Little by Little

littlebylittlebw

Little by Little by Chris Green

It is said that everyone who looks into their family history will sooner or later discover a deep dark secret, some unexpected turn of events. Time is a slippery customer. There are inherent dangers in unearthing the past. You never know what you might find. Perhaps the past should be left where it belongs. Didn’t Lara realise that with a surname like De’Ath, there might be some skeletons in her cupboard? Or worse? There might be no skeletons in her cupboard.

In her defence, since Who Are You? the television series revealing celebrities’ family trees, everyone seemed to be looking into their ancestry. It was practically all they talked about at the office where Lara worked. Her colleagues, Holly, Polly, Siobhan and Trudi chattered endlessly about the new revelations from the programme, this giving them an opening to relate what they had found out about their own family trees through an array of genealogy websites.

Although Lara’s colleagues all wanted to feel they had uncovered hidden secrets, in the big scheme of things, their backgrounds were nothing to get excited about. Grandfathers and great-grandfathers killed in various bygone conflicts, immigrant great uncles and the odd wayward philanderer from Southern Europe. Siobhan’s maternal great-grandmother was an unwitting bigamist and Holly’s great-great grandfather was a circus performer in pre-Soviet Russia. Over a number of generations, these were the kind of anomalies you might expect to spring up in a family tree. Trudi, in particular, had gone a long way back and found that she was distantly related to someone in the court of Henry the Eighth.

Who Are You? on the other hand, had delivered some major bombshells. Angus McReedy, the bearded host of The Great British Fry Up had found out that he was the rightful king of Scotland. Kirsty Banker, the well turned out presenter of the popular travel programme on Sunday nights had found out that her grandfather was thought to be Jack the Ripper. Kirsty had, by all accounts, tried to stop the programme from going out but Channel 6 held her to her contract. The revelation about her background was gold dust, especially as Kirsty worked for the BBC.

‘You ought to find out about your heritage, Lara,’ said Holly. ‘Probably time better spent than going on all those dating sites.’

‘How’s all of that going?’ asked Polly, vaguely suspecting that it might not be going well. Lara hadn’t mentioned her dates very much of late.

‘Ah, yes. What happened with …… Leon, wasn’t it?’ asked Holly.

‘Leon! Huh! Leon was typical,’ said Lara. ‘He described himself as a debonair thirty-something with prospects but turned out to be haggard looking forty-something with halitosis. None of them seem to match their description. If they say they are in sales or marketing, they probably sell scratch cards outside the railway station. Tall, dark and handsome usually means portly and five feet four, sporty means has a mountain bike in the shed, and good sense of humour means expects you to sit with him watching repeats of Dad’s Army. I think you are right, Polly. It is a waste of time.’

‘You’re not even thirty yet, Lara’ said Siobhan, comfortingly. ‘There’s plenty of time. The right man will come along. Meanwhile, you should find out who you are. Where you came from.’

She was thirty yet, in fact, she was thirty two, but Lara took Holly’s comments aboard. Lately, she had become curious as to where her roots lay. She knew very little about her family’s background. Her father disappeared when she was young and her mother was always very tight-lipped about the past. Her mother had never called herself De’Ath, preferring her own name, Wilson. Wendy Wilson. Lara often wondered why this was but with the atmosphere at home being strained most of the time, never got around to asking. As there was no professional reason for keeping her own name, Lara assumed that it was either because of the connotations of the name De’Ath or that they probably had never actually been married. She could not remember any talk of a divorce. Since her mother died several years ago from a rare blood disease, and Lara had no brothers or sisters, there was now no way of finding out.

On her father’s side, Lara had nothing to go on but his name. She had no other information, no birthplace or date of birth. So far as she could remember, she had never met a paternal grandfather and she had only a small recollection of a paternal grandmother. She had an inkling that she had some cousins up north but she was not sure. She had never met them but she vaguely recalled a Chester and a Preston being mentioned once or twice, if not in a favourable context. But, at least Lincoln De’ath would be an easy name to follow up. There wouldn’t be too many of these. Fortunately, she knew her mother’s date of birth and where she was born, so at least she had something definite to go on here. Little by little, she would be able to build this into a family tree.

When she signed up for the genealogy sites, Lara hoped to unearth some artistic ancestors, a great line of forgotten bohemian artisans perhaps. A keen painter herself, she was sure that there must be an artistic streak running through her bloodline somewhere. If not a painter or sculptor, perhaps there might be a forgotten writer or a poet there in the background, or maybe a virtuoso musician. She felt that knowing this would help to give her confidence in her abilities. She hoped one day if she worked hard at it, she might be able to sell her paintings and perhaps be able to give up her nine to five job.

When she could find no record anywhere of a Lincoln De’Ath, Lara was not completely surprised. Over the years she had realised that there was something distinctly dishonest about her father. He could at best be described as a wheeler-dealer. Lincoln De’Ath was probably not even his real name. But, why he would make up the name De’Ath was anyone’s guess. Why would you? More to the point, what malevolent caprice had prompted him to curse her with it too? Why had her mother not stood her ground and put Lara Wilson on her birth certificate? What power did he hold over her mother? It seemed that she might now never be able to find out.

She managed to find her mother’s entry on the ancestry.net site but when she clicked on it, something unexpected happened and she was faced with what she had heard referred to as the blue screen of death. When she managed to reboot the laptop and get back into the site, she could no longer find the record. She became a little alarmed. What had she done? If she couldn’t even find her mother, what chance was there of going further back?

She started again from scratch, following all the instructions and screen hints. When this revealed nothing she tried a couple of the other free sites. Still none of the right things seemed to be happening. Now it was a case of do or die. One by one, she upgraded to the subscription versions of the sites for their added capabilities. To her alarm, Wendy Louise Wilson, born 8th December 1945 was missing on every single one of them. Surely, it was not possible to have deleted the records of her mother at their very source. Surely, it was not possible to change anything on the internet without being a webmaster or whatever these tekkies were called. Perhaps she was doing something inherently wrong. She remembered the time she spent hours trying to work out which was the any key. And the time she thought the keyboard was broken because her password came out as asterisks. She would be the first to admit that she was never that good with sorting out computer problems. Some gremlin always seemed to creep up from nowhere to catch her unawares.

Even though it was late, she phoned Trudi and pleaded with her to come round to see what she was doing wrong. Trudi was a whizz with spreadsheets and data entry and she also knew her way around ancestry sites. She had traced her ancestors back to Tudor times. Trudi would be able to spot straight away what she was doing wrong.

Trudi had been in the middle of saying goodnight to her new friend, Tariq when she got Lara’s call but as Lara sounded desperate, she got in the car and drove round. Her expertise, however, did nothing to correct the problem. They tried every possible combination of Lara’s mother’s name and came up with nothing. It hardly seemed worth trying her father’s name, but Trudi tried anyway. Nothing. It seemed suddenly as if Lara’s parents had never existed. While Lara could understand the difficulty with regard to her father, with all the resources available on the enhanced ancestors.com, her mother should have been straightforward to locate.

‘Her name was there, on the screen in front of me, honestly, Trudi. Wendy Louise Wilson. But when I clicked on her name, Windows 10 crashed and the record was gone,’ said Lara.

‘That’s simply isn’t possible, Lara,’ said Trudi. ‘If she was there, then the record of her would still be there. We’re not putting something in wrong here now, are we? You’re sure this is your mother’s date of birth?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘And her birthplace?’

‘Definitely Compton Abbot.’

Trudi’s phone rang. It was Tariq wondering when she would be back, he had something planned.

‘Sorry, Lara. I’ve got to go,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you a call over the weekend.’

On Saturday morning after a night of fitful sleep, Lara got up and booted up the laptop again. She went to log in to Facebook and she was greeted with the something went wrong message. She had come across this before, so she did not get too concerned. She brewed some coffee and tried again and she was able to get in but her Facebook profile had completely disappeared. Do you want to sign up, it said, with the instructions on how to do so. She tried to get into her email account but this too had completely disappeared.

Trudi was not amused to get another call from Lara so soon. She was trying something new with Tariq at the time. She was growing to like the way Tariq introduced new activities into their daily routine. This one involved Belgian chocolate. She was enjoying it very much, so she ignored the call. She could phone Lara back later. The chocolate thing temporarily seemed more important.

When she phoned Lara back around midday, her phone just kept ringing. It did not even go to voicemail. Trudi assumed that Lara had got the hump with her for not answering her call earlier. Lara could be a bit like that sometimes. She took things too much to heart. She had to realise that the world did not revolve around her.

Trudi decided to drive over anyway to see what was going on. There was no point in falling out about a phonecall. Perhaps Lara had called to tell her that she had resolved her computer glitch and having done so, had gone shopping and left her phone at home. While she was stuck at the lights at the Scott Mackenzie roundabout, she called again. This time, she got the message the number you have dialled has not been recognised. She quickly checked. It was definitely Trudi’s number, the same number she had dialled not twenty minutes previously.

Trudi arrived at Lara’s flat and knocked firmly on the door. A lady in her late forties in a quilted housecoat and slippers carrying a black refuse bag emerged from the adjacent flat.

‘Are you looking for Mrs Fakenham?’ she said. ‘Because she’s gone to the shops.’

‘No. I am looking for my friend, Lara De’Ath,’ said Trudi. ‘She lives here.’

‘Lara De’Ath. What sort of name is that?’ said the lady, looking Trudi up and down. ‘Anyway. Never heard of her. She doesn’t live here. Mrs Fakenham lives in that flat. She’s been here for years, Mrs Fakenham has, with her cats. Look! There’s one of them now. I think that one’s called Thursday. She’s named them all after days of the week. I suppose that’s how she remembers them.’

Trudi was flummoxed. It was fortunate that when she got back home, Tariq was waiting with another surprise. This one involved whipped cream.

When Trudi arrived at the office early on Monday morning, Holly was already there. She began to tell Holly about Lara’s disappearance.

‘Lara?’ said Holly, interrupting her. ‘Who’s Lara?’

‘Who’s Lara!’ Trudi echoed. ‘Who’s Lara? Only the person who has been sitting opposite you for the last three years.’

‘Hey?’

‘The girl with the long dark hair and the peaches complexion. The one who was always lending you her mascara. What’s wrong with you this morning, Holly?’

‘I vaguely recall someone used to sit at the desk over there,’ said Holly. ‘Sara, wasn’t it? But, that was a long time ago.’

What was the woman talking about? What in Hell’s name was happening? Was it perhaps all part of some poisonous conspiracy designed to push her over the edge? All this, when things were going so well with Tariq.

‘It was Lara. Her name was Lara. And if you recall, Lara was still here on Friday. Sitting right there. You had that conversation about your dog-walker being distantly related to Daphne du Maurier.’

‘I’ve no idea what you are talking about.’

‘Come on! You’re winding me up, Holly.’

‘No, sorry Trudi. ……. Are you all right?’

‘Check your phone! Go on, check it! You will have Lara’s number and a list of calls you’ve made to her.’

Holly took her phone out of her bag and played with it for a while. ‘No. Sorry,’ she said ‘It’s not bringing up anyone called Lara.’

‘Why are you doing this, Holly? It’s not funny. ……. You must remember Lara. She’s the one who…….’ Trudi began. ‘The one who ……., but even as she was saying it, her own recollection was beginning to fade. She could no longer remember what Lara looked like. Little by little, Lara was disappearing.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 4

thecontinuingstoryofwetblanketronpart4

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 4 by Chris Green

I thought that I had put the character of Wet Blanket Ron to bed. I had written three stories in the Wet Blanket Ron series and I felt that this was probably enough. No writer wants to keep going over old ground. But every now and again one or other of my readers would ask the question, ‘when is there going to be a new Wet Blanket Ron story?’ One particular reader on a site called looksee.com, where I sometimes posted, read my stories on the train to break up her long commute. She had put in regular requests for a reprise. Ron was her favourite fictional character, she said. ‘Please give the hapless loafer another outing.’

It became harder and harder to resist the idea. I suppose this is how J. K. Rowling must have felt with her Harry Potter stories. To persist with such a weak premise for so long, I can only assume she was utterly inundated with requests for yet another episode in the life of the smug boy wizard and found her publishers leaning heavily on her to deliver one.

Every writer bases his characters, at least in part, on someone from real life. Even the most unlikely characters have their origins in the real world. Hanibal Lecter, the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, for instance, was based on the murderous gay Mexican doctor Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Basil Fawlty, the volatile hotelier in the sitcom was based on Donald Sinclair, proprietor of the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. Don Draper, the Lothario ad-exec in Mad Men was inspired by Dan Daniels, the creator of the Marlboro Man. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was based on a real life caterpillar that was very hungry, and so on. I originally based the character of Wet Blanket Ron on a ne’er do well I knew called Dale Loveless.

I have found that authenticity pays dividends when plotting a new story. So long as there is a degree of realism present, readers are able to identify with what is happening in the narrative, however fantastical the premise might otherwise be. In order to get some inspiration for the task ahead, I thought I had better bite the bullet and try to find out what he had been up to. I hadn’t heard from Dale in a very long time. What cruel misfortune, I wondered, had befallen Dale since we last met? What grave injustice had he been the victim of recently? There was sure to be something suitably downbeat to use as source material.

When I last heard news of Dale, it was looking as though he might do a stretch in prison for smuggling Swiss watches into the UK. He had, of course, been a mule but with his record, it was unlikely that he would be able to convince the court that this was the case. In the last instalment of the Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron, for which I had required a surreal scenario, I had fictionalised this episode into an unwitting Wet Blanket Ron smuggling packets of time out of Greenwich Observatory. I had left a bit of a cliffhanger but had not gone back to this.

Assuming that Dale had been sent down, it was probable that he was out by now. While I had no contact number or address for him and could find no references to him on social media, I figured that Annette Lard would know. She was one of the very few people that had stood by him through thick and thin. I think they grew up together or saw the same psychotherapist or something. I went in to see Annette in BestBet where she worked.

‘Hi, Annette. You keeping well?’ I said.

She was. I left it at that. I did not want to go into the ins and outs of Annette’s chaotic life.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen anything of Dale Loveless,’ I said.

‘Sorry, babes,’ she said. ‘I haven’t seen Dale for a while.’

‘He’s probably still in prison, then,’ I said.

‘No. He’s out, at least he was. He came in and put a ton on Can’t Lose at 10 to 1 in the Wetherspoons Handicap Chase. Let me see, that would have been back in February. Can’t Lose fell at the second to last. It looked as if it was going to romp home as well.’

‘I guess that sums Dale up,’ I said.

‘I guess so. He had his head in his hands all the way through the race. It was as if he never expected it to win,’ she said.

I wondered if Pete Free might know where Dale was hiding out. Pete had known Dale for even longer than I had. I believe they had been in college together. Or perhaps not been at college together. I think this was in the days when being at college was different from actually attending lectures. I called in at Pete’s place on the off-chance he might know where I might find Dale. Pete invited me in and before I knew it he had given me a large spliff to look after. I hadn’t smoked in years and by the time I left, I was completely off my head. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember much of the conversation we had had but I think the gist of it was that he hadn’t seen Dale, had no desire to see Dale and had no idea where I might find him. Oh, and that our universe was a hologram, and we were floating inside of it.

‘Does Dale know you’ve been writing about him?’ asked Misty Silver, the manager of the Emmaus charity shop in the High Street where he had once worked. It was an innocent enquiry on her behalf, but, no, Dale didn’t know.

‘Would he recognise his character anyway?’ I said. ‘Most people don’t recognise themselves. Either that or they think a more favourable character in the story is based on them.’

Did Dale perhaps think of himself as a Dry Blanket Ron? Could I have written his character to be cheerier and less accident prone? I explained to Misty that this would have taken some of the edge out of the plots. There would have been considerably less drama in the first story for instance if Ron had not been knocked down by a hit-and-run driver in Black Dog Way and if Ron’s wife had not run off with his best friend, Frank while he was in hospital or if he had not contracted norovirus while he was in there and had not been evicted by his unscrupulous landlord, Kostas Moros when he was discharged. This is the way popular fiction works. The reader expects things to go wrong. Ups and downs are necessary in drama to create tension. War and Peace would have died a death if it had been called Peace and Peace. No-one would have turned out to see Romeo and Juliet if the Montagues and the Capulets had got along. Where The Wild Things Are wouldn’t have captured a child’s imagination if the things weren’t wild. And so on.

Perhaps this was the answer. In the absence of any new material, I could adapt one of the classic plots from literature. Ron’s farm could be engulfed by a dust cloud and he could struggle to take his starving family across country to California. Ron could traipse around Dublin bars for twenty four hours while his wife was unfaithful. Ron could wake up one morning transformed into a large verminous creature. He could steal a fast car and crash it and get twenty years in prison and escape as a washerwoman to reclaim his family seat from the weasels. Realistically, though, none of the famous novel plots was a contender.

There continued to be no word on Dale Loveless. I wasn’t getting anywhere with inspiration for my story. I needed another example of Dale’s misfortune to rival the classic of his being attacked by a swarm of wasps on his wedding day, Friday 13th May, bitten by a shark on their belated honeymoon and mugged outside the court at their divorce hearing. This tale of woe had fitted perfectly into my second Wet Blanket Ron story. To try to locate Dale, I even managed to get my friend in the police, Sergeant Robyn Constable to look him up on the police computer but he had disappeared from their records. I asked Robyn if this was unusual and she said that it was unheard of. The police computer was very thorough with access to thousands of databases. Perhaps he had changed his name or something, she suggested.

I was on the verge of giving up the idea of a new Wet Blanket Ron story. After all, it wasn’t as if I had committed to the project. I didn’t have a publisher breathing down my neck. I could easily get on and write something else. I wasn’t short of ideas. There was the one that was forming about time standing still and the one about the devastation caused by all the world’s computer systems going down simultaneously. But I suppose, deep down, I was rather fond of my creation, not least because of all the fans Ron seemed to have online. It would have been nice to give Wet Blanket Ron a final outing.

It happened out of the blue. As a compassionate human being, it wasn’t the news that I wanted to hear, but when Marlin Snider phoned me at six in the morning, I knew that something was wrong. I hadn’t seen Marlin since the Cocteau Twins reunion concert. He did not beat around the bush. He came straight out with the details. To re-appropriate the celebrated Oscar Wilde quote, to get knocked down once on Black Dog Way might be regarded as misfortune; to get knocked down twice on Black Dog Way looked like carelessness. Dale Loveless, it appeared, was both unfortunate and careless. It was unfortunate too that the accident occurred on the one day that ambulance drivers were on strike. Because of the delay, Dale died in the back of a cab on his way to hospital. But, it’s an ill wind, and all that. The accident has given me some ideas for my Wet Blanket Ron story.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Walter Funk

walterfunk

Walter Funk by Chris Green

Walter Funk was a legend. Yet, if you ask most people today, they will not have heard of him. Walter Funk has no Wikipedia page and an internet search will take you instead to the Nazi economist, Walther Funk, but we need not concern ourselves with him. Walter, on the other hand, was a genius. He invented reversible clothes pegs and double sided fridge magnets, tipped cigars and weather vanes that shoot, so many things that we use every day. Yet, in these fickle days of throwaway fashions and disposable heroes, he has all but been forgotten. His name has disappeared from the history books.

Walter came from humble beginnings. He and his brother Marvin were born above a kaleidoscope repair shop in Shenton Bovis in the days between the wars. Money was tight. Their parents, Ken and Diedre Funk struggled against mounting debts to keep a roof over the brothers’ heads, Diedre perhaps more than Ken. Their debt levels were buoyed up by Ken’s gambling addiction which meant that Diedre often had to work double shifts at the cellophane factory to keep the bailiffs away. While Marvin did poorly at school, condemning him to a series of dead-end jobs, Walter displayed precocious talent, excelling at everything he turned his hand to.

Most of all, though, Walter showed an aptitude for invention. From the inflatable dartboard to the bouncing eggcup, he kept coming up with ideas for useful bits and pieces that people felt they just had to have. The one that really set the world alight was the wind-up tortoise. No longer was it necessary to find a warm place to house your pet for the long winter. The success of this was quickly followed by the clockwork hedgehog and the battery powered pigeon.

In 1944, at just twenty years old, Walter Funk was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year, the youngest by far to achieve the honour. The award was announced in the same edition of Time that exposed the real story about the war. As you now know, World War 2 actually finished in 1940, but both sides agreed to keep up the pretence of hostilities in order to keep people in work. There was of course, no actual fighting after the December truce of 1940.

Famous people in the modern world can be seen as products and as such they are subject to the stages of the product life cycle, namely introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Perhaps after decline we might add disappearance. Certainly, this seems to apply in the case of Walter Funk. People in the public eye have a shelf life and a sell by date. Walter’s rise was so swift that his decline appears to have been equally swift. By 1950, apparently ravaged by drink and drugs, Walter was on the scrap heap. There are no further references to him after this date. If you troll around the second-hand bookshops in your town, you might find an old encyclopaedia that still carries a reference to him, but all rewrites have taken out all records of his great achievements. If you now look up Time magazine’s records, you will discover that they now list someone called Eisenhower as 1944 Man of the Year, quite clearly a fictitious character. You may notice too that they have once again begun to introduce fanciful accounts of the fierce fighting in World War Two and stories about an atom bomb. Can you believe it? What will they think of next?

Copyright: © Chris Green, 2016

Oleander Drive

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Oleander Drive by Chris Green

The black Mitsubishi has been parked there for several days now. Les Rubio first noticed it on Monday, when he came back from a business lunch at The Whistle Blower. The big SUV has been there in the same position, on the opposite side of the road fifty yards from his house, day and night. It has not moved once. The tinted windows have made it difficult for him to get a clear view inside but from occasional sorties to the park with his dog, Murphy, he has noticed that the two suspicious-looking characters occupying the front seats are not always the same ones. They seem to be working in shifts. But, whichever pair is skulking behind their newspapers, they seem to be watching his house. What else could they be doing in this quiet suburban neighbourhood? Who else would they be watching? This is a select residential area. House prices start at about half a million.

There are only a handful of houses in Oleander Drive and the others are all occupied by respectable families. It’s a little difficult, Les feels, to imagine they would be looking out for Brice Shipley, who goes off to work at his dental practice at 8:30 sharp every morning or his wife Sally who so far as he can tell spends her time putting together the parish magazine. Equally hard to suspect Mr Masterson, the headmaster at St Sampson’s or Mrs Masterson who puts the little Mastersons on the red bus to Acme Academy every morning. And, as far as he knows, Dr Pilsner’s house has been empty for a while now. Les feels he is definitely the square peg in the round hole, here in this enclave.

The pair surely cannot be private detectives paid by Grace to see if he has another woman dropping by. Les and Grace have been separated for months. In any case, chance to get his rocks off would be a fine thing. He has been too busy trying to find ways to settle the galaxy of outstanding bills she left him with, not to mention having to deal with the descent into darkness that follows a break-up when it was not your decision or preference. At the same time, he has had to keep up with the changes to his way of life that the new government has brought in. They seem to have got it in for entrepreneurs and small businesses. All the forms you have to fill in and all the things you have to register for. Tax returns and VAT receipts. Are they kidding? This is not his forte. He is a wheeler-dealer. He’s been so snowed under by all the bureaucracy he hasn’t even had time to put the house on the market.

It’s equally hard to conceive that they might be hitmen, hired to eliminate him. He hasn’t, so far as he knows, upset anyone. He conducts business in a straightforward way. He might be a bit behind with his paperwork but that would be no reason for HMRC to send in the boys and even if this were the case, surely one marksman would be sufficient. It wouldn’t need Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta to put the bullet through his chest, or wherever it is professional hitmen choose to aim. And the hitmen would hardly be hanging around. They would have made the hit by now and gone back to their lonely hotel rooms to wait for instructions on further missions.

Les has become so paranoid, though, he’s not driven in to his warehouse for the past few days in case they tail him. Granted, he can do much of his day-to-day work at home over the phone or online. He is fortunate too that he can ask his oppo, Zak to step in for a pick-up or a delivery, like the fake Alibaba rugs or the bogus Sennheiser sound equipment that arrived yesterday.

You’ve got a bit of skirt up there, ain’t you, Mr Rubio?’ Zak said when he told him he wasn’t coming in.

I wish,’ he said. ‘Look, Zak! I will be in soon. In a day or two. Three, tops. Definitely Friday.’

I can come over if you like and we can go over things,’ said Zak.

You’d better stay away, Zak,’ he said. ‘I’ve got the …… Zika virus.’

He thinks it best not to let them see someone like Zak visit him. Zak is more Trotters’ Trading than reputable entrepreneur. He wouldn’t look right in Oleander Drive. He’s from Toker’s End. That’s the other side of the tracks. The Mitsubishi men would pounce on him straight away.

I thought you only got that Zika thing in Brazil,’ said Zak.

It has spread, mate, Haven’t you heard?’ Les told him. ‘But don’t worry. I think I’m on the mend now.’

…………………………………………

On one of this reccies with Murphy, Les manages to get a better look inside the SUV. They have the windows wound down and he can almost make out the men’s features. Just a feeling he has, but they do look like they might be police. They have police sunglasses and police haircuts. Beyond that though he is at a loss. There are so many facets to police work these days it’s pointless to speculate which squad these might be from. He recalls being woken by the resonant thrum of the police helicopter hovering over his house on Wednesday night. He pulled back the curtains and could just make out its shape above the back garden. It was so black it was practically invisible, but certainly not silent. His friend, Jimmy Jazz says it was probably a Chinook. The modern police see themselves as a military unit, Jimmy says. It’s to do with all those movies.

Les phones his friend, Robyn Constable downtown to see if she knows what might be going on. Sergeant Constable has helped him out several times before for a small consideration and makes sure a blind eye is turned to his nefarious schemes. Les does not like to think of it as bribes. It’s a bit like paying insurance premiums. Sergeant Constable does not think of it as bribes. It’s just another aspect of police procedure in these troubled times.

I’m being watched night and day,’ Les tells her.

That doesn’t sound good, Les,’ she says. ‘For a man in your position.’

It’s not anything to do with your …… officers, is it?’

I’ve not heard anything,’ she says. ‘But you better fill me in with a few details so that I can check if we’ve got the word out on you. No guarantee I will be able to stop it if its another squad, though, you understand.’

Two men dressed in dark clothes. Parked up in a black Mitsubishi outside my house. Round the clock, 24/7,’ Les says. ‘They do look like they might be plain-clothes if you know what I mean. But it’s not always the same two.’

What are you saying, Les?’ she laughs. ‘Do we look different to others? Is it the prognathous jaw, or the third eye, perhaps? I tell you what. I will ask around and let you know if there’s a match. Your payment is due by the way.’

Again?’

Every three months, Les. The payment is due every three months. Unless of course, you want me to…’

No, it’s OK. I will get it to you. Just find out about these guys, please.

They might, of course, be security services, Les. Had you considered that?’

Sergeant Robyn Constable has a point. They could be from the nearby spy base, the so-called listening centre. There are thousands of people working at the base. Les has often wondered what they find for them all to do all day. Perhaps this is part of their outreach programme. Might it be something to do with the dodgy domain names he bought, the ones with the sensitive addresses? This is the kind of thing that perhaps might be of interest to intelligence services. But there again, given the nefarious things that go on in cyberspace, would the security services be especially excited over the innocent purchase of a few domains with names like bombisrael(dot)com? There was, of course, the domain he purchased that actually had gchq in the name.

Les hasn’t set up websites on any of the domains. He wouldn’t know how to. He just bought the domain names for his amusement after coming back from The Whistle Blower one night. There was a pop-up ad for buy one get one free offer on domain names. He bought forty-eight of them for the price of twenty-four. He bought them purely to see how far he could go with the names before someone would try to stop him. No-one did. He realises he shouldn’t have done it, but when you are drunk sometimes crazy ideas come into your head, and he was very drunk, he recalls. Grace had not long packed her bags.

To cut a long story short, Les Rubio spent time in la-la land. Whisky and gin, along with his appointed psychiatrist Dr Pilsner’s powerful prescription drugs, temporarily got the better of him. He was in such a bad way, he feels lucky now to have pulled through. It was a mistake to stock those cheap spirits from China. You never know what you are drinking and God knows what the pills were. Perhaps he just took too many. It’s so easy to get a digit wrong when you are under stress. He might have taken ten a day rather than one a day. He wonders what has happened to Dr Pilsner. He hasn’t seen him around since his discharge. Perhaps he has taken a sabbatical to write a primer on anxiety disorders or taken a lucrative teaching post in his native Vienna or something.

Whoever the mysterious emissaries in the Mitsubishi are, if they want him, why don’t they just come and get him? What are they waiting for? Surely they don’t imagine he’s armed and dangerous. And why he wonders are they drawing attention to themselves? There must be subtler ways to spy on him. What about drones? Or a rotation of cars parked in different places. A plain white van. Bogus workmen digging up the road. There must be any number of ways for surveillance operatives to look anonymous, even in an exclusive residential area like Oleander Drive. Perhaps he should have driven normally past them a moment ago, then they would have followed him and then they would have to have it out. At least then he would know what was what.

Les is astonished that the well-to-do neighbours haven’t said something to him about it all. It’s not as if the surveillance could have escaped their notice on such a quiet street. Jarvis Heckler lives in the large detached house opposite where they are parked. He is a retired civil servant and he is always outside washing his Jaguar or manicuring his box hedges. You would have thought he would have been around or at least gone over and had a word with them. And the Mitsubishi is practically parked outside Stacey Aragon’s house. She is forever asking him about Grace and when she might be coming back, waiting to see what his reaction is. There only has to be an unexpected conversation in the street for Stacey to be rustling her Cath Kidston curtains to see what’s going on. But somehow the parked vehicle seems to have escaped her attention. Has she gone away to see an ailing relative or something, Les wonders? Why have none of the neighbours registered the intrusion to their settled lives? Perhaps they have all gone off to see ailing relatives. Might they all be in collusion? Maybe the mystery men in the car have phoned them all and got them all on side with the assurance that it will soon be over and they will be gone.

…………………………………………

Today is Friday and Les Rubio does have to go in to the warehouse and the men in the Mitsubishi are still outside. He drives slowly past, hoping that they will realise that he has spotted them and they will realise that he will be expecting them to follow him. So they won’t. Reverse psychology. He thinks that it is the original pair casting a furtive glance over their red-tops, the ones he spotted on Monday. To his relief, no-one tails him and there is no black stakeout vehicle waiting to intercept him at the warehouse. Inside the premises, everything seems to be as it should be. He logs into the computer, half expecting to find some gremlin in the system or some horror in the inbox, but there is nothing. Everything seems to be running smoothly. There are even some new orders. He takes a look around the stock. The silver saxophones are still in the storeroom along with the multicoloured Gucci handbags. The Alibaba rugs and the new sound equipment are there. He needs to get on to moving some of the internet TVs later to make room for the Japanese clarinets that are arriving.

Zak arrives in his beaten up old van, the one he uses to ferry his band, Corpse around. They are death metal or thrash metal or some kind of metal, Les can’t remember which. Zak keeps asking him to go along to gigs but he is delaying this particular pleasure. He comes in with his headphones on, singing along to some crashing guitar chords. With an air of distraction, Les greets him.

Whatcha, Mr R,’ says Zak, taking off his phones. They look suspiciously to Les like one of the sets that came in yesterday, but he lets it go. ‘You recovered from the Zika bug a bit quick.’

Well, you know, Zak. I do keep myself in shape,’ Les says, puffing out my chest and holding his stomach in. ‘Takes more than a virus to get the better of me.’

I drove by your place on the way in, Mr R.’

But you live in Toker’s End.’

I know. I took a bit of a detour. I was going to call in to see how you were, but there were dozens of Old Bill around.’

What?’

Old Bill. You know, the bizzies.’

What? Outside my house?’

Difficult to tell, Mr R. There were shitloads of candy cars around and more of them seemed to be arriving, so I didn’t hang around to find out. Some funky shit is going down, I’d say.’

Come on! We’d better go and see what’s happening.’

Are you sure, Mr R. What if……. You know ….. All right. We’d better go in the van, then. Incognito, like.’

No. It’s too late for that now. Get in the Merc!’

Over the three-mile journey, traffic is slow. The atmosphere is strained. Conversation is sporadic and staccato.

How many police cars, Zak?’

Lots of them. ……. Wasn’t that a red light, Mr R?’

Can’t you stop blowing that in my face, Zak? What do you put in those….. joints?….. Wait. Pass it here! It might help.’

It’s called Northern Lights, Mr R.’

That’s skunk, is it?’

The best. ….. Are you OK, Mr R?’

I’ve not been thinking straight lately, Zak. I’m not sure what is real and what is not.’

I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Mr R. Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.’

I don’t know if I’m in a state to make decisions anymore.’

I can’t help but notice that you have seemed a little weird recently, Mr R. In fact, you’ve not been the same since Grace left.

Is it that noticeable? Tell me, Zak! Why am I going into the lion’s den?’

I think if it were me I might be doing a runner or at least lying low. ……. Didn’t you see that woman in the Toyota pulling out?’

Despite the advice, indecision persists. The Mercedes makes it way westward and before they know it they are approaching Oleander Drive. They are greeted by a battery of flashing blue lights. Police vehicles are everywhere. A bustling crowd has gathered to watch the unfolding drama, including a pack of press reporters and a TV crew. Amongst the confusion, it is difficult to ascertain what exactly is going on. As Les and Zak push their way through the mêlée, it slowly becomes clear that a handcuffed man is being led kicking and screaming by a pack of burly police officers to a riot wagon.

Mad doctor. Multiple murder. Motive unknown,’ says a disarmingly young reporter, bringing the new arrivals up to speed. ‘I’ll have my own byline.’

The thing is, they had been watching his house for days,’ says another whippersnapper, with a bag full of hi-tech accessories. ‘They were on to him a week ago and waiting for him to return home. What they didn’t know was that he was there all the time. This one is going to run for days.’

And night by night, he managed to get into his neighbours’ houses and murder them in their sleep,’ says the first one, as he keys the story into this phone. ‘Right under the noses of the surveillance team.’

Dr Pilsner,’ Les manages to say. ‘That’s Dr Pilsner. What…..’

Dr Pilsner. Yes, that’s his name,’ says the whippersnapper. ‘He’s a psychiatrist, apparently. This is going to sell some papers. They’ll fly off the news stands. Do you live around here by any chance?’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

QUINCE

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QUINCE by Chris Green

Giles Riddler tells me the quince tree blossoming in the front garden was the deciding factor in them buying the house. Had it not been for the quince tree, the Briggs and Mortimer board outside the 1930s semi-detached villa in Heisenberg Avenue might have gone unnoticed. Giles and Audrey apparently were out walking their labradoodle, Hendrix. They were not looking for a house.

Look, Giles,’ Audrey had said. ‘What a lovely quince tree!’

Indeed! Cydonia oblonga,’ Giles had said. ‘In such a beautiful sunny position. Exactly what we need. Let’s buy the house.’

Just like that?’ Audrey had said. Although I have not met her in person, I have formed the opinion that Audrey is in many respects more circumspect than her husband.

Absolutely!’ Giles had said. ‘It’s a sign. In this uncertain world, you have to be able to spot these things. And this is a first class quince tree.’

Their house in Cat Stevens Court was on the market the following day along with an offer of £400,000 on Heisenberg Avenue. Giles tells me they had not even looked around the new house when the offer went in. There was just no need, he says.

Their offer was accepted. The Cat Stevens house too sold in a day. It was as easy as that.

………………………………………..

I first came across the word, quince years ago in Edward Lear’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat along with the mystifying word, runcible. Something about dining on mince, and slices of quince, and eating it with a runcible spoon. Mince presumably refers to sweet mince and not spag bol mince and quince is a fruit used primarily to make jelly. A runcible spoon is probably a spork.

Edward Lear was born in 1812 and was the youngest surviving child of twenty-one. There was a high infant mortality rate back then. Average age expectancy at birth in cities was nineteen. A precocious child, Edward first became celebrated as a teenager for drawing parrots, before turning his hand to landscape painting, travel writing and composing music. Although nonsense verse is what he is mostly remembered for, this was apparently just a sideline.

………………………………………..

I am a writer of experimental fiction, trying, like the paperback writer in the Beatles tune to get my new novel published. Like the one in the song, it’s a thousand pages give or take a few. Unlike Paul McCartney’s scribbler, I do already have a large and varied body of work. Sometimes I give readings at Nena Emanuel Care Home. One of the residents, a Hilma Faraday, tells me she grew up with Edward Lear in North London. They used to play in the streets of Holloway together and Eddie talked endlessly about the land where the bong tree grows and told her the tale of the Quangle-Wangle’s Hat. By my reckoning, this must make Hilma around two hundred years old, yet she doesn’t look a day over eighty. It’s a strange world. Things are not always what they seem.

………………………………………..

I was only familiar with Heisenberg as the pseudonym chemistry teacher, Walter White chose to do his drug deals in the cult television series, Breaking Bad but I discover that Heisenberg here is a reference to physicist Werner Heisenberg, the fellow behind the uncertainty principle. The uncertainty principle states that the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa. Walt’s choice of the name Heisenberg is by all accounts a joke by series creator, Vince Gilligan, aimed at fans who might remember the uncertainty principle from the long afternoons in the lab for double Chemistry.

And then there’s the Observer Effect. The act of observation makes changes to a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. Reality is hard to pin down. If you take this to its logical conclusion nothing can be verified.

………………………………………..

Writers sometimes find they have time on their hands. In order to get myself out of the house, now and again I help out at my friend, Max Brooks’s bookshop. Brooks Books stocks a comprehensive range of reading, the type of books you may not find at Waterstones. Giles Riddler is a frequent visitor. He comes in for a cup of coffee and likes to spend an hour or two browsing the shelves. Sometimes he makes a bulk purchase. A week or so ago he ordered a dozen copies of Costa Rican novelist, Quince Duncan’s, A Message from Rosa. Today he is asking for Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He wants fourteen copies and we only have one on the shelves. While I look it up on the catalogue, he asks about the new Edward Lear biography that is due out. I don’t believe there is a new Edward Lear biography due out. He might be referring to the new Paul McCartney biography, but we don’t stock that. I humour him. He tells me about the yellow fruit on his tree. I may be wrong but I think I notice a thread running through our conversations. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it, there does seem to be a recurring theme.

Giles goes on to say that the quinces from the tree ought not to be ripe yet. It is only August. Quinces should not be ready to pick, he says, until September or October. Yet they are. He has one in his pocket to show me. He takes it out and puts it on the counter. I can’t help thinking that it bears a remarkable resemblance to a jar of sweet mince. I don’t know what to believe, anymore. As the great Jorge Luis Borges says, ‘reality is not always probable, or likely.’ Could we possibly be living in a hologram?

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Out Of Time

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Out Of Time by Chris Green

The moment Kimberley steps into the refreshment room, she knows something is wrong. Railway station cafés should be a hub of activity in the mornings. This one is almost empty. There are five people and each is seated at a separate table, staring blankly into space. They all register an expression of boredom and gloom. As she casts her glance from one to the other, no one meets her gaze. The room echoes with the sound of silence. The are no signs of life behind the counter. The chances of a cup of tea or a sandwich for the journey are not good.

The colours of the room are just a step up from monochrome. It is as if an autumn fog has descended on the space, or years and years of cigarette smoke have accumulated. The bentwood chairs and grubby checked pattern table cloths belong to a bygone age. The timetable behind a pane of cracked glass is dog-eared and smudged. On the walls, there are a few railway posters like the ones she has seen in the museum. Is Your Journey Really Necessary, reads one of them. A vintage cigarette vending machine advertises Gold Flake and Craven A. It’s like a set from Brief Encounter. The clock on the wall appears to be stopped at quarter to eight. It is now half past nine. Her train is the 9:39. Kimberley checks her watch. Her watch also says quarter to eight. She feels a chill run through her.

She hears the roar of a train arriving. Perhaps it is her train. As she tries to get back onto the platform, she is held back by an invisible wall. She pushes and shoves and ducks and parries. However she tries to negotiate the obstacle, she cannot find a way through. Panic rises in her. Something is seriously wrong. Frightened and distraught she watches through the window as, without even slowing down, the train passes through the station. It is a long train, with perhaps sixteen carriages. She is used to seeing shorter trains. She is used to them stopping at the station. No sooner has the thunderous sound subsided than she hears the rumble of a train approaching from the opposite direction. This one too is a leviathan with sixteen carriages. It travels through the station at breakneck speed. After it has passed, Kimberley notices that both platforms are completely empty. What has happened to everyone? She is certain that there were passengers waiting when she arrived.

She thinks back to when she parked the Qashqai in the station car park. Was there anything unusual, any anomalies she might have picked up on? So far as she can recall, the car park was nearly full and there was the purposeful bustle you might expect at the station on a Friday morning. She even remembers passing the time of day with a man in a wheelchair and moving out of the way for an Asian woman with several small children in tow. She remembers the announcement about an earlier train being seventeen minutes late. It was not until she stepped into the refreshment area that she noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Kimberley desperately needs to talk to someone. She can’t really phone Dan. He is under the impression that she is going to her mother’s overnight. And she can’t phone Ramon. He might not have left for their tryst yet and his wife might pick up. She decides to call their friend Ben, at the secret base. He will know what is happening. Maybe she has inadvertently happened by a sophisticated military exercise. Perhaps there was something on the local news or in the local paper warning of this and she had missed it. She searches in her handbag for her phone. It is not there. Frantically she rifles through her overnight bag. It is not there. She doesn’t have her phone. She never travels without her phone. At home, she doesn’t even go upstairs without her phone.

She looks around the room. No-one has moved. Slowly the blurry figures come into focus. They are so motionless that they might be mannequins. The weary looking soldier in Second World War army uniform seems to be studying a poster on the opposite wall which is telling him to Dig for Victory. He has a khaki kitbag on the table beside him. It has a faded name and a number stamped on it. The middle-aged woman in the brown 1950s New Look twin set is nursing a bone china tea cup. She picks the cup up and returns it to the saucer. The cup appears to be empty. Is she waiting for service? Kimberley wonders. It doesn’t look like this is going to happen anytime soon. There is a thick layer of dust on the service hatch. The balding man in the checked jacket with the wide lapels and the disco collared shirt twists the sides of a Rubik’s cube this way and that. It seems he is doing so more to exercise his hands that with the hope of solving the puzzle. Kimberley ignores the Iggy Pop lookalike in the biker’s jacket and ripped jeans who is lighting a cigarette and goes over to the lady in the purple jumpsuit with the big 1980s hair. Somehow she looks the most approachable of the bunch.

‘Have you been here long?’ she asks. It seems a banal question, but how do you start a conversation with a dummy.

Big Hair continues staring straight ahead. Perhaps she did not hear. Perhaps she cannot see her. Perhaps none of them can see her. Perhaps she is invisible to them. Perhaps they are invisible to each other.

‘She don’t talk much, that one,’ says Iggy Pop. He turns towards Kimberley. Kimberley notices that he has about fourteen earrings in each ear to add to the copious nasal jewellery. ‘She was here before me. She’s been here a long time.’

‘When did you arrive?’ asks Kimberley.

‘Me! I’ve been here since 1995,’ he says. ‘I was the last to arrive.’

This is nearly twenty years. She was expecting him to say last night or yesterday afternoon, or something. She swallows hard, trying to take it in.

‘Time doesn’t mean a lot here,’ says Rubik Cube. I’ve been here since 1976.’

New Look picks up her teacup, puts it to her lips and then places it back in the saucer.

The cup and saucer rattle as another train speeds through the station. Kimberley watches it through the window. It is a perfectly ordinary present-day train, with modern livery on the carriages.

‘No use looking out there, love’ says Iggy Pop. ‘The trains don’t stop here.’

‘I’ve been here since 1945,’ says the weary looking soldier, digging around in his kitbag. He takes out small round aluminium pan and holds it out. ‘Here’s my mess tin. Are you going to cook us something nice? I’ve only had a bar of chocolate.’

‘You’ve been here since 1945,’ she repeats, aghast.

‘I shouldn’t worry about it too much,’ says Rubik Cube. ‘A minute’s the same as a year here. Why don’t you sit down? You’ll get used to it.’

‘It’s nothing at all really,’ says Iggy Pop. ‘Here have a cigarette love.’

‘Did they find out who shot JR?’ says Big Hair, breaking her silence. ‘I think it was Bobby.’

Kimberley goes behind the counter and into the kitchen area in the hope of finding an exit. There isn’t one. There isn’t even a back wall. She finds herself staring into a void. The laws of physics itself are being challenged here.

‘Could have saved you the trouble, love,’ says Iggy Pop, as she comes back in to join them.’ Don’t you think that we haven’t all tried to get out the back way.’

‘What is this place? What is going on?’ she shouts, at no one in particular.

No one in particular answers.

‘Or it might have been Pamela,’ says Big Hair. ‘She always hated JR.’

Working in an office, Kimberley is not used to thinking outside the box. Kimberley doesn’t even like sci-fi. She only reads romance novels. She wishes Ramon were here, or even Dan. Her head is pounding like a jungle drum, as she struggles to come up with some kind of rational explanation. This is not a dream. She is wide awake. She is trapped. There is no way out. She is really here, in this impossible situation with a group of people who say they have been stuck here for years. It is beyond supernatural or scary.

‘What do you do for food and drink,’ Kimberley asks.

‘Is someone making tea?’ says New Look, clinking her china cup against her saucer.

‘Blimey, you got her to talk,’ says Iggy Pop.

‘Make me something nice. I’ve got me mess tin. I’ve only had a bar of chocolate,’ says Weary Tommy.

‘You’ll get used to it,’ says Rubik Cube.

‘Have a cigarette, darlin,’ says Iggy Pop.

These people are looney tunes, thinks Kimberley. They have gone stir crazy. And she is stuck with them. When she was seven she had an imaginary friend called Lucy. Lucy went everywhere with her. Lucy became frightened by some ghoulish gargoyles in the stone mason’s yard that they passed on the way to school. Day by day Lucy became more afraid. She was obsessed, haunted even by the gargoyles. The problem was that this was the only way to school. There was nothing Kimberley could do about it. They had to go that way. They had no choice. This is exactly how Kimberley feels now, stuck here with this grotesque group of ghouls. Lucy of course eventually died, drowned in the lagoon when Kimberley’s parents took them to Venice.

The ghouls here in this twenty-first century railway refreshment room appear not to have aged at all during their stay. Their appearance is exactly as it would have been years ago. The soldier for instance still looks about nineteen. Kimberley does a quick calculation in her head. He should be about ninety. He has been here the longest and the others arrived one by one. They have all been trapped here since their arrival. They are all relics from times gone by. God forbid that she be destined to spend the rest of her days with these fossils in this decaying hell hole.

The windows rattle as a slow freight train pulls through. Kimberley frantically tries the exit again but finds that the invisible force still holds her back. How on earth did she get in here? Also, if there was an opening when someone new arrived, why hadn’t one of the prisoners used the moment as an opportunity to get out?

‘The windows are made of unbreakable glass too, in case that’s what you were thinking,’ says Rubik Cube.

‘Nothing’s going to change, love,’ says Iggy Pop. ‘Take my word.’

‘It might have been Cliff Barnes,’ says Big Hair. ‘He was always up to no good.’

Kimberley’s mind is in turmoil. Why did she arrange a dirty weekend with Ramon? If she had not taken to deceiving Dan, none of this would be happening. To take things back a step further, if Dan had shown more interest in her and not spent so much time training his virtual horses she would not have started having an affair with Ramon. Perhaps she should have spared a thought too for Ramon’s wife. Jackie, Janet, Jill? She can’t even remember his wife’s name. But, who can foresee a trail of consequences? It’s pointless even going there.

More to the point, why are these freaks here and what is she doing in this circus? What could possibly be the connection between them? Do they all share something in common? Including herself? There is nothing to be gained by being precious. She has to get to know them. She needs to test out her skill at detection. She was a big fan of heartthrob Italian TV detective, Aurelio Zen, and was mortified when the series was prematurely axed. Zen used to befriend the suspects to discover their deep dark secrets. With the thought of the dashing Aurelio Zen, she gains some composure.

‘Yes, I will have a cigarette,’ she says to Iggy Pop.

Iggy Pop offers her one from a Players Number 6 King Size packet. Kimberley is not sure, but she feels that this brand disappeared from sale about twenty years ago.

‘Out of interest, where do you get them? ‘ she says. ‘You can’t have an unlimited supply and the cigarette machine on the wall looks empty.’

‘Aha, that would be telling,’ says Iggy Pop. Might the edgy Aurelio Zen have delivered a swift blow to the head at this point? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

‘Can I have a fag too,’ says Weary Tommy. ‘I’ve only had a bar of chocolate.’

‘What does it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?’ says Rubik Cube.

‘It could have been Jock Ewing who shot JR, or was Jock already dead?’ says Big Hair.

Kimberley can see that even the sophisticated Aurelio Zen might have trouble getting information from this motley crew.

‘Has anyone else dropped by?’ Kimberley asks them, trying a new tack. ‘Over the years?’

‘The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once, and nothing happens here, so what does that tell you?’ says Rubik Cube.

‘It suggests that there is no time like the present, or no time but the present, or something like that,’ says Kimberley.

‘That’s right so its as if I’ve always been here then,’ says Rubik Cube. ‘And I still can’t get the red squares lined up.’

‘I’ve been here since 1953,’ says New Look. ‘Things were different then. They had tea dances with a caller and a proper band. Victor used to take me. Of course my husband didn’t know. I don’t think he would have approved.’

‘My, my,’ says Kimberley. ‘Is that why you are wearing that pretty brown dress? Is that for Victor?’

‘This is a Christian Dior dress,’ says New Look, apparently pleased to be getting some attention. ‘Victor and I used to go dancing every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon,’ she continues. ‘And sometimes afterwards, we would go to a hotel. But I can’t do that now the trains don’t stop.’

Kimberley is unnerved by this. This is too close to home. She is wearing a Jigsaw pencil skirt and has Janet Reger lingerie on for the very same reason. She has dressed to please Ramon. And were they not also going to a hotel later for their clandestine liaison?

Iggy Pop interrupts her reverie. ‘All I done was sell someone else’s Beamer,’ he says. ‘I had this duplicate set of keys, see, and a duplicate log book. I can’t even remember how I came by them. I’m not a bad man, not really.’

‘I think I’m probably a bad man,’ says Weary Tommy. ‘I deserted, you know. That’s how I came to be catching the train. I should have been in Normandy, helping to push back the Bosch to secure the new front, but I missed my Maddie. I thought she might be going with another fellow. She’d stopped sending me letters, so I had to come home to make sure there was nothing going on.’

The Aurelio Zen strategy appears to be working. She is drawing them out of themselves. They are no longer coming out with gibberish, but talking about matters that she is able to comprehend.

‘Anyway, to cut a long story short,’ Iggy Pop continues. ‘I drop the motor off with the geezer and have to catch the train, so I come along here to the station and next thing I know I’m caught up in this mad hatters tea party.’

New Look starts to say something about just killing time here but the noise of a passing express drowns her out.

‘Of course, JR might have shot himself,’ says Big Hair. ‘I never thought of that.’

‘I used to cheat at poker,’ says Rubik Cube. ‘I used marked packs of cards.’

‘So you think we are all here because we’ve done something corrupt or cruel,’ says Kimberley. ‘Is that where this is heading?’

‘We used to play Dealer’s Choice and then I would nominate wildcards that were the easiest to spot,’ says Rubik Cube. ‘So, I couldn’t really lose.’

‘I expect a lot of people cheat at cards. I expect casinos cheat at cards,’ says Kimberley.

‘The thing about it was that I played with friends,’ says Rubik Cube. ‘I used to make money out of my friends. I came here to catch a train to go and pick up a Triumph Stag that I had accepted in lieu of a debt from one of my best friends. I’d say that makes me an absolute cad.’

‘I used to tell my husband I was at the Women’s Institute,’ says New Look. ‘I knew that he would never look for me there.’

‘I didn’t tell Maddie of what I got up to in Montmartre of course,’ says Weary Tommy. ‘When I had a forty-eight hour pass. What those French girls can do would make your hair curl.’

It is becoming like a confessional. Kimberley considers the information they have shared. Herself included, they have all done things they know to be wrong. And they were all passing through this station in the process of committing their misdemeanours. You could say that there was a connection here, but millions of people must have passed through the station, and who hasn’t done something they know to be wrong? She remembers the time she sold her mother’s diamond cluster engagement ring to the Wurzel Gummage hippy at the antiques market when she was seventeen to get the money to go to a Robbie Williams concert at Knebworth. And worse, sleeping with Dan’s best man, Chas, on her hen night. She had definitely instigated this. She remembers she had turned up uninvited at Chas’s flat at 2 in the morning. Everyone has their dirty secrets.

So where does this leave her? Kimberley wonders if she might be looking for meaning where there is none. What they are experiencing could just an unexplained blip in the space-time continuum. And because something has gone wrong with relativity, there is no time in this space. They are out of time. This is nowhere. Cause and effect might have no place here. Perhaps there is no why. After all, no-one here has mentioned anything that might warrant a life sentence of this mind-bending purgatory. No one has killed anyone. Not even Weary Tommy, who was in the perfect position to have done so, appears to have killed anyone.

‘I think it was me that shot JR,’ says Big Hair.

Kimberley notices the clock on the wall has moved on to five to eight. Her heart skips a beat. Time is no longer standing still. Is the train that she can hear approaching slowing down?

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

The Jolly Yachtsman – a Trip Advisor review

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The Jolly Yachtsman – a Trip Advisor review by Chris Green

Our intention had been to eat at the Ancient Mariner Inn, but parking the motor-home proved to be tricky. After I had scagged the bumper of a black Lexus, and broken the camper’s reversing light, I gave up and drove down the hill to the Jolly Yachtsman instead. The Jolly Yachtsman seemed like a real locals’ pub, with all heads turning towards us as we walked in. Despite this momentary concern for our safety, we were warmly greeted by a disarmingly young barman wearing a black t-shirt with a picture of an albatross on. Perhaps he had been head-hunted from the Ancient Mariner. Or, on reflection, perhaps he had been sacked. Without any preamble and catching us a little by surprise, some of the drinkers that were gathered around the bar engaged us in friendly conversation about wine temperatures. My partner, Janet likes her red wine cold. I find her preference a little bizarre but apparently it is catching on. The locals though felt it was perfectly normal to put bottles of red in an ice bucket. Too many Spanish holidays, I think.

Being by the sea, I fancied fish and chips so I went for the haddock in beer from the specials board while my partner just wanted a Ploughman’s. It must be said that both were a little below par. The frozen fish and the pre-cut chips were swimming in beer and the only green item in the Ploughman’s were two large pickled onions. There was no lettuce, no rocket and no cucumber. Not even a cherry tomato. The pickled onions were tasty, though, but too spicy for my other half, so I had hers. I do like my pickled onions. The waitress seemed to be a little agitated at times, firstly getting the orders mixed up and then accidentally pouring Janet’s third glass of chilled Pinot Noir down her white cardigan, but she was what you might call a mature lady and she didn’t have much help as far as we could tell.

Having tired of the bland food, the poor service and the twenty four hour big screen sport at the Red Snapper Inn, we drove out the Jolly Yachtsman again on Tuesday lunchtime. On Tuesdays, the Jolly Yachtsman offers a pie and a pint deal, so we had a choice of fish or steak pie with peas or salad, and chips. We both went for the fish pie, expecting succulent firm chunks of salmon and cod with a few king prawns in a creamy sauce with a layer of potato on top. When my fish pie arrived, it was just a dollop of white fish in a flavourless potato sauce. There was nothing buttery or creamy about it. It was really disappointing. The mature waitress was run off her feet again and managed to mix up Janet’s order so instead of fish pie, she ended up with faggots and peas, although these weren’t on the menu or the specials board.

It was good of the manager to offer us credit in lieu of our disappointment. Janet and I accepted his invitation to a free meal and found ourselves back at the Jolly Yachtsman on Thursday evening. The locals were pleased to see us back and we soon found ourselves in an animated discussion about immigration. The locals, it seemed, were not altogether in favour of more people coming over and taking our jobs. They took the view that their presence would cause unnecessary tensions in cities and put pressure on our essential services. When Janet suggested that we were all too ready to bask in the sunshine on the Costa del Sol, they did not see her point at all. To avoid any escalation, we had to step away and go and find a table outside.

We thought that we would try the chef’s special chicken tikka masala this time. After all, it is hard to get a simple dish like chicken curry wrong. Chef seemed to find a way. Although our meal was more like a gristle stew, in fact, so foul, we hardly touched it, I ended up with crippling stomach cramps and Janet did not leave the motor-home for the rest of our holiday.

Even if you have difficulty parking your motor-home in the car park at the Ancient Mariner, under no circumstances be tempted to drive down the hill to the Jolly Yachtsman.

© Copyright: Chris Green 2016


Waterfalls

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Waterfalls by Chris Green

1:

Through thick and thin, Barney Cisco has followed Bristol City’s fortunes, travelling up and down the country in all winds and weathers to watch his team play. He has been able to finance his fanatical support through a lucrative stall at Compton Regis market selling cheap foreign mattresses at inflated prices. While Bristol City, or the Robins as they are known, might not have the glamour of Manchester United or Chelsea, the club has occasionally excelled. Although he was just a lad, Barney remembers the heady days in the late seventies when City enjoyed top flight football and although they lingered near the foot of the table the entire time, he became hooked by the excitement of their annual relegation battle.

Bristol City’s purple patch was in bitter contrast to what was to follow. In 1982 they became the first club to suffer three consecutive relegations, ending up in what was then Division 4. Remarkably, the young Barney remained undeterred. He watched City yo-yo up and down the divisions over the decades without missing a single match, not even the Third Round FA Cup tie against Carlisle that was abandoned after ten minutes when the north-west suffered the worst blizzard in its history.

As soon as he was old enough, Barney took his son, Sonny to matches with him, that is until Sonny got caught in possession of a thousand ecstasy tablets and was sentenced to three years at Exeter Crown Court. Sonny claimed he was looking after the drugs for a friend, but Judge Girley in his summing up suggested that this may have been his imaginary friend, Pluto.

Barney was shocked by Sonny’s arrest and imprisonment. In his self-absorption, he had failed to notice Sonny’s disappearances after Saturday matches or his recurrent mood swings. Rather than look a little deeper into the possible causes of his downfall, he blamed Sonny’s waywardness on Dolores. Dolores had walked out on them when Sonny was just seven, acknowledged by child psychologists to be a key age in a boy’s development. She went off to live with Shaun O’Shea, a scaffolder from Skibareen. She said she hated football. She said that Shaun was a sensitive man who played the harp. Drank the Harp, more like, Barney told her. Still, Dolores would find out about Shaun’s drink problem and come running back, tail between her legs. Dolores didn’t. Barney was left to look after Sonny’s welfare. He never forgave Dolores.

With Sonny now incarcerated, Barney felt bereft.

Darren Spurlock, a friend of his, told him about Lorelei Angel, a life coach that had helped him to turn his life around.

‘She will take you from where you are to where you want to be,’ he said, over a pint or two at the Dog and Duck one Sunday lunchtime. ‘She worked on my self-confidence and fitted me out with the tools to secure a pizza delivery franchise. Although I had not realised it before, running a pizza delivery operation was something that I had secretly always wanted to do.

Darren managed to persuade Barney to go along to Lorelei for a consultation.

Barney spent a while nervously explaining to Lorelei how he felt. To his surprise, he found that she actually listened to what he was saying and after the first few minutes, he found it easy to open up to her. He told her how he had put his life on hold to bring little Sonny up. How he had worked every day, except for match days, to put a roof over Sonny’s head with not a word of encouragement from Dolores. How heartbroken he had been when Sonny was sentenced. He had nearly cried outside the court. How he realised that it was now time to put his life in order. Start taking care of himself.

‘You need to make some changes in your life in order to bring about the transformation,’ Lorelei told him.

‘I suppose I could start selling cheap foreign settees at the market along with the mattresses, and perhaps bucket chairs and maybe some rugs’ said Barney.

Well, that would be a start,’ said Lorelei. ‘But it’s not what you’d call a big change, is it, Barney? You may find you need to branch out a little more than that. OK. Let’s leave the career change for now. You might want to look into changing some of your habits. What do you do at weekends?’

‘I go to watch the Robins play,‘ Barney said. Had she not been listening? ‘That’s Bristol City.’

‘Bristol City. That’s a football team, isn’t it?’ Perhaps she had been listening after all.

‘That’s right.’

‘And you go every weekend?’

‘Well, yes, every weekend from August to May.’

‘There you go then. There’s are unlimited opportunities for some change there.’

‘Oh, I think I see what you are getting at,’ Barney might have been tempted to say. ‘You mean sometimes I could go to watch Bristol Rovers, instead? That would be funny. That would make it a pair of Bristols. Get it! Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. Pair of Bristols.’

I can see why your wife left you,’ Lorelei might have said, head in hands. ‘You might want to work a little on your misogyny too. And your sexist humour.’

But such a final exchange did not take place. That Barney showed a new found restraint was testament both to Lorelei’s motivational skills and to his willingness to learn. The session with Lorelei had brought home to him how predictable and unfulfilling his life was. He deserved better. He was tired of playing the victim. If he was to feel fulfilled, he recognised that he needed to change. He made the decision there and then not to renew his season ticket. After all, the Robins had only just seen off relegation – yet again, finishing eighteenth in the table. This was hardly something to get excited about. They would probably do just as badly next year. Into the bargain, season tickets prices were set to rise. He needed to get things in perspective. There had to be better ways to spend his weekends. Perhaps he could go to country fairs or take up yoga. There again, perhaps not. But he would find something that worked for him. What about Art? He could go and visit some galleries or try his hand at painting.

2:

Stacey Jayne has long wanted to be an artist. In such spare moments as family life has allowed, she has got her brushes out and painted tentative watercolours. She has concentrated on subjects around the house and in the garden, still lifes and flowers. To prevent her partner, Dorsey, local councillor and Mayor-Elect from belittling her attempts, she has kept these hidden. Although she has always been uncertain of her ability, one or two of her friends who have happened to call in have caught her working and complimented her on her efforts. Lindy Lou loves her subtle study of the kitchen utensils in the washing up bowl and suggests that she try the classes at the local community centre. They are not expensive and she has heard that the tutor, Lamaar Fike is very good.

Stacey Jayne decides to go along to check out the opportunity and as luck should have it, a new course is due to start the following day. She signs up for a term. From her very first effort, Lamaar tells her that she has a good eye for detail. He says that she might be ready to move on to acrylics or oils and that she should have a proper space at home to paint in, so she buys an easel and sets up a makeshift studio in the spare room. Having arranged the space to her liking, she decides what she needs is a bucket chair to be able to sit comfortably at her easel.

The man in the David Hockney tee-shirt at the stall at Compton Regis market is very helpful. He shows her a range of comfortable looking bucket chairs.

‘I rather like this red one,’ she says, after she had tried a few. ‘But ….. it says, Made in Romania. Romania? Is that good?’

‘It’s a little-known fact but all the best bucket chairs are made in Romania,’ he says. ‘And of course, I only stock the best. I have my reputation to think of.’

‘I think, I’ll take it, then,’ she says. ‘I hope you don’t mind me inquiring, but I couldn’t help noticing your tee-shirt. I love David Hockney. Do you paint?’

All that Barney knows about Hockney is that he is some kind of painter, a pop artist he thinks or is he an Impressionist? Perhaps they are the same thing. He is not sure. Nor has Barney actually started his venture into art yet, he thought he would buy the tee shirt first. This, however, is not the time for him to admit these shortcomings. His customer is a very attractive woman. And, she seems to be taking an interest in him. This is not something that has happened very much lately.

‘A little,’ he says, with a shrug, hoping that hinting at modesty might suggest he has insurmountable talent. ‘I paint a little.’

Deceit does not come naturally to Stacey Jayne. Perhaps this has something to do with her convent education. She is anxious therefore not to exaggerate her artistic prowess. But, at the same time, she would like to show this talented painter with the sideline in market trading that she is versed in the language of fine art techniques. ‘I’ve just started a course,’ she says. ‘I’m learning acrylics and oils. We’re doing stippling, dabbing and flicking at the moment.’

Acrylics? Stippling? Dabbing? Flicking? Oils? H’mm, thinks Barney.

‘That’s good,’ seems the safest response. He goes with it.

Stacey Jayne’s ‘What kind of things do you paint?’ is parried with Barney’s ‘Well, you know. A bit of this, a bit of that.’

Her bold ‘Oh really! I’d love to see some of your work,’ meets with an uncertain ‘Sure.’

‘That’s great,’ she says. ‘I look forward to that.’

Her phone rings and she moves away a little. A voice appears to be shouting down the phone at her. Her serenity vanishes. Her posture changes. Her brow furrows. Her fists clench.

‘You’re going to do what?’ she screams. ‘If you do, that’s it!’

Perhaps things at home are not hunky dory for Stacey Jayne, he thinks. Might this present him with an opportunity, later on? Probably not. But then, you never know.

3:

Stacey Jayne has been bothered by Dorsey’s petulance for some time. Toys, pram and propulsion spring to mind. If he doesn’t get his own way, he goes into infant mode and throws a tantrum. He is controlling, dictatorial. He has always shown a deep resentment of her having hobbies of her own. She recalls the time that she went a cake decorating demonstration when, apparently, she should have been raising the Union Flag in the garden for the Queen’s birthday. Dorsey went ballistic. And the occasion that she wanted to go to a belly dancing class with Donna. He hid her house keys and locked her in the house. But, returning home to find that her husband has torn up her watercolours and trashed her easel is the final straw. What would the people of the town think if they knew that Councillor Dorsey Pitts, Mayor-Elect was guilty of such wanton destruction over his pretty wife wanting to express herself? She had only joined an art class, not boiled his favourite bunny or slept with Satan.

But if she really wants to bring Dorsey’s name into disrepute, she will bring the public’s attention to his connections with the English Defence League, the English Volunteer Force, or the one with the Germanic name. When she had taken the matter of his involvement up with him, he had tried to pass his clandestine communications off as freemasonry, but bit by bit Sarah Jayne discovered his connections were more sinister. While he might not be a leading light in any of these far-right organisations, the fact that he has associations with them at all would surely be enough to ruin his mainstream political career. After all, this is a cosmopolitan town, not somewhere where a local politician of any party should be holding extreme views. However hidden Dorsey’s connections or however convincing his subsequent denial of them might be, suspicions about him would remain. The old saying there’s no smoke, and all that.

But, this is something to keep back for later, a negotiating tool if you like. He can communicate with her from now on through solicitors. She is leaving him. What he has done is unforgivable. She can go and stay with Donna until she finds somewhere. And she will give Barney Cisco a call. He is bound to know where she can rent some studio space to paint in.

4:

Hi. Barney Cisco speaking,’ he says. He does not recognise the number.

‘Hello, Barney. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m Stacey Jayne,’ she says. ‘I bought a bucket chair from you a few days ago.’

Remember her? Of course he remembers her. He’s been thinking about nothing else since their meeting. Not even Bristol City’s problems in defence or Sonny’s upcoming parole hearing. ‘Ah, yes. I think I do remember you,’ he says, trying to muster up cool indifference.

‘I was just wondering if you might be able to help me,’ she says. ‘What with your connections in the art world. My circumstances have uh …… changed and I wondered if you might know of a small studio space to rent where I could paint.’

‘I’ve think I might have the very thing,’ he says, trying desperately to think of the very thing he might have.

‘Could I come and have a look?’ she says.

‘I’ll tell you what, Stacey,’ he says. ‘Give me a day or two and I will get back to you. Is this the best number to get you on?’

Barney is thrown into a panic. Facilitating the space for Stacey Jayne to paint presents no problem. He can set aside a couple of rooms at the back of his warehouse. He will need to clear it out a bit of junk, and clean up, but this can easily be done. He can buy some easels and paints from Nicki Bello’s artists’ supply stall. But, what about the paintings? He needs to make it look like it is a working studio and that he has completed a few canvases and has others in progress. Where on earth is he going to get hold of these? Suddenly, he has the light-bulb moment. There is a prestigious exhibition on at Art Attack by an overseas artist with an unusual name. He knows this because his friend and fellow Bristol City supporter, Jarvis Vest works as a security guard there. Given favourable circumstances, and a little guile, he can borrow some paintings from there.

5:

‘These paintings are brilliant, Barney,’ says Stacey Jayne, as she moves slowly round the four large canvases of Tuscan landscapes in the makeshift studio. ‘You are so talented. I don’t know how my poor daubings will look alongside these.’

‘It’s good of you to say so, Stacey Jayne,’ he says. He is pleased with how he easily he managed to blot out Lili Stankovich’s signature and replace it with Barney Cisco using some black paint on the wrong end of a small brush. You can hardly notice the alterations.

‘What are you working on at the moment?’ she asks.

‘I’m doing another landscape in oils,’ he says. ‘I took it home to do a bit on it last night. Sometimes I find that the light is better in my conservatory.’

Ah, I see.’ says Stacey Jayne. ‘Look! I’ve got my bits and pieces in the car. I’ll bring them in, if that’s OK, then if you are interested, I was wondering whether you might want to go and see that Lili Stankovich exhibition that’s on at Art Attack.

‘I’ve a lot on today, maybe next week,’ says Barney. Procrastination is a tried and tested strategy and in his line of work maybe next week means never.

Oh look, Barney!‘ says Stacey Jayne. Isn’t that the police outside?

What? says Barney. Oh my God!’

He busies himself trying his best to cover up the canvases that are on show while he tries to remember what Sonny’s solicitor was called.

They’re peering through the window, now,‘ says Stacey Jayne. ‘I wonder what they might want. I hope you are not in trouble, Barney.

Why, oh why had he listened to Lorelei Angel? Why had he tried to better himself? And what made him think he had a chance with a babe like Stacey Jayne? He should have followed the advice of that song that was always playing on Tonya Ludovic‘s bric-a-brac stall. Don’t go chasing waterfalls, it went, or something like that. Stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to. He should have stuck to what he was good at, supporting Bristol City through thick and thin and selling cheap foreign mattresses at inflated prices at his market stall.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Famous For Fifteen Minutes

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Famous For Fifteen Minutes by Chris Green

It was already the middle of July. Only a few moments ago it seemed it was June, or May even. The Bank Holiday Mondays, the Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, Summer Solstice, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and the British Grand Prix had come and gone like thieves in the night. In quick succession, each of my shrubs had flowered and gone over. Already the hydrangeas were out and the sunflowers were beginning to open. My life was playing on fast forward. Any day now someone would say, ‘the nights are drawing in,’ somehow, it seemed, stating the obvious. A friend of mine was fond of saying, ‘change is the only certainty.’ As I grew older, I was beginning to appreciate the wisdom of his words. ‘Now’ was forever slipping away. Time was, as Bob Dylan had observed back in the seventies, a jet plane.

It was polling time. A by-election had been called following the death of our local MP, Rickie Hamilton, in a sword-fight with the landlord of The Belted Galloway. I had begun to receive a plethora of political pamphlets through the door. Each day I would come home from work at the brass instrument advice centre to find a new pile of brightly coloured electoral fliers on the mat. There must have been more than a dozen different candidates. There were a range of views on local issues but most of them agreed that the country was in a bit of a mess. Some promised to put more police on the streets to help fight crime while others wanted to see a volunteer police force to save money. One or two wanted to make such deep cuts they suggested closing hospitals, schools and libraries, and deporting the disabled and unemployed.

In my neighbourhood there seemed to be a predominance of VOTE WARHOL stickers in the windows of the houses, although there were half a dozen or so VOTE ROTHKO stickers, several VOTE POLLOCK and one or two VOTE EMIN.

I was cooking liver and onions for my supper one evening, when Mr Warhol called round.

Hi! I’m Andy,’ he said by way of a greeting. He was an odd-looking man with pale features and large glasses. I could not tell whether he was wearing a wig or not, but I didn’t like to ask.

I asked him instead ‘If you get in, will everyone be famous for fifteen minutes?’

That would be communism,’ he replied, circumventing the reference. Perhaps he had become immune to smart-aleck remarks.

Or in fifteen minutes everyone will be famous?’

That sounds to me like liberalism.’

Or will fifteen people be famous for everyone?’

That would be an oligarchy, he said.

I could not fault Andy’s ‘political theory’.

Will I notice any difference if you get in?’ I asked.

Put it this way,’ he said. ‘If you like your life, I’ll be trying to keep things as they are; if you don’t like your life I’ll be trying to change things. You choose’

Very diplomatic,’ I thought. Despite my occasional propensity to complain, I liked my life. I was forever wishing I could hold back the relentless progress of time. This feeling was especially strong at this time of year. It seemed important to capture and hang on to those precious fleeting moments when summer was at its most vital, those few brief days when the celestial magic cast its powerful spell. Light evenings were nourishment to the soul. The Sunday at the seaside. The walk in the woods with the birds singing. These would be the times that one would look back to and remember as special in the dark winter months ahead.

If I could choose I’d like things to stay pretty much as they are,’ I said, with this in mind.

Good,’ he said. ‘Vote for me and I’ll see what I can do.’ He shook my hand and made his way across my front lawn to Mr and Mrs De Kooning’s next door. I suspected the De Koonings would give him a tougher time as they had a VOTE TURNER sticker in their window. Furthermore, I had always found them confrontational, particularly over the issue of my rhododendron, which they claimed spoilt their view of Hogarth Hill.

Despite his unconventional appearance and his lack of political conviction, or perhaps because of these attributes, I liked Andy. Although I didn’t usually bother to vote, I made my way down to the John Constable Primary School on polling day and voted for him. It was a close contest but after three recounts Andy Warhol was elected MP for Sisley South by a margin of two votes.

On Mondays, I go to a Flower Arranging class at the Francis Bacon Memorial Centre, and on Tuesdays, Snake Charming at the Hindu Community Centre. On Wednesdays, I have a head massage and on Thursday I attend a bricklaying course at the college. At the weekends, I spend time with my girlfriend, Yoni. I have been described as a creature of habit. While it is good to have varied interests I do like to keep to a routine. Most evenings I get home at 9 to 9.30, although sometimes Snake Charming goes on a little late. During the second half of July, the sun sets just over one minute earlier each evening so it was not until the end of July that I began to notice that it was still light as I drove home when perhaps it shouldn’t be.

I looked up the sunset times for Sisley on the Internet and found that there indeed appeared to be a discrepancy, between when the sun was due to set and when it was actually setting. As near as I could tell the difference was twenty minutes. I checked my watch against the clocks in the house and dialled the speaking clock (accurate to within five-thousandths of a second). All agreed the time to within a minute. Either there was a huge conspiracy to dupe me or something strange was really happening.

It was hard not to feel a sense of panic, but in the interest of my sanity, I decided I would do my best not to draw attention to the situation. I felt it was better to keep it to myself for the time being, in case there was a rational explanation that I might have overlooked. I did not even tell Yoni, although once or twice, she remarked that I seemed distracted during our lovemaking. I explained that we were having a lot of intonation problems at the centre with four-valve euphoniums. Over dinner at Vettriano’s, she noticed that I kept looking at my watch and looking out of the window.

Are we expecting someone or should I not be here?’ she asked.

Sorry darling,’ I said. ‘I just thought I saw Paul Gauguin from my Snake Charming class.’

I read the broadsheet newspapers thoroughly, kept a close eye on the television news and trawled the Internet to see if I could find any clarification, but drew a total blank. It appeared no one else had noticed the celestial upheaval that was upon us. Not even climate change sites had any helpful information. I alone had spotted that the seasons were playing up.

Shaving had never been an activity that I had particularly enjoyed. But, when around the beginning of August, I noticed I no longer needed to, I felt a little unsettled. Furthermore, while I felt that I would miss the convivial conversations about football, opera and pizza with Leonardo, my barber, this was not my prime concern when I found that my hair was no longer growing longer. Doctor Hopper, the only doctor at the Rembrandt Surgery I could get an appointment with at short notice checked me over to ascertain whether I was dead, and after finding a pulse and a heartbeat, began to ask me questions. Had I been feeling any stress? Was I eating a balanced diet? Had I taken any narcotic drugs? Had I been near a source of nuclear energy? I told him that life had been fine, and I ate healthy meals like butternut squash bakes and sardine salads, made sure I ate an apple a day and took regular exercise. He took a blood sample and said he would send it off for some tests to be done.

How long do you think the tests will take?’ I asked.

Well, the tests will only take a couple of minutes,’ he replied, a little smugly. ‘But there might be another 40,000 samples already waiting for tests at the lab. This is how the NHS works, unfortunately. Three to four weeks maybe. In the meantime, I’ll just give you something to help and I think I had better sign you off work’

Is it serious? I asked.

It may be, but there again it may not be,’ was his reply. Why could no one commit themselves these days? ‘But I don’t want you to worry about it.’

I picked up the lithium that Doctor Hopper prescribed and took my sick note into the brass instrument advice centre. For the next few days, I sat in the garden taking stock of the floral inertia. The hydrangeas and the borders I had planted from seed were still in full bloom. The lawnmower had stayed in the shed and the grass was exactly the same length as it had been in the middle of July. I hadn’t had to water the garden, not even the rhododendron. While it must have rained during this time, it certainly hadn’t rained excessively. I could think of absolutely no explanation for these phenomena.

I began dropping comments into conversations with friends and neighbours about it being a strange summer, or about how manageable my garden seemed this year, hoping that one might come back with something like, ‘the night’s don’t seem to be drawing in at all this year,’ or ‘fantastic isn’t it the way that the flowers are lasting this year, I haven’t had to deadhead my petunias once.’ There was, however, no hint from any of them that they were experiencing anything untoward. The nearest to a result was when Graham Sutherland from number 44 had said his roses were doing well compared to last year. I was momentarily cheered but it transpired that this was because last year they had been attacked by leafhoppers, spittlebugs and whitefly. It seemed I was alone in my predicament.

My waking turmoil reflected itself in my sleep. I began having disturbing dreams at night. In one series of dreams, I was falling from a tall Gothic building. But whereas in such episodes I was accustomed to waking up before I hit the ground, in these dreams I didn’t. I splattered all over the pavement. In the one I remembered most vividly, people had come to stand around and watch me fall. A television crew were filming the spectacle. At one point I was watching their film of my fall on television and I tried to switch off the set with the remote control, but the batteries were flat and I screamed as I watched myself hit the pavement. I woke up terrified. In another dream, I was driving along a very straight, featureless, dark road and all the other vehicles driving in both directions along the road were AA vans. In the next frame, they had all become ambulances. I was unable to control the car and was struggling to avoid a collision with the ambulances. In yet another I was trapped in windowless rooms in a dark house, unable to move or make any sound. People dressed in red with voices talking backwards were searching for me. I did not know whether they wanted to harm me or rescue me.

I began to dread going to bed. I found myself staying up later and later watching Murder She Wrote, Beach Volleyball and repeats of CSI on television.

One morning I got up and the green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said ‘this is Doctor Hopper. I hope you are all right. I have a feeling I may have prescribed you the wrong … beep beep beep’ My answering machine was a cheap one I had bought at a car boot and had had no instructions of how to reset the message allocation time. It did not matter anyway as I had looked up lithium on HealthLine and decided that it might not be a good idea to take it, especially not 1800 milligrams per day.

I am not one of these motorists who continually check their mileage, but I could not help but notice that the milometer on my Citroen Xsara Picasso had been registering 33333 for several days, during which I had been to my acupuncturist twice, and had also driven to the health centre for an extra head-massage. There was nothing subjective about my perception regarding the mileage. This was entirely scientific; the car was moving along the road, the speedometer was registering the speed, but the odometer was not recording any mileage. In some ways, this seemed more sinister to me than some of the other examples of torpidity. I set the journey distance register to zero and drove off to buy a newspaper and some groceries. The register remained on zero.

It was the evening of my snake-charming exam. I had decided to confide in someone about what was happening to me. I had chosen Sanjay, my tutor as the most appropriate candidate. Aside from being a damn good snake charmer, he was well versed in phenomenology. He seemed understanding, non-judgemental, and had a mystical presence.

Considering the stress I was under, my exam went well. I had the cobra dancing to the music of my flute as if I was a professional. This is of course not completely true. Snakes are actually deaf. They only appear to be dancing to the music. The thing to remember is that the cobra is expecting an attack so you have to keep the flute moving from side to side as you play and the snake will mimic the movements. A cobra’s striking range is roughly one-third of its total length, so it is also a good idea to keep a few feet between you and the snake in case it is having a bad day.

After the exam was over, Sanjay came over to congratulate me, presenting me with an ideal opportunity to have a chat. Once Sanjay had finished shaking my hand and bowing politely, I said, ‘Sanjay, something’s been bothering me for a while.’

Yes, I can see that,’ he said. ‘Would like to tell me what is this thing that is bothering you?’

Today is the eleventh of August,’ I continued. ‘And it’s still as light in the evenings as it was in the middle of July. It’s not dark until 10 o’clock. You must have noticed’

No. I have not been noticing that,’ he replied.

Let me show you what I mean,’ I said. ‘It’s 9.15 now. If we go outside you will see that the sun has not quite set.’

First I have to put the snake basket away so they will not be escaping and poisoning the streetwalkers. But I can see from your expression that you have been worrying so I will not be long.’

Sanjay came back from putting the snakes away and I pushed open the double doors at the back of the community centre. I was about to say to Sanjay, ‘there, you see what I mean,’ but instead, I found we were confronted by almost total darkness. You could just detect a tinge of pink in the bottom corner of the sky over the moor, where the sun had set, but otherwise, the sky was a dark grey and the orange streetlights were shining brightly. I was stunned. I checked my watch. It confirmed that it was 9.15. It was August 11th. It was dark – as one would have expected. I did not know what to say, or what I should feel.

What is happening to me, Sanjay?’ I gasped.

I have observed for two or three weeks now that you have been stressing,’ Sanjay said. ‘You should not worry you know, many people are stressing before their snake charming exam. Stress can make you imagine strange things.’

But yesterday at 9.15 it was still light,’ I protested.

Life can be illusory,’ he said. ‘Reality is not necessarily what you are seeing.’

I took a detour on my way home and called in at The David Hockney for a drink. The journey was exactly 303 miles according to my milometer, which now registered 33636. I ordered a Carlsberg Special and phoned Yoni. She did not pick up, which probably meant she was researching for her dissertation on Dissertation Research Methods. I sat by the window, looking out across the moors and noticed that there was a full moon. I had not seen a lot of the moon during the light evenings. I wondered momentarily whether the moon’s phases had been consistent over the past few weeks. I sipped at my drink idly brushing my beard with my hand. Beard! I had a beard. Quite a thick one too. Why had Yoni not remarked on it? She must surely have noticed. Why from day to day had I not noticed it growing in the mirror?

I arrived home around midnight, after another two or three medicinal Carlsberg Specials. The first thing I noticed was that my neatly manicured front lawn was now like a wild meadow. The grass had grown several inches and there were weeds everywhere. Most of the flowers that were in bloom had dropped petals and all of the border plants needed dead-heading. It provided a complete contrast with my neighbours’ gardens, which were fastidiously well maintained. I wondered briefly if my nascent wilderness might be the reason behind the For Sale sign outside the de Koonings. I dreaded to think how much the rhododendron had grown.

I opened the door. The green light on the phone was flashing. I played back the message on the answer machine. ‘Hello,’ it said. ‘This is Andy Warhol. It’s now 8.30 pm on Wednesday 11th August. You may remember when I called round you told me you’d like things to stay as they are. I expect if I asked you now you might answer differently. So I’ve … beep beep beep’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Blowing in the Wind

blowinginthewind

Blowing in the Wind by Chris Green

I am walking Malcolm on Panhandlers Hill when I first spot him. In fact, it is Malcolm who spots him first. Malcolm is a cocker spaniel and he is very sensitive to changes in his surroundings. We get a few hill walkers around these parts and at first, I think the shadowy figure in the distance is just another hiker, enjoying the peace that this beautiful stretch of upland has to offer. But cocker spaniels were bred to be gun dogs and Malcolm seems to be able to tell straight away that this is a gunman coming out from behind the clump of trees to the east towards Cascade Falls. When he phones, Milo is always telling me not to go out on the hills on my own in case there are snipers. Milo is away a lot lately. Something to do with the merger, apparently, or is it the takeover? I don’t get into that side of things.

I won’t be on my own,’ I tell him. ‘I’ll have Malcolm.’

A fat lot of good Malcolm will be when you are faced with a battalion of bloodthirsty rebels,’ he says. Sometimes Milo’s outlook verges on paranoia, but it looks as if he may have got it right this time, although he has perhaps overestimated the scale of the threat. The lone figure is ambling towards us, rifle cocked. Have I got the right word? Is cocking something that you do with a rifle? Whatever, it’s still a man with a rifle. And cocking or not, he’s getting closer.

Run, Malcolm!’ I shout.

The stupid mutt starts running towards the sniper. At times like this, I wish I’d continued with his obedience classes at Sit Happens.

Not that way, Malcolm,’ I call out.

I might be pushing fifty but I can still manage a canter if need be. The problem now is we’re heading in the wrong direction for the car park but I dare not double back.

When I feel we are a safe distance from the ridge where we caught sight of the sniper, I get the phone out of my shoulder bag. My heart is racing. Malcolm is now barking furiously. He can smell my fear. How on earth are we going to get out of here? It’s no good phoning Milo, of course. Even if he were to answer, he would just rant and rave about me going up on to the hill despite his warnings. Not that he’d be able to get here anyway. He’s out of the country on business. Most of the people I know live in Richmond which is a good ten miles away or Freeport which is even further. In any case, most of them would probably be tied up at this time of day. People have work to do or people to see. I decide to phone Doobie. He will be able to get here quickly, plus he is streetwise. Unconventional certainly, but resourceful.

Within a matter of minutes, Doobie, his long straggly hair blowing like Bob Dylan’s answer, arrives in a curiously customised Jeep at the arranged spot along the dirt-track lane by the derelict grain store. Crashing guitar chords ring out from an improvised onboard speaker system. I don’t believe that this is Bob Dylan. Thrash metal perhaps. Or nu-metal. Whichever, you don’t hear a lot of this kind of music on Iescos. The Rolling Stones are still considered to be new kids on the block here. I have often wondered how someone who draws so much attention to himself as Doobie does can get through life in such a cavalier fashion without requital. But he appears to do so. Hiding in the light, I believe it is called.

I lift Malcolm into the vehicle and jump in beside him. With a spin of wheels, we speed off, hopefully out of danger.

What was happening back there, Nattie?’ Doobie says. ‘You seem a bit shaken up.’

There was a gunman coming for us and Malcolm was running towards him and …….’

Slow down, will you, Nats? You’ll give yourself a heart attack.’

But he had a rifle and ….. ‘

Oh, I wouldn’t get too alarmed about that,’ he laughs. ‘If it was a sniper, he’s not going to waste a bullet on you. Ammunition is precious when you are a renegade in hiding. You worry too much, Nattie, you know that? Time for a cold one at Mojo I think.’

Unlikely as it may seem, I got to know Doobie through a mutual interest in avant-garde cinema. We met at a rare screening of one of Leif Velasquez’s films in Freeport. I read about Velasquez in Artz magazine, on the internet and went along to the Freeport show out of curiosity. Doobie was there setting up the props. He is an artist of sorts, although, by his own admission, not an easy one to categorise. Interactive guerilla street installation art or subversive performance sculpture mural art. Anyway, something unusual.

Doobie and I were the only two people to attend the Velasquez screening. Even today, it seems few people you speak to have heard of Leif Velasquez. I don’t believe Artz magazine has a wide readership, even in the US or the UK, and certainly not on Iescos. Interactive film has therefore not caught on yet, but it will. Give it time and it will fulfil the MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) criteria for innovation. Milo is not one for the arts, but Doobie and I have now been to a few shows together. Few, because events on Iescos are rare. If you google ‘Iescos’, it will come back with, ‘did you mean Tescos?’

To look at the two of us you would think we were polar opposites, me in my tweedy twin-sets and Doobie in his denim cut-offs with a torn The Bloody Rook t-shirt. Who is The Bloody Rook? Is it a band? An artists’ collective? A group of writers? I don’t want to show my ignorance by asking. I keep meaning to look on the internet but have not yet got round to it. But, anyway, Doobie and I seem to get along. Opposites, and all of that.

The recent uprising was a bit of a joke. Most of the rebels were rounded up within the first twenty-four hours. Iescos is, after all, a small island and because of this it has since its colonial days been relatively easy to govern. A few of the more enterprising insurgents managed to escape capture and most of these headed this way, the cover of the hills providing a treasury of hiding places. As it was such a shambles, I’m not sure that mastermind is the right word here but nobody I have spoken to seems to know for sure who the mastermind behind the uprising was.

Around two hundred ill-equipped rebels stormed the government building and imprisoned the government officials. To announce the change of leadership to that of a popular co-operative and to manage the flow of information, they took control of the radio station and the press. What they overlooked was that hardly anyone on the island listens to the local radio station and even fewer read the newspaper. This is the internet age, even on Iescos. Unfortunately, there was not a skilled webmaster among the band of insurgents. So, unaware that we had to acknowledge a change in fortunes, we all went about our business as usual. By the time the rebels realised what was happening, or in this case not happening, outside help was at hand. GCHQ had already processed the information and, almost before the uprising had started, a pair of British frigates were in Freeport harbour. The freedom fighters who were not captured by their former colonial oppressors took to the hills.

We pull up outside Mojo. It is almost buried beneath lush vegetation. It looks like a former colonial trading post. As we make our way through the greenery, we are greeted by colourful adverts for exotic herbs, hummingbirds, parrots, livestock, alligators and two-headed snakes. Island Sweet Skunk and Gurage Khat. It appears you can buy anything here. Or in Doobie’s case, it seems you can just help yourself. He ushers me inside to the darkened interior, Malcolm at my heels. He directs us to a table, nods to a shadowy figure behind the counter, takes two glistening bottles of Sol Original out from a giant peppermint green fridge and places one in front of me. Clearly, he is a man of standing in these parts.

The gin here is fresh too if you would like one in a bit,’ he says, pointing to a still, visible, despite a beaded curtain, in the corner. ‘And duty-free.’

We settle into a conversation about the complicated topography of Iescos, all the peaks and promontories, twists and turns, ridges and rills, swales and dingles. Or in plain language, the ups and downs.

Although Milo and I have been here for three years and the island is less than forty miles across, I still get lost,’ I say. ‘Even with satnav. Some of the roads are little more than tracks or paths and even out in the open there are next to no road signs.’

The road signs all but disappeared in the uprising,’ he says. ‘One of the rebels’ tactics.’

This is why I take Malcolm out on to Panhandlers Hill,’ I say. ‘It’s an easy journey from the house and it has a safe place to park the car.’

Doobie says he doesn’t need satnav or road signs, he knows every inch of the island. He knows which parts are safe and which bits might be rebel hideouts. I tell him it is just as well he knows his way around because I don’t have any idea how to get back to my car. We have probably only come five or six miles from where he picked me up, but I would never have been able to find my way to Mojo in a million years. I had no idea that places like this existed.

Most of the people on the island never make it out of the towns,’ he says.

In breaks in our conversation, I overhear the murmur of two men in conversation at a nearby table. They are speaking in their native tongue. It is something that you could easily miss, in fact, it is Malcolm who draws my attention to it, but their conversation seems to be interspersed with occasional utterances of Milo’s name. Malcolm’s ears prick up and he gives out a little yelp each time that Milo’s name is mentioned. He misses Milo. At first, I wonder if the pair might be referring to a different Milo. Or perhaps Milo or something that sounds like it is a word in their language. But, when Doobie goes off to speak to someone at the bar, I distinctly hear one of them say the name, Milo Lorenz. He repeats it several times. No doubt then that it is my Milo. This is disconcerting. What connection could they possibly have with my husband?

I look around discreetly, anxious not to draw more attention to myself than I might already be doing. I am aware that a lady dressed in Barbour country clothing as I am might look out of place in a bar like this. A lady of any sort might look out of place. Except possibly a lap dancer. This is a male domain. I’m not at all comfortable that Doobie has brought me here. The lightness of the atmosphere earlier when we were sipping our Sol Original has vanished. Dressed in torn fatigues and baseball caps, the two men don’t look like the kind of associates I would expect Milo to have. They would not fit easily into the world of commerce. For one thing, I don’t imagine that you are allowed to spit on the floor in the meetings that Milo goes to. But, it occurs to me I do not know much about what Milo actually does and he is around so infrequently that there is not much opportunity to find out. I do not believe that he has been home now for nearly a month, in fact, he hasn’t phoned for a week or so.

The longer Doobie spends talking to the sinister man at the bar, the more nervous I become. They have sneaked away into a corner of the bar and I am unable to see what they are doing. The two men on the table behind me now have raised voices. They seem more menacing by the minute. I call over to Doobie, but he completely ignores me. I have a bad feeling about what might be happening here. What if I have been lured into some kind of trap? What if they are all in on it? What if I am being kidnapped? It is perhaps not the conventional way of doing it, but then there has been nothing conventional about today. They might be using me as a way to get money out of Milo. I take the phone out to give him a call but, predictably, it goes straight to voicemail. I can no longer see Doobie. He has disappeared.

Malcolm begins to bark. One of the men at the table, the one with the scar running the length of his cheek, mouths something guttural at him. The other man, the one with the dental problems, then addresses me in a threatening manner. He spits. I don’t understand Iescan but I think I understand the gesture. It is aimed at me. I am not welcome. I look around me for support. There is none. I am scared. I get up quickly and go over to where Doobie disappeared. I push open a door, Malcolm following at my heels. We go down a couple of wooden steps and find ourselves in a murky room. Parrots call out as we enter. There is an overpowering aroma from a potpourri of herbs and spices, tarragon and eucalyptus, coriander and nutmeg. It is like a bazaar. Shelves are stacked with a dizzying assortment of strange artefacts. Malcolm is spooked by the two-headed green snake that peers out from its glass tank. Next to it in another glass tank is a writhing congregation of baby alligators. Are those bats circling overhead? Or are they large moths? This is the stuff of nightmares. There is no sign of Doobie.

I backtrack and along a corridor find another door. I push it open. This is a much larger room. There are no parrots. No two headed snakes. No alligators. Instead, dominating the space and looking completely out of context is a Heidelberg offset printing machine. I do not know much about printing, but this looks like a serious piece of kit. Although it is not in use, it appears to have done its job. Stacked alongside it are bales and bales of printed material wrapped in polythene, newspapers, posters, flyers. I move in closer, brush the dust off the nearest pile and take a look. To my alarm, they have Milo’s photo on. President Lorenz, it says. So do the other bales. President Lorenz? What on earth? Is this some kind of joke?

Gradually it dawns on me that Milo must have been the one behind the failed uprising. This must have been the takeover that I heard him talking about in those clandestine phonecalls late at night. This would explain why he hasn’t phoned me. This must be why his phone is off. He must be in detention somewhere. This will be why I was being spat at in the bar. I can see straight away why the plan might have failed. Milo’s big problem is that he never thinks things through. He has an idea and thinks that this is enough; the job is then done. Not that Milo would have made a good president anyway. His politics are too fickle. He has a low boredom threshold. One thing one day, the opposite the next. He would have been quickly overthrown.

But, why haven’t the authorities contacted me? And why has Doobie brought me to this godforsaken place?

As if summoned, Doobie sidles into the room. His aura seems to have darkened a little.

There was no easy way of telling you, Nattie,’ he says, apologetically. ‘When you called me I wasn’t sure what I should say. Not a lot of people in respectable circles realised who was behind the uprising. And it was seen as important that they didn’t find out. We’re no different here on Iescos than anywhere else when it comes to secrecy. The fewer that know the truth the better.’

I see,’ I say, not seeing at all.

You wouldn’t have believed me anyway,’ he says. ‘So, I thought it would be best if I brought you here and let you find out for yourself.’

I am about to point out that all the people here seem to know about Milo, but, I think I am beginning to get it. After all, the peasants here in the interior don’t have a voice, do they? They don’t have access to one. Nor will they have. The printing press is shut down for now.

So, Doobie. Whose side are you on,’ I say.

Sides, Nattie? I don’t do sides, Nattie,’ he says. ‘I’m too smart for that.’

I put too much faith in people, Doobie. I always expect to find things how I left them. But life isn’t like that. It’s full of surprises. From now on, I’m going to see which way the wind blows.’

I think that’s the answer, Mrs L.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Cats and Dogs

catsanddogs

Cats and Dogs by Chris Green

It hasn’t been a good Spring. I have spent most of it listening to birdsong on Birdsong FM because there hasn’t been any birdsong in the garden.

Every week when Sophie and I tune in to CountryWatch, they go on about global warming. March was the hottest on record and April was the hottest on record and last Sunday the weatherman with the Polish name tried to tell us that so far May has also been the hottest on record.

‘Not here, Tomasz,’ I told him. He could not hear me of course. He was in a studio miles away. On the Moon possibly.

I know that it has rained every day so far in May because I keep a diary and, looking at it, I can see that Sophie and I have not been able to get out for a walk in the country once. It has been so wet I have not even been able to go down to the allotment. When I drove past it on Monday, I noticed that the weeds were colossal.

There has not been a single day’s play at this year’s cricket festival and the tourists, having had to abandon their county fixture, are considering abandoning the whole tour. ‘

You can’t play cricket in a bloody climate like this,’ captain, Rick Sydney said in an interview on Radio Glanchester yesterday. ‘We’re off home, mate.’

He may not have been serious. He did seem to be three sheets to the wind. All that 4X, I guess.

According to John Bearcroft, the River Glan burst its banks last night and apparently there are boats going up and down the High Street. Fortunately, we live in Lofty Ridge, one of the higher points of the town. The roof is leaking a little in the back bedroom, but I think we should be all right for now. We’ve got a few bowls and buckets. If it keeps on raining the way it has, though, who knows what might happen?

Aunt Molly phones to ask about Sophie and little Riley. Not that Riley is little anymore. He’s nearly thirteen. Aunt Molly still thinks of him as if he were three. She phones every Wednesday. Aunt Molly lives on her own and she likes to have a bit of family news. Especially since Uncle Mitch passed away. I expect it gives her something to talk about at the church bring and buy or the hairdressers. I tell her that Sophie is lying down. She has a bit of a headache but otherwise, she is fine. Riley is a little sulky because, even though it’s cricket season, he does like his football and he hasn’t been able to get out to play.

‘I know,’ she says. ‘It’s sweltering, isn’t it? I’ve got the fans on upstairs and downstairs. It’s going to be forty degrees by the weekend, they say.’

This is strange. There’s no sign of a break in the cloud here yet, in fact, the rain is falling with a new intensity. Cats and dogs, as they say. And yet, Norcastle, where Aunt Molly lives is less than fifty miles away, in fact, as its name suggests, it’s north of here. I am about to mention this but Aunt Molly interrupts.

‘That’s beautiful birdsong I can hear,’ she says. ‘I expect you’re out in the garden, sitting under that lovely maple tree.’

‘No, Aunt Molly. We’re indoors,’ I say.

‘Are you really? On a day like this? That’s a shame. ….. Good Lord! Have you got birds in the house, David?’ she says. ‘Isn’t that a cuckoo?’

‘Oh, that’s just the radio,’ I say.

‘The radio?’

‘Well, it’s internet radio, Aunt Molly. There’s a station that broadcasts birdsong all day. I listen to it a lot.’

‘But you shouldn’t be indoors on a day like this, David,’ she says.

It is beginning to dawn on me that Glanchester seems to have developed its own micro-climate. I suspect something is very wrong, but I don’t want to worry Aunt Molly. She had a stroke last year. It was touch and go for a while.

‘I’ve got to go now,’ I say. ‘There’s someone at the door.’

I take a look on the BBC weather site, something that I have avoided doing lately. I can see why. It’s hopelessly inaccurate. There is absolutely no mention of rain here in Glanchester, or in neighbouring Starborough. Not a single black cloud on the graphic. It’s blanket sunshine all day every day for the foreseeable future with light winds and projected temperatures similar to those reported by Aunt Molly.

You can find almost anything out on the internet. All manner of information is there at your fingertips. You can find out how many Seventh Day Adventists there are in Tuvalu. You can find out what Beyoncé had for breakfast. You can find out what Prince Phillip’s favourite sea shanty is. But, I cannot for the life of me find out what is happening to the weather in Glanchester. I search on all the major browsers using a dictionary of different search terms but there is quite simply no reference to anything untoward. It is supposed to be hot and sunny here.

I rattle the old grey matter around to try and come up with a rational explanation. Are scientists cloud seeding perhaps? I recall the Kate Bush video for her song, Cloudbusting, with Donald Sutherland, based on Wilhelm Reich’s revolutionary device. The cloudbuster consisted of a set of hollow tubes pointed to the sky which were earthed by a body of water. It drew the orgone energy out of the atmosphere. OK. Perhaps, a bit of a longshot. What about the biblical flood and Noah’s Ark. Are Smetterton Studios maybe doing an extravagant present-day remake of the doctrinal epic here in Glanchester?

Riley comes into the room, interrupting my speculation. No school today. It is flooded. He is wearing a sweatshirt that says I’d Rather Be Sleeping. Better than the I Hate Everyone one he was wearing before, I suppose.

‘When’s Mum going to get up?’ he says, looking up briefly from his phone.

‘I don’t know, Riley,’ I say. ‘Your mother has a headache.’

‘I’m not surprised she has a headache,’ he says. ‘Can’t you turn that awful row off?’

‘That awful row, Riley, is birdsong,’ I say ‘It’s therapeutic.’

‘It’s what?’

‘Oh never mind.’

‘I was going to ask her to give me a lift over to Axel’s. Perhaps you can take me.’

‘I’m busy, Riley.’

‘Can Axel come over here then, Dad. He’s got some cool new apps on his phone. There’s this one that ……’

‘Not now, Riley. Oh! Go on, then! Tell him to come over, if you like.’

I take Sophie up a cup of herbal tea and ask her how she is feeling. She has the television on and is watching the Chelsea Flower Show on catch-up. A succession of royals and celebrities are paraded before the cameras. It seems that this is now the focus of the TV coverage of the event with just the occasional glimpse of a garden or a flower or two to suggest a modicum of authenticity.

‘It’s baking hot here in West London,’ says the presenter with the plum in her mouth.

‘But the celebrities are out in their droves,’ says the presenter from the other side of the tracks. It is the wrong expression, of course, but you can’t help thinking she is right. They are a little like cattle, herded around to put on a show wherever they are needed to promote the well-to-do club.

‘Some of the plants might be wilting but the tropical plants here are in their element,’ says the presenter with the dark linen suit, trying it seems to get the narrative back to horticulture.

‘Any better, darling?’ I ask.

‘A little,’ says Sophie. ‘But I’m not getting up until the rain stops. Look at the sunshine there in London. The presenter with the gaudy floral twin-set says it is going to be 41 degrees tomorrow, I suppose that’s today or was it yesterday. It’s hard to tell where you are with this catch-up TV. But, look at it here. I can’t remember when we last saw the sun. What’s happening, David?’

‘I don’t know, sweetest, but whatever is happening is not supposed to be happening. It’s very worrying.’

‘Can’t you phone your friend, Darwin? He’s some kind of scientist. He might know.’

‘Darwin is an opthalmologist, petal. He only knows about eyes.’

‘What’s Riley up to? He’s very quiet.’

‘He’s doing something on his phone.’

‘Isn’t he always?’

‘I said he could have Axel round. He’ll be over shortly.’

‘Axel. H’mm, Axel. He’s the one with the new phone, isn’t he? 6G or whatever it is. He was showing me some things on it last week. It’s amazing what they can do with smartphones these days, isn’t it, lover? Axel had this app on there that could change the colour of the sky. I don’t imagine it could really change the colour of the sky, it was probably some trick of the light, but then again you never know. I expect they’ll come up with an app that can change the weather soon.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

MISSING

missingpic

Missing by Chris Green

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I got in late from a celebration of my team’s promotion. It was altogether a good night. In order not to wake anyone when I got home, I took the day bed in the downstairs study. Ellie has not been sleeping well lately, stress at work and the like, and I thought I might be a little restless. Also, it gave me a chance to be able to look at the photos of the evening on my phone. Probably best not to share all of these with Ellie, I thought.

It gradually occurs to me that it has been light for some time. I take a look at my watch. It’s eight o’clock. I wonder why no one is up. It’s Friday, a work day and of course a school day as well, but it certainly seems very quiet upstairs. Thomas is sometimes a little slow in the morning but Maddie is normally bouncing around by now. And Ellie herself has to be at the office by nine. She ought to be up and about.

Being self-employed, getting up at a specific time doesn’t matter so much to me. My colleague, Duke is flexible. He doesn’t mind opening up once in a while, so I can roll in when I like, or not at all. Duke is a handy fellow to have around. His main role is that of a fixer. Sometimes a bit of good honest persuasion is needed in my line of work and not many people would argue with Duke.

I’d better get the others up, though.

‘Anyone about,’ I call up the stairs as I do my ritual morning stretches.

There is no response.

‘Come on guys, rise and shine,’ I holler, in between my ritual morning yawns.

There is no response.

I decide I’d better go and take a look.

I make my way up the stairs trying to think of a novel way of waking them up, perhaps with a fake phone call or perhaps a sarcastic comment about their laziness. I look in Maddie’s room first. Maddie is the youngest. She’s four, no, wait, she’s five. Thomas is seven. I push the door open slowly waiting for Maddie to ask who is there. She doesn’t. Is she having a sulk about something? I poke my head round the door, leaving open the option of a boo type gesture, but there is no sign of her. The room is tidy and her bed is made. It does not look as if it has been slept in. Our bedroom reveals the same scenario. Tidy and bed apparently not slept in. Ditto, Thomas’s room.

There must surely be a rational explanation. Have they gone to stay with a friend? Has something just slipped my mind? Was there part of a conversation that I missed before I went out yesterday evening? Just a hint that they might have been going somewhere for the night. This seems unlikely. We are creatures of habit, well, Ellie perhaps more than me. In her world, these type of arrangements need to be made weeks in advance.

I didn’t have much contact with any of them yesterday, but they were around at tea time and I didn’t go out until half past seven. They were still here then, weren’t they? I remember now, I did go out a little early to stop off at the betting shop on the way to the pub. But still, this would have been nearly seven. Well, more like six I suppose. But, if something had happened, surely Ellie would have phoned me. I had my phone on. I’m sure of that. I got that call from Darius about the new shipment while I was at The Blind Monkey.

It is of course theoretically possible that they’ve all got up, dressed, used the bathroom, had breakfast and that Ellie has made the beds and taken the children to school very early, without waking me. Theoretically possible, but unlikely. I am a light sleeper even after a skinful and anyway Ellie’s yellow Fiat is still parked on the drive and all their coats are all still hanging up in the hallway. So whatever has happened, happened before I got home.

So what does this mean? I can’t think of anything that would have made Ellie leave me. Quite the reverse. We have been getting on rather well lately. Certainly as well as you can expect after eight years of marriage. Obviously, there have been one or two ups and downs over the years but surely, that’s all water under the bridge. If Ellie had left me, then you would have expected at the very least a note, explaining how she saw things. A list perhaps of unforgivable misdemeanours of which I have been completely unaware. This is what usually happens, isn’t it? Isn’t it? I don’t know. It’s never happened before. Even after Ellie discovered I was seeing Tracey. But, this is the way it happens in TV dramas.

At a glance, it doesn’t seem that anything is missing. Even Ellie’s handbag is still on the kitchen table where she has a habit of leaving it and it weighs about the same as it usually does. About ten kilos. What am I worrying about? I can just phone her. She never goes anywhere without her phone. It’s never out of her reach. I speed-dial the number. It doesn’t even go onto voicemail. ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later,’ is the message.

……………………………………

Twenty five minutes on hold, listening to Suspicious Minds, waiting to speak to an officer does nothing to instil confidence in police procedure. Once I’m put through to a real policeman, Sergeant Filcher does nothing to restore my confidence either. He sounds as if he is on diazepam medication and at the end of a twelve hour shift. I give him an account of the sequence of events since I last saw my family, but his interest in their disappearance is slight. Perhaps families go missing in Norcastle every day.

‘It’s only been a couple of hours,’ he says. ‘Perhaps your wife went to Asda on the way to school or something. Have you thought of that?’

‘Of course. But she never shops at Asda.’ To be honest, I’m not sure where she shops.

‘Have you checked the school? They have breakfast clubs and things these days.’

I haven’t checked the school, but to save time, I tell him that I have.

‘Look, Mr Black. If we investigated every family that changes its arrangements then there would be no officers available to catch the real criminals. Anyway, they’ll be down again next year.’

‘What are you talking about?’ I say.

‘Your team, they’ll be relegated again next year,’ he says. Sergeant Filcher must be a Blues supporter. The Reds beat the Blues with a goal in the very last minute of the very last game to secure promotion, at the Blues expense. I am anxious to not let Sergeant Filcher’s animosity get in the way of our conversation.

‘You’ll get on to looking for my family then, will you Sergeant?’ I say.

‘If your wife hasn’t turned up by, let us say, tomorrow evening, then call us again,’ he says. ‘Meanwhile, phone round your friends and relatives, will you! Goodbye, Mr Black.’

It can be difficult to convey the gravity of a desperate situation to others when you are the only one who realises it, so I sit down and think about how I am going to handle it. It may be wishful thinking but it is eminently possible that Ellie might walk in through the door at any time with an explanation that I have not hitherto considered. Or that she might phone. ‘Sorry,’ she might say. ‘I had no way of letting you know, but …….. ‘ I have no way of telling if such a scenario is a long-shot or not. Sergeant Filcher is probably right. It has only been a matter of hours. Perhaps I should leave it for a bit. There’s no point in treating it as an abduction or a murder investigation just yet. Perhaps Ellie’s just having a sulk. There again, he might be wrong. Uncertainty is often the worst. Given time, I could probably come to terms with the despair, but isn’t it the hope that is the problem? There again, perhaps I don’t care as much as I once did.

I don’t think Ellie ever puts her phone on silent, so, as I did not hear it ring when I dialled it earlier, I can assume that it is not in the house. In which case, she probably still has it with her. I try ringing again, but get the same message, ‘We are unable to connect you at this time. Please try again later.’ I decide to make my way through the contact numbers that Ellie has written down in the pad by the phone over the years. Friends, relatives, extended family, hairdresser, former hairdresser, former hairdresser’s friend’s cat-sitter. I keep the conversations as casual as I can. It is important to find out if anyone has seen Ellie but, at the same time, I don’t want everyone knowing our business. I don’t want people to think that I’m losing control. Reactions to the news of my family’s disappearance range from, ‘I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.’ to ‘Oh dear, what have you been up to, now?’ No-one seems to take it seriously. You would think that there would at least be some concern for Thomas and Maddie’s welfare. The closest I get to concern is from Ellie’s friend, Shannon, who is worried that I may have buried them in the back garden. Shannon has always disapproved of me.

Around midday, as I am coming to the end of the list, the house phone rings. It doesn’t often ring. We only use our mobiles these days. I am on it like a shot but it is a call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Carl begins to tell me how the service works. I swear at him and slam the phone down. No sooner have I sat down, than the house phone rings again. Once again, I am on it like a shot but it is another call from a telemarketing company offering a unique service to block unwanted telemarketing calls. A robot called Craig begins to tell me how the service works.

I’m going up the wall, trying to think back over the last few days. Have there been any signs of restlessness, excitement, anxiety? Have the children been behaving in a secretive way or doing anything unusual? I suppose I have been out quite a lot lately but it seemed that everything was as it always was, work, school, mealtimes, staggered bedtimes.

I check our paperwork box files. Nothing seems to be missing. The passports are still in the safety deposit box and no money is gone from the joint account. I cannot get into Ellie’s account as I do not know the password, so I have no way of finding out if she has made a large cash withdrawal. I go round opening drawers and take a look in cupboards and under cushions. I do not know what I might be looking for. Am I really expecting to find a nicely typed page of A4 that will explain the disappearance, or even a scribbled note? I unearth some of the things that Ellie has kept to remind her perhaps of the good times; the programme for the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup (I’d forgotten she came along to that),both the Happy Anniversary cards I sent her when I was away, the postcards and letters I sent her from before we were married. I begin to feel a little guilt-ridden. Could I have been more caring? Should I have taken more notice?

In terms of solving the mystery, though, I am getting nowhere. Is abduction a possibility? What should I be looking for? There are no signs of forced entry. There are no obvious signs of a struggle, no furniture out of place, no scuff marks on the carpet. Everything seems as it always has been. I really don’t feel I’m going to come up with anything meaningful staying around the house.

……………………………………

As I’m locking up, I see Frank Fargo at number 66 is mowing his lawn. Since his retirement, Frank is home all day and he’s always looking out of the front window. He must see everything that goes on around here. Some sort of writer now, I believe. Spy stories or something, I think he said.’

‘Hi Frank,’ I say. ‘Sorry to bother you, mate, but I wonder if you happened to see anything last night. For instance, Ellie going off with Thomas and Maddie.’

‘Lovely children aren’t they,’ he says. ‘And you wife is looking, uh, very fit. Yesterday evening, you say. No. I don’t think I did. I saw you go off in your cab. That must have been about seven thirty three, and then nothing. Of course, I do go to bed quite early. I like to turn in about nine.’

‘What about your CCTV cameras?’ I say. ‘Do you think they might have caught something?’

‘No. I’m afraid the device that records the footage has died,’ he says. ‘Went down a couple of days ago, as it happens. I’m waiting for SlowTech or whatever they are called to come out and fix it. I thought when the doorbell rang that it might be them.’

‘So, you haven’t seen anything suspicious?’

‘Well. Now you come to mention it. Tony Demarco from number 72 has been unloading a lot of stuff into his lock up garage lately.’

‘Tony Demarco. Is he the one with the big yellow van?’

‘That’s the one. I’ve never quite been able to work out quite what he does, But I think he’s some kind of wheeler dealer.’

It’s a strange phenomenon, but when there is a mystery like this, everyone suddenly seems to be acting suspiciously. All the people I spoke to earlier about Ellie’s disappearance are probably hiding something. Even Sergeant Filcher. Especially Sergeant Filcher. He is hiding something. Frank Fargo is definitely hiding something. He must have seen what happened. And Tony Demarco must have had something to do with it. The guy who comes round to clean the windows is probably in on it too. Even the lad who delivers the flyers for the community centre events is a suspect, and certainly the Avon lady is a bit dodgy. The whole thing is a conspiracy. Everyone knows what is going on but me. I don’t like being in this position. I have a reputation to maintain.

……………………………………

I leave it for forty eight hours then call the police again and after I have badgered them for a bit, they agree to come round and have a look. After I’ve cleared a few things away, a detective with a forensics man comes along and spends an hour or so going over the place. They ask a few questions but I can tell their hearts aren’t in it. It is just a job to them. They don’t say much about what they are doing or whether they have found anything but as I hear nothing more, I assume they haven’t found anything.

I call the station just in case and when Sergeant Filcher says as far as he knows they’ve turned up nothing, I suggest they might put out a newspaper plea. He tells me he doesn’t make those kind of decisions but he will run it past Inspector Boss, but he thinks he knows what the answer will be. They have their reasons for keeping cases like mine out of the press.

‘And what might those be?’ I ask. His low-key approach does not do it for me. Does he not know that I have a certain standing in the community? If my family have been abducted, I want every officer out combing the streets looking for them.

‘You clearly do not understand police procedure, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘You’ve been watching too many crime dramas, on TV, I expect. For the time being at least, this is being treated as a matrimonial dispute.’

‘You think that we had a row in the middle of the night and Ellie walked out and took the two children without even taking her handbag, do you?’ I say.

Look, Mr Black! There is no reason to suppose that Ellie and the children have been abducted. There is absolutely no evidence to support this. Or any other line of enquiry that might constitute a serious crime.’

‘For all you know, I could have killed them and dumped the bodies in the canal,’ I say.

‘Now you are just being facetious, Mr Black,’ he says. ‘We will monitor the case, and if anything develops we will, of course, let you know. Oh! By the way, I see your team has had to sell its star players.’

Half-heartedly I take it to the Gazette. Everyone is saying that it is an avenue that should be explored. Well, when I say everyone, I suppose I mostly mean Majid at the off-licence. His family had a similar experience. The editor of the Gazette, Burford Quigley decides that it warrants no more than a few column inches on page five. Not even a picture. Perhaps I forgot to let them have a photo.

……………………………………

As the days pass and weeks turn into months, I become less and less hopeful. Occasionally there is an alleged sighting but none of these comes to anything. Friends of mine sometimes drop by to take advantage of my hospitality and from time to time friends of Ellie’s phone to find out if there has been any news, but they do this less and less frequently as the months go by.

Ellie’s best friend, Lois is the only one who phones regularly.

‘Hi Matt,’ she will say. ‘Any news?’

‘No,’ I tell her.

‘I can’t understand it,’ she will say. ‘Ellie used to tell me everything and she never once said anything about leaving.’

I tell her that she is very kind, but there’s probably nothing she can do.

‘But, you must get very lonely there all by yourself,’ she will say. ‘Why don’t you come round and I will cook you dinner? Or I could come over.’

Lois is the most attractive of Ellie’s friends and she is recently divorced. Although the offer is tempting, it wouldn’t seem right, would it?

‘Maybe another time,’ I say.

‘No-one would need to know if that’s what you are worried about,’ she says.

The letter that arrives contains five random six by four photos. There is no message to accompany the photos and the address on the front of the envelope is printed on a sticky label in the anonymous Times New Roman font. The communication does not actually suggest that it is from Ellie, but, equally, it does not suggest that it is not. One photo is of a younger looking Ellie in front of The Bell in Tanworth in Arden in Warwickshire. Although I cannot remember the specific shot, I could have easily taken this photo. I can recall Ellie and I going there about ten years ago to see the singer, Nick Drake’s grave. Northern Sky was always one of her favourites. I like Pink Moon. There is a photo of Ellie with Thomas and Maddie in a rowing boat on the lake in the local park. I presumably took this one.

Who took the other photos is less clear cut. They are of me and Tracey. I had almost forgotten about Suzie. It must have been the year before last. Who could have sent these random pics and what exactly are they trying to say? There is not even a blackmail note. Come to think of it what use would that be anyway. All in all the communication makes no sense. It is difficult to make out the postmark on the envelope. I think about it for a while and then decide to call the police. I decide to hold the three of me and Suzie back. A plain clothes policewoman comes over to collect. She looks about thirteen.

‘I’ll get the forensics team to examine these closely,’ she says. She writes a receipt, to my surprise in joined-up writing, and takes the envelope and photos away.

I hear nothing more from the police regarding the matter. When I enquire it appears that the package has gone missing. I begin to wonder if the youngster that came round was a real policewoman. Perhaps, in my confusion, I called the wrong number or something and someone is playing a joke on me.

‘Isn’t it unusual for evidence on a case to go missing?’ I say.

The duty officer, whose name I don’t manage to catch, says that he has had a good look but can find no reference to the case I am speaking about.

‘The disappearance of my wife and children,’ I say, angrily.

He puts me on hold again. I am subjected to ten minutes of Suspicious Minds and when he comes back on he says he has no record of this.

‘Would you like to go over it again?’ he says.

‘I would like to speak to Sergeant Filcher,’ I say.

He tells me that Sergeant Filcher is currently on sick leave.

……………………………………

I cannot say for sure that I am being followed, and it’s only occasionally that it happens, but once or twice lately when I’m driving out to see clients, I notice there is a dark blue Tiguan with obscured registration plates on my tail. It appears out of nowhere a couple of blocks from where I live. On the occasions that I go a roundabout route, the Tiguan does the same. Duke tells me I am being paranoid.

‘It’s not the bizzies, Matt,’ he says. ‘They mostly drive Fords.’

‘Why do you think we’re being followed then, Duke?’ I say, squinting to try and make out who is driving the Tiguan, but it has tinted windows and the sun shade is down.

‘Is it the same one?’ he says. ‘There are a lot of them about and they are nearly all dark blue?’

‘It looks like the same one,’ I say. ‘Tinted windows and sun shade down.’

‘It’s just one of those things,’ he says. ‘Tiguans have a tendency to tail you. I’ve noticed that before. And they all have tinted windows but still the drivers drive with the sun shade down.’

Is he serious or is he just having me on? Perhaps they are tailing Duke.

Later, in The Blind Monkey, Lois asks me what is wrong. She says I seem worried about something. I tell her about the Tiguan tailing me. She echoes Duke’s thoughts. She has noticed it too, she says. Tiguan drivers have a habit of tailing you. Like red sky at night, shepherd’s delight or the grass is greener on the other side, it is one of those commonplace assertions that despite you wanting to think otherwise, keep proving to be right. Where on earth did she get that from? Is she in collusion with Duke?

Oh! Did I not say? I have started seeing Lois. Two or three times a week, and perhaps the occasional weekend. And she has started to stop over. Well, I can’t be expected to live like a monk, can I? Besides, what would people think if Matt Black couldn’t get a girl? They might think I was batting for the other side.

……………………………………

I think that the Tiguan driver might be a private detective. I read on the internet that the car of choice for private detectives is a VW Tiguan. Apparently nearly all private eyes in the UK drive a Tiguan and their favourite colour is dark blue. A survey has shown that this is the least conspicuous car on the road, followed by a grey Tiguan and a grey Ford Focus. Why would a private detective be following me? Might it be because of Lois? Or for that matter, Duke?

Something else has been bothering me. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I can’t help but be a little concerned with the speed with which Lois has dispatched the children’s things to the garage and the amount of Ellie’s things she took to the tip last week.

‘Ellie won’t need this,’ she kept saying.

Six carloads in all she took, including nearly all of Ellie’s clothes and, it seemed, quite a lot of her personal papers. It is one thing Lois making room to move some of her things in so that she can stay over but another her taking over the house. I mentioned that this might be happening to Duke but he just laughed.

‘Now, you really are becoming paranoid,’ he said. ‘Why can’t you ever enjoy something for what it is?’

……………………………………

Not wishing to start the day just yet, I listen to the springtime chirping of the birds outside the window while I piece together the events of last night. The concrete that seems to be lining my head lets me know I had a fair bit to drink. I watched the match on Sky. It was a tense affair with a lot at stake. The Reds were finally beaten by a last minute goal by ex-Blues striker, Joe Turner and are now relegated. To make matters worse the Blues are promoted. I think that Lois was a bit shocked at the level of my support for the Reds, but she did manage to stop me before I actually put the hammer through the TV screen at the end of the match. I don’t think she likes football a lot. This doesn’t bode well.

The phone rings. It is an ebullient Inspector Filcher. He has the air of a man who is on ecstasy and has just been told he will live for ever. He reminds me in great detail about the match last night, what the result means for my team and what he said a year ago. Surely he has not phoned up to tell me this. Surely he cannot get so much pleasure at another’s misfortune.

‘And, what about the Blues?’ he adds. ‘Ironic or what!’

I am about to put the phone down when he says that he too has been promoted. He asks me if I will come down to the station but says he is not going what it is about over the phone. Has he been handed back the case? Have there been developments?

‘Who was that?’ says Lois. She is already dressed.

‘It was Filcher,’ I say.

‘I thought that you said he was….. off the case,’ she says.

‘He was. But he’s back. There may have been developments. He wants me to come down at the station.’ Lois seems suddenly nervous.

‘That’s …… great news,’ she says, although her body language tells a different story. Her muscles tense and the colour drains out of her face.

‘I think I’ll phone Duke,’ I say. ‘Get him to look into it.’

‘No! Don’t do that,’ she says.

‘Why not?’

‘I can’t really say.’

‘But I’m bound to find out.’

‘All right. ……… Are you ready? It was Duke that helped Ellie move her things out that night, a year ago. While you were at your football do.’

‘Duke? Never. He wouldn’t do that.’

‘Well, he did. You are so unobservant you didn’t even realise that Ellie was seeing Duke’s brother, Earl. Didn’t you think it was suspicious the way she used to dress to go to Pilates?’

‘But she didn’t take anything. Not even her car’

‘She took lots of things. As I said, you are really not very observant. And, let’s face it, the Fiat was a wreck. You know she kept on at you to get her a new one.’

‘But, why did she do it? I mean, go off with Duke’s brother like that behind my back. We were getting along fine.’

‘She said she was fed up with your lies and deceit. And the sordid little affairs. And the football. Constant football. Day and night.’

‘What about the children? What about Thomas and Maddie?’ ‘

‘Ellie says that you never took any notice of the children. She said she was surprised you could even remember their names.’

‘What about you, Lois? If I’m so terrible, why did you keep chasing after me?’

‘Chasing after you? That’s a laugh. Well, you’re so stupid, perhaps I’d better explain. I started phoning you, initially to report back to Ellie. It was amusing, playing with you like that. Then, a month ago, out of the blue, I was given notice to move out of my flat, so moving some things in here seemed the easy option. You weren’t exactly resistant to the idea. You didn’t think this was a permanent arrangement did you? But that business last night with the match on the TV. Well, that was the final straw.’

I believe that it is time I got a word in to present my side of the case, but Lois’s tirade is not yet finished.

‘And the thing is,’ she continues, ‘you just don’t see it. You always think you are right. You bend the truth to suit you. Black is white. Up is down. You are the most self-absorbed person I’ve met. Your way of seeing things is so far removed from the way things are that it might as well be a parallel universe.’

‘OK! OK! You’ve made your point. So, how does Filcher fit into all this? What is it he wants to tell me?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ says Lois. ‘It wouldn’t have been that hard to find your family. It’s not going to have taken the police a year. Anyway, I imagine Filcher knew that Ellie had gone off with Earl, or something like that. That’s why he fobbed you off. If you had been a bit more resourceful then you could have found them yourself.’

‘But Filcher went off sick. What was that all about?’

‘Probably just overwork. Rising crime rates and all that. Sometimes they have to deal with proper crimes, you know. Well. You do know. You’ve been on the wrong side of them yourself once or twice in the past. In fact, what you and Duke are doing now isn’t exactly legal is it? Perhaps Filcher wants to catch up on what is happening there.’

I am slowly running out of places to take the discussion.

‘What about the photos?’ I say. ‘Who sent the photos and what happened to them?’

‘I don’t know who sent the photos,’ she says, ‘or what happened to them. For all I know, it might have been Ellie having a laugh. ….. And, before you ask, I don’t know who has been following you either. Perhaps that’s just something else that you’ve made up.’

‘But you agreed with Duke about the Tiguan. You said that …… ‘

‘Ah, Duke! We are back to Duke. Your trusted right-hand man, who would never double-cross you. Get a life, will you! Do you think that you can trust anyone in your line of work.’

‘I’m going out now,’ I tell her. ‘When I get back, I want you gone.’

‘No problem. I couldn’t stay a minute longer.’

As I slam the front door, I see that Frank Fargo is painting his picket fence.

‘Hello,’ he calls out. ‘Nice morning!’

‘Morning Frank,’ I say. I’m not in the mood for Frank. It’s a pity I parked the car on the street and not the drive.

‘Your new ….. girlfriend is very pretty,’ he says. ‘Lois, isn’t it?’

‘What!’ I say.

‘Very nice. Your new girlfriend.’ He has put down the brush now and is coming over.

‘I expect you saw her yourself,’ he says, ‘but I noticed your wife, uh, Ellie, round here yesterday.’

‘No. I didn’t see her.’

‘She was in a dark blue Tiguan. With a big burly black fellow. He looked a bit like your man, Count. I think they might be moving into number 96. …….. You’ll be able to see a bit more of the children then, I expect. Lovely children.’

‘What!’ I say again. I am dumbstruck.

He is not finished yet. ‘I hope you don’t mind me asking but what is it that you and Count do exactly?’ he says. ‘It’s just that I’m writing a new story. It’s a bit of a departure from my spy novels and it has a pair of small-time underworld characters in it, so I was curious as to what type of activities bring in the money.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Barber, Ball and Bilk

barberballandbilk

Barber, Ball and Bilk by Chris Green

The opportunity to see Barber, Ball and Bilk, the three B’s as they are being billed, in Bridgedown is too good to pass by. Bridgedown is eighty miles away and I don’t drive, but the train journey from Sheepdip Halt is easily doable. It involves just one change, at Starmouth. Although it is a Friday and Friday is a busy day I have managed to get the day off from Freeman, Hardy and Willis in Leighton Constable. Mr Littlejohn has not said as much but I think he is a closet trad jazz fan. Once or twice I have caught him sneaking a peek at my Melody Maker during his tea break and I think I heard him humming The Green Leaves of Summer the other day. It’s a shame though that the new stock of tan winkle pickers he said he’d ordered didn’t arrive in time for today, but you can’t have everything.

Chris Barber and Acker Bilk are great of course but it is Kenny Ball that is the real star. I have long been a fan of Kenny’s. The recent chart success of Midnight in Moscow is no more than just reward for his long years on the road, playing trumpet in Sid Phillips, Eric Delaney and Terry Lightfoot’s bands. Belated recognition for all the brilliant records Kenny has made since then with his own band The Jazzmen that have up until now gone unrecognised. Forget all the weak, cissy tunes by Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and the other preening minstrels that you hear on Pick of the Pops. Bloody nancy boys, my mate Matt reckons. I don’t know about that, in fact, I don’t care, but there’s definitely nothing dodgy about Kenny Ball. Or his music. I’m not sure quite how a cool cat would put it, but Kenny’s trad jazz is cool, where it’s at, the cat’s pyjamas, the dog’s bollocks, the real deal and all the rest, daddio.

I was planning to take Maureen to the concert and I even bought her a ticket. But she has an important cross-stitch project she wants to get on with. I began to notice a while back that Maureen was not so keen on jazz as me. I don’t completely understand why. I have played quite a lot of it to help with her appreciation. Sometimes for hours on end. And not just Kenny Ball or Acker Bilk. I have played her Mick Mulligan, George Melly and Mike Cotton too. I realise that trad jazz with its rich mix of instruments can seem a little complicated at first. But Maureen seems to be quite resistant to it. In fact, she has stopped talking to me altogether.

As the 10:40 puffs its way out of Sheepdip Halt station, I am delirious with anticipation of the big concert. Imagine, the three British jazz greats all on the stage within minutes of one another. Perhaps they might even perform together although there probably won’t be room for all of them and their bands even on the Empire stage.

……………………………….

In my reverie about the jazz greats and dreamy thoughts about the lights going up on the stage at the Empire, I must have drifted off. I awake to hear an announcement coming over the loudspeaker.

This is Starmouth. Starmouth. Change here for Biggerchurch, Waverley Bluff and all stations to Bridgedown.’

As I gather up my things, I can’t help but notice that Starmouth station has had what Mr Littlejohn, always one to pick up on the new Americanisms coming into circulation, would call a makeover. The old stone buildings are gone and everything seems to be rectangular and smooth edged. There are strange looking digital displays showing the train times and illuminated glass fronted advertising hoardings. Coke, the great new taste, says one of them. It looks like Coca Cola in a can. Wow, what an idea! There’s another one, advertising 501 shrink fit jeans showing a man in boxing trunks sitting in a laundrette. What is that all about? Admittedly, Sheepdip is a bit of a backwater, lucky perhaps to have a station at all, but we don’t get any of these adverts back home. It’s all Brooke Bond Dividend Tea and Oxo. They haven’t even taken down the Careless Talk Costs Lives poster yet.

I step off the train. I’ve never been a trainspotter so I’m no expert on these matters but I could swear we set off with a normal black steam locomotive with a footplate and a tender pulling three or four coaches. It is now what I believe are referred to as diesel multiple units. I have of course heard that diesel is set to replace steam. This is common knowledge, but the transition seems to have been a bit sudden. I didn’t expect it would happen this way. How in God’s name could this have happened without it waking me up?

I look around frantically for someone to ask what is going on, but the station appears to have no staff. I spot some more adverts. These for seaside entertainment taking place at Starmouth. Paul Daniels, Bernie Winters, Little and Large. I’ve not heard of any of these people. Bloody Hell! There is a poster advertising Kenny Ball and his New Jazzmen at the Little Theatre, Starmouth. But in the picture, Kenny has long hair covering his ears and a strange central parting. He is going grey. What on earth has happened to him? He looks about fifty years old. And the Little Theatre. It is hardly the Empire, is it? As its name suggests it’s tiny. I should think it holds less than a hundred people. Ticket prices seem a little expensive, though. £5, that’s more than I get in a week. I have a confession to make. I don’t really work for Freeman, Hardy and Willis. I’m in between jobs at the moment. Mr Littlejohn doesn’t exist. I made him up. But all the same, is the whole thing some kind of joke?

As the train pulls out of the station, I make my way up the platform, my head spinning. I look this way and that hoping to find someone I can talk to about what might be going on, but the passengers from my train, probably in a hurry to get to the beach, have all left. The platform is empty. Over on the other platform, I spot a dark-skinned man. This in itself is strange as you do not get many coloured people down here in the south-west. Come to think of it, I can’t recall ever seeing one, but this one is black as the Ace of Spades. When the boatloads of Caribbeans came over a few years ago, they didn’t settle any further south than Bristol. That’s a hundred miles away. The man is puffing on a large fat cigarette. He catches me staring at him.

Wot you want, mon?’ he shouts.

What year is it?’ I call over.

You been smokin’ the ‘erb, too have you mon?’ he hollers, waving his long cigarette at me. ‘The year? It’s uh, 1985, mon.’

Surely, he’s having a laugh. I can’t have been asleep for twenty three years.

How can I explain my predicament to him? What can I say that won’t make him think I’m mad? Perhaps I am going mad. It certainly feels like I’m going mad. Perhaps I’ve always been mad. I have had a few distracted moments lately. Dr Rheinhart calls this disassociation. Like the time I accidentally put weed killer in Jon Kandy’s tea. Or the time I tried to bury next door’s cat. It was a good thing that Maureen was there to stop me because Kitty wasn’t dead. So I ……. Well, another time perhaps. Dr Rheinhart has said that the medication should be working by now. While I am mulling over my …… lapses of concentration, the coloured man vanishes into thin air.

I’m still trying to gather my thoughts when a gangly fellow about my age comes onto the platform. He is wearing a brightly coloured shirt and has a strange haircut. It is short on top and long down the sides and back, with green streaks in it. He is wearing a gold earring. He has some kind of headphones on which attach to something hanging from his belt. He is jigging his head and singing along to some tune on his gadget. I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t look like a transistor radio. As I get up close I see it is called a Sony Discman. A Sony Discman. Crikey! I haven’t seen one of those before.

He notices I am staring intently at his Discman. ‘Great sound on these portable CD players,’ he says. ‘Have you heard one? Here! Have a listen!’

He leans over and hands me the headphones. I cautiously put them on. I grimace as my ears are assaulted by what appears to be a man screaming in pain over a barrage of screaming guitars. It sounds as if it was recorded in a foundry or a sawmill. Or perhaps an underground cell in the Soviet Union. It’s torture. It’s making me feel nauseous, like that time before when …….. when. I can’t remember the details right now but I know it was not good. I hand the headphones back to him.

Grim Reaper,’ he says, waiting for me to give my approval. ‘Aren’t they amazing?’

Not wishing to offend him …… or knock him senseless, I nod my head and move quickly up the platform.

Others begin to arrive. It must be nearly time for my connecting train to Bridgedown. A middle-aged woman in tight jeans with a glossy looking magazine smiles and says hello as she passes. Wherever you are, a friendly greeting counts for a lot. For no accountable reason, I think that she is called Magda, but I don’t know where this comes from. Perhaps she is going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. There again, perhaps not. Perhaps I am not going to the Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Perhaps there no longer is a Barber, Ball and Bilk concert. Without me realising, things have moved on. And perhaps Kenny really is fifty years old. What would that make Acker Bilk and Chris Barber? They are older than Kenny. A man in a business suit, carrying a rolled-up copy of the Starmouth Gazette comes and stands alongside me. I try to make out the headline on his paper. Something about a mass murderer who has escaped. They haven’t caught him it says and he might be dangerous. I think I’ve seen the man in the picture. It’s …….

Coming along the platform now is another scruffy looking ruffian with an earring and a bewildering haircut wearing a Sony Discman. I wonder if he is listening to Grim Reaper too. By the pained expression on his face, he looks as if he might be. And here’s a lad riding along on a painted board with roller skate wheels. Two of them, in fact. Both are wearing ripped jeans. Whatever is happening and whatever year this is there still seem to be pockets of poverty in Starmouth. The lad with the faded blue Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt calls out to the other one. He’s going pretty fast down the slope. He’s heading towards me. He’s not looking where he’s going.

Look out!’ I shout. ‘Look where you’re go…….. ‘

But, it turns out that he is not a scruffy looking ruffian with an earring at all but a uniformed police officer. They are all uniformed officers. Sometimes when you are under a lot of stress, you can get things very wrong. I hope that they don’t think that I ………..

……………………………….

Don’t you remember me?’ says the woman in the blue smock. ‘I’m Magda.’

Hello, Magda,’ I say. ‘So who am I, Magda?’

You are Maxx Madison, Maxx Madison. You must remember that.’

Maxx Madison, I’m Maxx Madison. And I’m a time traveller, aren’t I, Magda? Only the other lady said I was a mass murderer and a fantasist.’

Danuta shouldn’t have said that, Maxx.’ Magda says, typing something into her smartphone. ‘I will have to have words with her.’

I’m glad I’m a time traveller, Magda. And not those other things.’

It’s time for your medication now, Maxx.’

After I’ve had my medication, Magda. Can I listen to that Barber, Ball and Bilk record again? The one with Midnight in Moscow on.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

ABRACADABRA

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Abracadabra by Chris Green

I have just pulled into the DIY superstore car park when I catch a snatch of Abracadabra on the new radio station I have found. Blitz plays nothing but rock, which is fine, as none of the other stations will touch it. I have not heard The Steve Miller Band for ages and, while Abracadabra may not be their finest effort, it’s still a treat to hear. Far better than the mind-numbing pap you get elsewhere on FM. Unfortunately, steel impedes the FM radio signal and B and Q is a steel-framed structure, so as I get near the building, the radio begins to tune out. Reluctantly, I switch it off and grab a trolley. I make a mental note to play Abracadabra when I get home, loudly. But, the tune is in my head now. As I wander around the store, I can’t get rid of the infectious Abracadabra chorus.

Suddenly, as if by magic, there she is. She is in the same aisle as me, looking at the selection of specialist paints. She looks divine in her Sticky Fingers T-shirt. And what cool sleeve tattoos! She smiles at me. Her smile is like Stairway to Heaven. I smile back. Mine is probably more November Rain. I am conscious that I haven’t shaved for a few days. Taking me further by surprise, she comes right up to me. She tells me she recognises me.

I saw you unloading your white van in Serendipity Street yesterday,’ she says. ‘I’ve just moved in across the road. I did try to attract your attention but you seemed preoccupied.’

Sorry,’ I say, trying to recall how I could have possibly been too busy to notice this vision of grace and loveliness.

No worries,’ she says. ‘We have met now. I’m Ella Vallée, by the way.’

Ella Vallée. That’s a nice name,’ I say, successfully avoiding the temptation to say, ‘I bet you are.’

My father was French,’ she adds.

I’m Andy,’ I say. ‘I love France. I regularly take the van over to Calais.’

My name was Ella Crews,’ she says. ‘But I changed it back when my divorce came through.’

Oh,’ I say.

Cool. Attractive. Divorced. Flirty. This is promising.

I expect you are busy but I was wondering if you might pop round later on,’ she says. ‘I’ve got something I would like you to take a look at.’

And she’s inviting me round. It gets better and better. This is exactly what I need. I’ve been at a loose end since Mandy moved her things out a week or two ago.

But let’s not jump the gun. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Best to try and play it cool.

I’ve got a few things to finish up first,’ I say. ‘But I could swing by later, say about six.’

Here’s my number,’ she says. ‘In case you get lost.’

..……………………..………………….

When Sergeant Tom Crews returns home from his extended tour of duty in Afghanistan, he finds Ella has gone. She has taken all her things, and without them, the first-floor flat looks empty. She has left no note or any clues as to where she might be, just a pile of bills and junk mail on the mat in the hallway. Certainly, she has talked about leaving before. But he thought this was just talk. They had their differences. There was no doubt about that. Tom did not feel it was right for the wife of a serving army NCO to run around seeing bands like Foo Fighters and Rage Against the Machine, and probably taking all manner of illegal substances while he was fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province. Ella had laughed this off, saying that he shouldn’t have been fighting with the Taliban, the army was there as a peace-keeping force. And, they had clashed over Ella’s tattoos. While it was not unusual for army wives to have their husband’s names tattooed on their arm, or a rose or something like that on their ankle, some of Ella’s tattoos were quite explicit. The snake crawling up her thigh, for instance, and the butterfly cleavage tattoo. What impression must this give his colleagues about their marriage?

But, still, six years is a long time. You have to expect a few ups and downs. It is understandable that his feelings about his relationship with Ella have tended to fluctuate. One day he would feel lucky to have such an attractive wife to go home to and the next, in a jealous rage over something he had found out, he might want to knock the living daylights out of her. But, was it too late to save their marriage, anyway? Might they actually be divorced? Tom has a vague recollection that, after he had seen a post of her strutting her stuff at an Eagles of Death Metal gig on Facebook, he may have signed something, a communication that came through the post over there in Helmand, but he is not sure what it might have been. Lately, everything seems to be a bit of a blur. With the Taliban insurgency in the Gereshk District at its height, he has hardly had time to think. Under the circumstances, he was lucky to even get leave. It was only because he had begun to have blackouts that they had let him go.

..……………………..………………….

Ella may have just moved into the Serendipity Street apartment, but, unless the previous tenants also had a taste for rock, she seems to have made the place her own very quickly. Or perhaps she has moved in with someone else, someone who had already made their mark. That’s a lingering possibility. The Jimi Hendrix mural running the length of the hallway looks quite an accomplished work. It’s also hard to imagine that the Pearl Jam posters in the front room would have been framed so professionally and just left on the walls when the last tenants moved out. I’m hoping that there isn’t a fellow on the scene.

Did you paint the walls purple and black,’ I ask when we get to the bedroom. ‘They look awesome with the yellow Fender hanging there.’

It’s not a real Stratocaster,’ Ella says. ‘It’s a cheap Chinese import.’

Nevertheless, I bet it sounds as good as it looks,’ I say, in a final attempt to make sure no bloke is going to suddenly crawl out of the woodwork.

I’m getting better. I can play the intro to Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker,’ she hollers, over the Guns N’Roses riff that is pounding the Kef speakers. ‘Could you help me off with these boots, Andy?’

She lies back on the low wooden bed, amidst the cornucopia of throws and cushions. Getting the long black boots off is a doddle, compared to the tight ice blue jeans. They fit her like a second skin. How long must it take her to get into them? And, my sweet Lord! Where does that snake tattoo end up?

..……………………..………………….

Tom Crews has no idea where Ella might have gone. She has no family nearby, in fact, he has never met her parents. He hasn’t had much to do with her friends and they haven’t had much to do with him. He has always thought of them as common and they have always thought of him as dull and boring, far too straight to be with Ella. Their apparent incompatibility has come up time and time again in their arguments.

After the earlier episode with the photos, Tom deactivated his Facebook account but now, in an attempt to find out what is going on, he re-activates it. He finds to his alarm that Ella is no longer on Facebook, or if she is she is no longer using her name, or her maiden name, Ella Vallée. He searches around the flat and manages to find a mobile number for her friend, Lola on a scrap of paper. He is not sure which one Lola is, but he thinks she might be the one who comes round in the studded leather jacket, the one that talks like Eliza Doolittle and is always chewing gum. Lola tells him, not at all convincingly he feels, that she hasn’t heard from Ella in a long time. Roxy, the one with the green hair, who he tracks down to Nail It is more straightforward. She just tells him to sling his hook.

In what can best be seen as a desperate measure, Tom goes into town and sits on a bench outside Pricks Tattoo Parlour in the High Street in the hope that Ella might show up there. It is a long-shot, but he does not feel he can stay in the empty flat. When Mikey, an old friend of his, comes up to him and asks him what he is doing there, he realises that he is acting irrationally and they go off to The Prince of Wales for a pint.

I bumped into Ella last week,’ Mikey says, once they have exhausted their reminiscences about the old days back in Toker’s End. ‘She was coming out of R3hab.’

What?’ Tom says, taken aback. ‘I didn’t. uh. I know she likes to smoke the odd spliff, but I didn’t realise she had a …… uh problem.’

Of course, mucker. You’ve been away, haven’t you?’ laughs Mikey. ‘R3hab’s a new club. Opened last year in the old fire station. Ella stumbled out. About 2 a.m. I think it was. I had been to Cloud Nine. That’s a club too, by the way. Anyway, Ella was with friends, Lola, I think the one’s called. And that one with the green hair. Oh! And I suppose I shouldn’t tell you this, but they went off with some blokes. I’m sure it was all innocent, like.’

Innocent? Do you really think so?’ Tom says. ‘At 2 a.m.?’

..……………………..………………….

The Stieg Miller Band, a Swedish tribute act are playing at R3hab and Ella has managed to get us tickets. I would not normally go to see tribute bands, nor I suspect would Ella, authenticity being important to us rockers and all that. But, she explains that Mojo is describing the Stieg Miller Band as the real deal. Some of the band members have apparently played with Armageddon and Lowrider, two of the top Swedish rock bands. I have not heard of either band. The only acts coming out of Sweden that I have heard of are Abba and Sigur Rós. Come to think of it, Sigur Rós might be from Iceland. Perhaps I am a few years behind with my reading of music periodicals. I already know what I like and I just like listening to the music. And if Stieg Miller sounds anything like Steve Miller, then I guess that is enough to go on. After all, I do like the songs. I still have the Abracadabra earworm from the other day.

I would not normally go to R3hab either. It has a reputation for fights, or at least that is what Mandy and her friends used to say about it. But, Ella tells me there is nothing to worry about. Her powers of persuasion are such that I feel I have little choice in the matter, anyway. She even kits me out with new clothes for the occasion. From that designer shop I’ve never had the nerve to go in. I have never had a real biker jacket before. It’s very stylish and I’m sure that the super spray jeans will get more comfortable as the night wears on.

..……………………..………………….

Let’s get our arses down there,’ Tom Crews says after the fourth pint.

What are you on about?’ Mikey says. ‘Where are we going to get our arses down to?’

R3hab,’ Tom says.

R3hab doesn’t open until around 10 p.m., mucker,’ Mikey says. ‘And I expect they have a dress code. I mean, look at you. You’re wearing …….. a double-breasted suit. They’re not going to let you in looking like that. When was the last time you saw someone other than Prince Charles wearing a double-breasted suit? And isn’t that a regimental tie? I mean, come on, man!’

You don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go, do you?’ Tom says.

Well. It is a daft idea,’ Mikey says. ‘But if you are going to go you’ll need to go home and change.’

..……………………..………………….

The band are playing Abracadabra over and over. It sounds great, but why don’t they play another number. The Joker or Fly Like An Eagle, maybe. ………….. A man in an orange jacket is coming towards me. He has a serious expression on his face. …………… He walks straight past me. ……………… He goes up to the pretty girl in the Sticky Fingers T-shirt who is looking at the specialist paints, along the aisle.

Do you need any help?’ he says, with a strained smile.

Do you stock these acrylic eggshell paints in purple and black?’ the girl says. ‘You only seem to have pale colours here.’

Oh no! Has it happened again? ………………. Have I had another of my flights of fancy? I only came in to buy some replacement bits for my Black and Decker.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

The Black Book

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The Black Book by Chris Green

When I was growing up in the nineteen sixties, I was surrounded by books. The bookshelves in Grey Gables, the big old house in Gloucestershire where we lived were full, but there was one particular book I was told I must never read. It was referred to simply as The Black Book. No explanation was offered, but under no circumstances must I even touch it. There were a number of house rules back then, which as I saw it were there to be broken, but for reasons it’s hard to explain I understood this rule to be somehow less negotiable. I had no idea what they were, but I was of the view that there would be grave consequences if I transgressed.

Before you jump to the conclusion that the book may have been some grimoire or occult classic, let me state that this was not the case. This was not The Clavicule Of Solomon or The Book Of Honorius or anything like that. The Bible then, you might be thinking. Bibles are black. A big no here too. My parents were regular churchgoers. Three times a week sometimes. Why would they forbid me to read the Bible? They practically threw Bibles at me.

Sandwiched between old copies of The Compleat Angler and Dr Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, The Black Book looked like an ordinary leather-bound book. The only difference was there was no title or author’s name on the spine, nothing to suggest what might be inside. As you can imagine it was a tantalising mystery. When my school friends came round to visit, they too were curious about The Black Book. From time to time we would idly speculate about what exactly it might be.

Might its pages be black too?’ one of us might say. For point of argument, this would probably be Adam. He was the smart aleck among us.

Wouldn’t that make it difficult to read?’ someone might say. Let’s say, Roger. Roger was the most systematic thinker in our little group.

Probably not as hard as Silas Marner,’ David might say. I would more than likely have agreed with David here. It was after all ridiculous to expect fourteen year old boys in modern times to become interested in a long meandering tale of a Calvinist weaver in the pre-Victorian north of England.

Or King Lear,’ Peter might say. ‘What a load of wank that is.’

You think that Lear is tough going,’ I might say. ‘You will find Coriolanus unfathomable. You might as well be reading a bicycle repair manual in Welsh.’

Truth be told, all of us in the B stream at Greystone Grammar School found most of the required reading difficult. Wasn’t this the intention? Oh! And that the books must be boring. Why do you think we passed Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics around in class?

Obviously, there were times when we were tempted to have a peek inside The Black Book. With so much mystique surrounding it, who wouldn’t? The thinking would be if we had a look and put it back carefully in the same place, no-one would be able to find out. It was not as if the books on this particular shelf were read very often. But each time temptation arose, something, an invisible yet powerful force, held us back. Each of us had the strange intuition that by opening the book we would cross a line that must not be crossed. It would be ….. dark on the other side.

It was not that we were faint-hearted. We weren’t. We did all of the things that rebellious grammar school boys do growing up. Smoked cigarettes behind the Science block. Smoked weed behind the science block. Smoked weed in the science block. Grew weed in the science block. We got bolder and bolder. We constantly dared each other to go one step further. We stole push bikes. We stole motorbikes. We even stole Ugg Stanton’s car. Ugg taught us History. When I say taught, I use the term euphemistically. He was a hopeless teacher, second perhaps only to Hans Orff, who euphemistically taught us German. But despite our insurgent proclivities, The Black Book remained a no-no.

In my later teenage years, what with outside interests and all that, I did not give it much thought. I was not around the house very much. I had no interest in entering into lengthy discussions with Pater about the nature of sin or whether there was life after death. Clearly, you wouldn’t find out if there was a Heaven or Hell until the time came. With hormones racing, there were more important matters to attend to. Diana, Elaine and Fiona for example. My wild oats were there to be sown. What else could I do? There was a reputation to be established. Burgeoning adolescence gave no quarter.

Sometime later, on a rare home visit from university I slipped into the library, as my parents referred to the room. I noticed that The Black Book was now bookended by Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to me that it was also on a different shelf.

I asked my father about this.

The cleaner must have moved it, son,’ he said. ‘But she’s ….. no longer with us.’

Been gone a while now,’ said Mum.

Oh well, I thought. Getting rid of home help was one of the few hobbies they had. They had to have some pleasures to brighten up their dull lives. Pops meanwhile got back to berating me, with renewed vigour.

Why don’t you get a hair cut, lad?’ he said. ‘Do they let you wear those ridiculous clothes at Leeds? You look like a pansy. What bloody good is Media Studies anyway? What are you going to do, be a gopher at Thames Television?’

I wasn’t going to be spoken to like this. I decided to take a time out. There was a good pub in the next village. Over a couple of pints of Old Bastard in The Belted Galloway, I got to thinking, if the forbidden book had been moved so unceremoniously, maybe it was not so dangerous after all. The temptation to take a look became stronger than it had ever been. By the end of the second pint, it had become all-consuming. I would finally discover what had been hidden from me for all these years.

After a frosty dinner, trading insults, I excused myself and sneaked off to the library. I took a deep breath and braced myself. Whatever dark secrets The Black Book held would soon be revealed. But just as I was about to take the book down from the shelf and examine it, an invisible force took hold. It felt like I was reaching out into dark and empty space with a thousand watts of electrical current pulsing through my flailing limbs. My whole body became numb and I collapsed in a writhing heap on the floor. I was petrified. The paramedics could not work out what had happened. I kept quiet about the book. If you are going to face ridicule, it is best not to do so in your own home.

I did not go near the library for the rest of my stay. In fact, I curtailed my stay and did not visit my parents again for a number of years.

After university with my hard earned Desmond (2:2), I got a job at Thames Television as Assistant to the Deputy Assistant Regional Promotions Editor. It was at Thames that I met Sarah. Sarah had a job title similar to my own, but then Thames did employ about forty thousand people at the time. There were a lot of errands to run. There was a lot of tea to make. Sarah and I got to know each other quickly and moved in together into a small flat in Hammersmith, West London. In the seventies Hammersmith was the very cauldron of change, as with the empire striking back, London became truly international. Within a square mile, you could find families from every corner of the globe.

I mentioned The Black Book once or twice to Sarah, after a few drinks. I couldn’t help it. It was something that just came out now and again. Regrettably, she began to show too keen an interest in it. I could sense that she was eager to see what all the fuss about. I stood my ground. I resisted. I did not want to go back home yet. I was not ready.

There’s no real point in going to see it,’ I said. ‘Unless we are going to take a look inside the thing.’ I imagined that when it came down to it, the book would work its arcane magic and keep her at bay, as it had with me and with my school friends. I was just saving her the trouble of finding this out.

Then perhaps we should take a look inside,’ she said. ‘This mumbo jumbo about the bloody book is probably all in your imagination. Have you thought of that? You do get worked up about little things sometimes.’

There was another objection. My trump card, I felt.

My parents and I don’t even speak,’ I said, hoping that this would seal it. ‘You know I haven’t been home in years.’

Then you definitely should,’ she said. ‘Look! Your Mum has to my knowledge phoned at least half a dozen times and you’ve not got back to her. And even your Dad phoned once and left a message and you never had the decency to call back. It’s time to lay those ghosts to rest, Clive. Time to put your petty vendetta to bed and start behaving like an adult.’

I shouldn’t have let them have the number.’

In any case, we’ve been together for three years. Don’t you think I might like to meet your parents?’

I can’t think why you would,’ I said.

And you never think about your inheritance, Clive.’

So this is what this is about, is it?’

No but one day …….’

I never think about the future.’

Then you should. You can’t run away from it, because it is going to happen.’

Little by little Sarah used her guile to persuade me to take the plunge and renew my severed ties.

We’ll go in the new year,’ I said finally, hoping that over the festive period she might forget.

Sarah didn’t forget. Over the Christmas holidays, her insistence became stronger. So, on the second Friday of January, we drove across the country to the family pile. The snow we had had earlier in the week was beginning to thaw, but not so much that it spoiled the picture postcard views of the rolling Cotswold hills. Perhaps I had become used to driving in London, but for once it seemed that there was little traffic on the road. We passed a joint back and forth and listened to a cassette of Kaya, Bob Marley and The Wailers new album. We had been fortunate enough to see them play at The Plaza de Toros in Ibiza earlier in the year. They were spectacular.

As we drove through the rural idyll, the winter sun shone and the sky was an azure blue. The wealth of the wool towns and villages of West Oxfordshire set against the frozen landscape offered a bounty of chocolate box views. In the Windrush valley, we watched a red kite swoop down from a great height. I had not seen one for years, not since a group of us went camping in Mid Wales for our Duke Of Edinburgh Award Scheme expedition. I took the sighting to be a good omen. I began to think that I might have been wrong in my decision to keep the family at a distance. Sarah’s family had always been close. She saw them every week. Perhaps, I shouldn’t have taken my father’s comments so much to heart. After all, he had always been a cold fish. I shouldn’t expect him to change now. That he had actually phoned and left a message, albeit quite a sour one was as much as I could reasonably expect. In fact that he had left a message at all could probably be described as progress. Perhaps too I had been mistaken about the perils of The Black Book. Imagination could be a powerful force. Maybe there was nothing to fear.

From a distance, I could see Dad’s grey Rover 3.5 parked on the drive, along with the green Morris Traveller that Mum drove. You don’t expect to see a lot of changes to Cotswold country houses, but it was clear that there were no concessions here to modernity. No double glazing. No extension. No vine covered pergola. The house was exactly as it always had been. Before going in, we took a look round the back. Maybe this was my way of delaying the reunion for a few more minutes, while I got used to the idea of being back, but the garden too was unchanged. The borders were exactly as I remembered them, the lawns carefully manicured as they had always been. The trees were the same size. Five years and they appeared not to have grown an inch. The shrubs were the same size. Even the ornamental statues and the rustic water feature were weathered to the same degree. The summer house was still in the same state of crumbling decay as it was when I left.

Eventually, we went into the house and I introduced Sarah. She made a joke about all the number of layers of clothing she was wearing. This helped to break the ice. The frosty reception I might have received had I come alone was averted by Sarah’s bubbly personality. Mum and Dad were able to focus on a conversation with her and thus able to completely ignore me. This suited me just fine. I listened to them making small talk and watched the hands of the grandfather clock as they moved around to quarter past three. I recalled all the times it had woken me up throughout the night, chiming as it did every fifteen minutes. Surely there must have been a mechanism to prevent this.

By about four o’clock the conversation seemed to have run dry. They had brought up all the embarrassing facts about my childhood that they could remember and Sarah had filled them in on the latest blockbuster that would be going out on ITV. They offered to give Sarah a tour of the house. They wanted to start by showing her her room, my room, our room. I knew that the room would be frozen in time. The posters for Superfly and 200 Motels would still adorn the walls. Pater would make some snide remark about one or the other. I saw this as a good point to sneak off to the library. It had the familiar musty smell of old books. There were probably close to a thousand of them in all. I could not spot it at first, but there was The Black Book, on the top shelf now sandwiched in between Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and Bertrand Russell’s Has Man A Future? Had the cleaner again been responsible for the rearrangement, I wondered. Had she too since been dispatched?

I reached up and carefully took The Black Book down from the shelf. For the briefest time, I held it in my hand. Then all at once, time became ……. suspended. One moment I was breathing, with blood running through my veins and thoughts going through my head, albeit what if thoughts, soft and foggy thoughts, slipping away thoughts, the next moment there was nothing. No-one, nothing. Like there never had been anyone, anything. Don’t expect a tunnel of light, or St Peter waiting to greet you, when it happens. It’s not even like waiting for a bus that you know is not going to come along, as someone once described it. There is just an empty hollow void. Silence forever. Eternal nothingness.

I wonder who could be writing this story.

Whoever it is instructs you to leave the Black Book on the shelf. You should not take it down until it is time ………

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

 

Across The Universe

acrosstheuniverse

Across The Universe by Chris Green

There has been a secret underground line in the south of England for years. It can be accessed through a network of tunnels originating from the basement of a former Turkish dry-cleaners in Dulwich. The line runs for sixty miles deep underneath the Weald to the coast near Newhaven. It is believed to be the deepest underground tunnel anywhere in the world. It took over twenty years to build and it houses the extraterrestrials who were intercepted at Warminster in 1980. Leaving Dulwich, it is thought that there are just two stops, one at a clandestine underground military establishment and the other at a colossal subterranean dormitory village and recreational facility a couple of miles further on. There is a covert service exit at the other end but this is heavily guarded. Walkers are discouraged from going near the area by a series of signs warning against unexploded mines.

Keeping the X-Line, as it is referred to, secret has been a formidable undertaking, surely one of the major achievements of our security forces. You may have been labouring under the misconception that the principal objective of GCHQ and MI5 has been one of global surveillance because this is what we have been told. It now looks as if this may not be the case. Its main focus may have been keeping news of the X-Line project out of the public domain. While initially, the operation’s cover may have relied on the premise that Turkish people do not have a lot of dry cleaning done, this does not explain how its growth from a small shop front to that of a huge edifice covering several blocks has been concealed. Might those that have questioned the development or accidentally stumbled upon the truth have been systematically liquidated?

One or two of the extraterrestrials have been sighted above ground, but these reports have been hushed up. When photos of these taller, thinner, paler creatures were put up on the internet a while back on forddriver.onion, the site was unceremoniously closed down. The proliferation of 9/11 accounts and New World Order explanations has been sufficient to keep most conspiracy theorists busy, so the posts passed largely unnoticed. Weekend conspiracy theorists are not going to spend a lot of time following up the odd alien sighting possibly put up by a paranoid bipolar Photoshop photographer. The post also suggested that military personnel had interbred with the tall aliens and that the resultant hybrid race is beginning to establish itself in the hidden depths below the Sussex countryside.

………………………………………………

Helped along by the reactionary press, in just a few years, the politics of the country has lurched ever further to the right. The abandonment of welfare benefits and the reduction of the minimum wage have resulted and there is a think tank currently looking at plans to cull the disabled. With opposition parties no longer opposing, freedom is rapidly being eroded and, brainwashed or not, Joe Public seems to be going for it. Persecution of minorities is now the norm. The press is full of tirades against Eastern Europeans, Blacks and Asians, unmarried mothers and gays. There are of course no longer any immigrants. Racial purity and ethnic cleansing are the new buzz words. But where there is a discourse, there is also a reverse discourse and some of us are finally getting together to fight back. We can remember the optimism of a bygone era and would like to see a return to love and peace and freedom of speech.

Few people not involved with the secret project have ever been down the X-Line. As an undercover investigative journalist with The Lefty, I am one of a select band who through subterfuge hope to see first hand what is going on. We are an ill-equipped but determined bunch. Otto Funk is nearly seventy but he is as fit as a fiddle. Otto used to publish Undercover, but although this went under a few years ago, he still feels the need to further the revolutionary cause. Otto was the one who first drew my attention to the X-Line. He says that he has been researching the story for years. He says his big break came when he discovered Ford Driver’s unpublished manuscripts. Ford Driver, he says, had been amassing information on the X-Line project since its inception. Otto acknowledges that it might have been a mistake for Driver to put pictures on the internet and his death he says is shrouded in mystery. Otto remains undeterred in his resolution.

May Welby is the editor of Loony Left, a radical socialist magazine that comes out now and again. She is also the one who came up with the photos of the tall extraterrestrials. May’s pictures of them match Ford Driver’s descriptions exactly. They may even have been taken from Driver’s defunct web site. For the benefit of those of you that remember it, May Welby was the one that broke the BorisGate scandal a year or two back. Stanton Polk is the kooky publisher of Peace Frog magazine. Peace Frog is something of a relic of the hippie era. It still talks about revolution in the head and posts pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the cover. To be fair, Stanton has probably only come on board because he is as barmy as a box of badgers and doesn’t appreciate the dangers. Nanci Gatlin puts together The Underdog, a publication sold on street corners which remarkably is still going to print despite an unsustainable drop in sales. The last issue sold fourteen copies. ‘Everyone seems to want to be on the side that’s winning, these days,’ Nanci says. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before but I can’t place where. Calvin Sharp runs Ethical Spy. The title is perhaps misleading as there is nothing ethical about it, nor has it very much to do with spying. At least not in the sense that you think of it. It is a top-shelf porn mag. Calvin though is the only one of us with real military experience. He was in covert ops in the first Gulf war, so that makes him, at least, sixty. He had a stroke last year but there seems to be no holding him back. Importantly, he has a cache of ex-army handguns, which he says may come in handy later.

Otto tells us that the warriors from the breeding programme, although lean, might be endowed with super-human strength. As journalists, although we are always anxious for a good story, we are a naturally suspicious lot. We do not believe everything we hear, well apart from Stanton Polk possibly. Stanton believes Elvis Presley is still alive. The rest of us though realise there is a tendency to exaggerate a story each time it is passed on. Everyone adds their two-penneth. Otto’s story might indeed be one of those.

However, it would be foolhardy to underestimate the risk we are taking by going in. We need to be fully prepared. We sit around the table and speculate about what might be happening below ground. What is the aim of the project? Might it be more than an exercise to hide away a handful of captured aliens? Otto suggests it might be an experiment to investigate the compatibility of their extraterrestrial genes with the human gene. The fearsome levels of security that Otto has told us about appear to suggest something apocalyptic.

To avoid suspicion, we have had fatigues made up to resemble those worn by the rangy strangers in the photos and we have had our skin bleached so that we can blend in with the lanky super-humans. We have browsed reactionary Neo-Con web sites to learn the language of the right. There are hundreds of Neo-Con web sites. If you go through TOR, they are hard to escape. Intolerance has been spreading through cyberspace unchecked, like a malignant cancer. Expressions like calibrated ethnic cleansing, white supremacy and reprogrammed meta-human now trip off my tongue.

We have discovered a remote location on the downs which gives access to the tunnels. This is where in the dead of night they remove the weekly waste from and surreptitiously take it to landfill. This is where we plan to make our entry. We imagine that below it is the main living area. The entrance does not show up on GoogleMaps. Otto suggests that Google could be behind the breeding programme. I think he is joking, but who knows? It is quite difficult to ascertain who is behind what these days. Nothing anywhere is quite what it seems.

………………………………………………

We are surprised by how easy it is to get inside the compound. As soon as the grey garbage truck emerges from the tunnel, we casually walk in the entrance before the hatch closes. The squad of guards that we were told would be there appear to be on a tea break or something. There is absolutely no-one about. We can’t even make out any security cameras, but on the basis that with such a sensitive project there must be cameras somewhere, we try to act as if we belong. We have practised our nonchalance, with an acting coach in preparation. We are able to make our way to what appears to be a service lift, still without seeing a soul. We cautiously press the button and get into the lift. It is much smaller than we imagined it might be. This could not have accommodated the truck that has just left or indeed its cargo. It has just two buttons, Up and Down.

As the lift starts to descend, Beatles music begins to play through hidden speakers. Loudly, especially for such a confined space.

All You Need Is Love,’ Nanci says, apparently unphased by the surreal experience being stepped up a notch. Perhaps she worked a little closer with the acting coach than I did. I am finding it difficult to remain calm. It is bound to be a trap.

Quad sound too,’ Stanton Polk says. ‘It’s the remixed version from the Cirque de Soleil soundtrack album.’ He sees no irony in the juxtaposition. He is on planet Polk. He sees things differently from the rest of us. He has spent much of his life off of his head on one thing or another.

Not what you would expect the neo-Nazis harbouring tall aliens would be listening to, really is it?’ Calvin says, nervously fiddling with one of the several guns that he has secreted around his person. ‘Something is not quite right here, chaps.’

Otto is beginning to look a little unsettled and May, who up until now has displayed steely confidence, tries to hang on to me to stop herself from fainting.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that none of us, not even Calvin with his military background is really cut out for this kind of mission. How could we ever think we could pull this off? What is it we were hoping to get anyway? Even if we get out of here and one of us manages to publish something about the experience, we are not going to be allowed to get away with it. We will be hunted down.

I don’t want to be stating the obvious,’ I say. ‘But, this has trap written all over it.’

Not a very soldierly approach, giving us time to be ready,’ Calvin says. ‘It would have been more straightforward for them to have intercepted us and taken us out and then. Don’t you think?’

Perhaps it’s easier for them to do that down below,’ I say.

All You Need Is Love is followed by I Am The Walrus. It’s not the most sing-along of the Fabs tunes, but Nanci starts singing along to it. I wonder if perhaps Stanton Polk may have shared some of his substances with her before setting off.

For those of us without the benefit of Stanton Polk’s pick-me-ups, the lift descends agonisingly slowly. It is clearly going down a long, long way. My ears are now popping and my head is bursting.

………………………………………………

They say in the event of a traumatic experience, your brain releases adrenaline which speeds up the rate that it processes information. This is apparently why it is said that your whole life flashes before you when you are about to die. And as we descend into the bowels of the earth, I am certain that I am going to die. What other outcomes can there be? I Am The Walrus gives way to While My Guitar Gently Weeps. We are all going to die.

I am drinking homemade lemonade on a summer’s afternoon. I do not know these ladies in dusty pink cardigans. They are old. Mummy has gone to the post office, they say. Will Mummy be coming back? I ask ….. Why is Miss Crabtree slapping my legs with a ruler? It wasn’t me, miss. It was, it was Ja….. I have done nothing. …… pi equals three point one four one six ….. 1066….. I hope you don’t expect anything from this school, because ………. Is Ann really going to let me do it? Without a rubber Johnny? …….. Do you, David, Andrew Norman take …… I do, I do. ………. I don’t. I won’t. Yes, you will ……. No Nukes, No Nukes, No Nukes. Are you going to arrest me, officer? ……. Don’t go, Kristin, don’t go …… I’m not going to pay that……. We’re going to craaaash….. Publish, and be damned. ……. Aliens, Otto? Really? Where? What? You mean underground?

The lift finally comes to a stop. This is it. We wait in anticipation for, for ….. we don’t know what. But no one now expects it to be good. I can’t put my finger on who or what has changed the mood, but it is now one of discomfiture and fear. Shouldn’t we have expected it to be something like this? It was always going to be dangerous. While My Guitar Gently Weeps segues into Across The Universe. The lift doors stay closed. Is the waiting for the bad thing you think is going to happen worse than facing the bad thing that is going to happen? The others scream at me to press the button, first to open the doors, but then for the lift to go back up, but the button doesn’t work and The Beatles are relentlessly going on and on about going on and on across the universe.

………………………………………………

Eventually, the lift door opens and we are greeted by a pair of rugged-looking thugs with Force Security sweatshirts. They are brandishing semi-automatic handguns. They look alert.

I’m Billy Shears,’ says the bulkier of the two. He is built like a Challenger tank.

The one and only Billy Shears, perhaps? I do not say this. He does look as if he means business.

And I’m Rocky Raccoon,’ says the other. Rocky is the smaller of the two, lean but still mean looking. I can’t help but think that they have chosen their names inappropriately.

Welcome to uh …… The Cavern,’ Billy says.

It seems a well-practised line, but Rocky chuckles.

You are probably wondering what’s going on,’ Billy says.

An understatement.

So long as you remain calm, there is nothing to worry about,’ Rocky says.

Remain calm? Where does calm come from? They have guns. They are guards. We are reporters.

Firstly, We’ll have your guns on the floor in front of you,’ Billy says. Instinctively, we all look in Otto’s direction.

Then we might show you around,’ Rocky says. ‘What do you think, Bill?’

I can see you are reporters,’ Billy says. ‘You have that journalist smell about you. But, you won’t be reporting anything that you see here today.’

We’ve had reporters before, you see,’ Rocky says.

Regularly,’ Billy says.

And we wouldn’t like what is happening here to be misrepresented,’ Rocky says.

We could, of course, lock you up, or send you away with a flea in your ear,’ Billy says. ‘But now that you are here we may as well give you the tour.’

But if we do that we will have to erase your memories before you leave,’ Rocky says. ‘Security, you understand.’

But don’t worry. The procedure is quite safe,’ Billy says.

We’ve used it on all the others who have been curious as to what’s happening here in …… The Cavern,’ Rocky says.

And no-one yet has come to any harm,’ Billy says.

While I do not feel that we are out of the woods yet, the pair do seem to be taking a friendlier approach than they did when we first arrived.

So, if you wouldn’t mind,’ Rocky says. ‘Your guns please.’

That would be you he’s addressing, I believe, Mr Sharp,’ Billy says. ‘I sense that the others haven’t bothered to arm themselves.’

Drop them right there in front of you,’ Rocky says.

We watch as a cache of Brownings, Glocks, and Heckler and Kochs makes its way from Calvin’s person onto the paved area.

Excellent! Then we can begin our little …… magical mystery tour,’ Billy says.

It all started when in February 2008, NASA beamed the Beatles’ song Across The Universe into deep space,’ Rocky says.

This was at the time considered to be nothing more than a gesture,’ Billy says.

It was more to show that we could do it, than with any hope of making contact,’ Rocky says.

Time is, however, relative,’ Billy continues. ‘And this group of odd, but essentially peaceful extraterrestrials travelling through space and time picked up the transmission. They landed at Warminster in Western Wiltshire in 1980, having found the approximate site of the source of the transmission.’

Give or take a continent or two,’ Rocky says. ‘And three decades ahead of time.’

Time travel can be very imprecise, you understand,’ Billy says.

A bit like it is on Doctor Who,’ Rocky says.

They said that they were keen to listen to some more tunes like the one they had heard,’ Billy says. ‘This was the express purpose of their visit. They had no music at all back home, you see. In their haste to explore the cosmos, the arts were completely overlooked. For relaxation, they listened to recordings of power tools and hammers.’

Our government at the time naturally wanted their landing to be kept secret,’ Rocky says. ‘As have all governments since.’

Imagine if our friends from across the ocean had got wind of it,’ Billy says.

Our guests would all probably be in Guantanamo Bay,’ Rocky says. ‘Or on a Saturday night TV special.’

Also, the government didn’t want the public to be alarmed by seeing unfamiliar life-forms wandering about,’ Billy says.

There might have been a panic,’ Rocky says.

There was a responsibility to safeguard the newcomers as well,’ Billy says.

So they built a base from which they could come and go,’ Rocky says.

They have been coming and going for years,’ Billy says. ‘And back home on their planet they now use Beatles music as an energy source.’

Where are the ….. aliens?’ I ask. ‘When are we going to see them?’

There are only a few of them here at the moment,’ Rocky says. ‘The others are off on their …… travels.’

I wonder how they manage to come and go and where they land their spaceships and why no-one sees them. They couldn’t get from here to Warminster every time these days, not even under the cover of darkness, and wherever their landing site is, wouldn’t the comings and goings be seen? Then I remember that according to Otto witnesses get liquidated. But how many witnesses can be liquidated without something getting out? And if they close web sites down, new ones always spring up. There are a million unanswered questions. And how does time travel fit into all this? What is time travel? I’m a rationalist. Well, at least some of the time. But then you do have to have some belief in the strange and unlikely to be a journalist. What is it that is really happening here that they feel the need to erase our memories before we leave? Are there more surprises to come? I begin to wonder, not for the first time today, whether anything at all that Otto has told us is true. But we’re moving on. Things are speeding up now.

What about the breeding programme with humans?’ May Welby asks. Not a good question, I feel at this point.

Billy appears noticeably angered by the insinuation. ‘What on earth are you talking about, lady?’ he says.

I do think that would be impossible,’ laughs Rocky, doing his best to placate his prickly associate. ‘We will introduce you. You will be able to judge for yourselves. Ah, look! Here comes old Flattop. He has brought George and Ringo along to say hello.’

Two tiny mud-grey creatures with domed heads and large eyes waddle towards us. They can’t be more than two feet high. They are wearing brightly coloured clothes. They have headphones on and singing along to the tune. These are a far cry from the seven-foot-three super-beings we were being told to expect. We don’t, however, get the opportunity to register our shock. The pair are accompanied by a burly thug in a Force Security sweatshirt. This apparently is Old Flattop. He stares sternly, firstly at Otto, and then at May. A look of recognition spreads over his face. It is not a welcoming look.

You two miserable hacks have been down here before,’ he barks. ‘We redacted the experience from your minds, but still you are back. Perhaps you would like to explain why that is.’

Things are beginning to make sense. Otto and May may have spun us a line. As we try to work out what their motive might have been, the gun in Billy’s hand is twitching. Cute and cared for the extraterrestrials might be in their safe little haven down here below the South Downs, but I don’t now have a good feeling about our welfare in this situation.

Perhaps Scotty is now our best chance. I hope he gets the message about beaming us up I am about to send from my phone.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three

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The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Three by Chris Green

In his nineteen years on the force Sergeant Crooner has happened upon many strange scenarios. If he has learnt one thing from police work though, it is when something seems amiss there is usually a rational explanation. Cause and effect, action and reaction and all that. The supernatural does not feature heavily in the life of the plod. He can however see no rational explanation this time. He is flummoxed.

‘That is a dead pig in the back seat, isn’t it, Vaz?’ he says. He feels he needs to make sure. With all the back to back shifts he has been doing lately, he doesn’t know if he is coming or going. Only yesterday, he drove through a red light on the pedestrian crossing outside BronzeTan and narrowly missed a lady walking her Bichon Frise. It certainly looks to him like a dead pig, the kind you used to see hung in butchers’ shops before namby pamby political correctionists took over the western world.

‘Yes Sarge,’ says Vaz. He is not sure how to react. He is a newcomer to police work. He drifted into it when he found no commercial opportunities for street art. ‘I think that describes it perfectly. It is a dead pig.’

‘And it wasn’t there just now, was it Vaz? When we went up to Mrs DeAngelo’s house.’

‘No Sarge,’ says Vaz distractedly. ‘It definitely wasn’t there then.’ Vaz recalls the scene with the horse’s head in the bed in The Godfather. And Marlon Brando saying I’m going to make him an offer he cannot refuse. This worries him a little. He doesn’t mention it. It seems reasonable to assume that Sergeant Crooner will also have referenced this. After all, the iconic film was from his boss’s generation.

‘And you did lock the car, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. I never forget to lock the car, Sarge. You keep telling me that thieves will stop at nothing.’ There again this is 2016 English suburban Home Counties, not Mafioso run 1950s New York. There is no real reason to suppose that whoever deposited the dead pig is delivering the same kind of message as Vito Corleone. Is there?

‘And we definitely didn’t go into Mrs DeAngelo’s house, because no-one answered the door, right?’

‘That’s right, Sarge.’

Sergeant Crooner mops his brow. He feels dizzy. For a moment he thinks that he might be going to faint.

‘Are you all right, Sir?’ says Vaz. ‘You’ve gone a funny colour. Uh, cerise, I think.’ Vaz is good at colours. Art college education.

‘So,’ says Sergeant Crooner, bypassing the enquiry after his welfare. ‘The dead pig must have been put there while we were trying to get someone to answer the door. ….. How long do you think that was, Vaz?’

‘About a minute and a half, I would say, Sarge. Three minutes tops.’

‘The car was in full view as well wasn’t it?’

‘Yes Sarge. When you went round the back I stayed at the front as you recall.’ He does not mention that he used the time to change the ringtone on his iphone to Catfish and the Bottlemen’s new tune.

‘H’mm.’

‘Do you want me to call Division to get someone to come and dispose of the dead animal?’

‘Forensics, Vaz. We need to bring in Forensics.’

‘Remind me why we were calling on Mrs DeAngelo, Sarge. I’m not sure you let me in on this.’

‘Later, Vaz. Later.’

…………………………………………….

Ron Smoot met Daniel DeAngelo in prison. Anxious to rid himself of the moniker, Wet Blanket Ron, which had plagued him for years, Ron took the CBT course on offer at Strangeways, four times. Daniel DeAngelo was on CBT course number four, under the misapprehension that CBT was some king of boxing training. He discovered quickly that it wasn’t, but he found Ron to be amenable and latched on to him for the rest of his stay. He was mysteriously released after two years of his sentence. When taunted with the line everyone in here is innocent DeAngelo had consistently said the difference is I AM innocent. I was fitted up by a bent cop. Ron never discovered if this really was the case or in fact why DeAngelo was released. By and large he kept his head down. When he was himself was released after serving three years of his six year stretch, Daniel DeAngelo offered him a position in his trading firm, this in return for the many favours that Ron had done for him inside. Although it was not a high powered position, and his job description was vague, Ron was grateful. He felt his efforts had paid off.

Ron had been jailed for his part in bringing down the rock star, Johnny Angel’s helicopter. As it happened Ron had had nothing to do with it. He was a victim of circumstance. But then, this was the story of his life. Bad luck had dogged him since kinder-garden. For instance, years ago he suffered multiple injuries when he was was knocked down by a hit and run driver. In hospital he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank. When he came out of hospital, his landlord, Kostas Moros, who was also seeing Heather when she was not seeing Frank, threw him out of his flat to let it for more money and charged Ron two grand for damages incurred during his tenancy.

Ron acted like a magnet to calamity. Disaster and disappointment were constant companions. His every endeavour went tits up. Time and time again, outrageous misfortune tracked him down. No-one would have bet against him going to prison for a crime he did not commit; there was a strange inevitability about this happening.

On being released from prison, Ron was determined to turn his life around. Feeling positive, he put his Hank Williams CD collection on ebay, ditched his Life is Meaningless and Everything Dies sweatshirt, and joined the InstaDate dating agency. He started seeing someone called Simone. It was unfortunate that Simone turned out to be a transvestite. Simone’s dark brown voice should have given him a clue, as should the fact that her feet were bigger than his, but Ron in his enthusiasm, missed these pointers. It was unfortunate too that it took him nearly a month to discover Simone’s proclivities, but he did not dwell on it. The Wet Blanket Ron of old would have seen the episode as an insurmountable knock-back to his confidence. He would have dined out on the story for weeks, but the post-CBT Ron resolved to quickly put the matter behind him. He told himself there were plenty more fish in the sea. He just had to be more careful, next time.

Although working for Daniel DeAngelo offered no company car, and pay days were a little irregular, Ron was eventually able to buy a Rover 75 from Ted Drinker Quality Second Hand Cars. This way he was able to do pick ups and deliveries for DeAngelo. Although Rovers were notoriously unreliable, for a week or two Ron had no trouble with his purchase. He made no less than seventeen journeys up and down the motorway with important packages. He did not know what the packages contained. He was curious as the packages seemed unnaturally light but he thought that it was not his place to ask. It was enough that Daniel DeAngelo had described them as important and had entrusted him with them.

Ron knew he shouldn’t have ignored the oil light, but when you have to get somewhere quickly, you sometimes overlook these things. Daniel DeAngelo did stress that time was of the essence on this particular mission. Il tempo è importante. Le borse contengono tempo, he had said lapsing into his native Italian. Strictly speaking Ron’s judgement was right, as the car did make it the hundred or so miles to his pick up and back. It wasn’t until he was nearly home that the engine started labouring. Pulling off from the traffic lights at the Scott Mackenzie roundabout it started to make unwelcome noises. At first the smoke that emerged from under the bonnet was light in colour, but over half a mile or so of chugging and lurching, the poor Rover began belching out thick grey clouds of the stuff. Ron was never mechanically minded but it was apparent even to him that the engine was now on its way out. By the time he pulled it over on to the kerb, to let the traffic pass, the Rover had all but disappeared in a cloud of acrid black smoke.

Ron of old would have been mortified but his post-CBT voice tells him that the main thing is that he has the package safe and sound. He can still deliver it to DeAngelo.

…………………………………………….

‘I don’t want to bother you, Sarge,’ says PC Vaz. ‘But, look over there! Someone’s just ……. uh, torched a car.’

‘Oh, so they have, Vaz. Lot of it about, I’m afraid,’ says Sergeant Crooner, dismissively. Vaz is beginning to get on his nerves. Why did they keep giving him these hopeless rookies. If he had been promoted to Inspector, he wouldn’t have to break in these fresh-faced kids with no aptitude for police work. He had missed out on promotion five years in a row now. Wasn’t his nineteen years of service enough? Debbie might not have left him for Kirsty Tickler if he’d been promoted. But arguably he might have been promoted if Debbie hadn’t left him for Kirsty Tickler. This sort of thing was still looked down upon in the Constabulary. Or was it all down to that business with DeAngelo that they had not considered him suitable for higher office?

‘Shouldn’t we go and have a look, Sarge?’ says PC Vaz, bringing him out of his reverie.

‘You’re like an excited child, Vaz. Wait until you’ve been on the beat a few years, son. ……… Oh go on then. I suppose we should have a look. I’m guessing it will be a while before forensics get here to go over the pig. We may as well be doing something useful.’

‘There’s someone standing by it, Sarge. He’s on his phone. Seems to be gesticulating a lot.’

‘Oh my God, Vaz! That’s ….. That’s Ron Smoot. Wet Blanket Ron. He can’t be out of the nick already, can he?’

‘Who is Wet. …. Blanket. ….. Ron. Sarge?’

‘He’s notorious, Vaz. He’s the one that brought down Johnny Angel’s helicopter. Before your time I expect, Johnny Angel.’

‘Oh no, Sarge. I remember Johnny Angel. Rocket Man. Crocodile Rock.’

‘No. That was the other fellow, Vaz.’ Why had then given him this plank?

‘This Wet. Blanket. Ron, Sarge. Why is he called that?’

‘You don’t want to know, Vaz.’

…………………………………………….

Ron is relieved to see the two police officers approaching. He was getting nowhere on the phone with Stan Feckwith Salvage. They did not seem to be treating his request seriously. Tomorrow afternoon, indeed. As if you can leave a burned out Rover by the side of a main road until then. And £50 to take it away. They should be paying him. When his Metro had gone to the breakers years ago Andy Carr Breakers had written him a check for £50. Never mind, the officers are sure to be able to help. They probably come across problems like this all the time. They will know what he should do next.

‘Am I pleased that you have come along?’ he calls out. ‘You can’t believe how difficult it is to get a car towed away around here.’

‘Well, well, well! If it isn’t Ron Smoot,’ says Sergeant Crooner. ‘What is it this time, Ron? Oh dear, torching cars. That’s slumming it a bit isn’t it after bringing down helicopters?’

‘Might he have had something to do with the dead pig, Sarge?’ says Vaz.

‘Not now, Vaz.’

‘I haven’t done anything,’ says Ron. ‘I’m trying to be helpful. I’m just trying to get the car taken away.’

‘I think we should take him in, Vaz. We’re bound to find something we can charge him with. Search him will you.’

‘OK Smoot!’ says PC Vaz. ‘Hands up against the wall and no funny business!’

‘I need to call my lawyer.’

‘We’ve caught you red handed setting alight to a car, Smoot.’

‘The engine blew up on me, officer. I want to call my lawyer.’

‘That would be the celebrated, Brent Diaz, would it?’ says Sergeant Crooner ‘In case you don’t know, Vaz, Brent Diaz is the most famous crooked lawyer in these parts. He is popularly known down town as Bent Diaz.’

‘I resent that allegation.’

‘Shut up, Smoot. Cuff him, Vaz! We’ll take him in.’

‘What about Mrs DeAngelo’s house and the dead pig, Sarge?’

Ron may not be the brightest button in the box, but the mention of the name DeAngelo puts him on a higher state of alert. Last time he was in the office he overheard a phone conversation about settling a score with a mention of sending a dead animal as a message. There was an allusion to a scene in The Godfather and although he could not remember the film that well, there was one particular scene that had stayed with him. What was the offer that the victim couldn’t refuse, though? Was it something to do with getting the character that wasn’t meant to be Frank Sinatra a part in a film? More to the point what had DeAngelo been referring to?

…………………………………………….

Brent Diaz is surprised to get the call, and a little horrified. When he said goodbye to Wet Blanket Ron at the trial, he thought he had seen the last of him. ……. Wrongful arrest? Daniel DeAngelo? What is the fellow talking about? He can’t have been out five minutes. Surely he is not in trouble already. You would have thought he would have learned his lesson by now. I mean, he doesn’t come across as a career criminal, just a recurrent loser. Still, there is something about Wet Blanket Ron that against your better judgement elicits sympathy.

‘Slow down, Ron,’ he says. ‘I can’t make out what you are saying. ……. Sergeant Crooner? Yes a regular pain in the ass, that one. …….. I agree there’s nothing worse that a bent cop.’

‘They’ve already taken the packages that I was supposed to deliver to Daniel DeAngelo and opened them.’

‘H’mmm. Out of interest, Ron. What was in the packages?’

‘That’s just it, Mr Diaz. Nothing. The packages seemed to be ……. empty.’

‘Then they have no reason to detain you.’

‘There’s still the business with the car, Mr Diaz. They are still saying that I torched the car. But I didn’t. It just blew up on me.’

‘OK Ron. Hang on in there. I’m on my way. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be there at the station.’

…………………………………………….

‘I feel really bad about what happened to young Vaz, Inspector,’ says Sergeant Crooner. My heart goes out to his family. I know he was a bit naive, and could be a pain in the ass with his arty farty stuff, but he didn’t deserve that. I can’t stop from thinking that the explosion was meant for me. DeAngelo seems to have felt that there was an old score to settle. To be honest I would have thought that stuff about framing him would have blown over. But maybe it hadn’t. It seems he was driven by revenge. That must have been what the dead pig was about. He was sending a warning. Do you know, Vaz said something about a scene in The Godfather. But never having seen the film I did not understand what he was talking about. I’m probably the only person in the county that hasn’t watched the film. Never was one for watching films. But now I wish I had watched it. It might not have come to this.’

‘Perhaps give it a miss now, eh, Crooner? …… The film, I mean.’

‘Right there in broad daylight too.’

‘Vaz walked right into it, didn’t he,’ says Inspector Otis. ‘Poor sod. Probably never be able to walk again though, they are saying.’

‘Don’t make me feel even worse, sir.’

‘Well. I guess as officers of the law we have to learn to expect these things.’

‘Any word on DeAneglo yet?’

‘No. The bastard seems to have disappeared without trace.’

‘How long do you think we can hold Smoot?’

‘Indefinitely, I should think, now that Brent Diaz has backed off. Even if we can’t pin the bomb on him, arson is a pretty serious offence in these days of terrorism.’

‘Bit of a mystery why Diaz didn’t want to stay on the case. He seemed to give up too easily.’

‘Probably two hours of listening to Wet Blanket Ron was as much as he could take.’

‘I wonder what happened to the stuff that he was carrying when we brought him in. ‘

‘I expect it’s downstairs with Evidence.’

‘Anyway, what’s done is done I suppose. What have you got?’

‘This is a weird one, that’s just come in, Crooner. Someone has been smuggling what they describe as small packages of time out of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This it says has happened now on seventeen occasions in all.’

‘What would these packages look like, Inspector? These packages of ….. time?’

‘That’s just it, Crooner. Nobody seems to be able to describe what a package of time would look like. Time doesn’t have mass, as such. Whatever shape or size it was when you opened the package up it would just look like it was empty.’

‘There must be a market for it, wouldn’t you say, sir? A market for time. I mean everybody needs time.’

‘You mean as in buy some time or buy more time.’

‘Exactly.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Lenticular Clouds

lenticularcloud4

Lenticular Clouds by Chris Green

Lenticular clouds hang over Mount Dante in the distance. Disc-shaped and silver, they have an air of the surreal about them. You expect clouds to move across the sky with the wind, but these are stationary. Here in the town below, the inhabitants are in the midst of a heatwave. It has been searingly hot for two weeks now. Chet wishes the clouds would come over and deposit their load. His friend, Raul tells him they will not come this way. Lenticular clouds are only there because of the mountain. They could stay in place for days, hovering. They will gradually morph as the air currents push them towards the troposphere. Raul knows about weather. Before his accident, he used to be a pilot. He says they can expect another two weeks of this heat. With high pressure systems like this, rain-bearing clouds do not form, he says. There is not even a hint of a breeze. Chet wishes he were by the coast. Being landlocked in a heatwave is the worst.

Before the battery went flat, the weather app on Chet’s phone showed 44 degrees Celsius. He cannot charge the phone now. There has been no power in the town for seventy-two hours. There has been no explanation for the outage. There was talk of it being a terrorist attack, but why would terrorists target a backwater like this. News travels slowly in these parts. Rumours abound instead. The next town is forty miles away. Conditions were bad enough before the power went off, but if you had air conditioning you could stay indoors. If you did not, you could, at least, circulate the hot air with a barrage of fans. Chet did not have air conditioning and by the time he got round to thinking about fans, the stores had all sold out. He could have perhaps eaten humble pie and gone back to his parents, but anyway, it doesn’t matter now. Not even they with all their resources will have any protection against the interminable heat. A little discomfort will do them good, he reckons. What they did was unforgivable. He is better off staying with Raul. The accommodation may be basic, a collection of shacks tacked on to one another, with the occasional rat scurrying around, but the company is good.

The town has ground to a halt. The tar on the roads is turning to liquid. The air smells of creosote. Cracks are appearing in the concrete of buildings. The river bed has dried up. Blue-green algae have formed on the town’s swimming pool. There are warning notices posted outside. The water smells awful. Food is rotting in overflowing waste bins and on the streets. Everywhere is closed. No-one is going anywhere. Buses are no longer running and petrol stations are closed. The nearest airport is over a hundred miles away near the border, and the coast is the same distance in the other direction. Banks, offices and schools are closed. Even Bashir’s convenience store which is open 24/7 is closed. The hospital is closed and rumour has it that dozens are dying daily from the effects of the extreme heat. There is no way to confirm these rumours. Stores are being looted. Chet wonders how anyone can summon up the energy to loot. This would not be a prime pillaging place at the best of times.

Chet sits in the shade beneath a wilting zelkova tree on a lone patch of grass that the blistering heat has spared. He is decked out in shorts and flip flops. He has taken his CoolDude t-shirt off and is wearing it like a bandana. He is trying to read a book about the stars that Raul has lent him. Since the lenticular clouds appeared he has taken an interest in the sky. He finds he cannot concentrate on the book. The heavens are a celestial smorgasbord of byzantine complexity. It is too hot for long words to sink in. He puts the book down.

She appears as a mirage. She comes out of the sun in a thin white silk dress. Chet has never seen her before. He would remember. This is not a large town. There are perhaps five thousand people living here. He has never seen anyone like this before. She is stunning. She approaches him. She has a waterfall of obsidian hair and skin like porcelain. She has a smile like springtime. Her eyes are deep brown and look like they are made out of glass. How does she manage to look so cool in the sweltering heat? She looks as if she has stepped out of an ice cream parlour.

She puts her finger up to her lips in a gesture to signify that she requires silence for her mission. Chet is lost for words anyway. Where could he begin? She takes his hand and leads him off as if they were familiar lovers. With clandestine stealth, she bypasses the main square and the roads leading off it, through a series of narrow winding streets and labyrinthine alleys. He does not know where they are. Although it is a small town, he has not been this way before. It seems abandoned. Many of the buildings are falling apart. They arrive at a small white town-house. It is entirely in the shade. It is noticeably cooler. The sun never reaches these parts. They enter through a stuccoed courtyard. Chet finds they are in a small shuttered room, with ethnic tapestries hung on the walls. They are on a soft bed with brightly coloured linen. She draws him towards her and kisses him passionately. It is not until after they have made love that the silence is broken when his vision speaks softly to him in a language that he does not understand. To Chet, this is a small matter. Conversational consonance cannot compare to the poetry of the senses. For now, he’s going to stay.

Chet wakes with a start. He is disorientated. The room is dark and unfamiliar. There are slatted shutters on the windows but no light is coming through. It must be night-time, he decides. He is alone. He is naked. He is lying on a dishevelled bed. He cannot remember how he came to be here but he has had the most erotic dream. He is all sticky from the emission. He cannot find any clothes. Where are his clothes? There is no power for the light, so he stumbles around in the darkness. He finds the door is locked. It feels like quite a flimsy door, but he cannot move it. It must be strengthened with something to keep it firm. He is trapped. His mouth is dry. He is incredibly thirsty. A sense of panic mixed with despair rises in him. He listens for a sign of life outside of the room. There is a profound silence. It is still, not even the sound of the wind. He finds a bottle of water. It is a litre bottle and it is nearly full. There is nothing he can do but wait and hope. The last thing he remembers is reading Making Sense of the Heavens, the book that his friend, Raul lent him. He was sitting under a zelkova tree near the dried up river bed. And then …… And then …… Nothing. Then ….. the dream, if it was a dream – about an exotic temptress in white.

At dawn, he can just see out of a small crack in one of the window slats. He can see the peak of the mountain. The lenticular clouds still hang ominously over its summit.

…………………………………………..

Raul is secretly pleased with the lack of power in the town. It means that he does not have to go to work in the plant. He is painting a landscape in oils. Since he has not been able to get up in a plane, painting is the pastime he most enjoys. He would like to give up work and take up painting full time and sell his work. Although his art is accomplished, there is not a big demand for it since the recession. He has been told his brooding, haunted style is reminiscent of metaphysical Italian artist, Giorgio de Chirico. Although flattered, Raul doesn’t really like comparison to anyone. He feels his art is highly original. The landscapes with the elongated shadows of the town’s old decaying buildings are ideal source material for his moody studies. The emptiness of the streets since the power outage has also been inspirational. The painting he is working on has chimerical Iberian towers and arches leading to a desolate rocky desert landscape with lenticular clouds hanging over a mountain peak in the background. A lone silhouetted figure holding a broken wheel by the dried up fountain hints that all is not well. The stacked saucer shape of the clouds today is perfect for the balance of the composition.

He has to be careful not to apply the paint too thickly. He slapped it on the canvas yesterday and it cracked and blistered in the high temperatures. He daubs an arc of coral red at the base of the clouds and mixes in a dab of zinc white in situ on the canvas. It is a technique he uses a lot. He pauses to let the paint dry. He steps back to look at the work from different angles. He is pleased with its progress today. The scene has a dreamlike quality. The clouds with their otherworldliness add an air of mystery and menace.

He wonders what has happened to Chet. He did not come back last night, which is unusual as Chet likes to sit down with him for a chat over a bottle of wine. He was going to show Chet how to find the constellations, Hercules and Indus in the night sky. They are going through the celestial alphabet. Chet does not have a lot of friends. He is a bit of a loner. Surely he would not have gone back to his parents’ house. They disowned him when they found his drugs stash. And he would surely never have forgiven them for going to the police. After all, most young people around here smoke cannabis. It grows like a weed out in the badlands. The police probably smoke cannabis. They probably smoked Chet’s cannabis. They let him off with a caution.

…………………………………………..

Ola,’ says a voice from behind him.

Brush still in hand, Raul turns around. He is dumbstruck. Standing there is Salvador Dalí. His handlebar moustache is fully waxed and despite the heat, he is wearing a dark three-piece suit. The immense bird of prey perched on his gloved hand is a bit of a shock too. Is it a hawk or an eagle? Raul struggles with an explanation. Not least in the mystery is the small matter that Dalí has been dead for many years. This could be an impersonator, but why would he be here? Raul can see and hear this substantial figure before him, who to all intents and purposes is the legendary painter, with an avian friend. Until a better explanation comes along, he must go by his senses.

I love the clouds,’ says Dalí, scanning the painting. ‘They are like how you say, objeto volador no identificado, yes?’

Raul composes himself for a reply. He manages, ‘Whuyuh,’ or something similarly devoid of language.

Rocks and clouds. They are the secret to a successful painting,’ Dalí continues. ‘If you remember this then your art will sell the millions and you will become famous. Let me see some more of your paisajes.’

How does one address the master, Raul wonders? The raptor on Dalí’s gauntlet is fidgeting. It looks as if it might lunge at him. The prospect makes him nervous.

Raul leads the artist into his small studio. There on rickety wooden easels are two landscapes that he has been working on. One canvas is of a seashell suspended from a classical arch in a desert landscape. In the middle of the orange sands is an oversized mannequin in black sunglasses. The other features two columns of arches set at impossible angles casting geometric shadows, in the background the silhouette of a steam train set against a yellow and green sky. Dalí walks up and down smoothing the ends of his moustache pensively.

I am thinking that I see Giorgio,’ he says. ‘I should not say this, but I did copy a lot from Giorgio. All I added really were rocks and trees. And the soft watches, of course. Oh, and tigers.’

Whilst trying to resist the comparison with de Chirico once again, Raul can’t help but feel flattered that the great Avida Dollars is appraising his work. This gives him the confidence to enter the conversation a little.

I was wondering about a perigee moon over the train in this one,’ he says. ‘And maybe darkening the sky to compensate.’

I designed a tarot pack,’ says Dalí. ‘I was very pleased with The Moon card. You cannot go wrong with a big red moon in a painting.’

When I was a boy I wanted to go to the moon,’ says Raul. ‘I asked my parents and they said that NASA weren’t recruiting in these parts, so I trained to be a pilot instead.’

When I was a boy I wanted to become Dalí,’ says Dalí. ‘So that is what I did.’

You can never tell how things are going to turn out, can you,’ says Raul. ‘Sometimes in life, there is great irony. I was taking aerial photographs of the moon when my plane crashed.’

I could tell how things were going to turn out,’ says Dalí. ‘I knew I would be a great painter. I knew I would be famous. It was my destiny. It was in the stars.’

I study the stars,’ says Raul. ‘I’ve been teaching my friend, Chet how to read the night sky. I am showing him where to find the constellations. But he has disappeared.’

People come and go. Things appear and disappear,’ says Dalí. ‘All things must pass. My good friend, George Harrison told me that.’

He did not come back last night.’

Last night I could see the stars. The night sky is very clear,’ says Dalí. ‘What has happened to the lights? Is there no electricity here?’

No-one knows why the power is off,’ says Raul. He disappears behind a curtain to fetch some other canvases to show Dalí. When he returns there is no sign of the artist. He is fanned by the wings of a large black raptor as it flies off with a small rodent in its talons.

…………………………………………..

Time passes slowly for Chet in the locked room. After initial attempts to break down the door and dismantle the shutter, he has given up. He has disturbed the shutter enough to allow a shaft of light through and if he puts his face up against it, he can see out. He is facing a whitewashed wall. He can just see the peak of the mountain and the lenticular clouds capping it. He has given up shouting for help too. He is wasting valuable energy by doing so. It is clear that no-one is around.

He tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. How much of it was real and how much of it a dream? Being brought to a secret lair and seduced by an exotic angel is certainly the territory of dreams, but here he is. In this unfamiliar room. How did this happen? Was he drugged? Perhaps the water he is drinking contains some potion. According to transcendentalist poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who Raul is fond of quoting, reality is a sliding door. His friend would probably have an explanation for what is going on. He has a far greater experience of life. Growing up in a household where he was never encouraged to think for himself, Chet finds clarity elusive. All things seem shrouded in mystery. He has few answers. There are many questions. Why is the sky blue? Why is the sea salty? Why do fools fall in love? And presently, and most importantly, why is he being held captive? He can think of no reason. His imprisonment would seem to benefit no-one. Also, it contradicts the initial experience where he was made more than welcome by the libertine lorelei who brought him here.

How long will a litre of water last, he wonders? It is either half full, or half empty now.

…………………………………………..

Raul takes a long pull on his beer. The warm bottled beer in the Agave Bar is unpleasant, but he feels he needs one. He has no wine at home and everywhere else is closed. The Agave never closes. It would take an earthquake. Sol, the barman seems to live at this dark and dingy bar. Raul asks him if Chet has been in.

No. I don’t believe he has,’ says Sol. Not seen him since you brought him in a while back.’ He explains that since the power outage hardly anyone has been in. He is ready to launch into a rant about the loss of trade that the power outage is causing. Sol is not aptly named. His disposition is anything but sunny.

Noah, who has been sat at the bar listening, interrupts him. ‘Is that the posh kid?’ he asks Raul.

Guess that’s who you mean,’ says Raul. ‘Why, Noah? Have you seen the lad?’

Think I did, now you come to mention it,’ says Noah. ‘He was with a pretty girl. I was sure surprised. Never seen him with anyone but you before. Had him down as a ….. well, a bit of a loner.’

When was this?’

Yesterday afternoon it must have been. They were heading for the old town. Did you see him, Jake?’

Jake looks up from the bottle of tequila he is nursing. ‘No, Noah, can’t say I did.’

Where do you think they were going?’ says Raul.

Well, I have no idea. I’m not going to be following them, am I, although she was quite a stunner,’ says Noah.

Nobody goes up there much since the ….. uh, emergency, do they?’ says Sol. Sol doesn’t get out anywhere that much. He has the pallor of a dedicated barman.

What actually happened?’ asks Raul. He has heard all kinds of rumours, but small towns can generate fanciful stories.

Noah and Jake look at one another. Neither of them says what they are thinking.

The outbreak,’ says Sol. ‘There was an outbreak of something, wasn’t there?’

Noah and Jake exchange another glance.

I’m going up there,’ says Raul doggedly. ‘Thank you, boys, for the information.’

…………………………………………..

It is morning, or perhaps it is afternoon. Chet cannot tell. Daylight is spilling through the shutter. He is woken up by a noise of someone outside. He hasn’t slept much. He is drowsy. With a rattle of keys the door opens. With the light now from the open door, he sees her standing there in all her finery. The same little white dress, the same waterfall of obsidian hair. She has brought a basket of fruit. She hands him a peach. He devours it ravenously. She slips out of her dress. She joins him on the bed and kisses him passionately. He responds to her touch. She responds to his. She is wet. Ardently they make love. It is as if nothing has happened since the previous time they were together. They are just resuming the assignation, where they left off. There are no recriminations.

Afterwards, as they share the fruit, she speaks to him in the language that she spoke to him before. The difference is, now, he finds he can understand her. This is inexplicable. It is the same language, but it is no longer foreign to him. His mind is buckling with incomprehension. How can this be happening?

She tells him that although she is made up of flesh and blood, she is insubstantial, like a spirit. She can only appear in the material world under a particular set of circumstances. She says that she cannot explain any further for now, as it would only confuse him more. What she requires from him is his trust.

When you appear, can everyone see you?’ asks Chet.

No, not everyone.’

When you disappear, where do you go?’

Please do not ask any more questions, as I cannot answer them,’ she says. ‘Just trust me is all that I ask of you. You will be rewarded if you put your faith in me. Let’s go and get your clothes. We have to go. Time is short.’

…………………………………………..

The church clock is stopped at eleven minutes past eleven as Raul makes his way through the town. The scorching heat saps his strength. The streets are still deserted. There may be no power, but where is everyone, he wonders. Where do they all go? Life cannot stop because there is no electricity. He notices that the sky over the mountain top is changing. Normally the wind blows right through lenticular clouds. They form in the crest of the mountain wave where the rising updraught of the wave has cooled and moisture has condensed. The clouds dissipate in the downdraught of the wave where the air has descended and warmed to the point where the moisture evaporates. The stacked saucer effect of the lenticular clouds above Mount Dante has gone. They are scattered. They are brightly coloured, almost psychedelic. The shape that is forming and the rich hue of the clouds suggest they are dispersing. When he was flying, Raul was careful to avoid cloud banks like this. They could cause dangerous turbulence.

As he approaches the crumbling ruins of the old town he becomes conscious of an eerie hush. It is like entering another world, a world of spirits perhaps. It has been a no-go area for so long, he cannot remember why the townsfolk abandoned it, but Noah and Jake’s conspiratorial silence seemed to have suggested he should avoid it. Apprehensively, he enters the network of narrow winding streets. The cobbled road surface is covered in sand and strewn with assorted debris. Boston ivy and Virginia creeper compete for space on windowless ruins and gutted houses. Tumbleweed grows amongst the rubble. A path leads off to the right into a labyrinthine series of alleys, each lifeless and silent. It is a much larger area than it first appears. He feels his hopes of finding Chet here evaporating.

…………………………………………..

Chet and his revenant run hand in hand out of the dark void and into the light. The lenticular clouds over the mountain look spectacular. The whole sky is alive in a fluid chromatic explosion. It is as if the heavens are hosting a titanic light show for the Gods by a mythic rock band. It is breathtaking. Alas, all things must change. Nothing is permanent. Dreams fade, bubbles pop, and clouds evaporate. The carnival will soon be over. The lenticular clouds over Mount Dante will be gone by the end of the afternoon.

We have to be quick,’ Chet’s vision says. ‘Soon the power will come back on, and I too will disappear.’

He asks a thousand questions, all at once. She does not hear. Already her form is fading.

…………………………………………..

Chet and Raul sit on the stoop taking in the evening sunshine over a glass or two of red from Bashir’s new delivery. A gentle breeze rustles the canopy. Chet is pleased that it is a little cooler. The heat really got to him, he says, and he didn’t know where he was without the internet. Anything could have been happening and he wouldn’t know about it. He had some very strange thoughts. He wondered if he was going mad. Raul says that the heat didn’t bother him, nor the lack of electricity.

I’m glad the clouds have gone, though,’ he says. ‘There’s something about lenticular clouds that makes me uneasy.’

I know exactly what you mean,’ says Chet. ‘They don’t bring any rain. It’s a bit like thunder without the lightning. It throws you off balance.’

And they are there for days, just hovering.’

Bound to have an effect’

Like the moon and the stars.’

We’ll probably never know the full story.’

Mysteries should remain mysteries. The universe is full of secrets.’

We’ll have to get back on to the constellations tonight. We were up to H, weren’t we?’

That’s right, Hercules is next, and Indus.’

What about another glass of wine?’

I did manage to get some painting done, though,’ says Raul. ‘I don’t expect you noticed.’

I love the new picture,’ says Chet. ‘It reminds me of one I saw by Salvador Dalí.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

The Importance of Being Nearest

theimportanceofbeingnearest2

The Importance Of Being Nearest by Chris Green

‘Milk,’ I say. ‘Milk.’

‘Is that all you want?’ says Karim, the Asian shopkeeper.

‘My mate Marmite,’ I say.

‘On the shelf over there, mate,’ says Karim, the Asian shopkeeper.

‘Maybe Mimi might make more marmalade,’ I say.

‘What?’ says Karim. ‘Come on! I’ve got customers waiting.’

‘Maureen may marry Marvin Monday morning,’ I say. ‘Mild mann …..’

‘Get out of my shop!’ says Karim.

He is shaking his fist at me. I leave the milk on the counter.

No-one seems to understand that I have to practice my resonance exercises. Little and often throughout the day, my speech therapist, Heather says. She tells me I should try to work the phrases into everyday conversations. Living on my own and having an arthritic hip I don’t really get the chance to have everyday conversations every day. Unless you count talking to Alfonso, my cat. Alfonso, bless him, is getting old, though. He is eighty-three in cat years. That’s eight years older than me. He spends most of his time sleeping. The main chance I have to practice my phrases is when I go out shopping.

In the post office, I try to strike up a conversation with the cashier with the purple hair and the nasal jewellery.

‘Many men make mountains out of molehills,’ I say. ‘Minced meat never manages to minimise my migraines.’

‘Have you come about disability benefits?’ the cashier says.

‘Mac Macnamara manages a military museum in Miami,’ I say.

The cashier makes a politically incorrect loony tunes gesture and calls her manager. Her manager, a pro wrestler type covered in tattoos, comes over. She glares at me and roughly grabs the parcel I have brought in to send to my eldest daughter, Zoe in Canada. She takes the tenner I am holding out and roughly throws my change down the steel chute. It lands on the floor. I struggle to pick it up. Old people are not treated with much reverence these days, especially here in Downmarket. I would not stay here if I could afford to move. Mimi says that I can move in with her and Malcolm. It’s important to be with your nearest and dearest as you get older, she says. But I don’t know. Even though Noel and Liam have grown up and left home, it wouldn’t be fair. Apart from this, I still have my pride.

I tell Heather about my unfortunate experiences. She sympathises. She is very professional. I have had four sessions with her now. She says I am suffering from muscle tension dysphonia. The condition is the result of the lengthy bronchial tract infection that I had over the winter. My vocal chords do not meet properly. She showed me a film of this on her monitor. It was quite scary seeing my internal organs there on the screen. Over the four weeks I have been coming along to the hospital, we have progressed from basic humming sounds to words to phrases. Each exercise Heather gives me concentrates on the Em sound. She says this sound encourages forward resonance.

‘The problem is that people round here don’t seem to understand that I need opportunities to develop my forward resonance,’ I tell her. ‘They don’t take into consideration that I have no one at home.’

‘Perhaps you could ease the phrases more gently into your conversations, Dennis’ says Heather. ‘Start off by saying something about the weather or The Great British Bake Off.’

‘But I don’t watch The Great British Bake Off,’ I say. ‘And the weather is always the same, wet and windy.’

‘Well, there you are then,’ says Heather. ‘You could remark how wet and windy the weather is.’

………………………………………………………….

I’m not much good in the kitchen. Brenda always did the cooking. Brenda died three years ago. Liver failure. Sometimes I feel that part of me went with her, but you have to carry on, don’t you? When you are old and live on your own, though, you don’t tend to cook anything fancy. You just put something in the microwave. You have enough to do every day, just remembering to take all your medications and supplements, without learning how to cook Beef Wellington or Baked Alaska.

But, to get myself up to speed on what The Great British Bake Off programme is all about, I watch three episodes of it back to back on iplayer. Jonathan showed me how to use iplayer last time he was out of prison. It doesn’t always work, but maybe I’m doing something wrong. Anyway, the aim of The Great British Bake Off seems to be to put the contestants under so much pressure that they forget to put a key ingredient in the cake they are making, so that the celebrity cooks can tell them how hopeless they are, in front of ten million viewers. But at least, I have something to bring into the conversation next time I go to the shops.

I start to practice my conversations about the weather on Alfonso. It is as well to try them out at home before taking them out into the real world.

‘There’s a real storm blowing out there today, Alfonso,’ I say. ‘In fact, you could say it is raining cats and dogs. Cats and dogs, get it?’

Alfonso doesn’t stir.

‘There’s a strong north easterly, Alfonso. That’s unusual, don’t you think for this time of year? We mostly get mild to moderate south westerlies. It might be milder on Monday morning.’

Alfonso doesn’t stir. He hasn’t stirred all day, in fact he didn’t stir much yesterday either.

‘The weather forecast for the next few days isn’t good either, Alfonso. Blustery showers with more persistent rain arriving from the west later.’

Alfonso’s ears twitch a little.

‘I think it might be to do with El Niño.’

Alfonso pricks up his ears. He clearly likes this development in the narrative. He has consistently shown an interest in the climate change debate. He always sits up and takes notice when Attenborough is on the television. Who says dogs are cleverer than cats? When he puts his mind to it, Alfonso is a match for any mutt.

………………………………………………………….

‘Oh look!’ I say. ‘There’s someone at the door, Alfonso. He looks like one of those charity workers. We haven’t got any more money to give away, have we? …… Not since we lost our pension top ups. Never mind. I expect he’ll go away.’

My visitor doggedly stands his ground. He is young and, it seems, determined. When he rings the bell a third time, I slowly make my way to the door.

The young man in the red anorak stands there for a moment, not saying anything. I look him up and down. His anorak has an unfamiliar logo on it. Something to do with communities in crisis. At least, he’s come to the right place. Downmarket definitely fits the bill. Things have been getting steadily worse for years. The decline of textile manufacturing marked the beginning of the end for the town. No-one has wanted to invest here since and there’s now no work to be had anywhere.

Years ago, Downmarket was an easy going nice friendly place, a prosperous town awash with opportunity. It had a Third Division football team, three cinemas and a gymnasium, where you could learn to box. There used to be a thriving Sunday morning market and a dog track. There were bingo halls, and selection of pubs where you could go to play darts or skittles. Now, what is there? Boarded up shops, street drinkers, kerb crawlers, joy riders. I’m afraid to go out at night. The Mature Times that I picked up in the post office says the so-called Big Society too has failed local communities. The demise of the town centre it says is a major contributing factor towards loneliness and isolation. Small towns like Downmarket it says are the worst affected. There’s even talk that they might close the hospital. How will I manage then? The nearest one will be forty miles away in Slumpton.

The youngster brings me out of my reverie.

‘A big bag of baking powder’ he says. ‘And baked a batch of biscuits,

At least, that’s how it sounds to me, but my tinnitus has flared up today, so it is hard to tell what he is really saying.

I don’t get a lot of visitors, and given different circumstances, I might have welcomed the opportunity to stop and chat with him. But I don’t want to start a conversation about the weather as it is now raining heavily. He is drenched. He might see it as an invitation to step inside. At my age, you do have to be careful who you let into your house. Mrs Spurlock at number fifty-seven had someone call on her who said he was from British Gas. Next thing she knew he had run off with her prized collection of crocheted kestrels. PCSO Stringer says that they are called distraction burglars.

‘I’m not interested, thank you,’ I say, politely.

‘A big bug bit a bold bald bear badly,’ I think the fellow says. Once again it is difficult to tell exactly what he is saying. The rain is beating down and his articulation is poor, this on top of the background noise from my tinnitus.

‘I already donate to charity,’ I tell him. ‘I buy all my clothes at CLIC Sargent.’

‘Ben bought a big black bag of banned beta blockers,’ he says. Or something similar. His voice is now cracking a little. He does seem a little …… nervous.

Maybe I have been slow on the uptake. I find this happens more and more as I get older. It had seemed unlikely that the whipper-snapper on the doorstep should have voice problems on account of his being so young. But it occurs to me now that he himself might be on a regimen of speech therapy. Perhaps he is under a different therapist at the hospital. Maybe his therapist isn’t aware of the benefits of practising the em sound, or misguidedly thinks that the be sound is more beneficial. If this is the case then the young man needs a little advice on annunciation. Also, he needs to understand how to open a conversation with a more general topic. Perhaps he might even begin by introducing himself and saying what it is that he is calling about. Heather is right. Kicking off with the resonance exercises is the wrong approach. You don’t tend to notice how off-putting this alliterative nonsense can be until you experience someone else coming out it.

‘Have you thought of starting off by saying who you are,’ I say. ‘Or perhaps commenting on the weather? It puts people off when you dive straight in with gibberish sentences. I realise that you have to practise your phrases, but you have to learn to work these in gradually. Why don’t you come in and dry off and I will show you? We could even watch Celebrity Bake Off on iplayer if you want. That’s a good topic for conversation. Nearly everyone you meet watches Celebrity Bake Off.‘ I think they have Ken Dodd, Samantha Cameron and Bono on the next heat and that fellow, what’s his name, Ayman al-Zawahiri. You know, the fellow with the …. beard.

‘I’m not …… big on baking,’ says the youngster. ‘I’m …… uh, Billy by the way.’

‘Pleased to meet you, Bobby, I say. ‘Celebrity Bake Off wouldn’t have been my cup of tea either, but it is helpful to be able to talk about this stuff. I was able to hold a conversation in the convenience store yesterday when I went in to buy Alfonso’s pilchards because I knew what they were talking about. That was The Jeremy Kyle Show by the way. That’s another programme I never used to watch. If you’ve got time we could have a go at that after Celebrity Bake Off.’

Over a cup of Yorkshire tea, Bobby and I watch Bake Off and have a nice chat about speech therapy, the state of the NHS and the difficulty in getting your point across. Bobby seemed a nice young chap. It is not until the next day that I discover that the money from under my mattress is missing along with most of my military medals.

………………………………………………………….

I might move in with Mimi and Malcolm. Mimi and Malcolm moved to Monmouth in March last year. Mimi was horrified that I had been robbed and practically ordered me to join them. Monmouth seems like a nice place. It’s a prosperous small rural market town two miles over the Welsh border. Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it says on Wikipedia. The River Wye looks lovely. Malcolm says he will take me fishing there. Although Monmouth hospital closed recently, Mimi thinks I should be able to get my hip done at a nearby hospital. I can’t remember the name of the place. They look after people better in Wales, she says. The country air might also perk Alfonso up a bit.

PCSO Stringer thinks I will be able to claim for the medals on my insurance, so I should have a little money coming. He has even offered to help me fill out the forms. He doesn’t think I will be able to claim for the cash that was stolen, though. You should never leave money lying around the house, he says. But it was only a hundred or so. He says they haven’t caught Bobby yet but he thinks that Bobby probably wasn’t his real name anyway. There’s been a lot of distraction burglary lately. Pretending to be charity workers is their latest trick. It is easy to target elderly or vulnerable people this way. PCSO Stringer says that victims can lose their confidence and peace of mind, as well as money and possessions. I mustn’t let it get to me. I should view my misfortune as motivation to move on.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Call Me Lottie!

callmelottie2

Call Me Lottie – by Chris Green

LOTTIE

‘Pale blinds, drawn all day, I’m afraid,’ says Landon Truitt. ‘Upstairs and down.’

‘I remember getting those blinds fitted,’ I say. ‘Local chap. He called himself The Blind Man, which at the time I thought was amusing.’

‘The Blind Man. Good name. Very droll, Mrs Crenshaw.’

‘Lottie. You can call me Lottie,’ I say. ‘Please. You can’t imagine how much I hate the name Crenshaw.

Landon Truitt has dropped by to update me on his progress. He is a private detective of sorts. I found his card on the notice board at Waitrose. It read, Landon Truitt – Private Detective Of SortsAll Types of Investigation Undertaken, Honest and Trustworthy. I have hired him to find out what’s happening with my soon to be ex-husband, Dwayne. No-one has actually seen Dwayne in the flesh since I left him last August. He doesn’t appear to have left the house in Bougainvillea Heights. He does not answer the door to me and he appears to have changed all the locks. He was behaving oddly for a while before I left him but I put this down to business pressure. Then of course there were the experimental drugs he was taking for his rare blood disease. Dwayne has always been a bit of an enigma.

‘In all the time I’ve been watching, I haven’t seen him once, Mrs Crenshaw …… uh, Lottie. Not so much as a glimpse of him.’

‘Have there been any comings and goings?’

‘Oh yes …… Lottie. There were, let me see ……. eighteen visitors yesterday. I’ve got photos of some of the visitors and I’ve written down descriptions of the others.’

‘That’s the odd thing,’ I say. ‘Others have told me the same. People seem to keep calling round to the house, but Dwayne never appears.’

‘I thought I recognised one of them,’ says Truitt. ‘Charlie Gore. I was in uh, …. I knew Charlie years ago.’

‘Charlie Gore. Charlie Gore. No. Don’t know him. Let me see the photos, would you?’

Landon Truitt hands me the contact sheets he has printed off. I don’t recognise any of the visitors from the shots, although the figure in the brightly coloured boiler suit does look vaguely familiar. On second thoughts, probably not. I wouldn’t know anyone who would dress in an orange boiler suit, would I?

‘They’re not very clear, are they, Truitt?’ I say, holding one of the contact sheets up to the light.

‘I’m sorry, Mrs Crenshaw …… uh, Lottie, but I had to move the car. A candy car was cruising up and down. I thought it best to park a bit further away from the house. But then the digital zoom on my phone was playing up a bit.’

‘Is that one wearing a space suit?’

‘I believe so Mrs Crenshaw. Your husband appears to be a strange man, if you don’t mind me saying so. A bit loony tunes, is he?’

‘Lottie, please. Yes. You could definitely say that Dwayne Crenshaw is a very strange man.’

‘I get the feeling that you are hiding something from me. Would it help, do, you think, if you told me a little more about him? This seems a bit different to my usual cases.’

I am not sure how much I should tell Landon Truitt. For that matter I’m not sure how much I actually know about Dwayne. We were never lovey-dovey close. It was more a marriage of convenience. My family had lost its fortune in what became known as Black Wednesday and Dwayne Crenshaw’s star seemed to be in the ascendency at the time. Dwayne for his part seemed to be attracted to my …… full figure. To please him, when he was entertaining clients, I wore dresses that showed this off.

‘What kind of cases do you usually handle, Truitt?’ I say, to dodge the subject.

‘All kinds. I do surveillance work,’ he says. ‘But this is usually connected with suspected infidelity or something like that. Would I be right in thinking that this is not why I’m keeping an eye on your husband’s house. A plush house like this in the suburbs must be worth megabucks. Is he a pop star or something, perhaps? If he is, I haven’t heard of him.’

I feel that there might be some mileage in pursuing this line. ‘You’ve not heard of Dwayne Crenshaw?’ I say. ‘Where have you been living?’

LANDON

Had it not been my first case in weeks, well apart from some identity checks and a search for Mrs Floyd’s missing cat, Dillinger, I would have told Lottie Crenshaw to sling her hook. Attractive she might be, but that is no excuse for rudeness. ‘Was she going to get a proper service?’ she asked, ‘was I a professional?’ What a cheek! The woman is clearly loaded. You can tell that a mile off by the designer clothes she wears, taupe skirt suits and crocodile pumps. I’m surprised she knew how to find my gaff above the garage in Corporation Street. She certainly turned some heads when she arrived in her little Lotus.

It was clear she was hiring me because my rates are cheap. I charge £25 an hour plus expenses. Much cheaper than she would get elsewhere. Even then she wanted to negotiate the price. I shouldn’t have been so flippant with my business card. Perhaps it was also a mistake to put the card in Waitrose. Would Tesco would have been a better bet? Reverse psychology and all that. Maybe I should have picked another line of work. I could easily have gone back to internet security, well hacking, when I was released in January.

Lottie Crenshaw doesn’t realise how difficult surveillance is in a quiet suburban area. She thinks its like it is on the TV, where the detective and his oppo sit posing in their Raybans in a comfortable car, listening to Chet Baker, with tea and sandwiches brought along by a girl from the agency. Admittedly shades are pretty much compulsory for a private eye, but at the same time it’s really hard not to look conspicuous. I had to keep moving the car to avoid suspicion. I saw my old mate, Charlie from Pentonville. What was the old reprobate doing round here? Not the kind of location you would expect to find him. Unless ….. I kept my head down. I think I know where to find Charlie should I ever need him.

There have been a handful of people visiting her husband. Well, quite a lot, actually, but you can’t just get out of the car and say ‘Excuse me guv, but do you mind if I take your photo. Hold still will you?’ And Lottie has the nerve to criticise my pictures. I expect she has an all singing all dancing Canon Eos or something like that. Since the altercation with Mrs Nelson’s enraged husband last month when I was trying to get his picture, all I have is my smartphone. The thing is, I’m not even sure what I am supposed to be looking for. Lottie Crenshaw’s instructions were vague. She just told me to watch the house and report back. Now she tells me her husband is some kind of nut. Shouldn’t she be paying me more for the added risk?

‘I did wonder if Dwayne Crenshaw might be a bit of an oddball, Mrs C,’ I say, looking at the contact sheet of photos that I managed to print before the printer gave up on me. ‘I think that’s a man in a spacesuit going into the house in this photo.’

‘Yes. It could well be a spaceman’ she says. ‘It does look as if the blurry figure in your picture might be wearing a spacesuit. Dwayne is a little, what do you call it? Leftfield? It could be for a photoshoot. Dwayne was a ….. pop star. Big in the eighties.’

‘I guess if he were making a video or something, that might explain the spaceman’

‘And the man in the orange boiler suit.’

‘What about Charlie though?’

‘You keep on about Charlie. Who is Charlie?’

‘Charlie is a fixer. A clean up man.’

‘Oh! I see. I think. ……. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of my husband though.’

‘Can’t say I have, Lottie. I don’t listen to a lot of music though.’

‘You must have heard ‘Life On Jupiter. That was massive.’

‘No. I don’t think I have heard that one,’ I say, trying to assess if she is having me on. I mean, Life on Jupiter, what a stupid title, even for the nineteen eighties. ‘How does it go?’

Looking at her reaction, I can tell that I’ve embarrassed her. She isn’t going to sing it. I don’t want to dig myself into too deep a hole here. After all peanuts it might be, but I do want to get paid. I am at the limit of my overdraft and I have bills upon bills. Not to mention the maintenance payments. I can’t see Anna being understanding about a cessation of those. Not that I ever get to see the children these days.

‘I could do some rooting around on the internet, Lottie,’ I say, in an attempt to win her back round. ‘It’s amazing what you can find out if you know where to look.’

‘And you know where to look, do you?’ she says.

‘Yes ma’am,’ I say. ‘I was in the security services back in the day.’

LOTTIE

Deep down there might be something endearing about Landon Truitt or I wouldn’t have hired him. Not only is he resourceful but he also seems honest and trustworthy. In today’s world these are rare qualities in a man. I wish I could say I was honest and trustworthy. They do say that opposites attract. What am I thinking? I’m not attracted to him in the slightest. Not in the slightest. How could I be? He’s a back street private detective. There’s just an overlap in our lives’ narratives. That’s all.

I imagine he will be a little puzzled that he can’t find any reference to Dwayne’s pop career on the internet. But there again, this might motivate him to look a bit harder, dig a bit deeper into his treasure trove of secret web sites to find traces of him. This way he may find something useful. He might actually discover what my husband has been up to recently. After all I’m paying him good money to come up with information. Good money to him anyway. He’s broke. I can tell. He has a hangdog look about him. Along with the doe-eyed look of infatuation. But he still has to earn his £100 a day.

Maybe I should have mentioned my financial position before, or perhaps you’ve guessed. I’m a little strapped for cash at the moment. I had to sell a diamond ring last week to pay the rent on the flat in Compton Mews. The big worry for me is that Dwayne might spend all his money before our divorce comes through. The Aston Martin that is parked round the side of the house can’t have been cheap. There’s also the danger that when his judgement is impaired by the psychoactive properties of his life saving drugs, he might lose it in a dodgy deal. He has made his money doing dodgy deals, buying and selling dodgy businesses. By definition wheeling and dealing in this way is a risky enterprise. He’s certain to fall foul of the law one of these days. To live outside the law you must be honest and no-one could ever accuse Dwayne Crenshaw of being honest.

‘All businesses are untrustworthy,’ Dwayne was fond of saying. ‘What’s the difference between selling established ones and selling less established ones or even bogus ones? Nothing. No-one is up front these days. They all make up the figures. Where do you think we would be if people suddenly started telling the truth?’

This may well be, but I have to look after my settlement. I’m hoping that this will be a high six figure sum. My solicitor, Guy Bloke of Chesterton, Pringle and Bloke is optimistic of a good result, but he’s probably saying that because I am paying him a lot of money. When it comes down to it he can only do so much to plead my case, and the other side are likely to bring up a number of indiscretions that I haven’t told Guy Bloke about.

LANDON

‘I stand corrected, Mrs C …. Lottie. You were right. Dwayne Crenshaw was huge, worldwide. Or at least his alter ego Dean Cosmos was. Thirty one consecutive top ten hits in the UK, and six number ones on the Billboard chart. Life On Jupiter was a minor hit compared to Sex Machine or Descent Into Madness. Not to mention Dean’s collaboration with the legendary George Toot. I can’t imagine how I overlooked him. Well, actually I can. You didn’t tell me that Dwayne changed his name, did you?’

Lottie, looks a little confused. Or she pretends to look confused. I never know what to believe with her. I’d probably go so far as to say that women are a mystery to me. I will never be able to understand the perverse logic of their thought processes. How their expressions never give away what they might be thinking. Or their actions. I can’t help but think about the time I took Anna to the Horse and Jockey for our anniversary. She spent hours getting ready, and then in the middle of dinner she told me she was planning to leave me. Any man who claims he can see through a woman is probably missing a lot.

‘Did you manage to find what Dwayne Crenshaw has been up to recently?’ Lottie asks.

‘Aha!’ I say. ‘All the sites seem to suggest that Dean Cosmos …… alias Dwayne Crenshaw is living in New York with his new wife, Tara. She is seventeen, according to the whatsheuptonow.com site. He’s working on a new album and is planning a comeback tour later in the year.

‘Really?’

‘Yes, Lottie. Do you think the person living in the house in Bougainvillea Heights that I’m watching may not be your husband. Could he be an impostor? ……. Or is there something you are not telling me?’

LOTTIE

How on earth did he manage to come up with all that wish-wash about Dwayne Crenshaw being Dean Cosmos? Has he been researching on uncyclopedia.com or something? ……. Wait a minute. I see what’s going on. Having discovered that I was spinning him a yarn, he is now trying to get one over on me. I may have underestimated Landon Truitt. He might be smarter than he looks. Not that he looks too bad now that he’s smartened up a bit. But still.

‘OK. You’ve called my bluff on that one,’ I say. ‘What did you really find out?’

‘It may seem odd, Lottie, what with Dwayne Crenshaw being such an unusual name, but there are literally hundreds of Dwayne Crenshaws and each one of them seems to live a complicated life.’

‘I would have imagined there would be only one or two in the world.’

‘So would I. There are sixty four in the UK alone. However, the good news is that I’ve managed to isolate our Dwayne Crenshaw.’

‘And ….’

‘He sold the house in Bougainvillea Heights six weeks ago to a film company. Funnily enough the film company he sold it to is owned by Dean Cosmos.’

‘Bloody hell! You are kidding, right?’

‘Not this time. Truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it?’

LANDON

We are in Lottie’s plush apartment in Compton Mews to discuss my findings on the case. She says she doesn’t have any tea. She has poured me a gin and tonic instead. Gingerly, I fill her in on the house sale.

‘Dean Cosmos?’ she says. ‘Good Lord!’

I come out with ‘Truth is stranger than fiction,’ or some such platitude to try to minimise the impact.

There is a momentary silence. I wait nervously for her reaction. Lottie gets up and walks around the room.

‘Six months ago, you say?’

‘That’s right.’

There is a more prolonged silence. I take a gulp at my G and T, wondering whether I should elaborate. Lottie continues to pace up and down. I imagine that I might now be off the case. I’ve had cases like this before. Too many of them. Cases where I haven’t come up with the desired result and haven’t been paid. Not to be paid is the last thing I need right now. And I can hardly send Nolan Rocco or Charlie Gore round to sort Lottie out. While I haven’t up to now intimated that I have a cash flow issue, I suggest politely that she might want to settle the account early. Get it out of the way, as it were. Get it off her chest. Perhaps she takes this too literally.

‘I was wondering if we couldn’t negotiate that,’ she says, unbuttoning her blouse.

Lottie is certainly an attractive woman. I have been struggling with this feeling all along, but surely there is professional etiquette to be considered. Isn’t there? …… Oh well, perhaps not. It seems we are quickly able to overcome this particular obstacle.

To my surprise there is little embarrassment afterwards. It seems like it is the most natural thing in the world for Lottie and I to be sipping a post coital cocktail with a fancy name and talking about how we can market my investigative skills to make some real money. If I am to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed she feels I need to make some changes. Get some new cards made up for a start.

‘Ditch honest and trustworthy,’ she says. ‘Sentimental advertising regarding scruples gets you nowhere in the twenty first century. You don’t want to be chasing around after Mrs Dillinger’s cat forever, do you?’

‘What about deceitful and arrogant?’ I suggest.

‘Ha ha. Let’s see,’ she says. Licensed and Bonded inspires confidence and implies a level of trust.

Landon Truitt, Private Detective, Licensed and Bonded

Get rid of Private Detective. Private Investigator, Licensed and Bonded is better or perhaps Private Investigations Agency. Clients like to feel that there is a team working for them.

‘Landon Truitt Private Investigations Agency.’

‘Perhaps change Landon Truitt. How about Simon Alexander or Jonathan Steel?

‘I don’t know …..

‘That’s settled then, but first things first. Dwayne Crenshaw. What are we going to do about Dwayne Crenshaw?

‘Find him would be a good start.’

‘You’ll be able to do that, won’t you? Now that you have a little incentive.’

‘I can’t see a problem there. I’ll get on to it right away.’

‘Well. …… Perhaps you might leave it for a few minutes, don’t you think?’

LOTTIE

Men are simplistic creatures. God may have given them both a penis and a brain, but sadly only enough blood supply to use one at a time. They might as well just have an on off button. And, they are so incredibly self absorbed they never realise that they are being manipulated. However that said, Landon shapes up better than most. He is a sweetie. He understands that something has to be done about my husband. He thinks his friend Charlie might be able to persuade Dwayne that it is in his best interests to offer me a generous settlement. I think Landon and I are going to get along just fine.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Cover photo: Fabian Perez

 

ART OF DARKNESS

artofdarkness

Art Of Darkness by Chris Green

It seems a long time ago now that Passion and I arrived at Kemble station, in the Gloucestershire countryside. We had taken the Great Western train down from London and were planning to explore the Cotswolds. Passion and I have always been keen walkers and had been told that there were some fantastic walks in the area. Little did we know then that ‘fantastic’ was to be interpreted quite so literally. We had planned to stay in Cirencester, a small market town on the southern fringes of the Cotswolds, a few miles from Kemble station. We had left the car at home to get into the slower pace of rural life. From the station we climbed in the back of a waiting taxi to take us to a family run hotel in the town.

Uzoma, as our driver had introduced himself, had skin that was black as night. He was dressed in African tribal clothing, a swathe of bright red material wrapped around like a skirt and an abundance of multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Passion and I had expected that a Cotswold cab driver might be decked out in something more provincial. We said nothing. What could we have said? It would have been pointless to enter into a conversation about African tribes, as we did not know anything about African tribes. And there was political correctness to be considered.

Leopards are not common in Gloucestershire, so it was something of a surprise when Uzoma, pointed one out through the taxi window. The leopard was busy finishing off its lunch, a large rodent perhaps or a small pig. Uzoma said something that we did not quite catch, his delivery of English being a little difficult to understand. I remember at the time thinking of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as his voice was way down in the bass register and had a musical inflection. Was he trying to tell us something about the leopard? In the back of the car I nodded. Perhaps I was agreeing for us to be taken into the Heart of Darkness.

It was a fine day and Passion and I settled back to take in the Cotswold scenery. This is what we had come for. Shepherd’s Bush might sound as if it’s in the country, but believe me it isn’t. We played ‘what’s that tractor.’ Passion’s nephew, Gulliver, had instructed her about tractors the previous week when she had been babysitting. John Deere was green, Massey Ferguson red, and Ford blue. Through the hedgerow, we caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a tractor painted sky blue with fluffy white cumulus clouds over it. Passion, apparently unphased by this curious customisation, said it reminded her of a painting she had seen in Tate Modern. ‘I can’t remember the artist’s name, but there was another one by him of a steam train coming out of a fireplace. Oooh! What’s his name?’

I know who you mean. It’ll come to me,’ I said, trying to get to grips with the idea of surrealist farming in rural Gloucestershire.

We turned into a B road (if not a C or a D) leading us into a thickly forested area. Surely, we thought, there must be a more direct route to Cirencester. It hadn’t looked far on the map. After a mile or two taken at a slow pace to avoid the potholes, tree roots and fallen branches, Uzoma pulled up in a clearing and uttered a few words, ‘boom bah bah boom,’ the gist of which we took to be that he would be back shortly. We conjectured that he had gone to relieve himself, but when he had not returned after about an hour and we had ruled out even a severe case of constipation, we became concerned. After lengthy discussion – we can’t stay here – why don’t we just drive off – we can’t do that -he may have fallen – he might be dead – one of us should stay – you go, I’ll stay – no, what if you get lost, I’ll go, you stay – why don’t we both go, sort of thing, we set off together to look for him. Whether this was pioneering or foolish is a moot point. Suffice to say that when we returned without Uzoma to where we thought we had parked there was no sign of the cab.

We were up the proverbial creek without a paddle. It occurred to us that it would be a smart move to try to contact someone to help us, or at least register our predicament, but although we were both with different networks, neither of our very expensive smartphones registered a signal. Whether a map or a compass would have been helpful at this point is hard to say, but we followed the track we had come in on, only to find that it led into progressively thicker jungle, until the track finally disappeared. Passion and I argued a little about our relative orienteering skills. I suggested that hers were poor; she maintained that mine were non-existent. After a few more pots at each other about sense of direction and spatial awareness, we determined that bickering would get us nowhere. We took stock of our surroundings. The guidebooks had not prepared us for the exotic backdrop we witnessed. Monkeys swung from the trees, parrots called to each other, and the air was thick with insects. The temperature seemed to have risen by several degrees and the humidity was stifling. Had we suspected that the Cotswolds were so tropical we may not have come.

By nightfall, we had seen no sign of anyone. We had encountered layer upon layer of gruelling jungle terrain and had become more than a little scared by our isolation. Apart from being lost in an inhospitable alien environment, with the possibility of a visit from the leopard, or a poisonous snake, or a lion, or the new giant ape we had read about in New Scientist, or a tribe of Northleach headhunters; we had absolutely none of life’s comforts. We had no food or water, and no change of clothes. Neither Passion nor I smoked so we did not even have a lighter to start a fire with. Passion remarked, rather cruelly I thought at the time,

Bear Grylls would have been able to get a fire going.’

This was hardly the point. After all Bear Grylls would probably have understood Uzoma’s English or even been able to converse with him in his tribal tongue. Bear Grylls certainly wouldn’t have got lost. Mostly though Bear Grylls was not here. We were. We had the clothes we stood up in, t-shirts and jeans, and that was it. Even our jackets had been left in the taxi. We might have used these to wrap around us as a makeshift blanket. After some late night debate about whose fault it really was that we were in this predicament (Shaun and Dawn, our next door neighbours for recommending the Cotswolds, Darren and Karen, from our Ceroc Dance class for saying how stimulating it was to travel by train) we huddled together exhausted on a mossy log and tried to sleep. The Cotswold jungle however does not sleep. The rustling of nocturnal wildlife and plants that go bump in the night kept us awake until nearly dawn. This allowed us plenty of time to listen to the jungle hubbub and imagine any number of grisly fates. Being swallowed whole by a twenty-foot anaconda was my anxiety; Passion’s deepest secret fear was being covered head to toe by tiny spiders.

We were woken shortly after dawn by a steady shower of falling fruit, which was quite fortunate as we had not eaten since our sandwiches on the train the previous day and were very hungry. The fruit were large and red and orange in colour and looked like a variety of mango. I peeled one and bit into it. It was ripe and sweet so we tucked into our windfall greedily.

Looking around, the canopy appeared to have re-invented itself since the previous evening. We were still surrounded on all sides by rampant vegetation. But it was denser, or less dense. It was greener, or less green. The elements that made up the landscape seemed oddly mismatched, its shapes and images cast few shadows giving an overall stage-like effect.

Passion said it reminded her of an Henri Rousseau painting.

I said, ‘it reminds me of a Francis Ford Coppola film, do you want to try to guess which one?’

We decided to let the sun be our compass and headed south east, or was it south west, arriving eventually at a lane. We thought soon a car would be along, and we would be rescued. We waited an hour or two. No car came. The sun was now overhead. On the basis that that all roads lead somewhere, we decided to start walking. I suggested we headed right; Passion suggested we headed left and used her extra vote. The jungle had given way to more sparse vegetation but there were sufficient clumps of trees and hedgerows to prevent us being able to see more than fifty yards ahead at any one time. The lane twisted and turned. We walked for miles. We cursed Shane and Germaine, our teenage children for suggesting we leave the car at home. There were no junctions, no water sources, not a single car, no phone signal, no hint of habitation, no animals grazing, in fact no sign of life apart from small lizards basking in the sun by the side of the road and the occasional flock of geese flying high above us.

Around mid afternoon a bright red object in the mid distance flickered in and out of our vision. As we approached it became clear that it was a red telephone kiosk. We hurried towards it and pulled the door open. We were enveloped by a cloud of smoke. On the shelf by the side of the receiver was a small brown briar pipe, a wedge of tobacco smouldering in its bowl. A rogue thought, some kind of intuitive connection of this surreal spectacle to the ‘real world’ struggled to surface, like a dream into waking consciousness, as I picked up the headset. There was no dialling tone. The insight, along with the promise of contact, vanished. Nothing in the box helped us to establish the whereabouts of our location.

We went through our customary decision making process about whether to stay put or move on, and by the time we had arrived at one, it seemed too late somehow to contemplate going after mystery pipe smoker, so we waited. The scrubland became bushier or less bushy, but no one turned up at the phone box for the rest of the day. We spent an uncomfortable night inside. With all the unconscious turbulence that accompanies such a night. I dreamt that someone had taken the road away and I had to traverse twenty or so yards high above the ground with a huge cauldron of wriggling snakes beneath me. Passion dreamt she turned on the shower and was showered with ants.

We had never actually seen an Airstream Trailer before. When we came across one on our extemporaneous ramble the next day, it looked from a distance like a slender silver marshmallow. Or a very large toaster. Or an alien spacecraft. It was certainly an imposing sight, its painstakingly polished aluminium glistening in the sunlight. We approached it cautiously. No one was about but this was not too much of a shocker. We were getting used to being the only visible people on the planet. The door to the Airstream was open and we stepped inside, taking in its aluminium interior walls, its cosy little bed settee and kitchenette. Most of all though the two roast beef dinners with a platter of hot vegetables (warm-ish as it turned out) laid out on a small aluminium table caught our eye. We were starving. If someone was thinking of coming back to eat them, then bad luck. We devoured the meal with some gusto. And the bottle of Californian Cabernet Sauvignon went down a treat.

There were photos of a couple, perhaps in their late forties around the place. The state flag in the background of many of the photos suggested that they were from Texas and it seemed they were called Hank W. and Honey Pie. Dressed in a variety of checked country and western shirts, bolo ties, cowboy boots, Stetson hats, buckled belts, and cowgirl skirts, they were pictured variously at a line dance, at a rodeo, at a hoe down, at a barbeque, and at Gracelands. We made ourselves comfortable, dipping into nachos, pretzels and other goodies from the cupboard, before dropping off to sleep in each other’s arms around early evening.

Hank W. and Honey Pie did not return. We woke with the dawn and looked out of the window of the trailer – on to open prairie. We ventured outside. Our vista today was a wide plain of rolling, grassland. This was pretty much the middle of nowhere and there were no signs of habitation. There were no trees to be seen from there to the horizon in any direction.

We could see for miles; all there was to see was a large sculpture of a penguin and a trombone, and a fifteen foot frosted glass onion. We had ceased to be amazed by unusual sights in the Cotswolds, it was clear we were dealing with strange people.

How far away do you think the horizon is? asked Passion. She was putting faith in my spatial awareness again.

I used to know, but I couldn’t remember. ‘Twenty miles, as near as dammit,’ I said, without any hesitation. It was a figure off the top of my head.

We can’t walk twenty miles across prairie,’ she said.

My thoughts exactly.’

Hank W. and Honey Pie certainly kept the trailer well stocked. We had enough tinned food to last weeks and there must have been a year’s supply of nachos and pretzels in the cupboard. And there was plenty of water.

We began to see the Airstream as home and we became accustomed to looking out across the empty prairie. One day a new sculpture appeared of an eyeball, a spiral staircase and a rubber glove. One evening holographic Beatles played Helter Skelter backwards on a blue and white chessboard stage while hooded plasticine ayatollahs set fire to faceless conquistadores nailed to Ikea crosses. But the prairie itself remained relatively constant. From day to day, it seemed grassier or less grassy, greener or less green, the grass taller or less tall. The horizon, twenty miles away, continued to look a long way off. The sky provided us with greater variety. Some days it had a blood red hue and other times there were vivid rainbows, even when it wasn’t raining. One day it was dark all day, not just grey, but end of the world dark. The next day there was no sky, just a void where the sky had been.

Yesterday Passion and I arrived in the Gloucestershire veldt. We had been given a lift down from the north by Hank W., a country and western singer, and his wife, Honey Pie. They were friends of ours and they had left us their trailer and had gone off to explore the Cotswold jungle. They themselves were going to make camp in the jungle. They were keen explorers and told us about leopards and lions they had come across on previous Cotswold expeditions. They had a guide who was called Uzoma and they hoped to spot the new giant ape that they had read about in New Scientist.

Passion and I arrived in Cirencester by bus last week.

Passion and I. Turned left. There was a mango tree.

Passion and I. Climbed in the back of a sky blue taxi with our heads in the clouds.

Passion and I. Went to a hoe down dressed in our ‘country’ costumes and the stage was ablaze.

Passion and I. Could see for miles and miles

Hank W. and Honey Pie. Were going to Gracelands in Memphis Tennessee.

Passion and I. Hank W. and Airstream.

Passion. And I. Had rented a trailer in the middle of the desert.

Desert! My God! It was desert outside. I woke Passion to tell her about the sandy incursion. We had been sleeping most of the afternoon, after a large lunch of tinned paella and nachos, and a glass or two from Hank W. and Honey Pie’s ‘cellar.’ Together we looked out the trailer window. The silhouette of a camel caravan against the horizon as the sun is going down is a breathtaking sight. Unfortunately this is not what we saw. No camels. No sun. What we saw instead was a developing sandstorm. Until you’ve had the experience of being inside a tin can that is being pounded relentlessly by trillions and trillions of tiny fragments of the earth’s crust, you cannot imagine how loud this can be. The Airstream rocked backwards and forwards. Several times we thought it was going to be blown over. We were terrified. Cans emptied out of cupboards and the furniture slid up and down the trailer. The storm lasted for three or four hours, by which time we were nervous wrecks.

After a lingering look outside to take in the perfect patterns of the spectacular sand dunes that had been formed, under the light of a full moon, we went back inside the trailer and started to clear up. We gathered up cans of linguini in white sauce, chicken vindaloo, wiener schnitzel, borsch, okra, veal fricassee, chilli con carne, to name but a few, along with packs of pretzels, Pringles, assorted crisps, nachos and a lobster radio.

Lobster radio is not a dish. This was in fact a transistor radio shaped like a lobster. Passion took it to be homage to Dali’s lobster telephone. I tried to tune in the radio but the batteries were very low and we were only able to pick up one radio station and this faintly. It was Radio Gloucestershire and there was a local news bulletin on. We listened to items about a fire at a superstore in Cheltenham and a little about the alarming rise in binge drinking in Stow on the Wold, before an item much more close to home.

The search is still on for the couple, Milan and Passion Mandalay, missing in the Cotswolds since Monday last week. They were last seen at Kemble railway station………..’

The battery died at this point so were not able to find out what Radio Gloucestershire thought might have happened to us.

Next morning we looked across the moor. Yes, the moor. A little hilly at first glance, but there seemed to be a clear path through the bracken and heather, so having packed a few provisions in a bag to keep us going, we took it.

It was a bewildering landscape. Soft watches hung from winter trees. A double bass stood upright amongst the heather, and a large bunch of ceramic bananas pointed to a large limbless stone torso. Sculpted rocks resembled the profile of misshapen figures, and contours of faces formed in the sky. A London cab painted in sky patterns was suspended in mid air. Overseeing the landscape was a giant statue of a fish.

Bonjour.’

Walking briskly towards us was a figure in a black suit and a bowler hat eating a large green apple. Passion thought she recognised him from a painting.

Je m’apelle Renee,’ he opened, kissing us both in turn on each cheek.

Had we inadvertently crossed the channel?

J’ai plaisir……’

Renee began to grasp that we did not understand French. He continued in English.

I’m very ‘appy to tell you that you ‘ave passed the audition to take part in Surreality TV. If you would just like to waltz up here to the walrus, I’ll introduce you to the other contestants.’

We did not ask to be on this – what did you call it – Sur’ Surreality TV,’ I stammered. ‘Why? I mean how?’

You remember Errol and Cheryl who you met at the Cocteau Twins reunion concert last year?’ Renee beamed, as the cameramen dressed as penguins moved in closer. ‘Well they dropped us a line at Surreality TV.’

I remember the painter’s name,’ said Passion. ‘It was Magritte’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Buy and Buy

buyandbuy2

Buy and Buy by Chris Green

When did personal computers cease to be a labour saving device? Without even looking at the Spam folder, it took nearly ten minutes daily to scroll down through the garbage in my inbox, searching for the one or two messages that might have some relevance on my life, or be from people I actually knew. Why would I be interested in insurance for a pet monkey? Who could possible need a battery powered salad spinner or a dog snood? What on earth was facial flex? And wasn’t AirportHostage9™ the same as AirportHostage8™ except that to play it you had to buy a GameBox6™ which would cost you £499? And how did the Deputy Prime Minister find time to write me so many letters? Were bitcoins legal currency? To make the task harder, deleting emails only seemed to ping some widget in Yahoo which told them I would like to receive even more dross.

Eventually it got to me. I became so weary of this daily trawl, I suggested to Kaylynn that we switch off all our devices. We could surely manage without them for a while. I expected her to resist the idea. She liked to skype and generally keep in touch, so perhaps she would regard it as a bigger sacrifice. To my surprise she agreed that it was a cracking idea and before I knew it had taken the battery out of her tablet and unplugged the router. She had been meaning to suggest to me for weeks that we do something about our absurd dependence on electronic media. The volume of unsolicited advertising and feeds on her facebook and twitter, she said, was no longer manageable. She had friended so many people, joined so many interest groups and recklessly clicked the ‘I want more stuff like this’ button so often that some days she couldn’t even keep pace with the feed. Bedeep, bedeep, bedeep went her tablet all day long, about one bedeep a second some days, as the messages landed. It was driving her nuts, she said. It was certainly driving me nuts. Even after I had changed the sound to a gentler plink, it had a grating effect on the nerves. Kaylynn said she could use the time she’d have to take up something creative, stencilling maybe or cross-stitch. It would be easier now that now that both Sonny and Cher had gone off to university. We agreed that we would look at the switchoff as an experiment and give it maybe a month to see how we got along.

Being off line took a little getting used to, as we began to realise that we had been using the internet for many things other than social media, emails and purchasing goods and services. Kaylynn and I were now unable to access our calendars, the local weather forecast, travel information, practical advice, research into a million and one topics into which we developed a sudden interest because we now had lots of time and those nagging little facts that day to day that were just out of reach because we were getting older. For the first few days it took enormous willpower to keep from plugging the wi-fi back in.

One time I caught Kaylynn looking longingly at a billboard advertising the new iphone but we got through the critical first 72 hours with our pledge intact, and once we became accustomed to the change, it was wonderful. Not having to spend all those hours sitting in front of a screen opened up a zoo of possibilities. We stopped worrying about where we were supposed to be and what we did not know. We found we had time to talk and we could stay in bed on a Sunday and make love. We could even venture out of doors and go for walks in the hills if we wanted to. I took up carpentry and in no time at all I had knocked up a kitchen table and four chairs from a pile of wood I had kicking around in the garage. I simply followed the instructions in Woodwork for Dummies, which had been an unopened Christmas gift from several years ago. We cleared out the attic and Kaylynn made a quilt form bits and pieces she found up there. We had a car boot sale, we gave the garden a birthday and began to talk about the vegetables we would grow next year. When the month was up we decided to try it for another month.

We discovered we were not alone in our thinking. Our friends, Mac and Minerva had in fact gone a step further. Minerva explained that when their PC had been crippled a few months back by a backdoor virus with a long name, they had made the decision not to replace it. Freed from the flow of information that the internet spewed out daily they found that their stress levels were greatly reduced. When their television license ran out they decided to get rid of the TV as well. The move, Minerva said, changed their perspective of what was really important. TV news focussed on matters that had little relevance to their everyday lives, its purpose to keep you anxious. The rough and tumble of party politics and the rattle and hum of celebrity indiscretions was so trivial. And, why didn’t someone decide once and for all who was the richest football team and leave it at that? The prime aim of television advertising was to make you feel inadequate. It served no useful purpose. In addition there was the growing sponsorship of programmes by CashCow and Wonga, even on the BBC. With the commercials taken away, Mac and Minerva remained blissfully unaware of new developments in consumer durables. If you really wanted something it was easy enough to find out where to get it.

While we weren’t so paranoid as to think television transmitted subliminal messages to persuade you to purchase particular products, you never knew for sure that this was not the case. What for instance was it that caused those inexplicable headaches if you watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing? And why had we needed to go digital anyway if it was not to feed information back to someone somewhere. We agreed that although we would miss The Sky at Night and Gardener’s World, a switch-off was something we ought to consider.

……………………………………………

Desperation had begun to creep in at the Treasury. Retail was flagging in all areas. No one was buying on the High Street and online sales had dropped exponentially in the last six months. Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Flannery Ainsworth felt she was at the centre of this plight. With the general election only twelve months away, there were plenty of power-hungry chinless wonders on the back benches jostling to take her place. She needed to come up with some reactionary new measures to get the country spending. She had to make the people forget that they had been made poorer over the last four years and to borrow more, and very quickly. To add to her torment, her husband had left her for a younger woman. To make matters worse the other woman had been her Personal Assistant. Flannery’s input to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement reflected her bitterness. This consisted of a mélange of swingeing penalties for those refusing to borrow. Much of the detail of the new legislation was concealed in political doubletalk, positives emphasised as milestones, negatives buried by obfuscation.

We ignored the letters which arrived daily from our bank, in fact from a whole range of financial institutions, offering us larger and larger loans. It had come to their notice that our purchasing had dropped off recently. We were missing out we were told on this or that offer on a staggering variety of goods and services. All in Ones, Platinum Creditcards and Advanced Mastercards were suggested as payment options with a bewildering array of Cashback inducements. And we could take advantage of APR rates as low as 34.4%. We stood firm in our resolve. The bulky catalogues that hit the mat with a thud were responsibly recycled along with the fast food flyers.

There was a knock on our door. Two beefy roughnecks in navy blue fatigues stood there. They allowed me a fleeting glimpse of their identity cards and told me they were arresting me. I was handcuffed and taken without ceremony in the back of plain white van to the SummaryJustice Fiscal Centre, where I was bundled into a cell with two others. The one in the Jesus Rocks T shirt told me he had been brought in for Using a Mobile Phone that was more than Three Years Old, the one with the Peace tattoo for ‘Not Owning a Blu Ray Player’. I told them I was not sure what I had been brought in for, so many new offences seemed to have been created lately.

‘Lack of Designer Footwear. That’s a favourite,’ said Jesus Rocks.

‘It’s a shame all the charity shops were closed down,’ I said. ‘Quite often you could get a nice pair of boots in one.’

‘Not supportive of the deserving rich, I suppose,’ said Peace Tattoo. ‘The guy they just took in was arrested for Political Activism. He was selling the Big Issue outside House of Fraser.’

‘Perhaps car boots are illegal now,’ I said. ‘The sellers did all seem a bit jumpy when we had the sale recently.’

I soon discovered what my offence was. I was fined £500 for ‘Wilfully Ignoring Promotional Emails for a Period of Sixty Days’. In summing up, the Profit Enforcer informed me that I had now three times dropped below my Required Credit Limit. He stressed the gravity of the offence and reminded me in no uncertain terms that I needed to borrow more. ‘Did I not realise,’ he said, ‘that Growth depended on everyone pulling together and purchasing for Queen and Country.’ If I continued to treat good honest promotional material with disdain, it would result in a custodial sentence.

Intimidated by my surroundings, I thought it might be pushing my luck to point out to him that we the second most indebted country in the world and owed China and the emerging Tiger economies zillions and everything we bought was imported and added to this debt. Or that we were supporting billionaires paying slave wages to minority groups in the Third World to rape the planet of its precious resources. That 1300 individual billionaires have hoarded 94% of the planet’s resources, the other 7 billion were fighting over 6% of the Earth’s wealth. Instead, like the others going through the summary justice process that day, I kept quiet.

Flannery’s initiatives were popular with the party faithful and her plan to disenfranchise the unemployed was seen as a masterstroke. Perhaps the disabled could lose their votes too; they were a vociferous lot these days. Flannery’s name was even being spoken about for higher office, as the next Chancellor perhaps. It was unfortunate therefore that the press uncovered her use of Class A and Class B drugs and her abuse of prescription drugs. Suki, Benedict Ainsworth’s new love interest revealed to The Independent how Benedict’s life with Flannery had been unbearable because of her drug abuse. Her mood swings made Benedict’s life hell, she said. Several times at the Ainsworth house she herself had intercepted phonecalls from Razor, asking how much Charlie she wanted this week, or whether she wanted White Widow skunk or Northern Lights. Another time she had discovered Flannery collapsed over the toilet bowl with a needle hanging out of her arm, heroin paraphernalia all around. Once the story about her decadent life had broken, even the papers that had supported her jumped on the bandwagon. Day after day Keith Struggler in The Sun and Chelsea Grudge in The Star came up with more vicious and bizarre accounts of Flannery’s wanton debauchery. Condemnation was universal. Stories of wild s and m parties and international drug deals made her position at the Treasury untenable.

Flannery had for some time been viewed by some within the party as a moderate. With a matter of months to go to the election and the economy still flatlining, her departure paved the way for former hedge fund manager, Quentin Thief, who was immoderate in the extreme. His view was that it was immoral to have any savings at all when you could be borrowing. If the banks did not make interest on your debt, how were they to survive, for heaven’s sake. The proletariat had a duty to support the banks. Nothing could have prepared the country for Quentin Thief’s draconian package of measures to force people to spend. Everyone’s accounts were scrutinised by a colossal team of monetary police to ensure that loans were being taken out and purchases were made. The expression ‘short sharp shock’ was reclaimed with harsh new prisons built around the country to accommodate defaulters.

We remained unrepentant and did not switch our computers back on, and as we no longer watched TV, all we knew regarding the new legislation was hearsay. But a matter of days later the hired thugs were at the door to arrest Kaylynn. It was her turn for Summary Justice, they said, restraining her. She was charged with Cancelling Credit Cards in Times of Austerity. She was sentenced to 28 days in prison. As if this wasn’t bad enough, all the prisons were full beyond capacity and the construction schedule for the new prisons was being compromised by the number of construction workers being held in custody. Kaylynn was taken to a converted minesweeper moored off the North East coast of Scotland where they allowed no visitors.

By way of protest against Kaylynn’s sentence, I took a tram to the High Street and passed by forty two shops without setting foot in a single one. I dodged the uniformed monkeys trying to corral me into FastBucks and KwikKash, then I crossed over and passed the thirty nine shops on the other side, through the square past the jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters. Surely they would be arrested soon for some black-market transgression. And finally, without paying the toll, I stormed into the hallowed arcade, past its Jerusalem of flashing ATM machines and glitzy pilgrimage of supershoppers. Batteries of LED video walls spewed out a miscellany of competing promotions for a glittering catalogue of top end luxury items. Buy Now! Sale! Sale! Offers! Offers! Save £200. Save £300. Only £699. Only £499. Save! Buy! Lowest Ever Prices. Buy Now Pay Later. Credit Available.

I left without buying anything. Foolish I know, as this meant I would not be able to present the necessary Proof of Purchases to take the tram on its four mile journey back home. Also the banks of cameras on each of the outlets would have recorded my non-compliance and relayed the information to Quentin Thief’s vigilant team of fiscal spies. I realise it could not be considered much of a stand compared to the anti-globalisation protests that you heard so little about, but you have to start the fight back against the commandments of capitalism somewhere. Maybe next time I could bring a gun and start shooting, like they do across the pond.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

NOIR

NOIR

NOIR by Chris Green

It’s early evening and it is beginning to get dark. The street lights are just coming on. Apart from a middle-aged man in a black coat sitting near the door, Bianca is the only customer in Café Noir. She is uncomfortable because the man keeps staring at her. She feels there is something familiar about him, but she cannot put her finger on what it is. She has had this feeling on occasions before and it has turned out to be a bad omen.

Bianca doesn’t usually stop off on her way home from work. After a hard day at Trask and Wherry, she normally goes straight home, but she has had a late meeting, and anyway it is Ronnie’s poker night. There is no sense in getting home much before eleven on Ronnie’s poker night, so she has dropped in for a glass or two of Prosecco to unwind and perhaps a bite to eat, before she goes home. She had wondered if she might see Cathy at Café Noir, but she is not here. She has probably gone to see the film that is on at the Odeon. The one with Hugh Jackman, that she has been talking about. Still, she has the novel that Louise lent her to get on with while she enjoys a quiet drink. Black Veil, a tense thriller.

The half familiar stranger in the black coat keeps up his vigil. Bianca has a nagging suspicion that there might be some connection with her friend Trudi. Might Trudi know who he is? It would be good to have a chat with her anyway to put her mind at rest. She is about to make the call, but she finds that the battery on her Samsung is flat. She suspects it is probably to do with all the background apps that she has installed to check on what background apps are running. At least, this is what Derek at work told her last week when the same thing happened.

Didier, the bar manager has just slipped behind the counter to fetch her a menu when the man makes his way over. Standing, and silhouetted by the backlight, he looks even taller. He sweeps his hair back and Bianca notices he has a scar running up his left cheek. Other than this he has a symmetrical face, reminiscent of a matinee idol from the fifties, so much so that he almost appears to be in black and white. Without asking her if it is OK to do so, he takes a seat at her table. She waits for him to introduce himself, but instead, he starts talking about Ryu Sakomoto. He talks about Sakomoto’s regular themes of journeys into the unknown and the external nature of evil.

‘He feeds on modern-day paranoia,’ he says. ‘That concern we all have that something terrible is about to happen.’

Who is Ryu Sakamoto, she wonders? Is he a film director? Like David Lynch perhaps. A painter? More to the point, why is this man with the piercing eyes talking about him as if she might be interested? It is not exactly a sparkling chat up line.

‘Sakamoto gets up at 4am and writes for five or six hours,’ says the stranger. He is edging closer, invading her personal space.

Ah! So he’s a writer then, she thinks, this Sakamoto. Perhaps Ronnie has read something of his. Ronnie likes authors with foreign-sounding names. There’s that one who wrote The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Larsson is it? Sven? Steig? Steig Larsson. Not that he ever finishes a book. They just lie open face down on his bedside cabinet.

‘Sakamoto never plans a story,’ the man continues. ‘He lets it unfold by itself. He doesn’t know who did it until the end of the story.’

Who did what, she wonders. Why is he telling me this?

…………………………………………………………………………..

Ronnie Kemp is not used to losing at poker, but tonight he has lost hundreds. How often does a full house, aces over kings, get beaten? And losing hands to Tim Little. Tim is the most transparent poker player for miles around. If Tim were a better player, Ronnie might have suspected that he was cheating. After all, what are the odds of landing four queens in 5 Card Draw? It would be stretching the imagination though to see Tim as a bottom dealer or hand mucker. These tricks are strictly for professional card sharps.

But, what a fool he was to then try and bluff his way out of trouble in the next hand with a pair of jacks. This had cost him another ton. When things are not going your way, they have a tendency to go from bad to worse. Isn’t that known as Murphy’s Law or something? Whatever, it’s right, Ronnie reflects. This is exactly how Lady Luck seems to work. In the last few hands of the evening, the best he could manage was two pairs, fives on threes. How are you supposed to win with hands like that? He would have liked to have continued the session a little longer, but Bill, Phil and Tim understandably wanted to call it a day. They were all well up on the night, and all at his expense.

And where the blazes is Bianca? It’s nearly midnight. She should be home by now. She never said she would be late, but he has to admit they don’t communicate well first thing in the morning. They don’t sit down at the breakfast table or anything like that. Perhaps she did say something. Did he imagine it, or did she pack some bottom drawer lingerie before she left? For a clandestine liaison perhaps, or even an overnight stay? He can’t remember exactly, but she did seem to spend a long time getting ready before she went off to work.

Ronnie tries to phone her on his Experia, but he finds his battery is flat. All the resource hungry battery saving apps draining it probably. That’s what Sid Hacker, the techie at work had told him the last time this happened. Perhaps Bianca has been trying to call him. He has no means of calling her now as they no longer have a landline. He cancelled this a while ago because of the volume of nuisance calls they were getting. Accident claims, mis-sold PPI and solar panels, mostly. Oh, and payday loans. He could try a Facebook call but these don’t work well with a wi-fi dongle.

…………………………………………………………………………..

Bianca finds herself in a dark room, windowless and foetid. She has been asleep. A deep sleep. She can hear a drip, drip, drip of water. She is not sure if it is coming from inside the room or outside the room. She is unable to see a thing. There is no light at all. She can’t even make out where the door might be. The floor that she has been lying on feels cold. She has no idea where she might be and has no recollection of how she came to be here.

Last thing she remembers, she was in Café Noir, wasn’t she? Or was this an occasion some time ago? She thinks she may have heard jazz playing earlier, but it could have been a dream. The tall stranger with the piercing eyes and the facial scar. Was he part of the dream too? He was talking about some writer …… and then there was the drink. The drink that he bought her tasted odd. She can remember the taste. It was like ……. like almonds. This must have been last night. She can’t have been asleep any longer than that. Surely. Not in these uncomfortable conditions. She shivers. She is so cold. She has a raging thirst. She needs a drink. She needs the toilet. She needs to freshen up. She needs to know where she is. She needs light. Bianca had been led to understand that in a dark room, your eyes gradually become accustomed to the level of light, or lack of, and eventually you can begin to detect shapes. She finds that this is not the case. This is black. Like blindness is black. This must be underground.

As the gravity of her situation begins to dawn on her, she is terrified. Surely, to be abandoned in an unfamiliar dark room is everyone’s deepest secret fear. It’s suggestive of the grave. It is time for those unavoidable what ifs. What if she hadn’t accepted that drink? What if she had thought to charge her phone, or better still not installed those rogue apps? What if she had gone home instead of stopping off at Café Noir? What if she hadn’t taken the job at Trask and Wherry? Giving mortgage advice is, after all, a little dull. And there are quite a lot of late meetings if she is honest. Those deeper regrets start to creep in. Why hadn’t she had picked a more suitable partner than Ronnie? Someone a little more cultured. Someone with a little more understanding. Ronnie was always going to be a gambler. Why hadn’t she married Boyd Fleming? Boyd had worshipped her. Boyd would have taken proper care of her. Boyd has prospects. Or John Trilby. Someone honest. Someone dependable.

God! She might never get out of here. This might be it. Why hadn’t she taken that opportunity to go to Australia when she was younger? Her brother owns land out there. He is an entrepreneur. Ostrich farms or something along those lines. He could have set her up in business. Not in ostrich farming perhaps, but something more girly. He did offer to put up some money. ‘Anytime you want to come over,’ he had said. ‘You’d love it over here. All the wide open spaces.’ If only she had taken him up on it.

…………………………………………………………………………..

Ronnie is dazed. He has hardly slept. His phone rings. He makes a mental note to change the ringtone from Viva Las Vegas. He takes a look at the display. It is a number he doesn’t recognise, but he is sure it must be Bianca.

‘Hi babes,’ he says coolly, anxious to give the impression that he has not been worrying.

‘Aren’t you the cool one,’ says a vaguely familiar voice. ‘It’s Cathy. Is Bianca there? I’ve been trying to get hold of her, but her phone seems to be dead.’

‘No,’ says Ronnie. ‘She didn’t come home last night. I was wondering if she might be with you.’

‘No. She’s not with me,’ says Cathy. ‘I did say that I might see her at Café Noir last night but it was a loose arrangement. I went to the cinema instead. I expect she’s lost her phone again. She’s probably at Trudi’s.’

‘I’ll try Trudi in a bit then,’ says Ronnie.

‘How did the poker go?’ says Cathy. ‘Bianca said that it was your poker night.’

‘OK,’ he says. Professional card players, he has been told, never let on that they have made a loss. Something to do with positive thinking.

He manages to find Trudi’s number and gives her a call. It goes on to voice mail. He leaves a message, trying to sound casual.

A minute or two later, Trudi returns the call.

‘Hello,’ she says. ‘You called my number.’

‘Yes,’ says Ronnie. ‘It’s Ronnie. I was wondering if you had heard from Bianca. I’m having a little trouble locating her.’

‘No, Ronnie. I haven’t seen her,’ she says. ‘Look. I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m at the lights at the moment. And they are about to change. I’ll tell her that you’re trying to catch her if she phones me.’

Café Noir is not the sort of place that Ronnie normally frequents. He finds it a bit twee. He prefers the more earthy atmosphere of The Black Horse or The Fat Ox, but by lunchtime, there is still no word from Bianca, so he decides to call in to Café Noir on his way to BetterBet.

Didier asks him to describe his wife and following on from Ronnie’s description says that although he cannot be sure, he has the feeling that she was in last night and that she left with a tall man in a black coat.

‘Perhaps I shouldn’t say this,’ he adds. ‘But they did seem to be quite cosy tucked away there in the corner. I would keep an eye on her if I were you.’

………………………………………………………………………..…

While Physics doesn’t actually state that it is impossible for someone to walk through a solid wall, it discourages you strongly from believing that it can happen. Pauli’s exclusion principle and all that. But, this is exactly what appears to take place. One moment Bianca is alone in the darkened room and the next moment she finds she is not. The man in the black coat and the piercing eyes stands before her. Is that a lamp? There is a bright light coming from somewhere. With her eyes shielded against the sudden illumination, she takes in her surroundings. A quick scan of the room reveals four stone walls but there is no windows and no door. No, that’s not right. Is it a room at all? Nothing seems to stay in place. It’s like a digital television picture that is breaking up. Or words dancing on a printed page. The man moves slowly towards her. Is that a gun in his pocket or is he just ……..

A sound she recognises is trying to break through the silence. It takes Bianca a few moments to realise that it is coming from the table in front of her. It is her phone. It is displaying incoming call along with the battery critically low icon. She puts down the thriller she is reading and answers it. It is Cathy.

‘Hi Cathy,’ she says, ‘Am I glad to hear a ……… a familiar voice? Look! I’m in …… ‘

‘Are you all right?’ says Cathy. ‘You seem in a bit of a state.’

‘I’m in Café Noir,’ says Bianca, regaining her composure. ‘But there’s this creepy man in a dark coat with a scar down his cheek who keeps staring at me. I have been trying to hide myself behind a book, hoping that he will take the hint. But, he looks as if he’s going to come over. He is coming over. You know what. I think I will come to the cinema with you after all.’

‘You’d better hurry then. The film starts at 8:20.’

‘I’ll be ri …..… ‘

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Wish You Were Here

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Wish You Were Here by Chris Green

The huge red and green trucks thunder along the carriageways of the two-lane motorway in both directions. There is something both hostile and haphazard about the way they cross from lane to lane, throwing up dense clouds of dust from the parched road surface. The trucks are military in design with names like KRAZ and URAL, spelt out in assertive typefaces over sinister radiator grilles, their menace tempered only by their remarkable luminosity through the haze. On each wagon, the red and the green bodywork sparkles as if neon-lit.

I have had no sense of smell for years, but the powerful stench of rank diesel from these precipitate leviathans somehow overcomes this and makes me feel nauseous. We are close to the side of the road and we are on foot, which seems somewhat foolhardy out here in the fading light. Although we are apparently miles from civilisation, it has not occurred to us that we might hitch a ride in one of the trucks: they seem to exist only in a virtual sense, as if they belong to a separate realm. Perhaps it is through fatigue, but we do not speculate what the mission of the ominous convoys might be, even though there seems to be a complete absence of private cars or buses on the road. The featureless terrain stretches out all around us for miles in every direction. We pass road signs, but these are in Persian script. Not that it would help us much were they not. We do not know the name of anywhere in these parts.

I form the view that I probably blacked out at some point earlier because I have no idea how we have ended up in Iran, close now to the border with Iraq. I have the recollection that Kora and I booked a holiday, but I have a strong feeling that this is not what we had in mind. I remember sitting at home on the terrace of our apartment, looking through brochures filled with pictures of blue seas and beaches resplendent with sturdy coconut palms.

Towards dusk we follow a rough track towards what looks like a small village, and after a few hundred yards arrive outside a gnarled wooden shack with an illuminated sign with an orange and red logo and some Arabic writing. Hesitantly we step inside hoping that we might be able to buy something to eat. A group of men in brightly coloured jalabas sit around a long table playing some sort of communal board game. They do not appear to register our arrival. A television mounted high up in the far corner of the room playing an Arab news station is thrashing out an issue with some malevolence. A map of the UK comes up on the screen. The attention of the men is captured by this. There are one or two guttural mutterings from the table, followed by an angry shout and a burst of waving of arms in the air. It seems suddenly prudent for us to leave. Once outside, we hear a shot ring out. Kora and I run. There is altogether too much going on here, none of it fortuitous. I begin to feel very tired.
…………………………………………………………………….

I awake with a start and switch on the light, bringing to life a flickering fluorescent tube. I establish that I am alone. The room I find myself in is familiar in an ambiguous kind of way, although it occurs to me, deeply unattractive. The walls are deep purple and most of the furniture is black. In the corner is a lacquered rococo dresser on which are a vase of dead flowers and a stuffed marmoset in a glass case. I form the impression that I have been here a few days, perhaps emerging now from a protracted slumber. I notice I have several days’ growth of beard. Was I clean shaven before? I sense that I was. Some of the clothing scattered around the floor looks like it might belong to me, which seems a reasonable assumption. I struggle for some moments with my short term memory. My recall is, in fact, close to zero. I am on holiday perhaps. I have in the back of my mind, quite a long way back admittedly, the recollection that this is the case. It occurs that people do not often go on holiday alone. So, one of the key questions is who, if anyone, am I on holiday with? What might my partner’s name be? Here I have considerable difficulty. I cannot remember. I call out several names in turn. Kora! Natasha! Mercedes! Each of these names seems to hold a significant association. I try others. Sharon! Tracey! Rover! Rover is something of a longshot really. I have no memory of having owned a dog.

No one replies. I push back the duvet, which sends the Gideon bible and a wooden ocarina hurtling to the floor. I have a quick swill in the blackened enamel sink, slip on my jeans and Iceman hoody and search for some clues. I look for items that might be useful in my present situation like a mobile phone, map, passport, tickets or money. I conduct a thorough search and come up with a registration document for a Dodge Challenger and some Barclaycard receipts for night-time lingerie, neither of which seems particularly helpful. I venture down the stairs. Dusty etchings reminiscent of Jake and Dinos Chapman hang on the walls, and the empty echo of a lingering silence hangs on the air. There is a small lobby at the foot of the stairs. I ring the bell more as a gesture than with any real hope of someone appearing. I can’t help noticing there is a 1983 A-Team calendar on the wall. Am I perhaps in some kind of time warp?

I take a hesitant walk outside. I experience the feeling of being outside myself, like an onlooker on my situation. It is dark, but although it is dark, objects still cast a stubborn shadow as if it were light. The half-standing buildings and piles of collapsed masonry and rubble suggest to me that the place has been bombed and abandoned. Maybe some while ago; there are no signs of recent habitation. No vehicles. No bodies. I wonder momentarily how it happened. As it a terrorist attack, or is there a war going on at this very moment, whenever this is, in whatever country I am in? In whatever year? The building I have come from is the only one still standing. Remarkable, I think, that it still has electricity. But this is far from the only peculiarity. In the distance, the old man in a long overcoat and homburg hat calling to his cats has a distinctly spectral aspect. I wave to him and call out but he did not seem to see or hear. I approach him and call again, but still he does not acknowledge me.

I move on down the street, if street is not too grandiose a description for this cluster of rubble. I speculate further as to where I might be and how I came to be there (by road, rail or inter-planetary craft maybe) but to little avail. My memory refuses to join in with the exercise. On finding a signpost in a script I do not recognise, for no lucid reason, I ignore the more likely roads back to civilisation and take a narrow path where the marker on the sign has been broken off. Tall beriberis hedging flourishes on either side of the path. A little too abundantly perhaps. It quickly becomes difficult to see anything at all in the unmitigated gloom. The ground is uneven and several times I stumble and have to break my fall.

After covering a few hundred yards with only minor scratches and bruises I reach a clearing. Amidst the faint shafts of light, I can make out a dozen or so small igloo-shaped buildings some constructed of regular light-coloured wooden blocks, and others made out of wicker so that they looked like large baskets. A voice tells me this is ‘where the children lived’. I look around. I imagine it might be the old man with the cats that has spoken, but no-one is there. What children? Where were they? What is this place?

I continue on my way, taking a track through a shallow wooded area. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes grow in the spaces between the trees. I recognise the red and white spotted ones from children’s’ stories. Stories I recall I have read to my daughter. I have a daughter. My partner is called Kora and I have a daughter named Sierra. She is five, or is it twelve? Pretty much everything else seems hazy, though. Like where we live or what has happened or how the holiday, if it is a holiday, has turned out like this. Something about red and green trucks is trying to make its way into my consciousness when I come eventually to a disused railway station covered in brown ivy and blind black parrots. None of this surely was in the brochure.
…………………………………………………………………….

Kora and I drive up the steep ravine in a dark green coach with running bars along the side. I experience the feeling that l have done this many times. Perhaps every day. Kora, however seems excited, and wants to take a turn at driving, so I move over and I let her. I sit on the running board to take in the view, although there is no view, just the occasional colony of startled bats caught in the headlights. As we climb, the passage between the sides of the gully becomes narrower and steeper. The pitch of the engine becomes higher and higher. In places, there is only a couple of inches between the sides of our carriage and the granite rocks either side of the what has now developed into a railway track. Our carriage is one of several being hauled uphill by an ungainly steam locomotive. We are in the goods van. Natasha is holding a baby wrapped in a block of ice. The ice begins to melt and I feel a huge wave of concern that the baby might die. Things it seems are getting out of control. What a strange world this is where everything constantly changes without warning.

The train carries on regardless up the incline, straining more and more as the engine struggles to cope. A tune is going round and round in my head. It has such a simple melody, but for a while, I can’t work out what song it was. This occupies my mind for several moments, taking my thoughts away from the alarming surrealism of my situation. The engine’s boiler begins to sound as if it is about to blow apart. Thick clouds of smoke belch out into the sky. The tune in my head is growing faster and faster, keeping pace with the engine’s pistons. Is it something by Blur, or Radiohead maybe? It feels as if my head is going to explode. Finally, I work it out. It is Frères Jacques. At this point, the chasm widens dramatically and the ground levels out. Here we join a purposeful procession of people on foot on either side of us, some carrying pikes and tridents, or are they clarinets and saxophones? It is hard to tell in the gloom. Several of them are dressed as Napoleon and hold raised flags emblazoned with arcane symbols. So great is my confusion, I cannot say for sure whether we are on the train or not at this point. Or if there has ever been a train.

We look down from our vantage point upon a magnificent river estuary bathed in reflections from the town on the other side. Suddenly, zipping up the river at astonishing speeds are two sparking whales. Beads of gold like a chain of shimmering ripples on the water lay in their wake as they dive in and out of the water in a straight path upstream. They must be travelling at a hundred miles an hour and measured two hundred feet from tip to tail. The crowd that has now gathered on the bank to watch lets out an appreciative cheer. It seems to be some kind of fish race. No whales aren’t fish, are they? They are insects.

My memory is beginning to return to me. I remember sitting with Kora at the breakfast table in our apartment opening the mail a few weeks ago. I remember a letter which read, ‘Congratulations. You have won the holiday of your dreams.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

 

Trust

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Trust by Chris Green

Following the split with his long-term partner, Darci, Nick Easter feels at a loose end. He cannot face the idea of singles nights and has heard nothing but horror stories about dating agencies. He does not want to go down to The Gordon Bennett to be asked ‘where’s Darci’, or be encouraged to ‘have another’ to drown his sorrows at The Cock and Bull. He wants to avoid anyone putting a sympathetic arm around his shoulder and coming out with clichés like ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea’ or ‘everything happens for a reason’. Worse still, he can imagine Dirk Acker or Ugg White asking if they can have the all clear to ask Darci out. After all, she is an attractive woman. He is also determined not to go to pieces and take to the bottle as he did when he split up with Roz. He thinks it best to avoid The Gordon Bennett and The Cock and Bull and other places of temptation altogether. He decides instead to join The National Trust.

When Nick receives his pack through the post he discovers that The National Trust offers more than visits to stately homes and landscaped parks and gardens, the Trust runs a smorgasbord of organised activities as well. You can go horse riding, cycling, canoeing, running, geocaching whatever this is, stargazing and even surfing. Because of his inexperience and his general fitness level, Nick feels that he might be best starting off with some organised walks. November is too late for the rutting stag walk, and the red squirrel walk is too far away, but still there are a selection of interesting looking options within an hour or two’s drive.

Not wanting to look out of place on his first walk. he buys Berghaus Explorer walking boots, a range of waterproof jackets, and two trekking poles from GO Outdoors. So that he will come across as a seasoned National Trust member, he also orders a rucksack, a walking stick, binoculars, a torch, an umbrella, hand-warmers, a multi-tool, and a selection of hats for all weathers from the NT catalogue. His fellow walkers will all have these. All that is left is to get a good selection of OS maps and to make them look a little weathered.

Nick feels that the May Hill Countryside Walk at just seven miles will be a good introduction. Suitably attired, he strides out from May Hill common on the Gloucestershire-Herefordshire border on a cold Saturday morning. By keeping close to the National Trust guide and listening carefully he hopes to be able to pick up some of the language that walkers use. There are about forty people on the walk, most of them couples. Even those who are not paired up seem to be on familiar terms with each other. He feels a little sad that he is alone. He wishes he had a partner.

He had hoped that he and Darci might get married, but each time he had suggested it, she had been dismissive. He hadn’t actually got down on one knee and proposed or anything like this, but it was clear from her attitude that she was more of a free spirit than he was. As he is trekking through the woodland, he replays a typical conversation in his head.

‘Just think. We could be like this every day, if we got married,’ he had said.

‘We would be under each others feet all the time,’ she had said. ‘We see plenty of each other.’

‘But if it were a sunny day on a weekend, we could just get up and go,’ he had said.

‘But I may not want to,’ she had said. ‘It’s important to each have our own interests. We need to be able to do things separately.’

‘But I don’t want to do things without you,’ he had said.

‘Well I do like doing things without you,’ she had said.

‘And if we got married there would only be one set of expenses,’ he had said.

They had this conversation or an approximation of it at regular intervals. The last time he had tacked on to the end.

‘And of course, there’s the tax relief.’

This had been the final straw for Darci. She felt that reducing her status to that of an Inland Revenue Tax Code was insulting. How could he say he loved her. There again he hadn’t said he loved her – ever. This as another issue. In retrospect, Nick could see where she was coming from. He did seem to have a remarkable talent for saying the wrong things, and for not saying the right things. He thinks he now realises that men and women have different ways of looking at things.

After a mile or so, Nick notices that one of the group seems to be lagging behind slightly. She is one of the younger of the walkers. She is probably in her mid-thirties and when she flicks her hair back off her face is quite attractive. She is on the tall side of average and her slim fitting jeans show off her shapely legs well. But shouldn’t she probably be wearing a thicker jacket for trekking at this time of year, especially in the woods where the sun never shines, and sturdier footwear? Pumps are no good. He holds back, waiting for her to draw level. He has the feeling that he recognises her from somewhere and then it hits him.

You’re from the health food store,’ he says. ‘The one in Ledbury.’

That’s right,’ she says. ‘Organics. When you were crumpling up your map back there, I thought perhaps I’d seen you before.’

Savannah, isn’t it?’

Very good memory you have.’

‘I’m Nick, Nick Easter.’

‘Hi, Nick. Good to meet you. Thank you for hanging back.’

‘That’s OK. I could see you were struggling a little. That was quite a steep climb back there.’

‘I know I’m a bit of a slowcoach,’ she says. ‘Tom and Sarah, my friends up ahead there come on these adventures every week, but I’m quite new to it.’

Nick feels comforted by this but does not admit that he too is new to it. This would take away his advantage.

As the main party forge ahead, Nick and Savannah discover that they have a mutual interest in cricket, and although Savannah doesn’t know the name of the England captain, they chat merrily about the sound of leather on willow on a sunny Sunday afternoon, regretting that it is now November.

Over bowls of spiced parsnip soup in the café, Nick is introduced to Tom and Sarah. Tom holds forth about walking in the Lake District, and how a digital SLR camera is better for panoramic shots than an automatic while Sarah texts all her family and friends on her iphone. Eventually, Tom and Sarah go off to buy some cards in the souvenir shop. Nick takes the opportunity to ask Savannah if she will meet him next week for the Woodchester Park Woodland Walk.

‘It says in the Trust Handbook that it is a scenic walk around five lakes,’ he says. ‘But it does include some steep gradients.’

Savannah is not sure about the gradients.

‘There is the option of a five mile walk, if you prefer,’ he says.

She does prefer.

‘Perhaps we could take a picnic,’ says Nick.

Savannah brightens at the mention of this. Nick makes a note to buy a picnic blanket from the Trust shop before he leaves.

All week Nick looks forward to seeing Savannah on Saturday, keeping a keen eye on the five day weather forecast. It looks as if they might be lucky. The high winds are scheduled to finish on Friday afternoon and the torrential rain is not forecast until Sunday. From Wednesday onwards, he packs and repacks his rucksack. By Friday evening, it is bursting at the seams and he hasn’t even put the picnic blanket in yet. He takes out the lighter of the two extra jackets and repositions the umbrella and the waterproof over-trousers. He probably won’t need the polar torch so he packs an extra fleece instead in case Savannah gets cold. And an extra pair of thick socks. He decides finally he will have to pack the picnic separately, so he takes a late night trip to Blacks to buy a shoulder bag.

He takes the laptop to bed and reads up on Woodchester Park so he has facts at his fingertips for the walk. Woodchester House, the great gothic mansion around which the park is built, has featured twice in Most Haunted Live and again on Ghost Hunters International. It was also the setting for the BBC production of Dracula. There are horseshoe bats in the park, along with sparrow hawks, green woodpecker and tawny owl. While they are walking through the woods they must also keep an eye out for sedge, Solomon’s seal and stinking hellebore among the flora, although he imagines that late November may not be the best time to spot these.

Nick waits for thirty minutes in the NT car park. The guide goes on ahead with the group but there is no sign of Savannah. Just as he is about to call it a day, Savannah drives up in her blue Fiat 500. She steps out and apologises for being late.

‘ I had a job finding the place,’ she says. ‘I’m not very good with maps.’

‘That’s OK,’ he says. ‘I’ve only just got here myself. I think the others might have gone on ahead. But don’t worry, I’ve got a map.’

He waits for her to open the boot of her car and take out her rucksack and walking boots and perhaps a waterproof jacket to go over her thin fleece, but she does not. All she has with her is a flimsy hemp tote bag.

‘Come on then,’ she says. ‘Shall we get started? We might be able to catch them up.’

‘Are you going to be all right in Converse trainers?’ he asks.

‘I’ll keep to the dry bits,’ she says.

Nick doesn’t say that he does not think there will be too many dry bits.

They set off in the direction that Nick saw the walkers take. They climb steeply through thick woodland. Nick becomes nervous about the lack of grip of Savannah’s canvas shoes on the wet leaves. After a few skids, she slips and falls. He helps her up. This is the first bodily contact that they have had. Nick feels excited by it. He is not sure how Savannah feels, but she did not appear to resist.

As they near the top Nick begins to find the weight of his rucksack a struggle. They reach a clearing and stop to look down at the lake. It begins to drizzle. The picnic blanket seems a little superfluous now. They exchange glances and press on. Neither of them wants to be the first to suggest they turn back. On the path down to the boathouse Nick maintains over and over that this rain was not forecast. They could shelter in the boathouse, but having consulted his sodden Best One Hundred Wildlife Walks Nick says it is accessible only by boat. Eventually the driving rain that sets in forces them to return to the car park. The trekking umbrella offers little protection and they get soaked.

Having dried off a bit with the bank of beach towels Nick has brought, they share the picnic in the intimacy of his car.

‘These four bean salad wraps are delicious,’ says Savannah. ‘Did you make them yourself?’

Nick is pleased he took the cellophane wrappers off and repacked them in paper bags. ‘Sorry they are a bit squashed,’ he says. ‘It must have happened when the shoulder bag fell onto the rocks at the bottom of the hill back there.’

‘And this mango and pineapple smoothie is divine. It’s much nicer than the ones we sell in Organics.’

They move off the subject of food and Nick asks politely after Tom and Sarah. Savannah explains that she does not see a lot of them, they tend to go further afield, Offa’s Dyke, The Peak District and the Lakes. They had just taken her under her wing after she had split with Conor. Nick’s heart leaps. He has not wanted to broach the subject of her relationship status directly, in case it might be in a relationship or its complicated. When Savannah offers him her phone number, he feels that he is in with a chance.

Tyler Armstrong, the lothario in the office tells him that it is not good form to appear too keen, so Nick leaves it until Tuesday to phone. But he phones on Wednesday, Thursday and twice on Friday. He discovers that Savannah has a busy schedule of hair washing, cat grooming and getting milk in before the shop closes. She always seems to be in the middle of something. He arranges to pick her up on Saturday to take her to Croome Park. It is a much shorter walk, he says, and they can have a lunch at Croome Court restaurant afterwards. He drops in a bio about Capability Brown, but she has not heard of him. She hadn’t realised that gardeners could be the stuff of legend.

If he and Savannah are going to have a relationship, he must take account of what she wants. He must not make the mistake he made with Roz. He tries to remember their conversation. It must be ten years ago now that she had dumped him.

‘When are you going to get in into your thick head that I don’t want to go and watch Bristol City play football every week,’ Roz had said.

‘Well I suppose we could go to watch Bristol Rovers,’ he had said. ‘Or Swindon Town.’

This had been the final straw for Roz. Nick had by and large avoided the mistake with Darci. He had not taken her to football games. They had gone to watch Gloucester play rugby instead, but even here, he found that Darci did not always want to go. He resolves to be more considerate with Savannah. He will take her to farmer’s markets and craft fairs and perhaps they can take up ballroom dancing or yoga. He won’t even invite her to his old school reunions and definitely won’t take her along to Hornby, Mills and Nash dinners. Quantity surveyors can be so dull when they have get togethers.

On their way to Croome, Nick pulls into Go Outdoors and he buys Savannah a pair of tan Helly Hansen Forester walking boots to go with the pink North Face insulated jacket and the Jack Wills woolly hat, he bought her off Amazon. He is going to leave the rucksack until next week. He doesn’t want to load her down too much. He doesn’t mind doing the carrying for the time being. Feeling that he is just trying to buy his way into her pants, Savannah resists the purchase a little, but Nick insists.

‘You must have the proper gear for walking,’ he says. ‘You will find it so much easier. Why don’t you keep them on, then your feet will be used to them by the time we get to Croome.’ With this he gets the Saturday shop assistant, who looks about fourteen, to put her trainers in a bag. During the rest of the journey to Croome, she speculates meanwhile what it might be like letting Nick into her pants; although he is a bit controlling, he does have an athletic build. From a certain angle, his profile reminds her of Hugh Jackman.

The weather holds up nicely as Nick and Savannah make their way leisurely around the lake. This is as good as it gets in early December. From his bevy of guide books, Nick feeds her historical information about the Earls of Coventry, Neo-Palladian architecture, landscape gardens and the temples and pavilions in the park like a seasoned tour guide. They stop to feed the swans with wholemeal bread that Nick has brought.

‘Did you know that swans mate for life?’ he says. It is an innocent reflection.

‘Not at all like humans then’, she says, with more of an edge. ‘How many people do you know that have been together for more than five years?’

‘Certainly not my family,’ he says. ‘What about you? You must know some. What about Tom and Sarah?’

‘Tom and Sarah are probably the only ones that I can think of. All my other friends are in and out of relationships every couple of months. I never know who to address Christmas cards to.’

Nick was hoping that this was not the case. He was hoping that Savannah represented a world of normal people with stable relationships. It would be a shame though to take it to heart and spoil a lovely day. He will just have to try a little harder than others have.’

After a late afternoon lunch at Croome Court, and a couple of halves at The Crown Inn at Shuthonger they go back to Nick’s and warm themselves up before an open fire that Nick has prepared. They make cautious small talk over the new James Blunt album, before shedding their clothes and getting comfortable for the night. He has bought condoms and she has brought a toothbrush. She doesn’t leave until noon the next day.

Despite the euphoria of the weekend, with the festive season looming, Nick feels a creeping despondency. It is supposed to be a time of happiness, but he finds the emotions thrown up by Christmas disturbing and bewildering. Perhaps it goes back to his childhood. Most of all he does not want to spend Christmas with either arm of his family. He is also desperate not to spend Christmas alone, nothing could be worse. Lots of differing perspectives compete for space in his head. If he is honest he would like to spend Christmas with Savannah, but it is early days. He hardly knows her. After all, they have only slept together once and you can’t tell all that much from the first time. What is she really like? What do you look for in a partner, someone who is like you, someone who is different, someone like you but different, someone who is different but like you, someone to make up for your shortcomings, anyone at all to stop you from feeling lonely? How closely does the person you end up choosing match what you are looking for anyway?

Out of the blue Darci phones. She wants to know what he is doing for Christmas. Perhaps she is feeling the same way. Perhaps she does not want to spend it alone and maybe she does not want to spend it with her family as she and Nick have split up. They have spent the last five Christmases with Darci’s family. He tells her he does not know yet but he has had an invitation. She says she does not know yet, but has had an invitation. Amongst barbed pleasantries, they both fish around for information but the conversation ends with both of them none the wiser.

Nick instantly worries that Conor might be doing similar checking up with Savannah. While Savannah has not talked a lot about Conor, from what he has picked up they were together for a long time. Savannah has said that sometimes she has to work late at Organics and that Nick doesn’t need to phone her every night, but now he feels he needs to speak to her more than ever. He is not due to see her until Saturday when they are going to explore Dirham Park and it is only Tuesday. He phones. She does not answer. When she doesn’t answer on Wednesday or Thursday either, his sense of optimism tries to tell him it could just be that Savannah’s hair might be particularly tangled this week, the cat may have chewing gum in its fur or the shop may have sold out of milk and she has had to drive to the supermarket, but his sense of pessimism tells him she could be in the throes of ecstasy beneath a panting Conor.

What forms the basis of trust, Nick wonders? Can you trust someone that you have just met? Can you trust someone if you have been with them a long time? Maybe you trust someone you have just met because you haven’t been with them a long time. What are you trusting them with? What exactly constitutes breaking trust? There are probably no meaningful statistics about faithfulness in relationships, but over time, few survive intact. The modern world puts so many things in the way of fidelity.

It is Friday night and Nick has given up on reaching Savannah. He has been trying all evening but her phone goes on to voicemail. He is about to go to bed when his phone rings. It is Savannah.

‘Sorry to call so late,’ she says. ‘You’ve probably been ringing me haven’t you. My phone says I have a lot of missed calls.’

‘I tried once or twice earlier,’ says Nick. He does not say that for the last hour or so he has been a small step away from coming round to make sure that Conor’s car was not there, not that he would know what Conor’s car looked like.

‘Sorry, I didn’t hear the phone, says Savannah. ‘It was in the inside pocket of my new insulated jacket. Look, I know we are seeing each other tomorrow but I just wanted to ask what you are doing for Christmas.’

‘I’ve got no plans,’ says Nick. ‘But I was hoping I might be able to spend it with you.’

‘I’ve got a week off and I thought we might go to Santiago de Compestela,’ says Savannah.

‘Santiago de Compestela,’ Nick repeats.

‘Yes,’ says Savannah. ‘It’s in Spain.’

‘You mean the pilgrimage walk, but I’m not a Catholic.’

‘Neither am I, but Trip Advisor says that you don’t have to be. It says it’s for those who want to get away from the Disney Christmas.’

‘Isn’t it about five hundred miles long?’

‘Yes, but we could just do a bit of it and save the rest for later,’ says Savannah. ‘I’ve even ordered a Survivor rucksack on Amazon. What do you think?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

The Life and Times of Chadwick Dial

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The Life and Times of Chadwick Dial by Chris Green

‘It’s him,’ screamed Eve. ‘It’s Chadwick Dial. Look!’

Eve Laszlo and I were aboard a coach on its way to Bath. We were going to see a new band called Oasis play at the Bath Pavilion. We had stopped off at Stroud to pick up more passengers. Through the window, wandering around the bus station, was the unmistakable figure of Chadwick Dial. Once you’ve seen him you would recognise him straight way if you saw him again, like you would recognise Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Dial reminded me somehow of the child snatcher from Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But with his Quasimodo stoop, his facial scar, his missing eye and random strands of matted hair coming out from all corners of his head, arguably a less attractive version.

For a moment it looked as if he was going to get on the coach. It was touch and go. Eve was freaking out.

‘That bastard held me prisoner,’ she was yelling. ‘He kidnapped Ross and Alex.’

Everyone on the coach was looking round. Although I had heard nothing but bad about Chadwick Dial, I wondered if she might be overreacting. I had seen him now and again in The Black Hole, a pub where I occasionally went for a drink, but I had always given him a wide berth. I had not known Eve long. The incidents she referred to had happened some time before, when her teenage children were younger. Eventually I managed to calm her.

Chadwick Dial did not get on the coach. He slunk off somewhere to sniff a drainpipe or whatever it is that one eyed hunchbacks do. As we pulled away, Eve apologised for her outburst. She went on to explain why she had been so angry. She told me that Dial was a friend of her ex husband’s. When they were going through divorce proceedings and she had custody of the children, Dial helped Jackson Laszlo to abduct them. He locked Eve in a room for three days while Jackson Laszlo took them out of the country. She did not get to see them again for months. Even then she and the children had to go to a women’s refuge for their safety. Dial was never brought to book for his part in the escapade.

Despite the episode on the coach, Eve and I were able to enjoy a pleasant couple of days in Bath. I did not normally go for loud rock bands, but Oasis were a revelation. They played I Am The Walrus, encouraging comparisons with The Beatles and a song called Wonderwall. It was clear that they were going to be very big. After Bath, we spent a few days on the North Devon coast, where Eve told me a little more about her experiences of Chadwick Dial. She was obviously very frightened of him. Getting it out in the open though seemed to help to ease the tension.

We went back to the home we were building in rural Gloucestershire and life moved on as life does. Eve was unpredictable from day to day but I became used to her mood sings and occasional outbursts. She clearly had her demons, but then don’t we all? We did not however have another conversation about Chadwick Dial. I had no reason to bring the subject up and Eve seemed to have let go. As we did not go to The Black Hole, I never came across Dial in the time Eve and I were together. Gradually he faded from my consciousness.

Eve and I parted a year or two later, but the anecdotes about Chadwick Dial do not end there. Since then I have heard a regular trickle of unpleasant stories about him. It appears that everyone who has ever met him has a tale to tell. He killed Kester Jaynes’s mynah bird. He stole Bryan Harrington’s classic Humber Super Snipe and managed to wreck it. He drugged and raped Denise Felch’s teenage daughter, Kylie.

‘Why was he never caught?’ I asked her. ‘It’s not like he’s hard to spot.’

‘You wouldn’t believe just how slippery he is,’ she said.

‘It wouldn’t be so bad if he were an honest to goodness criminal,’ said Lee Hale after Dial had conned him out of his winning lottery ticket. ‘It’s the contemptibility, the slyness, the deceit.’

These stories are repeated over and over. Dial has robbed, cheated, double crossed and generally taken advantage of everyone who has had the misfortune to have known him. I came across him one time in The Belted Galloway. He was trying to sell the drugs he had stolen off Glassy Eyed John. I told him that I didn’t do drugs. He glowered and skulked off muttering something unsavoury about Eve.

Did Dial’s ugliness have a bearing on the development of his character or had he moulded his character to match his unsightly demeanour. No one seems to know for certain how his disfigurements came about, but it’s easy to speculate as to how he have incurred them, It has been suggested the eye injury could have come from his being hit in the face with a cricket ball at school, but it could just as likely to have been someone giving him a good honest clout with a cricket bat. In fact a blow from a blunt instrument of some kind represents the more satisfying explanation. The facial scar might too have been retribution for something untoward. It is difficult to come up with an explanation for the random tufts of hair that sprout here and there from his head. There have been suggestions that the stoop is just an affectation to get sympathy. Who knows? Perhaps the truth is that no-one cares how the injuries happened.

With most villains you tend to hear something positive about them, however small, to balance out the bad. In his spare time, for instance, Charlie Manson supported a children’s charity. Adolf Eichmann was kind to dogs. Colonel Gadaffi was a keen landscape painter. That type of thing. Usually, nothing is black and white. But Chadwick Dial appears to have no saving graces. Condemnation of him is absolute. He may or may not be guilty of murder, but deaths are definitely attributable to his actions, my friend Dewi Davies’s for example. I was deeply saddened when I found this out unexpectedly one day from a colleague at work.

Dewi Davies, on a trip down from Wales, ran into Dial in The Black Hole or it may have been The Frog and Nightgown. After taking him for drinks all night, Dial got Dewi to give him a lift to a house party on the other side of town. Dewi had some coke and Dial helped him get through this. The two of them got into an argument over a girl Dewi was making a move on. By this time everyone at the party was well bashed and the argument quickly got out of control. Dewi went to leave, but Dial and some other revellers, who saw the Welshman as a stranger, stopped him in his tracks. At Dial’s instigation they began jumping up and down on the bonnet of his Sunbeam Alpine.

Dewi eventually managed to get them off. He put his foot down for a quick getaway. He was well wasted and angry. His erratic driving drew the attention of a police patrol. They gave chase, sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. Dewi tried to shake them off. Unable to control the powerful car on a bend, Dewi ended up driving into a stone wall. He died on impact.

Bringing things up to date a little, I caught up with Jackson Laszlo a week or two back in The Black Hole. He asked me if I had seen Eve recently. Apparently she had disappeared. I said that I hadn’t but she was good at doing that, disappearing. He agreed, adding that she suffered from a borderline personality disorder and at times when she was down, he felt she might be considered to belong to that widely interpreted category vulnerable adult.

‘Anything might have happened to her,’ he said.

I recalled the times that she had run off for days without a word.

‘It’s probably nothing at all but all the same I am worried,’ he said.

I thought it best not to mention that the episode when he had abducted the children might have helped to bring about her condition, or at the very least not have been sympathetic to it. I judged that this was not the right time to attribute blame for Eve’s vulnerability.

‘Surely Ross or Alex would know where she is,’ I said, instead.

He said that he hadn’t seen Ross or Alex for several months.

I said that this was not unusual for grown up children. My own were the same. By and by we got on to the subject of Chadwick Dial.

‘Don’t even mention his name,’ Jackson said. ‘When I was away last year I let him house-sit, while I was in Portugal. When I returned the house was empty. Everything was gone. The bastard cleaned me out. After all I had done for him. The neighbours said they thought that I had just moved out without telling them. One morning two large furniture vans called and the removal men took everything. The police can’t even trace the removal vans.’

None of the tales about Chadwick Dial however compares to the shocking story that is unfolding on today’s news. Dial, the reporter is saying, is behind an evil cult based in a commune in the borderlands between England and Wales. He falsely imprisoned, tortured and raped a cadre of vulnerable women, telling them he had God-like powers and if they disobeyed him he would unleash a supernatural force, which would inflict painful and horrible deaths on their families. Dial is a master manipulator who used violence, fear and sexual degradation to control the women he held captive. They were imprisoned in the disused farm buildings on the site. They were completely isolated from the outside world, until last week one of them managed to escape from the compound. Dial, she said, had told his victims that if they followed him he would show them a better world, but if they had bad ideas then their souls would burn in Hell. The investigation into the human remains found in an outhouse at the site continues. Comparisons are already being made with the Fred and Rosemary West killings of two decades ago.

My mind goes back to the sad day that I heard about Dial’s role in Dewi Davies’s death. When Wayne told me about it, he had no idea that I even knew Dewi. He thought he was talking about a complete stranger. He did not know that Dewi and I had once been close. Why would he? As far as he knew, Dewi was someone who had come up from Wales and Dial had dragged along to a party that he was attending. He did not know that Dewi and I had once shared a house in Stoke Road. Dewi was a warm, generous guy, the kind that would do anything to help. He may have been down on his luck but he deserved better.

I think back to that trip to Bath twenty years ago when Eve Laszlo and I saw Dial through the window of the coach. I thought then that Eve was being over dramatic. How could someone who looked like Dial did be a threat. You would be able to spot him a mile off. You would steer clear of him. How wrong I was. I realise that Eve and I didn’t part on good terms back then, but I do hope that she is OK.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Sticks

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Sticks by Chris Green

1.

‘Broadband?’ says Mr Silver, scratching his head. ‘No, we don’t have broadband here. Whatever that is when it’s at home.’

‘The internet,’ I say. ‘Are you still on dial up round these parts, perhaps?’

He looks around for someone else to ask, but there is no-one else in the shop.

‘It’s OK, I can manage without it for now,’ I say, sensing his embarrassment. It is well known that fibre optic coverage is poor in rural areas. I don’t want to come across as too metropolitan.

‘Sorry,’ he says, sheepishly.

‘But I do need an aerial for my TV,’ I say.

‘We don’t actually stock them,’ he says. ‘But we can probably order one for you. You want one that gets BBC and ITV, I expect. It will take about two weeks. And then if you want we can get Mr Eager to fit it for you. Mr Eager has a ladder.’

‘Is that all you can get here, BBC and ITV?’ I say. ‘No digital?’

‘We’re a hardware store not a magic show,’ he says, fiddling with the buttons on his knitted waistcoat. ‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you?’

‘I moved in yesterday,’

‘How are you settling in? ‘

‘It’s OK,’ I say. ‘But it’s not well equipped.’

‘You’ll probably be needing a kettle then. Would you like a whistling one or a standard one? We’ve got both types.’

‘I’ve got a kettle,’ I say. ‘An electric one.’

‘An electric one, eh? I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.’

‘But I will need a new plug. At the cottage they are still using the round pin sockets.’

‘We do have plugs. How many would you like?’

‘I’d better take a dozen then while I’m in here.’

‘Anything else we can help you with?’

‘I can’t seem to get a signal on my phone. I suppose that it drops out a lot out here in the sticks. I know Vodafone is not the best, so I might have to change networks. I thought you might know.’

I take out my Samsung and show him. It’s as if I’ve shown him the Orb or the Diadem.

‘What the blazes is that?’ he says.

‘You are a bit behind the times here,’ I say. ‘It’s a 3G smartphone,’

‘A 3G smartphone. Well, I never. What does it do?’

‘Well, not very much without a signal.’

The shopkeeper’s bell rings and another customer comes in. He exchanges a rustic greeting with Mr Silver. I am anxious not to become the centre of attention in this small community. I have come down to this hinterland to keep a low profile. I tell Mr Silver I will call in later for the plugs.

I had not been to view the cottage before taking on the six-month tenancy, as it was too far away and due to the turn of events, I felt I needed to move quickly. Conway and Tillotson were very helpful in finding me somewhere, but the pictures they sent did little to convey the degree of isolation of this community. I realised that Littlechurch was something of a backwater, but I had expected it to have a few concessions to modernity. The juggernaut of progress tends to take no prisoners as it ploughs its path, but somehow it seems to have completely bypassed Littlechurch.

But, shouldn’t I have realised when I first arrived yesterday that something was odd? The sit up and beg bicycles left unlocked outside the houses were relics from a bygone age. The fact that all the cars were old and that there were so few of them should also have given me a clue. How could I have missed the headline on the board outside the grocers come newsagents about Sputnik? Or the poster advertising The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness at the village hall next Thursday afternoon. Yet I noticed none of these things. All I can say in mitigation is that I was tired after a long drive.

I make my way back to the cottage to take stock. As I drive up, some boys in grey flannel short trousers take a keen interest in my Ford Focus. It’s an everyday sort of car but they behave as if they have never seen anything like it before. Concerned by their interest, I decide to park it round the back out of harm’s way.

The prices in the village are still in pounds, shillings and pence. Surely this is taking heritage and preservation too far. It occurs to me that my cash might not be accepted here, nor I imagine my Visa or Barclaycard. Fortunately, I do still have a cheque book. I can use this to make purchases and just write the cheques in the old money. On the plus side, I expect everything will seem remarkably cheap, which is just as well because I do need a whole range of provisions. I do not even have milk to go in my tea. For that matter, I do not even have tea to go in my tea.

I figure that it is best to try and fit in here while I discover what is happening. I call in to Coward’s General Store and Newsagents, a brown and gold double fronted shop with period detail. You don’t see those cutaway typefaces much any more. The art of the sign-writer is disappearing. A vintage green and cream BSA Bantam is parked on the pavement. There are adverts outside the shop for Senior Service, Craven A, Gold Flake, and Woodbine. My first cigarette I recall was a Woody in the bicycle sheds in my last year at Frank Portrait Junior School, over forty years ago. I was sick and could not go into Mr Crudd’s afternoon class. But somehow this did not deter me. Smoking for young lads was less of a life choice then, it was almost compulsory.

I step inside. The shelves resemble Robert Opie’s packaging museum. Brooke Bond Dividend Tea, Bovril, Fray Bentos, Bournvita, Golden Wonder, Daz, Omo, Sunlight, Brylcreem, Alka Selzer, all these forgotten brands. Ah Bisto! brings back memories of Sunday lunches, beef one week and lamb the next, my sister Sarah and I subjected to the horrors of Two Way Family Favourites on the radio while we waited for the joints of meat to catch up with the stewed vegetables. There was no daytime TV then.

A middle-aged man wearing a starched white shirt, striped braces with a polka dot bow tie emerges from a cloud of cigarette smoke and interrupts my reverie.

‘Hello. I’m Mr Coward,’ he says. ‘Mr Silver was telling me about you.’

I don’t introduce myself by name.

‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you? he says.

‘News travels fast in these parts,’ I say.

‘Long John said something about a strange phone you have,’ he says.

Given my situation, I should know better, but Mr Coward seems one of life’s innocents, so I show him the phone. He thinks that it is very clever that you can take photos, add up numbers and type into it, but he is disappointed that you can’t use it as a telephone.

‘LJ also said you were talking about something called the enternet,’ he says. ‘He thought I might know what is was, but I’ve never heard of it. I even had a look through my Pears’ Cyclopaedia. What is this enternet?’

‘Internet, not enternet,’ I say.

‘Internet,’ he repeats, waiting for me to elaborate.

It is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to link several billion devices worldwide, and it is an integral part of our everyday lives,’ though simplistic, seems too complicated an explanation for this situation. How can I begin to explain browsers, search engines, surfing, emails, streaming, gaming, social networking, VOIP and podcasting to someone who has not come across the Internet.

‘It’s a bit like the post office,’ I say instead. ‘But a lot quicker with its deliveries.’

Mr Coward tells me it can take as long as two weeks for a letter from London to reach them, then launches into a brief history of Littlechurch which is brief because Littlechurch has little history. It used to have a lot of sheep and there are now not so many. They built a little church in the fourteenth century but parishioners stopped going so it was de-consecrated in the 1930s. It has never been a market town and the railway missed it by ten miles. Most of the houses now have electricity. There is a pub called the King’s Head and the police station is open every second Wednesday.

After I have put away my provisions, I venture up the hill to the King’s Head, thinking I might be able to have a hearty meal there along with a pint or two. The King’s Head it turns out does not serve food.

‘Never has, never will,’ says Amos, the landlord. ‘Pubs are for supping.’

‘I’ll just have a pint of your best,’ then I say.

‘Fraid we’re right out of beer,’ he says. ‘Been waiting for a delivery for over a week. All we’ve got is farmer’s cider.’

‘I’ll have a pint of that then,’ I say.

‘Draymens’ strike,’ Amos continues. ‘I’ve lost nearly all me regulars. There’s just these two left.’

Albert and Joss look up from their cloudy green liquid.

‘You’ll be the new bloke what’s just moved in to the Devlins’ place,’ says Albert.

‘What’s it like up there since old Ma Riley got butchered?’ says Joss.

‘What?’ I say. I am surprised that Mr Coward omitted this from his potted history. This elevates Littlechurch from a sleepy backwater to somewhere where something happened.

‘You mean you didn’t know about Ma Riley,’ says Albert studying the look of shock on my face.

‘Right gruesome it was. Cut her into little pieces and put her in plastic bags in the dustbin, he did.’

‘Place has been empty ever since,’ says Joss. ‘Couldn’t let it. No bugger wanted to live there. How long has it been, Amos? A year or more do you think?’

‘Take no notice of them,’ says Amos. ‘They’re pulling your pisser.’

2.

I don’t know if you have ever found yourself in a place where there is no stimulation whatsoever. A place where you wish there were church bells to liven things up or wish that Jehovah’s Witnesses would drop by for a chat. You will be familiar with the expression stir crazy, especially if you know someone that has been in prison. Perhaps you yourself have been in prison. Well, let me tell you, you don’t need to be locked up to be stir crazy. After two weeks of living in Littlechurch I am climbing up the walls. I am completely without home entertainment. Although I have fitted round pin plugs to my laptop and to my phone charger there is no sign whatever of wifi and no hint of a phone signal no matter where I take them in the village. Not only is there no wifi but I have no TV and LJ’s store has just sold out of radios. To to cap it all the mobile library which is seen as a bit of a highlight here has stopped coming. I go in to Cowards to get an evening paper each day but for some reason they have always just sold out.

‘Local people have become very interested in news about Sputnik,’ Mrs Coward says. ‘The Gazette says they might send a man into space soon.’ Mr Coward has not been in the general store much lately. Perhaps he’s been selected as a candidate.

Mrs Coward is a much duller conversationalist than her husband. Yesterday was a good day for drying the washing but today not so good. The best day was about a week ago when the washing dried in a matter of hours. I am wondering what Mr and Mrs Coward get up to that requires her to do so much washing.

The draymens’ strike has not been resolved and the Kings Head hasn’t had its delivery of beer. Even the supply of farmers’ cider has run out. Without even Joss and Albert to entertain, Amos has closed the pub altogether. There is not another pub nearby, in fact there is not another village nearby. Sputnik’s progress aside, people in Littlechurch appear so incurious. They don’t appear to venture outside their houses very much. It is rare to meet anyone on the street. When I do come across someone, they have that faraway look in their eye. About half a dozen of them come along to the village hall screenings. It turns out that The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness was not just a one off, they show it every Thursday afternoon and on a Friday evening as well. After the third viewing, the jokes begin to wear a little thin.

I decide it is time to find out if the heat has died down back home. One day I suppose I will have to go back and face the music. While it is hard to imagine vandalism being a big problem in Littlechurch, I find to my chagrin that both phone boxes have been vandalised. Perhaps it was the boys in grey flannel short trousers I have seen a couple of times. I take a trip to the Fina filling station a mile or so from the village, but as I feared it does not sell unleaded petrol. To add to my isolation, they have just started major road works on the only road in and out of Littlechurch. The signs say that the road will be closed for seven days. LJ explains that this is due to a recently discovered geological anomaly which if not attended to will cause dangerous subsidence in the future. They have to reroute a stretch of two hundred yards of road. I tell him that they seem to have closed about four miles and they have an armed guard.

‘You should have had a notice through your door about it,’ he says. ‘Quite interesting geology we have around here. There are elements of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.’

‘No, I didn’t get anything through the door.’

‘No, neither did I, come to think of it, but that’s the Ministry of Transport for you.’

‘Aren’t you worried that it will affect your business?’ I ask.

‘I only run the shop as a kind of hobby,’ he says. ‘I started off making nesting boxes and before I knew it I was making raised planters and garden furniture. People started buying things that I made and I couldn’t keep up with demand. But, still it keeps me off the streets.’

‘I’ve been meaning to mention that, there never seems to be a soul on the streets.’

‘Oh really! I hadn’t noticed that myself. I’ve always thought of Littlechurch as a busy little place. There was even talk not so long ago of having a coffee morning at the community centre. That was before it closed of course.’

3.

Just a few days behind schedule the road opens again and I manage to get the Focus to a filling station that sells unleaded. It is touch and go, with the fuel gauge on red all the way. I am fortunate, the forecourt attendant says. They are one of the first garages to stock unleaded. He is curious about my car. Did I import it? he wonders. He finds the number plate a little puzzling too. I just play along with him. It’s astonishing how backward things are in this part of the world.

From there I am able to drive the final ten miles to Biggerchurch. Biggerchurch is a thriving metropolis compared to Littlechurch. It still has a church I notice as I drive around looking for a quiet spot to park. Apparently Biggerchurch even used to have a branch line railway station before the Beeching cuts and was once a market town. It looks much more cosmopolitan than its neighbour. It has a fish and chip shop, an off-licence, a laundrette and even has some 1960s housing. Vodafone still isn’t connecting though. I spot an un-vandalised phone box. All I need now are some coins that fit.

I see from a psychedelic poster on the bus shelter that there is a free festival in a farmer’s field nearby starting later with Jethro Tull, The Pretty Things and The Incredible String Band. This explains why the town is packed with hippies. Groups of them in uniform of jeans with sewn in patches to make them flared topped with tie died green and orange safari jackets maraud the narrow streets. One such group gathers outside Keith Shakespeare Radio and Television to watch an old black and white set showing footage of the moon landings.

‘Far out, isn’t it, man,’ says a flower child lost in a menagerie of decorative neck-scarves. ‘Those cats are too much.’ It takes me a moment to realise firstly that he is talking about the astronauts on the TV and secondly that he is addressing me.

I give a non-committal reply and turn down the spliff he offers me.

‘Hey! Look! He’s jumping up and down. What a gas!’ says a hippie chick with lank blonde hair and a plague of nasal jewellery. She nudges me in case I miss the action. She is wearing an Afghan coat. In July.

On the screen, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their spacesuits are demonstrating zero gravity. It is difficult to get excited about something that happened so long ago. I am more concerned about my own here and now, or my own here and then. But, whatever is happening in my own personal hyperreality, at least, I am a dozen years further along.

‘They’re not really on the moon of course,’ says a swarthy freak with big Afro hair and chin curtain beard. ‘Look at the shadows, man. They’re just like you would see from studio lights on a Hollywood film. The whole thing’s a fake.’

This sounds a familiar argument. Is this the very genesis of conspiracy theory? I ask them if any of them have change for a five pound note so that I can make some phone calls.’

‘You’re jiving me, man,’ says the dark skinned one in the brightly coloured Moroccan hat. ‘That’s Monopoly money or something you have there.’

This has the effect of killing negotiations with any of the others.

I take my fiver into the nearest shops and I find a similar reluctance to acknowledge the currency. The man in the saddler’s holds it up to the light, before shaking his head. The butcher waves a meat cleaver at me. The lady in the pet shop threatens to call the police.

This was how it had all started. With the police. The arrest. Perhaps I overreacted by disappearing before the court case. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come down here. I might have got off with a community sentence. After all, it was an innocent mistake. You’ve probably done the same. Purely by accident you’ve probably put the shop takings for the week into the wrong account. Into your account. I have to admit that I did think at the time the cashier at the bank looked a little surprised. Did you find this too?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

April’s Shower

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April’s Shower by Chris Green

Hotel California strikes me as an odd little café. Apart from the curious choice of name, the café is situated underground and has no windows. Despite its claustrophobic feel, the acoustics seem to belong to a much larger space. The sound fades in and out and bounces off the walls in a weird subterranean echo. I sit myself down on a Vienna chair and glance furtively around. I do a head count. There are fourteen people, sitting in twos or threes around stark tables. There is an air of detachment about each of them as if their minds are somewhere else. They look as if they don’t get out much. Their skin is pale and translucent as if it has been photoshopped. They fidget fitfully, their movements like marionettes. As I place my order and take in the unfamiliar surroundings Fly Like An Eagle is playing. It occurs to me that you don’t hear seventies music much anymore. At some point, the arbiters of taste decided that eighties music was better than seventies music, when clearly it wasn’t. The seventies wins hands down.

My scrambled eggs arrive. They are orange in colour. I am used to my scrambled eggs being much lighter. I am about to complain to the sullen waitress in the white coat, but when I take a mouthful off the eggs they taste good. Perhaps they are from very happy hens. The Year of The Cat is playing now. It has an infectious piano riff. The marionettes at their tables bounce up and down in time to the beat. I notice a steady drip of a wax-like substance from the artificial ceiling. It is red in colour. A mound of it has formed on a cracked white tile of the black and white chequered floor. Drip! Drip! Drip! It is disturbing. Where is it coming from? What is up there?

As if on a given cue, the ghouls suddenly stop eating or drinking. They all stare at me. I can’t help but feel intimidated by their gaze. I am the retiring sort. I hate being the centre of attention in any circumstances. I take my plate to another table. This takes me nearer to the counter. The Gaggia machine lets out a belch then the flushing sound drowns out the music, even though this is loud. The barista looks a bit like Hannibal Lecter. I am anxious to get out of here. Where is Chantelle? She was supposed to meet me here, wasn’t she? My memory is not so good. Perhaps I am supposed to pick her up. It can’t have been the latter, though. I do not know where she lives.

I am trying to rest but Night Moves is playing. I can hear it through the walls. I don’t know where it is coming from but I feel intense discomfort. Sometimes a song can have a particular association and then something happens and that meaning changes. Like the lyrics in Bob Seger’s song. Night Moves used to be my favourite tune, but then…. and ….. well, it’s now. I told them that April was going to die in the shower, but they didn’t believe me. Sometimes I know that things are going to happen, but I don’t know why. Chantelle has a word for it. It begins with a ‘p’. I’m not good at remembering long words. Chantelle says that everything will be all right. I wish she were here. Where is she? She must have forgotten that she is meeting me.

Fog is descending. I am going too fast for the road conditions. I take my foot off the accelerator pedal, but it stays down. I can’t do anything about it. It seems to be jammed. Going ever faster, the Outlander careers forward, narrowly missing a string of other vehicles. I face a barrage of horns from the oncoming motorists, who must think I am reckless. I am not. I am a careful driver. In twenty-five years on the road, I have never had an accident. I have the brake pedal to the floor. The brakes are howling. The fog is getting thicker. I cannot see ahead at all now. I see April’s face in the rear-view mirror. Suddenly it shatters.

The car horns have stopped. I think I have driven off road, but it is hard to tell. The accelerator pedal is still jammed. I turn the steering wheel this way and that as I was once taught by my advanced driving instructor, or was it Glassy Eyed John. I have trouble sometimes with details. Whichever, the manoeuvre has the desired effect. With the Outlander engine revving like a plane during take-off, it ploughs its way through a patch of thick undergrowth before smashing against a sturdy beech tree and coming to rest.

Smoke is coming from under the bonnet. I jump out. I am on the edge of a wood. The fog has lifted, but one nightmare makes way for another. There are bloodstained hands everywhere, dozens of them, clutching at tree trunks and clumps of fallen branches. The hands are not connected to arms, they are cut off at the wrist. I am terrified. What is happening? What is this place? The sun is trying to make its way through the haze and I notice to my horror that I have the bold shadow of a large raptor. A thin green snake settles on my arm, or is it my wing. It coils itself around. A scream pierces the air. I realise it is my scream. A legion of brawny woodsmen emerges from a thicket. They are carrying hammers and sickles, or are they guns and roses. It is hard to tell in the gloom. I feel a sense of deja vu. I have been here before. I have been to places like this many times since April’s brutal ….. since ….. I have been here since…. April’s shower. Where is Chantelle?

The Outlander engine bursts into flames. This allows me the opportunity to put distance between myself and my pursuers. I take a slalom route in the general direction of the sun. I find myself beside a still lake. I have chance to gather my thoughts. Not they help me very much. What are those brightly coloured birds? They can’t be parrots, can they? Parrots don’t swim. Chantelle is the one who might have explanations for what is going on. She is the Incongruence Investigator. She is supposed to be helping me because of the strange experiences I’ve been having. Most things she says are easily explainable. After all science itself is pretty weird with its uncertainty principles, matter being in two places at once and the same particles being everywhere at the same time. If you think about it too much, it could drive you mad. You must become accustomed to the unexpected, Chantelle says. Any number of things might be happening simultaneously. Or might not be happening at all. Everything might be imaginary. The scene in the woods back there might be a second unit shoot for a Harry Potter film for all that I know. What is a second unit shoot, I wonder. Who is Harry Potter? I have not seen him around.

Do you like my goat?’ the stranger on the park bench says.

It is best to humour men sitting on park benches with invisible goats, so I say, ‘Yes that is a fine goat you have there. What is she called?’

Not a she,’ he says. ‘It’s a he and he’s called Ronald. Ronald is a good name for a goat, don’t you think.’

A fine name, Ronald,’ I say. ‘I used to have a stoat called Steve, or was it a badger?’

Do you play the French horn?’ he asks.

No,’ I tell him.

That’s a shame. Ronald likes listening to the French horn. What about the cor anglais?’

I wonder if I should find another seat.

Are you waiting for Chantelle?’ he asks.

Yes, I think so’ I say. ‘She was supposed to meet me.’

I think she’s just gone into that big house over there,’ he says. ‘I expect she will be along in a minute with the meds. Do you find you need yours twice a day too?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

THE WAR ON TERRA

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The War On Terra by Chris Green

There are now just thirty four of us trying to save the planet. I’ve counted. Thirty four, plus a few more perhaps living off the grid. The other seven point four billion residents of Terra are hell bent on its destruction, some pushing to get the job done more quickly. What was God playing at letting his unpredictable monkeys run the show? She should have given it to the snakes or the zebras. The ferrets or the pigeons. Or possibly even the trees. The only way to save the world in these dark days could be to get rid of the human race.

Time was when for a short while, things were impossibly beautiful. There were two hundred and seven million of us trying to save the world. A paradise seemed possible if only people would listen to the message of love, peace and understanding that we preached. The Incredible String Band played in our hearts. Everywhere colourful birds were in song. Lovely spring had arrived.

But it was a brief interlude. God’s chosen monkeys were just beginning to get organised in THE WAR ON TERRA. Terra’s climate, they claimed, was not good enough, so in earnest they set about changing it, coming up with staggeringly stupid new products to use up Terra’s resources in record time. Compassion and common sense were universally outlawed to allow feral capitalism to flex its bloated muscles. They came up with alarming new ways to pollute the life giving waters in every corner of the globe. They came up with bizarre new reasons to reduce the rain forests to grow numbers in their profit columns. It was seen as important that the War On Terra be settled swiftly.

Two hundred and seven million gentle campaigners were seduced by the arrogant mendacity of those determined to destroy the delicate domain of existence. The powerful media groups the plunderers owned persuaded would be dissenters that their interests lay in siding with them in their irredeemable mission. Like the Native Americans before them who had traded Manhattan for beads and trinkets, would be eco warriors were bought. A few electronic toys were all it needed to win them over.

The War on Terra may be already be in its endgame, but while there are still a few fish left in the oceans and a pair of polar bears at the pole, join us if you can so we can say we went down fighting. There. That’s thirty five of us now. Thirty six. Thirty seven. ………

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Thursday Night and Friday Morning

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Thursday Night and Friday Morning by Chris Green

A car outside my window sounds its horn three times and I stir from my sleep. I was on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. Dolphins were playing with gondolas in the surf. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip was rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp was selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, were frolicking around pyramids that children had made in the sand.

I drift back off, but the disturbance outside has been enough to change the landscape of my dream. I am now in a crowded marketplace and a hooded figure riding a jet black quad bike and waving a dead fish is chasing me past stalls selling large bongo drums and ritual masks. He is shouting at me in a language I do not recognise. I wonder if it is Welsh, but it may not be. I shout back in a language I do not recognise. It is dark and I trying to find my car. I cannot remember what make of car it is or where I have left it. I have the thought that it is not a Maserati or an Alfa Romeo, but this does not seem to help much. There is a large moon low in the sky and shapes of a craggy landscape are in silhouette. I am running. I have a battered leather suitcase in my hand. I have not packed it properly and Monica’s clothes are spilling out onto the cobbled stone street. I make an effort to look back but I know the scene is disappearing. There is a faint light ahead, but this too is becoming fainter and more distant.

The horn outside sounds a piercing continuous note. I feel disorientated. My flailing arms meet with a sharp cry of feline disapproval and my bedside lamp crashes to the floor. It takes me a while to take in that it is Thursday night, or to be more precise 1 a.m. on Friday morning, and that the car outside is a taxi to take me out drinking. I had completely forgotten.

I do not mean that I have missed a rendezvous with friends. Or that I need a drink. I am not an alcoholic or anything like that; in fact, I only recently started drinking alcohol. And I am not by any means a night owl. Early to bed, early to rise, me.

I will try to explain. The new law obliges me to drink. Firstly the government passed licensing laws permitting round the clock drinking. They argued at the time that twenty-four hour opening for pubs and clubs would reduce binge drinking and help to tackle the problem of violence and antisocial behaviour on the streets at 2 a.m. when the clubs closed. As many pointed out, it was an absurd argument. I can remember fragments of conversations with friends and colleagues at the time and no-one in my recollection had expressed enthusiasm for the idea, although Monica did start coming home in high spirits in the middle of the night once in a while. The general consensus was that if those so inclined were given the opportunity to drink more freely, surely they would become more drunk and less concerned with respectful behaviour on the street.

The real motive behind the legislation emerged, that twenty-four hour drinking was a measure to try to buoy up an ailing economy. The hope was that it would present entrepreneurial opportunities to the licensing trade and offer service jobs for the marginalised sections of society. Primarily it would be a great revenue raiser for a government committed to not raising income tax. It was one’s duty to drink for Britain.

Despite blanket advertising of all alcoholic drinks at every opportunity everywhere you could advertise alcoholic drinks, it didn’t work out that way. Drink sales rose only slightly. Regardless of a proliferation of new bars and clubs, opened by wide boys and fly-by-nights hoping to cash in, many people stayed in as they had always done, not drinking, or perhaps buying the odd bottle of wine or pack of premium lager with their shopping at the supermarket. A majority of the population were responsible citizens at heart, still interested in family life or concerned with the practicalities of getting up in the morning and going to work. Clubbing remained the preserve of those under twenty-five with few commitments. I am over twenty five and Monica’s occasional friskiness aside, twenty four hour licensing did not initially affect me that much.

But matters did not end there. Despite widespread protests from the medical profession, Muslims, pregnant women, diabetics and those living in areas where there were pubs and clubs The New Licensing Act, phased in over a six-month period last year, makes it compulsory to partake. Everyone under 65, regardless of gender, race, religion, occupation or financial circumstances is now required to go out clubbing at least once a week – or face a fixed penalty fine of £400. Prisoners and those in secure mental institutions are exempt. While exemptions are also in theory possible for others, for example, the blind or terminally ill, the application forms for an exemption certificate have apparently not yet become available.

Being under 65 and not blind or so far as I know terminally ill, the new licencing legislation began to affect me. Not least because Monica started coming home less frequently, and then not at all. But here is the real killer clause. If I have not consumed the necessary weekly units in one of the approved establishments by Thursday, I have to attend one of several new clubs on the High Street opened to cater for drink-dodgers, and drink my quota there, or pay the fine, deductible at source from my salary. The simultaneous introduction of identity cards simplified the administration. A central database now keeps track of each individual’s consumption throughout the week. Thursday night is now the busiest night of the week everywhere as like me, many others struggle to meet their target.

The DirectGov leaflet, DD17 spells out my options. I can drink a dozen designer bottles (DNA, KGB, WKD, Colaholic, etc.), thirteen pints of Guinness, ten pints of Strongbow, eight cans of Special Brew, three bottles of wine, ten double vodkas or ten doubles of another spirit. All equally unpleasant in my opinion. I generally opt for ten double absinthes in a half litre glass. This way I can get the business over with and be back on the street throwing up outside the bus station by about 2. 30, and be on the earliest clubbers bus, which leaves at 2.45. It also represents the cheapest option. Ten designer bottles in Scuffles would set me back at least £60, whereas ten double absinthes in a half litre glass costs a mere £30. I did email the Home Office website, suggesting I just send a cheque each week for the £30, but the reply I received ignored the request and threatened me with court proceedings.

The cab waiting outside for me is a DriveU2Drink taxi. DriveU2Drink is a cab company employed to help facilitate compulsory clubbing. I throw on a tracksuit, breeze through a brisk bathroom routine, turn off the ambient CD of ocean sounds I use to help me sleep, put the anxious cat out, and make it to the cab, all in about sixty seconds.

It is my usual driver, Bryn. Bryn is not a man who finds it easy to relax.

‘Ten minutes, I’ve been waiting out here boyo,’ he says, lighting a cigarette from the one he is just finishing. ‘It’s not like I haven’t got other calls to make.’

He looks me up and down disapprovingly.

And I do not think they will let you into Scuffles dressed like that.’

Everyone wears sports clothes in clubs,’ I protest.

Not tracksuits like that, they don’t. It looks like it came from HomeBargains. Where’s the logo? You’ll have to go and change, and remember that the meter is running.’

I don’t anticipate that Bryn will be keen to stop on the way for me to get a kebab from Tariqs’, so I grab a slice of carrot cake from the fridge to provide something to help absorb the alcohol.

I live on the Rolf Harris estate in the suburbs, for the time being at least until my divorce from Monica comes through (or the estate gets renamed following recent allegations), and the town centre is a four mile drive. Bryn uses the distance to rant about the price of petrol, Eastern Europeans, asylum seekers, chavs, hoodies, smackheads, crackheads, gays, Blacks, Asians, speed limits, traffic calming, the royal family, the police, and modern art.

Having just taken up a post as a community worker, I wonder if I should take him up on some of his prejudices. As we drive on, I feel that there would be little point. His enmity seems to be free-floating. He could just as easily be ranting about the NHS, schools, social workers, Yanks, Chinese, transsexuals, celebrities in space or whatever is on the front page of his tabloid today.

We drive past Corporation Square, the hub of the sprawling Tokers End council estate. Around Betterbet there is a lively throng of locals keen on getting a bet on the night football, or as Betterbet is next to Bruisers’ Bar, perhaps the Mauler-Stitch bare-knuckle fight from the Milton Keynes Colosseum. Betting Tax has recently been reintroduced, but is proving not to deter punters. And as compulsory lotto and compulsory scratch cards have been such a success, compulsory betting is now being considered as another means to boost government coffers. The residents of Tokers End are clearly ahead of the game. They need little encouragement.

They will bet on anything, see,’ says Bryn. ‘The Christmas number one, the Christmas number two, the discovery of life on Mars, the pope to break a leg skiing, The Finnish Wife Carrying Championship, where the next terrorist attack will be, how many will be killed in the next hurricane.’

‘I know someone that bets on virtual horse racing,’ I say.

‘Look you,’ says Bryn. ‘My next door neighbour trains virtual horses. He tells me that when you buy a virtual horse, the fitness level is only about fifty percent. This increases by between two to five percent each time you train it, see. He trains his virtual horses six times a day.’

I nod, trying not to get crumbs of carrot cake on the floor. Perhaps the recipe would benefit from an extra egg.

‘How are things between you and the missus?’ asks Bryn, breaking off from his tirade.

I confide that things are not good. That Monica is staying with friends, and that letters between Hoffman, Cohen and Partners and Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed are arriving daily.

‘Tough business, I can sympathise with you boyo.’ says Bryn. ‘I had the same thing with Tegwyn, see. Tegwyn liked the pop too. I had to sell the Beamer, you know. Heavy shit, the drink. You cannot imagine how much I hate this fucking job.’

Stacey is a single mum. Her daughter, Jade is three years old. Stacey is forced to take the DriveU2Drink cab one Thursday night to fulfil her obligation. She has no babysitter. She cannot afford one. All her disposable income goes on her weekly night out. While Stacey is at Moonies, Jade burns herself on the electric hob. The neighbours hear Jade’s screams, break the door down and phone for an ambulance. They phone Stacey on the number that they have been given, but Stacey cannot hear the phone over the thumping jungle music. In years gone by, Social Services would have become involved in a case like this. There is no talk of prosecution. Stacey’s case is summarily brushed under the carpet. There are many Staceys. There is probably one living next door to you, so, if you do not have to go out drinking on Thursday nights, be vigilant.

We drive on, the details of Bryn’s divorce passing in one ear and out the other. The overturned Passat outside The Cold Store suggests that little has improved in Tokers End over the past week, but at least the council have removed the burnt out police car from outside the housing office. The ten foot high supermarket trolley and paint can sculpture adds a spark of interest to the drab paved area, taking attention away from the mountain of polystyrene fast food containers in the overgrown planters. Bryn takes a right into Bob Marley Avenue to avoid the traffic calming on Malcolm X Street. The boarded up windows of the Lebanese café on the corner boasts a selection of new spray can art, some of it quite colourful and creative. Art of the state, I believe it is now called. The overall effect is unfortunately compromised by the puerile fascination of less talented taggers for obscenity. Budgens’ supermarket, which has over the years suffered more than most from graffiti and vandalism, now has a large red sign saying closed until further notice and the premises of Accessible Finance next door thanks to a recent ram raid has become accessible to all. A row of clamped cars outside the Baghdad House flats suggests the police were round earlier as part of their crackdown on expired tax discs. Even the Tokers End Community Centre minibus is clamped.

I remember, almost fondly now, the time that Monica and I were clamped several years ago when we were shopping in Soho. We still had the Cosworth then, so it must have been before the gallery went bust. Just after the Diane Arbus exhibition. It was after the loss of the gallery that Monica started drinking. ….. I wonder what she is doing now. We haven’t spoken since the solicitors became involved. She will not be happy with Giancarlo. She will always play second fiddle to his Maserati, or his Alfa Romeo, or whatever car he is playing around with in his workshop, and he is nearly twice her age.

‘Hard not to be bitter, you know what I mean,’ says Bryn.

I hadn’t realised we were still having the same conversation. I agree, bitter is part of what I feel, but I do miss her.

We stop at the temporary traffic lights on Karl Jenkins Way where they are building the new twenty four hour retail park to replace the recently demolished factories. A lengthy wait in a long line of other DriveU2Drink and BoozeCruise cabs gives Bryn the opportunity to acquaint me with just how many famous Welsh people there have been: David Lloyd George, Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church to name but a few. The relative obscurity of his other nominees does not seem to help his case, leaving me with the thought that perhaps the Welsh are not cut out for fame.

The lights eventually change and we move on past the HSBC Hospital and the John Lewis Primary School towards the centre of town. Bryn points out the Lost Cause public house, hidden away behind a battalion of mobile phone masts.

‘The only pub in town that still allows smoking,’ he says, lighting up another cigarette. ‘They’ve turned the inside into the outside.’

Smoking is banned in the workplace of course and this includes restaurants and bars and, it occurs to me, taxis too. The government’s attitude to smoking is, some cynics feel, a missed opportunity. Compulsory smoking in public places would bring in heaps of revenue for the Chancellor, and help to pay the escalating bill of our foreign conflicts. By bringing in more revenue and systematically reducing the number of claimants, promotion of tobacco might also have also help to tackle the pensions crisis. Legislation of a few class B or C substances as well, with a little favourable promotion, might finance an invasion of some more middle eastern countries to help secure our supplies of oil and gas.

I don’t watch the news very much, in fact, I hardly watch television at all. Monica succumbed to the Sky advertising early on and I still have a choice of about four hundred channels, but if I have some spare time in the evening I prefer to work on one of my stories on the computer.

‘Why do you always write about ghosts?’ Monica used to say. ‘All of that went out with Harry Potter. And nobody wants to know about your dreams. There’s no money to be made in that supernatural stuff.’

‘There’s no money to be made in watching Celebrity Love Triangle night after night,’ I may have replied. ‘It’s not about the money.’ But of course, it was about the money. After the gallery closed, Monica showed no signs of wanting to go out and earn any.

‘Tegwyn used to have these visions, see,’ says Bryn returning the focus to his own marital breakdown. ‘I suppose you could say she lost touch with reality. I thought it was the drink, like. But then they put her on this new medication and she could see into the future. She would say something like, Idris is going to win eighteen million on the lottery – and it would happen. Exactly eighteen million, Idris won. One day not long before she left she said, ‘I can see increasing signs of unrest. When’s that going to happen, Tegwen? I remember saying.’ ‘twenty fifteen,’ she said. And here we are.’

Wayne was allergic to alcohol. Drinking brought him out in hives and affected his breathing. Although Wayne was diagnosed with anaphylaxis early on, he found over the years that he could manage the odd glass of wine at a function without major effects. However, when faced with the compulsory Thursday night binge at WhiteRiot his breathing became constricted and he collapsed by the bar. Collapsing by the bar was not so unusual here, so there was a delay before he was attended to by the stewards and taken to hospital. Held up further by the Thursday night mayhem in the streets and with the Thursday night bottleneck at A and E, he died waiting to see a consultant. You will know someone with alcohol intolerance. Keep an eye on them when they have to meet their weekly target.

As we approach the outskirts of town the streets shows increasing signs of unrest. Bryn’s radio operator spits staccato messages to let the drivers know which streets to avoid. Even so, each bar we pass had a noisy mob of hammered hooded hooligans outside taking advantage of all night happy hours. The smoking ban inside licensed premises has served to promote large unruly alfresco gatherings. We can hear loud urban music coming from every direction. Gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. Black youths are taunting Asian youths and Asians are taunting blacks in front of a bank of CCTV cameras. The gold jewellery on display looks like it could be an advert for El Dorado. An air of uncontrolled mayhem reigns. Fights are breaking out here and there between groups decked out in rival brands of leisure wear. It is like a noisy playground where the children have just become older. The muted wailing of police and ambulance sirens is continuous and we have to pull over several times on Eminem Street to let emergency vehicles pass. Outside Blazes, a predatory gang of teenage girls with short skirts and large bare waists swigging out of pink bottles shaped like penises shout and swear at a gang of teenage girls with shorter skirts and larger bare waists, swigging out of red bottles shaped like penises. Bryn tries to negotiate a path through the two groups of marauding youngsters. Missiles fly through the air as the two gangs meet. We are caught in the crossfire and a pink penis narrowly misses the windscreen of the cab. The red penis, which follows it, is more accurate and a large crack appears in Bryn’s line of vision. Instinctively he winds his window down and hurls some abuse. Ill-advisedly, I feel. Next thing we know, a writhing mass of tattooed teenage flesh is all over the cab. The girls scream madly, baseball bats smashing against glass. The cab follows an uncertain path down Cameron Street towards the Thatcher Monument as it was rocked up and down. Several vehicles coming toward us collided, there was some kind of explosion, and that is as much as I can remember.

The HSBC Hospital is nowhere near the top of the Daily Telegraph Performance League Table, but there again it is not near the bottom. It is at 106 out of 187 hospitals in the Mortality Rating. It could be argued that the figures are a little skewed by the fact that the HSBC has borne the brunt of last year’s fish flu epidemic. It is still well ahead of The KFC Hospital and The Vodafone Hospital in its average waiting time at A&E, just four and a half hours. After midnight on Thursday this, of course, rises fourfold. The Telegraph’s ratings show that the HSBC’s record of successful operations is below the national average, and it is 123 out of 187 for cases MRSA, but perhaps all of this is beside the point. The hospital’s reputation is built primarily on being a leader in experimental research.

Anyway, whatever its merits, it is in the HSBC Hospital that I find myself. I don’t remember if I have signed any forms of consent but I have been placed on a programme to test an experimental new drug called Contradil.

While the manufacturers are hailing Contradil as something of a universal panacea, tests have revealed that it might not be without side effects. Among the documented side effects are sweating, dizziness, visual disturbances, sickness, nausea and mood swings. Among the undocumented side effects are paranoia, time disorientation, loss of reason, inability to stay awake, and vivid dreams.

Dr Black is injecting me with plasticine. The room has the warped geometry of a Maurits Escher painting. It is one of many in a large gothic house that is both familiar and unfamiliar. It is at once my school, my parental home, and my workplace. But still I do not know my way around and it is dark. I am anxious because I am late for something. I have missed an exam or an appointment and am searching for clarity. The corridor is charged with the bitter aroma of absinthe. On a large screen, gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. There is a commentary. I recognise the voice. It is my own, but my speech is slurred. I climb up a flight of stairs that takes me downward. I become immersed suddenly in a pool of clear warm saliva. Hank Williams is singing a song about being chained and manacled. I begin humming along to the tune. Someone joins in on the harmonica. They wanted to harm Monica. I am in a different room now; this one is long and narrow like a gallery. Its walls are of weathered blocked stone as if they should be outer walls. I struggle on my hands and knees along a row of Diane Arbus photographs, which keep changing. I know the people in some of the photographs, but their faces are stretched into grotesque caricatures. Now I am in another room, an upstairs room with an exaggeratedly concave ceiling. I go through a small gnarled wooden door and find myself in a grey corridor. It is damp and water trickles down the walls. I switch on a torch and there are bugs the size of rats on the floor, and rats the size of cats. Petrified, I make it to the other end of the corridor, where I crawl through the eye of a Lebanese hunchback. I find myself in white open space with a transparent green and magenta yin yang motif window hanging from a tree. I peel a large succulent peach. Now I am on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip is rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp is selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, are frolicking around pyramids that children have made in the sand. A car outside my window sounds its horn three times.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

BROWN SAUCE

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BROWN SAUCE by Chris Green

I offer no excuses. It was the third time in a month that I had crossed the border. There is no-one else I can blame for my arrest and subsequent detention. As I await my trial, I would like to be able to say I am remorseful or that she made me do it. But that I was bringing it for my friend, Margarita counts for nothing. I knew the risks. What a fool I was to think I could bring brown sauce into the country after President Ludo had decreed that only red sauce was allowed on savoury snacks. Brown sauce trafficking is after all now a capital crime in Ludova. Even with small amounts for personal use, you can face seven years in jail.

It all goes back to the time that Margarita came to visit me in Goland last year. During her stay, Margarita developed a taste for brown sauce on her cheesy comestibles. With President Go’s more liberal regime, both red and brown sauce are allowed in Goland, along with Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco. If you know where to get it you can also buy pickle and chutney.

The border crossing itself was easy. I’d been told by others even should you be caught at a border post, as there is a lucrative black market in brown sauce, the guards are easy to bribe. They are poorly paid and all too willing to turn a blind eye. They merely confiscate the sauce and let you through. Each time though, I was able to drive straight through in my green Tata Nano. The border guards seem to mostly sit around smoking some kind of pungent herb.

Metropolitan Ludova is a different matter though. Here the sauce law is enforced vigorously. Specially trained squads of officers with sniffer dogs roam the streets looking for offenders. They hang out around butcher’s shops keeping an eye out for customers who buy bumper bags of bacon or sausages and follow the suspects home. They are known as Brownies and they work on commission, the more brown sauce they impound, the more they get in their pay packet at the end of the month. I should have hidden the sauce before I went to buy the bacon, but I wanted to surprise Margarita with the whole works. I was caught with twenty bottles, not a big haul, but without a good defence barrister, enough to put me away for a long time.

There is little chance of escape. The prison guards are heavily armed and chew dark green leaves all day to keep them alert. They amuse themselves by singing raucous patriotic songs about President Ludo and they taunt the prisoners by making jokes about brown sauce. All the food in here is swimming in red sauce. Even things you can’t imagine putting red sauce on like turnips and rhubarb are doused with the stuff.

As I sit here staring at the bare walls, feeling sorry for myself, I cannot help but think back to all the spicy scrambled eggs and toasted sandwiches that Margarita and I enjoyed during her stay in Go City last year. And the bacon baps dripping with brown sauce we shared on our days out at the yak races, these washed down by sweet black tea from our Thermos. Margarita hasn’t been in to visit me since I’ve been here. I’ve heard nothing. I’m concerned she might by now be enjoying burgers with lashings of rich and tangy HP or Daddies with someone else from across the border.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Jimi Hendrix’s Kite (2015)

jimihendrixskite2016

Jimi Hendrix’s Kite by Chris Green

Part 1: The Twenty Seven Club

It is seven on a Saturday morning. I am enjoying a leisurely bath before going to the Strawberry Fields car boot. This gets going at about eight thirty so I have plenty of time. My bath is a large cast iron Victorian model with claw legs. I liberated it from a skip. Purists of Victoriana would maybe not approve of the zebra pattern I have painted on it, but it is in keeping with the jungle theme I have carried through the bathroom. It looks particularly good against the yucca and the kentia palm. I am sipping a cup of echinacea tea and scanning the Miscellaneous classifieds in the Advertiser, when something jumps out of the page: Box kite, large, rainbow colours, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers.

Why on earth would it matter to someone looking for a kite that Jimi Hendrix had owned it? It was not like it was a guitar, or even a jacket. And why £27? I try to remember if Jimi Hendrix is a member of the 27 Club, that elite band of rock stars that died aged 27. The ad has a mobile number. I phone it. There is no reply. Perhaps seven is a tad early. I leave a message on the voicemail.

When I was made redundant eighteen months ago, I decided to express myself at home. Do what I wanted with the house. Live my own kind of life. If I didn’t do it now I reasoned, I never would. I was nearly sixty for Heavens sake. Both the children had grown up and left home long ago and recently my partner, Judy had joined them. I didn’t have a mortgage, so what was the point in getting another job.

While homeowners are being encouraged to paint their houses in neutral colours so they they can sell them on, I have gone all out to make mine as distinctive and as brightly coloured as possible. Conformity is the curse of the modern world. From the trompe l’oeil front door to the Mondrian pattern patio at the back of the house, my house is a statement of individuality.

I make a living by buying and selling. The tools of the trade are charity shops, classifieds, auctions, ebay and car boots. All that is needed is a careful eye for a bargain. Last month I sold a folded movie poster for Mulholland Drive at auction for £350. Clic Sargent had been embarrassed to sell me this gem for £5 because it had a small tear in one corner. Last week I sold a Leika camera that I picked up for £20 for £250 on ebay. I do not need premises, only a phone line.

The economy is fuelled by the idea of built in obsolescence. Harassed twenty four seven by merciless advertisers to buy new ranges of commodities, people repeatedly accumulate too much clutter. What they need most in their lives is space to accommodate the new items. I help to give them that space. Second hand prices of most goods are at an all time low. Bargain hunting is fun. I do not miss the office or the High Street stores one bit.

It is spitting with rain when I arrive at the boot and there are only a few vehicles there. This is not a problem. Ninety five percent of the stock at car boots is utter junk. The skill is to spot the valuable or interesting amongst the junk. I have honed this skill and after all it is a buyers’ market.

In between buying a set of tyres and some ornamental grasses, still having change from a twenty, I continue to piece together the 27 Club. I calculate that Jimi Hendrix definitely was a member, as were Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones. These were the icons that Kurt Cobain had reputedly wanted to join, when he put the gun to his head.

I do not normally pay too much attention to CDs at car boots but I cannot help but notice Axis Bold as Love, on a trestle table that otherwise had little but kitchen utensils and ornaments. The dazzling Hindu iconography of the front cover screams out. I don’t think that Axis would not have been a casual purchase for anyone. You might expect to find Greatest Hits occasionally, but this is a most unexpected find. I take it as a good omen and just as I am paying the 50p my Samsung rings.

‘Hello,’ I say.

‘Hi man,’ says a man’s voice that sounds as if it is coming from outer space. Perhaps it is the echo on the line. Or the slowness with which he speaks. ‘You called me about Jimi’s kite.’ Or the long spaces in between his words. ‘

‘Yes’ I say, ‘interesting ad. What’s the story behind it?’

‘Heeey, look man! It’s a long story. Not now eh, I’m a busy man. Do you want to see it or don’t you?’

I think his manner a little abrupt, even if he is not familiar with the ways of Earth. But, I do want to see the kite, so I humour him. I listen while he gives me a complicated series of directions. I hope I am writing them down correctly. So far as I can judge Rainbow Bridge, which I’ve never heard of, is about fifty miles away. I arrange a viewing for 1 o’clock. This gives me time to have an unhurried breakfast somewhere along the way.

I have not played any of Hendrixs music for some time. While he is frequently named as the greatest ever guitarist, few people actually listen to his music. You hear Crosstown Traffic on TV adverts and sometimes you might hear a snatch of Stone Free, to accompany a trailer, but these are minor works in the canon. I put the CD in my £15 Alpine player and set off. What a treat! Jimi’s playing sounds so fresh. As I listen to his fingers sweeping up notes along the neck of his Stratocaster, I begin to imagine him flying a kite. A multicoloured box kite, soaring on a brisk westerly, fluid and free. He has such fantastic dexterity; he would be a natural at flying a kite. I remember also reading that he was a paratrooper when he was younger. He would have been familiar with floating in space. He would understand the air currents. He could have been an Olympic contender at kite flying.

In Tesco at Backwater, I order a nine item all day breakfast and am faced with a choice between The Daily Grail and The Horror on the news-stand. Send Them All Back Home, yells the Grail, ahead of a paranoid tirade against migrants. I choose The Horror. The Horror enlightens me with a story about a junior cabinet minister’s sex change operation, and about England striker Rane Spooky’s cocaine binges with his girlfriend, Shagga (will he be suspended ahead of the all important World cup qualifier against Bhutan, wonders England coach, Tunc Moloko). After another cup of tea, I set off across country to Rainbow Bridge. It is eleven minutes past eleven.

Part 2: If You Can Remember The Sixties

There comes a point when you have to finally admit that you are lost. When any sense of pride regarding your spatial awareness must be abandoned. Admittedly Judy had undermined my sense of spatial awareness over the years, but I still felt I could find my way around within a small margin of error. But having driven round and round in what seems to be some kind of alien landscape for the best part of an hour, I reach this stage. I am lost. L.O.S.T. No doubt about it. The last obvious landmark was a series of derelict huts on a disused RAF base about an hour and a half back.

I am sure, well almost sure, that I followed the directions properly and came off the B42 or whatever it was at Beckett Hill, and forked right at the first junction as instructed. Since then it has been a progression of ever more narrow country lanes, and now tracks and bridle paths. As far as the eye can see in any direction there is a patchwork of fields and woodland, following the geometry of the landscape. This is remote country. There has not even been a farmhouse. The last road sign I saw was the one at the Beckett Hill turn-off, which said Winwood, 3 miles. As it is overcast I do not even have the sun to guide me. I take out the mobile to call ahead, but this is more out of habit than faith. Of course there is not going to be a signal. Have you ever heard of a place called the back of beyond? Well, this is it!

I get out of the Volvo and scan the horizon in every direction. No sign of life. No farm animals. Not even birds. No buildings. Nothing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of what might be a small movement. I squint to try and get a better look. It takes a while to come into focus but it appears to be a red and white electric milk float making its way up a slight incline from left to right, across my field of vision. What a peculiar sight out here in the middle of nowhere. Reason suggests firstly, milk comes from the country so there would not be large profits in a such a rustic milk round and secondly that the short life of a battery might be an inhibiting factor. But, presumably the milk float is headed somewhere. I turn the car around and head in its general direction.

I come to a fork in the road and take a right, thinking this might represent a short cut. After five minutes or so I find myself in thick woodland. Perhaps this is Winwood. maybe the earlier signpost wasn’t referring to a village. Winwood might be just that, a wood.

The trees are now in full leaf and little light is getting through the canopy. I catch several fallow deer in the beams of the headlights. Signs of life at last. I stop the car. No deer. Nothing again. Just trees and more trees. I am leaning heavily towards the idea of turning back and heading the way I came, when there up ahead and coming towards me is the milk float. The track I am on is little more the width of my car. The milk float continues heading straight for me. And there is no one at the wheel. It has no driver. To avoid a collision I back the Volvo up turning into a small clearing, only to collide with the stump of a recently felled beech. The tyres and the grasses I bought earlier tumble about in the back of the car. The milk float carries on regardless at a steady ten miles an hour, milk crates rattling as it makes its ghostly way through the woods. I am seriously shaken.

I look at my watch. It is eleven minutes past eleven. Time seems to have stood still but my mind is racing. I can think of no rational explanation to any of this, but feel that I really need one. I feel faint and take a series of deep breaths. I dust myself down and begin to follow. What else can I do? Gradually murky daylight filters through and we come out of the woods and are back in open country. The patchwork of the landscape spreads like a mantle towards the distant horizon and what seems a very large and empty sky.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I witness next. There, in front of me, bouncing its way across the landscape in a spectacular fashion at about the speed of a fast car is a large pink bubble. Because I am a fan, this powerful image is instantly recognisable to me as Rover, the spherical guardian from the cult 1960s TV series, The Prisoner. In the series, Rover hunts down any person who attempts escape from the secret seaside resort known as the Village. When Rover catches an escapee, it envelops their body and suffocates them. I am both fascinated and frightened at the same time by this surreal sight. Each bound takes it about fifty metres. Rover leaps over trees with consummate ease. Fortunately it does not seem to be heading towards me and for this I am thankful.

With the appearance of Rover, I begin to read some significance into the driverless milk float. In the deep recesses of my consciousness, I recall an episode of The Avengers the cult 1960s TV series. In this episode, there was a milk float that had no driver, and there was a disused airbase like the one I had passed earlier. As I can remember nothing about the plot, this does not really help with an explanation of these incidents beyond that there might be a connection. It is after all quite unusual for sixties television to come to life twice in the space of a few minutes. I begin to wonder whether the TARDIS from Dr Who might be about to materialise.

3: For The Benefit Of Mr Kite

I arrive at Rainbow Bridge at quarter to one. The journey has been relatively straightforward, taking me through some beautiful countryside. The directions I hurriedly took down earlier on the back of an envelope for all my concern about their vagueness, were accurate. I turned off the main road at Beckett Hill and forked left at the next junction, which took me through a beautiful little hamlet called Winwood. I passed a large area of mature woodland on my right and stopped a few miles further on at a nursery and garden centre for a cup of papaya and ginseng tea (I couldn’t resist buying a pampas grass for £5). I passed through Hockney and turned right at Mellow Yellow which took me just as my directions had said to Rainbow Bridge.

Rainbow Bridge is not a large village. There is only one street, the main one through the village. The directions say, last house on the left. I park outside the small semi-detached stone cottage. The cottage is built on an incline with a steep gravel path leading through a lawn up to the front step. The place looks in good repair. The door and the windows are nicely turned out. There is a Georgia creeper growing up the front of the house, a brightly coloured border, and a Chinese fan palm and a bamboo growing in Moroccan-blue glazed pots.

I knock on the door. The leaded stained glass diamond-patterned panel in the door is particularly impressive. Mr Kite has good taste. I half expected to find a ramshackle house with a goat tethered by a piece of frayed rope, Purple Haze playing at deafening volume, an untidy bunch of latter-day hippies sprawled in a haze of skunk smoke, the acrid smell of which would assault me the moment the front door opened. The ashtrays would be full, the heavy velvet curtains would be drawn, a black and white mongrel dog would be slumped on a threadbare settee, rugs would be hanging on the walls, and dishes would be piled up in the sink.

I am revising my appraisal when on the second knock, the door opens, releasing with it a cloud of acrid blue smoke. From within this a tall, lean figure with oriental features and dark slicked back hair appears. Inside a fine set of laughter lines, his eyes are deep set and he has a scar above the right temple. It is a difficult face to put an age to. He might be anything between 50 and 70 years old but his style of dress seems to belong to a younger man. He wears red loafers, distressed green denim cut-offs, and a baggy crimson sweatshirt with the number 27 printed on the front. He wears a chunky gold neck chain and his stubble is designer-plus.

He seems a little surprised to see me, unsure of who I might be. I tell him I’ve come about the kite.

‘Hey man! You made it OK then.’ Mr Kite’s voice has inflections of Jack Nicholson about it. ‘Only I wasn’t sure about the directions I’d given you, man. You know what I mean.’

‘No I found it easily,’ I say. ‘Nice drive. Lovely scenery.’

He seems to want to stay on the subject of his directions. ‘I couldn’t remember if I told you to fork left or right at Beckett Hill, man. You dig? Don’t turn right. Big mistake if you turn right.’

‘No. I turned left like you said. Look, here!’ I show him the envelope. ‘Why? Where does it take you if you turn right?’

‘No-one knows, man. You get lost. You know what I mean.’

He seems more friendly than he did on the phone. He grins a lot.

‘It’s sort of like a black hole. Like the Bermuda Triangle. …… Anyway come on in man, let me show you the kite.’

He offers me the large spliff he has been smoking. I decline but I am already beginning to feel stoned from passive smoking.

The hallway is like a gallery with an exhibition of framed photographs, mostly black and white in black frames, but a few of the pictures are in colour and these are in green, red or yellow frames. My gaze settles on one in particular. This must be Mr Kite when he was younger with Jimi Hendrix. They are seated on stools playing acoustic guitars. He plays right handed and Jimi plays left handed. They mirror each other like John and Paul. It is a fantastic shot. I move closer to study it. The clothes, the hair styles, the whole ambience of the picture seems to capture the era perfectly. The times, they were a-changing. There was something in the air.

‘You like it, man? What about the sideburns, eh? That was taken in 1968. Or was it 1969? Olympic Studios, in Barnes. I had a …… I suppose you could call it a flat in Putney at the time. Jimi used to crash there if he was working late at the studio. We went out a few times to fly the kite in the park around the corner. You know what, even then he would take his guitar. He would walk down the street with it like a travelling minstrel. Happy times man.’

‘Should I have heard of you,’ I ask?

‘I don’t know. ….. Probably not, I was with lots of bands in the sixties. I was a bit what you might call wayward. Never stayed with anything very long.’

He takes a final pull on the spliff.

‘Heard of The Electric Bananas? I was with them for a while, and some American bands. California mostly. My name’s Dave by the way’

I introduce myself, he puts the spliff in an ashtray and we shakes hands.

‘In here,’ he says, leading me into a deceptively spacious front room.

The kite is laid out on the floor. It is fantastic. Rainbow is an understatement. It has so much colour. It is so spectacular it makes everything else in the room look grey. Even the yellow walls, the Ken Done curtains, and the art deco settee, and the Matisse prints on the walls.

‘It’s brilliant,’ I say. ‘I’d like to buy it, but I’m curious, why £27? Why not 25 or 30?’

With this he becomes animated. He has clearly been waiting for me to ask.

Twenty seven’s a cool number, man. You know. The house number’s 27. Didn’t you notice? I always take number 27. I’ve lived at 27 Mulholland Drive – a long time ago. 27 Ladbrook Grove, 27 Love Street, 27 Mandela Mews, 27, I could go on and on, man. My birthday’s on the 27th. And Jimi’s was. We were both born on November 27th. 27 is a magic number. It is the cube of 3. It is the result of a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7.

He waits for me to show that I understood what a prime reciprocal magic square is. I don’t, but nod anyway.

‘And did you know there are 27 books in the New testament,’ he continues. ‘But …. I know what you’re thinking, man…. the 27 club. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Tim Buckley, Robert Johnson and Kurt Cobain all died at 27.’

I have by now had chance to think this through. If I felt like debating the issue I could point out that there are lots of famous musicians that did not die at 27. Otis Redding and Nick Drake died at 26 and Marc Bolan died at 28 for instance, Bob Marley was 36 when he died, John Lennon lived to the ripe old age of 40, and many even those who have led dissolute lives are still alive. And for the record Buddy Holly was just 22 when he met his maker. Besides, some of those on his list are a little obscure: Tim Buckley and Robert Johnson are hardly household names.

‘Why don’t you want to keep the kite,’ I ask?

‘It’s my life laundary man,’ he laughs, as he licks the edge of a cigarette paper. ‘It’s not the sixties anymore, you know what I mean? What do I need a kite for? You’ve got to let go.’

Part 4: Eleven Minutes Past Eleven

Dr Robert tells me that he feels I am suffering from false memory syndrome. This is as a result of the accident. I was unconscious for 48 hours, and my Volvo, tough car though it was, was a write off as a consequence of the collision. Beckett Hill is a notorious accident black spot. I have now been in hospital for a week, recovering from a catalogue of serious injuries, including a fractured skull, damage to my neck, my thorax, and broken bones in my arms and legs. Dr. Robert is a visiting consultant, specialising in head injuries.

‘A false memory,’ he tells me, ‘is a memory, which is a distortion of an actual experience, or a confabulation of an imagined one. Many false memories involve confusing or mixing fragments of memory events, some of which may have happened at different times but which are remembered as occurring together. Many false memories involve an error in source memory. Furthermore, memories are often mixed; some parts are accurate and some are not. Some involve treating dreams as if they were playbacks of real experiences.’

He adds that my accounts of the day leading up to the accident are colourful and detailed compared to most examples of false memory, but research on memory indicates that the actual act of remembering inevitably involves creativity and imagination. As I can remember important things like what my name is, where I live and what my bank details are, he does not seem to be too concerned about these flights of fancy. He seems especially pleased that I can remember my bank details. He is optimistic that, given the appropriate stimuli, my memory will in time begin to function normally.

Dr Robert leaves and a nurse that I have not seen on the ward before helps me back to bed. I notice from the badge on her blue uniform that her name is Sunita Kapoor. Nurse Kapoor can see that I have been a little troubled by the discussion with Doctor Robert and tries to put my mind at rest. Unlike one or two of the nurses I have met during my stay Nurse Kapoor seems genuinely concerned about my welfare.

‘It is not unusual to be confusing things that have happened with things that have not,’ she says as she manipulates my wheelchair around the trolleys on the ward. ‘Imaginings are very powerful. My religion is based upon powerful imaginings.’

As she is wearing a bindi on her forehead I take it to be Hinduism she is referring to. I do question whether seeing, or imagining I saw, the TARDIS materialise in the middle of hundreds of square miles of gently undulating countryside might be a little outside the realm of those studying the Upanishads, but as she does seem very friendly, I do not mention this concern.

Nurse Kapoor asks if I have tried reading to take my mind off of things. I tell her that I do like reading but I do not have a book and I have read all the Collectors Weekly magazines that my friend Annie brought in. As she uses the EZ lift to replace me back in my bed, she promises she will find me some books.

‘There are many good books in the nurses’ rest room that might be interesting you,’ she says. ‘I do like to have a good read myself. I have just finished a story called The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges. It is quite short but it is very complicated. It is about a Chinaman who is a German agent in the war. He goes to the house of a man named Stephen Albert whose name he has got from the phone book and shoots him. When the story of the killing turns up in the papers, the Germans know through a secret code they’ve devised, where the important British munitions dump they must attack is located: a French town called Albert. The story mentions a book about time written by Chinese philosopher Ts’ui Pen. Dr. Jayawardene is telling me that it has a subtext. The subtext is that at every point in time and space, history branches out in an infinite number of different directions. This offers you endless realities which all occur at once and it also suggests that you can be whatever you can imagine.’

‘It sounds quite a story,’ I say. ‘I should like to read it.’

‘I will bring it to you this afternoon,’ she says, ‘but now I have to see other patients on the ward.’

‘I’ve got The Advertiser, if you would like to read it,’ says the heavily bandaged patient in the next bed.

‘Thanks,’ I say.

Instinctively I find myself turning to the classifieds. I scan these, arriving at an item in the Miscellaneous. It reads Mistral Malibu Wind Surfer with mast, boom and sail, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers. I look up from the paper. It is eleven minutes past eleven.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

MURDER MYSTERY

murdermystery

MURDER MYSTERY – a murder mystery – by Chris Green

My head is pounding. My mouth feels like a dried up drainage ditch. I am used to more formal surroundings, when I wake. A comfortable bed. If I’m lucky, a cup of tea. This room is unfamiliar. I have no recall of how I came to be here. Across from me, a few feet away lies a naked woman with a snake tattoo running up one of her thighs. She is asleep amongst a heap of Film Noir print cushions. She has her back to me. At first I do not recognise her.

Slowly it dawns on me this is Scarlett. But, what is this weird place?

A black bakelite telephone sits on a small rococo table beside Scarlett’s recumbent body. Above the table hangs a zebra patterned rug. A large aloe vera plant skulks in the corner. Four identical black cats sit in different parts of the room at exactly the same angle in the same upright position looking towards the window. It takes me a few moments to realise that they are stuffed. There is musty smell in the air. I go over to the open window. It looks out on to a pool of dark water, rich with rotting vegetation.

Another woman comes into the room. My partner, Kristin. A little of the puzzle falls into place. Scarlett is a friend of Kristin’s. Scarlett has recently taken up with Ivan, an Albanian taxi driver, or is it a taxidermist. We suspect Ivan may be using his taxi driving or taxiderming as a cover for his work for the Albanian Mafia. Anyway, this must be Ivan’s flat.

Kristin and I must have arrived last night, although I can remember very little. I feel something is wrong. I don’t want to be here.

‘We need to get back, Kristin,’ I say.

‘What!’ she says. She looks as dazed as I feel. Her eyes are sunken and her hair is matted. Her dark mesh tights are laddered and her pale jacket is smeared with something. There is probably no point in asking her anything about last night at present.

‘I think it would be good if we got on home,’ I say.

‘Back home,’ she says. There is something strange about the way she emphasises home. I am not sure why. Perhaps she does not consider our flat as home. Technically I suppose it is my flat, although Kristin has been living there on and off for nearly twelve months. Perhaps she feels she has somewhere else to go. Maybe this is why we are here at Scarlett’s. I try to remember what has happened.

‘Yes, back home,’ I say. ‘I feel weak. I think I may need to eat soon.’

‘And having breakfast is going to solve everything is it?’

‘Well, perhaps we could have a talk at the same time. Find out what’s happening between us.’

Kristin greets this with an icy stare. She goes into another room and returns with a scuffed black leather overnight bag. She throws it across her shoulder. I do not seem to have any baggage. There is clearly something about the situation I am missing. Until I can discover what this is, I decide I must back off.

Scarlett is still asleep. Kristin scribbles a note for her. We take our leave along a dark corridor. It is difficult to get one’s bearings. A succession of rooms lead off. Some have doors but others do not. No light comes through from the rooms. It looks as if the space might be used as a storage area. It must be a very large building. Perhaps it is a converted warehouse. Maybe a warehouse in the process of conversion. In the nineties it may have been used for art shows or parties. There is a menacing echo to our footsteps as we tread the floorboards. I cannot find a light switch. I bump into a large spiders web and send its occupant goes scurrying across the floor.

Kristin is several steps ahead. She is definitely in a mood about something. I wonder if it is about something that happened last night. The freight train running through my head no longer stops at last night’s station.

We find ourselves at a staircase and go down some steps. We make it out into the daylight. Where is the car, I wonder. Did we not come in the car? I go through my pockets. I do not have the car keys.

‘Have you got the keys?’ I ask. No reply.

‘Did we come on foot?’ I ask. No reply.

‘Where are we exactly?’ No reply. Kristin is giving me the silent treatment. Lately it seems like I’m treading on eggshells. The problem is I can’t remember what it is I’ve supposed to have done. Did I buy the wrong type of gin? Did I not notice her new hairdo? Did I delete something from her phone? Did I say something bad about her degenerate son? From her expression, I get the impression that it may have been something worse.

The streets are flooded. It has been raining heavily but it is not raining now. I begin to recognise where we are. It is Toker’s End, a part of town that I have not been to often. It must be two or three miles from where we live.

Toker’s End is named after the nineteenth century philanthropist Sir Charles Toker. While similar areas in other parts of the country have been subject to gentrification, Toker’s End has bucked the trend and is heading towards dereliction. With its tall Victorian buildings, it was once a well to do area, but over the years it has been bought up of Greeks and Macedonians and converted into flats and bedsits. Legendary slum landlord, Dinos Costadinos (Costa) I believe owns the whole of Prince Albert Street and according to urban legend has never once called in a contractor to take care of any maintenance or repairs.

As we walk along, I feel an odd sensation of disengagement. I feel like I’m floating. Street sounds seem muted. A muffled soundtrack of distant voices seems to play in a loop. This is punctuated by the hiss of tyres as the early morning traffic eases its way through the surface water. I feel sense of doubt about my surroundings. At any moment the scene might evaporate. The lines of everything I cast my glance upon seem hazy and indistinct. The bright coloured street art daubed on the run down apartments in George Street is blurred like an impressionist painting. The torn poster of the neo noir movie, Dead Ringer in the bus shelter is dissolving. The shop front of the Bangla convenience store looks frosted over. The roadsigns are melting.

After several blocks we come to the river. It is a fast flowing stretch before it reaches the old mill. The river is normally shallow here, but the water has come up over the low stone bridge. We look for another place to cross. There are one or two places we could maybe wade through, but then we might as well do this over the bridge. Whichever way we cross we are going to get wet. We would need to double back the way we came to reach the main road bridge.

Why have we come this way? I wonder. In my daze, I realise I have just been following Kristin. It occurs to me that we are heading for Finnegan’s Wake, where Irish poets with a lunchtime thirst vent their anger in Open Mic sessions. Finnegan’s is one of Kristin’s haunts when she wants to give life a miss. She has been struggling with sobriety lately. A visit to Finnegan’s is unlikely to help. I suspect that soon we are going to break up. I cannot live this way. I cannot take Kristin’s mood swings any more. Should I tackle it head on right now or leave it for later. I feel at forty years old I should have left all of this behind. I don’t like to have arguments in the street. I make the decision to leave her to it and go home instead. The riverbank seems as good a place as any. If Kristin doesn’t come back later, all well and good. This is the end of the road as far as I am concerned.

When I get home there is no sign of the car. I cannot be sure where I left it, but I report it’s disappearance to the police. I tell them it was taken from my home address. Twenty four hours later, much to my astonishment, they return it.’

‘It was taken by joyriders,’ Detective Sergeant Lucan says. ‘The forensic boys have gone over it but come up with nothing.’

‘There’s a lot of it about,’ his oppo, D.C. Hammer says.

‘Happens every Saturday night,’ says Lucan. ‘Car theft should have become harder with more sophisticated locking systems, but still it is on the rise.’

‘Fords are the easiest cars to steal,’ says Hammer. For some reason he seems to be pleased about this.

I check the car over. There appears to be no damage. They have even left my Cocteau Twins CDs in the glove compartment. I sign the form to say that the vehicle has been returned and congratulate them.

Kristin does not come back, that night or the next. At first I am a little concerned, but this quickly passes. When something no longer works, it is good to move on. Presumably the feeling is mutual. I get into a routine of going to work and coming home. Gradually I begin to feel better, but I still have no recollection of what happened that night at Toker’s End. I imagine it involved some kind of intoxication, but I have overindulged on numerous occasions in the past with complete recall afterwards. There is something about the blackout, and the abstraction I felt the following day that disturbs me.

It is nearly a week later that I read in the local paper about Ivan’s corpse being found. The report is splashed across the front page. There is a grainy photo of him. It looks as though it was taken a while ago. He looks younger. While they have not established the cause of death, the police are treating it as suspicious. They are appealing for information. They do not know the actual day or time of his death, but they want anyone who saw him over a three day period to come forward. Or anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious in the vicinity last weekend. I cannot recall exactly when I last saw Ivan, but I have a strong hunch that it may have been last Saturday evening. The report mentions a blue Ford Mondeo. My heart starts thumping like Lennox Lewis in training. Phlegm rises in the back of my throat. I feel I am going to be sick.

I try first to contact Kristin, but as expected her phone is dead. She has not picked up the charger. I have a number for Scarlett and try ringing it, but it goes constantly on to voicemail. It may not even be the right number so I do not leave a message. I would not know what to say anyway, under the circumstances. I wonder what I can do about the car. While there are a number of blue Ford Mondeos on the road, my burgeoning paranoia tells me that it is mine that they might be looking for. After all, it was unaccounted for last Saturday night. Surely soon one section of the CID will cross reference it with the other section and come looking for me. I do not know what to do for the best. Needless to say my memory of events has not returned.

That the police have not established the cause of death begins to worry me. I appreciate that there are procedures that must be followed, but how difficult can it be? If the body is found chopped up and put in the freezer, then you can possibly rule out suicide. If the victims head is caved in then you know that he has been hit over the head with a heavy object. If there is a bullet hole in his chest then you can assume that shooting was the cause of death. If the victim is found face down in water then he probably drowned. Why am I thinking that Ivan did not die in any of these ways? Why am I thinking that he was suffocated by a someone pulling a bag over his head? Where is this coming from? Perhaps it is a thriller I have read recently or a movie plot is leaking into my consciousness. Surely it is a common theme in the thriller or horror genres, but despite racking my brain I am unable to come up with an example.

I comfort myself that no matter how wasted I was last weekend, killing someone is not something I would be able to do. It is not in my character. While Kristin is a little unpredictable and has been known to hit out on a few occasions, I cannot imagine that even if she lost control this would run to murder, and what would be the motive? Scarlett, on the other hand is every bit as volatile as Kristin. In fact she is possibly more unpredictable in both appearance and behaviour. Furthermore she has had a one on one relationship with the deceased. There would be both more of a motive and more of an opportunity. Designer drugs might have played a part. Ivan comes up with all sorts of things I’ve never heard of. Both of them could just flip in the blink of an eye. I remember the time that Kristin and I went with them to the Stealing Banksy exhibition at the BankRobber Gallery in Notting Hill. They were laying into each other so much that the stewards had to pull them apart. After that they wouldn’t let any of us in to see the stolen street art.

Ivan’s death could have been an accident of course. Probably not if it were suffocation with a bag, but then you never know. Until the cause of death is announced, it is pointless to speculate. The problem I have is that the announcement is only likely to come when the police come and speak to me. What do I have for an alibi? Any way you look at it whether I committed the act or whether I witnessed it, I am in trouble. Even if it was nothing to do with any of us, I am stuck for an alibi. What if there is DNA evidence in the back of my car or the body was carried in the boot. How am I going to get out of this one?

I haven’t seen my therapist, Daniel DeMarco in a long time. Not since my oneirophrenia cleared up and I stopped having hallucinations. He probably won’t be able to get me off the hook for a murder charge. He may not even be able to re-stimulate my memory about last Saturday night, but he will be able to lend an ear. Daniel is good at listening. He uses what he describes as non directive therapy. He is so laid back that sometimes he is asleep by the end of the session. The remarkable thing is that by this time you’ve resolved the issue that you came with. Admittedly with my oneirophrenia it took a little longer, but on other occasions when I’ve gone to him with a problem, he has neutralised my anxiety in a blink of the eye.

He sits me down in a comfortable chair and seats himself opposite me. As he does so he hums a little tune. I think this is designed to relax me. Or maybe he suffers from earworm and has just been listening to John Denver.

I open up about my predicament. Everything just comes pouring out in a torrent of wild emotion.

‘Hmm,’ he says when I have finished.

‘What do you think that I should do?’ I say. ‘Should I get rid of the car in the canal and get on a plane? Should I tell the police it was me? Or perhaps I should just end it all.’

‘Yes. I see,’ he says. ‘Which one of those makes you feel most comfortable?’

‘Comfortable! Comfortable. None of them make me feel comfortable. Nothing about the situation makes me feel comfortable. Splitting up with Kristin doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Having blackouts doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Being a wanted man doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I’m at my wits end. I don’t know where to turn. I’m desperate, Doctor DeMarco.’

‘Dan. Dan. You can call me Dan.’

‘I’m desperate, Dan.’

It is the middle of the night. Kristin has let herself in and has sneaked into bed beside me. I am still awake. I cannot sleep much at the moment. She snuggles up to me and we make love, as if nothing has happened. It may not be the tenderest of couplings, but we are both happy with the result. There has never been anything wrong with the physical side of our relationship. It’s all the rest that is the problem. Is has often puzzled me how the physical and the emotional can be so separate.

It’s all very well lying here sated, but I can’t ignore the problem at hand. It is not going to go away that easily.

‘Ivan’s dead,’ I say. ‘Someone killed him.’

Kristin studies my face for a moment and sees that I am not joking. ‘What are you saying?’ she says. ‘That you think it was me. Is that it?’

It seems our peaceful reconciliation is going to be short lived.

‘No that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to find out what happened.’

‘He probably had it coming,’ she says, giving no indication of what this means.

‘So you don’t know anything more about it than what the papers say. What happened last Saturday night?’

‘That’s typical of you isn’t it? You fuck my best friend and then you claim you can’t remember.’

‘What!’

‘I suppose you thought that I was sleeping with Ivan. That’s why you slept with Scarlett. Is that what you are going to say? And now that Ivan’s dead you think I killed him. Perhaps it was you who killed him. Have you thought of that?’

‘As it happens I have thought of that. In fact I’ve been thinking of little else.’

‘I suppose you can always blame it on that condition of yours. You have an excuse for everything, don’t you?’

She is already putting her clothes back on. I try a more gentle approach and ask her to calm down.

‘Whatever it is, we are in it together,’ I say, but this does not stop her walking out on me again.

I am no further forward. In fact if anything things have moved backwards. I still have not eliminated myself or Kristin from the murder suspects but there is the additional complication of my apparent clandestine liaison with Scarlett to consider.

I get up and do some research into Ivan Luga on the internet. Perhaps there will be a clue buried in there somewhere. There are a number references to people with this name. I hone in on the Facebook profile of an Ivan Luga in the UK. This is our man. His profile photo shows him with the head of a stuffed tiger. He likes David Lynch films and death metal music. He reads Haruki Murakami and nihilistic poetry. I would have thought he might be a little challenged by the language barrier with some of his choices. He has posted a number of pictures of circus freaks. There is a shot of him brandishing a Remington hunting rifle and another of him posing with a pistol. He has 64 friends, about 50 of which have Eastern European names. The photos of them suggest that these are shady characters. There are some statuses in a language I take to be Albanian. The English expression crystalline powder occurs in the middle of one or two of the posts, along with the name, Molly. It seems an odd subject to be mentioning on social media. But this is an odd profile. What sinister world am I uncovering? I feel a chill run down my spine.

It occurs to me that whatever I might reveal here, I am not going to get anywhere with it, as I cannot go to the police. Anyway, Ivan is dead isn’t he? I am just about to leave the site, when I notice that one of the statuses is dated yesterday. That’s impossible. There must be some mistake. I take another look. The content of the post seems to be of little significance. It is just some gobbledegook about SHADOWCAT and TOR. I have no idea what it means, but it is a status and it was definitely posted yesterday. The Keyser Söze that has commented on it is presumably an alias. It cannot be the real Keyser Söze. There is no real Keyser Söze. But this is a development in the puzzle. Either someone else has taken over the account or Ivan Luga is not dead.

Scarlett’s arrival is a bolt out of the blue. There she is on my doorstep. She has on a little red dress showing nearly the full extent of her snake tattoo. She has a smile that would get her noticed in any crowd and a twinkle in her eye. This does not look like a woman who has recently murdered someone, but then neither did Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

‘Didn’t we have a great time last weekend,’ she says, ‘We ought to do it again. Why did you leave so suddenly?’

I explain to her about Kristin and I going our separate ways.

‘I wondered if that might happen,’ she says. ‘Never mind. I’m here now.’

I start to explain to her about developments since we last saw each other.

‘No! I haven’t read the paper,’ she says. ‘What do you mean, Ivan is dead?’

‘But he may not be,’ I add.

‘He hasn’t called me,’ she says. ‘I am thinking that perhaps he has gone off travelling somewhere and couldn’t take me. But you are saying he is dead.’

‘But may not be,’ I repeat.

‘Show me the paper!’ she says.
I show her the report.

‘That’s rubbish,’ she says. I don’t even think that the photo is of him. He has younger brothers. It might be one of them.’

‘You’d better let me in on what happened last weekend,’ I say.

‘I don’t remember too many of the details,’ she says. ‘But I do remember us ending up in bed together.’

‘I don’t remember this,’ I say.

‘Well, then you should,’ she says. ‘You were sensational. The Molly probably helped though, don’t you think?’

‘Who’s Molly,’ I say.

‘Not who, it’s a what. I thought you had taken Molly before,’ she says. ‘Don’t you remember? We’re not talking MDMA here. This was the real deal, straight out of the lab. Ivan brought a new batch of it round.’

‘Did he? And I took some?’

‘Yes! We all did. It was dynamite. Anyway, we all went out to Frenzy and then that new club, Vertigo. And we ……. I wonder what has happened to Ivan.’

I can’t tell from her expression if she is trying to be ironic or not. She doesn’t seem to want to elaborate. Her present intentions it seems are elsewhere. I try to remember what happened in Basic Instinct. Catherine Tramell, the Sharon Stone character got away with it, didn’t she? Also, I seem to recall that there was a sequel.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

The 16:06

the1606

The 16:06 by Chris Green

The 16:06 from Paddington is usually on time. I rely on its punctuality to catch my connecting train from Taunton to Bridgewater, where I live. It runs at the right time for me. I do not like to work late on a Friday and I don’t want to spend a lot of time travelling. After all I have been up in town all week and feel I deserve a break. I want to get home. As a bonus, in summer this service gives me a chance to listen to the closing stages of Test Match Special on my iphone.

The train is often nearly empty. Most people travelling from the capital catch later trains. But, after five thirty I find the trains are a nightmare, on any day of the week. Paddington station becomes like something out of a wartime evacuation blockbuster. Why would anyone put themselves through this day after day?

Had the 16:06 been on time, the seat next to me would in all probability be empty, perhaps for the entire trip, and I would be able to relax and prepare for the weekend.

‘Is this seat taken?’ she asks. She is wearing an Afghan coat and her hair is braided.

I am tempted to say yes, but my better nature prevails. And she does have a nice smile, but this is as far as it goes. I am twice her age and I think we would have little in common. I mean. Afghan coat? In June? In 2015?

She spends several minutes depositing, arranging and rearranging a startling array of hand luggage. There are haversacks and rucksacks and tote bags of every colour. There are scarves and hats and even a potted plant. The tent alone needs its own seat. How did she manage to carry it all. At least she doesn’t have a dog.

She takes off her coat and places it on top of the tent. She finally sits down. She is wearing a tangerine cheesecloth smock. My nasal passages are invaded by the powerful aroma of incense and patchouli. I try to ignore her by turning away to look out the window, but it becomes clear that she wants to talk. I try turning up the volume of the cricket commentary, but she carries on chattering, as if I am hanging on her every word. Eventually I take my headphones out and look her way.

She explains that she has been camping out. She came up to London last weekend to go to a concert and stayed on.

‘Who did you go to see?’ I ask, out of politeness.

‘Blind Faith,’ she says, excitedly.’ They played a free concert in Hyde Park.’

‘Who?’ I say.

‘Blind Faith,’ she repeats. ‘You know, Eric Clapton. Steve Winwood.’

‘Oh,’ I say, while I turn this over in his mind. To say, have they reformed I feel would just prolong the conversation, but to the best of my recollection the concert she is referring to took place in 1969. I think my parents went …. both of them ….. together.

‘I’m Luna,’ she says. ‘But you can call me Loon. Everybody does.’

Tempted to say, sounds about right, I manage to resist. ‘Pleased to meet you, Loon,’ I offer instead.

‘You’re a Pisces, aren’t you? Luna says, looking me in the eye.

‘That’s right, Loon. I am as it happens. How did you know?’

‘You are imaginative, creative and kind.’

‘Am I?’

‘And compassionate and intuitive.’

‘That’s pretty good, isn’t it?’

‘But, you are lazy, weak willed and pessimistic.’

‘Ah, I see. Not so good then.’

‘But you have Leo rising.’

‘Is that good? I knew a Leo when I was in the army but he wasn’t very good at rising.’

‘And the Moon in Scorpio.’

After a few false starts (what do those whistles and flags mean), the train finally sets off. I look at my watch. It is twenty to five. Even if the driver goes like Harry in the night, there’s no chance of catching the connection now. I have no idea what time the next one leaves Taunton. I am about to check on my iphone, but Luna interrupts me.

‘Don’t be uptight,’ she says. ‘Be here now, man. Just go with the flow.’ These are expressions I remember my dad using, yet oddly he never seemed to practice them. Dad wanted to control everything. And you had to watch out if things didn’t go according to plan. This is why I moved out at eighteen. This was why Mum ran off with Didier, a Belgian gymnast.

As the train powers its way towards Reading, Luna talks about macrobiotics, Malcolm X and The Mothers Of Invention. She talks about International Times and Oz. Everything about her is retro, backdated. She does not seem connected to the modern world. It is as if she carries her own time bubble around with her which keeps her separate from the here and now of this railway carriage. She is either completely unaware of this, or is acting a role. I begin to wonder if it is not perhaps an enormous hoax at my expense, a television spoof maybe. I look around me for cameras. I do not see any.

Luna holds forth about cosmic evolutionary development, transcendental understanding and what she does to balance her chakras. I am not convinced I have chakras. Perhaps my parents had chakras. They were a a bit far out. They seemed to go for all this Eastern mysticism. Guru this and Swami that. I narrowly avoided being taken to an ashram in Rishikesh one time by feigning yellow jaundice and was sent to stay with Aunt Trudi in Fife, while they buggered off to the subcontinent. They came back just the same, arguing at the slightest opportunity.

I try to divert the conversation on to more earthly matters. I am anxious to get back to the Test Match commentary. The match had reached a critical stage when I left it. Following another famous collapse, England were eight wickets down with twenty overs left, trying once more to save the game.

‘What good is all this …… esoteric wisdom?’ I say.

‘Wisdom is your third eye,’ she says. And knowledge is your third arm.’

I do not think I want a third eye or third arm. They sound just plain ridiculous.

Luna is still away with the fairies. She begins to talk about the journey, but it is not the train journey she is referring to, it is life’s journey.

‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,’ she says.

What a load of twaddle, I am thinking. She needs to work in the city for a couple of months. She would soon realise that the universe didn’t give a damn about you.

As we pull out of Reading, Luna says that the train will soon sweep past the Westbury White Horse, a giant chalk horse carved into the landscape. It is meant to represent the Celtic horse goddess, Rhiannon. She explains about The Golden Bough, earth magic and ley lines.

‘Do you know they levitated the stones for Stonehenge from Wales along ley lines,’ she says.

‘I don’t believe in magic,’ I tell her. ‘It’s all done with mirrors.’

‘Watch this!’ she says, and with it she vanishes. Her luggage disappears too. All of it. It is as if she never ………..

In fact everything has changed. I find myself aboard a completely different train. The carriage is old. From the 1970s. It has ripped cloth seats, no smoking signs and windows you can open. It is the type I remember from the trips to Torquay that I was forced to go on as a teenager to please one or other of my parents. Twelve year-olds don’t build sandcastles, I would tell Mum. Or, no thankyou dad, I’m too young to smoke dope. And why would I want to if it makes you listen to Emerson, Lake and Palmer?

To my astonishment I discover that I have a Mohican haircut, a studded leather jacket, ragged drainpipe jeans and an old khaki rucksack. How old would I be? About fifteen or sixteen? Despite the amazing transformation, I find my train of thought is still linear. I am still in the mindset of going home to Bridgewater for the weekend on a train that is a few minutes late which means that I will probably miss my connecting train. I take a look at my watch. It is a old watch. A digital model with a silver strap. It says 17:25. I look out the window to assess the train’s progress. I know this journey like the back of my hand. We are halfway between Reading and Swindon. I do a quick calculation. This is consistent at this stage with the 16:06 being a few minutes late.

In the seat next to me is a girl in her late twenties wearing a charcoal office skirt suit and dark patterned tights. She has long black hair and cakey make-up. She reminds me a little of the actress, Megan Fox. She has kicked off her high heels. Perhaps she has been on her feet all day. At the perfume counter of a department store maybe. Or running up and down the corridors of an advertising agency. She is scrolling through some pictures of celebrities on her laptop. One of the celebrities is in fact none other than Megan Fox. The lookalike Megan Fox seems to be in her own world, protecting her space with an air of disinterest. She does not want a train conversation. When I look her way, she pulls her skirt down an inch or two and turns herself slightly to face the aisle. She is wised up to the ways of teenagers with strange haircuts, frenzied eyes and nasal jewellery.

I pick up the rucksack. It has some half recognised names of bands scribbled on it in felt-tip pen. The 4 Skins, The Slits, The Dead Kennedys. I find a silver Sony transistor radio in the front pocket. It looks oddly familiar. I switch it on. I fiddle around with the tuning dial and find a crackling cricket commentary. It doesn’t take long for me to realise that I am now listening to a different match. One from a bygone era. This one has Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd batting. Ian Botham is bowling. This would make it England versus West Indies….. 1979? Megan looks around, disapprovingly.

I switch the radio off. I feel the sudden need to start a conversation with Megan. I have to find out what she feels might be going on. What is her take on this major lapse in logic and reason? Surely she is out of time in this 1970s railway carriage, the same as I am out of time. We both belong to 2015. The real world. Surely. Why are we so misplaced? Has Luna really had something to do with this ….. this shifting time? Sorcery? Magic? We are passing the Westbury White horse. Should I tell Megan about the horse goddess, Rhiannon as an opener to show her that I am not just a dissident punk? Not an spotty adolescent on an inappropriate train leering at her lovely long legs.

My youthful demeanour precludes much in the way of approaches to an attractive older woman. I cannot for instance say, ‘are you going all the way?’ This would be like saying, ‘are you up for it?’

‘I’m getting off at Swindon,’ she says, looking up from her laptop.

‘Oh,’ is all I can manage. Is she telepathic?

‘So. You will have the seat to yourself, all the way to Taunton.’

‘Thankyou.’

‘Do you really like those bands, by the way?’

‘Which bands?’

‘The ones on your, what would you call it ….. rucksack?’

‘Well. I did. Once.’

‘But you’ve moved on.’

Given my appearance, I figure she is not going to believe me if I says that I go to lunchtime concerts at St Martin in the Fields, listen mostly to chamber music and sing in the choir at St John The Baptist church. I settle for the less committal, ‘I guess so.’

‘I do like Nirvana,’ she says.

I cannot tell if she is winding me up. Is she aware of what is going on? Might she be in on it? Could this be a phenomenon that is more widespread? Something that’s happening all over? Like Mr Jones in the song that Dad used to play, I certainly doesn’t know what it is.

‘Could you log on to some news sites,’ I say. ‘Huffington Post, …… BBC News, …… Google News. See if there’s anything there about temporal irregularities.’

Megan looks at a bit of a loss. These aren’t sites that she visits often. She shrugs.

‘See if there’s anything trending on Twitter or Facebook maybe.’

The train slows down. A hazy announcement comes over the loudspeaker, ‘the next station will be Swindon. Change here for ……….. ‘

Megan starts to gather up her things and gets up to leave. ‘Look out for me in your dreams,’ she says, cryptically.

The train waits, the diesel engine idling. Being alone brings no clarity. It only serves to add to my confusion. My reason is so ravaged that my brain wants to shut down. A sinister tune plays in my head. Descending chords over and over as the sound of the diesel engine resonates. Change here for …… Change here …. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. The lights go out. It is dark. The blinds are all drawn. Why are all the blinds drawn? Have I descended into …. Descended into? Descending chords. Over and over. Dark. Dark. Dark. Change here for. …..

When the lights come on I find that time has shifted once more. I am no longer a fifteen year old punk. I am a British soldier in uniform. Royal Welch Fusiliers. With service ribbons. Bosnia. Srebrenica. Battle honours. All the stuff you take home on leave neatly packed. The carriage too has been through a transformation. It is cleaner, shinier, newer, the seats no longer torn. I look around. I have no fellow passengers. The couple with the corgi have gone. The old lady who was reading the murder mystery has gone. The man with the silver euphonium has gone. The barber’s shop quartet with the red striped jackets have gone. The carriage is empty. I make my way to the end of the carriage and lean my head out of the window to see what is going on. The platform too is completely deserted.

I decide I must get out to investigate, but just at this moment I feel the familiar shudder of rolling stock as the train starts to move. There is a second or two when I could still climb down if I wish, but the train accelerates quickly and the opportunity is lost. I look at my new watch. Five past six. This one is not digital. It is analogue with a vengeance. With its many dials it tells you the time all around the world. I take a seat and look out the window. I could pull the communication cord, but I don’t want to do this, at least not yet. Maybe there’s no need to panic. I recognise the buildings as we pull out of Swindon. They are the ones I have become familiar with. Perhaps the train is still headed for Taunton, even if everything else about the journey is wrong. I must go with the flow and see what happens.

‘Tickets Please!’ calls out a voice.

A wizened old man in a black uniform with some shiny bits and badges shuffles along the aisle. He is short and thin with little round glasses. He looks like Gandhi.

I ask him if I am on the right train. If I can establish this, the fine details of my misadventures can be worked out later. Along with some rational explanations. At home. On the internet. On the phone. You can get to the bottom of most things retrospectively. The important thing right now is to get home.

‘Yes sir. The train is going to Taunton,’ says Gandhi. ‘Unfortunately, we are 58 minutes late due to an alien spacecraft on the line at Wootton Bassett. It has gone now though, so we should be able to make up some of the time.’

‘Alien spacecraft?’

‘Yes sir. Just down the line at Wootton Basset. Is that where you are from, sir?’

‘No. There’s an RAF base there, isn’t there?’

‘We get a lot of people for Wootton Bassett. It’s where they hold the funerals for the dead soldiers. But then you would know that wouldn’t you sir? Being in the army and all that.’

‘Yes. Yes I suppose I would. Now. About this alien spacecraft.’

‘Yes sir. We get a lot of those around here, too. Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge, Avebury, Warminster. They seem to like this part of the country.’

‘They probably navigate along the ley lines.’

‘Ley lines, sir?’

‘Ley lines apparently are mystical alignments which harness the earth’s magnetic fields. They work like a primitive GPS. Now tell me. Where did all the other passengers go?’

‘They all left the train at Swindon, sir.’

‘What’s going on at Swindon?’

‘Oh. Some TV cook is giving a talk there, I think, sir. I’d love to be able to stay and chat with you, sir, but I’ve got to get along the train. Could I see your ticket please?’

I search for his ticket, but I don’t seem to have one.

‘I realise that you are in the army, sir, but travelling without a ticket is against the law and we cannot make exceptions. I’m going to have to charge you the full single fare plus a penalty which is the equivalent of the full single fare. That will be let me see. London to Taunton is it? Two hundred and eighty four pounds.’

I offer him a Visa card.

‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ he says. ‘In any case it has expired.’

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘But could you tell me what year it is?’

‘You can pretend to be stupid if you wish, sir,’ says Gandhi, ‘But it won’t wash with me. I can issue you with an Unpaid Fare Notice, if you like. But you will still have to pay it. Army or no army.’

Isambard Brunel always had a sense of drama. His Great Western Railway from Paddington to Penzance is full of surprises. I know as soon as we enter the two mile long Box tunnel that something is bound to happen. It does. The lights go out once more. We are in darkness. As we emerge from the tunnel, I catch a whiff of patchouli. Luna is back. Not only that, somehow we are back on the original train. I am back in my city suit. I have my iphone in my hand. I am logged in to the cricket live text. The match is in the final over. England are nine wickets down and the tail enders only have to survive three more balls to save the match.

I might be back in present time, but Luna is cutting in to normality like static on the airwaves. She is the radio interference from a rogue FM station on a stormy night.

I take a look around the carriage. All the other passengers are reading their papers, playing with their tablets or talking on their phones. One or two are looking out the window as the 16:06 from Paddington crosses the River Avon on its way to Bath. Each one of them seems confident in the authenticity of their worlds. There appears to be consensus among them that this is 2015. Luna is the stranger at the party. She is stuck in a 1969 mindset. Forget the magic tricks for now, 1969 is clearly her reality.

She starts to tell me more about going with the flow.

‘Going with the flow isn’t about being passive or being lazy,’ she says. ‘It’s not aimless wandering. The flow that you are going with is the ocean of cosmic intelligence. Going with the flow is about wakeful trust and …….. ‘

The train is coming into Bath now. I make the decision to get off here to take a cab the rest of the way. I have made a note not to catch the 16:06 from Paddington in future. It’s a bad choice. It takes far too long. Too much time travelling.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Harmonica Drive

harmonicadrive2

Harmonica Drive by Chris Green

Sandwich Man walks past our house at five to six every evening, just before the end of Pointless on television. He passes on his way home from the listening centre where he works. From the back entrance of the base, Cheltenham Close offers a short cut to Tambourine Way and Harmonica Drive for those leaving the centre on foot. Sally and I can tell what kind of day Sandwich Man has had by the way he walks. If he has had a good day then there is a spring in his step as he passes our front window. He will smile as he gazes across at our Japanese cherry tree. His head will be up and he will be humming an Eastern European national anthem or perhaps mouthing the chorus of a sea shanty. He will be wearing a smart blue anorak and gripping his Tupperware sandwich box. This is of course how he got his soubriquet.

But if he has had a bad day then he walks with a limp. He will not be smiling. His brow will be furrowed. His shoulders will be hunched. His grey hair will be tousled. He will be in shirtsleeves and carry just an empty water bottle. This probably means he forgot to pack sandwiches for his lunch. He will be starving after working a seven-hour shift at the spy base. He will be anxious to get home to put his stroganoff in the microwave. He is after all not a young man and must feel the cold especially if it is raining and he did not take his anorak or an umbrella to work that morning. Perhaps the weather was fine earlier and the rain only came on later in the day.

Every now and then Sandwich Man is late and Sally and I begin to worry about him. The minutes tick by. Is he perhaps unwell? Have his migraines started up again? Has he been attacked leaving the base? If he hasn’t walked past by the end of Eggheads, at 6:30 then we go over to the window or open the front door to look out for him. He might be lying in the street after a targeted assault by an enemy agent. After all, he works in a very sensitive area. He is a code breaker and, according to Rhonda at number 48 his real name is Jakob Olev. It is mainly out of habit Sally and I continue to call him Sandwich Man.

Jakob has a friend at the base called Peter. Rhonda doesn’t know Peter’s surname, nor have we come up with a suitable moniker for him yet. Peter lives next door to Sandwich Man in Harmonica Drive, which is through the pedestrian alley from Cheltenham Close and a couple of streets away. We accidentally followed them home one evening a year or so ago, when we still had the dog for protection and found that Sandwich Man lives at number 18 and Peter at number 19. We don’t go out so much since Murphy was put down. There’s no need really now that you can order all your shopping online.

Sometimes Sandwich Man waits for Peter so that they can walk home together. Peter works in a different department, Telephone Surveillance, European section, according to Eddie at number 52. Now and then he is delayed. He has to stay behind to finish logging phonecalls from the German Chancellor to her crystal reader in Dusseldorf, or text messages from the Italian premier to his paramours. Eddie used to work at the base and he tells us there is a lot of cross referencing to be done when it comes to high profile cases. Perhaps when this happens Peter ought to tell his friend to go ahead without him.

We do not believe that Peter takes sandwiches to work. He is perhaps ten years younger than Sandwich Man and only just starting to go grey around the temples. Sally thinks that Peter probably gets by on chocolate bars and cake. He has a chocolate bars and cake kind of build. Maybe he has a high energy drink, a can or two of Red Bull or Iron Bru at lunchtime.

Sandwich Man is not normally late going home on Friday. Sally thinks Friday is his goulash night. Whether or not he has remembered to take his sandwiches that day, he likes to get back in good time to enjoy his succulent Sainsbury’s goulash. It makes a nice change from stroganoff. Stroganoff can be so boring when you have it day after day. Some Fridays we see him breaking into a trot as he makes his way towards the alley. You can almost sense his mouth watering in anticipation of his treat.

But, this Friday Eggheads finishes and there is no sign of him. Peter slinks past our window on the opposite side of the road and casts a furtive glance at the cherry tree, but still there is no sign of Sandwich Man. I switch the television off. Sally and I begin to speculate as to what might have happened. Might he have been electrocuted by the new high voltage cabling they have installed at the base? Has he been caught by the grandees passing information to the other side, whoever that is? Whistle blowing, I believe it is called. Sally wonders if perhaps he didn’t heat yesterday’s stroganoff through properly and has E Coli or Salmonella.

‘You have to be so careful with microwave meals,’ she says.

We go outside and look anxiously up and down the street. We notice that Drew Carlson who lives at number 42 is polishing his new Nissan. I’m not sure that he has actually taken it out for a spin yet. You would think that he would be out driving in the hills or something on a nice evening like this, but perhaps now that he is retired he too likes to stay put, as we do. Of course, he has his hobbies. Flags are the big one. It is hard not to spot that Drew has a new flag flying on the pole in his front garden. It is quite an unusual flag, blue white and green, with a hat in the centre of the white horizontal.

‘I bet you don’t know what this one is,’ he says smugly, as we approach. This is a game he likes to play. Last month we had Comoros and Chad. Drew seems to have a penchant for African flags lately. We all refer to him simply as Flagman.

‘Mozambique?’ Sally says. ‘No, no! Wait! I know. it’s Lesotho.’ Sally does know her flags. She has a book on vexillology.

Flagman looks crestfallen. ‘How did you know that?’ he says. He does not know that Sally has a book on vexillology. She bought it to help with questions on Pointless.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve seen Sandwich Man,’ I say.

‘I was going to ask you the same,’ he says. ‘It’s not like him to be late on a Friday.’

‘Perhaps Sally and I should go round to his house to see if he’s there,’ I say. ‘There’s nothing much on television until Only Connect.’

‘Good idea,’ says Flagman. ‘I would join you put I’d like to finish waxing the car first.’

Sally and I look at each other. We are a little apprehensive about the idea but we agree to go ahead without him. We make our way cautiously through the alley. It is more overgrown than we remember it. In fact, it is a veritable jungle. Tambourine Way looks distinctly unfamiliar. Admittedly we have no reason to come this way so we do not know the area very well. There are no obvious landmarks. There are no cars on the street. After a while, Tambourine Way leads on to Harmonica Drive. This is even more desolate. There are rows of houses, but they look abandoned. A deathly hush prevails. I don’t recall it looking this way the time we followed Sandwich Man and Peter home. Now I think of it, I do not now remember following Sandwich Man and Peter home, but I do not say anything to Sally. She might make another comment about the early onset of Alzheimer’s.

I see what appears to be a Sainsbury’s van in the distance. Outside number 18 Harmonica Drive, probably. I draw some comfort from this. I imagine that it must be Sandwich Man’s home delivery of stroganoffs and goulashes and cheese and ham and sandwich fillers with maybe a case or two of energy drinks in case Peter drops round. Perhaps Sandwich Man has been waiting in for the delivery all day, which would explain why he hasn’t been to work.

‘Are you sure that we are going the right way,’ says Sally. She can’t have spotted the Sainsbury’s delivery van.

‘I think so,’ I say. ‘But I could be wrong.’

‘There are no houses,’ she says. ‘Where are all the houses?’

It is true. What I took to be houses are ramshackle farm buildings. The closer we get I can’t help but notice that the Sainsbury’s van is not a Sainsbury’s van ….. but a bear, a big brown bear.

Sally has a book on bears. ‘This one,’ she says, ‘is not the cuddly type.’

This is not the news that I want to hear. Does it also explain what has happened to Sandwich Man? No wonder Flagman didn’t want to come. It’s a dangerous world once you get out of Cheltenham Close. Unpredictable and hostile. Admittedly, we do not get out much, but we had no idea that this was such a wild area. How could Sandwich Man possibly live in an environment like this?

We are about to run, well in our case possibly not run, but the bear doesn’t seem to be interested in us. It steals off to investigate a bandicoot in the undergrowth. A bandicoot? Sally confirms that it is, in fact, a bandicoot. She has a book on Antipodean marsupials. They are always coming up on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.

Perhaps we should be getting used to surprises but the train hurtling towards us comes as a bit of a shock. We never realised there was a railway so close by. And this one isn’t a Thomas the Tank Engine or one of those light rail metro trains, this is a big blue freight train pulling a long line of those trucks that carry volatile liquids. There was a question about them on In It To Win It a week or so ago. Are they called tank cars or something? Whatever, the train is getting closer and although we are not on the railway track, it is scaring the hell out of me. At my age, I don’t tend to swear a lot. It is something that I’ve grown out of but here I make an exception.

‘Let’s get the fuck back to Cheltenham Close,’ I shout.

Sally is with me on this one. I’ve never heard her swear before but she does so now.

Turning around, we find to our horror that the landscape has changed again. We are now faced with barren, featureless scrubland, giving us little indication of which way we should go. But we have just come this way. It wasn’t like this. Nor was it like this the time we came with Murphy. This can’t be Harmonica Drive. Surely. In fact, this can’t be happening. These things do not happen in our world. We just watch the quizzes and give answers when we are able. Something must have happened to rupture the space-time continuum.

We are not given chance to take stock of our queer situation. A crack of thunder like the end of the world rocks the heavens. A frightening figure in catholic robes appears to be opening up the sky. Is that a hand reaching down? It can’t be that time already. We have some time left don’t we? I do believe we are actually running now, in defiance of our arthritic limbs. Literally running for our lives.

With an immense effort of will, we retrace our steps through the changing terrain of the hinterland, and back through the freshly clipped privet of the alley leading to Cheltenham Close. Flagman is still polishing his car. He waves. We do not want to have to explain to him what we have been through. We would not know where to begin. We dive into the house to avoid him. I switch on the TV. Only Connect is about to start.

‘I do hope that Sandwich Man comes by on time on Monday,’ says Sally, pouring the gin. ‘And things get back to normal.’

‘Me too,’ I say, holding out my glass. ‘I don’t think I could go through that again.’

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says. ‘

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

‘Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.

‘At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

‘Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

‘Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

‘Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

‘You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

‘The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

‘I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

‘I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

‘I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

‘Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

‘What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

‘Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

‘I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers anymore. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year anymore. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

‘We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a halftone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

‘Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

‘We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

‘We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin.’ This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

‘We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

‘Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

‘There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

‘You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

‘The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

‘And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

‘And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

‘You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening anymore. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

‘You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

‘You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

‘Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

‘So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

‘People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

‘People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

strikewhiletheironisshot

Strike While The Iron Is Hot by Chris Green

It is time. She has fought against it for too long. If she doesn’t do it now, she never will. What is so difficult about telling Dirk he has to leave? Each time that her friend Marie has said, ‘you’ve got to do it, Donna,’ she has said ‘it’s not that simple, Marie.’ But, it is that simple. She just has to say ‘I’ve had enough, Dirk’ and tell him to pack his things. After all, it is her flat.

Dirk coming home drunk from the dog track last night with his mate Dean was the final straw. He knew that she had arranged for Sam and Samantha to come round for a meal. She had been talking about it for days. He had even watched her preparing the marinade. Then her guests had had to put up with Dirk and Dean making lewd remarks and swapping dirty jokes. She was so embarrassed. She didn’t know where to put herself.

As soon as Dirk steps through the front door, she will let him know. She won’t even give him chance to put his work bag down. It’s the only way. Strike while the iron is hot.

The only problem is, Dirk Fiftey doesn’t come through the door. Donna waits and waits. She seethes and smoulders to keep the iron hot, reminding herself of all the occasions he has let her down or abused her. About all of the times she has had to bail him out. The drinking. The drugs. The thieving. The lies. The deceit. What did she ever see in him? He wasn’t even good in bed. All he was concerned about was his own gratification. And now the spineless wuss doesn’t even have the decency to come and face the music.

Finally, at midnight, she puts the metaphorical blacksmith’s hammer back and goes off to bed. She has to work in the morning and it’s a busy day at the salon. End of the month is always fully booked. And she has to talk to Tina about Mrs Nesbitt’s green hair and explain that it wasn’t her fault. The product labelling was wrong.

She hears no more of Dirk until the police come calling, two days later. They want her to come down to the station. Dirk’s battered body, they are saying, has been found by the canal path. That morning apparently by a man walking his schnauzer. She is reminded of her rights.

‘Am I a suspect?’ Donna asks.

‘We’d like you to answer some questions,’ Sergeant Phelon says. If you’d just like to get your coat, Ms. Davies and get into the car.’

‘What? Just like that?’ she says. ‘Are you arresting me?’

‘We’d just like you to answer some questions,’ he repeats, this time, a little more forcefully. ‘Down at the station.’ His hands are now playing with the handcuffs.

Donna gets her coat and locks up. As they drive downtown, she bursts into tears. She can’t hold back any longer. Her nerves are in tatters. The contestants on The Voice and Strictly Come Dancing are always banging on about being on an emotional roller coaster. That is not an emotional rollercoaster, that is ego massaging or ego bashing. The turbulent feelings that punch into your head after being suddenly told that you might have murdered your partner when you didn’t know he was dead, this is an emotional roller coaster. The history. The abuse. The fights. The retaliation. The times out of sheer frustration she has threatened to kill him. The making up. The threats of leaving. The decision to throw him out. The battered body. Where is Dirk’s battered body now?

‘I don’t have to identify the body or anything like that, do I?’

‘No. Mrs Fiftey is coming in to identify the body later.’

‘Dirk’s mother! I thought she was dead.’

‘No, Mrs Fiftey, his wife.’

‘He’s married?’ says Donna.

‘I take it that you are telling me you didn’t know,’ says Sergeant Phelon.

‘Dirk Fiftey has been living at my flat for three years, Sergeant. Well, when I say living I mean he has been treating my flat like a hotel for three years. And in all that time he didn’t once think to mention that he had a wife. He deserves everything he fucking …….. ‘

‘I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, Donna, but I don’t think you should be saying too much until you’ve spoken to your solicitor,’ says W.P.C. Mabombo, who has come along as the female support officer. Sergeant Phelon glares at her. Why do Division keep sending him these basket-weaver rookies, he is thinking. There was nothing wrong with Noriega and Suggs’ more direct approach to policing. It certainly helped with confessions. They helped clear up a lot of difficult cases. It’s a shame they are under investigation.

Donna manages to find one positive thing you could say about Dirk. He had a very good solicitor. Max Tempo could get him off anything. Who else would have been able to get the police to drop charges as diverse as Aggravated Burglary and Indecent Assault? Donna manages to find Max’s number from the deep recesses of her handbag and within twenty minutes there he is telling the police what they can and can’t do. Sergeant Phelon has his head in his hands. Donna gets the impression that he has come across Max Tempo before. A little later after a no comment interview, she is free to go.

Whatever her view of Dirk might have been, his having apparently been murdered puts a slightly different spin on things. How many obituaries or eulogies, for instance, do you find in the papers or on TV that dwell on what a cad the deceased was. When anyone she has ever known, friend or relative has died, she cannot recall anyone ever having a bad word to say about them. Even great Uncle Malkie, who was by all accounts an arsonist and an armed robber, was praised for his courage and generosity. Certainly Dirk had his faults and they were plentiful, but she is a compassionate woman. Three years is a fair chunk of her life, a tenth to be exact. She can’t completely ignore these years. Twice, for instance, Dirk brought home flowers, although she suspects that one bouquet came from a neighbour’s garden. And he did sometimes point out bargains for her on ebay.

The feeling of sympathy is not shared by her friends. They always felt that Dirk was an asshole and they are not slow to refresh Donna’s memory.

‘Don’t you remember the time he left you stranded in Turkey,’ says Marie. ‘And the time he sold your jewellery to buy himself a new smartphone.’

‘You can’t have forgotten the time he threw up on your new dress at Tasha’s daughter’s Christening at St Margaret’s,’ says Gemma.

‘Or that bull terrier he bought you for your birthday,’ says Marie. ‘The one that bit the child and had to be put down,’

‘What about the time he crashed your car and pretended it had been stolen,’ says Gemma.

‘Good riddance, I say,’ says Marie.

‘Now you can get on with your life,’ says Gemma.

‘I suppose you’re right,’ says Donna.

‘Come out with us on Friday,’ says Marie. ‘We can have a proper girlie night out. We can go to that new Albanian restaurant that Rick Stein recommends and then go on to a club.’

Vibe is cool, or what about R3Hab,’ says Gemma.

Chaos is re-opening,’ says Marie. ‘Or there’s always Heaven.

Donna buys a new skirt and little black top from River Island to go out with the girls. She is looking forward to her big night out although with a certain amount of trepidation. She has not been to a club for so long. She showers and dresses and puts on her makeup. Self-consciously she dances around the kitchen to a Ministry of Sound CD she has bought to get her in the mood for the night ahead.

‘Hi babes,’ says a familiar voice. ‘Sorry, I haven’t been …….. home, like. I bet I’m in the doghouse. Thing is, I got caught up in a spot of bother with Nolan Rocco and his boys. I may have to get my man, Max on to it. ……… Hey, honeybun! Did you see that in the paper about the body they found down by the canal? For a while, they thought it was my brother, Kirk. I don’t know how they got that idea. Tracey even had to go down to the morgue. It wasn’t him of course, just some old crusty. Incompetent the police, these days, innit. Just think. It could have been me, eh? You gotta be real careful these days. Never know what’s around the corner.’

It is unfortunate for Dirk that he has chosen this moment to come in because Donna has the iron on to smooth out the wrinkles in the red jacket she is going to wear. Just one thought occurs to her, strike while the iron is hot.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Right On Dad Talks About Guns – a children’s story

rightondadtalksaboutguns

RIGHT ON DAD TALKS ABOUT GUNS – a children’s story by Chris Green

‘Why do people have guns, Dad? I think guns are horrible,’ says Amelia. Amelia is five and a half. She has just started her second year at school.

‘People haven’t always had guns, you know, Amelia. For hundreds of years when they fell out, they just threw things at one another or hit each other with sticks to settle their arguments. Many of them went to the gym several times a week to develop their stone throwing muscles or tried to find ways of sharpening their sticks. This all changed in 1506, when Mr Gun, a blacksmith from Accrington, Lancashire discovered you could use the power of explosives to fire a projectile through a metal tube.’

‘So it is called a gun because that was Mr Gun’s name?’

‘That’s right. At the time there were no PR firms in Accrington to guide Mr Gun through the process of marketing his new invention, so he called it simply a gun. Without realising it, he had hit upon a winner. The gun was to become the most successful commodity of all time. People saw the gun as an easy way to get rid of someone they did not like. People who had never considered harming another were seduced by its potential. Countries which had been at peace for hundreds of years suddenly came up with reasons to hate their neighbours. The neighbouring countries grew bigger turnips, or sang the wrong songs. They were smelly, or they saw a different man in the sky.’

‘Mr Gun was a bad man, wasn’t he, Dad?’ says Amelia.

‘He was, Amelia. But nothing compared to Mr War. In 1900, Mr War of Dundee, Scotland realised that these scuffles were very popular so he began to organise competitions. Dundee also did not have any marketing firms, so he called these competitions, wars. So successful was the idea that, a few years later in 1914, he managed to involve every country in the world in a big five-year long competition. He advertised it as The Great War. Although people seemed to like it at the time, afterwards they started to go off the idea of wars. So many people were killed they thought that they didn’t want to fight another one. They called it the war to end all wars.’

‘But it didn’t end all wars, did it, Dad? When you and mummy watch the news they are always talking about wars.’

‘The thing is that lots of people make money out of making guns and if they stopped having wars they wouldn’t be able to sell their guns. Then lots of people would not have jobs and their families would starve.’

‘I still don’t think that people should have guns.’

‘Then what would happen to all the people who didn’t have jobs and the starving families, Amelia?’

‘They could give them jobs making Moshi Monsters instead.’

© Chris Green 2015: All right reserved

 

RIGHT ON DAD – a children’s story

rightondad

Right On Dad – a children’s story by Chris Green

‘What’s politics, Daddy?’ said Amelia. Amelia is four and a half and has just started school.

‘Aha! Yes what is politics? Well, Amelia. Every now and then we grown ups play a game to say which party we want to make the rules about what we can and can’t do.’

‘Party? You mean like a birthday party. I like birthday parties. You get cakes and fizzy drinks, and play pass the parcel,’ says Amelia.

‘No, not quite like birthday parties. The parties that we choose to make the rules are more like groups of busy looking people. They like to talk a lot, and shout, especially shout. There are two main parties. The Nice party and the Nasty party. The Nice party want to help people, let them have food and houses and make the world a better place and the Nasty party want to steal everyone’s money, cut down trees and hurt people. Sometimes they make bombs and kill people too.’

‘I think I like the Nice party, Daddy.’

‘So do I, Amelia.’

‘Do they sing songs about it, Daddy? I like songs. They taught me a new song at nursery today.’

‘Yes sometimes they sing songs. The Nice party’s song is ‘The Poor Need More’ The Nasty party’s song is ‘The Rich Are Best.’

‘I expect most people like the Nice Party, don’t they, Daddy.’

‘A lot of people like the Nice party, yes, Amelia. But the Nasty party usually win the game to make the rules.’

‘Why’s that Daddy?’

‘Well, the Nasty party are friends with the people who make the newspapers and the television programmes. They tell people they have to let them make the rules because they are better at making rules than the Nice party. They say that the Nice Party smell and will give you measles.’

‘I think the Nice party would make up much better rules. They’d let you have chocolate cake for dinner and go skipping.’

‘I didn’t say just now, but there is a third party called the Nice and Nasty party. They can’t decide whether they want to help people or want to hurt people.’

‘You mean sometimes they are like the Nice Party and sometimes they are like the Nasty party.’

‘Yes that’s right, Amelia. Last time they wanted to be more like the Nasty party and now they want to be more like the Nice party.’

‘Did the Nasty party win the last game, Daddy? Is that why there are all those pictures of dead people on the television?’

‘Yes, Amelia the Nasty party made up some new rules to help them win the game.

‘You mean the Nasty party are cheats.’

‘And, Amelia. They got their newspaper people to say that the Nice party’s man was from Mars and that he ate kittens for breakfast.’

‘Uh! I can see why they are called the Nasty party, Daddy. I wouldn’t want them to eat Chloe.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Ceraunophilia

ceraunophilia

Ceraunophilia by Chris Green

I get up one wet Monday morning and find I have a Facebook friend request from Liz Accident. It must be a joke, I think. No-one is called Liz Accident, Not even Random Name Generator could come up with such a preposterous name. But, looking at her timeline I notice that Liz and I have a mutual friend, Ron Smoot, Wet Blanket Ron as he is often referred to. It is at least good to see that Ron has a friend besides myself and Morrissey, as quite frankly I have been worried that he hasn’t been getting out enough since his release from prison.

I click on the link to Liz Accident likes and see that her musical likes are Wagner, The Velvet Underground and Blodwyn Pig. My musical tastes exactly. She likes the same films too, Kill Bill, Ben Hur and Forrest Gump. Liz goes on to list in her interests Surfing and …… Ceraunophilia. I have to look this up. It is an obsessional fondness for thunderstorms. How unusual!

I can see where Liz is coming from. I used to think that thunderstorms were just thunderstorms. There would be a few cracks of thunder followed by a few streaks of lightning, a whole heap of rain, then off the storm would go to somewhere else. These were the types of storm we usually had in the Cotswold Hills. They would occur mostly at the end of a warm day in late summer. They would be over quickly and everyone would make remarks about how they had cleared the air.

But after a coach journey last year through the Carpathian mountains at night, I too became fascinated by thunderstorms. The humidity that night must have been a hundred per cent. Although I was aboard a coach, it was just like I was in a Turkish bath. And there all around was a light show second to none. For about three hours the whole sky lit up every second or so, with cracks of thunder that might have come straight out of Hell. Apparently such storms are common in that part of the world.

Now as soon as Matt Taylor or Helen Willets begin to talk about vigorous convective activity embedded in frontal cloud, and point to the BBC thunder graphic behind them, I sit expectantly at the window watching the burgeoning cumulonimbus give way to the first forks of lightning.

Anyway, to get back to Liz. Her knowing Wet Blanket Ron isn’t necessarily the best recommendation for accepting her friend request. Ron, readers may remember, was implicated in terrorist activity a while back.

‘Do I know you?’ I ask Liz in a private message.

‘Of course you do,’ she replies. ‘I am surprised that you can’t remember.’

I have another look at the photos on her profile and although she is an attractive woman, mid thirties with dark hair and a full figure, I do not recognise her. I have no recollection of us ever having met. Perhaps this is not so important. Statistics show that it is common to have Facebook friends that you have never met. Users are so keen to be seen to have a high number of friends that they accept requests willy-nilly, in fact there are sites now where you can buy Facebook friends. I suppose this has a bearing on why I decide to go ahead and accept Liz’s request. Like everyone else I want high numbers for people to see. I don’t want to be thought of as Billy No Mates.

Liz doesn’t appear to post very much on Facebook. After the initial flurry of PM exchanges about thunder and a status about a Blodwyn Pig reunion gig at a small venue in London, I hear nothing.

I don’t notice the number of Facebook friends I have shrinking at first. It happens slowly, but the figure goes down a little each day. Seventy four to seventy three, then over a week it is down to sixty eight. Ray Wellington and Dean Runner have gone and Mark Friday and Gilda Hewitt. I wonder if I have done something to offend them. I decide we probably weren’t that close anyway. I haven’t seen Ray or Dean since we were at school and I only ever knew Mark through a computer class we did together. I wasn’t sure I would even recognise Gilda. She was one of these people who do not post photos of themselves.

Swamped by daily statuses of the idle thoughts of distant acquaintances and streams of photos of their gardens or their pets, I reason that Ray, Dean, Mark, Gilda and the others may simply have been having a clear out. Rather than spend each waking hour on social media, they may have discovered more rewarding ways to spend their time. It isn’t until Mitch Presley disappears from my list and I am down to fifty four friends that I begin to worry. I phone Mitch’s partner, Stacey.

‘Haven’t you heard?’ she says. ‘Mitch was out on the golf course when he was struck by lightning.’

‘Oh my God!’ I say. ‘How awful. ……. I didn’t realise Mitch played golf.’

‘Neither did I,’ says Stacey. ‘I think it may have been something he found out about through Facebook.’

I begin to worry about what might have happened to the others. Might some freak accidents have befallen them too? And what if I am next?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Zelkova Serrata

zelkovaserrata2017

Zelkova Serrata by Chris Green

Was it a knock that had woken her? Anna doesn’t like being alone in the big old house at the best of times, but knowing that Ron is on the other side of the world makes her more edgy. She takes a look at the clock. It is 3:23. Much too late for anyone to be calling even if it were an emergency. Perhaps it was the wind rattling the window. She remembers that the weather forecast had not been a good one.

But she is wide awake now. It is too far into the night to be able to go straight back to sleep. She puts on her white full-length Féraud dressing gown and goes down to the kitchen. There is nothing like a cup of tea and a slice of chocolate cake to settle you when you are on edge. While she is waiting for the kettle to come to the boil, she has the nagging feeling that something is not right. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but something feels different. She makes a quick check around the front room, the study, the utility room. Although nothing seems to be out of place, it feels as if there has been some recent movement. She is familiar with this feeling. It’s not something you can put into words. There’s an energy field, a cold spot, something along those lines. She shivers. She recalls reading that the saying about someone walking over your grave originates from the Middle Ages when the distinction between life and death was less distinct.

She checks the conservatory. The lemon tree seems to have been moved. She cannot be sure, but she does not remember leaving the patio doors unlocked. She is careful about things like this. Ron’s work in security and surveillance has instilled this sensibility in her. But whether or not she locked them, they are unlocked now. And if they are unlocked now, then someone could have got in, in fact, they could still be in the house. What should she do? Instinctively, she picks up the nearest blunt object, in this case, the cast iron frying pan that she left on the hob. There are no obvious hiding places in the house but still, the fear remains.

She switches all the lights on and nervously patrols the rest of the house. She looks behind dressers, in cupboards, under the stairs. Nothing. She takes a torch out into the garden. Nothing. With a sense of relief, she pours the boiling water onto a camomile teabag and sits herself down at the dining room table. She is about to give Ron a call but she thinks better of it and puts the phone back in its cradle. There is no point in worrying him unnecessarily. He would not be able to fly back from Singapore just like that, and anyway what is all the fuss about. There is no-one in the house and she doesn’t want to let Ron know that there has been a security lapse, even one so minor.

Anna goes back to bed, but she can’t settle. Rebel thoughts about an intruder keep up their campaign. She tosses and turns. She wishes that Ron were there. He would comfort her. Perhaps they might make love. Making love usually helps to calm her when she is troubled. They say climaxing re-balances the chakras. But Ron’s not there, she tells herself, nor is he going to be for a while, so she has to take command of the situation. She must pull herself together.

Ron’s probably had his chakras re-balanced out east,’ says annA.

There’s nothing to be gained by dwelling on it,’ Anna counters

But you’re resentful and jealous,’ says annA.

If you can’t do anything about something you should let it go,’ her protector offers.

You could even the score.’

But what would that prove.’

Of course, you are on your own and you are scared,’ says annA.

Free your mind from the judgements of others and gently go your own way in peace,’ adds Anna. ‘Things will work out if you trust reason and logic.’

The see-saw continues to rock her emotions. The wind continues to rattle the window. Eventually, at around 6 am Anna manages to get off to sleep. But, after a nightmare about being held captive in a dark dank basement in Blackheath by a one-eyed hunchback, she wakes up in a sweat. She does not normally inhabit such ghoulish dreamscapes. Her night-time world is typically occupied by people from the office or her friends from her decoupage class or the gym where she does her Pilates – in mash-ups of random everyday situations.

She showers and gets ready for work. Her stomach is churning a little and she doesn’t feel like breakfast but manages to force down an oatcake with her cup of tea. She straightens her skirt and puts on a bright summer coat. She fobs her Mini Cooper but it seems to already be unlocked. Now, this is something she never does. The car is her pride and joy and she would never leave it unlocked. Not even on the occasions, she has to go back into the house for something she has forgotten. She is spooked. The plain white envelope on the dashboard sets her heart racing even faster. It has her name on the front in fine black italic capitals. With trepidation, she picks it up and examines it. Finally, she opens it. It is empty.

She needs to get to work. Her line manager, Maurice will know what she should do. Even before she slept with him last Christmas he was supportive, and for that matter, afterwards, even though she didn’t sleep with him again. Maurice is a rock. He will put his arm around her and reassure her. He will tell her that there is nothing to worry about. He will probably tell her it is just someone having a prank. It happens all the time, he will say. She sets off, trying hard to keep this thought in mind.

Another thing she always makes sure of is that the Mini has fuel. She is so cautious that as soon as the level reaches halfway, she fills the tank. But, when the car shudders to a standstill going along the back lane onto the by-pass, she notices that the fuel gauge is registering empty. Why didn’t the red light come on? Emergency Calls Only reads the display on her phone. What is wrong with the thing? She only changed providers last month.

Lovers Lane, as it is affectionately known, is not what most people would think of as a sinister place. It has arable fields on both sides with well-tended hedgerows and further along there is a pleasant area of woodland. Anna gets out of the car. The winds that were blowing through the night have died down and there is a stillness in the air. She cannot even hear the hum of traffic that you might expect to hear coming from the dual carriageway. She is about halfway along the lane. She looks up and down. Should she head back home on foot to phone the AA Roadside Assistance from there? Has her breakdown cover lapsed, she wonders? Ron is the one who takes care of these matters and he has been away such a lot lately. Should she wait for someone to come along? Even though the road is not well used, her car is blocking the highway. She can’t leave it where it is. And she hasn’t the strength to move it to a passing place on her own.

Hello, my lovely,’ says a voice, from out of nowhere.

It is not the knight in shining armour or the good Samaritan she is hoping for. It is the one-eyed hunchback from her dream. He is carrying some kind of axe.

Dozens of stories she has heard of mad killers on the loose momentarily flash through her consciousness. The one who butchered his killers and kept them in the deep freeze. He escaped from prison a year ago. He is still on the loose. The one who skinned his victims? Was he ever caught, or is it just a character from a film she is thinking of? The cannibal murderer that was in the news recently. The line from the song by The Doors Ron sometimes plays in the car, there’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad runs through her head.

The axeman is over her now. He has raised his weapon. Anna feels she is going to pass out. The last thing she remembers is …….

She is startled by a knock on the driver’s side window.

Everything all right, love?’ a stranger says. This one is not carrying an axe. He is well dressed and has a winning smile.

What? How?’ she says, as she winds down the window. ‘Where am I?’

Are you all right?’ he asks, in soothing tones.

What happened to ….. the ….. the ….. I was …… What’s going on?’

I’m sorry I startled you,’ he says. ‘It’s just that I need to get by …… and, well, my sweet, you are blocking the road.’

Sorry,’ Anna says, finally realising where she is. ‘I’ve …….. uh. I’ve run out of petrol’

Start it up. Let’s have a look,’ the man says. ‘It may not be the fuel.’