With or Without an ‘e’ by Chris Green
There is not a lot to do in Bulith Wells when the weather is wet. Wales is of course famous for its damp climate, but this year was exceptional. April had been a washout, and now May looked like breaking all records. Ifan Griffiths was unsettled by it. Spring should be the best time of year, with all the changes taking place in the country, the birds returning to nest, and the sap rising. Ifan yearned to get out into the Cambrian mountains which were right here on his doorstep. They were his patch, but on the few occasions he had set out this year, not even his expensive North Face waterproofs had been up to the task of keeping him dry.
Since his recent divorce, Ifan lived alone in a traditional lime wash cottage on the edge of the village. It was a particularly wet night and he could not sleep because of the rain pounding on the roof. He found himself at 3am watching SyFy, one of the many new channels he was able to turn to for relief since signing up for the Sky Entertainment Extra package. As the low budget film Syfy was showing progressed, Ifan began to feel there was something naggingly familiar about the plot. The main character in the film, Judson Cleary, was living his life in an ipod shuffle. Days were sequenced randomly after one another, and the actor playing the part stumbled about the screen looking puzzled at each turn of events. A dizzying sense of déjà vu consumed Ifan and his heart began to race.
Ifan might have thought nothing more about the sense of familiarity, but two weeks earlier he had had a similar disorientating experience. Sky Movies Drama had shown a film called King of the Jungle, which seemed to have plundered the depths of Ifan’s unconscious for its source material. As the slow moving kidnap drama unfolded, each scene had been familiar, and the lion appeared out of nowhere to save the day at just the time that Ifan was expecting it. He had not seen the film before; this was he discovered its first outing on television. He had even checked his LoveFilm account to confirm that he had not accidentally rented it and forgotten about it. He did the same now with Shuffle. It was also not on the list. Perhaps he had read the book. Memory could certainly be an unreliable servant, but he felt he had not read the book.
Ifan came to the gradual realisation that the sense of familiarity of the two films owed itself to one simple fact. He had written the stories on which they were based. When he was not wandering the gentle slopes of the Cambrian Mountains with his binoculars and camera trying to get prize winning shots of harriers and kites, Ifan spent much of his time writing short stories. He had started writing as a child during a bout of jaundice and had been knocking out stories for over thirty years. He had thus built up quite a collection, all of them, including the two that seemed to form the basis of the two films, unpublished. He had to admit that he had not tried very hard to get his stories published. In fact he had not tried at all. He just enjoyed writing them. Writing for him was almost an involuntary process. The wide open spaces of mid Wales fired his imagination. When he was out walking he found himself inundated with ideas and on returning home needed somewhere to deposit them. He frequently ended up working on several stories at once, cutting and pasting fervently from one document to another. He loved the way words danced on the page, the way the sentences coupled and uncoupled. Hours passed without him realising it.
Ifan’s solitary pastimes were one of the reasons that Cerys had left. She felt that he did not pay her enough attention. He was, she told him, entirely self-obsessed. He was either up in the hills or away with the fairies. Ifan’s argument that if she didn’t spend so much time quilting and embroidering, then he would not spend so much time rambling and writing, was a weak one. She countered easily with, he never asked about her day or offered to take her out to dinner; they had not been on a proper holiday for three years and except for a day trip to Oswestry, had never been outside Wales. Last year he had forgotten her birthday and this had been the final straw. She upped and left. Ifan was heartbroken. They had been together for nearly five years.
Ifan had from time to time shared his stories with friends, who he found usually put them aside to read at a later date, but never seemed to get round to it. Most of those in the village, those he might have a pint with in the local pub for instance, like Dafydd, Iolo and Hywel did not share his literary interests, so Ifan attended a monthly book club in Llandindrod Wells. Here he was sometimes persuaded to read a story to the group. Occasionally he photocopied one to hand out. Eiffon or Tegwen, while they gave him encouragement, did not give the impression that they understood what he was writing about. Bryn felt the story about the Owlman was too long, and Nerys wondered if the story about the jungle in Cornwall might have ended differently. Dewi questioned whether drawing attention to postmodern theory was a legitimate device in short fiction.
Ifan revisited the drafts of the two television stories, both of which he had written nearly ten years ago. He read them through carefully. He was prepared to admit that he had a tendency towards paranoia. His former therapist, Aura, had told him so. Although the two films had not followed the plots word for word, or scene for scene, there were too many similarities for it to be put down to coincidence. Even supposing that the idea of the days of the year playing out like a music shuffle lacked exclusivity, the explanation that time is not linear being the accidental result of a malfunctioning video installation by a Belgian nu-surrealist, did not seem the kind of idea that would be doing the rounds. This being the case, how would the film-makers have got hold of the stories? He had not sent them to any publishers. His colleagues in the book club would surely be versed in the ethics of the written work and aware of the penalties for plagiarism. He considered each of the group in turn but arrived at the conclusion that they were beyond suspicion. Eiffon and Tegwen were among the last of life’s innocents, Bryn had his own literary ambitions, Nerys and Dewi only came along to the book club for company. He had not had much to do with Huw, Mfanwy or Giancarlo, and Rhodri Llewelyn didn’t speak English at all.
Ifan found out on the Internet that the screenplays for both King of the Jungle and Shuffle had been written by Corrina Herzog, surely a pseudodym, he thought. There was not yet a bio for Corrina on wikipedia; in fact her name was notably absent on web searches. There was not even a Corrina Herzog on Facebook. Perhaps whoever it was had just written these two screenplays and changed her name again. He tried different spellings for her but still turned up nothing. This brought his research to a shuddering halt.
One night after a few pints of Double Dragon, Ifan confided in Dafydd.
‘You’re beginning to sound like Jones the Dark Side, mind you, said Dafydd. ‘He thinks they’re tapping his phone and that Jones the Post is following him.’
‘I’ll give my head for breaking if I’m not right. Those are my stories, see,’ said Ifan. ‘Someone must have hacked in to my computer.’
‘You must have emailed them to somebody. What about that girl you met at university?’
‘You mean Andrea?’
Yes. Andrea. You were hoping to light a fire in her hearth.’
‘It was all the dream of a witch according to her will.’
‘What?,’ said Dafyd.
‘Despite the leeks growing in your window box, you’re not very Welsh, are you Dafydd?’ said Ifan. ‘Wishful thinking it is. I don’t think I stood a chance.’
Ifan had met Andrea Evans at University in Aberystwyth. He was there as a mature student on a Joint Honours path of Countryside Planning and English. Andrea was on a Media Studies course and they had been on a Modern and Postmodern module together. They seemed to get along and had gone to see The Smashing Pumpkins together in Swansea. For a while Ifan had thought that given time they might even become an item. They did not, and after University they lost touch, but caught up years later on Facebook. Andrea was by then a creative with an up and coming company in London. Ifan asked her if she would like to read some of his stories and Andrea gave him her email address. Ifan sent her pdfs of some of his stories, and later when Andrea said she hadn’t received them, sent them again. Weeks passed and Ifan heard nothing back from Andrea. He resigned himself to the possibility that Andrea hadn’t really wanted to read his stories but was just being polite, as so many others had been before her. Short stories were out of favour. They were not the books that you saw advertised on Amazon. Was it possible that Andrea had sold on his stories?
Since a recent bout of paranoia, Ifan’s Facebook privacy level was set to Only Me, the highest level. This meant that he was the only one who could see his posts, not that there had been any. He had not been on recently. He opened up the program and changed the settings and saw that Andrea Evans was still a friend. He posted a message to her, asking how she was, hoping that she would remember him and perhaps comment on the stories he had emailed her.
‘I’m good,’ she replied. ‘How are you? Never did receive your stories by the way.’
Ifan responded saying that he had sent them to her email address – twice.
It occurred to Andrea at this point that he had probably sent them to an incorrect email address. She replied saying that they should have been sent to firstname.lastname@example.org ‘Perhaps someone is this very moment getting a big fat royalty cheque from their publication.’ she joked.
‘Oh bugger,’ thought Ifan. He had missed the central ‘e’. ‘E’ for Elizabeth perhaps.
He remembered thinking at the time that email@example.com was a very convenient one, unless she had been one of the first to register for email. Ifan’s address was firstname.lastname@example.org You wouldn’t imagine Ifan was a common name, but there must have been at least 92 other Ifan Griffiths signed up for email with his provider before him.
The email Ifan sent to the original recipient demanding an explanation for the blatant plagiarism of his work was returned undelivered. Andrea Evans’ hotmail account was closed.
It has however stopped raining in Mid Wales.
© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved