day.
Then the bus arrives, and to your complete horror, it stops at the other end of the queue, and the last person to arrive, is the first person to get on.
Also beware supermarkets, especially in the mornings. You may only want a newspaper, so you go to the basket aisle. Only nine times out of ten, there will be a pensioner with her weekly shop in front of you, because it’s early and quiet.
I think they call it Groundhog Day, when every day is the same. That’s what it’s like for me. Something over my head, dishing out the same cold plate of Hell. I get my stuff together, pick up my weapon, get on the truck with the rest of the guys and we are dropped off in our designated zones, to go through the same garbage. The skies over Iraq will be the same dirty brownish grey they always are, and nothing like the clear blue of Wyoming I long for. Blue skies hold promises of beautiful days. There is no possibility of one of those for me, but I don’t complain much, there is little point. I know how this day will end. I will die and this is how. I can never remember sleeping, like I never remember eating. But I guess I must do both sometimes, even if my numb brain doesn’t register it.
In all of the parts, of my life, my head plays out for me, it is always daylight. When my existence comes into realization, I am standing in the armoury picking out what I am going to need for the day. A soldier in that part of the world fights many enemies and all of them are silent and faceless. Your body needs to be protected from every possible angle. Sniper’s bullets can come from anywhere and at any time, so body armour is more important than a rifle, even an automatic one. That’s the first thing I pick up and attach to my torso. Then there is my combat helmet with night vision mounted plate, my folding knife, bayonet, dog tags, ID card, iodine tabs, ball ammo and basically anything else the sweltering heat will allow me to carry. As usual, I would forget to put on my shades like an idiot. Then I look in a full-length mirror to see if I look enough like a US soldier. Only then, is it worth me walking out of the door. The next thing I know, I am standing on a dusty road in some Arabic ghost town, scanning doorways and rooftops for insurgents. It sounds unfair, but it’s best to treat everybody as if they have a concealed weapon, or an explosive belt. The latter, is usually a set of tubes containing acetone peroxide with shrapnel, often nails. Thanks to the Internet you can learn how to kill people with practically anything these days. I find myself searching the same people regardless. There is the merchant who stumbles out of the shop doorway with handfuls of CDs and tee-shirts. All with my favourite rock bands are on them. It would be tempting to get a closer look. I know the guy is clean, he is every day, but I aim my rifle at him anyway and he shows me there is nothing under his tunic but his bare chest. I check his ID papers and tell him to move along. Then a little further along the road there are the kids who insist on surrounding me, like I was some movie star. They do this every single day, and somehow I’m always a novelty to them, the young GI with the pale skin.
Then the action starts. Bullets rip into the wall behind me. Single shots, four in all. The last, shattering a window by my face. I throw my body to the ground, and crawl quickly under the red pickup parked by the side of the road. I strike the button on my chest radio and call for back-up. There is no response at all. Just an annoying crackle from a dying battery pack. I am on my own again. Instinct tells me to return fire, only how can I do that, when it is impossible to determine where the shots are coming from? A helicopter gunship, casually passes right over, as if nothing is happening. It fills the air with echoes. I treat it as a distraction, and risk exposing my cover by pulling myself away from the vehicle, where I let off a volley of shots from my automatic rifle. God knows if I actually hit anything. I was firing at the sun, maybe I killed that.
I carry on along the street. Suddenly, I am aware of a rifle sticking out of the window of laundry house. I'm on the ball now. I fire a round in that direction. There is a scream, as I hit my target, no surprise. I stop by the lamp post and wait for my next one. A woman comes out of her house yelling. She is holding a baby. As she gets closer I see that it isn't a woman at all. As she moves a scarf falls from the neck to reveal a beard, and it isn’t an infant, but a pistol wrapped in a blanket. I discharge my rifle, before he gets the chance to use it and my bullets tear into his chest and he falls to the ground. I continue along the street until I get to a crossroads. It doesn't matter which way I go, as everywhere, looks pretty much the same. I pick left. I always do, perhaps because am left- handed, my mistake. I don't see the trip wire, I never do. Next thing I know it all goes black, there's strange music in my head and I am back in the armoury picking out my stuff. I don't feel dead, and have no memory of being blown to smithereens. Just that I'd made the same old mistake and triggered the mines. On this day, however, things are very different. I don't know why they are but they are. I am looking in the mirror and there is a different version of me staring back, angrier, more determined. Not the drained face I see each time I dress myself for combat. There is more fight in me, more desire to make today stand out from all the rest in my life. I take stock realising that I have done all of this four hundred and seventy-eight times so far. No more, not today. I decide that if I was going to die this time, then it would be the last. The mines were not going to get me anymore. 'This time,' I say to my reflection. 'I' gonna get that guy on the roof before he gets me. I am gonna ignore anybody who approaches me, who I know isn't armed, and best of all I am gonna turn right and not left.'
I am reborn, not a zombie, but a man with a solid will of iron, with fire in my veins, and not ice. I pick out my sunglasses from my locker and put them on. I take out a pen and write a large letter R on my right hand to remind me of what I must do. I step out into the daylight a bigger man. The truck drops me off on my street and I stand there again scanning the vicinity. With my shades to cut out the glare, I have a better view of the rooftops. I make a rough guess about where I think the sniper might be, and look again. This time, I think I can see something moving. It is a man’s head. I run for the cover of the truck once more, this time, resting the barrel of my rifle on the roof. I line my victim up in my sights, getting his forehead lined up in the cross hairs, and with one squeeze of the trigger pick him off like a Jack rabbit on a hunting trip. I ignore the gunship passing over the merchant and the kids, and I run to the end of the street, picking off the sniper above the laundry house with great ease, as well as the woman with the baby, before she reveals herself to be any other gender. Then, I reach the crossroads. I lift my right hand and stared at it with a grin. Now, this is the turning point for everything, a crossroads in every sense of the word. I turn my body around so that I am facing the right-hand turning and move forward to change my destiny. But I can only take a few stupid steps, before something damned crazy happens. Unexpectedly, my whole body freezes and I can go no further. What is wrong with me? I think. I can’t even take a right turn instead of a left one. Is that what being left-handed is all about? I try and I try feeling like an idiot and still I can’t get my body to go that way. It seems I am doomed to live my life in one big circle for the whole of eternity. Starting in the armoury, and ending with my body ripped to shreds by a freak explosion, I could do nothing about. So I face my fate and turn left. I have no choice in the matter. This time I wait first before I step to my death. It is just a minute later when four, five, six men appear from nowhere with machine guns, which they clumsily fire over my head. I have an idea. Sometimes a soldier has to think fast. I am about twenty feet away from the trip wire, maybe further. I begin backing off from it to maintain a safe distance. I lower my rifle and open fire on the ground at the mines. By then the men have gotten in range. Several small explosions rip craters into the street, sending clouds of sandy brown dust into the air. The next time I look, to my relief, there is no-one there.
What happens next is the strangest thing of all. There is a loud fanfare with brass horns and electric guitars and drums.
And there are some words in the sky now and numbers which read…
46862 points – LEVEL 1 CLEAR.
As my body begins to dissolve away before my eyes, I wonder what it is that is ahead of me. The game continues.
(An excerpt from “Stupid Yoomins”)
It has already been mentioned in this guide, that Yoomins these days refer to communicate through the internet rather than face-to-face, even if they are sitting next to one another at the time. Then it is believed to be addictive, and it reminds you that you are an addict about every five minutes or less. If you find yourself tempted to join an online network site, then be prepared for what is to follow, and what will follow is a complete tirade of nudges and winks and beeps and buzzes, the like of which you have never envisaged in your entire life.
It all begins with you joining the site. Now you are visible to the whole world. From here on, it is all a huge rollercoaster ride. With your existence now known to others, you will be expected to accept someone as a ‘friend’. Do not be concerned. This will not necessarily be a Yoomin, merely a graphic image of one, in some hostelry, waving a pint of draught lager whilst pulling a face which makes them look like they are having a stroke. They do this, because they know that it makes them appear more interesting to strangers. Perhaps with a mild stretch of the imagination, it may be someone you just might want to know better. Now things will begin to snowball, because here on, every single thing they do, from the scratching of their head to the scratching of their backside, will be relayed to you on every single electronic device you own at every second of the day, then this might be something you would enjoy.
Here is a transcript of what you can come to expect.
YOU: Car knackered. I’m on my way to work, putting one foot in front of the other until I get there.
FRIEND: WTF? Me too. I am also putting one foot in front of the other and so forth, until I reach my destination.
SOCIAL NETWORK: If you like putting one foot in front of another until you end up in a place, why don’t you like, comment and share with this group here, conveniently entitled ‘The Literally putting one foot in front of the other, until you reach a place,’ page? The grinning buffoons below are all members. Join now and and exchange your humourous putting one foot in front of another until you reach a destination memes.
If it is something you may enjoy, then you can join in with other billions of beings on the planet and share images of all your meals. If you want to take it a little bit further, you could announce your visits to the lavatory. Please state whether it is a number one or a number two, to avoid any confusion.
When the theatre closed down, we were all at a loose end. After all, actors need somewhere to act and without that we are just ordinary people sitting in a chair waiting for our mobile phones to make a noise.
Tony Gordon made the announcement at seven o’clock on a Friday afternoon, just as we had all turned up to rehearse his new murder mystery play, The Maid Did It.
‘I’m sorry luvs!’ his voiced echoed through the rafters, ‘I’ve been looking at the books, and basically we’re screwed.’ He apologised to Nicola and Mary, The Abattoir Street Players, two women members for the bad language.
Nicola, the leading lady to my leading man, was due to play the aging, but still glamorous, Lady Butterwell in the new production. The news meant, that not only was I not going to be out of the gaze of any future talent-spotting activities, but was not going to get that long awaited snog in Act 2 Scene 3. Mary was going to play the maid, as she had done in every play we had ever performed in that building since we’d been together in 1996.
Young Lee and Kirk said nothing, as expected. Merely had the same faces as still and expressionless as in any performance we did. They were always happy doing anything, just as long as there weren’t too many lines. Lucky for them both, Tony wasn’t going to be putting any more words in their talentless mouths.
We had all invested money into that company. Every piece of wood one could see, every stitch in every item of costume, the seats in the stalls that had to be recovered before they saw a bottom, The scenery, paint, props, makeup (I’m sure I’ve no need to go on) had all come from our savings accounts, our children’s inheritance funds, bank loans. Further to that, we also worked in the foyer before we started, took ticket money, ushered punters in and sold them ice-cream – which we also paid for during the intervals.
So when Tony Gordon announced that we weren’t going to get any of it back we were annoyed to say the very least.
‘The coffers are dry darlings, you have to believe me,’ Tony pleaded.
‘They can’t be,’ I said, ‘Mary’s studying to be an accountant and she’s done the sums. The money can’t all be gone like that.’
‘I can show you the safe, if you don’t believe me.’
We didn’t need to. I certainly knew that the twisted old fool would have already shoved it in the bosom of a bank somewhere, in a nice little safety deposit box.
Graham, our aging gigolo took a puff from his French cigarette. ‘What are we supposed to do now,’ he said in his usual cool, calm manner, ‘now, that are you going to throw us all on the scrap heap old boy?’
Tony leapt through us all, desperate to land a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder, ‘Try not to look at it like that Graham, I’m sure that a talent like yours won’t go to waste.’
‘Thanks!’said Nicola, ‘so what are us bits of wood supposed to do then?’
‘I meant that in the plural sense.’
I didn’t mince words, I never did. ‘Give us our money you twister!’
My words were echoed by the others. Tony waved his hands in the air as if to attempt to disperse them. ‘Look! I didn’t what to say anything but there is something I think I ought to tell you.’
On stage there was a long table that we’d been using for script readings. He instructed us to sit down while he gave us his sob story. I couldn’t wait to hear it myself. What was it going to be? Perhaps his mother needed an operation, or he had given our money away anonymously to help the poor.
He began. ‘I’ve been keeping this to myself because I’ve been embarrassed about it. I mean, you all know me. I may be a harsh director when it comes to getting the best out of my actors, but I’m not stupid.’
Some of us nodded to that.
‘So when I tell you that I did a stupid thing, then the first thing you are going to think of me is, that it is completely uncharacteristic of me.’
There was a pause for effect here. The silence was broken by Nicola. ‘Spit it out man! Don’t leave us all hanging. Let’s hear this sorry excuse for losing all our hard-earned cash.’
‘I was approached by this man,’ Tony continued, ‘he was a tough-looking sort but he seemed OK. I was talking to him at the open market. He said his name was Bryant, Timothy Bryant. Anyway, we got talking about the theatre and he was saying what a dump it was. I had to agree. I mean, we’ve all invested a lot in this place, but look at it. The place needs pulling down and rebuilding.’
‘True, it’s old,’ I said, ‘then it used to be a cinema, before that, in the 1900’s, they performed music hall here.’
‘But surely that’s part of the charm?’
‘Nobody wants to come and watch a play in a flea pit like this,’ Tony went on, ‘we’ve had it decorated over and over again, to make the place more appealing. It’s done nothing. Tim said what I was thinking. We need to relocate to somewhere more modern if we want to get bums on seats again.’
‘Don’t tell me,’ said Nicola, ‘he said he would give you a loan to buy somewhere else?’
‘Not as such,’ said Tony, ‘he said he was one of these chaps that do the stock exchange. You can make an absolute mint on that, if you know what you are doing. He reckoned he had some inside news about oil, that it was going to go through the roof.’
‘Let me finish that story for you,’ I said, ‘you gave him our money and took the risk. However, things didn’t exactly go to plan. The oil shares sank and you both got broke.’
‘One way of putting it! It wasn’t the oil I had in mind anyway, it was olive oil.’
There was a chorus of negative sounds around the table. ‘So what happened next?’ I ventured, ‘I take it things didn’t end there.’
Tony nodded pathetically. ‘He returned the next day with a couple of heavies. He offered me a loan to cover what I’d taken from you guys and gals, only it came nowhere near. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the interest on the loan was astronomical to say the least.’
‘So big, that you had to pay back what you borrowed before you could put it to any use?’ I said.
We all left him with sunken hearts, as anyone who’d lost their very livelihood, would have done. Everyone, even me, went back and sunk our heads back into real life. Mary put her face back into her study books. Nicola was a traffic warden during the hours of daylight. I imagined she would have handed out more fines the next day. I heard that Graham was working longer hours at the gentleman’s outfitters and Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum had gone back to DJ-ing. Any one of us that ever said that there wasn’t anything missing from our lives would have been lying. To me personally, Fridays were always something for me to focus on, something to look forward to, and a portion of my daily life that transcended the boring reality of sitting in front of a computer twenty-four seven, updating customer information for the electricity board. The flickering screen became even more irritating.
Then, one day my irritation turned into something else. I couldn’t afford to run the car and so I’d been taking the bus to and from work. My eyes, no longer having to be watchful of the road, would wander the sides of the passing buildings and shops. We stopped outside a shoe shop on the High Street to let some pensioners off. There, on a small plastic billboard next to the stop, was a poster, that nearly poked my eyes out. It was a standard A4 sheet exploding with colours and words. In the centre of it surrounded by the most tacky looking star shapes were the words Tony Gordon Presents… The Maid Did It. Needless to say my heart sank into my trousers, especially when I noted the date of the first performance, which was next month.
The swine, had been rehearsing with another cast. Closing down? That was just a ruse to get rid of us and not have to pay us.
I rang Nicola as soon as I got in.
‘Tell me you’re joking!’
‘I can’t – it’s true!’ I had the poster in my hand as I was speaking into the mouthpiece. So annoyed was I, I’d ripped the offending article from the post.
We went to the theatre to confront him, and there he was in full flow in the middle of the second act. The actor had Nicola’s character in his arms on the sofa and was going in for the kiss that should have been mine.
When he saw us standing in between the rows of seats, he decided to greet us in a very false manner. ‘Nicola, Michael, how marvellous to see you both again!’ He then told his replacement troupe to take an early break.
‘I doubt that very much,’ said Nicola, ‘I’m not happy about this at all, and unless you can give us a very good explanation as to why these people are here, you will find your car is going to be very illegally parked tomorrow afternoon.’
‘Please,’ he pleaded stupidly, ‘it was true what I said.’
Nicola held both of her palms out angrily. ‘Hand over the money now!’
‘I need it Nicola,’ said Tony, ‘can’t you see the production is going well. I was going to give you your money back, as soon as the play had finished. These guys and gals are fantastic, RADA material if ever I saw it.’
I had to say what I was thinking, ‘Why isn’t that us up there Tony?’
Tony gave us both an awkward sort of smile. He waved his hands in our direction and at the empty stage, as if we were some sort of sign language we haven’t had the privilege of learning.
‘Spit it out man!’ roared Nicola.
‘Crap?’ I suggested.
‘Thank you Michael!’ said Tony. ‘That’s why we hadn’t been doing very well.’
‘You low life!’ Nicola formed a fist and threw it in Tony’s direction. I caught it before it reached his face.
‘Nicola is a bloody good actress,’ I said, in a lame attempt to calm her down, ‘I nearly went to RADA…’
There was that awkward grin again. Tony knew as well as I did, I only filled an online form in. I didn’t hear anything from them. ‘Just give us our money back Tony,’ I said, still holding Nicola’s wrist, ‘and we’ll say no more about it.’
Tony dipped his head in shame. ‘I haven’t got it Michael. That part about the heavies was true. They are coming back the day after tomorrow. The interest is doubling every visit. I just have enough to send them packing.’
‘And may I ask,’ I said, ‘your new troupe, are you stinging them for cash too?’
Tony nodded. ‘Whatever you can do to me, I swear there are people after my blood, who can do so much worse. Hit me if you want to, not the face, though, and be gone.’
I looked Nicola in the eyes and shook my head at what she was thinking. When we left I was sure there was steam coming from her nostrils. Nicola wasn’t even five feet tall, she wasn’t bulky by any stretch of the imagination, yet when she was angry, she could come across as a complete Minotaur.
We returned to my house, where I immersed her in a calming cup of Chai tea.
We were sitting side by side at the kitchen table, sipping away and not saying a word, until I said what was on my mind again. ‘Maybe you should channel that anger of yours,’ I said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’ve been thinking, why do you think these creeps are going to get their hands on our money and not us?’
‘Think about it. Think about when you were back in school. How do you think the school bully got all your dinner money? Because he or she was scary.’
‘I was the school bully,’ Nicola reminded me.
‘No matter,’ I said, trying to ignore my obvious clumsiness, ‘what I am saying is, these bullies – present company excepted, were nothing behind it all. They were all just noise and posture.’
‘What are you saying?’
‘We have the proper skills,’ I said, grinning now like a maniac on helium, ‘not like these baboons. They are just bullies too, fakes. Surely we can come across more menacingly and get our money back. Let’s get our dignity back from this horrid man.’
Nicola slurped noisily at her cup, and slammed it down on its saucer. ‘That’ll be good! I want his balls in my hands first though.’
‘No, not that!’ I insisted, ‘getting our money back will be triumph enough. However, there is a snag.’
‘You heard the man. We have to get to him before these thugs do.’
And so we had a master plan. Nicola stayed overnight, and we went through all of the acting techniques we had learnt over the years. We focussed hard on the things deep inside that made us angry, pinned them down and logged the feelings into our mental databases, for use later. After we were both happy with that, we watched gangster films on my DVD player. We carefully noted the use of voice, and how you could come across as a complete psychopath, without even raising the volume a single notch.
Then, through sleepy eyes, we looked at wardrobe. We went for dark colours, that were slightly shabby and discussed how we were going to make ourselves up. We even went a bit method actor-ish, and made up some background for our sudden rage.
Nicola had gone into work the next day and punched a customer. The customer it turned out, was suffering a terminal illness and so she had to go home with the thought that she will be henceforth hated by the whole of society for evermore, her family was going to completely disown her. She went home and rummaged for a publicity photo of Tony. She put said poster on the wall and threw sharp and heavy objects at it.
I on the other hand discover that I have deep seated feelings for her, and become so overwrought with emotion, that my mind is wracked with all thoughts of revenge.
I didn’t tell her, that bit was true.
When we arrived at the theatre door, our faces obscured with our collars, we got into character. Nicola had done a marvellous job on the makeup, we both looked like Hell. She certainly scared the Hell out of me.
‘Reach for those feelings,’ I said.
‘I’m already there!’
‘Get the anger, feel the menace, that is not blood coursing through your body right now, but fire!’
‘I’m feeling it Michael!’
We walked up the steps and into the building with all the swagger of East End gangsters. The reception area was clear as expected. We walked on to the main theatre, throwing the doors open fiercely as we moved.
‘Gordon!’ Nicola screeched at the top of her voice and apologised when she saw me wincing.
All of the props were there on the stage ready for use. They were set up for a run through of Act One, Scene One, the library scene. Apart from that, not a soul about, no noises off.
‘The cast hasn’t arrived yet. He must be in his office!’ I said.
We doubled back through the doors and took the stairs to the next floor. There was another set of stairs going up to the staff area. Our way was blocked by a thick red rope over two brass poles, two feet off the ground. ‘What do we do?’ I asked.
‘Wuss!’ Nicole kicked the poles down angrily and made one of those gorilla whooping noises. She was really getting into the part. Far removed was this, from silent, austere yet alluring Lady Butterwell.
We proceeded up what remained of the stairs, where we were met with the red carpet on the landing. On the other side of a brass railing was a row of heavy wooden doors baring shiny silver plaques. One was shinier than the other, the only one still in use, Tony Gordon’s office.
‘Right!’ Nicola whispered loudly, ‘feel the anger!’
‘Got it! ‘ I said assertively and ‘so who is going to knock?’
‘Forget that!’ Nicole twisted the knob and gave the door panel a hard kick. The door flew open to reveal Tony, bound and gagged and tied to a chair. A smallish man, and I must add dressed much more effectively than we were, placed himself in the door frame. He had very heavily stubble, and thick leather gloves on. I assumed that inside them, were very broad hands. He was wearing dark glasses and a long heavy coat.
‘Come in,’ he said in a broken glass, cockney accent, ‘I trust you know Tony.’
‘H-how do you know that?’ I asked nervously.
‘I saw your production of Run For Your Trousers,’ he said, ‘you were bloody awful.’
‘I think we should come back later,’ I said.
‘No chance,’ he almost spat out the words, ‘you’ve seen too much.’ He signalled to someone we couldn’t see. Two more men, equally nasty revealed themselves. ‘Cutter and Ice!’
We were escorted in, if you could call it that, into the office. Tony looked awful. You could tell that nobody had laid a finger on him, yet his face said otherwise. I had seen this man run up and down the boards like a man possessed on a sunny afternoon in a woolly jumper. He was sweating even more than that now. I sort of felt sorry for him.
‘S-so why is he tied to a chair?’ I asked, ‘if he has the money to give you.’
‘He tried to pull a fast one,’ said the angry man. ‘Thought he could get away with giving us half, said he needed the other half to live off. I ain’t having that. Gotta teach him a lesson somehow, or else it might happen again.’ He leaned right into Tony’s face. ‘Might it!!?’
‘I gave them what they asked for Michael, Nicola, they said they wanted double.
‘That money is ours!’ Nicola cried out, ‘he owes it to the company.’
‘So what are you going to do with us? You can’t just let us leave.’
‘He can if he wants to,’ I said shaking.
The man nodded at the two accomplices stood silent like menacing trees. They gave each other a simultaneous nod and pulled out pistols.
‘Good grief!’ I exclaimed.
‘Insurance,’ said the man, ‘you’re coming with us. We can’t risk you blabbing to the cops.’
‘You’re going to k-knock us off?’
‘Clever man,’ he turned to the two gorillas, ‘take ‘em down an alley. One shot each to the back of the head! Use silencers.’
‘Alright boss!’ they said together.
‘Wait!’ Nicola said to my utter relief as they approached us, ‘use your head.’
‘If you shoot us how long do you think it would take for the police to get to you? There are all sorts of testing they could do to get DNA evidence. They could have you three banged up in days. You’ve got your money. Untie him and let us go. There is nothing we have to give the police. We don’t know what your names are, and I take it Cutter and Ice aren’t on the electoral register.’
The air in the room froze. The man’s face was still as rock, expressionless, while thoughts flew about. If there were any clues as to what was going to happen next, then I wasn’t seeing them. Suddenly his face dropped, and was replaced by what I had to say was a worrying smile.
‘Clever girl,’ he said finally, ‘you will go far!’ The thugs left leaving us to untie Tony.
My mind was numb over the following days. I didn’t want to leave the house and when I did through complete necessity and desperation, I did so while looking over my shoulder. I stayed in at night and viewed the dark shadows from the safety of my living room window.
Then, one morning I had a visitor. I was of course very cautious about opening the door, but did so as soon as I realised who it was, Lee from the company.
‘Hello Michael,’ he said, ‘I’m not stopping. I was sent by Graham.’
‘Why,’ I replied wittily and nervously, ‘is he setting up a company of his own?’
‘No,’ he said not getting my joke, ‘he wanted to give you this.’
Lee reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a pleasingly thick brown envelope.
‘Your share of the money, from Tony.’
‘Tony said he didn’t have any left. He gave it all to those loan sharks.’
Lee giggled as if attempting to hold back a private joke. ‘That was us!’
‘What?’ I said, bemused, ‘do you mean that it was you who’ve been harassing Gordon all along?’
‘No,’ said Lee, ‘we turned up before the real ones did. We just said we bought the debt and his mind filled in the rest. Graham had this great idea about frightening Tony into giving us back what he owed us.’
‘So who was the other guy?’
‘She was really good, frightened the Hell out of me!’
‘She said sorry about that. Said she was sick of playing the maid all the time, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. She regretted that you two got in the way.’
I was a bit confused after that, about who it was who really got their comeuppance. That brief moment in the office seemed to last for an ice age, surely it was us for not letting sleeping dogs lie. But it did make me think. Over the coming days an idea buzzed around my head like an annoying bluebottle I couldn’t quite reach with a rolled up newspaper. Perhaps if something interesting came up it would be possible to put our acting skills into good use. We could make even more money.
I shook the idea free. It was even suggested that we pooled the money and start up another company. That idea too was rejected rapidly. I did begin to worry about Tony Harper and paid a visit to the theatre. When I got there I found a heavy iron padlock on the doors. The windows were boarded up and there was a demolition notice for all passing bystanders to see. When I asked someone in a neighbouring shop what had happened to him, my fear for the worst went away. I was told by the woman, a Mrs Tingle that he had moved abroad with his sister. She showed me a postcard to that effect.
The Man on the Roof
(And Excerpt from “Projector – The Making of Leon Black”)
My name is Leon Black. I am fifteen years old and I have killed seven people. It’s all because of a boy called Carl Harper and something in my head that I called the Projector.
In the beginning, when I was very young and knew little about the evil ways of Man, I used what I had – my special powers for good. I had no idea back then that I was special. As far as I was concerned, I was a normal boy absorbing what was going on around me. The very fact that I could use what was inside my head for the benefit of others meant that it was a good thing. Everything was natural and right.
I think I had just turned five when the Projector turned itself on. It introduced itself to me on a cold December evening on the streets of Edinburgh. My memory is cloudy but I do recall my hands being white from the deep winter chill. I was wearing my green duffle coat and a red knitted hat. I had lost my mittens and stuffed my left hand into my pocket to try to warm it. My right hand was stinging with pain as my mum held onto it tightly so that I wouldn’t be sucked into the traffic.
My legs were tired and aching. My small body had been yanked here and there as my mother explored every department store and side street emporium in search of the elusive something to buy my dad and my three aunts for Christmas.
To my relief she had given up and announced that we should be heading off to catch the bus. We’d just turned the corner to go to the bus stop when we hit a crowd of people at a police barricade. The road was blocked and we couldn’t move for bodies. People were shouting all around us. Some were pointing to the top of the multi-storey car park. I looked up. There was a man sitting on the wall. His legs were dangling over the side. I saw him silhouetted against the deep blue sky.
‘What’s that man doing?’ I asked mum.
I could only make out some of her reply. She had her hand against her mouth.
‘Err… What? Nothing sweetheart, don’t look. I’d better get you away from here, I think. It’s not something a five year old should see.’
She poked and prodded at the slender gaps in between the people to make one big enough for us to get through. It didn’t work. The bodies formed a solid mass.
She turned me around and we started back the way we had come, only to find that we couldn’t move in that direction either. More people had appeared, distracted from their last minute Christmas shopping by the impending tragedy. We were trapped.
The police were trying to hold everyone back, but with little success. They were getting prepared for the worst to happen. My mum kept putting her hands in front of my eyes, even though I was too short to see anything much, and I kept pushing them away. I heard mum talking to a woman standing next to us. When she found out who the man was mum became even more anxious and upset. She’d recognized the name. She’d been in school with him. His name was Jake. Mum remembered him being a nice boy. He’d always done what was asked of him, was polite to everybody, turned up on time and got on with his school work. He hadn’t been very confident, but he’d done his best from a discreet distance. Jake had been shy with girls, even though he was good looking. Unfortunately, nobody told him this, so he didn’t ask anybody out.
When he’d finally met someone she was the love of his life. Her name was Christine and he’d met her on a works night out while he was working at Rogerson’s Bank. Eventually they married and had two children, a boy and a girl.
I looked up at him, somehow managing to shut out all of the madness that was going on around me. Jake was extremely sad. I could feel that as clearly as if the feelings were coming from my own being. I focused on him hard, and I saw his life. I saw him at the church on their wedding day, nervously anticipating Christine’s arrival. I felt his happiness when his children were born and the fun they’d had on their holidays. I saw Christine. I saw her the most because Jake was thinking about her. It had been a whole year since she had been taken by an illness that I didn’t understand, but I knew it had been bad. He was missing her. He wasn’t complete without her. I could feel that, too. Part of me was there on the roof with him, looking through his eyes, seeing the crowds gathered below. The emergency services would do their best, but I knew who he needed to talk to.
Suddenly Christine was there on the car park roof behind him. Jake’s heart thumped in his chest, then lightened slightly as he heard the lilt of her voice again.
‘What are you doing, my love? This isn’t you at all.’
This was the first time that I knew that I could go inside people’s heads and make them see what I wanted them to see.
Jake turned around very slowly.
‘Chris! How?’ Tears started to roll down his face. He sobbed, his body shaking.
Christine reached out towards him. She wanted him to take her hands.
‘Come away from there, Jake.’
‘I can’t do it, I can’t go on. It’s so hard, Chris. I can’t do anything. It’s Christmas and everyone’s laughing and having a good time. I can’t do that. You were everything.’
‘I’m gone now,’ said Christine. ‘I’m with Jesus in Heaven.’
Through his tears Jake looked puzzled.
‘What? Is there one?’
‘Of course there is, you silly thing, where else would a ghost go?’
Jake’s brows furrowed. ‘I want to be with you again, Christine.’
‘I want to be with you, too, Jake, but this isn’t right. When you are dead you must be an old man.’
‘Why are you talking like this? This doesn’t sound like you.’
‘What do you mean, Jake?’
Jake spoke hesitantly. ‘I can see it’s you and I can hear your voice, but the words don’t seem like yours at all.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m with Jesus in Heaven? You must be an old man when you are dead? You’re talking like a five year old.’
I was startled by this, but Jake was right. I tried to find Christine’s words in his memory and to use them.
‘You mean like Michael?’ said Christine. ‘He was five this year, wasn’t he?’
‘Yes,’ said Jake.
‘Is he happy?’
‘And May,’ said Christine, ‘how is she doing? Did that tooth ever come out?’
‘It did,’ Jake said, sniffling, ‘but only when she fell over and she hit her chin on the coffee table.’
‘Oops!’ Christine laughed. ‘We had some good times, didn’t we? You, me and the two wee monsters.’
Jake smiled awkwardly. ‘We did!’
I dipped further into Jakes memories and found Christine’s words again.
‘Well, then,’ said Christine, ‘are you really going to throw that all away? If you die the memories will die too.’
‘I suppose they will.’
‘Go home and keep them happy and healthy until the time when we are together again.’
‘Together?’ said Jake.
‘I’ll be waiting for you,’ said Christine, ‘in Heaven. I promise.’
Jake sat there for another few seconds and then stepped off the wall into the car park to safety. As he was being escorted away by the police Christine blew him a kiss and told him to remember.
The excitement died out and the crowd dispersed. Some of us waited to see Jake come down, to the waiting ambulance. The police spoke to the ambulance crew for a while. Jake said something to a policewoman and she nodded and came over to us.
‘Do you know that gentleman?’ she asked mum.
‘Vaguely,’ she replied. ‘We were in school together. It was years ago.’
‘He wanted to come over, but I’m sure you can appreciate he’s in an emotional state, so I wouldn’t advise it.’
‘What does he want?’ said mum.
‘He says he wants to thank your son,’ said the WPC, ‘for saving him. Have you any idea why he’d say that?’
My mum shook her head and looked at me strangely. I gazed back at her with innocent eyes.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ said the WPC. ‘Like I said, he’s in a bit of a state.’ She walked off.
From that moment I knew I had something special inside me, something that could be good for the world. Ten years later it all went horribly wrong.
Within These Walls
I have never been accustomed to making speeches, no matter what the subject. I have always been one to keep themselves to themselves. However, there are some things that should never remain unsaid. I was the only witness to a horrific murder.
I have resided in Willow Crescent since the very beginning of the century. The one I speak of, is the twentieth. There were more trees on the road back then, hence the name, and in the autumn the pavements were sheeted with golden brown leaves, that made crinkling sounds when they were trodden on by feet. How envious I was, to be able to make that sound with limbs.
I cannot walk.
Things were quiet around the area for years with the exception of horses and motor cars. Then silence does not last forever, and on the twelfth day, of eighth month of the year of nineteen-hundred and six, I was most unfortunate to meet, or rather have thrust upon my company, one Percival Fitzlang.
The aforementioned person and I, exchanged not one word, on his arrival. I was not bothered by this, as he was not by all descriptions, a pleasant man. I was pleased that he was only to occupy the ground floor of the accommodation.
Percival, and I shall try not to mention his name too much, was a scrawny man with a pointed nose. Not that I wanted to observe him a lot, but he had this tendency to move about the place in rodent-like fashion, with hunched shoulders and furtive movements of the feet. It was as if, no matter how large the spaces were, he was always trying to fit himself into a smaller one. As for his face and I am in no position to judge, he didn’t exactly possess the looks of stage idol, so it came as something of a surprise when he left the house one morning and returned with a wife.
The recently entitled Olivia Fitz-Lang, was the mirror opposite of her ratlike spouse, in the way that she glided about the place with confidence and beauty, and filled every square inch of every room she occupied, with light. She also had a very pleasant odour about her, a cross between oranges, honey and apple blossom, the three very scents I had always held with such affection.
I felt that they were ill matched at first, and then as the days went by, I began to change my view slightly. She seemed to be good for him. There were times when smiles on his face, as well as hers, as if she had successfully infected him with some of her sunshine. But as the months went on, things began to work in reverse. I noted a slowness about her step and a curvature of her posture. Gone, was the dancing in her bare feet and her singing. Tones changed, and voices went up and down, and it cut through me like a cold sabre. Suddenly, one of them was gone, and I was deeply saddened.
My ears, as those like me, have them, traversed the walls and the floors in search of this sweet music, for evidence that my sweet Olivia was still there, then one day I found her voice, and it was to my dismay, her sobbing. I longed to reach out and comfort her. At least I knew that she was alive then.
Then all I could hear was him…
‘Why will you not bear me a child? I shall get more satisfaction from a whore! Why is my home not clean? Have you no pride woman? I shall be going out, I will be back and we shall see who won’t be responsive!’
And then, he began to bring other women to the house, and left his wife locked up in a room all alone.
I swore, if I could move, then I would get to him, kill him. The raucous laughing, and drunken caterwauling that followed, filled me with such rage. The thought that he, could be happy at this time.
Then, on one dreadful day, things all come to a head. The air was polluted by such a blood-curdling scream which shook me from my slumber. And I saw her. She was running up the stairs in such desperation to get away from him. She was running to me, I knew she was, but there was no time to help her. I saw the blade penetrate her elegant back, between the shoulder blades and she fell. Blood spilled from her mouth, as she shuddered with pain. Still, she tried to move and with her elbows attempted to climb. I wanted to call out, but couldn’t. The knife hit her again, this time, in the small of her back, and then in her neck. Then it was all too late. She fell again and this time she would never move again.
Fitz-Lang vanished, and I was left to watch her lifeless form as helpless and sad as anyone could ever be.
He buried her under the floorboards in the dining room of all places, as I assumed that he didn’t want to risk being seen in the garden with a spade prior to his wife’s disappearance. He returned to scrub away the blood from the carpet. This was the first time I’d seen him do manual labour. He never paid any attention to me though, and this I felt would be his downfall.
Over the next few days he began to have callers. These included a constable by the name of Finchly, all of which were asking after Olivia. First, he told them, that she hadn’t been feeling well, and so she had gone to stay with her sister in Margate, in order to recover in the sea air. After that, he told them she had found a flat for them both, and he was only staying, in order to tie up his affairs before seeking other employment on the coast.
All of these words filled me with bile. One day PC Finchly returned, and I was hopeful, but it was only to follow up a neighbour’s complaint about an odd smell that had been seeping through the walls.
Fitz-Lang told the constable, that it was the drains. He had been on a very strict diet of meat which had been clogging up the pipes. He’d been meaning to get them unblocked of all the rotting substances.
I saw what a golden opportunity for my new found rage.
I began, by slamming the front door shut, hard. This made them both jump from their seats and the young PC spill his tea over his uniform. I drew the lock across, turned the key and threw it down the cellar. Then, I began to make the walls shake. Pictures rattled and fell to the ground, as if in the middle of an earthquake. The floorboards too rattled under the carpets, furniture which had been so happy where they were before moved with the intense vibration.
Fitz-Lang attempted to run for the doorway and fell to the floor of the dining room. He didn’t know this, but his face was directly over the face of that lovely, poor lass he deprived of life. With another blast of my wrath, I was able to split the wood to reveal her. Suddenly, to his utter horror, he was staring straight her into her still, lifeless, bloody eyes.
Reaching for the stability of the mantelpiece, Finch got to his feet in horror.
‘What is going on?’ he cried, ‘what kind of house is this?’
The killer too, was struggling to get to his feet. When he finally managed it, Finch saw Olivia.
Finch put his hand to his mouth, and wretched. ‘You murderer!’ he exclaimed before vomiting.
My work done, I ceased the tumult.
When things had calmed down, several members of the London constabulary came to the house. They had come to see what all the commotion was, why there was suddenly a crowd outside.
Finch apprehended Fitz-Lang and I opened the door, so that the latter could be taken into custody.
I wish that I could have prevented the whole ghastly business from the beginning, but my movement is restricted. I am just a house in Willow Crescent, my walls, filled with the spirits of those who have passed away. It does not mean, that things could go unnoticed by me. Often, it has been said by humans, if these walls could talk…
But these can do so much more.
Rooms (To the memory of my mother)
You walked into another room
a dark and distant place,
to begin a new beginning
with dignity and grace.
A room with flickering shadows
void of pain and lies.
A room without a doorway,
until we close our eyes.
I wonder could you have ever known
that before you turned the key,
the room you left behind you holds
a beating memory
I have never really liked the night, but it has always fascinated me, the way it blanks everything out, like a gigantic marker pen, and banishes people to spaces behind locked doors. It came, and waved itself over my head, like a magician’s cape. After the blink of a day, there I was, sitting in an armchair, looking out into the street. There, amidst the sudden gloom, the lamps spilled white circles onto the path. In between the pools were oak trees, standing as still as stone deities, with their arms outstretched poised to catch the falling sky.
In some ways, it was like existing in a parallel universe. I had been taken away from the world I knew, and taken to one where I was nothing more than an observer, in place where there was nothing to observe, a voyeur of nothingness.
I only knew, I wished that the day could be like that, peaceful and void of people. I could have believed I was alone on the planet, perhaps I was. No car sounds, no music, no loud TVs from open windows, not even a breeze to blow the leaves along the ground. A moment frozen in time, need I say more?
Unfortunately, what is left by black the imagination fills with colours. On nights like this, vampires were born, demons lurk in the shadows, and bogeymen seek out children.
Then, just as my mind had wandered farther than I wanted it to, I became aware of footsteps pounding fast in the distance. As they got nearer, they left the street and entered my head in the form of loud echoes.
Someone was in a hurry. It had gone past three in the morning. What a dirty stop-out. Someone’s stayed out too late to get a taxi, and is going to get home to a red-faced baby-sitter.
My next thought, was to investigate. I got up from my warm cushion and pushed my face through the open curtains. I couldn’t see the owner of the footsteps, but they had at least stopped. Perhaps they had found their destination. Then, just as I had sat back down, they began again, and this time, I could hear loud panting, and underneath that, distress, a teary whimper.
I got up again, but again, could see nothing. I had begun to wonder if my disturbed mind was playing tricks on me.
The next sound sent my heart into my throat where it became momentarily lodged, a very loud, sudden and impatient hammering on my front door.
Now, there was a thing. I have always thought of myself as a humanitarian, a helping hand, a do-gooder. Yet for some reason I hesitated.
I heard my letter-box squeak as it was lifted, and a woman’s voice in the hall.
‘Please! You’ve got to help me!’
‘What’s wrong?’ I call back, ‘are you in trouble?’ What a stupid question.
‘He’s got a knife and he’s going to kill me!’
‘Who is going to kill you?’
‘Let me in!’ Bang-bang-bang-bang!
I looked at my door, so many locks. I am so security conscious. I was burgled a year ago and went over-the-top a bit.
Nevertheless, as quickly as I could, I undid them all one by one, the latches, the locks, the chains, eight in all. With an embarrassing grunt I dragged the stubborn lump of wood towards my chest. I had help. The woman was pushing from the other side.
In a minute she was behind me, where she was safe. I slammed the door shut again and secured us the best I could.
‘It’s OK,’ I said, trying to sound like a comic book hero, flicking my cape over my shoulder, ‘you’re safe now. He can’t get to you. We’ll call the police,’ I turned around, ‘and…’
I turned to face her and what my fearful eyes met froze solid. I couldn’t believe that fate could be such a cruel mistress. There was a woman standing in my hallway holding a carving knife above her head. Her wide, bloodshot eyes and jagged mouth, didn’t belong to the person I’d allowed over the threshold. In the place of the distressed damsel was an escaped psychopath.
And then as I was just about to ask her why, she plunged a dagger deep into my chest, and that is the point where I awoke.
That’s how it has been for some time, since it was what I did to my wife, when she had the affair.
After the accident, Raymond Amrak went to pot, and lost his knack for drawing new and interesting comic book characters. It was as if his head had put a closed sign on the back of the door, and it frustrated him terribly. He had always been flattered about compliments of how his creations came alive.
The bosses at Armageddon comics were quite sympathetic about it, after all, his imagination had been responsible for some of the most popular stories they had ever printed. Such as the Soul-eater, the self-replicating Duploman and Staticus, the silent assassin capable of getting vengeance on evildoers, by entering their homes through their TV screen.
Raymond, thought he was through. He believed that what happened that fateful rainy night, it had wiped away all of his creativity. His editor told him not to be so stupid, to go away to somewhere quiet and ridiculously remote, and come back in a week or so, fresh and reinvented, strong and fighting fit. Raymond was dubious about this ever happening, but went along with it. He knew better, than to argue with Bryony Baron, the woman who gargled every morning with nitroglycerin, and flossed with barbed wire.
In a matter of hours, he was in a creaky cottage, in the heart of the West Country, cut off from the rest of the world. This suited him very, very much. It was called Rowan Tree Cottage
Even on his first night, he tried to draw something. He ended up with some meaningless squiggles and colours, in no particular shape. He placed his pad by the window, where the shafts of moonlight landed in the room. He had some crazy notion, that it was somehow lucky. There, it remained for for three days and nights, before he tried again.
One afternoon, he went for a walk in the woods to get some fresh air back into his system. For a city guy, he found the winding paths were quite inviting, and the fact that they could lead him just about anywhere, didn’t seem to matter to him. It was like life, whichever one you choose, leads to a situation that can dramatically alter your life. The one he chose, or the one that fate seemed to lead him to, lead to a lonely cottage by a stream. There, a woman with ragged jeans and a green tee-shirt three sizes too large, was wiping the condensation from her windows. She knew he was watching her, without turning around.
‘The water get’s into the wood and rots it,’ she said, ‘it’s old like me. It goes to pieces. I try plugging the gaps with chewing gum, but it keeps coming out.’
‘I might have something at the cottage, that might help,’ said Raymond.
‘Ah,’ said the old lady, picking out a rotten piece of wood, ‘so which one might that be then?’
‘The one on the other side of the woods,’ replied Raymond.
‘That’ll be Rowan. How long have you been there, then?’
Raymond told her.
‘And you still feel alright?’ said the woman, ‘you must be made of sturdier stuff, than the last lot that rented the place.’
‘I’m an artist,’ said Raymond, ‘what happened to the last lot?’
The lady stopped what she was doing, and invited Raymond into the house, to share a pot of tea with her. While she was pouring it out into two cracked china cups on the table, she began.
‘It was nothing much really, just that folks who come from the towns and the cities get funny ideas about places like this. Their minds begin to wander and they start to imagine things.’
‘Like?’ Raymond stirred in some sugar.
‘It’s a different pace out here, less stressful, nothing much to distract you. There ain’t much to look at but trees and rolling hills, and so you start seeing things where there ain’t things. You hear stories and off goes your head, thinking.’
‘What stories?’ said Raymond. ‘Is there anything about Rowan Cottage I need to know?’
Raymond was puzzled. ‘Who?’
‘She was a witch, or at least they thought she was. She had a shiny black cat, but that was all. She kept herself to herself, lived off the things in her garden, never bothered anyone. She even grew her own medicines for when she was ill, so she would never need to bother the doctor, unless things got really bad.’
‘And where is she now?’
‘Dead,’ said the old woman in between sips of her tea,’ died five-hundred years ago or thereabouts.’
‘Dare I ask how?’ said Raymond.
‘They tied her to a tree and set fire to her, a Rowan tree to be exact. That’s why they renamed the cottage.’
‘So why do I need to be concerned?’
‘You don’t,’ said the woman, ‘unless you are the superstitious type. They do say that when she died the spirit was transferred to the cottage. They say sometimes you can hear the place breathing in the night, like it’s got lungs.’
‘Things have supposed to have gone missing, like they’ve come to life and walked off, things have appeared, that weren’t there when they arrived. But like I say it depends on what you want to believe. I think you are a practical, down-to-earth person by the look of you, so you have nothing to worry about.’
Raymond wasn’t so sure he hadn’t. If he didn’t come up with something soon for Armageddon Comics, they would fire him. There is no such thing these days as job security. So he told the old woman all of this.
‘Dried up have you?’ she said when he finished. ‘Well, there is one thing you can do.’
‘What’s that?’ said Raymond, ‘don’t tell me you’ve got a magic potion?’
The old woman slammed her cup down onto the saucer and glared. ‘Are you calling me a witch?’
‘No,’ Raymond apologised pathetically, ‘I’m sorry!’
‘Cos if you are, you can leave this place, before I shove my broom up your arse!’
Raymond waited for things to settle down, before he said anything else. He finished his tea quickly and got to his feet.
‘Before I go,’ he said in the doorway, ‘what is it I need to do to get inspiration?’
‘Ask her!’ said the woman.
Raymond didn’t know what to think of that, but thanked her regardless. It occurred to him that he might have been the victim of a prank. Perhaps it was a common notion around these parts, that townies will swallow anything you tell them. Nevertheless, he was so desperate for a result, that he was obliged at least, to give it a try.
It was getting late when he got back, and he began thinking about it again. He gazed at his pad on the table, practically willing something to appear. He considered throwing it in the bin and going to bed with a good novel. Then something inside him, the warrior draughtsman, came to the surface and he allowed himself to cave in. He’d decided what he wanted, a new foe for Duploman to face.
‘Hetty,’ he said to the rafters, ‘please can you put an evil character on my page?’
He glanced at the pad again and there was no movement.
‘Well,’ he whispered, ‘it was worth a try anyway.’
He tried drawing some basic shapes, an egg shape for a face, and then a rough artist’s cross inside it, where the eye-line and the nose would be. But he couldn’t develop it any further from there. He gave it a name though, in the sheer hope that it might invent itself, the Skreak, an onomatopoeia word, that sounded as if it could be something that could sneak out of no- where and slash your throat.
But looking at it, somehow reminded him of the accident, so he walked away from it and dived into the bottle of Glenlivet, he’d packed for a one person arrival party.
The fine malt, did nothing to drown his thoughts. In fact, his thoughts appeared to be very strong swimmers.
In the night, he saw the boy’s face again, so stark and white against the windscreen. He should have stopped and phoned the police. He should have told the truth. He was speeding and rowing with Nadia at the same time. Wanting to know why she wanted to dump him after two years.
In a sweat once again, he went down to the kitchen for a glass of water. Normally when he calmed down it would be perfectly safe to go back to bed. He never had the nightmare twice in the same night. He was thankful for that.
He felt a little better in the morning, somehow, as if all of the bad feelings had been purged from his body. He didn’t even have his usual hangover.
He was even confident that with a good breakfast inside him, he would be perfectly fit to tackle his sketch work.
With a regained smile he developed the face, two piercing eyes; a jutting pointy nose like Jack Frost. He added long, bony arms with not just one elbow, three joints, so that his wonderful new creation would have a slight robotic appearance. It would also make snatching its victims a whole lot easier.
Yes, the Skreak was finally taking shape. He glanced at his phone lying on the sofa where he left it last night and gave a thought to calling Bryony.
‘No,’ he said to himself, ‘not yet, let’s hit her with a surprise!’
He soon had it finished, the Skreak, the curious creature who possessed the ability to alter its shape to pass through the least possible spaces.
Pleased with himself, he took a got out his laptop and his portable USB scanner, and made a JPEG image of it to send to Bryony Baron. Then he drove into Taunton where there was an Internet Café and emailed it with some notes about the character’s background.
‘One week, in a broken down cottage,’ he muttered to himself, ‘and it all comes back. Thanks Hetty!’
He perused the library and noticed that there were numerous books about the pagan arts and black magic. Suddenly, what the woman had said was ringing true. If there were dark tales attached to the cottage then it was bound to attract interest in these types of things. Neither was there anything about Hetty Wattle. He was surprised that the chap he was renting from didn’t say anything about it.
It didn’t matter now, his time was almost up, and he was thinking about his last night and getting back to work on Monday, fresh and revived like Bryony wanted him to be.
In the morning, he started packing. He pulled out the large travel bag he arrived with, and threw in all of his clothes. He slid his laptop into its case and snatched the scanner from the arm of the sofa. He thought about the picture he’d sent and pulled the sheet with the Skreak on it, but when he looked at it there was nothing there.
‘Surely I haven’t sent a blank page to Bryony?’ he said and rushed to the table where his artists’ pad was still. He flicked through all of the pages, and they were blank too. He then pulled out the top page and held it to the light to see if the score marks were there.
He tried calling Bryony but all he got was her answering machine message.
‘Damn!’ he exclaimed.
He went through every room in the cottage like a whirling dervish, like the Tasmanian Devil from the TV cartoons. He lifted everything, looked under all of the furniture and there was absolutely no sign of it.
‘I didn’t imagine it did I?’ he said and went through the motions of the previous night in his head. ‘I definitely did it.’
He decided to go and talk to the woman again. He remembered her saying, that things disappeared. But when he tried the door it wouldn’t budge. He turned the key in the lock, both ways and nothing worked.
He pulled the handle with all his might, jerking it roughly. When he had convinced himself that it had probably warped, he tried the back door in the kitchen.
He had the same lack of result there.
Raymond tried the windows one by one, undoing the latches and giving them a shove. Suddenly things were getting mighty claustrophobic.
Then, as he was eyeing the glass panes something weird happened. They all simultaneously became covered with a dark film. The more he stared at it in absolute horror, the more it looked red and sticky, like blood.
He screamed at the top of his voice for help, throwing things at the windows, chairs, vases, ashtrays, anything, everything.
Suddenly the house started shaking. Pictures fell from the walls, rafters became dislodged and cement dust and debris fell onto his head. The ground rumbled and bubbled under his feet, knocking him off kilter. The fireplace too, rumbled and spat out a thick shaft of fiery embers into his face.
Gripping his face and wracked in pain Raymond rushed to the door again, and hammered like mad and screamed for help. Then, he became aware that the hammering on the door, was not his and he stepped back in panic.
The door flew open, as if by some freakish wind and Raymond’s heart almost stopped beating, when he saw who was on the other side.
One slash of razor-like fingernails across his throat and Raymond fell to the floor clutching his neck.
It took Raymond a whole hour to die, and he felt every second of it.
By the morning, the cottage had returned to its original health, not a crack on a wall, not mark on the furniture. The owner arrived at two o’clock to show the next renters around. Raymond’s body was nowhere to be seen. It was as if, it had just vanished, just as his drawing did.
When Bryony Baron received the email on Monday morning with the new character in it, she was confused. What she was looking at on the screen of her desktop computer wasn’t a drawing at all, but the picture of a small boy with a ghostly white rain-washed face.
Eyes of the World
The optician, stood looking at what could only be described as a perfect indentation of a face in his metal filing cabinet, for a good few moments, finally he spoke.
‘It’s quite obvious to me, Mr Bryant, that you are definitely ready for your prescription, and not a moment too soon.’
Mr Bryant, still clutching at remained of a bloody nose, found that he had no alternative but to agree with the blur wearing the white coat. This was how John Bryant perceived the world; tall blurs, short blurs, red blurs, blue blurs, like being permanently drunk. As for Mrs Bryant, heaven knew what she looked like nowadays, that adoring angel who had floated down the aisle on the wings of Mendelssohn all those years ago.
Eyeball World, which boasted an excellent Checked and Specked in One Week or Your Money Back, service presented him with the glasses of his choice. When the assistant had finished putting them into position, he glanced hopefully, expectedly at his reflection in the mirror. It displayed such biological correctness that he fell off his stool with excitement. The eager-to-please assistant rushed to his aid.
‘Do allow me, sir!’ she said as she realigned his frames, with the bridge of his bruised nose. ‘Now that’s better, isn’t it?’
When his image sharpened again, he smiled and nodded his satisfaction with the task, as well as his marvellous looks. The optician suggested he’d go for a walk around the block to wear them in. ‘Come back in an hour,’ he said, ‘you can let me know what you think.’
And indeed he did, with great trepidation, go out to sample the delights of a world, for once, in realistic definition. Immediately what struck him about his new found surroundings was how tall everything actually was. The next thing was the answer to a question that had been on his mind for several years. Just down the street, and he could see it quite clearly now, was huge, colourful restaurant, where came, a strangely familiar, disgusting aroma, not entirely dissimilar to deep-fried goat’s genitals. As he neared it what came into view were spotted teenagers chewing gum, mouths gaping whilst taking money from children in silly hats, for god-knows-what in a cardboard box.
Mr Byant shrugged at the absurdity of it and moved on. ‘What is this world coming to?’ he muttered under his breath, as he trundled along the footpath. After feeling his feet start to ache, he stopped for a moment by a shopping precinct, he hadn’t realised was ever there, for a rest. ‘Dreadful!’ he muttered. ‘Not the world, I thought it was at all.’
Then, as if to underline his statement with a proverbial thick, black marker pen, he glanced over the road, in time to witness a traffic warden being mugged by a six year old girl, he had taken the time to save from the jaws of mechanical death.
The worst, however, was yet to come.
As soon as it reached four o’clock, the tarpaulin factory jettisoned its full load of thick smoke into the atmosphere, where it reached up like a ghostly black hand and throttled the sun. As he was taking in this horror a hand grabbed his shoulder. Mr Bryant turned sharply to see a woman of large girth and such muscular arms, that he was sure that if the situation called for it, they could quite happily knit you a jumper out of telegraph cables if not do worse. He couldn’t help but let out a shriek, as well as a little wee. ‘Who are you!’
‘Who do you think?’ the voice was very familiar now. ‘Ophelia?’
‘Who did you think it would be, you daft bugger?’ Then she sighed, ‘they don’t suit you Herbert. You should have asked for contact lenses.’
‘Thank God, it’s you!’ he panted. ‘Ophelia, it’s all upside-down and back-to-front and sideways as well. I had never idea it was all like this. Something must be done about it all and quickly!’
Herbert returned to the opticians hastily. Having given the matter serious consideration, he was now an educated man. He was met by the optician at the door who greeted him with a big, service-with-a-smile smiles.
‘Well, sir,’ he beamed, ‘what did you think?’
Herbert let his face fall into a concentrated grimace. Snatching his new glasses from his face and thrusting them into the man’s hand where they made an untidy metallic knot he said loudly, clearly, ‘You can have these bloody things back, good day!’
The Sarcastic Cat
(An Excerpt from “The Coming of the Zartangs”)
IT BEGINS, when I arrive at work – late again. It’s not my fault. Very rarely does my waking up ever coincide with the opening of the store. The shop is called Buymors by the way.
The minute my foot passes the doorway, I get told off by the assistant manager Mr. Polenorth. I tell him to sod off. Mr. Polenorth is my brother-in-law so that is sort of OK. He tells me once again in his whining, tiresome voice that that is no excuse. Standards have to be maintained and he is my boss.
‘If it wasn’t for me,’ he reminds me yet again, as if I really wanted to know, ‘you wouldn’t have a job. You would not be stacking fresh fruit and vegetable produce at Buymors, but sitting on your sticky sofa eating out-of-date breakfast cereal from the box and watching all-day breakfast TV.’
‘Thank you for that,’ I say, but the sarcasm goes to waste, as he has already pulled a broom from his backside for me to sweep the stock room. He hands it to me with the kind of grin that just says punch me.
‘And when you’ve finished that,’ he says using his most official whiny tone, ‘get some more cucumbers from out back. We’re running low. If you’re late again, it’ll go to the top office and you’ll be gone.’ And he storms off, missing the barrage of the witty and rude names I send in his direction.
Not that I don’t like working in that terrible, mind-numbing, shitty little place – alright I hate it. Every day is the same. You pick things up and you put them somewhere else. Then you wait for the pile to go down. When it does, do the same again. People shouldn’t buy things. It’s bad for my sanity. The only thing worse than that is the tills. That annoying, incessant beeping that never, ever stops. Worse than that are the people in the queues complaining, because as you don’t like working on the tills, you take your own sweet time about it.
I finish sweeping the stockroom and drag another pallet out to restock the cucumbers. When will they ever see sense and give me the bloody sack, I’m thinking, and then there is a message over the intercom, for me to call into the manager’s office. Someone up there has heard me.
Our store manager is called Mr. Crimp. He is a small, chubby man with a six-inch wide parting.
‘He would have kept it quiet,’ he grumbles and his double chin vibrates as he speaks. ‘Your so-called brother-in-law would have let it slide. But nothing escapes me Lotterby. I see you, traipsing in at five past nine in the morning with your store jacket all done up wrong, because you’ve got dressed on the way to work.’
‘It’s only five minutes,’ I say pathetically, but bravely in my opinion.
‘You need to be here at 8.30 lad!’ his voice goes up and I jump. But only because such volume was not meant to come out of something so small, in my opinion.
‘You’ve been asking for this,’ Polenorth intervenes, ‘I keep telling him, keep this up and one day…’ This is just him trying to save face. He could have turned me in days ago. I’ve been employed at Buymors for almost a week now and he said not a word to Crimp before this.
‘Shut up Polenorth!’ says Crimp.
‘Just saying that’s all,’ mumbles Polenorth.
‘Anyway, it gives me no pleasure saying this,’ Crimp lies, ‘given the current social and economical climate, but you’re sacked!’
The Shockwave hits me like the 4.32 to Leeds. ‘Pardon me?’
‘This is illegal! What about my fortnight’s trial?’
‘Forget it!’ cries Crimp. ‘I’ve changed my mind, bugger off, and do not darken Buymors doorstep again!’
‘You can’t do this,’ I plead. ‘How am I going to live? I can’t go on the dole. I hate cheap lager.’
‘You’re your own worst enemy.’ Freakishly, both Crimp and Polenorth say this at exactly the same time.
Any words uttered by anyone in the office after that aren’t worth reporting. However, as I am being escorted out of the store by Buymors would-be employee of the month and two security guards I make a very disturbing yet interesting discovery. I notice that the store fitters are in again rearranging things. Some more of the tills have been boarded off, leaving only three tills to accommodate the whole of the north of England.
‘What’s that all about?’ I exclaim and for a second we stop.
‘Never mind that,’ says Polenorth, ‘that is no concern of yours whatsoever.’
The penny drops. ‘This is nothing to do with me being late every day since I started, and being rude to customers, and breaking items before they get to the shelves. This is about getting rid of staff and going completely self-service. Shopping is all electronic now. We, the shop-workers of the world, are about to be taken over, rendered obsolete by the expansion of mechanization.. Everybody’s buying what they want online now. Open your eyes Oliver. This is the end of man and the beginning of the world of the machines.’
‘Rubbish!’ says Polenorth. He doesn’t believe that. I can hear it in his voice. ‘If you’d have shown a little more commitment to being on time and being a model employee, you’d still have a job. Now I’m going to have to tell your sister that you’ve lost the only job you’ve ever had since you left school, and after four days too.’
To be fair, that was only twenty years ago.
I take one last look inside as the automatic doors close behind me. Polenorth shakes his head as he waves me off and the security guards pat each other on the back, another good job done, another unwelcome particle of humanity ejected from their wonderful, perfect little store. Those two disappointed brain cells waiting list buffoons, just love following people around the store to see if they put their hands in their trousers. I had shoplifted there often before on many occasions, prior to submitting my application.
I don’t know what I am going to say to Steph. She is my big sister. All through my life has always kept me on the straight and narrow, by whacking me on the back of the head repeatedly at regular intervals. True, my balance has gone to shit as a result of this, and occasionally I wake up in the night screaming for no apparent reason, but she is my sister, I love her and don’t like letting her down.
As I approach my house, there is flickering light coming from within and the recognizable sound of screeching tires and sirens. The TV is on. I never leave the TV on when there is nobody around to look at it. This is very peculiar.
My feet approach the front door warily. My key goes into the lock, as if time has somehow slowed. Gingerly, I turn the handle, push the door gently and make my way to the right-hand door, where the commotion is coming from.
I stand in the doorway, waving my sad weapon this way and that, expecting to see someone vacate my home in a panic. But there is no one there at all. I put down Excalibur and begin undoing the buttons on my jacket, but as I reach the third one down, I stop dead, the TV mysteriously switches channels all by itself, and someone curses the quality of the movie they are watching . Magically, one of those antiques programs appears. The ones where you take your belongings to some old geezer who tells you it’s not worth pissing on. Someone says, ‘That’s more like it!’ There is an old woman with a very ancient looking clock. The antiques expert is already sucking air through his dentures and preparing her for the worst.
There is someone on my sofa, watching my TV, I am thinking, some sort of midget poltergeist. Slowly I circumnavigate my sofa keen to solve this perplexing mystery as soon as humanly possible. However, my eyes are not prepared for the sight they are met with – a cat holding my TV remote in its paws.
‘Having a nice time?’ I muse.
The cat, if that is what it is, does not answer me at first. Then why should it? Cats aren’t known experts of the English dialect. But if there is one thing I’ve learnt in my thirty-seven years of existence, it’s that just when you think something can’t happen, it turns up and bites you on the arse.
‘Hello?’ I say, ‘can I help you?’ The creature does not appreciate the irony of the fact that at this point still wearing my Buymors Here to Help You badge.
‘Finally,’ it rants. ‘You’re back!’
‘Had the day become more successful,’ I inform him, ‘I would still be at work stacking artichokes.’
‘Listen!’ it demands, ‘I have something very important to say to you.’
‘Would you mind if I have a drink first?’ I chance, ‘I know it’s still early, but I’ve had some rather disappointing news.’
‘Drink what?’ it enquires. ‘What do the people of your planet drink?’
I pick up a half bottle of scotch from the bookcase and wave it in the air.
‘What is that?’
‘12 year old single malt!’ I say. ‘Not the good stuff. I’m reliably informed that they put paraffin in at the factory to make it go further.’
The cat shakes its head. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first cat ever to turn down an alcoholic beverage. ‘So what is it you want to tell me?’
The cat is surprisingly nimble. His hands are somehow able to manipulate the buttons on my remote with notable skill. The volume goes up. I retrieve one of last night’s dirty glasses from the coffee table, unscrew the lid of the bottle and pour in some of the amber liquid and without another thought, take a gulp. It tastes disgusting yet that has never stopped me from purchasing the wretched stuff in the past. My head starts wobbling already. ‘Did you hear me?’ I say again. ‘What do you want to tell me?’
‘Finish your drink!’ the cat is demanding. ‘Let me finish watching this interesting documentation of your planet.’
‘You keep saying that, what do you mean?’
‘What do you mean, what do I mean?’
I take another gulp, my head is getting used to it, then another, and another. ‘You keep using the words, your planet. What do you mean by that, are you saying you are a cat from another planet, like the planet of the cats, where cats drive buses, deliver the mail, make pies and ’sell you car insurance over the phone?’
‘No!’ the cat is becoming quite irritated.
‘You just referred to The Antiques, Bargain Show, as documentation of my planet.’
‘As a species I can see that your ears aren’t very well developed.’ Its tone was changing. It really didn’t want me interrupting his program, despite the fact it was my TV it is watching it on. ‘I did not say that I was a cat from another planet.’
‘So you aren’t from another planet?’
At this point it turns its head around 180 degrees, something I never knew felines could do, owls, yes, cat’s no. ‘I apologise,’ it says humbly, ‘the information I received must be erroneous. We were led to believe that humans were the intellectually superior species of Earth.’
‘You lost me. You aren’t a cat?’
‘At present!’ It switches the TV off with its unnaturally opposable thumb. ‘I am a visitor to your world, not a cat. The cat is my present form, and thank you for pointing out the species type. I will add it to my records.’
‘Just tell me!’ I am getting frustrating now. Scotch has a peculiar effect on me. It makes me want to hit things which disagree with me. ‘I want my house back. I want to drink the rest of this and then collapse on my sofa, which is currently under feline occupation.’ Abandoning the glass I start gulping from the bottle. There is something more satisfying about getting all of the contents in my mouth at one time. I am already mourning the half of it that has now gone. I perch my bottom on the edge of the armchair, my buttocks struggle for comfort. This is intended to be a temporary situation. I stare at the cat, and the cat at me. ‘I don’t care if I’m looking at a cat, or a tiny midget in a cat costume. Tell me what you need to tell me.’
‘Very well!’ it says at last. ‘Your world is about to be invaded.’
‘By what?’ I chance, ‘more cats?’
‘Tell me,’ its voice becomes more laced with sarcasm by each second. ‘Are you an adult of your kind, or is there a parent I can to talk to?’
This is it, the straw which breaks the camel’s back. The sarcastic, hairy little bastard has crossed the line. I am no longer in control of what I do. I grab the cat and throw it across the room. There is a streak of orange across the floor. My drunken eyes are unable to follow it into the kitchen. The cat flap clatters as something shoots through it.
‘Why have I got a sodding cat flap?’ I ask myself as my body falls onto the sofa. ‘I haven’t got a cat!’ and then I fall into a coma.
(An excerpt from “Deadworld”)
Just after the accident, Jack and his little brother found themselves standing on a railway embankment, as still as silence, watching the police officers cover up their cold, bloodied corpses. Little Ross seemed oblivious to it all. He’d noted that the smaller boy, the one wearing the same coat as him, looked like him.
Jack instinctively covered Ross’s eyes with both of his palms. ‘It’s not something for your eyes,’ he said. It was obvious that Ross didn’t yet know he was dead. Then he was always slow to catch on.
‘Is he going to be alright Jack? his voice quivered.
‘Try not to worry about it!’ Jack wondered why it was necessary to be standing in front of their cold bodies. Perhaps somebody was telling them to face the hard reality of the situation before moving on. He didn’t want to look, he’d already seen enough after a few seconds. His body – no, it wasn’t a body anymore; his soul was locked to the spot like frozen air. He’d tried averting his gaze, but less than seven feet away was a man whose head was almost separated from his body. He had seen him before the blanket went on him. There was something thin, white sticking out of a hole in his chest where there was bubbling brown foam, one of the man’s ribs. It was Jack’s assumption that he must have been in the driver’s area when it happened. The poor man had been thrown through the window. Ross hadn’t caught on that his was the soul standing right next to them.
There were others on the embankment, five in all, two to their right and three to their left, each one in front of the body that until recently they had occupied. The sky, which was the oddest shade of purple, stained everything underneath the same hue, underlining the surrealism of the situation.
‘Why aren’t we going home?’ Ross whined. ‘Why are we standing here?’
‘Quiet Ross… I’m thinking.’ Jack didn’t mean to snap, the situation was making him anxious. He turned to the man on his right, a pale, thin man in a dark suit. ‘Excuse me, what are we supposed to do now?’
The man’s head turned very slowly. It took ages for him to speak, when he did manage to emit words, it was something like a nervous whisper. ‘I don’t know mate. This is the first time in heaven.’
‘Perhaps we should move. I don’t think I want to be here for much longer. If anybody was coming for us, they’d have come by now.’ In fact, Jack had a very bad feeling, that something horrible was about to happen, and right on cue, as if to speak his thoughts aloud for him, there came the most disturbing sound from the clouds, like a thousand people screaming all at once, only more animal-like than that, an icy hand stroked his entire body.
All faces turned to the sky, where there were now hundreds of dark shapes, too many to count, enough to turn day into night. Suddenly there was a voice in his head which definitely wasn’t his, yelling ‘Run!’
Jack glanced to his left and then his right. The sound appeared to have escaped the others. ‘Ross,’ he said in his brother’s ear, ‘when I say run, run!’
Ross’s head rubbed against his stomach like a nestling cat. Then he heard it again.
‘Don’t just stand there you idiots; the Screamers are coming for you!’
‘Excuse me,’ he cried to his right and left. ‘I think we’d better get out of here! I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t look like a welcoming committee.’
The next time he viewed the dots, they appeared more alive, like enormous birds.
‘Run,’ he said to no one in particular and then yelled the words extremely loudly for the whole world to hear. ‘Run!’
Jack grabbed his brother’s hand and pulled him up the bank as fast as his feet would move. Ahead of them were woods. About half way, something in his head made him want to stop and turn, some morbid curiosity, to see what these weird hybrids would do.
‘No!’ yelled the voice. ‘Don’t look, just run!’ But by now he didn’t need to see, the screaming and the carnage behind him said it all. In the corner of his eye he could see flashes of light, as if a number of things were exploding at once. Something painful and evil was happening to the other spirits, and now it was too late for them.
‘Keep running to me, and don’t look back!’
‘What’s happening Jack?’ Ross panted. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I don’t know, but everything is going to be alright, don’t worry! Keep moving!’
Soon they were surrounded by tall firs. Just a few feet ahead of them there was another boy. He was waving frantically. Obviously, feeling that they weren’t moving quickly enough, he started running towards them. ‘Whatever you do,’ he cried out as soon as they’d caught up with him, ‘don’t let them catch you!’
The owner of the strange voice was soon apparent, a boy with a round face, a mop of blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He was about the same age as Jack, fourteen or fifteen only not as skinny. ‘There isn’t much time,’ he said and stretched out his arms. ‘Hold my hands, both of you and close your eyes. Think of nothing but darkness!’
Jack stared at Ross, who was already staring back. He nodded. ‘Let’s do as he says.’
In the time it had taken for their eyelids to come together, all three of the boys had been transported into a dark place, a musty place that smelt of damp peaty earth. But it was warm, safe and comforting somehow, like parent’s embrace.
‘We’re underground?’ Jack quizzed.
‘Be quiet!’ the boy whispered. ‘If they catch you they will do terrible things to you.’
‘Like what? What can they do to us no we’re…’ Jack paused, thinking about his brother, ‘here?’
‘Believe me, there are far worse things that can happen to you here. Now be quiet!’
Jack did as he was told, and waited for the terrifying noises to pass by before speaking again.
‘How did we get down here so quickly?’
‘It’s something most of us can do. In time, you might be able to do it too, as well as other things. You have to be here for a while first before you know.’
‘I’m scared!’ said Ross, ‘it’s too dark.’
‘I’ll look after you mate,’ said Jack, ‘I always have haven’t I?’
‘It’s safe now!’ said the boy, when the commotion passed over their heads, then added, ‘I’m Finch by the way. Excuse me for not introducing myself earlier, only our souls were in danger of being ripped apart.’
‘I’m Jack and this is Ross. What the hell was that? What were those things?’
While he was talking, Finch did something else magical that made the roof of the hide dissolve into sky. Everything was now clear, although significantly purple-grey again. The clouds resembled pink worms inching along dirty sand.
‘I told you,’ said Finch, ‘They’re Screamers, and if you see them again and you will, run like hell, and don’t stop until your legs drop off, or you can’t hear them anymore, and be careful of sharp things. In Deadworld even objects can destroy you.’ Finch grabbed one each of their hands again. In the blink of an eye, they were back above ground.
Destroy? Ripped apart? Isn’t dying enough? There was so much that Jack wanted to ask now, such as what these Screamers really were, where they were supposed to go now that they were dead? Was there such a thing as being safe in this place? Could he visit the living, and if he did, could they see him? Mostly, he wanted to ask what it was that could possibly happen to them that was worse than death.
There is an old family saying, our door is always open. It comes from generations of Christians who have always believed that you should be there for others who might need you. We had been burgled nineteen times as a consequence of this. Only recently have I come to the decision that this was the most stupid thing that anybody could have on a family crest.
The first one to commit the act of trespass those final two evenings, was called Matt. I know this, because I heard him say into some handheld device.
‘Hi, it’s Matt!’ he said. ‘I’m here, where are you?’
Matt was about seventeen or eighteen, and arrived with a bag full of beer and was wearing one of those hooded pullovers.
Normally, I’d have gone downstairs and introduced myself, in what is the Henning way, which is to ask him if he would like a cup of tea, and have one in his hands before he could say no. But there was something about him that frightened the life out of me. In hindsight, I should have gone down and asked him what the hell he wanted. There was something about his eyes that said, come anywhere near me matey, and I’ll punch your blooming lights out. I thought it better to wait until he left, and then lock the front door. All I could at the time was, to lie on the landing, and observe what he did through the railings of the banister. Somehow, this was the most natural place in the world for me to go, feeling anxious like that.
Matt, was shining his torch over the walls and the floors, as if he was looking for something. Such an odd thing to do, as far as I knew, the house lights functioned perfectly.
There is a common misconception with people, that as nobody sees me that often, that the place is empty. It is not, I am here. I have always been here. I was born here, in the master bedroom.
The others arrived half an hour later, two girls and two more boys, all the same age.
‘Come on, Timothy,’ I told myself. ‘Grow some balls and go and tell them to leave.’ But although I have always been quite good at talking to myself, I’m not a terribly good listener. The sensible thing to do, would have been to call the police, and had them removed by force. I’ve never had a mobile phone, never liked them, and The landline was downstairs. There was an extension in the study, but it hadn’t been working for years.
One of the boys had brought this noisy plastic box which spewed out sounds normally heard in an iron foundry, bang, bang bang, bang bang. This modern music was beyond me.
It was getting late. I’d been on my way to bed when Matt arrived. So I began shuffling on all fours to my room. Then, as I was passing a small table with one of the house numerous potted plants on, my foot caught the leg and the pot wobbled. A voice from below asked, ‘What was that? A girl.
‘Rats!’ replied one of the other boys, and the cheeky things laughed. There has never been a single pest in this house, until they turned up, that was.
I managed to get to my room, where I spent the night on the floor in my duvet, on the furthest side of the bed, where they couldn’t see me.
In the morning, I was delighted to see that they had left. Although horrid signs of their presence remained, in the form of beer cans, crisp wrappers and cigarette stubs.
The following evening, I relaxed by the fireside. It was always the best place to be with a book. The seats are comfortable, and there is a foot rest so that I can extend my legs to catch the warmth of the lashing flames. But my happiness was to last long, as my comfort was disturbed with laughter at my door, and it was then that I remembered I’d forgotten to lock it, and panic jolted my chest.
I went to the door at first, and peered through the spy hole. Just three people chatting by my gate, two men and a woman. They all had equipment and bags, as if they had come from the station. All the same, I thought I would lock the door. However, the key wasn’t in the lock.
‘Damned kids!!’ I whispered to myself. I ran to the kitchen to find something I could use. Then, just like the rowdy children the night before, without my permission, they came in.
Again, I could have confronted them. They seemed an amicable bunch. Something inside me said to keep a discreet distance, so I did. Peeking through the kitchen door, I could see one of the men, he had his back to me. The others had gone out to get the bags. This was my opportunity to sneak back upstairs.
Once they were all assembled again, I watched them from the banister. I kept asking myself questions. Why did people like to come into my home? What was so fascinating about it? True, it was a beautiful place, quite grandiose for its size. It had high ceilings and old paintings on the walls. Although it had been years since any of it, had seen a duster.
These people seemed to have a lot to say. They talked well into the night. Much of the words meant very little to me. Being very old, my ears couldn’t absorb a fair percentage of their conversation., and so my eyelids very slowly quivered to a close.
But they weren’t closed for long. I heard the sound of my name drifting from downstairs.
‘Timothy Hemming!’ it was the woman, quite a seductive voice if I am to be honest. I was pleased at least, that although they didn’t ask for me at the doorway, they acknowledged my presence.
I stood up.
‘Up there on the landing!’ said the man holding an electric box with some sort of metallic cone attached to it by a wire.
The woman looked somewhere in my direction. ‘Timothy, if you are here, please give us a sign.’
So I did. I knocked over the plant with my elbow. This appeared to cause some excitement.
‘I can see him!’ the woman announced, enthusiastically.
‘Speak to him!’ said the one with the microphone.
‘Why are you still here? Is it unfinished business?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I live here!’
‘He says he lives here!’ she told the others, and they giggled nervously. Then to me she said, ‘Why haven’t you passed on to the spirit world?’
‘Because I’m not dead,’ I said, ‘that’s why. What a stupid thing to ask.’
‘Timothy,’ she said, ‘You died in nineteen hundred and one. You fell from that banister. The records say that you were dusting the ceiling, and fell off a ladder.’
This was news to me. The woman related what she’d told me to the others.
‘I can’t be dead,’ I said. ‘I don’t feel dead!’
‘I’ll prove it!’ she said, and opened the front door to its extent. The two men asked her why she was doing that, she shushed them.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked her.
‘When was the last time you were out of this house?’
I was stumped. I couldn’t envisage such a time.
‘If I am dead, how can you converse with me?’
‘I’m Daria Melsh. TV psychic.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
She looked at the others and then back at me. ‘Leave!’
‘Leave?’ the concept was a difficult one.
So, slowly, I descended the staircase.
‘I’m getting a strong reading!’ the man with the cone announced. ‘He must be getting closer.’
As I passed them, they all backed away. One of the men said that the temperature had dropped several degrees.
I stood by the door, willing my body to go out.
‘Go on Timothy!’ Daria smiled.
I smiled back. Now this was the time to be brave. I stepped out of the door, but not a thing changed. The doorstep was where it had always been, The old rusty gate was hanging off its hinges and there was the street, all so different now.
Then something very odd happened to my eyes. For everything I laid my eyes on began dissolving in the air. I turned and saw the woman, Daria, waving and blowing me a kiss.
Suddenly there was nothing.
I have never been to the house since that night.
About the author
Phil, (or ‘Phil’ to his friends), was created in a laboratory somewhere in the midlands in the 1886 by a mad scientist and his monkey assistant, Steven. Sometime in the 1970s, somebody left the door unlocked, (probably Steven) and Phil managed to escape. To this day, he lives in Wrexham, in North Wales. He has asked me to point out, that he is only writing books for his community service for the council. Phil doesn’t like picking up other people’s rubbish.
(Not the author)
ALSO BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Projector – The Making of Leon Black
A Diary of Two Brians – Or how I became a possessed person (without actually noticing).
The Coming of the Zartangs (a novella)
Jurassic Jack and the Search For a Scary Thing
Last Man Standing and Other Stories
All of the above available in paperback and Kindle download version on Amazon.
Come with me on a ride inside your head, and out of it. Read tales with a twist, titter at rhymes. A compilation of bits and pieces from the writings of Philip Gilliver, so far.