Glitch by Chris Green
‘Heliotrope destination,’ the caller says and then hangs up. Heliotrope destination? It sounds like a cryptic crossword clue. What does that mean? What on earth is he talking about?
In these days of scams and hoaxes, I record the calls we get on our landline. I play the message back. A man’s voice. No trace of an accent. Nor does it have that metallic sound you get from a robot voice. The number is withheld.
I try not to dwell on it. Perhaps it’s part of a bizarre promotional campaign to launch a new product which will become apparent in due course. I get back to my painting of the Aurora Borealis. Izzy will be home soon and I want to make it look like I’ve been productive while she’s been out. She keeps reminding me I haven’t finished a painting for weeks, let alone sold one.
Multilingual interface. It’s a text on my mobile this time. Once again, an apparently meaningless pairing of random words. Number withheld again. Troll? Prankster? But why would a prankster target me? Nutcase? Someone bearing a grudge? I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset anyone. I’ve led a very low profile life since I’ve been here.
Bewildering they may be, but the messages are not life-threatening. I get back to the Aurora Borealis. I dab some bold green swirls onto the canvas. When working in oils, you need to be decisive. The more layers of paint you can get into the painting, the better the result. That’s the beauty of oils. You can put some depth into the work. I am just mixing up some purple when I hear two emails ping in quick succession on my laptop. At first, I ignore them, but curiosity gets the better of me. The sender for both of them I discover is firstname.lastname@example.org Neither of them has any subject, so there’s not a lot to go on. The messages too are becoming weirder. Corporation horn and nervous subsidiary.
Strange is never good. I learnt that a long time ago. My mind is racing. Surely, it couldn’t be …….. No, the idea is absurd. But, there again….. To distract myself, I slip a Wagner CD into the Bose. Götterdämmerung, Twilight of the Gods. I turn the volume up so I won’t be disturbed again and continue with my painting. I apply some viridian green straight from the tube and shape it with a palette knife, hacking at the canvas. I mix some with a little titanium white and cut that in. I step back to take a look. I do not hear Izzy come in.
‘I found this on the mat.’ she says. She is holding a plain postcard with the words, harlequin fancy written on it. ‘What is that all about?’
I mutter something about being as puzzled as she is. But I am getting a bad feeling the message might relate to my past. I have not gone into detail with Izzy about my past. I cannot.
‘I can’t hear you,’ she says. ‘Can’t you turn that awful racket down?’
For some time, I’ve been getting the impression that Izzy does not appreciate Wagner as much as I do. There again, I do not like Billy Joel. Or Elton John. Relationships, though, like other covenants, are all about compromise. Admittedly, I have had to compromise more than most, but that’s another story. With Valhalla in flames and the Rhine overflowing its banks, I pause the opera. I give her a summary of the previous messages. As i do so, fresh emails ping on the laptop. email@example.com no subject. Incidental hejira. Aggregate reception.
I try to shrug them off, but Izzy is having none of it. Perhaps she detects that beneath it all I know something is wrong.
‘What about that chap you met a couple of weeks ago in the market?’ she says. ‘The geeky one with the snake called Stanley, who started talking to you about that number that’s too big to tell you how big it is?’
‘Graham’s number. It’s called Graham’s number.’
‘Yes. That’s the one. Might it be him?’
‘What, Norman? No, I think Norman is just an ageing trainspotter with learning difficulties.’
‘How about the bloke who wrote The Early Worm Catches the Bird? The one who was telling us about Wet Blanket Ron, when we were in the pub. He was creepy.’
‘Just a lonely old author, I think. I can’t imagine many people read his books. Pretty harmless, though. Anyway, whoever it is knows my number, my mobile number, our house number and my email.’
‘You mean, it might be someone we know well?’
‘There is that possibility,’ I say. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, though. There’s bound to be a reasonable explanation.’
The room goes quiet. I can sense Izzy weighing up who she feels might be suspicious. Our friend, Hoagy Platt possibly? He’s a bit of a joker. Might he do something like this? Freda Mann, the poet or Dean Runner, perhaps? He’s a strange one.
‘Let me have a look at the emails,’ she says, finally. ‘Perhaps there’s something about these communications you haven’t spotted.’
I open up my Gmail account for her.
‘Where are they?’ she says, scrolling up and down the page. ‘Where are these messages?’
I take a look. To my alarm, there is no longer any sign of them. They are not even in Trash. They seem to have somehow been completely deleted. I take out my phone. The text message too has gone. The message on the phone too is missing. Is this good or is this bad?
If you have been in a relationship for any length of time, you will be familiar with that look you get when your partner feels that you have been trying to deceive her. You will be familiar too with the stony silence that follows, in most cases for the rest of the day. Sometimes the following day, too. But it’s an ill wind and all that. Without any of her interruptions and with no further unsolicited messages, I am able to make significant progress on my painting. Could this be the secret of great artists? Might Mrs Monet have thought Claude was keeping things from her and given him the silent treatment? Might Mrs Matisse have been a frequent sulker?
Late the following day, Izzy’s son, Ben, calls in. We are not sure if Ben is living with us or not. He appears from time to time to raid the fridge and then is gone again. He is off to a festival this time, apparently.
‘Mum gone to bed, has she?’ he says, as he munches his way through a slice of pizza. ‘She not speaking to you again?’
Having no children of my own, I get on pretty well with Ben. I give him a summary of what has happened.
‘Probably a password generator,’ he says. ‘Good idea! You and Mum are always forgetting passwords.’
I give Ben’s explanation some thought, but reject it. The people who offered you the password would also know it, which would immediately compromise its security.
To my relief, there are no more unexplained messages over the next few days. Izzy now thinks that I may have imagined the earlier ones. I entertain the idea that she may be right. She suggests I ought to see someone to help me over my confusion, Dr Strummer perhaps. But as time passes, she backs down and things around the house return to normal. I even manage to finish my Aurora Borealis painting, and decide to take it along to Gallery 9.
You get accustomed to the interior of a car. Its features become so familiar that as you drive it around from day to day, you hardly notice them. But as I start the Nissan, I feel something is different. At first, I can’t put my finger on what it is. Then it hits me. Alongside the various readouts for fuel, temperature and mileage on the instrument panel are the words supernova trampoline in blue Sans Serif script. It is difficult to see what this might have to do with the functioning of the car. Independent momentum, it reads now. It changes to perpendicular freefall. These might be just words, but there is no rational explanation for these muddled phrases appearing on the dashboard display. Someone is messing with my head. Someone with a shitload of technology and guile at their fingertips. Could it really be my comrades returning to spirit me away? Surely, after all this time, they would have forgotten about me. But who else could be behind it? No-one from around these parts. They are still working on the understanding that there are just three dimensions. And they have only just come up with the internet. They would not be capable of such diverse communication. It must be my people arriving to collect me and take me back home. They are probably having a few teething troubles with the comms equipment. After all, wasn’t it a glitch in the Earth translation widget on the landing craft that left me stranded here in the first place?
Copyright © Chris Green, 2020: All rights reserved