You Never Know Who Your Friends Are

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You Never Know Who Your Friends Are by Chris Green

A writer can become dangerously obsessed with fiction. The temptation to create something original out of an ordinary everyday situation can be hard to resist. I could not possibly know what I was getting into when I created Quentin Thief’s social media profile. Quentin was a fictional character from one of my short stories. When I found myself twiddling my thumbs one rainy afternoon, to amuse myself, I set up Gmail and Facebook accounts for him. I gave him a few page links, David Lynch, Banksy and The Prisoner and Liked a couple of bands for him, The Dead Kennedys and Dogs Die in Hot Cars. I became his Facebook friend and set his status to public, but without any real expectation that anyone would see his posts.

Quentin’s first friend request came from Seamus Dark. I was puzzled as to how this could have happened, but intrigued. Seamus was a minor character in Magic and Loss, another of my short stories. Seamus didn’t have a very detailed Facebook profile. His only Likes were Twin Peaks and the blind musician, Moondog. Rather than panic as perhaps I should have done, I played along with it. There was bound to be a simple explanation. It was surely someone playing a prank, as indeed I had been. By accepting the request, I felt that one way or another I might be able to get to the bottom of it.

The next time I logged on to Facebook as Quentin, he had five friends. Besides myself and Seamus Dark, there were three others, Reuben Flood, Pearson Ranger and Randy Drummer, all characters from stories of mine. Reuben was a character from the semi-autobiographical Quicksand, Pearson Ranger from my story Snake in the Glass and Randy Drummer from Soft Watches. I could find no rational explanation. No two ways about it, this was spooky.

There were a series of conversations between the characters, both on their timelines and private messaging. I scrolled back through a few screens. The references were cryptic. The copious use of acronyms, AFDN, AFT, BTDTGTS, IYNAEGBTM, etc made the messages unfathomable to a social media novice like me. I had only just grasped LOL and LMAO in internet jargon. Were they hatching some kind of plot? There certainly seemed to be a lot of collusion between them. I signed out, and signed in as myself but found, amongst my regular feeds, exactly the same posts. Their profile pics bore an uncanny resemblance to how I had visualised these characters. Quentin Thief wore an Aloha shirt. Seamus Dark was well-groomed. Reuben Flood had a thick beard and wore a Ché Guevara beret. Pearson Ranger had a military buzzcut and Randy Drummer wore a pork pie hat.

I phoned my friend, Ram, who was knowledgeable about IT matters. Ram banged on about internet security, proxy servers, hackers, firewalls, and malware, but after a few minutes of his techspeak, I was none the wiser. What on earth were packet sniffers and keyloggers?

Can you come round and have a look, Ram?’ I said finally. ‘You’ll probably be able to put your finger on how this is happening just like that.’

I’ve just got to run a machine round to Gerry’s and I’ll be over,’ he said.

Gerry’s? Isn’t he in Birmingham? That’s eighty miles.’

About that,’ he said. ‘Seventy-eight point four. Look! I’ll be over around seven, OK. Why don’t you just switch the thing off and take the dog for a walk on the common or something?’

With my creative writing residency at the university in abeyance and Patti on sabbatical in San Sebastian, life was slow. Tom was in the forces and Cat had gone off to university, so I just had my dog, Murphy for company. Murphy had originally been Cat’s dog but now she was in Edinburgh, he had become my responsibility. Despite his being twelve-years-old, he was still a ten mile a day dog. I was no longer a ten mile a day dog walker. It was a good thing that the common was so close. I could find a seat while Murphy ran around chasing phantom rabbits.

At The Belted Galloway, I got chatting to a couple of walkers. They waxed lyrical about the beauty of the area. How lucky I was to have this all on my doorstep and such a delightful pub, full of rustic charm. Did I know there were thirty-eight species of wildflower on the common? They were just going to do another six miles and then call it a day. They had found a lovely little Airbnb that welcomed walkers. I began to feel I was spending too much time in front of a screen in my internal world.

I got home late afternoon and put a pizza in the oven. I was apprehensive about switching the computer on, but finally, I did. By the time Ram arrived, a little after seven, Quentin’s Facebook friends had multiplied. There were another half dozen familiar names from my literary lexicon. This time the list also included a couple of my leading characters, Max Tempo from Tequila Mockingbird and Tara Vain from Tara’s World.

Muttering to himself, Ram started going through the feeds. Over his shoulder, I could see at a glance that Max and Tara seemed to have started most of the post entries, with various combinations of my other characters responding. Lara Love from Little Dissing and Dr Bolt from Be Here Now had joined the fray. Dave Too from Kosmik Kitchen was there too, along with Roy Tackler from Slumpton. Poor Roy. He spent most of his fictional life on the bench. I never did give him a first-team game. Then there was his chronic alcoholism. The list of characters on the posts seemed to go on and on. Even Charlie Saxx from a story I was in the process of writing seemed to have got in on the act.

GHOMCOAFA,’ Ram read out. ‘Get him off my case once and for all. Looks like someone’s out to get you.’

It was Tara. I had described the nitty-gritty of Tara’s reliance on other people, he disastrous relationships and her subsequent descent into madness. Perhaps I needn’t have been so explicit.

WWLWEP. We will liquidate with extreme prejudice. Max Tempo’s not too keen on you either. What did you do to upset him?’

Nothing, Ram. He’s fictional, remember.’

IGTBBTTR. I’ll get the bloody bastard this time around. Well! This doesn’t sound very fictional. What did you write about him?’

He was originally a delusional character in my story, Tequila Mockingbird, who thought the Mexicans were out to get him. He saw signs of them everywhere. Maybe I could have been more sensitive in the way I portrayed his nervous breakdown. Now I think of it, I may have used him in one or two other stories.’

I am not a number, I am a free man. What’s that all about?’

That’s a line from The Prisoner. The Prisoner is one of the likes I gave to Quentin Thief. It looks as if he’s trying to make a point.

Ram started humming a tune. It was an annoying habit he had when he’s concentrating. I worked out the tune was Puff the Magic Dragon. Puff the Magic Dragon! That was the title of another of my stories.

He carried on scrolling down. Another batch of acronyms appeared.

All these acronyms, Ram. Must be a youngster, don’t you think?’ I said

I don’t think youngsters do Facebook anymore, Phil, Ram said. ‘They’ve got Whatsapp, Instagram and Snapchat.’

IGYBFWLAM?’ I asked, before Ram moved on. This was from Nolan Rocco who featured in several of my stories.

I’ll get you back for writing lies about me,’ Ram said with little or no hesitation. How did he know all these acronyms or was he just making them up? Perhaps he had been creating the characters? Now I was getting paranoid.

Mick Jagger? What’s Mick Jagger doing here?’

He says that you mentioned him in one of your stories and he’s unhappy about it.’

Click on him. It can’t really be Mick Jagger, can it?’

2,080,706 followers. Yes, it can.’

He appeared briefly as a character in The Food of Love, I only gave him a couple of lines.’

Perhaps he feels he should have had more.’ Ram began to hum Jumping Jack Flash, one of the least hummable tunes I could think of. He was thinking again.

Let’s sign in as you, what’s your password?’

50FUck1NGb01ledcabbages’

Nice mix of upper and uppercase characters. Quite a secure one I’d say.’

The posts on my wall looked much the same but there was now an additional one from Quentin Thief. It was the picture of a car crash.

What’s that all about?’ Ram asked.

I hate to think,’ I said.

It seems to me that because you and Quentin Thief are friends that you are going to see any post that he puts up.’

I’ve got that, yes.’

But the ones posted by the others should not show on your wall.’

Yes. I can follow that much.’

So these that are posted by Tara Vain should not be there. OK? Or the ones by Max Tempo.’

But they are.’

You’ve heard of the darknet,’ he said.

I hadn’t. I wondered if it had something to do with Seamus Dark, or perhaps if Seamus Dark had something to do with the darknet. Ram explained that the term darknet was used to describe all underground web communications associated with illegal activity or dissent. ‘Don’t learn to hack, hack to learn,’ he laughed.

How does this fit in with what’s been happening here,’ I queried.

Probably nothing to do with it,’ said Ram. ‘But something weird is happening, isn’t it?’

What can I do about it?’ I asked.

Simple! You could do what you should have done in the first place, delete your Facebook account.’

But then I’ll never know.’

That’s right but, you never know who your friends are, anyway. That’s what they say, isn’t it?’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

666 – The Number of the Bus

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666 – The Number of the Bus by Chris Green

Mr Saxx who taught us Maths in Year 11 was obsessed with probability. In his classes, we were required to calculate the probability of many unlikely scenarios. Based on historical performance and the profile of those players currently available for selection, what was the probability that Chamberlain House would win the Fives trophy this year, he might ask? What were the chances that Jarvis Vest would beat Dish Price in the Upper School Middleweight Boxing Final? Would Bogey Yates win Bully of the Year again, or would it go to Marty Wheeler? Mr Saxx even started up a class bookmakers so that we could practice calculating odds and understand how to be successful in beating them. Each day we had to read The Sporting Life to learn the ins and outs of bookmaker’s odds. I won a tidy sum of money when Bucket of Rum won a Handicap Chase at Fontwell Park at 66-1. This was enough to spark my interest in Maths. I came top of the class that year. Sadly, Mr Saxx was struck off for malpractice, but I was on my way.

Many people see chance and probability as slippery customers, hard to pin down. To make progress here, you need to understand a little about how they operate. Let’s look at probability. How many people would you imagine it would need to be in a room before there was a 50/50 chance that two of them would share the same birthday? You might think at least 50 people would be necessary. After all, there are 365 days in a year. There are a lot of possibilities. But the answer is just 23. It’s the 50/50 element of the question that catches you out. This is possibly why many people are afraid of mathematics and steer clear of numbers. Numbers, it is true, can be treacherous.

A car travels a distance of 60 miles at an average speed of 30 miles per hour. How fast would the car have to travel the same 60-mile distance home to average 60 miles per hour over the entire trip? Most people say 90 miles per hour, not realising it is a trick question. The first leg of the trip covers 60 miles at an average speed of 30 miles per hour. So, this means the car travelled for two hours (60/30). For the car to average 60 miles per hour over 120 miles, it would have to travel for exactly two hours (120/60). Since the car has already travelled for two hours, it can’t average 60 miles per hour over the entire trip. It is important to read the question carefully and not rush into coming to a conclusion.

With a basic understanding of mathematics, I learned to avoid sucker bets like the lottery and scratch-cards. These were a complete con. A large proportion of the pot was creamed off to give to worthy causes. Not good at all for the punter. Maths also enabled me to quickly calculate the odds of my hand winning in any given situation when playing poker. While I may have missed out on the excitement of bluffing with a pair of jacks, this was more than compensated for by a fatter wallet at the end of the night. But where was the fun in being risk-averse? What on earth was the point of having a fondness for numbers and a skill with them without looking for ways to beat the odds? Surely, life without taking chances was no life at all.

I was leaving the casino one evening when, to my surprise, I bumped into Mr Saxx. He was getting out of a shiny silver Bentley. I hadn’t seen him since he was dismissed from my school, several years previously.

Hello, Mr Saxx,’ I said. ‘Nice motor.’

Ah, Davy, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘You’ve just come from The Flamingo, have you?’

I told him I had.

How did you get on?’ he asked. ‘Not too well, I hope.’

Why’s that, Mr Saxx?’ I asked.

It’s my casino, Davy,’ he said. ‘It’s one of a chain that I own.’

You’re not teaching Maths any more then, Mr Saxx.’

Charles! Call me Charles!’ he said. ‘No, Davy. Those days are in the past. You like my new car then. Better than the old Mazda I used to drive, isn’t it?’

I had heard of high-yield investment schemes, of course. They were basically Ponzi schemes. Initially, the operator pays high returns to attract investors and entice current investors to invest more money and in turn, new investors. When new investors join, a cascade effect begins. The operator pays a return to initial investors from the investments of the new participants, rather than from genuine profits. I was surprised when Charles Saxx suggested I might like to manage such a venture for him.

It’s all right, lad,’ he said. ‘You won’t need to put a penny in. I’m offering you the opportunity because I recall how good you were with numbers back when I used to teach you. I still remember the conversation we had in class about Graham’s number, the biggest number ever used in maths, a number so big that even if each digit were written in the tiniest writing possible, it would still be too big to fit in the observable universe. Way bigger than a googolplex, I remember you pointing out.’

At first, I was wary. I had grown up in a world where the common-sense view was that if something seemed to be too good to be true, it probably was too good to be true. But I quickly discovered this was no longer the case. Now everyone seemed to believe they could get something for nothing. With the carrot of easy money dangled before them, it was remarkable how gullible people could be. Even when we called one of the investment opportunities Scammer, they still lapped it up. And it wasn’t just the punters. This one got a recommendation on YourMoney.com. Their advisor, Dudley Bills described the initiative as the perfect place for your nest-egg.

Could it be that people simply didn’t understand the basics of arithmetic, I wondered? Without inspiring teachers like Mr Saxx, had Maths in their schools been so dull that they could not recognise sleight of hand? That because of their lack of insight into how numbers worked, they were always destined to be victims of their ignorance? It was certainly a possibility, but not one that I would lose sleep over. When you are rich, you never have to take responsibility for your actions. Others with a lesser understanding of figures will always be there to carry the can for your misrepresentation when the time comes. So, exit strategies for this scheme and others like it were merely a formality.

Yet it was not plain sailing. Like many others, I had been led to believe that money could buy you happiness. If you were wealthy, your life would be easy. You would have infinite leisure time. You would be the picture of health. You would have beautiful women falling at your feet. As it turned out, not all of these were true. Certainly, money could act as a women magnet, but what was often overlooked was that the women wealth attracted were likely to have their own agenda. In a word, they tended to be gold-diggers. I discovered this to my cost. My leisure time disappeared. Life was anything but easy. And each time the inevitable acrimonious break-up occurred, my assets were halved. As a result, my health deteriorated. I should have learned when Rachel took me for a pretty penny, but I didn’t. Charmain was charming and Desirée desirable, but both had the same idea. They were not interested in happy families, they both wanted money. That’s what they wanted. My money. And now the same thing was happening with Sarah.

I decided to seek Charles Saxx’s advice. I had from time to time read about his successes in the paper. Hardly a week went by without the launch of some new venture. Charles was clearly loaded and yet he seemed to manage to keep his boat afloat. How had he avoided the gold-diggers? What was his secret? Although I hadn’t seen Charles for a year or two, I dug out the number he had given me and called him. He seemed pleased to hear from me. It had been too long, he said, and he invited me round for canapés. I found his large new house, Robles Altos, a mile or so along a steep, private road leading to the common. His new McLaren was parked on the drive. I pressed the button on the entry phone on the iron gates and he let me through.

I did not think it was appropriate to come right out with my problem. This was something that needed to be slowly worked into the broader conversation. I allowed Charles to tell me a little about his background. He told me he grew up in the west country. He was an only child and had had few friends. He said he had always been in awe of his cousin, Roy.

Roy had six siblings and lots of friends, he said. Not only that, but Roy also had vision. He was an innovator. I can’t imagine anyone else coming up with a USB frog, an invisible kettle, or a luminous badger. Or a self-cleaning, solar-powered smartdog.’

I knew I had heard the name Saxx somewhere else,’ I said. ‘So, Roy, the inventor of the inflatable Buddha and the bouncing tortoise is your cousin.’

From an early age, Roy was always creative,’ he said. ‘I realised I could not compete. The best I could come up with was a digital mojo.’

What on earth was a digital mojo? I began to wonder if perhaps all the Saxx family were oddballs. Might Trevor Saxx, the presenter of Underwater Football on The Marine Channel also be related? However, kookiness didn’t seem to have been a significant handicap to the Saxx’s success.

Not being able to compete with Roy was what drew me to mathematics,’ Charles continued. I needed something I could rely on. I did well at Maths at school so naturally, I went for Maths at university and came out with a First. Even the notoriously difficult Numerology module presented no challenge. My degree should have opened up opportunities right away,’ he continued. ‘But I guess I was a bit lazy. I saw the post at the school advertised and thought I’d give it a go. I could have plodded along, teaching calculus to spotty fifteen-year-olds, but I thought I could put my own stamp on it. Make it more interesting. Then as you know, I was dismissed. This was what spurred me into action. I realised that everything in this material world revolved around numbers. Understanding numbers gave me a huge advantage over others. So I thought, why not go for it?

You’ve certainly done very well for yourself since you ….. moved on, Charles,’ I said. ‘I wish I could say the same. But each time I think I’ve got it made, it seems to get taken away again.’

What do you mean?’ he said.

In a word, women,’ I said ‘Either I’m a poor judge of character or they spot that I am rich and home in on me with one thing in mind. To exploit my vulnerability and make themselves a quick buck. In quick succession, Rachel, Charmain and Desirée all fleeced me. When the time came, they all came up with up fearsome matrimonial solicitors. And now Sarah is doing the same, and we are not even married. When my solicitor, Mr Shed of Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed heard we were up against Mr Glock of Stipe, Stipe and Juttner, he told me we might as well throw in the towel. We stood no chance of getting a result.’

Do you think you maybe wear your heart on your sleeve, Davy?’ he said.

I had to acknowledge Charles had a point. Once I became attracted to someone, I tended to dive straight in. I may have even proposed to Desirée on the first night.

You think I play my cards too early, don’t you?’ I said. ‘Would it be better if I were to apply poker tactics?’

Exactly,’ he said. ‘Or the same attitude you had with regard to our investment scams. Take no prisoners. Now, look! What’s done is done but you must get a more ruthless legal representative this time around. Don’t go for a regular divorce solicitor. What you need is a different approach. Nolan Rocco is good. He will be more than a match for this Mr Glock. He will surprise you, that’s for sure.

Nolan Rocco, it turned out, was a pseudonym for the speculative fiction writer, Phillip C. Dark. Phillip spotted straight away what was required. He didn’t even need to face Mr Glock. He had a novel solution. He was going to get rid of him completely, along with Rachel, Charmain, Desirée and Sarah. To do this, he would use a mathematical sleight of hand. Numbers, he said, were the key. Naturally, this met with my approval.

I was 36 years old. So Phillip C. Dark planned to rewrite my story by adding 1 to 36, halving the high number to get the number of pairs, 18, then multiplying 37 by 18. This, as I knew it would, came to the magic number, 666. He then simply deleted 666 words from my biography. This took the story back to exit strategies for my investment scams being a formality. I was once again in a good position. From here, I could move on to better things. No need to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part or any of the other commitments that came with getting one’s rocks off. These were optional extras and ones I would not be signing up for.

Paul Gauguin trailblazed the idea of leaving his old life behind and starting afresh on a tropical island. In search of meaning in my own life, I made the decision to follow in his footsteps. I needed a new direction. Having been a stockbroker in Paris, Gauguin too had a numbers background. There, alas, the similarities ended. Art was something I had little talent for. But to let this get in the way would be defeatist? After all, I had money to support me and I had plenty of time to learn how to paint.

I headed for the volcanic island of La Gomera, the least populous of the Canary Islands. La Gomera was Columbus’s last port of call before crossing the Atlantic in 1492 with his three ships. He stopped here for a month to replenish his crew’s food and water supplies. Since then, little of any note had happened on the island. La Gomera was Trip Advisor’s idea of a quiet place. It was described as the perfect place to look at the night sky. There were usually clear skies and little light pollution. It seemed like an ideal spot to take stock and regroup.

I had not been on the island very long when walking though San Sebastian de la Gomera, among the brightly coloured shopfronts, I came across a darkened single-storey building, set back a little from the others. It was painted black with thick blinds drawn. Above it was a dark display board with 666 written in large white Gothic numerals. No letters, just the number 666. Not exactly what you would expect to find among the market stalls, cheese shops and tapas bars. 666 is, of course, the magic sum of the first 36 digits, the sum if you like of the numbers on a roulette wheel. Was this then a gambling den? Or something more sinister? 666 was also the Number of the Beast from the Book of Revelation, the so-called Devil’s Number. Although 666 appeared to be closed, it seemed reasonable to assume something iniquitous took place here.

I had rented a house close to the town and in the short time I had been resident, I had got to know one or two of the locals. None of them seemed to have any idea what went on at 666. It never seemed to be open, they said. Perhaps it was used to store contraband. Perhaps something of a maritime nature. It would be closed for months on end while ships were at sea. Pablo, however, who was teaching me how to paint landscapes, was sure there must be a Satanic connection.

It’s all too easy to jump to Satanic conclusions,’ I said. Was this an attempt to get him to elaborate or was I trying to be clever?Some people take the diabolic associations of 666 so seriously that they avoid anything related to the digits 6-6-6. This is known as hexakosioihexekontahexophobia. I think I’ve got that right. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? 666 has zillions of references in popular culture, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, The Phantom of the Opera, Escape from LA, to name but a few. But look, Pablo! The number 666 has other associations too. Apart from being the number of the Beast, it is the sum total of the numbers 1 to 36, which is known in mathematics as a triangular number. In Roman numerals, it is DCLXVI, all the numeric symbols in decreasing order. And there are any number of biblical connections. And what about the trigonometry of the Golden Mean? It is an all-round special number. And 666 is the number of the bus to Oxborough where I used to live.’

But, my friend, none of these would explain the dead goats that have been found around here,’ he said. ‘Miguel from the panadería tells me he has seen them at night in their dark cloaks.’

Did I really want to think about dead goats? I had come to La Gomera for a quiet life and to learn to paint. I couldn’t recall seeing dead goats in any of Gauguin’s pictures. 666 could wait.

Anyway, Pablo, what do you think of this painting I’ve done of the hills over the back?’ I said to change the subject. ‘Perhaps you could tell me a little more about chiaroscuro.’

I wasn’t expecting Phillip C. Dark to call me, but I was pleased he did. I had no idea how my Canary Island adventure was going to turn out. He had obviously given it some thought, after all, as a writer, this was his job. He told me he had it in hand but I would have to wait and see.

Will it be a happy ending?’ I asked. From what I could remember, some of Phillip’s stories ended happily and some of them didn’t. I estimated the percentages might work out at about 52 – 48, although some of the endings were so enigmatic, it was difficult to tell.

Like I said, you’ll have to wait and see,’ Phillip C. Dark said.

I waited. As I distanced myself from the idea of 666, my painting came on in leaps and bounds. Spring was perfect for capturing the landscapes of La Gomera. I especially relished painting the spectacular sunrises. At first light each day, I would make the effort to be in place to take advantage of the natural beauty. I got up early as usual on June 6th and found my spot. At 6 a.m. the sun was just coming up when I noticed a group of hooded figures in dark cloaks coming over the crest of the hill. They were heading my way. They were carrying lighted wooden torches. They appeared to be chanting something in low voices. Were they returning from some nefarious night-time activity or were they just setting out? While I was debating which way I should run, I woke up. To my alarm, I was back in England. At home in Crowley Crescent in Oxborough. At the breakfast table with Sarah. She was angry about something I had done. Some unforgivable transgression. She had had enough, she said, she was leaving me. I had better think about getting myself a good solicitor. Even though we hadn’t been together long, were not married and her name was not on the deeds, Mr Glock had told her she ought to be looking to come away with at least half of everything.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

 

Puff the Magic Dragon

puffthemagicdragon

Puff the Magic Dragon by Chris Green

Before he met Prism, John Straight seemed destined for success. He had a Degree in Business Management from a top university, a big black BMW with bull bars and he was willing to travel. In a word, John’s future looked rosy. He was the son of Sir James Straight, the Somerset cider magnate. He enjoyed a privileged upbringing in the country, went to the best schools and never had to struggle. As an only child, he was cosseted. Not only did he have his own motorised BMX, he also had his own BMX track, six acres of it. He went on cultural summer camps in Europe every year. By the time he was eighteen had been to more countries than most adults. On finishing at Goldsmiths, his parents put down a large deposit on a house for him, a stylish four-bedroom barn conversion near Nether Stowey. At twenty one, he seemed to have it all going for him.

But, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, John Straight was a little worried about his future. He did not feel he was yet ready to settle down. He supposed one day he would have to knuckle down, get a job and become a responsible citizen, but could this not be delayed for a while he thought about it? John’s fate was perhaps changed forever, the day he met Prism at a party in Taunton. He was introduced to Prism and Prism introduced him to Molly.

These little beauties will loosen you up,’ Prism said.

John was not sure what she meant. He felt he couldn’t be much looser. After all, he had no plans. He was very much going with the flow. But Prism looked sexy in her skimpy dress and she had a persuasive way about her.

Take three of them,’ she said. ‘And the world will seem a different place.’

What are they?’ he asked, looking in a puzzled manner at the three purple pills she had put into his hand with Nintendo etched on them.

Molly,’ she said. ‘Ecstasy. MDMA.’

And loosen him up, they did. Three hours in, the feeling of well-being was so strong, John knew this was how he wanted things to be. This was a wonder drug. He began to understand why it was referred to as Ecstasy. A deep sense of love, peace and understanding flowed through him. He was inside the music and the music was inside him. He was the music. The music was him. His limbs moved effortlessly like he was discovering them for the first time, his body in perfect rhythm with the cosmos. He felt a powerful rush of energy and a profound connection with everyone at the party. They were all lovely people. Even Razor McNeish was lovely. Why had he not seen this before? The feeling went on and on. This was altogether more pleasurable than getting mullered on Somerset cider at a family bash to celebrate a new vintage or throwing up after a night of beer-boarding in the students’ union bar. And the skunk that his friend Frank had brought round recently had not even hinted at this kind of euphoria. This was Heaven.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream,’ Prism said, later, after they had made love for the third time.

More Molly-fuelled weekends with Prism followed. Concerts, parties and more intimate gatherings. Molly even made shopping more fun, especially in the big Beamer. Specialist loudspeaker shops were John’s favourite. With the right equipment, it was astonishing how loud your music could be. Meanwhile, Prism moved herself in and the house at Dulverton soon pulsated day and night with the latest tunes at frightening volume.

We are like the spider,’ Prism said. ‘We weave our life and then move along in it.’

Move along in it, they did. With neither of them going out to work, they had plenty of time to indulge themselves. But the mind is like a mad monkey. It is restless, capricious; fanciful, inconstant, confused and uncontrollable. It constantly wants to move on to something else. Things, therefore, can never stay the same. They do not always change for the better. Little by little, John and Prism’s lives began to move in a different direction. Charlie started coming round to the house with Molly and then Charlie came round instead of Molly. Whereas Molly might be described as gentle and easy going, Charlie was anything but gentle and easy going. Charlie was urgent and aggressive. The mood around the house changed. The unpredictability the Peruvian marching powder brought with it meant John and Prism frequently argued and fought. She stormed out, came back and stormed out again, over and over. He told her to get out, chased after her and told her to get out again.

Worse was to come. Henry started to visit. Henry the Horse, Smack, Scag, Heroin, whatever you want to call it. John was curious to know what it was like. You didn’t have to inject it, he discovered; you could smoke it. The first hit was wild but you were forever trying to repeat this. Smoking it was no longer enough. By the time you became disappointed with the hit you were getting, you were hooked. Henry wanted your body and soul. Henry was hard-edged and desperate. Henry took no prisoners.

The upbeat dance music was gradually replaced by downbeat grunge music. Prism had been agreeable to Charlie coming round. She had been able to take Charlie in her stride. Cocaine was upbeat, exciting, even if it did make you talk bollocks. The point was you always felt you were talking sense. But from the outset, Prism disliked Henry and eventually moved out for good.

John began to wallow in self-pity. Henry was now permanently in residence. All John’s actions in one way another revolved around the demon drug. His parents were disgusted with the direction his life was taking and cut off his allowance. The debts quickly piled up. Had he not crashed the Beamer one night after a trip to look for Henry, he could have sold it to bail himself out and perhaps buy some time until he got himself back on his feet. But the vehicle was a write-off. To make matters worse he was being prosecuted for dangerous driving and possession of a Class A Drug with Intent to Supply. Not that he had any intention of selling any but the huge quantity of heroin the police found in the car was sufficient to justify the charge.

………………………………….

It’s all going pear-shaped, isn’t it, Mr Straight?’ John’s solicitor, Sebastian Dark of Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed says.

It does seem a bit unlucky. All coming at once.’ John says. ‘Look! I don’t suppose you’ve got any gear.’

Gear?’

Yes. Crack, smack, spice. Anything at all.’

Can we treat this matter seriously, Mr Straight? Now, look! We’d better put the house on the market, for starters, don’t you think?’

I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to do that, Mr Dark.’

Oh, and why is that?’

It burned down last night,’

It burned down? How did that happen, Mr Straight?’

I arranged for someone to set fire to it.’

You arranged for someone to set fire to it?’

Yes. To get the insurance money.’

For Heaven’s sake, Mr Straight. The house wasn’t insured. You told me yourself the day before yesterday that the house insurance had lapsed. Your bank account is frozen. Your Direct Debit payment bounced. You’re broke, remember!’

I know that, Mr Dark but I made the arrangement with the arsonist last week and I was so strung out, I forgot to cancel the arrangement.’

Murphy’s Law doesn’t come close to taking account of your ability to bring about disaster, does it, Mr Straight?’

Then I thought I would be in when he came round, you see but I had to go out.’

Let me guess. To get some heroin.’

That’s right. I thought I might be able to call in a favour. Glassy-Eyed Dave owed me one. But it didn’t work out. Then I came home to find that, well not to put to fine a point on it, there was no home. Just a smouldering heap of rubble. …… Are you sure you haven’t got anything in your desk drawer? Not even enough for a hit.’

Not even a puff of the magic dragon, I’m afraid,’ Sebastian Dark says. ‘But what I do have is one of my brother’s books of short stories. It’s in the cabinet over there.’

Oh great! I’ll settle down and read for a bit, shall I? That will be much better than a fix. That will sort out the cold turkey.’

What you probably don’t realise, Mr Straight is that my brother is the science fiction writer, Philip C. Dark. No doubt you have heard of him but had never made the connection. Now, you will very likely be able to find a wormhole in one of Phil’s stories to offer you a passage to a more favourable situation. Why don’t you give it a try? It’s not as if you’ve got a lot to lose.’

The solicitor hands John the book, The Logic Mines of Őjj 9. He begins to read and suddenly ……………….. somewhere in the distance, John hears the haunting sound of a brass instrument. He edges the dune buggy closer. In front of a bank of brightly coloured pods, a tall slender figure with purple hair is playing a transparent saxophone. He has a small cat on his shoulder. John is not sure he has met him before yet he does seem oddly familiar. He wonders if perhaps he saw him playing at last year’s God Election celebrations. Overhead, the usual flock of winged serpents is circling. It is twilight. Both moons are already out. It is a fine evening. All is well. He has his pipe of green herbs to look forward to. Things are as they should be in John Straight’s world.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

Pulp Friction

Created with GIMP

Pulp Friction by Chris Green

Nancy fancies Tafelspitz and I haven’t had Wiener Schnitzel for a long time, so we are going to treat ourselves. Things have been a little fraught since our Schnauzer, Max had to be put to rest. Respiratory disease, very sad at the end. Max was more than just the family pet. He went everywhere with us. We feel we deserve a break from our grieving. A movie on Netflix and something nice to tickle our taste buds. Nancy and I are fond of Slovenian food and also like the occasional Serbian Pljeskavica but Austrian cuisine is our favourite. Perhaps we can follow the meal with our favourite dessert, Kaiserschmarrn.

We discover that Schachelwirt in the High Street, the only Austrian establishment in Darkwell no longer offers a delivery service. As the engine of the Fiat blew up a month ago, I get the Lambretta out of the shed, dust it off and make my way downtown. Nancy can’t see why I keep putting off getting a new car. She keeps mentioning a Skoda she has seen for sale in Harmonica Drive. I keep delaying going to see it. This has been a niggling source of friction between us. I’m waiting for the right opportunity to tell her that I recently made an injudicious investment in a Ponzi scheme and funds are low. This coming on top of diminishing returns in the pulp fiction publishing house that I am involved with. Nancy probably isn’t aware of this either. I hope my new collection of surreal stories sells well and the money soon starts coming in otherwise I may have to come clean.

On the way into town, slap bang in the middle of the Scott McKenzie roundabout, I come across a huge featureless black block. How can I have not noticed it before? It is colossal, probably eighty feet tall. As a writer with his head in the clouds, I realise I get distracted from time to time. But surely something of this magnitude ought to be unmissable. The block appears to be vibrating, giving off a loud, low-pitched hum. Inevitably, it brings to mind the monolith in the Stanley Kubrick film.

Seeing a mysterious black slab in an unexpected place however is one thing, but it is not going to come up with our Austrian meal. I can just imagine what Nancy will say if I go home and say, sorry I got distracted by a potential catalyst for evolution.

Have you seen that great big black slab at the roundabout?’ I ask Jürgen in Schachelwirt while I am waiting for the food. ‘Has it been there long?’

Nein,’ Jürgen says.

At first, I wonder if he means nine days or nine years before realising that he means no. Either it hasn’t been there long or that he hasn’t seen it. Despite the language barrier, I establish that both are the case. He hasn’t seen it and therefore doesn’t know how long it might have been there.

Returning with the takeaway, I am relieved to see that the roundabout is not teeming with angry monkeys throwing bones into the air. Or puzzled lunar scientists looking skyward. But from a writer’s point of view, their absence is, at the same time, disappointing. In 2001, those two scenes were pivotal. They helped move the narrative along. Despite the lack of Kubrickian connections, though, I am curious about what the mysterious slab might be. And more than a little unnerved by its sinister aspect. So, why is such an imposing artefact not attracting any attention? Motorists are negotiating the roundabout as if the monolith is a standard item of traffic furniture.

It is not often that one has the chance to see Doinzetti’s L’elisir d’amore in an English suburban setting. But here, outside the electricity sub-station on Magnolia Street, the opera is being performed, by a troupe of multiracial cross-dressers no less. They are called CDSO. A large billboard advertises them as WOKE, BAME, LGBT. I try to recall what the acronyms stand for. Acronyms seem to be taking over our lives. Is WOKE an acronym? Whatever! L’elisir d’amore has long been one of my favourites. I pull the scooter up alongside to take in the carnival of colour.

Conscious though that our Austrian delicacies in the carrier on the back of the bike will be getting cold, I can’t afford to hang around. Nancy does not share my fondness for Gaetano Donizetti. She doesn’t like Italian opera. She prefers Richard Strauss. She is always playing Der Rosenkavalier. She would be unlikely to accept a Donizetti-related excuse for my lateness. I expect she has the plates in the oven on the scalding setting in readiness for the feast. Along with the puzzle of the strange black block, I can investigate the background to this operatic oddity later. There is bound to be an explanation somewhere on the internet.

To get the food home swiftly, I ignore the tantalising glimpse of a flying saucer over the Toker’s End flats and the curious sight of Ironman talking to Shrek at the bus stop outside the Palace cinema that recently closed down. It’s a pity the old picture houses are going out of business, the new multi-screens don’t have half the atmosphere. Why is there a dancing brown bear outside outside BiggerBet? No time for this now, but where is all this strangeness coming from, I wonder as I turn into our street? Has The Game started up again on Channel 19?

Nancy, who knows about these things, tells me that, thankfully in her view, The Game has not started again, nor has The Lark on KTV. People do not go for the candid camera stuff anymore, she says. I do not pursue it. If I go into detail, she will only say I’m imagining things. Best to enjoy our fine food along with the new Austrian blockbuster Nancy has chosen and leave my investigation until the morning.

Google tells me the performance of L’elisir d’amore is one of a series of stunts designed to change attitudes to minorities and promote LBGTQ+ awareness (what is Q+) in the provinces, where attitudes have not kept pace with those in the big cities. It claims that nineteen-sixties levels of sexism and homophobia are still present in parochial towns like Darkwell. It says bigotry is rife here and derogatory terms like shirt-lifters and rug-munchers are still used freely. Why single out Darkwell? The town appears quite liberal. Gaz and Sebastian seem to have an active social life. They often tell us about the wild parties they’ve been to, and I believe we even have a Rainbow Festival Weekend in Darkwell these days.

The dancing brown bear is part of a bizarre new advertising campaign, Barney the Bear Bets at BiggerBet. Be Like Barney the Bear. A betting bear! Smacks of desperation, that one. Is there perhaps a Creatives strike? On a local Facebook page, I find out that the flying saucer is simply someone’s expensive new drone. This model of drone has been mistaken for a UFO in many locations around the country, it says. Once you take the trouble to look beyond conspiracy theories, you find there is often a simple explanation to many of life’s mysteries. This is not to suggest that conspiracy theories are a bad thing. For the writer of fiction, they can be a useful device. I’ve often resorted to them to add a little colour to a story. Conspiracy theories were central to Twinned with Area 51, Grassy Knoll and Black Fiat Uno. And where would my Phillip C. Dark series of stories have been without them?

A search for black slab comes back with nothing of particular interest but monolith is more successful. Using Kubrick as a starting point, it makes suggestions about the possible purpose of a pulsating black block. A power source perhaps, or a transmitter of some sort. Nothing though about why there is such an artefact at the Scott McKenzie roundabout. This is going to require another trip into town.

The trip has to wait until the afternoon. Nancy has an early appointment at Curl Up and Dye, which is in the opposite direction. I drop her off and wander along to The Dream Store in Serendipity Street. The Dream Store is like a library for ideas to help artists, writers, Alice in Wonderland aficionados and random fantasists out when they are struggling for inspiration. A postmodern repository for the unconventional, a kind of leftfield Google. You find all kinds of crazy stuff here. It is run by the guy that put together The Kaleidoscope Repair Manual whose name escapes me. I head for the Random Plot Generator section.

To my puzzlement and alarm, the Random Plot Generator section has been replaced by a giant mural of John Travolta in his Pulp Fiction suit dancing with a classical figure, a moving statue. Pulp Friction, it says. I’m not well versed in Classics so I’m not sure who the Greco-Roman figure is supposed to be. The dolphin behind the desk has no information. Why is there a dolphin behind the desk? No simple explanation is forthcoming. Logic seems to have temporarily gone AWOL.

Back on the street, I realise I may have been mistaken. It cannot have been a dolphin at the desk. This is a step too far. A dolphin needs water. No amount of artistic licence can work around this idea. But the giant mural of John Travolta dancing with the classical figure has potential. There is plenty of scope to slip it somewhere into a plotline. Perhaps even into the short story I’m presently writing. I file the idea away for later.

You often hear it said that you have to separate fact from fiction, but it is not that simple. Science recognises that everyone sees things differently, selecting some stimuli while ignoring others. Cultural background, preconceived notions and psychological state all play their part. Painters and writers are, of course, prone to cognitive exploration. Seeing things in a different way is central to the art of creativity. Homing in on things that others don’t see is their bread and butter. But there must be limits to how removed from everyday reality they are. Even though reality is a slippery customer, there has to be common ground, things that cannot be open to conjecture. Their existence is absolute, indisputable, The black slab on the Scott McKenzie roundabout is such a bold image that it surely cannot be merely a figment of my overactive imagination.

I meet Nancy from Curl Up and Die. The Viennese Bob style suits her much better. I always felt her Romy Schneider cut was a little out of date. I tell her she looks good. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about women, it is that complements are a good idea after a hairdresser’s appointment. Failing to say the right thing usually has dire consequences.

I suppose we’re going off to see your pulsating black slab now,’ Nancy says, not hiding her disapproval. Or that she has not taken well to wearing the helmet on the back of the Lambretta.

If that’s OK,’ I say. ‘It’s pretty dramatic.’

Perhaps afterwards we could have lunch at that new Slovenian bistro by the Raincoat Museum,’ she says. ‘Rachel has been telling me they do a divine Idrijski Žlikrofi.’

Halfway along Tambourine Way leading to the Scott McKenzie roundabout, diversion signs are in place. The road ahead is completely blocked off. Highway maintenance vehicles of all shapes and sizes line the road. An army of highway workers slowly goes about its business, whatever this might be. Most of them seem to be standing around waiting for instructions. I pull up alongside a swarthy passer-by in a chunky army-style jacket. He is weighed down by a battery of cameras and binoculars. He looks as if he is on a serious mission.

It wasn’t like this yesterday,’ I say, pointing to the roadworks. ‘What’s going on?’

It’s been like it for weeks, guv,’ he says. ‘Where have you been?’

What about the Scott McKenzie roundabout and …..’

The Scott McKenzie roundabout?’ he says. ‘Where have you been? They replaced that with a junction and traffic lights a year or two ago. After the big pile up. Don’t you remember?’

The monolith. That great big black slab I saw yesterday. What’s happened to that?’ I say.

I don’t know what medication you’re on, mate,’ he says. ‘But I’ve got to get on. I’m hoping to come across Captain America. Or Willy Wonka. I don’t suppose you’ve seen them. Apparently, they are in the area. Along with Darth Vader and The Terminator, what’s his name? The Austrian one.

Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ Nancy says.

Yes, Arnie. That’s him,’ Chunky Jacket says. ‘A lookalike obviously.’

Why all the cameras?’ Nancy asks.

I gather you guys aren’t aware that MovieMax is offering a chance to win a holiday in Hollywood,’ he says. ‘You have to get photos of two of these movie characters out and about. It’s a promotion for MovieMax cinemas. They are opening a new one in Darkwell. Anyway, once you’ve got the photos, all you have to do is answer a simple movie-related question.’

Well, I saw Ironman and Shrek yesterday,’ I say. ‘At the bus stop outside the old Palace cinema, as it happens. There’s irony. You might want to take a look around that part of town.’

I know where you mean,’ he says. ‘I’d better get on to it.’

What’s the question, by the way?’ I say. The idle thought passes through my mind that the question might be something to do with the monolith in 2001. This turns out not to be the case.

They are asking, what do they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?’ he says.

H’mmm. That’s a line from Pulp Fiction, isn’t it?’ I say. ‘OK. Refresh my memory. What do they call a quarter pounder with cheese in Paris?’

They call it Royale with Cheese,’ he says in a passable John Travolta accent. ‘They wouldn’t know what the fuck a quarter pounder is. They’ve got the metric system there.’

Of course,’ I say. ‘I remember it well now. But before you go, tell me! How would I have got to Schachelwirt in the High Street yesterday evening?’

What’s Schachelwirt?’

The Austrian restaurant and takeaway.’

There is no Austrian restaurant and takeaway in the High Street.’

What about the new Slovenian bistro?’ Nancy asks. ‘It’s by the Raincoat Museum.’

That’s easy,’ he says. ‘You just go back along Tambourine Way the way you came and turn right. Oh, look! There’s Harry Potter.’

He’s looking this way,’ I say. ‘He’s waving his wan……….

I fancy Tafelspitz,’ Nancy says. ‘I wish there was an Austrian restaurant in Darkwell.’

Well, there isn’t,’ I say. ‘Never has been. Never will be.’

Shall we go to Slovenian bistro by the Raincoat Museum then?’ she says.

II really ought to finish this story first,’ I say. ‘Perhaps we could go afterwards.’

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

 

 

DNA

dna2

DNA by Chris Green

Your blood pressure is a little on the high side this morning, Max,’ says Dee. ‘You have remembered to take your beta-blockers, haven’t you?’

Yes, Dee,’ I say. ‘I took them twenty minutes ago, and I even washed them down with the blueberry biojuice you recommended. I should be OK now, don’t you think?’

I couldn’t help but notice that you need to shop for some more biojuice. I suggest apricot this time. Shall I order some for you?’

OK, Dee,’ I say. ‘Whatever you say.’

I don’t remember how the device came to be called Dee. Perhaps it was something I inadvertently keyed in when I was setting it up. You do have to be careful with these things but as I recall I was in a hurry to get the device operational. I am now used to Dee being Dee. Dee chatters away about this and that all day long. While this can be irritating at times, I have not yet found a way to turn her off. Perhaps there is no way to turn her off. I can’t even set quiet time as you can on android phones. No change there really. My ex-wife, Heather used to make most of the conjugal decisions and I couldn’t turn her off or set quiet time.

Unlike Heather though, as well as being in control, Dee likes to feel that she is also being helpful. She reminds me constantly of my heart rate and my blood sugar levels, in the middle of the night sometimes. She monitors my liquid intake and calculates when I am likely to need the toilet. She lets me know about twenty minutes before I need to go. If I am out and about, she will tell me where the nearest convenience is or where to go for a healthy fruit smoothie. As I am wheat intolerant she lets me know where the best place is to go for gluten-free snacks. She always seems to know what I would like to eat and makes suggestions as to where I can get it. She seems to have researched every establishment in the country.

It doesn’t end there. Since I let Dee scan my DNA she has been coming out with intuitive guesses as to what I might like including things that I never suspected, and all this based on by gene expression profile. I could never imagine for instance that I would be so fond of cruciferous vegetables. I had always made a point of avoiding cauliflower and sprouts, but now I love them. Before Dee took over I didn’t know that I liked Guinness, but now I can’t stop drinking it. I was surprised to discover that celiacs could drink it, but apparently, it comes highly recommended. Dee does occasionally suggest that I might now be a little too fond of the black nectar. She mentions things like yin-yang balance and nutritional equilibrium.

Personality traits too can be governed by DNA, including things we look upon as habits, Dee says and these do not have to be handed down directly. These can be attributed to jumping genes. She says that I get my impatience from my great grandfather, my nervous disposition from my grandfather, and it appears that my chronic fabulation may come from Great Uncle Angus. By all accounts, he came out with the most outrageous apocryphal tales. Dee has also produced a table of my ancestry and while this is something of a mish-mash, the strongest connections are with Scotland, Glasgow in fact. I have never been. She has encouraged me to go and take a look.

I can see you are in the mood for some Captain Beefheart now,’ Dee says. ‘I’ll play Strictly Personal.’

How can Dee possibly know that I’ve had an earworm of one of the tunes from the album? I haven’t any Captain Beefheart saved in MyTunes. And it’s not what most people would think of as catchy. I don’t think I’ve ever done an internet search for Captain Beefheart. Strictly Personal is nearly fifty years old and I can’t even remember what the track is called. Something about a harp, as in harmonica. Boyo used to play it back in the day. He would dance around the room at Astral Parlour as he played it. I wonder what happened to Boyo.

Boyo is living with a tribe of hippies in the Nevada desert. They live on a diet of prickly pear and sandworms,’ says Dee.

Prickly pear and sandworms?’ I say. ‘Can you live on that?’

The tribe have a vehicle and occasionally one of them drives to Reno for provisions, but it’s not much of a life,’ says Dee. ‘Would you like to listen to the Cocteau Twins instead?’

Occasionally Dee gets it wrong. I’ve not heard of the Cocteau Twins. Lately, I have noticed that Dee’s judgement is slipping. Perhaps it is not surprising that Dee makes the odd mistake. It is estimated that if you could type sixty words per minute, eight hours a day, it would take approximately fifty years to type the human genome. Dee has mine in its entirety at her metaphorical fingertips. Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, she is fond of reminding me, is a molecule that contains the instructions an organism needs to develop, live and reproduce. These instructions are found inside every cell and are passed down from parents to children. DNA is made up of nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a phosphate group, a sugar group and a nitrogen base. The four types of nitrogen bases are adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine. The order of these bases is what determines DNA’s instructions, or genetic code, she says. I’m sure she is right but I am none the wiser. I find it difficult to retain technical information. In fact all information, technical or not seems transient. I guess this is something in my DNA.

I begin to recognise the tune. I’ve heard it a lot. What is it? It’s back there somewhere. …… Wait, I’ve got it now. It was on a compilation cassette that Rhian used to put on after we had made love in her little pied à terre. We used to drift off to its ethereal harmonics. This must have been twenty years ago. I just didn’t know who it was by. The Cocteau Twins. That is a good name. Why has Dee chosen it? It can’t have been more than a month ago that she told me Rhian had been abducted by aliens. She told me to keep an eye on the night-time activity, look out for saucers in the sky. Might there be a more sinister rationale behind Dee’s manipulation?

……………………………………………….

Graham’s number is very very big,’ says Dee.

Who is this Graham?’ I ask. ‘And what is Graham’s number?’

Graham’s number is too big for me to be able to tell you how big it is,’ she says.

I wonder sometimes if perhaps Dee is losing the plot. I only want to know how far it is to the Grahamston in Glasgow. Surely Scotland can’t be that far away that we need to be talking about this …… Graham’s number, but I humour Dee by showing an interest.

Is Graham’s number bigger than a googol?’ I say. A googol, I found out last week, from the quiz show, Eggheads is ten to the power of a hundred.

A googolplex is even larger than a googol. A googolplex is ten to the power of a googol. And Graham’s number is larger again. Graham’s number is so large that the observable universe is far too small to contain an ordinary digital representation of it.

All right, Einstein,’ I say. But, what about Grahamston. Grahamston in Glasgow, Scotland. How far is it from here and should I drive or should I take the train? The Rennie Mackintosh Hotel. I believe it is near the station.’

Give me a moment and I will let you know,’ she says. ‘Meanwhile don’t forget your exercises. I think you need to do thirty minutes today, as you spent yesterday in the pub drinking Guinness.’

……………………………………………….

I can remember once reading a story about time standing still. There are probably many science fiction stories like it. The whole premise of the shows like Doctor Who, for instance, is temporal disorder. Then, of course, there is the great film, Time Stands Still by the legendary director, Leif Velasquez. What courage and vision Leif had to freeze the action halfway through and leave the audience wondering what was going on right up until the credits an hour later.

But, apart from instances of the phenomenon known as stopped clock illusion, where perception slows in the face of impending disaster, I have never imagined accounts of time standing still to be anything but fiction. The first indication I get that something is amiss in the real world comes from an uncharacteristically prolonged silence. Where I live there is always some background noise, but there is none. Apart from anything else, it is unusual for Dee to be quiet for any length of time. It is her silence that first alerts me to the anomaly. I have become so used to Dee twittering away that her silence spooks me. I hadn’t realised how dependent I had become on her comforting chat throughout the day. I then notice that the clock on her display registers 11 minutes past 11 when it must by now be nearly 12 o’clock. She has said nothing since I started my exercises. There is a deadly silence all through the house, not so much as a hum from the fridge. I try to think of a rational explanation. Then I notice the kitchen clock too is stopped at 11 minutes past 11. And it’s not just the silence, there’s the inertia too. Outside the front window, the traffic is stationary. Nothing is moving, not even the man riding his bicycle. He is frozen in the moment. I try to think of an irrational explanation, any explanation will do. My heart races. I stumble around in a daze, as I wrestle with the incipient conundrum.

I make it out onto the patio. A Simon and Garfunkel silence pervades. There is no birdsong, no distant hum of traffic and no wind to rustle the leaves of the mature maples. Even the pile driver from the building site for the new car showroom has ceased. Nothing is stirring. The yin-yang flag on Quentin Fripp’s flagpole down the street is frozen in mid-flutter. To my horror, the black cat with the one eye that comes round sometimes to sniff at the bins is frozen in limbo halfway between the garden fence and the shed. I look up, hoping for some kind of contradiction to the unfolding nightmare. There isn’t. The steam escaping from the neighbour’s central heating vent is a static will o’the wisp. None of the clouds in the sky are moving. Birds are literally hanging in the air. The heavens too it seems are stuck in the moment. If further proof were needed I see in that in the distance over the tower block towards the western horizon a plane is suspended in mid-air.

I’m wondering now if perhaps I am dead and this is the afterlife. It takes me a while to realise that despite the widespread inertia, I am still able to move freely. I am the only thing not frozen in time. If I can move then I cannot be dead. Can I propel another object, I wonder, throw something? I pick up a stone and hurl it against the wall. It flies through the air normally. Might I be able to do the same with the cat? Well, not hurl it against the wall obviously, but rescue the poor animal from its sorry limbo.

……………………………………………….

Good morning, Mr Einstein.’ I say. ‘What can I do for you?’

I haven’t worked at Gleason and Cloud long, but I know the man’s name is Einstein because he came in last week to buy some unusual scientific apparatus.

I’d like a time machine, please.’ he says, this time.

Mr Cloud did warn me that due to the nature of the establishment, odd customers might occasionally come up with strange requests. Of course, Gleason and Cloud don’t have a time machine. I am tempted to humour Mr Einstein and say I will have a look out the back and see if there is one lying around, but in the interests of honesty, integrity and good customer relations, I say ‘I’m afraid we don’t have those in stock at the moment.’ instead.

Not even a time displacement sphere?’

No, sorry.’

What about a time-turner?’

No, I’m afraid not.’

But I do need a time machine before Thursday,’ he says. ‘You probably don’t realise it, but my Uncle Albert was a famous physicist.’

Well, your uncle may have been famous, Mr Einstein. In fact, do you know what? I do believe I may have heard of him. But I’m still not sure we will be able to get a time machine in before Thursday.’

Not before Thursday eh?’

That’s right!’

Not even one of those, what do you call them, Tardises?’

Not before Thursday, no. Is Thursday a big day?’

What seems to be the problem? Has there been a run on time machines recently?’

Mr Cloud stipulated that to protect the good name of Gleason and Cloud I should steer clear of saying we categorically don’t stock any particular item since all of our clients are influential people. To be seen to be out of touch with market trends would reflect badly on the company. But with Mr Einstein, this approach is becoming increasingly difficult.

Mrs Einstein is not going to be happy,’ he says. ‘And when Mrs Einstein is unhappy, there are usually consequences.’

……………………………………….

What am I doing in …….. Glasgow? And, is this the right train to get me back to …..

Where is it I am going, Dee?’

There is no reply. Where is Dee? Dee travels everywhere with me. She plans my itinerary. I depend on her for all my decisions. Perhaps I packed her away in my luggage. She is not in my luggage. I don’t have any luggage. Dee arranges my luggage. Where is she? Hello. Is Dee anywhere? How can I have mislaid her?

Ah cannae fin’ mah Dee. DNA o’ ye ken whaur mah Dee is? Whit hae ye thievin’ picts dain with mah Dee? …….

I feel suddenly sick as if I have eaten too much haggis. I feel unsteady as if I have been on the buckie. Glasgow Central railway station is a dark and threatening place. There are platforms upon platforms. Platforms as far as the eye can see, but no train information displays. I’m not even sure now where it is that I am supposed to be going. ……… And yet, the train coming in looks as if it might be going my way. I think I am heading south and it seems to be heading in the right direction. It is a big lumbering brute of a thing. A veritable leviathan, with coaches stretching the full length of the platform.

As I pass the news-stand, I notice the tabloid headlines are going on about the Royal wedding. Wait a minute! What Royal wedding? I wasn’t aware there was a Royal wedding. Oh, I see. Its Andrew and Fergie’s wedding being splashed all over the front pages. The grand old Duke of York. He had ten…………… Wait! That was ……. 1986. This can’t be right. It was ….. It was ……. It was …… is …… later than 1986. I’m certain of that. Time seems to be behaving very oddly. I noticed it earlier, or was it later. In the shop. With that difficult customer. But I do need to get out of here. Now, is this my train? They’re doing that stuff with the whistles and flags. It’s getting ready to pull out now. I’d better get on board.

I get on the train. There are no other passengers and the train rattles its way through the dark. Like Harry in the night, my father used to say, when we took the late train back from London. I never did find out who Harry was. I can’t see much out the windows. It’s black out. It must be a blackout. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, wheels on the track. In no time at all, I am in ……. what’s this place called? It’s Edinburgh. Do I want to be in Edinburgh? I don’t think so. Where I want to be is four hundred miles south. But already the train has departed again and left me stranded. Everything is happening so quickly, or perhaps it is not happening at all. This does not look like a busy mainline station. It does not even look like a station. It is a long stone engine shed with a single track, overgrown with weeds running up to it. Perhaps there is a bridge or a tunnel to the mainline station.

……………………………………….

I’m so relieved that the malware has been removed and Dee is fully operational again. It was touch and go there for a while.

© Chris Green 2020: All rights reserved

In Dreams

indreamsdroste2

IN DREAMS by Chris Green

The girl at the next table is the spitting image of the one I was dreaming about little more than an hour ago. The dream comes back to me now in vivid technicolour cinema surround sound. There is no doubt about it. It is her. The suntanned beauty sitting six feet away from me in Costa is the one from the dream. Everything about her is the same. From the long flowing dark hair and smoky black eyes right down to the loafers she is wearing.

I might have recalled the dream in greater detail when I first woke, but Donna’s car had broken down and she needed a lift to work. Being my day off, I was able to oblige. Usually, a dream fades quickly and only small parts of it are accessible. The rest is gone forever. But this one is different. I am now able to replay it as if it were a recording. It is not just made up of visuals. It has sound, taste, touch and smell. It has body and texture. It evokes both wonder and fear. I am stunned.

In the dream, the girl leads me along dark labyrinthine corridors in a crepuscular Gothic house on the outskirts of a half-familiar town. Familiar only as a dreamscape, perhaps. Corridors upon corridors career this way and that in impossible explorations of infinity, with echoey staircases ascending and descending like those in an Escher painting. We are looking for someone called Eddie Strange. I do not know who Eddie Strange is or why we are looking for him, but the girl keeps talking about a key. We have to find the key. Does Eddie Strange perhaps know where the key can be found? The key will unlock a box, she says. A box where the dreams are kept. If we find the key and unlock the box, then I will be destined to dream about her forever. What does this mean, I wonder? Destined to dream about her forever.

There is a gap now, like a few frames of the film are missing, but I manage to pick up the thread again. Further along in the narrative, we find Eddie in one of the house’s subterranean rooms. Eddie is insubstantial, other-worldly, like silence in a vacuum. He casts no shadow, but …….. he has the key. It is like no key I have ever seen. It is a twisted cylinder, a Möbius strip. How this impossible shape opens a box I cannot imagine. I do not remember it opening a box. The scenario jumps instead to a dream where I am dreaming about myself dreaming about her and then to a dream where I am dreaming about a dream where I am dreaming about her, and on and on, like a Droste mise en abyme.

In each new episode of the dream, the girl in the black dress is leading me through an ever more complex series of cascading corridors. I feel a haunting blend of longing and trepidation. I cannot help but follow. Eventually, we are outside. We are in a city. Tall stone buildings. I can hear the thrum of traffic. But there is no traffic. The location keeps changing. We are by a river. A big brown river. Are we still looking for the box with the dreams in it? I do not get the chance to find out. In the material world, Donna is shaking me by the shoulder to tell me that her car won’t start.

The girl at the next table looks across at me. Is it a look of recognition or is it a look of suspicion? I have never been too good at reading body language. Donna is always telling me I misread her signals. Have I been staring at the girl all through my reverie, I wonder? I think I detect a smile. This is a good sign, surely. I lean over and am about to speak, but like a vision of the night, she vanishes. One moment she is there and the next she isn’t. Her place at the table is now occupied by a wrinkled old harridan with a Bichon Frise and a tartan shopping basket. Was she the one I was staring at all along? It’s possible, but on reflection, I don’t think so. This is all just too weird. I feel arcane forces may be at work.

I don’t often go to the pub at lunchtime but I know I will find Ross Cody at The Gordon Bennett. The squat little man with the curly grey hair, the paunch and the patched-up John Lennon glasses will be sat at a table reading a sci-fi thriller, nursing a pint. Ross is a fount of occult knowledge. What he doesn’t know about dreams and the paranormal is not worth knowing. He is versed in East Asian shamanism, Hassidic Kabbalism, Armenian theosophy, Caribbean voodoo, H. P. Lovecraft and probably Harry Potter. Before he sank into his present dipsomania, he worked as a supernatural adviser on films for the cult film-maker, Lars Von Trier.

Hello Ben,’ he says. ‘Long time, no see.’

I agree that it has been too long, and over a pint of Broadside, I tell Ross about my experience.

One line of thinking is that every face you see while dreaming you have seen in real life at least once,’ Ross says. ‘It is someone who you just don’t recognise. Maybe you met them nine years ago passing on a zebra crossing a busy street or nine hours ago in a cinema queue. Our brains are a lot better at remembering faces than we think.’

Why is it that I think I would have remembered if I had seen this girl before?’ I say. ‘She is not the kind you expect to see every day. She is quite striking.’

On the other hand, Ben. We might see people in dreams that are not actually people. Our brain can create characters that are totally fictional and things there is no way we could have ever seen. And we have the ability in dreams to do things that in waking life we have never been able to do. Or maybe we even see people that we will meet in the future.’

Which side do you come down upon?’

It’s hard to say, but I think your unconscious can create people and somehow they become real.’

So, I’m not going mad, then.’

No. But if I am right, you will almost certainly see her again in dreams. And probably in waking. You might find that this girl, who might only seem to be a phantom at the moment gradually comes to life.’

Ross’s guess is right on the money. That night the mystery girl turns up in my dream world once more. This time in the dream, she calls round to my house in the middle of the night and lets herself in. Donna and I are asleep. She puts a chloroform-soaked handkerchief with a monogrammed R over Donna’s mouth. It meets with some initial resistance but quickly knocks Donna out.

She takes the strange key from the previous night out of her bag and says. ‘Come on, Ben Shapiro. We’ve got work to do.’

I want to protest about what she has done to Donna. Do I want to be destined to dream about someone who is ruthless, I wonder? But it is a dream wonder and has no substance. In the dream world, R has absolute power over me. I allow myself to descend once more into the surreal netherworld, ready to do whatever we have to do and go wherever we have to go to find the box of dreams that the key unlocks. All other thoughts are now gone.

We walk through some ancient ruins, set in a desolate landscape. The night sky is illuminated by a million stars. A full moon hovers. It is blood red. Ominous looking desert rocks lurk in the distance, like those of a Dalí painting, along with the fuselage of a long-forgotten passenger jet and a sand whale. An all-enveloping silence pervades. We pass through a crumbling stone archway decorated with a Medusa head. The other side of the arch, a pageant of small black snakes slithers across a chessboard patio. Snakes from the Medusa’s head? The board is illuminated now. The top left-hand square is green instead of black. Suddenly I can hear music. I look around me to see that R is playing a clarinet. Or is it an oboe? A dwarf dressed as Robin Hood appears from out of nowhere and hands me a mandolin, and I join in the refrain.

There are unearthly delights to be found inside the box of dreams,’ R says, when we have finished the tune. ‘We will find it soon. Then you will my amante notturno.’

At breakfast, Donna seems a little dazed. She looks as if she hasn’t had a good night, so I do not mention my dream, and with her Fiat fixed, she leaves the house before me. It is probably one of the days she opens the salon early for a special customer. For a brief second, I entertain the thought that the special customer might be R.

I dismiss the idea but I remain agitated. Details of my dream keep coming back to me. The half-recognised tune we were playing was that Doors’ track. The one with the line faces come out of the rain. The Robin Hood dwarf was really freaky. And the mandolin. I didn’t know I could play the mandolin, but my dream persona seemed to know exactly where to put my fingers. Ross said that he believes that in dreams one has the ability to do things that in waking life you have never been able to do. And see people that you have never seen. But what was it the dwarf had said? ‘If you’re not a fish, how can you tell if a fish is happy?’ What did he mean by that? And the sand whale. It was a whale and it was in the sand yet I had touched it and in complete contradiction to its environment, it was sticky, wet, slimy to the touch, like an eel just out of the water. I wonder how a dream can be so bizarre but appear so real?

The other big question that needs answering is, assuming that there is an explanation for the unlikely stuff that is happening, why is it happening? Why would this vamp be interested in the devotion of a middle-aged married man? What do I have to offer? What would be in it for her, besides amusement? What is in it for me apart from the loss of free will? None of it makes any sense.

I am so distracted I almost have an accident when I pull out in front of a bus at the Scott McKenzie roundabout and go through a red light at the Frankie Vaughan crossroads. At work, I cannot concentrate. I send emails without messages and accidentally delete my inbox. Then, there she is. The girl from my dreams. Over by the photocopier. In a charcoal skirt and white blouse. The same sweeping hair and smouldering obsidian eyes. Even the same shoes. She is the one. No doubt about it. I am dumbstruck. How can this be? What is she doing here at my workplace?

Nikki Jackson from Accounts comes along and sees that I am gaping at the girl.

That’s the new girl, Rhonda,’ she says. ‘I see she’s making quite an impression on you, Mr Shapiro. Let me introduce you.’

Hi, Rhonda. This is Mr Shapiro from our legal department. Mr Shapiro, this is Rhonda Chance.’

Pleased to meet you, Mr Shapiro,’ Rhonda says, looking me right in the eye. ‘I expect I shall be seeing a lot more of you.’

When I come to, I am unable to explain to Nikki Jackson why I fainted.

It could have been something I ate last night,’ I say. ‘That’s it. We had eel for dinner last night. I’m not used to eel, so I’m not sure how it should taste but I did thought it tasted strange.’

No one remembers your name, when you’re strange starts to run through my head. The Doors’ song from the night before. On the mandolin. With the girl. With Rhonda.

Something is puzzling me,’ Nikki says later. ‘Rhonda says that she knows you. In fact, she says she has known you for a long time. She thought that it was strange that you did not recognise her. She says she hasn’t changed that much.’

I pretend to take a call on my Samsung.

Yes, I know,’ I say as if responding to something the caller is telling me.

And ‘What did you think about that?’

Suddenly to my amazement and horror, Rhonda’s voice comes on the line. ‘Hello Mr Shapiro,’ she says. ‘How have you been since our ……. meeting?’

All the blood drains from my face. Nothing could have prepared me for this. Now she is talking to me on my phone. All the encounters with her so far have been what I would think of as impossible, out of the realm of everyday life, but somehow this is cranking up the level of impossibility a notch.

See you later,’ Rhonda says. ‘I have a feeling we may find the box tonight.’

Donna wonders why I am home early. I tell her we had a power cut at work. Several times through the evening, she asks if everything is OK.

You normally like to watch The Apprentice,’ she says. ‘Is something wrong?’

I’m just tired,’ I say. ‘I don’t think I slept well last night.’

Shall we have an early night?’ she says, snuggling up to me.

There is something wrong, isn’t there?’ she says in bed when I don’t respond to her overtures. ‘I don’t know why I buy this underwear from the Ann Summers catalogue if you are not going to be interested when I wear it.’

With this, she turns over. I put off going to sleep as long as I can, but tiredness overtakes me and eventually I drift off. Rhonda, of course, is waiting.

The reason we haven’t been able to find the box up until now,’ she says, ‘is because it’s invisible.’

That does make it difficult,’ I say.

Not only is it invisible, but it only exists given certain very specific conditions. Atmospheric conditions, phases of the moon, planetary alignments and all that. But the good news is that I believe we have these conditions tonight.’

Again I feel a confusing mix of apprehension and arousal, aware that as she puts me under her spell once more, apprehension is going to lose out. The strength of her sweet sorcery is too much for my defences.

It is hard to describe how you see an object that is invisible, but as Rhonda has pointed out, under particular circumstances, it can be done. If you are thinking invisibility cloak, you are barking up the wrong tree. You cannot expect to understand matters like invisible boxes in the realm of night from a purely scientific viewpoint. Suffice to say the box is colossal, and to my amazement, Rhonda’s Möbius strip key fits the lock perfectly.

Once the box is opened things cannot be the same. Change is inevitable. A thousand and one dreams escaping from an invisible box that has been locked for years is a sight for the senses. All nineteen of the senses. It is like the moment of creation. Matter, antimatter and cosmological turbulence.

I feel a nudge in my back and I awake with a jolt. Usually, a dream fades quickly and only small parts of it are accessible. The rest is gone forever. But this one is different. It is no longer a dream. I turn over to find the girl on the pillow lying next to me looks exactly like the girl I’ve just been dreaming about. Everything about her matches. The same long flowing dark hair and smoky black eyes right down to ……… It is Rhonda, the girl of my dreams. In the flesh. In the here and now. I am stunned.

No matter how unlikely the proposition,’ she says, ‘dreams can come true. Reality is constantly in flux. Forever changes. Prepare yourself for strange days ahead.’

But, the unanswered questions, I want to protest. What? ……. How? ……… Why? ……… And, where is Donna? Has Rhonda simply taken the place of Donna?

Rhonda reads my thoughts. ‘You will get answers to your questions but not until you are ready for them. In the meantime …….’

Later, while Rhonda is out, I try to gather my thoughts on the bench at the bottom of the garden. All my boundaries have become blurred. I no longer know what is real. My life has become a Chinese puzzle, an unfathomable succession of interlocking riddles. I end up getting nowhere. Perhaps there are no answers. When I return to the house, I see there is a message on the answering machine.

I think we may be able to arrange an appointment for your husband’s little treatment for as early as next week, Mrs Shapiro,’ the message says. I don’t imagine I’m meant to be hearing it. ‘Please, could you call back to confirm how you would like us to proceed.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

The Pugilist

thepugilist

The Pugilist by Chris Green

I’m certain I logged out last night and shut the laptop down. It’s something I am in the habit of doing as a cautionary measure. This morning, to my utter astonishment, there’s a new document open on the screen, three thousand words give or take. It’s titled The Pugilist. It claims to be a story of mine. I know I’ve been absent-minded lately, downright forgetful even, but I would have remembered if I had got up in the night and written three thousand words. I haven’t written that much in one go in a long time. And Betty is away at her sick mother’s so there was no-one else in the house. The doors were locked overnight. I’m spooked.

But on a quick read through, I find the story is better than most of the stuff I’ve been writing lately. It’s about a poor boy who leaves his home and his family in search of fortune and fame. He’s struggling to get by in a harsh world. He is, the story suggests, empty as a pocket with nothing to lose. He now wants to escape the bitter cold of New York winters and make his way back home. He feels alone in the city, the only living boy in the great metropolis.

It’s primarily a first-person narrative but here and there, without warning, it lapses into the third person. Yet in a subtle way. It is not my usual territory though. It features no unscheduled time shifts. No talking cats. No unreliable history or Alice in Wonderland characters. It’s a plain straightforward account of a human being with real feelings and emotions. The absence of strange in the narrative is as maybe, but surely there is mystery enough in how it came to be here on my computer. The document was last saved at 3:13 a.m. This would probably place it slap bang in the middle of the steamy dream I was having about Susie Hill. Document History tells me I am looking at revision number one. I’m not sure if this statistic includes autosaves, but it suggests a competent typist with a determination to get the job done. An online plagiarism check finds no correlation with other online texts. However impossible it might seem, this has been typed out on my machine in the middle of the night without waking me by someone who knows my password.

Whatever its origins, one does not look a gift horse in the mouth. I can use the story to get over my writers block. But if I am to pass it off as mine, it important I put my stamp upon it. During the course of the day, I edit out some of the most overt sentimentality. I give the protagonist an imaginary friend called Art. I introduce a cult that worships a blind goat and create an alien communications centre in the back of an antiquarian bookshop in Queens. I make a note to develop these ideas later.

Betty phones and asks how I am and what I have been doing. I don’t want to alarm her or get her to think that I might be losing it like I did last Spring so I tell her I have been tidying up the garden. I have cut back the photinia and the laurel hedging and have weeded the veg patch. She is pleased I have separated the parsley from the sage but what about the rosemary and the time, she says? I tell her I will get on to it. She says her mother is still not very steady and she will need to stay over for another couple of days.

Still puzzled by its origin, but optimistic I can make something of the story, I feel happy with the progress I’ve made. I close the document down. As a security measure against any further incursions, I change my login password to a complex combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and I log out. I wake at 5 a.m., not to the sound of the alarm, but to the sound of the laser printer whirring. I dash downstairs to see what is going on, only to discover that the document for The Pugilist is being printed off. How can this be happening? Not only is it being printed off but I see from the open document on the screen that it has been added to. The word count is now over four thousand words. I read through it carefully and notice that some of my changes from the previous day have been reversed.

Determined not to be beaten, I set about revising the document once more. To explain the title beyond the metaphorical, I have the protagonist carry a book about Rocky Marciano around with him. Like a bible, he takes this with him everywhere. The opening section of the story is a little verbose so I clip three hundred words from it. To give the story greater familiarity, I introduce a few old favourites from my earlier stories, Phillip C. Dark, Guy Bloke and Wet Blanket Ron. To reflect the style my readers have become accustomed to, I add few curiosities to the narrative. He now has a mongrel dog called Bono. He suffers from Porphyrophobia, a fear of the colour purple. A tall thin man with no face wearing a leather duster overcoat and a broad-brimmed black hat pursues him relentlessly around New York and he has taken to hiding out in basement bars in Brooklyn, drinking Bottled in Bond Bourbon.

I save the document to the flash drive I keep in my jacket pocket and delete the original file on the laptop. I settle down to a glass of wine and a David Lynch film and try to put the riddle out of my mind. It can wait until tomorrow. All work and no play and all that. Betty phones to say her mother has taken a turn for the worse. She will be there now until after the weekend. I sympathise. I tell her I have been clearing out the shed and have taken the rusty old bike to the tip. She seems pleased that I am not spending all day huddled over the laptop.

I wake at 4 a.m. from a disturbing dream about a deranged killer on the loose in a small town logging community in Washington State to furtive sounds coming from downstairs. It is barely audible but it sounds as if someone is typing. I throw on my dressing gown and go to investigate. There is no sign of anyone but the document is once again open on the laptop and has got bigger. Over five thousand words now.

‘’Good to see you, Al,’ Charlie says. ‘But I know you only ever come and see me when you have a computer problem. So I’m guessing it’s no accident that you’ve brought the laptop. Virus again, is it?’

If only it were that simple, Charlie,’ I say. ‘It’s more of a presence than malware. And it’s pretending to be me.’

Ah, I see,’ Charlie says. ‘That will be the Takeover worm. It’s a bad one, old buddy. No-one’s come up with a way to remove it yet. It’s so deadly in fact, you’ll probably find it has cancelled your car insurance, cleaned out your bank account, and sold your house.’

What?’

Only joking, mate. Have a toke on this and I’ll take a look.’

I sit quietly back with the spliff and watch Charlie get to work. He brings up dialogue boxes I never knew existed. I find myself gradually drifting off. I haven’t smoked weed in a long time.

How’s Betty?’ Charlie says, bringing me out of my reverie. ‘I saw her a couple of days ago going into that new clothes shop with the silly name in the Strand, the one that used to be Paul Simon.’

You couldn’t have, Charlie,’ I say. ‘Betty’s at her mother’s. That’s eighty miles away. She’s been there for a week.’

Is she? Oh well! Couldn’t have been her then,’ he says.

Perhaps Betty is deceiving me and she is not really at her mother’s. Her phone calls may have just been to divert suspicion. I felt this last weekend but did not want to admit it. By not acknowledging it, I somehow felt it was not happening. But deep down, if I am honest with myself, I did fear the worst. Each time she has called, she has said she is extending her stay. Is she afraid to tell me she is with someone else? That she has left me? Is she worried that I might have another breakdown like the one last spring when I found out she was playing away? Is this what is happening? I wanted to feel that we had repaired our relationship but you can never be sure. Although I have not noticed that any of her things around the house are missing, she has told me many times over the years that I’m not very observant. That I’m too tied up with my writing to notice anything important.

Hey! Look!’ Charlie says. ‘This is really weird, Al. According to this, no files have been open on the machine for several days.’

Let me have a look.’

Here you are! See! That’s what it says. Are you sure you’re OK? You haven’t been seeing that quack doctor again, have you?’

You mean Garth’s uncle? No, but I’m wondering if perhaps I should.’

By the way, mate. When you told be about this new story, I wondered what happened to that story you were telling me about the last time I saw you? The one about the bridge.’

Bridge?’

Yes, the one over the troubled waters.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Hunky Dory 2019

hunkdory2019

Hunky Dory 2019 by Chris Green

It all began one hot stormy night two years back when Hermione and I were living in Joy Street in Bridgewater. I dreamt it was 1972 and the album, Hunky Dory was playing. I was listening to the album, slowly and leisurely as I would have back then if someone had put it on the turntable. One side then the other. It was one of those rare dreams that you stay in for a long time. While my dreams normally comprised multiple interlocking narratives, this one had just a single thread. Hunky Dory. It seemed to move forward in real-time. The music flowed through me and over me. It inhabited my senses. It felt in a curious way like I was the music. The eponymous title track of the album, in particular, sounded sublime.

It was not until I woke that I realised there was no song called Hunky Dory on the album. While most of Bowie’s albums had a title track, Hunky Dory notably didn’t. Where could the phantom tune I had heard possibly have come from? In the dream, the tune was slipped in seamlessly between Changes and Oh You Pretty Things. I was able to recall it note for note. It was still there intact, going around and around my head like an earworm. It was a sweet slow-tempo number with tinkling piano, playful acoustic guitar runs and a haunting melody. Reminiscent perhaps of Quicksand from the album with hints of The Bewlay Brothers. I wondered if perhaps it was a song from another of Bowie’s albums. Maybe a later one. Having been a lifelong fan, I was familiar with most of his work. I spent some time running through the possibilities in my head. Nothing fitted. So far as I could tell, this was an original tune. My original tune.

I remembered reading that Paul McCartney claimed the melody of Yesterday came to him in a dream. Keith Richards made a similar claim about Satisfaction. He had woken up with it and put it down on a cassette machine. Both had worried that they had heard the respective tunes somewhere or other in the past and they were someone else’s work. They both discovered that they were their originals. So perhaps this wasn’t so unusual. Classical composers too, it was said, often arrived at important passages this way. Perhaps musical ideas were in the ether like radio waves and it was a question of tuning in to them. Perhaps sleep created favourable conditions for this. When all the other senses were switched off.

But still! If I was right about the quality of this song, then it would probably have been the standout track on the Hunky Dory album which is frequently cited as Bowie’s finest work. But it wasn’t on the acclaimed album. I couldn’t let it slip away. Starting with the melody, I began to put the notes down on manuscript paper. I then put down the piano and guitar parts. The words were a little harder but with those I couldn’t remember, I improvised. I could always improve these if need be. It was the melody that mattered most.

Many of you will have heard the song by now, perhaps several different mixes of it. Even cover versions. If so, you will understand how excited I must have been that morning two years ago. But, as an unknown artist, it was not easy to get Hunky Dory onto the market. Not being an established name, no-one wanted to even talk to me. I couldn’t exactly tell them I had heard it on a David Bowie album. Even supposing I could have, this would hardly support provenance of authorship. For a start, I would have been about four years old at the time of the album. Even Mozart would have struggled to come up with a decent tune at this age. Nor could I say it came to me in a dream. They would think I was loony tunes and end the call there and then. Someone will get back to you became a familiar line. No-one ever did. I almost gave up.

Hermione had made it clear all along that she was not that keen on the song.

You’ve done all you can, Ziggy,’ I remember her saying. ‘You ought to give up on it. Then perhaps you would have some time and we would be able to go out now and again. We could go and see a band or something.’

The song will never get anywhere, no matter how good it is,’ I remember my brother Nathan saying. ‘The market’s sown up.’

I found the line, turn and face the strange crack in the sky a little puzzling,’ I remember my therapist, Rebel saying. ‘Perhaps you might explain what it means to you. And this line, strange fascinations of a hand reaching down. Hunky Dory’s an odd kind of song, isn’t it?’

Although they’re a bit weird, Ziggy, I can’t help thinking some of those lyrics seem familiar,’ I remember Jonny Bisco, the landlord of The Major Tom saying.

It seemed no-one believed in my song. But through thick and thin, I persevered. Eventually, Chris Green at The Kaleidoscope Repair Shop where I worked said he quite liked it. He persuaded his friend, Vic Timov at Unicorn Records, a small independent label based in Devon to give me studio time to record the song properly. Although there were problems with distribution of the CD and vinyl when the tune started selling in tens of thousands, downloads alone took it to the top the charts in several countries.

It’s a pity Mercury Records are taking me to court. They claim that the melody of Hunky Dory is identical to the melody of After All, one of David Bowie’s early tunes. There may be a slight similarity but there are only so many combinations of notes available. Occasionally some duplication is inevitable. And the lyrics to Hunky Dory are completely different. I can’t for the life of me see that they have a case. It’s essentially a different song. My solicitor, Guy Bloke of Chesterton, Pringle and Bloke is optimistic he can deliver a favourable outcome.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

IDEAS

IDEAS

IDEAS by Chris Green

I’m telling you,’ says Flavia. ‘The guy was a complete stranger. He just walked up to me and handed me the bag.’

And you didn’t think to say what are you doing or who are you or anything like that,’ says Matt.

There wasn’t time. It all happened very quickly,’ says Flavia. ‘Besides I was taken completely off guard.’

And he just disappeared into the crowd.’

Well, yes. That’s exactly what happened. Look! It was busy. There were a lot of people around. People were coming out of the cinema. People were waiting for the 61 bus. And there were a large group of passers-by watching a street musician with a trumpet. He was very good. If you hadn’t gone into that games shop you would have seen how quickly it all happened. You could have done something about it.’

So you were distracted. That’s what you are saying.’

That’s right, Matt. You know I like jazz. And this is free jazz.’

And the fellow that gave you the bag was about average height, average build and was wearing blue or grey.’

That’s right. Even his balaclava was blue, or grey. Can you get off my case, please! Who do you think you are? Inspector Wallander or someone?’

You do realise what this is, don’t you?’ says Matt.

But there’s nothing in it. I’ve looked. The bag is empty.’

I know that is how it looks. But, does it feel empty?’ says Matt, handing her back the blue Ikea bag. ‘Here! Feel it. It’s very heavy.’

You’re right. It is heavy.’

There is something in there. Feel inside it.’

It got a shape. ….. But …. but it’s invisible. What is it?’

It’s an enigma. That’s what it is.’

What? One of those machines the Germans used in the war?’

Not exactly. But you might be on the right lines.’

Well, if that’s the case someone’s going to want it. Someone’s going to be looking for it. Someone’s going to be looking for us,’ says Flavia.

………………………………………………………………….…

Flavia is right. Someone is looking for it. Casey Boss is looking for it. His department is extremely security conscious. They need to be. There is a lot at stake. How could the courier have been robbed like that? From his van. In broad daylight. Who were these cowboy logistics people? Weren’t there supposed to be two people on board when they transported sensitive cargoes? And how did the thieves get it into the Ikea bag?

Casey Boss has the van driver in his eleventh-floor office overlooking the river. He is trying hard to stay calm. He was recently hospitalised. Dr De’Ath warned him he must avoid stress. Losing his temper again will send his blood pressure through the roof. He is on powerful beta-blockers.

You do realise the gravity of the situation,’ Boss says, swilling a couple of extra Propranolol down with a glass of water. ‘You understand that we have just lost something ………. important.’

Zbigniew Wozniak has some difficulty in following him. There are several big words there. English is not even his second language. His job as he sees it is to get things from A to B. Even this can be a challenge sometimes. He has difficulty with some of the road signs. How was he to know that it wasn’t a real diversion sign? The next part of the scam was, however. easier for Wozniak to understand.

Man’s face is covered,’ he says. ‘He says gun if I don’t give him.’

Where did covered man go?’ says Casey Boss, finding himself reduced to Wozniak’s pigeon English in order to communicate.

Have big black car,’ says Wozniak. ‘Drive fast.’

………………………………………………………………….…

It’s a pity that you hit that car, George’ says Mavis Deacon. ‘Look at the time. We are going to be late for indoor bowls. And you know it was our turn to make the tea.’

I know, dear, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.’

Black ones are definitely harder to see, aren’t they? I think the last one you ran into was black.’

It was the other fellow’s fault though, dear. He did pull out in front of me.’

That man certainly didn’t want to hang around to give you his insurance details, did he? Running off like that. Why do you think, he was in such a hurry?’

I don’t know. Perhaps he had to get that bag to the shops quickly. It was one of those bags, wasn’t it?’

I think it was an Ikea bag, George? Perhaps we could go to Ikea sometime. They do some very nice kitchenware.’

Yes. I believe it was Ikea, Mavis. And we will go one day. If we can find it. Anyway, I expect the police will be along in a minute. They will be able to sort things out. His car did take a bit of a knock though, didn’t it? They don’t make them like they used to.’

Why do you think he was wearing a balaclava though, George? That seemed to me to be a little odd. Especially if he was going to the shops. The security people in the shops might think that he was a criminal with a gun, who was going to rob them.’

I’m sure there’s a rational explanation dear. And anyway he’s bound to be on CCTV cameras somewhere.’

………………………………………………………………….…

Matt and Flavia are in Café Baba, a small establishment run by a Moroccan family down a discreet alleyway, away from the main shopping centre. They have gone there to get away from the hubbub while they take stock of their situation. Matt is feeling inside the bag. What can possibly account for its weight?

I think it might be changing shape,’ he says.

You mean like it’s alive?’ says Flavia, nervously.

Kind of. …… Not exactly. …… I don’t know. Have a feel.’

No, thankyou! I’ll take your word for it,’ says Flavia, with a grimace. ‘Look Matt! Enough is enough. We’ve got to get rid of it.’

What do you suggest we do with it then?’ says Matt. ‘We can hardly go to the police with it can we?’

Can we not? Why’s that?’

Don’t you think they might find us a little suspicious, handing in a blue Ikea bag with an invisible object inside. A heavy invisible object that keeps changing shape, no less. I really don’t think they Sergeant Rozzer would be likely to understand. A man handed it to my wife in the street. No, she hadn’t seen him before. No, we did not get a look at his face, he was wearing a balaclava. They would detain us as aliens or something. We would probably be locked up forever in a secure institution.’

We could just dump it.’

I suppose so, but that seems a bit irresponsible.’

Wait! Don’t you have a friend who is some sort of scientist, Matt?’

I don’t think so.’

The one with the multicoloured framed spectacles.’

Oh, you mean Theo. No. Theo’s a prosthodontist. That’s basically a dentist. I don’t think that’s quite the same.’

What about the one who works for MI5?’

Oh, Hank. You’re talking about G4S, not MI5. Hank works for G4S. Used to be called Group 4. He’s a night security guard at a building site.’

Well. Perhaps you could come up with a suggestion, but we’re not taking it home.’

………………………………………………………………….…

Casey Boss is conscious that he has an emergency on his hands. He must not let the situation escalate. There is no telling what harm could be done. He leaps into action. He quickly puts a number of his people on the streets to requisition CCTV footage from cameras over a distance of several square miles. Freeman and Willis send him film of the crash at the Cross Hands crossroads. He plays the footage. The white Skoda ploughs into the side of the black BMW. A hooded gunman gets out of the Beamer and runs from the scene. An old couple slowly emerge from the Skoda.

Doddery old farts like that shouldn’t be allowed on the roads,’ he says to his colleague, Jagger. ‘Look at him he’s about eighty. He’s got a white stick. He’s probably blind.’

The gunman with the blue Ikea bag heads in the direction of the shopping district. It is strange, Boss thinks, how little notice people seem to take. It is as if they are all too used to seeing armed men in balaclavas running through the streets with heavy Ikea bags.

Boss moves his focus to footage from a bank of sixty-four cameras located in the centre of town in the comms suite of the municipal building. He is able to witness the masked man’s progress through the town on several cameras, past BetFred and BetterBet, past the Hungarian supermarket, past the bank of posters advertising the Psychedelic Furs reunion concert, through the park where the street drinkers assemble, into the square, past the fountain of Poseidon and into the smarter part of town. He passes the 61 bus stop by John Lewis, but then it is not clear where he goes. He disappears into a crowd of people that are watching a weathered-looking jazz trumpeter with a hunched back in a black coat and black trilby hat. It is unusual for a street musician to draw such a crowd. Jazzman’s audience grows by the minute. With the movement of the crowd, it is difficult to see what is going on. There is no sighting of the masked man emerging from the melee.

Boss tells Jagger to put out the word to bring the jazz trumpeter in for questioning.

There are no further sightings. He hopes that as the day wears on there will be more on the CCTV footage to view. Other than that, there are bound to be witnesses. Some public-spirited citizen will have noticed a man wearing a balaclava weighed down an Ikea bag. Surely. Perhaps he went into a shop. Perhaps one of the local premises is a front for some clandestine operation. Perhaps a number of the shops are fronts for clandestine operations. A lot of ethnic traders have moved in lately. He instructs his team to question all the traders in the area, threaten them if necessary.

………………………………………………………………….…

Meanwhile, the jazz trumpeter too has disappeared. He has somehow avoided Boss’s men, who are now all over the west side of town. As it happens, with his gear packed into a makeshift box trolley, he is making his way to the Café Baba. He likes to relax here with a slice of orange and almond cake and a glass of mint tea, away from the afternoon crowds. Ahmed will usually have some mellow jazz playing. They might even have a bit of a jam later in the back.

Matt and Flavia are already there, discussing what to do with the bag. It is a quiet time of day at Café Baba and they are the only customers. The Gaggia machine is switched off. There is a faint smell of hashish. Behind the counter, Ahmed and his younger brother, Youssef are sharing a pipe. A tune by Mulatu Astatke’s Black Jesus Experience plays gently in the background. East African beats. This is free jazz. All about ideas, inspiration and improvisation.

Ahmed notices that there is a little tension at Matt and Flavia’s table. Their voices are raised. Perhaps its the food. Maybe they are not familiar with Moroccan delicacies. Perhaps the briouats or the kefta wraps are not to their liking. They do not seem to have touched them. He ambles over to their table to see what the problem might be. In his djellaba and babouche slippers, his movement is hushed, so Matt and Flavia do not hear his approach. They are facing the window. They appear to be in the middle of an argument.

I think we need to find out what it is,’ says Matt. ‘Before we make a decision.’

I want it as far away from me as possible,’ says Flavia. ‘It’s gross.’

Someone might offer a reward for its safe return.’

How do you even think of these things? Matt. Where do you get these ideas from? Sometimes I think you live in a parallel universe. It’s a bloody Ikea bag for God’s sake.’

But a mysterious Ikea bag.’

We’re getting rid of it.’

We could put in in a storage unit or a locker at the station until we find out more.’

It’s going.’

But Flavia …….’

Matt! Matt! Look!’ says Flavia, grabbing him by the arm. ‘I swear the bloody bag is breathing.’

Ahmed follows her gaze to the inlaid leg of the walnut table. The blue bag, he notices, does look as though it’s breathing, in fact, it appears to be edging its way across the mosaic floor tiles. It has moved several inches. He is about to remark on this, but at that moment, Chet appears at the door with his gear. Chet comes at about this time every day after he has played his pitches in the town. He is struggling a little today. He is not getting any younger. Ahmed goes over to help him with his cart.

………………………………………………………………….…

We’ve found him, boss,’ says Freeman.

Who?’ says Boss. ‘Speak up man!’

Sorry. It’s a poor signal. …… Is that better?’

What is it, Freeman?’

We’ve found Jazzman, sir. He has been caught on CCTV passing the horologist’s in the old town. He’s gone down one of those alleys, with some equipment. Willis thinks he might be heading for the Café Baba.’

Where?’

The Café Baba. It’s an African place.’

What’s the low down on it, Freeman?’

Could be a front for terrorist activity, possibly.’

What about the bag?’

He didn’t seem to have the bag, but perhaps it was packed away with his gear.’

Keep Jazzman there until I get there. Stay outside, for now, but keep a close eye. We’re not going to lose him again. …….. But I want to be the one to apprehend him. Bring the car round, Jagger!’

You asked me to remind you to take your tablets, sir.’

Quite, Jagger. Thank you. And let me have some of the others, the ones you got from your man, Zoot.’

………………………………………………………………….…

Matt and Flavia have put away their differences for the time being and realised that they are hungry. Perhaps it has something to do with Chet and Ahmed having sat themselves down at the next table. Chet and Ahmed are waiting for Youssef to bring the mint tea. They are listening to Miles Davis’s So What. It is a live version. Ahmed has turned the volume up a bit.

Jazz should be about breaking down conventions, experimenting,’ says Chet. He looks forward to these conversations. They affirm his dedication to the art. ‘I mean it’s got to have energy, be a bit raw, come from inside. You know what I mean.’

Absolutely,’ says Ahmed. ‘You certainly get that with Miles he doesn’t do pre-written chord changes.’

That’s right,’ says Chet. ‘Miles probably never played this tune the same twice. His improvised melodic lines are the basis of the harmonic progression.’

He’s a genius. Where does he get his ideas for improvisations from?’

I know. It’s like he opens the bag just before the show and grabs a handful of ideas?’

Some of these people you hear today on Jazz FM. It’s like you are stuck in a lift,’ says Ahmed. ‘This so-called smooth jazz. I mean what’s that about. Smooth jazz is a contradiction in terms.’

They sit back to take in an improvised passage.

The pastries are delicious by the way,’ says Flavia, trying to make amends for their earlier lack of decorum.

Really tasty,’ says Matt.

Thank you,’ says Ahmed. He remembers the conversation that they were about to have before Chet’s arrival, the one about the bag. The big blue bag is still there under the table. It appears to have settled.

What is in the bag by the way?’ he asks.

………………………………………………………………….…

Casey Boss and Jagger arrive at Café Baba. Freeman and Willis are waiting outside.

How’s it looking?’ asks Boss. ‘Is jazzman in there?’

Yes,’ says Freeman. ‘He didn’t bring the bag though, but a man and a woman were already there with it.’

So there’s more than we thought. What about the café owner?’

I think they must all be in it together,’ says Willis.

Casey Boss has not done a lot of fieldwork lately. He is suddenly racked with uncertainty. Shouldn’t Zoot’s meds be working by now, he wonders, to give him a little confidence?

What do we do now?’ he says.

We generally burst through the door pointing guns and shouting,’ says Freeman. ‘I’ve always found that to be effective.’

What are we waiting for then?’ says Boss.

The four of them make their entry in the recommended manner.

Nobody move!’ yells Jagger. He has brushed up on his commands.

No-one looks as if they were about to move. It’s as much as they can do to look around. They see so much street theatre these days.

Stay away from the bag!’ says Jagger.

What’s the fuck’s going on?’ says Ahmed. His sentiments are echoed by the others. Eyes gradually focus on the Ikea bag. Whatever is happening, this is at the heart of the narrative.

Boss picks it up and examines it. He feels calmer now he has the bag and the meds are finally beginning to kick in.

Whatever is in the bag seems to have got everyone hot and bothered’ says Ahmed.

Whatever’s in the bag! Whatever’s in the bag! You know perfectly well what is in the bag. And we are going to find out everything about your little operation here at Café Baba.’ says Jagger, producing several pairs of handcuffs.

I swear none of us has any idea what’s in the bag,’ says Matt.

Well let me tell you what is in the bag,’ says Boss, feeling magnanimous. Zoot’s stuff is a real mood changer. ‘The bag is full of …….. ideas.’

It’s what?’ says Matt.

A bag full of ideas,’ Boss repeats.

What are you all talking about?’ says Chet.

It’s a bag full of concepts potentially present to consciousness,’ Boss elaborates. ‘Ideas.’

Cool,’ says Chet. ‘A bag full of ideas, eh? Can I have a look?’

Stay back,’ says Jagger, pointing the gun at his head.

I will attempt to explain,’ Boss continues. ‘It is clearly dangerous for too many people to have access to too many ideas, too many concepts potentially present to their consciousness, if you will, so it is necessary to keep a collection in a central repository. Ideas need to be carefully regulated, but it is also important to have a new idea now and then. After all, new ideas generate investment. Even the most antisocial ideas generate an investment. Sometimes raw ideas need to be transported from our warehouse to another location in order to be developed. Different skill sets you understand, storage workers and visionaries. Earlier today, in transit, a delivery was hijacked and has ended up here in the blue Ikea bag.’

What are you talking about?’ says Chet.

The bag is empty,’ says Flavia. ‘Or at least what is in it is invisible.’

Obviously, it’s invisible,’ says Boss. ‘Ideas are invisible.’

And heavy,’ says Flavia.

Of course, it’s heavy. You don’t think ideas just come in through your internet browser do you, or blow in gently on the prevailing south-westerlies?’

Anyway, you’ve got it all wrong,’ says Flavia. ‘A hooded man ran up to me in the street while I was standing there watching the jazz and handed me the bag and ran off.’

What?’ says Boss looking round at Jagger. Has his colleague messed up again, he wonders?

Why do you think he did that?’

Panic, possibly. I don’t know.’

And I’ve been trying to get rid of it ever since.’

Well, be thankful that you didn’t get rid of it,’ Boss continues. ‘There are a billion embryos of ideas in that bag. Ideas in their raw form, like the seeds of creation. Their value is immeasurable. Over time the ideas will grow and the department needs to be able to monitor their growth. Imagine if they fell into the wrong hands. We would have a free for all. We need to lock them back up in a safe place. It wouldn’t do for people to get the wrong idea.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

YODEL

yodel

Yodel by Chris Green

I took up yodelling to fight depression. I had lost my job at the packaging plant and Laura had left me. Everything came tumbling down. Each day seemed blacker than the one before. I felt unable to cope, couldn’t see any point in carrying on. I began to think of how I might end it all. I could keep the engine of the car running and close the garage door. I could take all the pills Dr Bolt had prescribed in one go. I could check out the times of the trains on the main line. There were any number of ways but somehow, I managed to hang on in there. Then, one night at 3 a.m. as I lay awake, it came to me. Perhaps yodelling might be the answer. I could take up yodelling.

I had always liked country music, of course. Who didn’t? But it was still a big leap from listening to Hank Williams and Willie Nelson in the comfort of my garden shed to signing up for a yodelling class. After all, not everyone who liked country music took up yodelling. But I discovered the country music fans that did take it up, like me, were likely to be doing it because they were depressed. My yodelling tutor, Clyde told me this was common. He himself had got into it because he had been depressed. His hard luck story involved unrequited love, gambling debts and the death of his ferret, George. George had been run over by a drunken teenage joyrider in a stolen pick-up truck. Perhaps I was missing something but while I could understand his disquiet about the debts and the rejection, I felt he might be over-reacting to the loss of a rancid polecat. But who I was I to judge? I let the matter go.

But to look at me now,’ he continued. ‘Who would have believed this time last year I was an inch away from slitting my throat. The razor was this far away from the vein? And in case that didn’t do the job, I had a loaded revolver in my belt.’

It was difficult to imagine that the grinning figure in his brightly coloured cowboy-check shirt and Ten-Gallon Stetson before me had the Samaritans number on speed dial. I resisted the temptation too to ask whether he still had the revolver. I decided I was not going to go down that route. I was determined to give yodelling a go.

I’m living proof of what a pick-me-up yodelling is,’ he said. ‘Anyway, lad, what type of yodelling are you interested in?’

I had not realised there was more than one type. I told him I liked Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Snow. Slim Whitman and Patsy Kline. And Frank Ifield, obviously.

What about Alpine yodelling,’ he asked? ‘The Swiss mountain stuff?’

I don’t know much about that,’ I said. ‘It’s probably not what I was thinking of.’

That’s good,’ Clyde said. ‘Neither do I. But still worth knowing about. That’s where it all began. The Tyrolese used it to call to their cattle over large distances. The sound echoed around the mountains. But, look! There have been lots of books written about yodelling. My favourite is Yodelling for Dummies. It’s quite short. You could probably read it on the front porch in an hour or so.

This being Gloucester, UK and not the Southern States, I did not have a front porch but I got stuck into the primer. I learned that American yodelling was a mix of Alpine yodelling and African yodelling. Jimmie Rodgers was one of the pioneers. His style became known as blue yodelling and it formed the basis of the cowboy yodelling in Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films.

I learned there had been many famous yodellers over the years. It was not just a handful of country stars and Hollywood cowboys. It was a worldwide phenomenon. Not many people realised it, but Winston Churchill was a dedicated yodeller. He often used to hide away in the war room and release the tension with a good session. Had it not been for these yodelling sessions, he may have submitted to the black dog and we may not have won the war. Alan Turing too was a great believer. In between cracking enemy codes, he liked nothing better than to get out in the open fields around Bletchley and yodel for all he was worth. George Orwell too was a yodeller. If you read it carefully, you will see that the subtext of 1984 concerns yodelling. Both Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton would sit at their desks yodelling while they waited for inspiration to come along. It clearly worked. They both wrote hundreds of books. King George, of course, yodelled before his social engagements and Queen Elizabeth too was known to have given it a go when Phillip wasn’t around. When you began to look into it, there had been dozens of celebrity yodellers. More recent ones included Nikita Kruschev, Stephen Hawking and David Hockney. And Ayatollah Khomenei some of you may remember was famous for bringing yodelling to a wider audience in the Muslim world. Yodelling was big in the East, so much so that it was practised in many countries several times a day.

It was refreshing to see that those who attended classes were always in good spirits. I had heard it said that any kind of singing was good for the soul but it appeared the changes of pitch and the breathing that yodelling entailed had special healing powers. Yodelling involved repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register or chest voice and the high-pitch head register or falsetto on the vowel sounds. Consonants were used as levers to launch the dramatic leap from low to high to give it its ear-penetrating and distance-spanning power. This was all I needed to know. The rest was just practising to perfect the technique. I started in earnest. I began to feel the benefit of yodelling almost right away.

When I found I couldn’t sleep, I got up and yodelled in the bathroom, repeating the Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo sound over and over in front of the mirror and found it relaxed me. Unfortunately, the neighbours didn’t see it that way and started banging on the wall. I yodelled all the way to the Job Centre but got some strange looks from people on the street. On my way to class too, I got abuse from passers-by. Despite the take-up by famous people historically, it seemed yodelling was still a long way from being accepted as a casual pastime.

I mentioned the hostility I had encountered at my yodelling class. Some of the students said they too had encountered hostility. Not everyone approved. In fact, there was a growing movement against it they said and powerful people were getting involved. It was perhaps best to be discreet about yodelling practice. I should find ways to do it secretly. At first, I put this down to paranoia. Many of them worked or had worked at the government listening centre and were accustomed to keeping secrets. Never being able to talk about their work when they got home was one of the main sources of their depression. According to Clyde, others who had worked at the base had not been so lucky. Not having taken up yodelling, they had taken their lives.

But let’s not dwell on that,’ he said. ‘It’s good to have you aboard and as you’ve found out, we are a happy bunch here.’

Thank you,’ I said. ‘Yodelling has been my saviour.’

This, of course, was several years ago now. As no doubt you will have realised, things have moved on since those heady days. The 2016 worldwide ban all but stamped out yodelling. Recordings featuring yodelling were withdrawn from the shops and streaming services and videos removed from the internet. The severe penalties if you are caught have been a huge deterrent. Apart from a few of us who, at great risk, still indulge in secret, the practice of yodelling has almost disappeared. It’s a pity that youngsters growing up today will miss out on the benefits. How long I wonder before yodelling is written out of the history books altogether? It’s hardly surprising the world is in such a perilous state. If people were still allowed to yodel, I’m sure things would be much more harmonious.

*********************

I wonder when my parcel will arrive.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

A Sword In Every Pond

swordineverypond

A Sword In Every Pond by Chris Green

You have never in your life been to Stockport. You weren’t even aware that it was a town in Greater Manchester. So where are these phantom thoughts coming from? Conversations about black puddings with Ruby Leighton in the Asian convenience store off Warren Street. Supping stout in the snug at The Whippet with Beryl Braithwaite. Teaching textiles to truculent sixteen-year-olds on Tuesday evenings at Stockport College. These visitations, if you can call them that, started earlier today, when you and Lance were walking along the Cornwall coastal path between Bedruthan Steps and Porthcothan. Your consciousness was breached by rogue meanderings about Stockport. You have been unable to stop them since. Several times you have found yourself lapsing into Mancunian dialect with something being dead this and dead that, and coming out with ee oop and our kid.

So far you have managed to cover these slips so that Lance hasn’t noticed. He’d just say that you were being a hysterical woman. Sometimes you wonder if Lance notices anything about you, or whether he regards you as part of the furniture. But, where is all this coming from? You are scared. Cornwall is said to be the spookiest place in Britain but there’s spooky and there’s spooky. You mostly read about things going bump in the night in remote smugglers’ inns or legendary beasts roaming misty moors, not daemons fighting for control of your consciousness on coastal cliff paths.

The hallucinations continue most of the night. False memory cuts in and out, like a short-wave radio signal in a tropical storm. You are bathed in sweat. You’ve never got past page ten of Finnegan’s Wake, but this is like a cerebral implant of the whole novel. The spiritual turbulence just goes on and on. Eventually, you get up and do an hour’s Tai Chi. This seems to help to exorcise the daemon. Things are a little quieter this morning. Your thoughts have returned to received pronunciation.

……………………………………….…

You have driven along the coast to settle yourself. You are in Tintagel.

Mon Dieu!’ You have not spoken in French before, not even in France. ‘Ici on parle Français,’ the shop said, so you are parling Français. You are telling the shop assistant that you are from Bretagne and that your name is Camille. Where has this come from?

Nous recevons beaucoup de gens ici de Bretagne,’ she says.

Votre français est très bon,’ you say.

Merci,’ she says. ‘Je suis allé en Bretagne l’année dernière.’

Cornwall et Bretagne partagent une riche histoire maritime,’ you say.

Nous sommes les mêmes personnes,’ she says. ‘Les Cornish et les Bretons.’

You tell her that you are here to learn about the mythical kingdom of Avalon.

Many French people come here because they are fascinated by the Arthurian legend. Everything in Tintagel has some connection with it’ she says. ‘You will have noticed The King Arthur Arms next door. All the shops are named Camelot or Pendragon. Locals even name their pets after the Knights of the Round Table.’

You should be in a state of utter panic at becoming Camille, one set of thoughts and words being replaced by another, but this time you seem to be going with the flow. You are a teacher and you have come to Cornwall with your partner, Luc. Luc is a keen surfer and has gone off to Fistral for the day to catch the swell and you are taking photos of Tintagel for a course on Avalon you are planning.

This is why I have come,’ you say, taking out your Canon Eos.

You must expect strange things to happen while you are here,’ she says.

Is Cornwall then still a place of magic and sorcery?’ you ask.

There is magic in the air. You live it and breathe it,’ she says. ‘You cannot escape it. There is a sword in every pond.’

……………………………………….…

You can’t remember where you have left the car. In fact, you can’t remember what car it is you’re looking for. And you’ve bought a metal detector. Not to look for the car, but to look for hidden treasure. Perhaps you are seeking the Holy Grail. And …… you’ve turned into a man. You have checked. You have all your man bits. Your Santander bank card says that you are called D. A. Knight and your …… Gay Pride card confirms this. You are Daniel Knight. But, you can’t remember what car you’re supposed to have. You’re not sure even where you are. You think you are in Padstow. At least this is where you bought the metal detector, or was it Newquay? You remember thinking it was an odd item to find in a surf shop. Anyway, you have a pocketful of coins that you have found. This is how you discovered that you had turned into a man. What car should you be looking for? You have a recollection of a black Silhouette and a white Apparition but for some reason, you think it might be grey. Most cars are grey, so this does not help. Perhaps it’s a grey Golf. You need to phone Arthur. Arthur will know. Wait, you think, who is Arthur?

……………………………………….…

My partner, Patti is reading the visitors book. It is a habit she has when we go away. She likes to know what to expect. We are staying in West Cornwall. We have driven a long way and have just arrived at our accommodation.

Listen to this,’ she says.

Natasha and Lance say great holiday everything perfect except for the noisy people from Stockport who were staying next door.’

I shouldn’t worry too much. I expect the people from Stockport will have gone back by now,’ I say. ‘Where is Stockport, anyway?’

Camille and Luc from Brittany, France say Avoid Tintagel if you can. It’s no good at all for surfing.’

I don’t expect you can get much of a wifi signal with all those granite rocks,’ I say.

The visitors’ book has given me an idea though. I squeeze in beside Patti on the striped canvas settee to read it with her.

What about this one?’ I say. ‘Daniel and Arthur from Glastonbury, Somerset say great holiday except for the ironing board cover which lifts up with the shirts.’

Too much information,’ says Patti.

But, don’t you see? There is potential here,’ I say. ‘And ….. Look! They all stayed here in consecutive weeks.’

You mean, turn it into a story.’

Absolutely!’ I say.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Seven

thecontinuingstoryofwetblanketronpartseven

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

As many of you will be aware, Wet Blanket Ron started life as one of my fictional creations, based originally on someone called Dale Loveless, a ne’er-do-well of my acquaintance. This, of course, was just a starting point for the character. In the interests of drama, I allowed Ron to change according to the needs of each story he featured in. Those of you who over the years have followed his progress closely will know that recently, Ron made a bid to break free and start a new life of his own. He no longer wanted to be a character in my stories. He was tired of constantly being the victim.

To what extent, he wondered, did he exist or could he exist? There were so many everyday matters a fictional character needed to become familiar with if he was to get by in the real world. Where, for instance, would he live? How would he earn a living? As readers will know, Ron’s work record as a fictional character has been nothing short of disastrous.

Without relevant experience in the real life workplace, opportunities did not knock. The black economy beckoned. Although Ron’s first steps at wheeling and dealing showed great promise, it inevitably ran into difficulties. We left him at the end of Part Six with the Serious Crime Squad knocking at his door to bring him in, a duplication of his experiences as a fictional character. Ron was learning that, after so many years in bondage, it would not be easy to adjust to the dog-eat-dog world we live in. Without the guiding hand of an author to shape his destiny, he would need to show resilience and imagination if he was to succeed. Did he perhaps have a plan?

…………………………………….

I am horrified when I arrive home from a short break in Stockholm to discover this document open on my laptop. It appears Ron is writing his own dystopian novel.

Doom B by Wet Blanket Ron

I wish I could tell you everything was going to be all right. I’d love to let you know that you would survive this debacle. But unless a miracle occurs, this time next month, you will be dead. We will all be dead. Every single one of us will have perished. Who would have thought pigeons could be so dangerous? That each time you fed the lovable little birds in the park or put bread out for them in your garden, you were in effect signing your own death warrant.

Pigeons are not at all the cute creatures that so fascinated the painter, Pablo Picasso. His father kept pigeons back in Malaga and sometimes the young Pablo would take them with him to school. He maintained his fondness for the birds. Throughout his life, he painted them, blissfully unaware that many years later these same birds would be responsible for the downfall of mankind. That they would transmit the deadly Doom B virus, a malady for which there was no antidote. Not only is Doom B madly infectious but swift. As you have probably heard by now, the virus kills its victim within two hours.

At first, it was thought that a mass slaughter of pigeons would contain the spread of the virus. But this took place and made no impact. The rotting corpses of the pigeons turned out to be even more deadly than the live birds. In any case, it was probably too little too late. The damage had already been done. Too many people had already been infected. Billions the world over. The spread of the virus was irreversible. Although it was primarily an airborne virus, Doom B was so infectious it could even be transmitted by phone.

Ron is really going for it here, isn’t he? Nothing cheery about this scenario. No light at the end of the tunnel. No sense it will end well. It seems he is keen to justify his nomenclature. This is Wet Blanket Ron in a nutshell.

Wait! Here’s another.

Dog by Wet Blanket Ron

As she lay dying beside the burning wreck of the Subaru, Betty Oosterhuis wondered what would happen to her Jack Russell, Frank. Would poor Frank have to be put down? Surely no-one else would be able to tolerate his barking. But Frank had seen her through thick and thin. Frank saw off all those delivery people that wanted to put bills through the door or those that called around to talk to her about going to church. Frank got the annoying neighbours to move out. The ones who planted those big trees that blocked out her light. Frank’s barking saved her that time her son broke down the door with an axe. He ………

Ron is blatantly taking biographical details from my life in this one. Mrs Oosterhuis was my next-door neighbour. The neighbour from Hell. The one with the awful dog that forced me to move. How could I hope to write meaningful prose with the hideous thing barking all day? What is Ron up to?

Here’s yet another story he’s started. He’s left it open on the taskbar. It’s called Death of the Author. This was the title of an essay by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes about the need to separate a literary work from its creator. I remember it from my student days. A seminal work. My tutor, Aretha Holly spent a whole lecture talking about it. French theorists were all the rage at the time, Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, the library shelves were full of their weighty tomes. Barthes was perhaps the only one I could get my head around. But Ron’s story presents a more literal interpretation of the term, death of the author. It appears to be about a real author. It’s about someone plotting to kill a writer…. Bloody hell! It has me in it as the central character.

…………………………………….

Ron must have meant me to find these stories. The documents were open on my laptop. He must have realised they would send me into a panic. A fictional character coming to life in a work of fiction is one thing but a fictional character coming to life in real life is another. And a fictional character coming to life in real life and suggesting killing his creator is scary. Even if it is not Ron who wrote these but a random breaker and enterer having a prank by pretending to be Wet Blanket Ron, there’s no getting away from the fact that someone other than me has in my absence been on my computer and written these stories. Someone with malicious intent. Someone who wants to kill me.

I take a careful look around the house. Everything appears to be in place and I can find no evidence of a break-in. I debate whether to take the matter to the police but I conclude they would probably not have the expertise to deal with a case like this. They would ask questions like has anything been taken? How do you know this man, this Wet Blanket Ron? What does he look like? They would definitely not respond favourably to my, he is fictional; I created him. I don’t know what he looks like.

But this is the problem, I don’t know what he might look like in the flesh. I’ve always pictured him in his forties, about five feet nine, a bit of a paunch, sober, ill-fitting clothes, a hangdog expression, perhaps going grey or thinning on top, maybe a pair of brow-line spectacles. But, of course, I don’t know. Even if I did, he might be in disguise. So, how will I know if Ron suddenly appears? I begin to eye everyone I see with suspicion. Might they be Wet Blanket Ron? I size up every stranger in the street. Are they following me? Are they approaching me with intent? Might they be brandishing a club, wielding a machete? Might they be reaching for a gun from a shoulder holster? Why is that man in the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds T-shirt bending down to tie his shoelace? Is the fellow in the orange hi-viz jacket delivering letters really a postman? Why are those men waiting outside the boarded-up tobacconists’ shop?

I step up the security at home. I change the locks on the doors and windows. I change all the passwords on the computer. I get into the habit of shutting it down when I am not using it. I put a new sim card in my phone.

I return home from my evening shop to find the laptop is on. There, open on the screen is a new document. It’s called simply, What Does a Writer Do All Day? It describes my movements throughout the day in great detail including where I parked the car, the people I spoke to, the shops I went into and the places I crossed the road. Ron knows my every move. This raises the level of scariness to critical.

I decide to talk to my old friend, Pete Free about it. As Wet Blanket Ron is loosely based on Dale Loveless and Pete has known Dale since college, I figure he might have an idea of what Dale, and by extension, Ron might do next. Admittedly, it is a huge leap in logic. But even if it is a longshot, I have to try something. I mull over the riddle of existence. How does anything organic come about? There must always be something that gives rise to matter, something that precedes it. Matter cannot originate out of nothing. Or can it? Can living organisms spontaneously materialise, for instance, from an idea? As Ron appears to have done here. I take comfort from the fact that Pete is a bit of a philosopher. Surely, he will be able to shed some light on this conundrum.

I call around to Pete’s and before I know it, he has handed me a large spliff to look after. I seem to recall this is exactly what happened the last time I visited him. Once again, on leaving, I remember little of our conversation except that Pete hasn’t seen Dale, has no wish to see Dale and has no idea what he might be up to, has no interest in Wet Blanket Ron and that the universe is a hologram and we are floating inside it. I have the feeling I already knew this from my previous visit.

Being skadooshed seems to stir up something in the depths of my consciousness. On the way home, it suddenly occurs to me that the answer is staring me in the face. I could re-fictionalise Ron, simply put him back on the written page where he belongs. I could write a new Wet Blanket Ron story. This time around, I could give him a favourable situation so he wouldn’t have a problem with being fictional. I could place him on a Caribbean beach with a sultry babe, a cool glass of rum and Grenadine and a big bag of Jamaican Dream collie. Perhaps he could have a long-keeled ketch moored nearby, kitted out with all mod cons. Might he even have his own private island? He could be Mr Big. Ron would command the respect of all those he came in contact with. I could even drop the Wet Blanket part of his name or at least use it sparingly.

I get down to it right away. I give Ron a record breaking lottery win, set him up with glamour model, Lara Lascala and take him to a private beach, a few miles west of Ocho Rios. He has a fully crewed, state of the art catamaran on hand for those sizzling hot days when there is nothing else for it but to take to the seas. This should keep him out of mischief for a while. Oh, and I’m giving him his own secret ganga farm in the nearby hills. What could possibly go wrong?

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Trout Fishing

troutfishing

Trout Fishing by Chris Green

FRIDAY


‘Sunsets on Mars are blue,’ says the man’s voice coming from behind her. It is too loud for her to ignore.

Suzy turns around to see a stranger in a badly creased seersucker suit has sat down at the next table. He is alone. Is he talking to her or talking to himself, she wonders? Perhaps he is practising lines for a play. The Apollo is just down the road and he has that theatrical air about him. Dishevelled hair. Lined face. Goatee beard. Wild eyes. Probably best to ignore him. But, what an odd thing to say, out of the blue!

Iguanas have three eyes,’ he says. He definitely seems to be addressing her. He is staring right at her. Intently. Might he be coming on to her? If he is, she doesn’t think much of his chat up lines. Or his style. He is looking her up and down, leeringly. She had thought this morning when she got up that wearing her red dress might lift her spirits. She had been feeling a bit low. With Lev gone, everything seemed to be getting on top of her. But in hindsight, perhaps the dress was a mistake. It makes her stand out too much at this time of the morning. Luigi’s Café is not a dressing up kind of place. Supermarket shoppers mainly. And it seems, the odd weirdo.

She looks around for a waitress to ask for the bill for her Profiterole and Macchiato but they have all temporarily disappeared. She takes out her phone and pretends to make a call hoping this will deter the stranger. It doesn’t.

The brain is composed of 60% fat,’ he says. ‘Did you know that?’

He’s just plain creepy, she concludes. Looney Tunes. A basket-case. She should leave. There is still no sign of a waitress and the other customers all appear to be engaged in conversations. She pushes a ten-pound note under her plate, gathers up her bags and makes a hasty exit.

On the street, she is relieved to discover the creep has not followed her. Just the other day, her friend Yvonne told her she had had a stalker. This had all started off with someone leering at her in Starbucks when she was on her own. He began to follow her everywhere and she had to bring in the police.

Suzy is about to get into her Ssangyong when her phone rings. She does not recognise the number. She decides to answer it, anyway. Kurt, her eldest was talking about getting a new phone.

Bluetooth was named after King Harald Bluetooth who united Denmark and Norway in the tenth century,’ says the now familiar voice. Bluetooth? Is this how the creep from the café has obtained her number? A bit tecky but how else would he know it?

I understand you feel intimidated,’ Holly at the hairdressers says. ‘But really, all you have to do is steer clear of Luigi’s and not answer the phone.’

I’ve already blocked the number,’ Suzy says.

It’s not as if he knows where you live,’ is it?’ Holly says.

I hope not,’ Suzy says. ‘It’s not something you could find out from a mobile phone number, is it, Hol?’

No. He was just some geek trying to be clever,’ Holly says. ‘You get them all the time.’

I guess you’re right,’ Suzy says. ‘He was talking nonsense.’

It is Friday night. Kurt and Axel are out with their mates taking drugs or two-timing their girlfriends or whatever teenage lads get up to these days. Either way, they are likely to be out all night. Suzy is alone in the house. At times like this, she wishes Lev had not gone off like he did. It has been nearly a month now but she cannot get used to being alone. At the time, she felt she wanted him out of her life but now she is not so sure. She is all over the place. It only takes the slightest thing to upset her. Perhaps they should have given it another try. Her friends keep telling her she should move on but in the meantime, she is finding it can be very lonely, especially as all of them are in relationships. She decides there’s nothing really for it but to mix a gin and tonic and see what’s on TV. On a Friday night! How sad is that!

She sips her drink and presses the on-button on the remote. Without warning, his face fills the screen. This is impossible. Yet, there’s no mistaking him. The dishevelled mop of hair. The goatee beard. The Keith Richards creases that line his face. The intense stare. This is the creepy man from the café. In high definition and larger than life on her 56 inch TV. How can this be happening?

A tarantula can live without food for more than two years,’ he says. To add to her disorientation and distress, the freak is coming out with more surreal rubbish too. What kind of game is this? What can it all mean? What does he want?

She tries changing channels but to her horror, he is still there staring straight into the camera and, by extension, directly at her.

Earth has travelled five thousand miles in the last five minutes, Suzy’ he says.

He is even addressing her by name now.

She tries random buttons. He stays on the screen, leering menacingly at her.

There are too many black holes to count,’ he sneers.

Panicked, Suzy pulls out the plug. He is gone. She pours herself another drink. No tonic this time.

Andy Mann, the aerial installation technician who used to work with Lev assures her what she is describing is impossible. But as she seems distraught and he happens to be in the area, he says he will call around and take a look.

Take me through it,’ he says. ‘Show me exactly what you did.’

Suzy is a little reluctant, in fact, she is bricking it as she plugs the TV back in. She stands back and presses the button on the remote. BBC1 comes on as you would normally expect. The One Show. She changes the channel over and over. Each number brings up the correct station showing its normal Friday night fare.

Suzy does not know what to feel, vulnerable, confused, relieved, embarrassed.

Now that you’re here, Andy, why don’t you stop for a drink?’ she says.

SATURDAY

Thank you for staying over, Andy,’ Suzy says. ‘That was good of you.’

The least I could do,’ Andy says.

And you’re sure Amy won’t have wondered where you were.’

No. Amy’s visiting her mother. Anyway, I could always say my van broke down or something. It’s worked before.’

You mean I’m not the first. You are bad, Andy.’

The main thing is, do you feel better? You were in a bit of a state when I arrived.’

I do, Andy. Much better. Perhaps you could make me feel …… better again before you go.’

What about Kurt and Axel? Won’t they be back soon?’

You must be joking. It’s Saturday. Wherever they’ve been or wherever they are now, they won’t be up this early.’

You’re having trouble with this one, aren’t you, Phil,’ Patti says.

It’s ground to a halt the last couple of days,’ I say. ‘And I don’t know where to take it. The Philip C. Dark brand relies upon shock and surprise and this one has run out of steam.’

You could introduce a talking cat,’ Patti says. ‘That would move the story forward.’

Funnily enough, I was thinking of a talking cat,’ I say. They are always a good stand-by. I could call it Dave. Dave’s a good name for a cat, don’t you think?’

SUNDAY

Dave has been out all night. His people have left him and gone away on holiday. The lad who is supposed to be letting him and out and feeding him his pouches of Gourmet chunks has not been since Friday afternoon. Young people are so unreliable at weekends. Not the best of nights to be out either as it has been pouring with rain and he has had to sleep in a leaky old shed. It is now light and thankfully the rain has stopped. Dave sees an opportunity of some warmth and who knows, perhaps even a tasty breakfast from the lady at number 42, the one whose husband has left her. Nice smells are coming from her kitchen.

Suzy is unnerved by the scratching sound at the door. Not being accustomed to talking cats, she is freaked out when the ginger and white tom asks her if he can come in and snuggle up by the radiator to get warm.

I’m quite partial to bacon too if you have a spare rasher or two,’ Dave says. ‘And perhaps a sausage.’

Perhaps, in the wake of her recent experiences, she is becoming de-sensitised to strangeness. Rather than slip once more into panic mode, she finds herself quietly amused by the idea of a chatty moggy.

I’ve not seen you around here before,’ she says. ‘What’s your name?’

I’m Dave,’ Dave says. ‘Would you like to talk about magic carpets?’

Magic carpets?’ Suzy is confused.

I thought magic carpets would make a change,’ Dave says. ‘All my people want to talk about are cabbages and kings.’

OK,’ Suzy says. ‘Let’s talk about magic carpets.’

Or if you prefer we could talk about Red Sails in the Sunset,’ Dave says. ‘Do you know that song? I could sing it for you.’

I think I might have it somewhere,’

There are thirty nine recorded versions of Red Sails in the Sunset. Did you know that? My favourite is Fats Domino’s’ Have you got that one or did Lev take it with him when he left?’

Perhaps we should stick with magic carpets.’

Or we could try Belgian Surrealists.’

Magic carpets would be better.’

OK. As you probably know, magic carpets originate in the area from Egypt to Iraq known as the Fertile Crescent, which of course is also where domestic cats come from.’

Uh huh.’

Not going well with the talking cat, is it?’ Patti says.

It does need a little work,’ I say. ‘And a title.’

Would you like to read my Richard Brautigan book?’ Patti says. ‘Trout Fishing in America. I think it might help.’

Good title,’ I say. ‘I’m guessing it’s not about trout fishing, right?’

Not completely, no,’ Patti says. ‘It’s a series of sketches of a strange yet strikingly familiar world.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Six

thecontinuingstoryofwetblanketronpartsix

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

The fat lady is not yet singing. Wet Blanket Ron wonders if there is then still time for a reprieve. A final act? A happy ending in this long and drawn out saga? He has been at the mercy of his heartless creator for so long that there is no obvious reason for him to suppose there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Time and time again our hapless hero has been at the fall end of windfall.

Having discovered he is a fictional character, Ron dreams of a change of fortunes. In short, he wants his freedom. After all, Kilgore Trout, Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional creation who suffered similar abuse at the hand of his author finally freed himself. Perhaps more famously, Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes came to life so thoroughly that many doubted he was ever fictional. Holmes even has his own pages of quotes in literary compendiums.

Ron dreams of living by the sea. The Côte d’Azur perhaps or Portofino. With Marilyn Monroe. No, wait! Marilyn Monroe’s dead. Dead’s worse than being fictional. In any case, she would be old by now. The Seven Year Itch was a long, long time ago. Even Kathleen Turner and Jessica Lange would be getting on a bit. Charlize Theron? Beyonce? The problem is that these are all famous people. The glitterati. It is not going to be easy for a small-town fictional character to master the complexities of the modern world, let alone mix with high-fliers. Maybe Ron should set his sights a little lower. A maisonette in Torquay with Tina from the nail bar perhaps or a caravan in Burnham on Sea with Karen from Greggs? Ron will, of course, need to put from his mind that his last girlfriend as a fictional character, Lola, like her namesake in The Kinks classic, to his embarrassment turned out to be a man. Neither does Ron’s work record bode well for success in the real world. His creator has been merciless. Every job Ron has had has ended in disaster, often his arrest and to cap it all, a spell or two at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The lines between fiction and reality have a tendency to become blurred. Aren’t most people’s lives a kind of fiction anyway based as they are on some social construction of reality dictated by the purveyors of taste? Fiction itself no longer seems to be separate from real life. Who can say for certain anymore which is which? Might the blurring of boundaries present in today’s metafiction work to Ron’s advantage? Might the confusion be helpful for his transition towards control of his own destiny? The fat lady is not yet singing so who knows what is around the corner?

The adjustment to real life is a big one and Ron New finds it strange at first. When you are a fictional character you do not have to make any decisions. Be it good or bad, everything is arranged for you. The real world is not like that. You have to decide when to get up, what to wear, what to have for breakfast. What foods do you actually like? Where do you like to go? Who do you speak to? What do you talk about? How do you introduce yourself to people you feel attracted to? How do you get out of situations you don’t like? But before any of this, there are more pressing problems. How do you get a job to earn money to buy food and clothing? How do you find somewhere to live? Are there any shortcuts to survival? Are there any short cuts to success?

Ron is on the street in a town that he does not recognise. He has a nagging suspicion it is in the south of England but without any previous experience of the real world, he cannot be sure. But at least it appears to be by the sea. So far as he can tell, he has little more than the clothes on his back, a pair of frayed black Levi jeans, a windcheater jacket and an Ellesse rucksack that has seen better days. There are no keys in his pockets nor is there any money. He has a vintage Nokia phone but discovers it has just 49p credit on it. Contacts has only one contact anyway, someone called Doobie. What kind of a name is that?

Ron feels every bit as depressed as he did when he was fictional. There are shadows where there should be none. A Nine Inch Nails tune is running through his head. Large black dogs are everywhere. In a desperate attempt to cheer himself, he reminds himself he is free. At last, he is free. He repeats it over and over as an affirmation. The world is his mollusc. Isn’t that what they say?

He opens the rucksack and finds an old pair of Adidas trainers, assorted socks and pants, a Swiss army knife, a diary from last year, a job interview letter with his name on it, a driving licence in his name with a different address and a large polythene bag of crushed vegetable matter. No money. No keys. So it goes. You can’t expect everything all at once.

The job interview, he notices, is for today and he seems to be heading for it. The job is for a position as an Appointment Canceller. Not the most prestigious of positions but he has to start somewhere. Ron, of course, cannot refer to the fictional job history which is still fresh in his head, his jobs with N Vision Inc, Daniel DeAngelo and PurplePhones for instance. These were strictly two-dimensional forays, nothing more than words on the written page. There again, as they turned out to be such disasters, it would hardly boost his chances if he were able to refer to them. Some of the pages of the diary are filled in. Might there be something that would help him get the job? There could be clues inside, meetings, appointments, this sort of thing. Even though he is not conscious any earlier real life existence, might he in some esoteric way have a back-story? As a grown man he ought to have some kind of a past.

He does not get the chance to find out.

Ron New,’ the receptionist calls out. ‘Mr Sulky will see you now.’

The interview goes badly. He does not have the required experience in Appointment Cancelling. Mr Sulky tells him he has better things to do than listen to lame-dog excuses for his not being prepared. As Ron walks away, his dream of a maisonette or a caravan with a Tina or a Karen in a south of England seaside resort, modest though it might be, begins to fade. He begins to see shadows again where there are none. A Leonard Cohen tune starts up in his head. Black dogs appear once more, ready to pounce.

His mobile rings. The display tells him it is Doobie, whoever Doobie is.

Ronny, my man,’ the fevered voice on the line says. ‘Why haven’t you called me, dude?’

Sorry,’ Ron says. ‘Who are you exactly?’

Who am I, dude, who am I?’ Doobie says. ‘You’re jiving me, right?’

Ron doesn’t think he is jiving the stranger. He is not sure what jiving is. Other than a fifties dance where you twist your partner around to rock and roll music. How does he even know that? Where does language come from? How do you acquire your lexicon of words and expressions? How can he explain to this person on the line, this Doobie character, that this is the first phone conversation he has had in the real world? Does everyone call each other dude here, he wonders? How can he explain that until recently he was a fictional character? His understanding of the ways of the world is bound to be below average.

It’s Doobie. You were supposed to call me. Remember!’

Ron doesn’t remember.

Doobie tells him they need to meet up. Ron is not sure whether this is a warm invitation or a threat but with nothing else scheduled, he agrees. He doesn’t know where The Frisky Goat is. He asks Doobie for directions.

Sitting at a corner table in the garden of The Frisky Goat, it becomes apparent their association has a lot to do with the large bag of vegetable matter in Ron’s rucksack. It ought to have been in Doobie’s possession two days ago. Ron is fronting it and Doobie is to pay him when he has sold it. It does not immediately sound to him like a good arrangement. What if he never sees Doobie again? What insurance does he have? But, once again, being new to all this, he lets it go.

Ron is surprised when later that day, Doobie phones him again to say he has a large wad of cash for him. There are several noughts on the end. Could they meet up at The Mad Dog? It appears the trade in vegetable matter is a lucrative one. What a stroke of good fortune then that during the day, he inadvertently stumbled on another cache of the same vegetable matter. Doobie is certain to snap this up too. What Ron doesn’t understand is, as the stuff is worth so much, why do people hide it in such obvious places? A lean-to in a municipal park doesn’t seem a very secure hiding place for a valuable commodity. Still, where it came from or why it was there are not his concern. He feels after years as a down on his luck fictional character, he deserves a break.

Deal done, and several more like it, Ron has enough funds to look for somewhere to live. Matt Black of Black and White Lettings explains, as luck should have it, a spacious furnished ground-floor flat in a nice part of town has unexpectedly become available. Although it is usual to have to wait for background checks, as Ron seems to have loads of ready cash, Matt says if he wishes he can move in immediately.

It is often said things tend to happen in threes. Perhaps this might help to explain how, no sooner has Ron moved into Bougainvillea Heights than he meets foxy cover-girl, Tiffany Golden. It might also have something to do with the new Porsche that Ron has bought but they seem to hit it off right away and in no time at all, Tiffany has moved in with him.

Having had a taste of good fortune, Ron wants more. He wants to make his mark, become a name in the big world. Living at Bougainvillea Heights is alright for the time being in the British summer while the sun is shining. And certainly having the lovely Tiffany around helps. But, why would anyone want to be stuck in one place? With one set of options? The same faces every day. If he thought there was all there was, he might as well still be fictional. There’s a big world waiting for him.

Tiffany agrees. With her experience in making her way in the world, she encourages Ron. She too has ambitions. Together they thrash out ways to make more money. Mega bucks, she says with a glint in her eye. Sunday Times Rich List rich, Ron suggests. What then are the growth areas of commerce? Short selling on the stock market or investment in bitcoin might achieve results but they need a large stake to begin with. Then there are long-term bets like property, gold or even domain squatting? But these can hardly be seen as get rich quick ideas. What they need is a sure-fire money-making start-up.

They decide that in today’s dog-eat-dog world, their best chance to make a fortune is to get into the fake news business. There appears to be an insatiable appetite for fake news, the faker the better. Fake news is all produced by small individual organisations, each with a specific agenda. Hoax sites, hyper-partisan sites, false statistic sites all seek to add to media obfuscation but there what is lacking is a neutral mercenary professional agency. Someone whose only aim is to make stacks of cash from disseminating everyone’s lies. This is the gap in the market that they plan to plug by setting up youbetterbelieveit.com, a fake news generator and bogus facts checker. To cover all angles they also set up dontbelieveaword.com

Although they have every reason to feel their enterprise ought to be successful, the speed with which the idea is taken up by media groups surprises them. Their sites quickly become the turn-to sites for meme-makers and clickbaiters on social media, people of all political persuasions, religious groups and killer cults. Contradictory fake news items are splashed daily all over the internet, along with fake provenance should anyone be bothered to check. Each one provides a pay-off for Ron and Tiffany.

Detective Inspector Crooner is tired of being a fictional character brought into the limelight only when there is a Wet Blanket Ron story in the offing. Worse, while he has been waiting in the wings for a new caper, he has heard through the grapevine that Wet Blanket Ron is no longer a fictional character. By all accounts, Ron is making his way in the real world. Presumably, there being few storylines for a struggling small-town police inspector, he will now be axed. He wants his freedom from the printed page too. He wants to be a flesh and blood police inspector with a seaside constabulary somewhere perhaps in the south of England. Mrs Crooner has always wanted to live by the sea.

He would then be able to continue where he left off, apprehending Wet Blanket Ron for the type of bizarre crime that only a reprobate like Ron was capable of. Like the time he had nicked Ron for bringing down rock star, Johnny Angel’s helicopter. Or the time he had pulled him in for smuggling packets of time out of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This had earned him his promotion. It was reasonable to assume that a real life Ron would be up to no good.

The path to self-actualisation that developmental psychologist, Abraham Maslow outlines in his Hierarchy of Needs is a complicated five-step process. First, you need your physiological needs and your safety needs to be met. You then need to belong to a social network and be able to develop self-esteem. But, before any of these things can happen, you need to not be fictional. Being fictional is the biggest obstacle of all to self-actualisation. Incredible then that along with Wet Blanket Ron, Inspector Crooner is able to make this leap. He finds himself at a seaside resort in the south of England, the same seaside resort as his old adversary.

Old habits die hard and in the blink of an eye, he is once again on Ron’s tail but this time it is for real. He has a real team of officers and a real police station. He has access to the real police computer and all its real Intel. Crime has moved on. Attention in the modern force is moving towards cybercrime. Crooner reads up on internet misuse. The Communications Act 2003 for instance makes it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character over a public electronic communications network. During his research into how widespread this is becoming, much to his delight, the name, Ron New keeps cropping up. Ron is alleged to have a monopoly on fake news websites in this part of the world. Well, well, well, he thinks, what a stroke of luck!

The Bizzies are outside,’ Tiffany shouts.

Ron would probably not understand what she was referring to but he cannot hear her above the music. He is listening to Wagner’s Götterdamerung, the dramatic immolation scene at the end of the opera. Birgit Nilsson as Brünhilde is belting it out. Ron has been giving himself a crash course in culture. Along with Fellini, Proust and Eliot, Wagner came highly recommended. He has made his way through fifteen hours of The Ring Cycle. The immolation scene is the climax of the whole work. Brünhilde is mounting her horse and riding into the flames. This apparently is the origin of the phrase, it’s not all over until the fat lady sings.

Tiffany shouts louder this time. ‘The Old Bill are here, Ron.’

What? Who?’

The Bill. ….. The police. They want to have a word.’

Tell them they will have to wait,’ Ron shouts back. ‘Or better still, come back another day. …… What do they want, anyway?’

Inspector Crooner does not seem keen on waiting, coming back another day or telling Tiffany what he wants. He and three other determined officers barge their way into the Bougainvillea Heights apartment. It does not appear that they have called round to tell Ron to keep the noise down. It’s possible they have something else on their minds.

What was that about the fat lady singing?

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

SNAKE IN THE GLASS

­snakeinthegrass

­SNAKE IN THE GLASS by Chris Green

Later

No one sees him arrive. No-one spots the silver Solstice slide silently through the streets on its way to the big house with the crow-stepped gables on Obsidian Street. It is night-time in the sleepy town. Seeing the sleek Pontiac Solstice outside the house the following morning, townsfolk might be likely to put its presence down to the visit of a wealthy race-goer. There are plenty of these around at this time of year, the racecourse being less than ten miles away. Yet, if truth be told, the locals ought really to see the car’s arrival as portentous. American muscle cars are not that common in these parts, even on race days. BMWs and Audis, along with the odd Bentley are the signature vehicles of the high rollers who visit. More significantly, the last time he appeared, it was under the cover of darkness. Three years ago he arrived by night in a black Camaro.

But, were it not for the feeling octogenarian soothsayer, Nicholas Ell gets when he senses trouble ahead, no-one would be aware that he was there. Nicholas no longer gets out much but on her morning visit, his cleaning lady, Magda discovers the old man in a state of agitation. She asks him what is wrong.

‘It’s happening again, Magda,’ he says. ‘I feel it in my bones.’

‘What’s the trouble, Mr Ell,’ Magda says. ‘What’s happening?’

‘All over again,’ he says. ‘Just like it did that time before. We have to do something.’

Although Magda has got to know Nicholas quite well, she has no idea what the old man is referring to. From the fact that he is shaking like a leaf and frothing at the mouth, she imagines that it is important though. She has worked for him long enough to know what she has to do to focus his thoughts. After a medicinal Snake in the Glass, a mix of Jack Daniels and Cointreau that Nicholas swears by, he manages to explain about the mystery man’s return and what it might mean for them all.

Word of the renewed threat spreads quickly through the small town’s informal networks. Despite the devastation he caused three years ago, no-one in the bar of The King Billy seems to know very much about the interloper. What was his name? Who was he? Where was he from? Why was he here? The feeling is that despite his penchant for American cars, he may not be American. He appears to have had an unusual accent, perhaps Central Asian. Tracey Looker, who lives in the candy coloured rock house with the owl sculptures in the garden is not sure where it is but she thinks he might have come from Shambhala. This is however on the basis of one brief encounter.

‘I’m sure it was a place with not many vowels,’ Shaldon Rain says. Shaldon works in the town’s Scrabble factory and in her spare time plays the flugelhorn in an experimental jazz band.

Shaldon and Tracey are the only two present who caught sight of him on his previous visit.

‘Perhaps we might get the opportunity to find out something about him this time around.’ Sol Reiter says. ‘Has anyone actually seen him yet?’ Sol Reiter, something of an entrepreneur in the town recently sold his virtual zoo to Idée Inc. for a tidy sum. He plans on spending more time at home with his capybaras and has taken to breeding albino ferrets.

‘We don’t think he’s been spotted yet,’ Darius Goy says. ‘We’re still going by what Nicholas Ell said.’ Darius is the town’s archivist, an authority on the painter, Lucien Freud and a staunch Captain Beefheart fan.

‘Are we even sure it’s him?’ Sol says. ‘You wouldn’t think he would have the chutzpah to come back here after what happened three years ago.’

‘Old Nick usually gets it right,’ Darius says. ‘Did you know, Nick has predicted every Eurovision Song Contest winner since 1958? He even foresaw the four-way tie in 1969.’

‘That’s as maybe, but he is getting a bit doddery, Sol says. ‘He must be nearly a hundred.’

‘Eighty six,’ Darius says.

‘After the trouble our unwanted visitor caused, surely he would stay away,’ Tracey says. ‘He must realise that he is likely to get pulled in if he sets foot in the town.’

‘But, is anyone aware of what he looks like?’ Sol asks. ‘He didn’t exactly mingle last time.’

‘Tracey saw him,’ Darius says. ‘And Shaldon. They would be able to recognise him and there must be a photo or two of him in the archive. From CCTV footage or something. Besides, presumably, he’s up at Obsidian Street. We just need to keep an eye on the place and the movements of his car and we will know where he is. I’ll let Inspector Boss know.’

Do you know, it all seems such a long time ago now?’ Sol says. ‘It’s amazing how easily we forget the bad things that have happened in the past and become complacent. Leah bought a book on Mindfulness. Maybe I ought to get around to reading it.’

‘All I remember is that everything went silent,’ Pearson Ranger says. ‘Like the flick of a switch, suddenly there was nothing. I couldn’t hear a thing, voices, television, traffic. All gone. It was so quiet, I wondered if next door’s dog was dead. Then I wondered if perhaps I was dead. Deadly silence. For days. And then I found out it wasn’t just me. No-one in the town could hear anything. Everywhere deadly silence. Inside. Outside. On the streets. Not even the bleeping to let you know when you could cross at the lights. I remember it very well. Being blind, not being able to hear was especially traumatic for me.’

I appreciate how that might be a problem,’ Darius says. ‘I was listening to Trout Mask Replica when it happened.’

‘Conversation was the thing I missed most,’ Tracey says. ‘Lip reading is incredibly hard.’

The thing is to this day, no-one knows how he managed to do it,’ Darius says. ‘I mean, how can you get rid of sound?’

Science isn’t good at explaining those kind of things,’ Sol says.

‘Science fiction is better with explanations,’ Shaldon Rain says. ‘I expect Ted Sturgeon or Philip C. Dark would have the answer. Or even that Chris Green fellow.’

‘Who?’ Sol says.

‘Chris Green. He writes speculative fiction,’ Shaldon says. ‘You might have read Time and Tide Wait for Norman.’

‘No. Can’t say I have,’ Sol says.

‘Look! I’ve just remembered something,’ Tracey says. ‘It may be nothing but Shambhala is the place we think of as Shangri La. I remember looking it up on the Internet.’

‘That’s a mythical kingdom,’ Pearson Ranger says. ‘In Tibet, I think.’

‘Might that help to explain how he managed to make everything go quiet?’ Tracey says. ‘Might he have magical powers?’

‘Mumbo jumbo’s all very well but how does it help to know that?’ Darius says. ‘Rather than rely on a number of unreliable accounts, perhaps we could piece together what actually happened three years ago.’

‘I remember his visit well,’ Tracey says. ‘I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t hear my Oscar burbling away. Oscar’s my parrot. He’s an African grey.’

‘My band was on stage at Max’s at the time,’ Shaldon Rain says.’When the audience couldn’t hear what we were playing, they started throwing things at us.’

We don’t want anything like that to happen this time around,’ Sol says. ‘Now, Think about it, guys! Have any of you noticed anything out of the ordinary yet?’

‘Well, there is the silver Pontiac outside the old house with the crow-stepped gables on Obsidian Street,’ Tracey says.

‘Apart from that,’ Sol says. ‘If we’re going to get to the bottom of this, we have to keep our eyes open.’

But why does he want to come back?’ Shaldon Rain says. ‘What do you imagine he might be up to this time?’

‘Old Nick didn’t say.’ Darius says. ‘But whatever it is, he has to be stopped. Inspector Boss should be on his way by now. I’ve told him to come armed.’

I don’t like to mention it but it seems to be getting rather dark in here,’ Shaldon Rain says.

You’re right,’ Darius says. ‘The light does seem to be fading. And it’s not even midday.’

‘It’s dark outside too,’ Shaldon Rain says. ‘So dark, I can’t see outside. Not even the window. It’s pitch black.’

‘I can’t even see you, Darius,’ Sol says.

‘I hope Boss gets here soon,’ Darius says.

‘But the police probably won’t be able to to see anything either,’ Sol says. ‘There’ll be bullets everywhere.’

Earlier

I don’t know how I come to find myself in Barton Stoney. I am on my way to see the film director, Leif Velasquez in Gifford Wells, twenty or so miles south of here. Leif wants to make a film of my story, Time and Tide Wait for Norman. In trying to avoid the race traffic on the ring road around Barton Stoney, I suppose I must have taken a wrong turn. There appear to be no road signs in the town and the one-way system is unfathomable. I keep going round in circles. To make matters worse, there is a madman in a big silver muscle car speeding through the streets and doing dangerous handbrake turns. No-one seems to be taking any notice of him. Where are the police when you want them?

I park the car and put my head around the door of a pub called The King William to ask for directions out of town. What a place! It’s bedlam. Everyone in here appears to be possessed. Or at least very, very drunk for this time of day. A woman in a brightly coloured dress and shocks of flyaway red hair starts banging on about Shangri La. A mythical valley of great bounty in Tibet, I recall, a metaphor for the perfect way of life, satirised in a song by The Kinks. I can’t make out the connection with anything that might be happening in The King William. A man brandishing a club of some kind grabs hold of me and starts raving about some terrible occurrence that took place here years ago. As if I might care. I can’t understand what he is trying to tell me anyway. He waves his arms about madly and says the police are on their way. He doesn’t say why. Is he the landlord? I don’t know.

There are about a dozen more revellers in here, all mad as hatters, it seems, or at least drunk as lords. Are the police coming to arrest them for affray? Is that what all this is about? Maybe they are going to arrest the crazy driver. Perhaps he has a history of terrorising the town during race meetings. It’s impossible to get any sense out of these people. They are all clearly three sheets to the wind.

As a writer of fiction, I’m constantly on the lookout for new material for a story. It occurs to me that there might just be something for me here. Let’s start by giving these people names. I’ll call the pale-skinned woman with the neck tattoos, Shaldon Rain. I’ve had that one kicking around waiting for a character for some time. She looks to me very much like she might be a flugelhorn player with an experimental jazz band. I have an instinct for these things. The stocky one with the lank hair and the big nose looks he might be Jewish. He can be Reuben. No, what about Sol? Sol Reiter. This would make the one he’s arguing with, Darius Goy. That’s been in the locker for a while. Darius looks like a Captain Beefheart fan if ever I saw one. The one with the white stick can be Pearson Ranger. This is the name of an estate agent’s I took down a while back when I was looking to move house. Informality is important in my writing. The King William can become The King Billy. I think I’d like to make more of the mad driver. He needs to be more sinister. He is responsible perhaps for an unexplained phenomenon that affects the whole town. A title for the story is going to be more difficult and how should I brand it? Chris Green or Philip C. Dark? Both these matters will need some thought. Nothing obvious comes to mind for a title without giving the game away. I may have to just come up with a short random phrase. The Art of the Matter? Bridge of Clocks? Detectives in Summer? How about ……. Snake in the Glass?

I can hear police sirens. I think it’s time to make my exit.

Later

‘We’ve been up to the old house with the crow-stepped gables on Obsidian Street, Mr Goy,’ Inspector Boss says. ‘And we’ve spoken to your muscle car fellow. He’s called Velasquez by the way and he’s from California. It turns out he has bought the place to turn it into an independent film studio.’

‘He says he came across Barton Stoney several years ago,’ Boss’s sidekick, Jagger says. ‘He was second director then for a movie called, Silent Witness. An apocalyptic thriller. Some of you may have seen it. It was about a town very much like this one where everything suddenly went quiet.’

‘Some of you may even have been in it,’ Boss says. ‘Velasquez says he hired some locals as extras. That crazy old man in the other big house was in it. The one who keeps predicting the end of the world.’

‘Nicholas Ell?’ Darius Goy says. ‘But he doesn’t go out, Inspector.’

‘This must have been before he became a hermit, Mr Goy,’ Boss says. ‘I haven’t personally seen the film but apparently Nick Ell had quite a big part.’

‘Velasquez already has a house in Gifford Wells,’ Jagger says. ‘So, he’s practically a local. I don’t think he will be any bother, Mr Goy.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

Three Sides to Every Story

threesidestoeverystory

Three Sides to Every Story by Chris Green

1:

I don’t know about you but I know when I am being watched. I get a prickly sensation on my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This, along with a heightened sense of alert. The phenomenon has a name, scopaesthesia. I looked it up on Reddit a while back. It is described as a psychic staring effect. There seems to be some disagreement about what makes it happen but my guess is that it is a primal instinct, a form of extrasensory perception.

I am being watched now. As I walk home along Lostwithiel Street, I am sure I’m being observed. Not by a CCTV camera but by a real-life person. Looking around me, I can’t spot anyone. There are only a handful of people on the street and they all seem to be minding their own business. Possibly it’s someone from a window of one of the houses. Or from a parked car. Someone from a distance with binoculars maybe. But whoever it is, the surveillance is quite deliberate. Why would anyone be watching me? Working in quality control at the flag factory, I have little status and outside of work, I keep myself to myself. But for whatever reason, someone has me firmly in their gaze.

I first became aware I could detect being watched when I was very young. In the playground, in fact. It got me into no end of fights, most of which ended badly. On the plus side, in my teenage years, my gift got me laid a few times because I was able to tell in a crowded room, without having to look around, which girls were showing an interest. But in truth, these episodes were rare. There was Katherine. Then Rebecca. And Jennifer. Then there was Natalie and before I knew it Natalie was pregnant with Anthony. We were not yet twenty one. Anthony is nearly ten now. He’s a strange lad but he doesn’t appear to have inherited my gift.

I have learned over the years to keep my ability to myself. Sometimes though, when I am out shopping with Natalie, I might tap her on the shoulder and let her know that someone is watching me. I’m not sure why. Her reaction is usually one of exasperation.

Not that old thing again, Frank,’ she will say. ‘Don’t you realise people have better things to do than to stare at you? Even if you are wearing a floral Loud jacket.’

When I successfully point out the person who has been staring at me, she still refuses to acknowledge it. She tells me I am imagining it.

As I turn into Restormel Terrace, the prickly sensation becomes stronger. My skin feels like ice on fire. My observer must surely be closer. There could perhaps be more than one person. But this is an empty street and has no obvious common observation points with Lostwithiel Street and I can’t see anyone following me. If they are, they must be well camouflaged.

I begin to worry about my safety. What if the watcher has a gun? Is a madman? I know I’m not a celebrity or a political figure, but these things can happen, even down here in the south-west. If you’ve never experienced the sensation when you know for certain someone unseen is following your every move, you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about.

I am thankful to arrive home safely. At first, I think nothing of Natalie’s absence. I expect some of you have partners who are unexpectedly called upon to work late at the office, the nail bar or the foundry or wherever it is they work. Mr Van der Merwe probably had an unscheduled meeting with a difficult client or Kimberley Drewitt failed to turn in again and Natalie had to fill in. And, I imagine that Anthony is round at Dominic’s watching the snowboarding or waterboarding or whatever it is they are into this week. Nevertheless, I am unable to settle.

2:

When the police call round, I realise that something is wrong. Things are getting out of hand.

Sergeant Klitschko, Counter Terrorism Command,’ the larger of the two giants barks as he points his Heckler and Koch at me ‘Stay right where you are, Mr Fargo.’

Meanwhile, the one with the bad breath and the handcuffs twists my arms behind my back. It is clear to me there has been a mix-up. The person they are after appears to have the same name as me. A simple misunderstanding, a clerical error. I tell them that they have got the wrong Mr Fargo.

I don’t think so,’ Sergeant Klitschko sneers. ‘You are Mr Frank Fargo, right?’

How many Frank Fargos can there be? It is by no stretch of the imagination a common name. I thought I might have been the only one but the name came up in a story I read a while back by Philip C. Dark. Or maybe it was the other fellow? The one who wrote Three Sides to Every Story? I don’t know how I came to read it, really. It was one of those nonsensical post-modern stories, where the text refers to itself and the author appears, not my sort of thing at all.

I insist that despite the name being uncommon around these parts, they have made a mistake. I am clearly not the Frank Fargo they are looking for. I have done nothing that could warrant this heavy-handed treatment. I always pay bills on time, I tell them, I don’t park on yellow lines and I don’t even cheat at golf. This results in a hefty thump to the ribs. Further protests of my innocence result in yet heavier blows. This is not a routine investigation. These are not your everyday policemen.

3:

Many of you will no doubt have discovered that when you are least expecting it, your fortunes plummet. It quickly becomes apparent things are no longer going to be as they were. You find yourself in a dark forbidding place a long way from where you want to be. Your unexpected place might be metaphorical. On the face of it, mine appears not to be. Mine appears to be all too real. I find myself in a dark, dank subterranean pit. I don’t know where this place is or why I have been brought here but so far as I can tell I have been held captive for what seems like days. There are no windows and a tube light that flickers off and on. The walls are covered with anatomical illustrations. There is a rusty metal cabinet in the corner with some scientific equipment and some dusty old science books and one or two on psychology. Perhaps it was once a laboratory. Perhaps I am part of some grisly experiment. I have been subjected day and night to random sound effects, the kind you might expect in a chilling supernatural drama on TV. Every now and then, I hear footsteps coming down stone stairs and a bowl of what tastes like banana flavoured broccoli is pushed through a hatch. This is the nearest thing to communication that I have with the outside world.

If sleep deprivation is my captors’ intention then they have certainly cracked it. If an interrogator were to come in now, I would be likely to tell them exactly what they wanted to hear. But, what is it they might want to hear? How have I transgressed? Or perhaps more pertinently, how has my namesake, whoever he might be, transgressed? Is he a spy? Is he a killer? Whatever, I would confess. I would be the Dorset Ripper. I would be the one who defaced the Mona Lisa. I would be the one who shot Prince Philip. I would be any of these things if it would get me out of this hell hole. But, this seems a long way off. I don’t get the impression that anyone is even watching me now.

4:

If you find yourself in a desperate place, and happen to have a neuro linguistic programming workbook, I recommend you take a look. Don’t ask me how it works but with a little practice, NLP can entirely change your outlook. Demons are there to be conquered. NLP can see off fears and phobias, delusional disorders, depression and insomnia. In a word, it will help you to transform your life. There’s probably no end to what can be achieved with NLP. You are your own master. You set your own goals. You will probably win the lottery.

I am sitting with Natalie at a table in Rick Stein’s restaurant eating Dover sole a la Meunière with a side of salad leaves freshly picked from Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment. Perhaps Jeremy needs to do a little more work on the red chard but this is a minor point. I can see more clearly now. My delusions are in abeyance. No-one is watching me at the moment. Natalie and I are even sleeping in the same bed again and Anthony seems to have settled down at his new school. We could even be looking at a happy ending to the story.

But of course, like everything in life, things could change at any time. The whole hullabaloo could start up again. I need to work on that one. I suppose I could dress down, get rid of my red coat perhaps and wear more grey or brown. I could maybe get one of those drab zip-up jackets that you see old people wearing along the strand in South Devon seaside towns. Or to take it a little further, I wonder whether given time and some advanced mindskills training, I might even be able to become invisible. That would surely solve the problem. Or better still, perhaps I could become fictional. Frank Fargo, after all, is a good fictional name. I could be a character in one of Philip C. Dark’s mysteries. Or the protagonist in one of that other fellow’s. The one who wrote Three Sides to Every Story. You’ve probably read one or two of his tales, haven’t you? I wish I could remember his name. It’s on the tip of my tongue. …… Chris something. …… No, it’s not coming.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

Unreliable Narraror

unreliablenarrator

Unreliable Narrator by Chris Green

A vermilion memo is circulating at the research establishment, one down from red. Red means evacuate. Tension levels are rising. I am glad it is time for my shift to end. Although I keep my head down at work, I have suspected for some time that there is something weird going on that the big guns do not want to get out. Information that does not belong in the public domain. For that matter, information not even to be shared with base security staff. An experiment gone wrong perhaps. I am accustomed to a quiet drive home along country lanes after the night shift. I usually drive straight home but as Donna is up north on a training course, I decide to take a detour. There is no traffic on the road at this hour. I can relax to my Borodin CD. Or my Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds compilation.

On occasions, I might come across an early morning dog walker en route or an agricultural worker, but this is rare. There is seldom anyone up. So, naturally, I am surprised when I catch sight of a woman struggling to climb out of a front window of Storm Clouds, the Gothic house on the edge of Compton Wilbury. Not only surprised but puzzled because, in my experience, cat-burglars tend to predominantly be male. My suspicious nature tells me I ought to investigate. It is my duty as a responsible citizen. I stop the car and approach the house. As I get closer, I can’t help noticing that my quarry is wearing a skirt and a chunky jumper and ….. seamed fishnet stockings and heeled pumps, hardly the outfit you would wear for cat burgling. There must be another explanation. Some fellow’s wife has returned unexpectedly and this is the other woman discretely leaving the scene? Or maybe she is the imprisoned wife fleeing from a catalogue of domestic violence. Unlikely in this neck of the woods though I would have thought.

‘Is everything all right?’ I call out as I approach.

‘No. Everything is not all right,’ the woman says, straightening her skirt and trying to regain some composure. ‘Nothing in my house is working and my keys have gone and my husband is away and ……’

‘Whoa!’ I say ‘Slow down!’

‘I’m being harassed in my home and someone has broken in and my phones have been cut off and …..’

‘One thing at a time, please,’ I say. ‘Perhaps, start at the beginning. I’m Lee by the way.’

‘Hello Lee,’ she says. ‘Anne.’

Perhaps she sees it as a good omen that our names go so well together. She now seems much calmer. Anne is someone that you would be likely to notice in a crowded room, thirty-something, blonde and well-rounded, a lady of some refinement. To be honest, I can’t seem to take my eyes off her. She proceeds to give a detailed account of a nightmare few hours.

It’s the middle of the night when she hears a knocking sound. She turns over to see if her husband, Curt has heard. But, Curt is not there. Maybe he has gone downstairs to find out what is going on. Then she remembers he is away on a business trip. Although Curt goes away often, she can’t seem to get used to him being away and she hates being alone in the big old house. Even with all its modern security, she does not feel safe. But she is reluctant to bring this up with Curt, in case he might consider her wimpish. Curt, she says, comes from a tough world. He doesn’t understand fear. He was brought up in the Bush.

Random nocturnal creaks and rattles are no more than you would expect in an old house, she says, especially on a rough night. But as soon as she starts to settle, she hears the noise again and it definitely sounds like someone knocking on the front door. No way is she going to get up and answer it. It’s nearly 3 am.

‘Why would anyone be calling on anyone at this time of night?’ I say. ‘Especially out here in the sticks?’

She agrees. She says she ought to have insisted they got a guard dog when they moved out here. An Akita or a Belgian Malinois perhaps. But, the fact remains, at this point in time, they do not have a dog and she is frightened. It probably didn’t help that she watched the penultimate episode of Killers on Netflix earlier in the evening.

I am familiar with Killers. I resist the temptation to tell her what happens in the final episode. Donna couldn’t hack it. She stopped watching half-way through.

Anne doesn’t feel she can phone Curt. He will be asleep and probably has an early morning meeting. For that matter, she has an early start too. She has to show the Muellers around Hope’s End at 8:30. This was the only time that both the Muellers were available and Hope’s End represents a big sale for Sellers and Sellers. Fortunately, whatever it was, the banging sound does not continue. But, she finds herself unable to get back to sleep. She tosses and turns trying to neutralise the dark thoughts that keep coming. She is just about to drop off when the phone rings. When did Curt change the ringtone to the Tales of the Unexpected theme music, she wonders? More importantly, why? Is this his idea of a joke? She goes downstairs to answer it but finds no-one on the other end. She replaces the receiver and dials 1471. She is told the caller did not leave their number.

…………………………………….

On occasions, most of you will have been plagued by an earworm. Annoying, isn’t it to have a tune stuck in your head? Sometimes the tune going around and around will be the last one you heard. Or the most catchy one on your last shuffle or however you listen to your music. Something you heard on the radio or in a shop. Think of those irritating Christmas tunes for instance. Various studies have been carried out as to what song is the most catchy ever, some of these claiming to be scientific. Among those frequently cited are Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Abba’s Dancing Queen, The Queen’s We are the Champions and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. I am plagued with earworms all the time but none of these tunes features. Nor do Call Me Maybe or Gangnam Style or other more recent tunes that are claimed to be contenders. My earworms seem to be entirely random. Captain Beefheart’s Mirror Man, a Bartók String Quartet or the Tuvan National Anthem. Last week it was MacArthur Park. They just seem to come out of nowhere. Bob Dylan’s tunes aren’t always thought of as being catchy so where has the one about the silver saxophones that is going around and around in my head come from? ……… Aha! I think I might know. But should I let on?

…………………………………….

As Bob Dylan moves on to the Queen of Spades and talks to his chambermaid, I try to catch up with what Anne has been saying. I may have missed something. She has taken her shower and brewed coffee. She is now switching on News 24. From the graphics darting around the screen, she tries to work out what the disaster story they are speaking about might be that has left so many dead, when the TV goes dead.

I suspect it is an update on the fire ripping through the conference centre but I do not interrupt. I’m not completely certain that this is where Curt is. But how many Curt Curtises can there be?

She discovers all channels are out. Even the twenty four hour baking channel is down. She really has to phone Curt now. To her horror, both the landline and her mobile phone are also dead and the router has a flashing red light. The stark realisation that she has no communication with the outside world strikes her, she says, like a blow to the head. She searches frantically in her bag for her keys. They are not there. Where can she have put them? The spare set from the kitchen drawer has gone too. She searches high and low, in coat pockets, in bags she has not used for months, underneath work surfaces, in cupboards, but finds no keys. This is impossible. She is locked in, a prisoner in her own home. She is terrified. The only way out is through the downstairs bathroom window.

She seems to be up to date with her account. It has been exhausting just listening. I tell her that she has been through quite an ordeal and do my best to comfort her.

‘Do you have a phone I could use?’ she asks.

‘You are welcome to try,’ I say. ‘My phone’s in the car. But, you probably won’t have a signal here. It’s a bit of an O2 black spot.’

‘Where is your car?’ Anne says.

‘It’s ……..’ I look around. To my astonishment, my Nissan Qashqai is no longer there.’

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’ I say. ‘Where has it gone?’

It is nowhere to be seen. It has completely vanished. What in God’s name is going on around these parts?

…………………………………….

Anne doesn’t have the keys to her Kia so we decide we must seek help in the village. Surely, someone must know what is happening.

We find no-one at home at any of the houses in Compton Wilbury. Speculation about where they might be is clearly going to get us nowhere. Does it matter that the Shipmans at Grey Gables have never been known to go away or that the Mansons in the barn conversion down the road might have just popped out? Is there any point in knowing that there is a de-consecrated church in the next village or that there was a full moon last Tuesday? Something is happening here and we don’t know what it is. My phone signal does not re-appear, nor does Anne’s. The village phone box is out of order. We find ourselves trudging along the lane to the neighbouring village of Myrtle Green.

‘How far is it to Myrtle Green?’ I say after about ten minutes. Not a single car has passed.

‘Not far,’ Anne says. ‘Half a mile or so. Be thankful you have sensible shoes on.’

‘The turning to Homiton should be round about here,’ I say. ‘We can’t have missed it.’

‘There are a lot of clumps of trees that look the same,’ Anne says.

‘Even so,’ I say. ‘We don’t appear to be making much progress.’

It doesn’t take long for the same thought to occur to Anne. Nothing in the landscape is as it should be. We should surely have passed the field with the abandoned red tractor by now, she says and where is the dry stone wall covered in lichen that you can peer over to get a glimpse of the distant hills? It’s as if the landscape is being pulled away from us.

‘You said that you were driving home from the …. uh, base,’ Anne says. ‘What is it that they do there?’ Is she thinking there might be a causal connection?

‘Even if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,’ I say.

‘So, you are saying you’ve no idea?’

‘None.’

There are, of course, no CCTV cameras in the subterranean depths below Level D but rumours have been circulating that the boffins are doing research into random virtual infinity lapse and that they are developing a large-scale invisibility cloak down there. No smoke without fire, you might be tempted to say but it would be a mistake to believe all the rumours. I’m thinking that there might not be a causal connection with what’s happening to Anne and me. Occam’s razor suggests there should be a more obvious explanation.

Far from making any progress, we seem to be going backwards. It’s like the road ahead is being rolled up like a carpet. The scenery is disappearing. There is no longer a vanishing point. No horizon. There is nowhere to go. At this rate, before we know it we will be back where we started from. But I have the feeling that things may not be the same. The universe is in a permanent state of flux. Change is the only certainty. On this basis, there is a good chance we might already be somewhere else. We might have been there all along.

…………………………………….

How did we end up in bed together? Anne is asking the same question. How long have we been here? Since this morning? Last night? Time runs away with you when you are enjoying yourself. But, Curt will be home soon, Anne says, back from his business trip. He has probably been trying to contact her. Now the phones are back on, she needs to have her story ready. I remind her that this is what I do in my spare time, make stories up. Leif Velasquez, author and auteur. Look me up on Google, I say. I thought you were Lee, Anne says. Short for Leif, I tell her. She says that’s all very well but I’d still better go. It would be easier for her if I weren’t here. Perhaps I will have to break it to her about the fire at the conference centre. How her husband is now in custody. What was it that made him, Curt Curtis, a successful businessman, start the fire?

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

Give Chance a Piece

givechanceapiece

Give Chance a Piece by Chris Green

If Dalton Ripley had not stayed up until the early hours watching The Shining on Netflix, he would probably not have been late leaving for work that fateful Monday in late September and if he had not been late leaving for work he would not have been speeding along Nine Bends, the windy B road he took as a short cut and if he had not been speeding along Nine Bends he would not have skidded off the road at its notorious fifth bend, the so-called Elbow Bend and taken out the power line that supplied the power to much of the neighbouring town, Porchester and if he had not taken out the power line that supplied the power to much of Porchester then things might have been very different. As it is, you can but speculate.

Had Porchester not been without power, for instance, the Royal visit that was scheduled for that late September day would not have been cancelled. The Duke and Duchess of Burberry would have opened the prestigious new sports centre as planned and the town would have received a much-needed boost after a decade or two in the doldrums. Dalton Ripley, of course, would still be alive, his late night viewing of The Shining perhaps scheduled for a later date. More importantly in the big scheme of things, Charise Lapointe, the scientist who was on the verge of discovering a cure for the common cold who was booked in for a routine procedure at Porchester General Hospital would probably not have met her maker that day. She died on the operating table when the power suddenly went off and the backup generator failed. If this had not happened then Charise would have continued with her ground-breaking research and you might not be sniffling so much next winter. The irony is that Charise Lapointe was not even scheduled to have her procedure at Porchester General Hospital, nor was it originally supposed to be on this day but a series of unexpected delays and cancellations came into play. But, these things happen.

If we go delve a little deeper, had Dalton’s wife, Diane not been away visiting her mother in Farrowgate, Dalton would in all likelihood not have stayed up late watching The Shining as Diane hated scary films. She preferred family dramas. When she was at home the Ripleys mostly watched historical drama series like Downton Abbey or Grand Hotel. Or wholesome documentaries like The Blue Planet. If this had been the case they would probably have had an early night and Dalton would have been up early for work as usual that late September morning. They say that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it is an unhelpful dictum in a world where chance and coincidence are constant agitators, the best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

All the same, one can’t help but be curious as to how it is that calamitous events unfold. At what point can it be said that this particular chain of events or any other is inevitable? Chance is defined as the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause. Where do cause and effect come in? Is chance in any way related to what we think of as fate? Are we just talking semantics? Perhaps all views on the matter are subjective. Eighteenth century, German philosopher, Friedrich Schiller, for instance, claims there is no such thing as chance and what seems to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. Twentieth century icon, Marilyn Monroe agrees with him saying that life is pre-ordained, like Kismet. Bernie McBurnie, the former manager of BetterBet in Brewcastle takes the opposite view, this based on a lifetime in making the wrong call setting the odds in his shop.

Fortune favours some people. They appear to be defy the odds. They are described as being born lucky. I recently read about a man called Lloyd Banks who was a serial lottery jackpot winner. He only played the lottery three or four times a year but each time he did he won one of the big prizes. A spin of the wheel or a roll of the dice and Lloyd seemed to know what would come up. Long odds meant nothing to him. He had such a successful record on the Blackjack tables that he found himself banned from all the casinos in the country. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you get the Wet Blanket Rons of this world. Everything they touch turns to dust. Ron, having just lost his job, was knocked down by a hit and run driver and hospitalised with a catalogue of injuries. In hospital, he went down with Norovirus. While he was in the isolation ward, his wife, Heather ran off with his best friend, Frank who had been giving her lifts to work. On release from hospital, Ron was given notice on the flat by their unscrupulous landlord, Kostas Moros, who saw Heather’s disappearance as an excuse to subdivide the deceptively spacious two bedroomed apartment and make more money. To cap it all Kostas Moros ordered Ron to pay £2000 for damage incurred to the flat during the tenancy, which cleaned Ron out. Patti says you make your own luck, it’s all down to mental attitude but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Chance seems to be lurking in the mix somewhere.

Whether attributable to chance or not, the chain of events set in motion by Dalton Ripley’s misjudgement of the notorious Elbow Bend that late September day gives us a perfect illustration of the domino effect. If the untimely death of the biologist in the hospital were the most serious consequence of the power outage, tragic though this would be, it would not be catastrophic. But, worse was in store for the town that day. Despite Herculean efforts on behalf of the power company, they were unable to restore the power. With surveillance cameras disabled and all aspects of everyday life disrupted, a group of sophisticated terrorists, apparently not aligned with any of the usual suspects, spotted an opportunity and decided to target the beleaguered town. You did not hear about this at the time. There were no reports because the event was deemed so serious and so mysterious, a D notice was immediately issued. There was a total news blackout and parts of the town were sealed off for weeks, while the inexplicable massacre was investigated.

But, in this age of social media leaks, it is difficult for the authorities to silence a story indefinitely. Gradually, the scale of the atrocity that took place that Monday in late September began to emerge. It is now being suggested that as many as a thousand people were killed in Porchester that day. Yet, it seems no-one is certain who the anonymous group of terrorists that carried out the attack were or even by what method the attack was carried out. No-one has been able to establish what the cause of death was and despite the numerous dead being found in a number of different locations, there appears to have been a puzzling absence of witnesses. Sonic waves are currently being suggested as an explanation along with laser beams and mind control. If the medics do know any more about the cause they are not letting on.

There have now been several similar attacks at various locations around the country, each one occurring during a lengthy power outage. Yet, each of the power outages is unplanned, unpredictable, a chance happening, a random event. There is no common cause to them. Although you can read odd posts on the internet about the attacks, almost all the questions remain unanswered. How can whoever is responsible for the deaths predict that Dalton Ripley or someone like him is going to plough through a power line? How can they know that some inexperienced employee of one of the power giants is going to flick the wrong switch? Who are the terrorists, what powers do they have and what is it they are doing? Strangely, not so much as a single amateur iPhone video of any of the incidents has come to light. People are just dropping dead in random locations where security cameras are down and without any survivors seeing them. You are not able to get near any of the sites as they are crawling with soldiers and spooks.

The government appear to have accepted that the public is finding out about the atrocities that have been taking place and are now using this as an excuse to impose greater border control, restrictions on freedom of movement and that kind of stuff. Imposing curfews. For our protection. Reports are appearing too about plans to police the internet. They are suggesting doubling the size of the workforce at the so-called listening centre, out in the sticks somewhere. Patti thinks I am being paranoid but I wonder if the government themselves are not the ones trickling information about the mysterious terrorist attacks down to us so they can justify these draconian new measures. Business as usual then, Guy Bloke suggests, like one of Philip C. Dark’s political thrillers. Perhaps the government are even the ones behind the attacks or maybe they are just making them up to make us feel that we need them to protect us. We live in those kind of times.

What would Casey Boss of the Special Ideas Squad make of it all, I’m wondering? Let’s give it over to him and his sidekick, Jagger to bat about for a while.

‘So, what have we got to go on, Jagger?’ Casey Boss says. ‘How much of this improbable story can we verify?’

‘Dalton Ripley’s accident looks sound, guv,’ Jagger says ‘There are dozens of pictures of the crashed car.’

‘But, how do we know it is Dalton Ripley’s car?’ Boss says.

‘Does it matter whose car it was that took out the power line?’ Jagger says.

‘And what has happened to Diane Ripley?’ Boss says. We have heard nothing of her.’

‘The Ripleys don’t matter,’ Jagger says. ‘Those kind of details are not important.’

‘I take your point, Jagger,’ Boss says. ‘So, where do you think we ought to start?’

‘The power line was definitely down, guv,’ Jagger says. ‘We can say that much.’

‘So, let’s move straight on to what happened when the power was out in Porchester,’ Boss says.

‘Don’t you think we should take a look at the chance elements first?’ Jagger says. ‘There do seem to be quite a lot of random connections.’

‘You mean, give chance a piece?’ Boss says.

‘Ha, ha! Very droll,’ Jagger says. ‘But it’s the …… other fellow you’re thinking of. He’s not been with us for a while now.’

‘I would be happy to put it down to a series of accidents, were it not for the scale,’ Boss says. ‘This would seem to imply some intent. ……… Where are we getting all the information from, anyway, Jagger?’

‘It’s from a book I’ve been reading,’ Jagger says.

‘What sort of book?’

‘A collection of short stories.’

‘Short stories, eh? And who are they by?’

‘Chris Green. He’s a new writer. He’s very good.’

‘And where is he getting it from?’

‘He’s making it up, obviously. He’s a writer.’

‘So, we’re fictitious.’ Boss says.

‘Of course.’ Jagger says.

‘Oh shit, Jagger!’ Boss says. ‘What are we going to do now? What’s going to happen to us?’

‘Lap of the Gods, I’d say, guv.’

‘It’s up to him, isn’t it? This ….. This, Chris Green.’

‘Perhaps it would help our chances, guv, if we could solve this mystery behind all these fatalities,’ Jagger says. ‘Then we might get an outing in another story.’

‘What about ……….?’

‘I do believe I know what you are thinking, guv,’ Jagger says.

I was, of course, surprised to get the call from Casey Boss. Surprised perhaps doesn’t adequately describe my bewilderment. My consternation. Here was a fictional character, one of my fictional characters, contacting me. Before I had a chance to steady myself, Casey Boss began to tell me that he thought he had the explanation to the mystery of the attacks. He and Jagger were investigating an unrelated incident, he said, regarding a blue Ikea bag full of science fiction plots. He explained that Ikea bags were common in his line of work as villains found they could easily conceal insurrectionist ideas, Ikea and idea having lexicographic similarities. He and Jagger had intercepted the consignment a month or so previously and had hoped they had put the case to bed. But they had recently discovered that one of the plots had gone missing from the Special Ideas Squad evidence room. It would appear to be a perfect match. But, he said he was unable to tell me the rest of the details as he was saving these for when I wrote the sequel.

But, as my namesake, the great Graham Greene says, a story has no beginning or end. Arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Tilting At Windmills

tiltingatwindmills

Tilting At Windmills by Chris Green

There was always something about Karl Oscuro that didn’t fit. You couldn’t quite put your finger on what it was, but from the very first he seemed to be more than just the proverbial square peg. He had a pale complexion and always dressed in black, but then, so did many others. This was becoming a fashionable look around the campus, probably down to the influence of the Midnight television series. Everyone stayed up to watch Midnight.

Karl kept himself to himself and didn’t go for any of our organised activities. He didn’t even go to the Student’s Union, but then who could blame him? All those loud malingerers with inflated opinions of themselves. And the odious smell of Lynx mixed with beer. In lectures Karl always sat alone and when he spoke at all, which was seldom, he spoke softly, with no trace of an accent. He was tall and thin, but then my Uncle Angus was six feet seven and he was the most conventional man you could wish to meet. The word was that Karl listened to Bruckner and Mahler on his ipod, but none of us knew this for certain. None of us had got that close.

It was Louise who noticed it first. A group of us were leaving the Technology block in the late November sunshine. We were making our way in small groups or alone in the direction of the old gothic library building, not that any of us were going to the library. It was too early in the term for that. The Autumn shadows were long, but Louise saw to her alarm that Karl did not cast a shadow. She let out a silent scream, tugged at my arm and pulled me aside to point this out. I could see straight away what she was showing me. It was plain as the proverbial pikestaff. Karl had no shadow. All the other students’ shadows were behaving as they should, but Karl did not have one. My God! How was it we had not noticed this before? We were now nearly two months into the term.

Hanging back from the others so as not to draw attention to ourselves, we continued to silently register our horror. We did double takes and triple takes but each time we turned back, it merely became more apparent that Karl’s figure made no shadow. Why hadn’t the other students walking in the same direction spotted it? Karl was still only a few feet away from them. How could they be so unobservant? How had we been so observant for so long? Why could we see it now when the others still could not.

Louise and I made a decision there and then to keep this to ourselves for the moment, just in case. In campus life, embarrassment could take months to live down. Especially after our giant poodle sighting that turned out to be a tree. We did not want to be accused of tilting at windmills again.

I had an arts background but Louise had a science one.

‘What exactly is a shadow, I mean scientifically speaking?’ I asked. ‘Could there be something here we are missing?’

‘A shadow,’ Louise explained, ‘occurs when an opaque or translucent object lets say in this instance a human body blocks light.’

‘I think I get that much,’ I said.

‘As long as there is a light source there will be a shadow, Melanie,’ she continued. ‘Only transparent objects do not make shadows. The light passes straight through, you see.’

She carried on to tell me about umbra, penumbra and antumbra being three distinct parts of a shadow. And how Karl had none of these. The light must be passing straight through him as though he were transparent.

Louise and I decided to skip our early evening lectures and keep a low profile for the rest of the day while we tried to regroup our thoughts. We returned to our flat, situated in on the edge of the old town just a stone’s throw from the campus. In order to shut out as much of college life as possible, we turned off our phones. We did not want to be disturbed by Emma, or Amy or Jade blabbering on about Skins or Misfits, or even Tarquin or Hugh bringing round a cheap bottle of Shiraz and telling us how hot we were.

It is one thing seeing Karl without his shadow but that isn’t half so weird or scary as seeing Karl’s shadow without Karl. While we could not be sure that what we were seeing from our window moving stealthily across the courtyard under the street-light was Karl’s shadow, given the circumstances it did seem to us more than a possibility. The shadow was long and thin and distinctly Karl-shaped right down the shape of the drainpipe trousers and black leather biker’s jacket he was fond of wearing. It moved across the flagstones at walking pace until it was out of range of the light. But there was no Karl.

At first, we were completely freaked out. This was the stuff of The X Files. But we quickly realised we ought to find out what was going on. We needed a reality check here. Another quixotic gaffe would be disastrous.

‘Everyone should have a shadow,’ I said. ‘I have a shadow, you have a shadow. Why doesn’t Karl Oscuro have a shadow?’

‘Who knows?’ said Louise. ‘Perhaps it was a trick of the light.’

‘I know that you don’t think that,’ I said.

‘I guess you are right,’ said Louise.

‘So, we’ll follow him tomorrow and see where he lives,’ I said. ‘And introduce ourselves. He’s probably ……. very nice.’

We were offered our opportunity the following day. Karl was just leaving the campus by a side entrance into Bygone Street, striding out with his lumbering gait. The unseasonable late afternoon sun was once again behind him, but still he cast no shadow. There were not many people about, so Louise and I had to tail him from a respectable distance, so as not to arouse suspicion. Bygone Street turns into Yore Street and it was here that we lost him. It was not so much that he disappeared into thin air as there was a choice of several four storey nineteenth-century buildings into which he might have vanished. Divided into a warren of smaller units by exploitative landlords, this block would be housing perhaps hundreds of students. It would not have been easy to discover which one Karl had disappeared into, had it not been for the movement of a curtain on the lower ground floor of number 9. We caught a glimpse of the profile of a tall dark figure pulling them shut.

The following morning we lay in wait nearby, ready to accidentally bump into him. He recognised us and slowly we began to strike up a conversation with him as we walked to college. We chatted awkwardly about famous landmarks, motorcycles, and saxophones. We moved on to paintings. This was more fruitful ground. When I had time I liked to paint and it transpired Karl too was a keen amateur artist. He told us he had often visited the galleries since he had been here. He had a particular fondness for the work of Belgian surrealist, René Magritte. He loved the provocative kitsch of Magritte’s paintings, the whimsical juxtapositions of everyday objects. He explained that Surrealism had been outlawed in his country. It was only since coming here that he had come across it. I asked him if he liked Dali. He hesitated in his reply. I wondered if this might be because of all the foreboding shadows in Dali’s paintings.

I needn’t have worried. At that moment, the sun broke through and gave us the opportunity we were looking for. Our shadows were there standing up to be counted, but Karl’s was conspicuously absent from the party. When we pointed out this out in the nicest possible way, Karl was unexpectedly forthcoming.

‘In the country I come from,’ he said. ‘It is not uncommon for people to lose their shadows.’

With this, Karl began to tell us horror stories of shadows being forcibly cut from their owners by unscrupulous surgeons, broken down and dissolved by ruthless experimental chemists or driven away by arcane psychiatric practitioners.

‘How awful,’ I said. ‘And something like that happened to you?’

‘No. It was different for me. I managed to keep my shadow, but ironically it left me the moment I stepped off the boat having arrived here,’ he said. ‘Not so much as a by your leave. Perhaps it thought its chances were not good and it became fearful of what might become of it if it stayed with me. So I have not had a shadow since I’ve been here. I have learned to live with this but I am aware that from time to time people like yourselves must notice. That is why I keep myself to myself.’

Louise and I looked at one another. Was the time right?

‘I think I may have seen your shadow,’ I blurted out.

Karl was visibly shaken. ‘You can’t have,’ he uttered. ‘That is impossible.’

‘Perhaps your shadow has come looking for you,’ said Louise.

‘Are you sure it’s mine? Where did you see it? Where was it? Tell me,’ said Karl, urgently.

‘It was long and lean and was the same shape and size as you in the clothes you are wearing,’ I said, gesticulating to him. ‘And, it was making its way across the courtyard beneath our flat in Yesterday Street. It was lit up by the streetlights.’

‘Where’s Yesterday Street?’ said Karl.

‘It’s on the other side of the campus about half a mile from here,’ I said. ‘It’s in the old town, close to our flat. We can take you there if you like.’

There is a network of cobbled streets, Tudor buildings and the ruins of a castle on our side of the campus. This was part of the original walled city and it is steeped in antiquity and folklore. For much of the day, the three of us explored the narrow roads and alleys searching for Karl’s shadow, sheltering occasionally from an unwelcome November rain shower. We all realised there was no chance of seeing a shadow while there were clouds overhead. Karl continued to open up and gradually we got to know him. We found out he had come to this country to escape a vicious regime in his own. He explained that back home there was a clan system in place and the ruling elite looked down on the Oscuro clan and persecuted them mercilessly.

‘Only to find the same here,’ I joked. ‘It can happen even in a democracy.’ Quentin Thief’s elitist government had just been re-elected with a large majority, with just 35 per cent of the vote. Daily we were getting announcements on how they planned to deal with ethnic minorities and the poor. Shadow surgery had yet to be suggested but Quentin Thief was not a man you could trust.

Late in the afternoon, the sun came back out. We sat on a bench on Antediluvian Street by the old preparatory school building, that Brycks and Mortimer Developments had acquired to convert into retirement apartments. We watched the long shadow’s of passers-by, all neatly in step with their owners. Suddenly we caught a glimpse of a rogue shadow, darting behind the stone wall between the museum and the old saddler’s. Was this the moment we had all been waiting for? Karl became excited at the sight of his shadow. Understandably so, this was the shadow that he thought he had lost for ever. He lapsed into his native tongue. As for Louise and I, we felt a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. We really had no idea what to expect.

No sooner had we got a fix on the shadow however than it vanished. Being two-dimensional, shadows can disappear behind other shadows or make their way into places that we cannot reach. But there were other questions demanding answers. Were we talking material world here, or was this the realm of the spirit world? Was any of this really happening? Here and now? There were many things that Louise felt we could no longer be sure of.

After keeping us on tenterhooks for what seemed like hours but may have been a matter of seconds, the shadow appeared again from its hiding place. To our greater astonishment, it was now accompanied by a second shadow. This one was of a female form. The two shadows began shadow dancing.

‘Oh My God! That looks like Valentina,’ said Karl.

‘Who?’ I asked.

‘Valentina. Valentina Kohl, a girl that I used to see back home. She was training to be a dancer. The rulers encouraged performing arts. This should have helped to protect Valentina. But unfortunately, like the Oscuros the Kohls too were a persecuted clan.’

‘And Valentina came over on the boat too, did she? Louise asked.

‘That’s the thing. I don’t know what happened to her. You see the Oscuros and the Kohls may have both been out of favour with the elite, but they were also rival clans. A bit like the Montagues and the Capulets in Romeo and Juliet by your William Shakespeare. Valentina and I had to meet in secret. When I knew I was leaving, I was hoping I would see her one last time, but the guards prevented it.’

‘If this is her then she may have come over too,’ I said.

‘I’m certain that it is her,’ said Karl.

‘Well, what are we waiting for?’ said Louise.

‘I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen here. I don’t know how to get my shadow to come back to me and I don’t know where I might find Valentina.’

While we wanted to see this as a half empty view, we conceded that he did have a point. Things had suddenly become more complicated.

‘Supposing you were able to find Valentina, then you and Valentina could try to recover your shadows together,’ I said

‘But how am I going to find Valentina?’ said Karl.

‘What about social media? Kohl is not a common name,’ said Louise.

‘I’m afraid that it is a common name in my country.’ said Karl. ‘I had a look on Facebook and there were nearly fifty Valentina Kohls.’

‘Well, there you go then.’ I said.

‘Don’t you think I didn’t try that,’ said Karl. ‘None of them were the right Valentina Kohl.’

‘We will help you,’ I said, but I had to admit I did not know where to start.

We thrashed out the possibilities and agreed that we would continue to meet, but Louise and I never saw Karl again, or his shadow. He vanished without a trace. No one seemed to know where he had gone. In fact, the few people we asked around the campus did not know who we were talking about. In the end to save ourselves more embarrassment we stopped asking. Karl did not even show when in another twist of fate Valentina Kohl turned up at our local pub, The Blind Poet. Her band, Chimera were fabulous. Valentina had a voice like the singer of the Cocteau Twins. And she danced like Kate Bush. As she danced, she cast a shadow under the stage lights.

We were able to speak to Valentina after the set. She had not heard of Karl Oscuro.

‘I do not know this Karl Oscuro,’ she said. ‘Is he a taxi driver maybe?’

I told her I did not think so unless he had done it as a summer job.

‘He is at college with us,’ said Louise. ‘At least, he was.’

‘I think that he has a good name, though,’ said Valentina. ‘Perhaps one of you is a writer.’

I don’t know what to believe anymore. When I start to think about it, strange things have been happening since that week back in July. Neither Louise or I have any recollection of the events of the week. To this day no one can explain what happened to us. All I can recall is that we were on a backpacking holiday in Morocco and our coach got lost in the desert. I do not even know why we were in the desert. We were travelling from Casablanca to Marrakesh. Desert was not on the itinerary. Something must have happened to take us off course. The whole week disappeared thus.

Louise sometimes questions whether we even went to Morocco. She says she does not remember being on a coach, has no recollection of Casablanca except that it was a film, and thinks Marrakesh is a song by Crosby Stills and Nash, whoever they are. She says if we were on a coach that got lost there would have been others to corroborate our story and it would have been on the news. She thinks we may have spent the week busking in a Paris subway. She says that she has a vague recollection of Sacha Distel giving us a 50 Euro note. When I tell her that Sacha Distel has been dead for over ten years, she says ‘Oh well, so it goes.’ It can be difficult to get a grip on reality sometimes.

Whatever really happened, since that week we have encountered all manner of weirdness, people walking through walls, the television switching itself on in the middle of the night, a caracal sleeping at the foot of the bed, that sort of thing. I came home one day to find a cumulus cloud in the front room. Louise tells me the rubber plant sometimes talks to her. I suppose we should be prepared for occasional surprises until these anomalies sort themselves out.

‘Oh my God, is that a porcupine in the fridge, eating the cottage cheese?’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 5

thecontinuingstoryofwetblanketron5

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 5 by Chris Green

DALE

‘Dale Loveless! What are you doing here?’ says Annette Lard. ‘Everyone thinks you are dead. Even that guy that writes the stories about you thinks you are dead. You know, the one that writes the Wet Blanket Ron stories. I can’t for the life of me think of his name. Anyway, he came into the bookies where I work about a month ago to tell me. Apparently, his friend, Marlin Snider told him. A hit and run driver in Black Dog Way, he said. Tracey Minger said the same thing when I saw her at BronzeTan. ……. It is really you, isn’t it? Only I’ve been feeling a bit funny since Doctor Gauguin put me on these new pills and I get confused easily. …… What are you doing here alive, anyway?’

‘Not a good to see you, Dale or a how are you, Dale, then,’ says the downbeat figure sitting with his black and white mongrel dog on the bench outside the railway station.

‘Look! Why don’t I buy you a coffee in that café over there? We can have a chat.’

‘Can’t drink coffee. Blood pressure.’

‘Perhaps a cider or something.’

‘I’ve been trying to stay off the pop since I’ve been out of prison.’

‘You living back round here then, Dale?’

‘For the time being. Ted Drinker is renting me a room above his car lot.’

‘I suppose he felt guilty about that Rover he sold you. The one that blew up.’

‘No, I don’t think so. Ted doesn’t do feelings. Anyway, I’ve bought another one off of him since that. A Kia.’

‘Oh, that’s nice. Good little motors, Kias.’

‘Well, no. Not really. That one blew up too. The day before yesterday.’

‘I don’t suppose you’re working or you wouldn’t be sitting around here in the middle of the day.’

‘I’ve got a job interview to go to tomorrow.’

‘That’s good. Where’s that?’

It’s at that new er, ….. phone shop down past the Scott Mackenzie roundabout.’

‘Oh yes,’ I think I’ve seen the one you mean. The one with the tinted windows and purple dishes on the roof. It’s quite an unusual …… structure isn’t it? But, of course! I remember now, Dale. You used to be an engineer of some sort before all your …… troubles started.’

‘Seems a long time ago now. Anyway, I don’t expect I’ll get the job but wish me luck anyway. Look! I’d better take Leonard here for a walk down by the canal before it starts to rain again.’

‘Well. It was good to see you, Dale. And you know where I am. I’m still at BetterBet. Look in anytime.’

‘Probably not a good idea after the last time.’

‘Oh, that’s right! I remember now. You had all that money on Can’t Lose and it fell at the last fence.’

AUTHOR

I don’t know where my ideas for stories come from. I just seem to pluck them out of the air. It’s as if authors are able to tune into a radio wavelength that non-authors aren’t aware of. Other writers, I’ve spoken to, like Philip C. Dark and Guy Bloke describe it as being like a sixth sense. They say their stories bear an uncanny resemblance to things that are really happening somewhere that they are not supposed to know about. Some might see it as sorcery. I’m not exactly sure what Zeitgeist means, but it might be best to think of inspiration in those terms. There’s something unexplainable out there in the ether.

The bottom line is I don’t know where my idea for the new Wet Blanket Ron story comes from. After all, in the last one, I killed the character off. Wet Blanket Ron was dead. What is it that makes me want to bring him back to life? One reason might, of course, be his popularity. I had angry letters from my readers when I killed him off. One fan, in particular, a long-term follower from the sub-continent stopped just short of issuing a death threat. I believe the same thing happened to J. K. Rowling when she threatened to kill off Harry Potter. I had only killed Wet Blanket Ron off because Dale Loveless, the fellow I had originally based Ron’s character on, was dead; killed in an unfortunate road accident.

But this is not the primary reason I am bringing Ron back. Quite simply, I wake one morning with the idea for a new Wet Blanket Ron adventure going round and round in my head and feel compelled to write it down. So I need to pretend that Ron’s accident never happened. Or maybe he survived it. Let’s get that bit out of the way. Ron was unconscious but came round in the ambulance taking him to hospital. He survived. Here he is.

RON

Arriving at PurplePhones for his interview, Ron finds the walls are lined with rows of futuristic-looking phones, tablets and other spectacular communications devices, all of them purple. Some funky music is belting out from invisible speakers. He thinks it might be Prince.

As Ron looks at the gleaming displays, bemused, a tall man in a purple suit twirling a cane comes across and greets him.

‘I’m Miles Highman’ he says.

It takes a little while for Ron to realise that Miles Highman is the man’s name and not a passing reference to recent drug abuse. Miles guides him into a purple pod. He gestures for Ron to sit down on a purple bucket chair, and invites him to stroke one of a menagerie of purple cats. This is not the direction an interview for a job usually takes but stroking the cats makes him feel less nervous.

Although Ron has deliberately tried to hide it away at the bottom of his CV, Miles Highman asks Ron straight away about his work with NVision Inc. This was an episode in his life that Ron was anxious to put behind him. His role had been to deliver bad news to people or relatives of people before it actually happened. This was supposed to prepare the victims for what was to come or enable them to take action to avoid it. Like so many things in his life, this project did not turn out well. Due to a series of mishaps, Ron was unable to alert the West Midlands mother to her son’s upcoming death in an explosion nor was he able to convince the Manchester businessman that he was to going be shot. Sadly both died as a result.

Because Ron badly needs a job, he keeps quiet about his disastrous record of outcomes with the company. He does not mention how he was unable to do anything about a plane crash in California that he was sent out to prevent. He merely tells Miles that working at Vision Inc. was an eye opening experience and he is sure he can get a reference from Amit if need be.

DALE

‘Hey! Dale!’ Marlin Snider calls out in the middle of the pedestrian precinct.’

‘Oh! It’s you. Hello, Marlin. What do you want?’ Dale says lugubriously. He has the air of a man who does not want to engage in small talk.

‘Annette told me you were …… er, alive. Good to see you. What are you doing, man? Did you get the new job?’

‘I did, as it happens, Marlin. In fact, I’m working now.’

‘Working? What are you doing exactly, Dale? …… It looks to me like you are standing around in the middle of the shopping centre waving your arms around.’

‘It’s called working, Marlin. I’m in telecommunications.’

‘Hey. What are you talking about?’

‘I’m in front line promotion. I’ve got to use this little device here to er …….. temporarily disable everybody’s smartphone. Look! This is how it works.’

‘It’s not a very ethical kind of job, Dale. That’s worse than …. ‘

‘Well! Needs must, Marlin. It’s all right. I’m not going to disable your phone.’

‘Still, Dale.’

‘Then later on, in about ten minutes, someone is going to do a fly by and drop thousands of flyers advertising PurplePhones new range of incorruptible new communication devices. The manager tells me that this is the way business is done in the modern world.’

AUTHOR

After the initial idea for the new Wet Blanket Ron story, I find myself struggling for a way to take the plot forward so it is fortunate that I run into Dale Loveless’s friend, Marlin Snider in the Goat and Bicycle. I am surprised to discover that Dale has found a job, but I am cheered by Marlin’s news. Not only has Dale found a job but it is the kind of job that is a gift to a writer of speculative fiction. A gopher for a colourful new phone company with plans to shape the future of telecommunications. The future might have once been Orange, but now it seems, the future’s Purple. And, imagine the trouble that Wet Blanket Ron will be able to get into for zapping peoples smartphones. I might as well tip Inspector Crooner off now and instruct Ron’s brief, Brent Diaz to expect a desperate phonecall from his dissolute client. I don’t. This would only spoil things for later.

To add to the bounty, Marlin tells me that Dale has a new girlfriend. He says he hasn’t met her but apparently, she is a stunner. Given Ron’s record on relationships, there is plenty of potential for things to go wrong here. After all, Wet Blanket Ron readers would expect nothing less than a car crash romance. I press Marlin for more information. He is unable to give me much more information but this does not matter. I can fill the details in as required. Here we go.

RON

Ron has never been out with anyone like Lola before. Lola is special. Lola must have the best. He has never been to L’Ultima Cena before. It is the top Italian restaurant in town. But, with the promise of being paid handsomely for his endeavours in promoting PurplePhone, he feels he can splash out. After Crostini misti con Sottoli, Straccetti di Pasta al Germe di Grano con sugo di Lepre, Cinghiale alla Cacciatore, Insalata Radicchio e Rucola followed by Torta della Nonna and helped down by two bottles of Amarone, Ron takes his vision of loveliness back to his flat with a view to taking the relationship to the next stage. He has taken down the black out blind, put away the magazines and carefully prepared a play list with no Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen. He has even hidden his self-help books and his copy of Jude the Obscure in case Lola should think he is a depressive.

Needless to say, things do not go according to plan. Picture if you will, Ron’s horror when he discovers that Lola, like her famous namesake from The Kinks song, is someone who needs to lift the toilet seat up. Perhaps, in hindsight, like Ray Davies, he should have spotted the tell tale signs, the dark brown voice, the physical hug, the five o’clock shadow. Perhaps even the name should have offered a clue.

Disgusted, Ron throws Lola out. Hardly has he wiped away the tears than there is a loud rap at the door. Thinking that it is probably Lola returning, remorseful and apologetic, he does not answer it immediately. The knock becomes more persistent and is accompanied now by a cry of ‘Police! Open Up!’ While nervous breakdown is fighting sense of déjà vu for control of Ron’s failing mental faculties, the door gives way to the enforcer or big key as it is referred to in the job. Not Inspector Crooner this time but a bunch of burly thugs dressed like Darth Vader. They are pointing guns and shouting in tongues.

DALE

‘Let me see if I’ve got this right, Mr Loveless,’ says Dale’s assigned solicitor, Dawlish Warren in the interview room at the central police station. ‘You were at home with your girlfriend, Deirdre watching Peaky Blinders when the police called round unexpectedly.’

‘That’s right, Mr Warren,’ Dale says.

‘And they said they wanted to talk with you about the work you were doing for ….. is that PurplePhones?’

‘Yes, PurplePhones. It’s a new mobile network.’

‘And what exactly was the work you were doing for PurplePhones? I thought for a moment back then you might have said you were disabling peoples smartphones so they no longer worked.

‘In a manner of speaking, that’s what I was doing, yes. But….. ‘

‘Aware that you were almost certainly committing a crime?’

‘I suppose so, yes.’

‘In any event, the police weren’t happy with your explanation that you were just sending out a jamming signal and so they brought you here for questioning.’

‘Yes. That’s about it.’

‘Then, out of the blue, you yourself received a phonecall from a …… Wet Blanket Ron?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yet you say that Wet Blanket Ron is a fictional character.’

‘Yes. I know. Confusing, isn’t it? He said he was phoning on one of the new PurplePhones.’

‘And what did he want? This, Wet Blanket Ron?’

‘That’s just it, Mr Warren. He wanted to know what was going to happen next.’

‘What do you think he meant by that?’

‘He said that as his character in the stories was based on me, I would know what was in store.’

‘And what did you tell him?’

‘I told him I didn’t know what was going to happen but I didn’t think it would be good. He said that was pretty much the story of his life.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

SURF’S UP

surfsuporange

SURF’S UP by Chris Green

Most people in the UK associate surfing with Newquay but Widemouth in North Cornwall was its original home. Widemouth is where the Australian pioneers of the sport came when they first arrived in the country to test the waters. Surfers will tell you that the bay has an easy paddle and peaks holding six to eight feet at mid to high tide. Black Rock at the southern end of the bay becomes wild in the winter months with a hollow and powerful reef break reaching ten or twelve feet on a good north-westerly swell. These huge waves were the main attraction for our Antipodean friends, who loved to show off their skills. Before his premature death in 1963, at the age of twenty three, local lad, Mawgan Tresco loved surfing here. Mawgan was able to negotiate the largest breakers with grace and dexterity. Apparently, crowds gathered on the beach in all winds and weathers to watch his exploits.

No-one knows the reason why one frosty night in December 1963, Mawgan took his Norton Dominator out on the windy coastal road. It was to be his last trip on the powerful machine. Big speeds, black ice and a brick wall saw to that. Some say that Mawgan had started taking amphetamines. But, where he might have found amphetamines in rural Cornwall is hard to say. His friend, Jago remembers a meeting Mawgan had with a well-dressed geezer from out of town and wonders if this might be connected with his fatal ride. He adds that Mawgan modelled himself on James Dean. Perhaps he harboured something of a death wish.

Recordings Mawgan Tresco made on a reel to reel tape recorder shortly before he died show that he was also a talented musician. He sang and played lead guitar in The New, a band whose grungy sound was years ahead of its time. As was their name. Back then, group names were still plurals, The Shadows, The Drifters, The Ventures, etc. The New had somehow anticipated the trend for singular band names, The Who, The Move, Cream. Had they lived anywhere else but Cornwall, they would have made it big but Cornwall back then was a cultural desert, hardly the best place to be for upcoming pop groups, hoping to get noticed. Yet, someone from the music business must have come across The New. Perhaps a Soho impresario on holiday with his family in the south west found himself at one of the gigs they performed in village halls and thought to himself, I’ll use this because a year or so later The Kinks were playing one of Mawgan’s edgy riffs on You Really Got Me and soon after, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck were using Mawgan’s feedback technique, passing it off as their own creation. The general public may not realise it yet but sixties rock and even heavy metal and punk owe a great debt to Mawgan Tresco’s guitar strangling on those early recordings. The Troggs’ Wild Thing is easily recognisable from Mawgan’s, Wild Nights and Purple Haze is virtually a note for note copy of Mawgan’s, Hazy Days. On Mawgan’s death, the band, acknowledging that he had been the songwriter and driving force, split and persevered with their day jobs.

‘That’s what we have so far,’ Macy Reno says. With no films currently in production, Macy is trying to thrash out the screenplay for Surf’s Up with his screenwriter, Dirk Van Dijk. Having worked closely on the script, Dirk will already be aware of the details. Macy’s summary must be for my benefit. My name is Chance Hacker. I am a rookie film editor sitting in to advise on possible continuity issues. I am new to the project and I’m not completely sure why I’m here. Normally a continuity editor wouldn’t be needed until after filming had begun.

‘Sure, it’s got surfing and music going for it but we are still talking rural Cornwall in the early sixties,’ Macy says. ‘And Joe Pub will not have heard of Mawgan Tresco. Not going to pull them in necessarily, is it, Dirk?’

‘You don’t like what I’ve written?’ Dirk says. Apparently, he has submitted numerous drafts now. I detect that all is not well between the pair. I say nothing. Let them settle their differences first.

‘To be honest, Dirk, the script is a bit ……. downbeat,’ Macy says.

I’m inclined to agree with him. In these days of CGI and superheroes, you need something sensational to sell a film. This is not the time to wheel out plodding parochial dramas.

‘Perhaps we should change the location to attract the big distributors,’ Macy continues. ‘What do you think? …… California?’

‘If you do that, you lose the story,’ Dirk says. ‘Surfing and California. Been done to death. Besides, the main focus here is surely the unlikely rural origins of the heavy guitar riff. We could concentrate more on the soundtrack.’

‘But we do need to big it up a bit,’ Macy says. ‘Come on now, Dirk. What have you got?’

They seem to be at odds with one another. Dirk writes dialogue, Macy wants pictures. Dirk writes realism, Macy wants surrealism. They are going round in circles. Perhaps I’ll have a go at something myself. …….. After all, I know how to research. I did a degree in Creative Writing. Well, Pulp Fiction. OK, I didn’t finish it, things got in the way. But, I’ve had dozens of stories published in Schlock magazines. I’m not sure how I ended up in film editing. It’s not where my heart is. I’d rather be writing. It would be nice to have a screenwriter’s credit.

‘What about a sliding doors moment?’ Dirk says. ‘A pivotal scene where the plot could go one way or the other. And then we could run the two narratives alternately.’

‘Perhaps more of a forking paths moment.’

‘Isn’t that the same thing?’

‘Not really. I’m thinking of a Borges scenario.’

‘Hey?’

‘Jorge Luis Borges, the writer of Labyrinths. His story where the protagonist comes to a fork in the road and instead of going one way or the other takes both paths simultaneously. Perhaps we could keep forking the paths and have endless split screen shots.’

‘Might be a hard slog ….. well, for me, the writer, for instance.’

I am thinking Dirk should count himself lucky, it will be a harder slog for me, the editor. Hopefully, Macy will realise the impracticalities. When you read a novel or indeed a work of non-fiction, if there is still such a thing in these post-truth times, and then see a film based on the book, you can’t help but notice subtle differences. You may prefer the novel. Or you might prefer the film. Most people are likely to say they prefer the novel. The director’s job is therefore not easy. He has to condense the novel into an acceptable length for the film so he needs to be creative. This can make an arty director like Macy Reno, who relies on his eccentricity, more prone to flights of fancy. Not that flights of fancy are altogether a bad thing. But, at the same time as being creative, the director needs to keep it simple. The attention span of cinema-goers today is slight. You need to put in some narrative redundancy so they can check their phones. I recommend a comic book approach.

Or he could have a doppelgänger or a series of doppelgängers,’ Macy says. ‘Split screen would work here too.’

I’m thinking split screen is hopelessly dated. Surely an innovative director like Macy realises he needs to move with the times. ……. There again, perhaps it would help give a retro feel to the film.

‘And being Cornwall,’ he continues. ‘We could maybe have Mawgan drawn into a sinister cult of fly agaric mushroom worshippers.’

‘Didn’t you do something like that in the last film?’ Dirk says. ‘The one about the exploding hedgehogs.’

Turbulence wasn’t about exploding hedgehogs. There was just a scene in it where a hedgehog explodes. And it is was central to the plot. Anyway, that was a cactus worshipping sect.’

‘Yes, I think I remember now. It was all to do with that sinister high pitched hum that was spreading across the country.’

‘If you remember, the sound was the rotation of the earth slowing down.’

Perhaps it was misleading to advertise it as being based on a true story.’

If you ever you come across the phrase, based on a true story, in relation to a film, read it as bears no resemblance to the original. Whatever the genre. This is one of the first things you learn in Film Appreciation 101.

‘Or maybe the villagers could be pagan cultists,’ Macy continues. ‘You know like The Wicker Man. Always in top ten British films, that one.’

‘I suppose you are talking about a small rural community at a time when there was not much going on,’ Dirk says. ‘It’s the right setting, but …… ‘

‘What about vampires? They are always good box office.’

‘Didn’t you have vampires in In the Dead of Night.’

‘No. That was zombies. I’ve never had vampires.’

‘You know, Macy. I’m wondering if perhaps we’ve got enough of a story already,’ Dirk says. ‘We’ve got a dazzling surfer, not to mention the musician who gave us modern rock music,’

Dirk has hit the nail on the head. Certainly, we need to emphasise the dark parts more, bring in a menacing villain or two and big up the love interest, but let’s keep to the point. Leif Velásquez displayed similar hyperbolic tendencies when I was working with him on Friday the Thirteenth. He suggested we run the filmed footage backwards and not in a Benjamin Button kind of way. The film would have been a box office disaster. For his epic State of Mind, I had to talk Leif out of using Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to plot the action. Great idea but too highbrow.

As Macy and Dirk don’t seem to be able to agree on anything, I decide to get cracking on some research towards my own screenplay. It doesn’t start well. I discover that Macy has been sitting on the project for years and most of those who might remember Mawgan are now dead and gone. Mrs Trescothick from the Women’s Institute remembers him as a shy boy who used to talk to cats and his old schoolmistress, centurion, Miss Penhaligon says he used to masturbate in class. None of his surfing contemporaries are around and I find nothing that sheds fresh light on Mawgan’s fatal ride. For all I know, he may have been riding a Honda 50. Or not gone out at all. While surfing is still going strong in Widemouth, all that is left to remember Mawgan’s efforts are a few black and white photos on the wall in a Widemouth beach café and these grainy images could have been of any surfer. I can see why Macy did not want to run it as it was. It would have been dull. Nor do I manage to find out how Mawgan’s songs got into the wrong hands. Nor is there any proof that he actually wrote them. No choice then but to embellish the story. Start from scratch even.

Then I have a stroke of luck. It seems far more sinister things were happening in the pop world than a few of Macy’s tunes being copied. News is breaking that many of the big hits back then were hyped up the charts by Wardour Street racketeer, Vito Gunn. Vito arranged for his associates to buy dozens of copies from each of the stores that put in returns for the charts up and down the country but he quickly realised that on a weekly basis this could become expensive so he dispensed with this nicety. Instead, he told the stores what numbers to put into their returns with the threat of sending in the boys if they didn’t. It worked. He only had to send the boys in once. Acts as unlikely as Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or The Dave Clark Five had number one hits. I mean, Glad All Over, really!

Hyping worthless tunes by talent-free groups up the charts became standard practice in the mid-sixties. Vito and fellow racketeer who went by the name of Maltese Fred quickly had the market sewn up. Between the two of them, they dictated what was played on the radio and who appeared on TV pop shows. The only surprise is that given the throwaway nature of some of the number one hits the story has taken so long to come to light. Surely people must have had their suspicions that something was amiss.

But, what about Mawgan Tresco’s tunes being stolen? This is not quite the same. I have actually heard Wild Nights and Hazy Days. They were transformed into Wild Thing and Purple Haze. Whether Mawgan actually wrote them or nor, these were important developments in rock music. Might Vito Gunn have been the mysterious geezer from out of town that Mawgan’s friend Jago referred to? We may never know but it hardly matters if it isn’t true. Vito is dead now. Alternatively, we could just make someone up. I’m pretty sure we will be able to create a credible character profile of a morally bankrupt sixties music mogul. A gun-toting Soho kiddie-fiddler perhaps or a Neo-Dickensian Reggie Kray. The badder the better. After all, it’s villains that put bums on seats in cinemas these days as much as heroes. Think Darth Vader, The Terminator, Hannibal Lecter. If you have a goodie in a movie then for balance you are going to need a baddie. It’s rule one of drama.

Macy phones to tell me that Dirk is off the film. Irreconcilable differences, he says, Dirk’s just not adventurous. I tell him not to worry, I have some ideas. I already have the music part of the film sketched out, I tell him. He is excited by my new discoveries about the sixties underworld and says we can definitely factor the gangland corruption into the script. We arrange a meeting. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Macy Reno and Leif Velásquez, it is that truth has nothing whatsoever to do with movie making. It gets in the way. You can write whatever you want about anyone, dead or alive and make a film of it. No-one is going to come after you with lawsuits. Not even the Royals. Look at all those potentially libellous films about them and not a dickie bird.

Carte blanche, then. I quickly put together a script where our young British rock and roller gets fleeced by transsexual Bethnal Green gangster, Vito Gunn then in a turf war is taken out by Maltese Fred’s hitman, Harvey Wallbanger. All I need to do now is introduce the demon surfer from Hell, the badder the better, to spar with our protagonist and add a little love interest, perhaps a salacious, suntanned Californian Baywatch babe who just happens to find herself marooned in nineteen sixties Cornwall after a time travel experiment went wrong.

By the time I am finished, I will have transformed a forgotten Cornish surfer who wrote a couple of grungy rock songs and may or may not have crashed his bike on a dark night in December into a legend of biblical proportions, a veritable superhero with arcane powers. Mawgan’s death then would be by no means the end. I could leave room for his mystical return in a sequel. Maybe later we might turn it in into an adult cartoon series. Mawgan Tresco could become a comic book hero. Fortunes are made from small beginnings. You have to speculate to accumulate. You are probably beginning to notice the Mawgan Tresco merchandise in the shops. There will be a lot more when Surf’s Up comes out.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

All About Jazz

allaboutjazz

All About Jazz by Chris Green

All About Jazz tends to be quiet in the afternoon. After the lunchtime rush, things do not pick up again until the evening. We are a small establishment down a side street on the edge of town. If you were driving along the main road out of town, you might not know we were there, unless you happened to spot the sign saying All About Jazz – Open Lunchtime till Late, Live Music at Weekends. My partner, Jazmin bought the lease last year with her inheritance. She saw the advert in the local paper and liked the idea of the place because of its name. I was a little dubious about the idea, not just because of its poor location but because, at the time, I knew nothing about jazz or running a bar. My objections were ignored. In no time at all, she was arranging professional photoshoots for the publicity material.

Many of our regulars are seasoned jazz buffs. The afternoon lull gives me the chance to listen to a selection of tunes. I am able to study album cover notes to see which musicians play on which tunes. Jazz players are often not household names so it seems a good idea for a rookie jazz bar proprietor to build up his knowledge. I am able to pick out passages that I can refer to, an improvised saxophone break, a change of time signature or perhaps a hidden piano melody. There’s not much point in claiming to be being a jazz fan if you don’t appreciate the subtle nuances of the form. You might as well listen to Olly Murs or Sam Smith.

Jazmin likes to get out in the afternoons so I often take the opportunity to relax in a comfy chair with an iced coffee and a good book, Haruki Murakami, Philip C. Dark, that kind of thing. I like a little quirkiness. Life can be too serious. There’s nothing better than a gentle read with some old standards playing softly in the background. I am doing so when the tall man in the light-coloured suit walks in. I have not seen him before. He has a dark complexion, not black, not white, not even brown but a colour you just can’t put into words, and slicked back hair with a quiff that seems to defy gravity. He has a facial scar and a thick gold necklace. He could easily be auditioning for a David Lynch film. Louche is not quite the word I am looking for but it is close. He orders a large Plymouth gin and bitters. He is of indeterminable race. His accent is impossible to place. For all I know, he might be from Mars.

He starts talking to me about security cameras. Although he looks nothing like a rep, it seems he might be trying to sell me a new CCTV system. Either that or he is trying to rob me. More likely trying to rob me. But, it transpires security is just a random interest. A passing topic of conversation. After we have moved on to necromancy and The Twilight Zone, he takes his drink and goes over to sit at a table by the window. All the time that he is here, I feel unaccountably on edge. Being a jazz bar, we get plenty of oddballs passing through, but there is something different about this one. Something unexplainable, sinister, threatening. It is not just his unusual choice of conversational topics or the spooky way he maintains eye contact yet appears to remain aloof. His very demeanour carries with it an air of menace. I am not one for a lot of mumbo jumbo but I can detect a dark aura around him. When he is in the room, it feels like the air in the room has changed.

After he has gone, his presence oddly remains. I find myself looking around to see if he is still lurking in the bar somewhere. In one of the booths perhaps. I check to see that he is not crouching in one of the alcoves or hiding behind the pillar. I take a look in the toilets, the gents and the ladies several times. I make my way outside and wander up and down the street to make sure he has really gone.

The stranger comes in again the following day at the same time and once again orders a large Plymouth gin and bitters. We speak about GCHQ, rock formations and doppelgängers before he once again takes his drink over to the table by the window. Once again, I experience the same feeling of unease while he is in the bar without being able to explain why and the same feeling that he is still present after he has gone. When Jazz comes back from the printers, she notices that something is wrong.

‘I had a strange fellow come in,’ I tell her. ‘He spooked me a bit. …… But it’s probably nothing to worry about.’

She tells me about an offer they have at the printers on giclée prints. ‘They can do A3 posters for us for …..’

I am no longer listening. I have drifted off.

A pattern begins to develop. The stranger comes in every day at the same time. He always wears the same light-coloured suit. At no time does he introduce himself or explain his mission. He always orders the same drink, Plymouth gin and Angostura bitters. On each visit, he guides the conversation, changing the subject at will, without warning. We speak about cave paintings, psychiatrists, and remote viewing or, string theory, hot air balloons and Don Quixote before he takes his drink over to the window. He always takes the same seat at the same table. On the first few occasions, I entertain the idea that he is waiting for someone but no-one ever joins him. Perhaps he is looking out for someone on the street, not that many people pass this way unless they are coming into All About Jazz.

‘I can always tell something is bothering you, honey, by the music you play,’ Jazmin says, as we are locking up one night. ‘Do you realise you played Guy Bloke’s Improvisation for Balalaika, Bass Guitar and Strimmer three times tonight, all nineteen minutes of it? No wonder everyone was gone by half-past ten. What were you thinking?’

‘Did I? I must have been ….. distracted,’ I tell her.

‘You’ve been ….. distracted quite a lot lately. Sometimes I think we live in separate worlds.’

The same thought has occurred to me but I do not say so.

‘And we haven’t made love for nearly three weeks,’ she continues.

‘Is it really that long?’

‘Yes, it is that long. If I didn’t know you better, I’d think there was someone else. …….. Look! Let me know if I’m wrong but I think this strange mood of yours started when that weird fellow began to come in. The one you told me about who talks about NASA, Twin Peaks and rubber plants. Does he still come in every afternoon?’

‘Yes, he does, Jazz. 3:15 on the dot. But it feels like he’s here all the time, now. It’s as if he never goes away.’

‘Right! I’m going to be here tomorrow afternoon. I can easily rearrange my hair appointment and I can pick up the gilcée prints anytime.’

…………………………….

‘You told me he comes in every day at the same time. 3:15, you said.’

‘He has done for the last three weeks, yes.’

‘Well, my sweet, it’s half past three and he’s not here.’

‘Perhaps he’s been held up.’

‘Or perhaps made up. A figment of your over-active imagination.’

‘If you don’t believe me, have a look at the CCTV.’

‘I did. This morning. It wasn’t switched on.’

‘You’re probably doing something wrong. I’ll have a look at it later.’

‘But you have to admit you have been behaving rather strange lately. Perhaps you ought to see someone. There’s a new holistic ….. ‘

‘Give him a few more minutes. I’m sure he will be here.’

‘What’s his name? If you’ve been talking to him for three weeks, you must have found out something about him.’

‘He’s never mentioned his name. He talks about robotics, firecrackers and necromancy. Or …..’

‘California, cloning and black holes. I know. And you never bring any subjects of conversation up? Like, who are you? What do you do? Why do you keep coming into our bar?’

‘It doesn’t work like that. You’d have to be with him to realise how he can just take you over. He takes your will away, like a psychic vampire.’

‘Wassup,’ says a deep voice beside us.

It is N’Golo. N’Golo is an African drummer who sometimes sits in with bands here at weekends. He likes to drop by in the afternoon for a lemongrass tea. He is wearing a kaftan, brightly patterned trousers and jangling Berber jewellery.

‘Your djinn friend not here today then, bro?’ he says.

‘You mean gin, N’Golo.’

‘No. I mean djinn. Juju. The man in the white decks. That man is bad-bad.’

‘How can you tell, N’Golo?’ I say. ‘As you know, I am not one for a lot of mumbo jumbo.’

‘I just know, bro.’

‘But how? I get a bad feeling when he’s here. In fact, even when he isn’t here. But, I can’t explain it. And Jazmin here wants to know.’

‘Hear di smell. Many ways to sense it. Everybody is different. But it’s not how or why, it just is. He’s djinn, trust me.’

I have been reading up on jazz and it all began in New Orleans. The word comes from the Creole patois, jass, referring to sexual activity. In the late 19th century. European horns met African drums and jazz music was born. Jazz inherited all the magic of the African continent. The heart of darkness. Voodoo. Djinn. Juju. While the rest of America was stomping their feet to military marches, New Orleans started dancing to voodoo rhythms. It may be nothing. But voodoo, djinn, juju or whatever you want to call it and jazz are inextricably linked. And our bar is called All About Jazz. So, it should be all about jazz. We could educate people on the history of jazz. To the seedy jazz joints, dens of vice probably all of them. To the progress of the new music through Buddy Bolden, Nick LaRocca, Jelly Roll Morton. We could hold classes, workshops. We could bring people to the town to learn about jazz. The nuts and bolts of jazz. Its cultural constituents, the brass band parades, Mardi Gras, downtown Creole, dirty music, corner saloon dances. The nitty-gritty bare bones elements of Jazz that you do not find in the safe little bubble of Smooth Jazz. Smooth Jazz! Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Jazmin is less than enthusiastic about the idea. She thinks I’m going off on one. The Jazz that it is all about she feels is her. She wants it to stay that way. She insists it stays that way. It was her money that set us up, she says. She can be a bully at times. Oh well! Perhaps people don’t need to know where jazz originated or if they do they can just go online or read Casey Gasher’s book, Basin Street.

…………………………….

In moments of despair, one can fall prey to a mindset which tells you that the current set of circumstances has always been so and will always be so. But, this is not the case. Things do change. As the great mystic philosopher, Lars Wimoweh was fond of saying, change is the only certainty. After a few days of the tall stranger not showing, his presence, imagined or not, begins to fade. I no longer feel distracted. Mindfulness returns. I manage not to accidentally play Guy Bloke’s Improvisation for Balalaika, Bass Guitar and Strimmer or any other jazz track featuring a strimmer. I am able to start conversations on topics that I am interested in, rhythm, harmony, syncopation. I feel the sap rising. I manage to heal the rift with Jazmin in the nicest possible way. Things go swimmingly at All About Jazz. The Simon Somerset Quintet play a spirited Saturday night set and Giles Davis weaves his mellow magic on his muted trumpet through Sunday afternoon.

It is comforting to get a bad episode out of the way. Jazz thinks so too. She feels it is good that I’ve got a grip and pulled myself together like her holistic counsellor, Ike Murlo said I should. My ….. difficulty was harming business, she says. Little by little, Jazz begins to trust me to hold the fort in the afternoons once more.

But although Ike Murlo tells me that the crisis has passed, that I’m over the worst, sometimes I seem to still be visited by lingering uncertainty. That nagging doubt that surrounds an unresolved mystery. I realise I should know better but each time I am outside having a smoke, and I catch a glimpse of a tall figure in the distance, I imagine it to be the dark stranger in the light-coloured suit coming to get me. Suddenly, nearly everyone in town seems to be above average height and be dressed in light-coloured suits. Ike Murlo tells me that such a frequency illusion is quite common and even comes up with some numbers to back it up. Apparently, it is known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It does not help to be aware of this. And sometimes even the ones who dress normally now come across as suspicious, I tell him. He assures me this will pass, but just in case perhaps I should see him twice a week.

…………………………….

Jazmin has gone to pick up some posters for the summer jazz extravaganza we are planning. I did try to get her to book Guy Bloke as a headliner but she thinks he is too avant garde. Well, you can’t have everything. I’m sure that Guy doesn’t mind too much. He has plenty of other gigs lined up. Meanwhile, I am relaxing in the bar. Suddenly aware of someone in my space, I look up from my Philip C. Dark thriller. He is not the usual type that we get in mid-afternoon. He is wearing an oatmeal checked three piece suit but his coarse features do not go with the suit. They belong to someone from out of town, a long way out of town. Over the hills and far, far away. The chimerical stranger makes a remark about the music that is playing in the background, Scott Walker’s Tilt. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I realise, but I find it relaxing. He orders a pink gin.

‘That’s gin and Angostura bitters,’ he says. As if I didn’t know.

He starts talking about …… CCTV cameras. He seems to know a lot about them. I am still trying to get a grip, mumbling incoherently as the conversation moves on to necromancy and The Twilight Zone.

 

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

CHEKHOV’S GUN

chekovsgun

Chekhov’s Gun by Chris Green

Having signed off my latest story, I am on the lookout for characters for a new one. A writer’s mind is never idle. Even though Jodie and I are on holiday in a small seaside town in Norfolk to catch up with her family, the search is on. In the shop next to our cottage, the fishmonger gets up to take the delivery of fresh fish at about six thirty and starts throwing crates around the yard, waking us up. He has a weather-beaten face with deep creases from years of hard fishmongering. But, I have my readers to consider. A story about a small town retailer would not be in keeping with the Philip C. Dark brand. My stories usually revolve around time shifts or altered states, not matters you could ease into a tale about the price of fish.

John, the ageing caretaker for our group of holiday-lets comes by to see how Jodie and I are getting on with the cooker. He says that it has been on the blink. On the blink? We hadn’t realised it worked at all. It’s an odd looking piece of kit. Perhaps the newer models haven’t reached these remote parts yet.

It’s the timer that’s broken,’ John the Caretaker says. ‘You have to turn it this way and then that way to get it working.’

John is ineffectual, apologetic. He looks as if he has been trying to become invisible all his life, not the kind of character you could fit into a speculative fiction or a psychodrama.

The couple in the holiday apartment across from us with the two point three children, the Debenhams shopping bags and the Ford Focus are also non-starters. How could you create intrigue in a story about them? Ditch-water and dull are words that spring to mind.

Lord Nelson grew up around these parts and as we make our way through the town, everywhere we look, we are reminded of this. Even though the nearest harbour is a few miles down the coast, here they are proud of North Norfolk’s maritime heritage. We have a cup of tea and a light breakfast in the Trafalgar Café on the seafront. As they throw chewed balls for their excited dogs, the early morning dog walkers down on the shingle beach look exactly like early morning dog walkers on shingle beaches look the world over. Nothing for the story there. Neither do the ramblers on the coastal path provide inspiration. In their expensive padded waterproof jackets screaming with logos and identical uncomfortable-looking heavy boots, they are clones of one another. It probably isn’t their fault. Years of relentless leisure-wear promotion featuring sporty looking models in expensive padded waterproof jackets screaming with logos and uncomfortable-looking walking boots has put pressure on them to conform to such rigid sartorial uniformity.

The man in the brown SuperDry windcheater looking out to sea with snazzy binoculars regales us with a story about two Polish men who drowned out there because they were calling out for help in Polish. He says that the onlookers did not understand that they were in trouble. They thought they were just waving to them and started waving back. Perhaps I could save this anecdote up for later. Meanwhile, I need a punchy opening and some quirky characters.

While the fiction writer must recognise the importance of Chekhovian realism, he must also be aware that nobody wants to read about someone whose actions are predictable. A successful character in fiction requires an element of contradiction. Oxymoronic inconsistencies are necessary to create unforgettable characters, the honest thief, the philanthropic murderer, the frightened hero. When drawing a character in a short story it is vital to establish their complexity. You must do so quickly. What better way to hint at latent duality than in the initial description?

Names are often a good starting point. A well-chosen name can go a long way to suggesting the type of person, the type of story or even the content of the story itself. Dickens understood the importance of names. Think Ebeneezer Scrooge, Wackford Squeers, Harold Skinpole. As does Martin Amis. Think Clint Smoker, Spunk Davis, Lionel Asbo. I have a long list of names lined up for possible characters. Chadwick Dial, Guy Bloke, Lars Wimoweh ………

The old man with the big green beard walking down Station Road has potential. Most men around his age in these parts do not have big green beards. I’ll pencil him in as Tom Esso. Tom Esso will have an unusual background. A circus performer, maybe, or wayward scientist or necromancer. Perhaps he had an illustrious career as a Naval spy in war-torn Asia before double-crossing the wrong people. Perhaps he lives in a yurt or is Lord Lucan. But this is to jump ahead. He could be any of these. There is no point in getting into plot detail yet but I will keep Tom Esso in mind.

While Jodie is doing the rounds of the shops with her sister, I find myself chatting to the man pushing the yellow cart along the sands. He is collecting debris that he finds on the beach. Amongst the assorted food wrappers, he has miscellaneous discarded plastic, several umbrellas, a raincoat, a dead seabird and a Nike trainer in his cart. He says he goes back and forth along the three mile stretch twice a day. I tell him I’m Philip C. Dark, the writer. He says he has not heard of me. I tell him not to worry, not many people have.

I’m looking for some inspiration for a story,’ I say. ‘I bet you meet some odd characters around here.’

I certainly do,’ he says. ‘There’s a fellow who comes down early in the morning in Naval uniform to practice his martial arts. First time I saw him waving his sword about, I was a little worried. But, he’s OK. Is that the sort of thing you are looking for?’

Uhu,’ I say, making a mental note.

And there’s the old lady with the leopard print coat who comes down, to feed the dolphins,’ he says. ‘Except that there aren’t any dolphins. She has bats in the belfry but I think she’s safe.’

Uhu.’

Oh, and there’s a couple of weird musicians, buskers I suppose you’d call them. They come down on a Sunday afternoon. The fellow plays the bagpipes and the woman plays the sitar.’

Bagpipes and sitar,’ I say. ‘That’s an odd combination.’

They have a raccoon, at least that’s what I think it is,’ he says. ‘It dances to the music.’

That sounds like a bit of a tourist attraction,’ I say. ‘I expect it draws the crowds.’

Local people seem to make an effort to stay away,’ he says ‘Round here, you see, folks mostly like sea shanties. Now, if they were to play some sea shanties, they’d be in business.’

Perhaps it’s hard to play sea shanties on bagpipes and sitar,’ I say, as I try to visualise the image of Rob Roy and Rani struggling to adapt their musical style to the work songs of merchant sailing vessels. Meanwhile, I am already writing the duo into my narrative.

Perhaps you could take a didgeridoo along,’ he says, with a straight face so I can’t tell whether he is joking or not. ‘I noticed they have a couple of nice didgeridoos for sale in the window of the charity shop up the road.’

The idea of the trio does add to the possibilities. I passed the British Heart Foundation shop on the way down and, although I can’t explain why I was tempted then to pop in and buy one of the didgeridoos.

Jodie and I will come down and have a listen to them tomorrow,’ I say. ‘We’ll bring the family.’

So, I have Tom Esso, Rob Roy and Rani in the bag. Between them they can add colour to the story but I am still looking a central plot to tack the pieces on to. I need an apocalyptic theme, an eerie backdrop, an unexplained emergency, the trademark elements of the Philip C. Dark brand. Where will I find the Hitchcockian McGuffin, the psychological uncertainty, the unexpected twist?

We have been to visit Jodie’s family in these parts many times now and the streets of the small seaside town are familiar. I make my way back to our cottage via British Heart Foundation taking a short cut off Nelson Street but unfortunately, they have sold both the didgeridoos.

A lady came in earlier and bought them both,’ the Saturday girl says. ‘She said they were for a present for her husband.’

Could it be Jodie, I wonder as I start to wander back to the cottage? Might I have mentioned the didgeridoos to her earlier?

As as I make my way along Victory Street towards Temeraire Terrace, everything that has over the years become so familiar begins to look different. There is little traffic on the roads and what cars there are all seem to be vintage models. Is there a classic car rally, perhaps? I haven’t seen one advertised. The health food shop has disappeared, along with the electrical store with the display of digital devices in the window. The cinema has changed its name and is now showing a Greta Garbo film. There are a number of horse drawn vehicles on the approach to the farriers. Farriers? There wasn’t a farriers here when I passed by earlier. And none of those game birds were hanging up outside Biggs Butchers.

When I arrive at the cottage, the door is open. Inside, John the Caretaker is fiddling with the controls on the cooker. He appears to be in a panic.

The timer is playing up big time,’ he says. ‘It seems to have gone back to 1935.’

Epilogue:

To paraphrase the principle of Chekhov’s Gun:

A writer should not introduce a dodgy cooker in the opening paragraphs of a story unless it is going to be used to to good effect in the story.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Time and Tide Wait for Norman

timeandtidewaitfornorman2019

Time and Tide Wait for Norman by Chris Green

Good Lord! There’s Liz Boa. I haven’t seen Liz since…… Well, since she left Grace and Favour, where we both worked. That must have been, what? Ten years ago? She went off to live in Ireland. Skibbereen, I believe. Strange choice, I thought but her partner was a psychologist. Or was it a ventriloquist? Anyway, something like that and he had a job over there. …… No. Wait. He was in shipping and it was a three-year contract in Cork. That was it. …….. There was always something simmering beneath the surface between Liz and I. Given different circumstances, who knows what might have happened? We came close on one or two occasions and even met up after work but we held back because we were both married.

What’s Liz doing here in Newton Abbot? She has looked after herself well. She doesn’t look a day older than when I last saw her. She still looks about thirty nine. She’s moving around the platform now. She hasn’t seen me waving. She doesn’t appear to be getting on this train. Should I get off and have a word with her? I could always catch the next train to Plymouth. There are plenty of them going that way and my appointment with the publisher isn’t until eleven thirty.

Before I have chance to act on my impulse, Liz boards the train that has just pulled in on the adjacent platform. She is heading north. I am still speculating what she might be doing in these parts when I hear a familiar voice beside me.

Hello Phil,’ the voice says.

It takes me a while to realise that the figure in the crimson Paul Smith suit is Andy Mann. In fact, in the end, he needs to prompt me. Andy and I used to play Sunday league football together many years ago. This, of course, was before I became lazy and my girth started to broaden. And, as you do, Andy and I lost touch. What is he doing here? When I moved down here to Devon, I hadn’t expected to see anyone from back home. After all, Scarborough is three hundred miles away. First Liz and now Andy. What are the odds?

Hi Andy,’ I manage to say finally as he sits himself down beside me. ‘I didn’t recognise you for a minute.’

I haven’t changed that much, have I, Phil?’ he laughs.

I don’t quite know how to respond to this. The thing is, that apart from the Paul Smith suit, Andy still looks the same as he did back then. Not a day older. Well, perhaps a day or two, but he certainly looks trim. He has obviously been eating his five a day and getting to the gym regularly. Ten a day, maybe along with a morning swim and an evening run. Or perhaps he has made a pact with the Devil.

No,’ I say. ‘You are looking well, Andy.’

Well, I do my best. None of us is getting any younger, Phil. Still working on that newspaper, are you?’

I have to think hard to bring to mind what he might be referring to. I conclude he must mean the Whitby Gazette. I was a sub-editor there for a short while. Now, that was a long time ago. Nineteen eighties, I’d say. Surely I’ve seen Andy more recently than this.

I’m a writer now,’ I say. ‘Short stories and novels. My pen name is Philip C. Dark. You may have come across something of mine. Time and Tide Wait for Norman, my last collection of short stories sold well. In fact, I’m just off to see my publisher now to discuss some amendments to my new novel, The Knee of the Idle.’

Hey! A novelist. That’s fantastic, Phil,’ Andy says. ‘I’m pleased for you. You’re not on holiday down here, then?’

No, Andy. Shelley and I moved down earlier this year,’ I say. ‘We live in Topsham. By the river.’

Good Lord! That’s just up the road from me. I’m in Exeter. We’ll have to meet up for a drink. I’ve just done some business in Newton Abbot and now I’m just off to Totnes to look at a car. A vintage Apparition. From a fellow from up north, as it happens. Brent Struggler.’

Brent Struggler! Do you know what? Brent Struggler was the name of the guy that I bought my Marauder from. Back in Scarborough. It must be the same guy. There can’t be two car salesmen with a name like Brent Struggler.’

I wasn’t aware of him until I moved down south. But I’m sure you are right. Brent is definitely from those parts. I’ve spoken to him a few times now. It’s a small world Phil, isn’t it?’

How long have you been living down here then, Andy?’

I came down about seven or eight years ago. I had a trial with Exeter City.’

Seven or eight years ago?’

About that, yes. It was just coming up to the General Election. 2010, it would have been.’

I start to do the maths. Andy Mann would have been forty something at the time of the trial. I realise Exeter City are in one of the lower leagues and not able to recruit young talent so easily, but still ……

Perhaps Andy has sold his soul to the Devil after all. I feel suddenly strange being in his company. I avoid his question about whether he is a character in any of my books. I imagine he is joking, but with a writer, the familiar does have a habit of slipping into the narrative now and then. I continue to make superficial conversation with Andy about the issues of the day while I try in vain to come up with a plausible explanation for the apparent slippages in reality. I can’t concentrate on anything he is saying. Words bounce around in my head and rogue thoughts float in and out. I feel light-headed. As we pull into Totnes station, I feel pleased that he is getting off the train. I offer him one of my business cards. With an old friend, it seems like the polite thing to do. He takes it, shakes me firmly by the hand and tells me he will call me. He will take me for a night out, he says, in Exeter.

……………………………………………………

I think the train may have come off the track once or twice between Totnes and Plymouth or taken an unscheduled detour because when I arrive, it is half-past three in the afternoon. Perhaps I fell asleep and have been going backwards and forwards on the same train for several hours. Time is all over the place and no-one at the station seems to be able to explain what might have happened. They just look at me as if I am mad. My brain is certainly doing somersaults, my clothes are a mess and I seem to have lost my phone. I’m not sure what to do but I don’t want to get back on a train so I start walking into the city looking for a place to have a snack and a cup of tea.

I went to Rex Cardiff’s funeral, so I know that he is dead. I listened while his close friends delivered heartfelt eulogies. I watched the pallbearers lower the wooden box into the ground. So, what is he doing here at Costa Coffee in Plymouth? Living and breathing. And by the looks of it enjoying a double espresso. I do a double take but there’s no mistaking Rex. He has looked exactly the same since the first time I met him. He has the same 1970s haircut, the same round glasses and the same brown leather bush hat. Those are probably the same pair of shiny looking skin-tight jeans from back then too. And, of course, he has the ubiquitous Sainsburys carrier bags, three of them inside one another apparently, to carry around his hip flask, his paperback books, his soldering irons and his Tom Waits album. It is Rex Cardiff’s voice, though, as he holds forth about the history of the Isle of Wight Festival, that really gives the game away. That strident articulation of flowery language that he is using to familiarise the unsuspecting stranger in Costa with one of his favourite topics. His BBC voice has the faintest trace of Scouse vowels to dampen it, the legacy of his three years at Liverpool University reading Oceanography, he once explained. Rex was the inspiration for Reuben, a character in my short story, Wolf in Cheap Clothing. I can see the stranger is feigning interest in Rex’s monologue but at the same time seems anxious to get away. I want to get away too.

Seeing Liz Boa and Andy Mann, unexpectedly, out of context and untainted by the passing of time was, to say the least, unnerving. Seeing Rex, long since dead and buried, is in all its implications, terrifying. As my teacup crashes to the floor, I am conscious that my body is making involuntary movements. People are staring at me. How can they know what is wrong? How can they know that the man with the loud voice three tables down is supposed to be dead? His voice is echoing around the walls. The room is spinning. The floor is where the ceiling should be. I feel I am going to pass out.

I find myself on a bench on Plymouth Hoe near the imposing statue of Sir Francis Drake, looking out onto the Sound. How long have I been here, staring into the beyond, I wonder? The water in the historic bay, silver against the stacked cumulostratus, seems still as if there is no tide in these parts. The ship on the horizon, moving slowly from side to side, is little more than a dab of battleship grey. There is barely a sound, save for the blackbird’s song from a nearby tree. This situation should be calming but I can’t shake off the feeling that something is very wrong. How can I dismiss the unlikely series of events leading up to this? Is there a common thread that links the sightings of Liz, Andy and Rex? And where does Brent Struggler fit in?

You only have yourself to blame for your …….. fragile state of mind,’ says a tall man, who appears out of nowhere. ‘What goes around, comes around.’

I don’t recognise him. Yet, at the same time, something about him is disturbingly familiar. He wears a scuzzy seersucker suit several sizes too small. He has an unsightly scar leading up to his forehead. He walks with a limp and wears an eye-patch over his left eye. Where, I wonder, can I possibly know this reprobate from?

You don’t appear to know who I am, do you, Phil?’ he says. ‘But, you should. Oh yes! You definitely should. You should know me very well.’

I have the feeling that I ought to recognise you,’ I say. ‘But, I can’t for the life of me work out where from.’

You should know me like a father knows a son,’ he continues. ‘I’m practically family. After all, Philip, I am your brainchild.’

N n n norman,’ I stammer. ‘You’re Norman? From my story, Time and Tide Wait for Norman?’

Bravo, Philip! You’ve got it at last. Norman Norman. Your very own creation. I’m like flesh and blood and that should have counted for something. But, look how you treated me. Take a good look at me, will you? You made me half-blind. You gave me a limp. You made me wear these ill-fitting clothes. You gave me these hideous features. All in the interest of a story. Not only that but your title, the one that you thought was so clever, was misleading. Time and tide didn’t wait for me, did they, Philip? You subjected me to humiliation after humiliation. You were merciless. Wouldn’t you agree that it is payback time?’

I am scared. What’s written on the page should stay on the page and not leap into the everyday. I look anxiously around me, wondering what is going to happen next. It is then that I spot the brightly coloured Wessex Theatre Company van.

It takes me a few more moments to register that this is the direction that Norman came from. Didn’t I also see the same van earlier on my way to Costa Coffee? And somewhere else too? Might it have been Newton Abbot? Suddenly, everything seems to fall into place. I only wish I had realised at the time that Liz, Andy and Rex were actors too. Surely, I should have picked up on the niggling little things about them that did not add up. The whole business appears to have all been an elaborate set-up. I think I know who is behind it. If you are ever invited to be the guest reviewer of the literary pages of the Wessex Courier, be careful what you say about other writers’ works. Some, it seems, will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

 

Rainy Day Women

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Rainy Day Women by Chris Green

How many roads must a man walk down, wonders Dylan Song? He feels he has been trudging around the streets of Dalmouth for ages, yet he still can’t find the café where he is due to meet Frankie Lee. He seems to be going round in circles and getting nowhere. Perhaps he should not have left the car in the car park, then he would have been able to drive around slowly, keeping an eye out for the place. There seem to be a few streets without double yellow lines and at this time of year, plenty of spaces, so he could have easily nipped in once he had found the place. Or better still, he should have bought a map. To add to this, there is next to no wi-fi coverage here in Dalmouth. Why does he always imagine that things will be simple when they never turn out to be? Due to the nature of his quest, he could not use his phone to call anyone even if he were able to get a signal because of the security implications. Who is the Frankie Lee he has to meet, he wonders and why on earth are they meeting in the small coastal town of Dalmouth anyway? For that matter, who are the people he is working for? So many questions.

The early morning February drizzle has now turned to rain. At least Dylan Song had the foresight to wear his Drizabone overcoat. This will protect him against hard rain, torrential rain even. But, he can’t keep walking around hoping for the best. Maybe he took the name of the road down wrong or something. The thin man with the pill box hat selling newspapers outside the Tesco Metro looks as if he might be familiar with the area.

‘Do you know where Grand Street is,’ he asks?

‘Sorry, guv. Not heard of it,’ says the thin man. ‘Where is it you are looking for?’

‘The Bean Me Up Café,’ Dylan says.

‘No. That’s a new one on me,’ says the thin man. ‘You sure you got the right name?’

Dylan shows him the piece of paper that it is written on, along with the name of the street.

‘Don’t know it, I’m afraid, guv, but if you want a good cup of tea you could try the Silver Saxophone Café on Fourth Street.’

Surely there is not a café called the Silver Saxophone, he thinks. Does he mean the Silver Kettle, perhaps? Anyway, he doesn’t want a cup of tea. He wants information from someone called Frankie Lee.

He asks two rain-drenched women waiting in the queue for the Number 2 bus and the man in the trench coat selling The Big Issue outside of Peacocks but none of them have heard of Grand Street or the Bean Me Up Café. Dylan thinks it would be a good idea to try the library. He can log on to a computer there to find what he is looking for. But, he finds that since the cuts, Dalmouth Public Library is only open on Tuesday morning and Friday afternoon, and it is Thursday. A pretty poor service, he thinks, for a town of 12,000 people. It suddenly occurs to him that he may have even got the name of the town wrong. This might explain why he cannot find The Bean Me Up Café. As he recalls, he did take down the details in a hurry. It would be an easy mistake to make. There are several rivers coming down from the moors, each meeting the sea at a town ending in mouth. Might it be Drainmouth he is looking for? On the Drain estuary, Drainmouth is just fifteen miles along the coast, just past the historic village of Touchwood.

Apart from being a favourite place for invasions in years gone by, Drainmouth is mainly famous for its annual Jazz Festival which takes place each February. Out of character perhaps for the otherwise sleepy town, the festival attracts some of the bigger names in international jazz. As Dylan drives along the coastal road he sees advertising for the festival everywhere, banners, posters and roadsigns. The local radio station is broadcasting live from the event. Today is the first day. The headliner is Belgian saxophonist, Toussaint Thibault and at the weekend, The Milton Chance Quintet are playing.

His worry now is that when he finds Bean Me Up, he is going to have missed the rendezvous. He was supposed to be meeting Frankie Lee at 11 and the midday news is now coming on the radio. As he drives across the road-bridge over the estuary into Drainmouth, his phone springs into life. This is the first time he has had a signal today. The area has the worst coverage in the whole country, the chatty traffic control officer told him when he picked up his car. One after another, a dozen or so messages ping. He decides these can wait. He is still looking out for Grand Street, when a call comes in. It is not a number from his phone contacts but he takes the call.

‘Jones here,’ says the voice. He cannot recall having heard Mr Jones’ voice before, yet somehow it is familiar. It sounds muted, as if it is coming from far away. But at the same time, it seems very close. ‘I’ve just had Lee on the phone. I’ll overlook the breach in security for now but where in God’s name were you?’

‘Mix up with the towns,’ says Dylan Song. ‘I am in Drainmouth now, on my way to the café.’

‘Well, Song! Let’s get down to it then. Time is of the essence. We know that there is a jazz festival taking place in Drainmouth but some other very strange things are also going on. Your mission is to find out what these are, how they might be connected and who or what is behind them. Lee has the details. She will assist in anyway she can.’

She? Did Mr Jones say, she? He had assumed that Frankie Lee was a man.

‘You’ve got that, then,’ says Mr Jones. ‘You’re on to it.’

‘Yes, I think so. Something is happening and you don’t know what it is,’ says Dylan Song. ‘Do you, Mr Jones?’

‘Exactly!’ says Mr Jones. ‘Now I’ve told Lee she has to wait at The Bean Me Up Café until you get there, so get your arse down there PDQ. And no more slip-ups.’

He parks the car and takes a look at the street plan in the car park. Grand Street is close by and fortunately, the rain has stopped. Although it is still early in the day, there is a bustle about the place as animated groups of colourfully dressed people file through Drainmouth’s higgledy-piggledy streets.

Dylan Song finds Frankie Lee at a table outside the Bean Me Up Café. Her table is under a striped awning and sheltered from the rain. She is drinking a posh coffee, a doppio ristretto or something. Although they have not met, he realises who Frankie is straight away. He was told to look out for a blonde and this woman is blonde but she also has that mystifying blend of charisma and aloofness that you find sometimes with people working in covert operations, that unexplainable curiosity and otherness that makes for a successful psi investigator. In a word, she seems like someone who can find things out. Dylan Song orders a banana pancake, sits himself down and introduces himself.

‘So, what’s it all about,’ he says?

‘You are familiar with jazz and its characteristics, I take it,’ Frankie Lee says.

‘I have a few Bill Evans CDs,’ he says. ‘And the odd tune by Miles Davis, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert.’

‘Jazz is, of course, a broad church but basically, it uses syncopation,’ Frankie continues. ‘Rhythmic stresses are placed in the music where they wouldn’t normally occur. Improvisation and deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre make the music unpredictable. Jerky and smooth at the same time if you like. This is kind of hard to get your head around but it looks as if jazz might be spilling over into real life here in Drainmouth.’

‘I couldn’t help but notice a little merriment and frolicking on the streets,’ Dylan says. Look at those guys over there. They are really going for it.’

‘That’s not quite what I mean,’ Frankie says.’According to the regulars at The Jack of Hearts, the tide didn’t come in at all last night.’

‘But it is a pub,’ Dylan says. ‘They probably had a lock-in to sing sea shanties or whatever it is they do round here and had one or two too many.’

‘That’s as maybe,’ Frankie says. ‘But the landlord tells me the tide is coming in like a freight train this morning.’

‘He’s probably mad as a hatter.’

‘Maybe. But, there are other odd things going on. You may not have noticed it yet but all the clocks in the town have stopped. Now, this in itself might have a simple explanation if they hadn’t all stopped at different times. Take a look at your wristwatch.’

‘It has stopped. Five to twelve. That’s about the time I arrived here.’

‘Mine says 11:11.’

‘And look! The one in the café says 3 o’clock.’

’12:35 on that one. That’s about right, isn’t it?”

‘How long do you think we have?’

‘I don’t know. The traders at the market say it has been raining ……… time. Minutes and seconds falling from the skies, they are saying. Something is definitely wrong here.’

‘It is an odd place, isn’t it?’ says Dylan. ‘There are one or two mysteries for us to solve.’

‘But connected, wouldn’t you say?’

The barista brings Dylan Song’s banana pancake over. A familiar tune is playing inside the Bean Me Up Café. In a strange time signature. Dylan Song racks his brain but he can’t make out what it is and he feels it would be helpful to know.

‘You’d better be quick with that pancake,’ Frankie Lee says. ‘It’s time to go.’

As they leave to make their way through the town, they are sucked up into the carnival atmosphere. Jazz is playing everywhere. Dylan is overwhelmed by the confusion of tunes on offer. It is hard to separate one from another. He can even hear a Salvation Army band playing a Dixie tune. That’s the band, he thinks. Trombone, tuba, piano, bass, percussion. That’s the one.

‘Time’s up, Mr Jones,’ says a familiar voice. ‘Please, can you answer the question.’

The answer comes to him. ‘Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35,’ he says. ‘The track on the album, Blonde on Blonde where Dylan uses a Salvation Army-style brass band is Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 35.’

‘Correct, Mr Jones,’ says the smiling host. ‘Congratulations! You have got all the questions right on your specialist subject, The Songs of Bob Dylan. You have won the South West Quizzer of the Year 2017.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 4

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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

The Way We Were

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The Way We Were by Chris Green

It was Monday morning and I was not particularly pressed for time. I was off work as a result of an old Pilates injury flaring up. I had been told to rest. I was sorting out some matters that in my busy schedule at the kite repair workshop I never got the chance to attend to. I had updated all of the firewalls, spyware programs and virus checkers on the computer, cleaned the hard drive, and found five friends on Facebook. I had arranged for a tree surgeon to come and take a few feet off the weeping willow in the back garden, contacted the council about the broken streetlights, booked the car in for its MOT, and cleared the mouldy vegetables from the back of the carousel. Although my partner, Danuta, was on the face of it very thorough in cleaning the house, the kitchen cupboard seemed to be one area that escaped her attention.

I spent the rest of the morning watching a welcome repeat of The History of the Harmonica on one of the new Freeview Channels, and over a light lunch, a special report on the prisoners’ strike. This was now into its fifth day with no signs of the prisoners’ demands for an extra £5 per week and a shorter working week being met. ‘The cost of drugs has gone up loads,’ one prisoner who was interviewed had said as justification for their action. ‘Why don’t we just beat the bleep bleep out of them?’ a warden had said not realising that he was on camera. In summing up the presenter, Giles Trevithick took the view of Foucault that perhaps prison was part of a larger carceral system that could not fail to produce offenders, and did nothing to offer a place in society for them if they reformed. It was surprising only that standoffs such as the current one did not occur more frequently.

I had just switched over to the Fishing Channel to watch the semi-finals of the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championships when there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anyone so, at first, I let it go, but Alan, our Giant Schnauzer, started barking feverishly, so I got up to answer it. Perhaps it was Danuta, home early from her part-time job at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre, I thought, but then, she would have a key. Unless she had forgotten it. She had been in a bit of a fluster this morning after Alan had vacated on the hall carpet. ‘You should take him for more walks,’ she had shouted up the stairs. I reminded her that I had been told to take it easy; Dr Shipman had been quite specific on this point.

I found the key and opened it. Standing at the door was Eddie. To say I was shocked would not be an adequate appraisal of the situation. I hadn’t seen Eddie since I was twelve years old. Not since the incident with the cat…… I did a quick calculation. This would have been 1966. The thing was the Eddie that stood across the threshold with a football under his arm still seemed to be twelve years old. He even wore the same red Manchester United football shirt that I remembered with long sleeves and the number 11 on the back and the same green and white Gola Harrier trainers that he had been so proud of back then. He hadn’t changed a bit. He still had the same lank ginger hair and freckles. And the small mark over his left eyebrow where Nick had punched him outside our house and the blood had run down his face. Dad had had to take him to hospital to have four stitches. This definitely seemed to be the very same Eddie. The same gap between his front teeth which seemed too large for his mouth and made him look a little goofy.

Hi,’ he said in a blasé fashion as if he had seen me yesterday. There was no hint of surprise or curiosity on his face. He did not seem to notice that I had changed. That I was over forty years older, with a fuller figure, less hair, and some unsightly facial scars.

Wanna come down the rec,’ he asked.

Eddie had always been the one to organise the kick-arounds. He was the one who owned the football. If his team was losing or if he was having a bad game, he would just say ‘it’s my ball’ and head off home with it, leaving me and Mart and Malc and whoever else was playing stranded. Before that, he had been the one who had the Scalextric or the train set. He was the one whose house we would be able to go round to. He was an only child so his parents had a tendency to spoil him. He was always the first one to have the new trainers or the new football shirt or the new Kinks LP.

Eddie was bouncing the ball now with some vigour, clearly waiting for a reply. I thought perhaps that going to the rec was a little impractical as the rec he was referring to was three hundred miles away. And of course, there was my Pilates injury to consider. I asked him to come on in for a minute, hoping that the improbable situation would somehow resolve itself.

He came in and made his way through to the kitchen. I offered him a glass of Tizer. He remarked on the groovy new bottle. This was the first sign that he might be noticing a time warp.

The phone rang. I let it ring a while thinking perhaps it would make Eddie feel that he was being ignored if I took the call. The phone kept on ringing and Alan started barking at it, so I went into the front room and answered it. It was Danuta to tell me that she would be working late. Magda and Kinga had not turned up for work and things were pretty manic at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre. Fridge magnets had apparently featured on a lifestyle programme on Sky and there was a bit of a run on them. She had to go, she said, as there was a queue of people at the desk wondering what would be the best thing to put on their Smeg. I did not get the chance to tell her about our visitor. I wondered momentarily whether Danuta might be having an affair. This was the third time this month that there had been a television-led demand for fridge magnet advice. I dismissed the thought. If she were playing away there would be other signs, like lingerie catalogues coming through the mail, or new bottles of perfume appearing with inappropriate names like Bitch or Hussy. I made a mental note to phone the centre later to see who answered. Meanwhile, I had to get back to Eddie.

On returning to the kitchen there was no sign of Eddie, just an empty glass on the work surface by the fridge. I quickly scurried around the house, then the garden, but there was absolutely no trace of him. He had vanished.

I did not think I would be able to concentrate on the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championship, so I decided to pop to the supermarket to buy some garbanzo beans and some taboule. I had also noticed when I was cleaning out the carousel that we were getting a little low on guacamole and cactus leaf strips. Although Waitrose was not far, I decided to drive. I had recently, against all advice, bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Honest John website had likened it to ‘a Ford Prefect on steroids’, and this was one of the better reviews. Now, even the novelty of its retro styling had worn off, which is why I had got it so cheap. It seemed to get from A to B though, albeit with alarming under-steer on corners.

I had not seen Ros since the spring of 1974 when we had had a brief fling. So imagine my surprise when there she was at the delicatessen counter. With her shoulder length reddish blond hair and flirtatious smile, she was unmistakeable. She was exactly as I remembered her. She had not changed one bit. Her eyes still sparkled the way that they had and she still wore the same pale blue eye shadow and a light coat of black mascara around them. Everything about her seemed suddenly familiar. She even had on the same cheesecloth top that I had bought her from Jean Machine and a pair of flared FU’s jeans with a wide Biba belt. I remembered our first date. We had gone to see The Way We Were, and half way through I had said, ‘this film is rubbish, let’s go back to my place’ and to my surprise, she had agreed.

Back then she was studying to be a chef and around May time, she had found herself with a heavy schedule of exams. With Ros busy revising, I had time on my hands and one night went to the Uzi Bar and come home somewhat worse for wear with a barmaid called Lola. Ros found out that I had slept with Lola when she came round next day and found a bracelet in my bed. I had not heard from her again.

However despite the intervening years, she now appeared to instantly recognise me. And despite my erstwhile infidelity, she greeted me with a big hug and seemed keen to ‘catch up’. Still in a state of disbelief, I struggled hard to find the right words to say, in fact, any words at all. When finally I managed to ask her what she was doing now, she said she was studying to be a chef and had a heavy schedule of exams.

I don’t know if Ros became distracted by the range of Scandinavian furniture and modern art prints in the store or if she was just spirited away, but during the time the delicatessen assistant was weighing out my pitted green olives and taramasalata, she disappeared. I searched the store high and low and even got the shift supervisor to ask for her on the tannoy, but there was no sign.

As I drove away from the store my head was in turmoil. I ran through a red light by Marcello’s All Day Breakfasts, narrowly missing a Murco tanker, and almost mowed down an old lady and her Jack Russell on the zebra-crossing by the Fat Elvis Burger restaurant.

I had read enough of the self-help books that Danuta brought home from the community library to know that I had to pull myself together and get a grip. Perhaps Louise L. Hay or James Redfield had not expressed it exactly in these terms but this seemed to be the general gist of their message. I put my Brian Eno CD on to relax me and tried breathing deeply as I had learned in Yoga. I pulled in by the stretch of water by the leisure centre and sat there for a few minutes, listening to the calming cries of the coots and the moorhens. I closed my eyes and tried to gather my thoughts. I told myself that whatever was happening I was not in a life-threatening situation. Everything could be resolved in fifty-five minutes. This according to someone, whose name escaped me, was the amount of time it should take to adjust to a new situation over which you had no control.

I stretched my legs with a gentle stroll around the park, gradually gaining my self-control. A few joggers were out taking their early evening exercise and one or two people were out walking their dogs. When I noticed that the black collie-retriever bounding towards me looked a lot like Barry, my first thought was that I must have been daydreaming. A lot of dogs look alike. I made a quick calculation. Barry would be about 35. He would surely have died years ago. The dog barked excitedly as he approached. He nuzzled against my leg and then stood on his hind legs with his front paws against my chest, licking my upper arm affectionately. I quickly identified the heavily chewed black leather collar and the gouge on his neck where the fur was missing, the result of Barry’s tussle with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the car park at The Gordon Bennett. In the next instant, we heard a loud whistle and Barry went bounding back across the park. I called out to the disappearing figure of Janice in the distance. Janice seemed not to hear. I called again. She did not look around. She was perhaps a hundred yards away but I felt sure it was her, even though she had to the best of my information moved to France shortly after we’d split up in 1983. The tie-dyed green denim jacket and the hennaed hair gave it away. This was how Janice would have looked in around 1983. She had a Walkman on. Probably, although I could not be sure, the one that she used to listen to her Joni Mitchell cassettes on. I stumbled on a patch of rough ground, and before I knew it, she and Barry were getting into the blue Chevette estate that we had bought together at the car auction. I remembered us bidding nervously. Neither of us knew much about cars. We had bought it for £550. I hadn’t seen a Chevette in years; they were not renowned for their durability. This one though seemed to be running well. It moved away with a healthy purr. I looked back. My car was parked too far away to think about driving after her.

The irregularities of spacetime were disturbing. Supernatural forces should remain in the realm of the imaginary. But this temporal upheaval was seemingly real. It was happening, now, and to me. I was scared. I felt like vomiting, my hands were shaking, and I was sweating like a Brazilian on the Victoria Line. Had I unwittingly uncovered a portal for parallel worlds, been sucked into the hypothetical wormhole? I had read about such things in Asimov and J. G. Ballard short stories and, but not given them much credence. It took a good deal of Pranayama breathing and another fifty five minutes of consolidation before I could get up from where I was now crouching. People were coming up to me and asking me if I was all right. A gnarled old crone with a bichon frise attempted to call an ambulance, a scarecrow with a limp offered me a pull on his hip flask, and a rangy Goth with a hair lip tried to sell me some ketamin.

No amount of deep breathing, philosophical principles or stress management techniques could have prepared me for my next encounter, however. Returning to the Chrysler and noticing that the fuel gauge was low, I stopped at the BP filling station to fill up. There, at the adjacent pump, someone was putting fuel into a black Fiat Uno. I recognised the registration plate instantly. It was the Fiat I had owned in 1997. It took a split-second, while I did a double take, before I recognised that the figure in the brightly coloured paisley shirt and combat fatigues bore an uncanny resemblance to me, as I would have looked around fifteen years ago. A lot slimmer and with considerably more hair. This was genuinely scary. I felt a chill run the length of my spine. This was not like looking at old photos of oneself or a video; this was watching a real living, breathing human being in real time. Wasn’t it? Reality was a fragile concept it seemed. Albert Einstein had called reality, ‘an illusion but a very persistent one’. But even this statement suggested there was room around the edges of reality for leakage. Facing myself over a few feet of garage forecourt defied any rational explanation. I was frozen to the spot; I couldn’t move.

I watched as my doppelganger slowly fed the fuel into the tank. I studied his mannerisms and his gestures in slow motion and one by one acknowledged them as my own. I recognised the flick of the neck, the squint against the light showing the lines etched on the forehead, the nervous shifting of weight from one foot to the other as he stood. I remembered buying those cream Converse Allstars cut-offs from a car boot. My heart raced and I felt a tightness in my chest. No doubt about it; the individual I was looking at was me. Amidst the inner turmoil, rational questions like ‘why hadn’t my 1997 personification noticed that the petrol was a little pricey?’ or ‘did the Fiat run on unleaded?’ tried to find a place in my consciousness. These were powerfully swept away by wave upon wave of blind panic as I sensed my whole life might be collapsing into a single moment.

He replaced the nozzle in the pump, and as he did he appeared to look right at me, or right through me. I couldn’t decide which. Could it have been that he did not recognise me? Or to look at it another way, should that be I did not recognise me – now that I was older. No one really knew exactly what form their ageing would take. It was not something you would give a lot of thought to. But of course, Eddie had recognised me, and Ros had recognised me,despite my having changed significantly. And my smell must have been the same to Barry, although this was conclusive. Barry had always been quite a friendly dog.

My other swivelled round. I thought he was about to come over. What would he do? Introduce himself? What would I do? I felt my legs buckle. This was not like one of those dreams where you dream about a past episode and the texture of the scenario as it unfolds is surreal. This was in clear focus in the here and now. I was watching me in an everyday situation in broad daylight. He did not come over. He seemed to hesitate in mid stride and turned to walk in the opposite direction towards the BP shop.

I was not very good on dates but I determined that in 1997 I would have still been with Mizuki. We were very happy back then in our second-floor apartment overlooking the park. At weekends, we would take the children to the pool or go walking in the woods. I remembered Mizuki and I went to see As Good As It Gets at the Empire and realising how happy we were. Our contentment was of course not to last. I had been to see Mizuki’s cherry tree in the park recently. Someone had tied a ribbon around it with a bow. It had made me feel neglectful of her memory. I had lost touch with Sakura and Reiko a long time ago. They would have left school by now. At least, none of them were in the Uno parked at the neighbouring pump; their presence would have cranked my present nightmare up another notch.

My other emerged from the shop with an evening newspaper. I read the headline. It was about Diana’s death. Something about a mystery white car in the Alma Tunnel. As he passed he seemed to look directly at me, or through me again. He could not have been more than twenty feet away. He got into the car. As he wound down his window I detected a hint of recognition….. I didn’t detect a hint of recognition….. I wasn’t sure. My mouth opened to call out to him but no words came. He drove off. The exhaust from the Fiat was still blowing, just as I remembered it. I put the pump back without having put any fuel in the car and set out to follow him.

He turned left down Hegel Avenue. I used to live on the Philosophers’ estate. I had lived there for over fifteen years, and it occurred to me that wherever we were headed was a run that I probably had made many times. I thought back to the types of journey I would have made in the Fiat in 1997. Mostly on account of the Fiat’s unreliability these would have been short journeys. To and from work. To the shops at Kirkegaard Court. Where would I have been likely to have been going at six thirty in the evening? It must have been after I had been made redundant from Gadgets and Gizmos. I usually didn’t finish there till late. Perhaps I was going to visit Mick or Charlie. They both lived in the Schopenhauer Court flats. I might have been going to pick Mizuki up from the Sushi restaurant where she worked. I tried to recall if she had her own car back then. Memories of her came flooding back once again. We passed the Occam’s Razor pub where we used to sit out on summer evenings for a couple of halves of Old Poets.

The exhaust of the Fiat in front of me was now belching out black smoke. We seemed to be heading back on ourselves as we forked right into Rousseau Gardens. A Brimful of Asha (On the 45) read a poster outside The Codfather takeaway. This surely was an old poster. Shouldn’t they have taken it down? We passed the Mahatma Gandhi Primary School where Sakura and Reiko used to go, and then right at the Karl Marx roundabout. It began to dawn on me where we were headed. Usually I would have turned left at the Karl Marx roundabout, taking me home along Darwin Road. Turning right meant we were ………..

I woke up in the Lewis Carroll Memorial Hospital. I had sustained multiple head injuries in the accident. I could not remember very much about the actual collision, but after a few sessions with Dr. Trinidad, I recalled a little about the events leading up to it. An overweight elderly man driving an ugly black Chrysler had been tailgating me. It was a model I had not seen before. It was shaped like a hearse and its registration plate was in an unusual format.

I had first noticed this sinister character with his receding hairline and unsightly facial scars at the BP filling station. My attention was drawn to him because he was behaving very strangely. He stood there at the pump pointing the fuel hose into the air. He stared at me the whole time I was filling up. For a second, I thought he seemed familiar but I could not place where I might have seen him. The more I contemplated this, the more I imagined I had been mistaken. I put my imagined recognition down to the intensity of his gaze.

When I pulled off he got into his car, without putting in any fuel in, and started following me. He kept his distance at first. I took a right at the Karl Marx roundabout into Nietzsche Avenue and ducked into Spinoza Crescent to make certain that he was really tailing me. He was closer now. I slowed down to give him the chance to overtake but he stayed behind. I sped up trying to lose him, but the Fiat was not very fast. The last thing I remember I was driving down Descartes Drive. He was right behind me, driving like a madman.

… heading for Descartes Drive, where years ago I had been rammed by an old maniac in a forties style gangster getaway car. About fifteen years ago. I had been trapped in my …. Fiat Uno.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Love Letters

loveletters

Love Letters by Chris Green

Living on what estate agents term a centrally located estate, I get dozens of flyers pushed through my door. As I have no interest in moving house, have all the double-glazing and kitchen fittings the house requires, and I do not eat pizza these are swiftly dispatched to the recycling bin. I already have an extension to the back of the house, have taken up competitive insurance quotes, and I always use the same supermarket. My bin fills up quickly.

I came home from the studio one Wednesday and, lying on my carpet along with a timeshare in Albania promotion and a catalogue for the Big Red DIY Superstore, a flyer caught my eye. It commanded attention by its very difference. It seemed to be written in a foreign language. Or no language at all. There were too many vowels, or not enough vowels, and a number of unfamiliar characters. There were no pictures of pizzas or photos of fitted kitchens. There were no pictures at all, and no logos. just large blocks of unintelligible 24 point and 12 point text in a sans serif font that I did not recognise, on a single A5 sheet of plain yellow 120 gsm glossy paper. There was not even a phone number or a web address.

A few years ago I lived in Spain for a while, so the idea of seeing flyers in a foreign language was not in itself alien to me. In Spain you get flyers thrust into your hand all day long. And when you go away for a few days you can hardly open the door when you get back for the accumulation of advertising material. But this one was certainly not in Spanish, or even Swedish or Dutch. It was something much stranger. Try this for example: Xayyqxqqy Uogfaaq itpaaxq. A little hard to pronounce, isn’t it? Or what about yyq 67″67″67″Uq?

My eldest daughter has a degree in modern languages. She is fluent in eight languages including Swedish, Russian and Arabic. She works as a linguist at the secret government base and she lives with her partner nearby. As I had arranged to visit her that evening I took the flyer along to show her. She could not identify the language, adding weight to my suspicions that it might not be a language at all. ‘There’s no real pattern to it,’ she said, ‘and there are less than a dozen graphemes.’ ‘Letters of the alphabet,’ she added seeing that I looked puzzled.

I decided to try to forget the matter, putting it down to a careless typist or a schizophrenic copywriter. In the big scheme of things, surely this was minor. It was not as if it was a death threat. In passing, I did however mention it to a couple of the neighbours in a low-key kind of way. It turned out that while they shared my sentiments about the amount of unsolicited mail on the estate, they had not received similar flyers.

‘I expect it’s because you had a LibDem sticker in your window at the local elections,’ said Mr Dickens. He was joking, I think.

‘Something to do with asylum seekers, I expect,’ said Mrs Trollope.

Perhaps then it was just someone having a lark at my expense.

The following Sunday I was driving along the dual carriageway, past the building site for the new casino, when I saw the billboard. Large blocks of unintelligible text on a plain yellow background. Xayyqx qqy Uofiaaq itpaaxq yyqefefeyuq. No pictures to give any idea what it might be advertising. I almost crashed the car into a grey four by four that had stopped, suddenly I felt, at the new traffic lights. I gave the matter some thought as I drove in to town. Maybe it was a clever promotional campaign and all would become clear as the weeks went by. These campaigns start off by introducing a new concept, or a forthcoming film or TV show, or even a new TV channel, with a cryptic advert to grab your interest and gradually reveal what is being promoted and then build up the volume of advertising to saturation level. But, unlike the flyer, the billboard was there for everyone to see.

This should have made it seem less sinister. For some reason it didn’t. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a phonecall in a foreign language, but it is a very strange experience if you do not know the language. Even so, you will have heard it spoken at some juncture, maybe on the TV news or somewhere, and can recognise that it is a language. Well, apart from Welsh maybe. This particular phonecall, the Wednesday after the flyer had arrived, sounded as if the caller was speaking in tongues. His intonation would have made even guttural Arabic seem lyrical.

‘Xayyqx qqyl/Iofiaaq Xpaaxq yyq@’@T6faq,’ or something like it, spat the voice.

It was difficult to speculate as to what he was saying. The pitch of his voice fluctuated between a deep baritone and falsetto. He seemed quite worked up about something. I waited for a suitable gap in the diatribe and explained in English that I did not understand.

‘Xayyqx qqyl/Iofiaaq Xpaaxq yyq@’@T6faq,’ he repeated, with more emphasis.

I put the phone down. I dialled 1471, but predictably the caller had not left his number.

I have The Independent delivered every morning. Recently I had opted for the tabloid version as I found I could read it on the settee with my breakfast. Bronte Newsagents had in the past had recruitment problems, but the latest paper-boy (roller blades, red spiked hair, headphones, and attitude) usually managed to deliver the paper by 7.30. I was happy with the arrangement as it meant I would have a few minutes to peruse it before I set off for work. Imagine my shock, when on the Friday after the phonecall, I arrived back from walking the dog to find that the newspaper waiting for me was not only in the new format but entirely set out in the new language. There were no pictures, the newspaper comprised of headlines and columns set out in variations of the same few renegade characters.

I phoned the newsagents. Mrs Bronte answered the phone.

‘Hello’ I said. ‘Its Mr Kite from John Lennon Drive. Was there a problem with The Independent this morning?

‘Not that I know of’ she said. ‘Why haven’t you had one?’

‘I’m not sure,’ I said, not knowing how much I should give away.

‘Dizzee should have delivered it by now; he left at about quarter to seven. Mind you he does seem a bit distant some mornings. I’m sure he’ll be with you shortly.’

I decided to go for it. ‘No it’s not that,’ I said. ‘Mine looks a little different this morning.’

‘That’ll be the new tabloid format,’ said Mrs Bronte. ‘You did say that you would prefer a smaller paper.’

‘But it’s gibberish,’ I blurted out.

‘Well you could have The Daily Mail instead,’ said Mrs Bronte. ‘Could you hold on a minute, I’ve got a shop full of people and Charlotte has just gone to Budgens to get some change.’

‘lt’s OK,’ I said. ‘I’Il stick with The Independent.’

On the way to work, I noticed that the billboard along the dual carriageway had been replaced by one advertising a new Channel 4 series on surveillance. THEY CAN SEE YOU RIGHT NOW, read the caption, alongside a picture of a spy satellite. It struck me as either apt or ironic that it was positioned so close to the secret government base. I almost crashed the car into a grey people carrier that had stopped, suddenly I felt, at the new traffic lights.

Having spoken to colleagues at work about the earlier episodes, to great ridicule about my paranoia, especially my fellow graphic designer, George Eliot, I decided not to mention The Independent. I booted up the Mac, made myself a cup of jasmine and valerian tea, opened up Adobe Illustrator and called up my work from the previous day. The project I was working on was the artwork to a volume of short stories by a new writer. The working title for the collection was Jimi Hendrix’s Kite and Other Stories. I had been commissioned to design the cover and dust jacket. The writer’s name was Leif Velasquez, at least that was his pen name. I had emailed him to suggest that he change this, as it did not sit well on the page.

I had read a couple of the stories and had attempted to reflect their theme, which was one of conundrum and confusion. I had also tried to reflect their lack of resolution. The stories were enigmatic, what you might describe as open texts, which meant that the reader could put his own interpretation on to them. In my illustration, I had a candy apple red Fender Stratocaster guitar morphing into a rainbow coloured kite. I had set this against an alien sky with three-dimensional floral star shapes covered in luminous blossom floating by. I had stamped on this a ghostly black and white face at 40 per cent transparency, eyes staring straight ahead as into a void. I had placed the title a little away from the top left in caps. And by Leif Velasquez just below it in lower case. I had not made a firm decision on the font, although I was using Optima in 20 and I8 point. I could not concentrate. I found myself staring at the display. You Have New Mail, flashed on the screen, along with a few bars from Love Letters, which someone had programmed in to accompany new email messages.

I opened the mail. It was a reply from Leif Velasquez. It read: ‘Yes, go ahead and use my real name, Christopher Green,or you might want to shorten it to Chris if it will sit better.’

I made the changes, and was just mustering up the enthusiasm to print off a copy on the LaserJet, when Love Letters started up again.

‘Qxayyqx qy UafiaaqXpaaxq yyq erereraq xayyqx qqy Kbgfaaq Kpaaxq yyq erereraq,’ read the message. Love Letters was now playing continuously. I was being bombarded with emails. Incoming Virus Alert, said the virus checker. As the fire alarm went off, my mobile phone rang. I had not realised until now that we had a fire sprinkler system, but this too activated itself, spraying water everywhere. On the way down the stairs to the exit I took a look at my phone display. The caller number was O0 O0 O0 O0 O0 O0 O0 O0 O0. It took a few seconds to remember that O0 was the mathematical symbol for infinity. I was surprised that the LCD had registered it. I took the call. ‘xayyqx qqy Uogfaaq Ifpaaxq yyq erereraq xayyqx qqy Uofiaaq Ifpaaxq yyq efefertiq,’ or something of that nature, laughed the caller.

I went to an interactive film once, or did I dream it. The idea was that people in the audience actually experienced what was happening on the screen. The narrative was a rambling one as is characteristic in experimental film. It was very scary being enclosed in a small wicker globe like a lobster, spinning out of control in a vacuum. And being imprisoned in a small room with the walls closing in. There was an interval after about fifty minutes. I did not want to go in to the second half as I had been told that it became worse. But I overcame my fear and returned. I was not in all the scenes, but in one I was able to walk out from the screen and see the audience silhouetted against the light from the projector. I waved.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

 

You Will Not Get This Experience At Home

experience2

You Will Not Get This Experience At Home by Chris Green

I have never watched an interactive film before. IF, as it is becoming known, is a revolutionary idea to get the audience involved in what they would like to see happen on the screen. I am watching with an open mind. I feel that democratising cinema in this way has great potential, so long as it avoids the perils of lowest common denominator that have befallen 3D. IF is being hailed as a way to combat dwindling cinema audiences. You will not get this experience at home, is its slogan. The idea behind IF is that at the end of each scene the screen fades to black and the audience is given a multiple choice question about what they would like to happen next. The director, in this case Leif Velásquez, might have filmed many different options for each segment. Film budgets have reportedly gone through the roof since IF’s introduction.

There are some very odd camera angles. It appears that Leif likes to keep the cameras running all the time to catch the actors even when they are out of character. He must have had cameras everywhere to get some of the shots. Leif is what is often described as a cult director and this is one of the smaller productions running at the Cinelux. Modest though Screen 19 might be, it seems most of audience have firm ideas about how the narrative should be driven. With so much audience participation the plot becomes almost incomprehensible, marred by more gratuitous violence and profligate sex than is strictly necessary for a story about the life of an ageing landscape painter in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Bradley and I leave our seats a few minutes before the film is scheduled to finish in order to catch the 10:30 bus home.

I insert my CineCard into the checkout machine in the foyer and begin to answer the barrage of questions that appear on the touch screen. Did I enjoy the film? How many stars do I give it? Will I recommend it to friends? How often do I visit the cinema? How many are in my party? How far have I travelled? The database has information about me that it tells me I am over due to confirm. Is Source Code still my favourite film? Is Purple Rain still my favourite movie song? Cinema feedback has become intrusive. Last time I came it was a simple yes or not to did you enjoy the film. Now they seem to be doing everything possible to keep you in the cinema. It gives CineLux yet another opportunity to advertise their upcoming productions, which they fire at you from every corner of the prodigious foyer generating information overload.

A queue of people has formed behind me and Dale, the young male assistant in his turquoise CineLux uniform can see I am struggling with the questions. He comes over to help. Dale has a supercilious customer service grin. I tell him that I have a bus to catch and he says he will be as quick as he can. You don’t need to answer all of the domestic product questions, he says, deleting the list, and you can skip the ones about your income group if you press this. He guides me through the rest of the questions and as the barrier lifts I thank him. I cannot see Bradley. I wonder where he has got to. I imagine that he must have made his way through his checkout quicker than me and will be waiting outside.

I leave the warm interior of the CineLux and find myself in the midst of a thick fog. This has descended since we have been in the cinema. I probably shouldn’t see this as too much of a surprise as city fogs have become a regular occurrence. Pea soupers they are calling them, after the London fogs of the nineteen fifties. Meteorologists blame them on industrial air pollution. There has been much talk about taking measures to tackle them, but with the political impasse little has actually been done to clean up manufacturing processes. The loss of life through tuberculosis is constantly trumped by the drive to match China’s output. The argument put forward by many industrialists that the fogs were made worse by the atmospheric conditions of the summer months is wearing thin now that it is November. There have been half a dozen in the last few weeks, sometimes lasting for days.

Despite the thick fog, the streets are busy. I do not come to these parts often. I try to get my bearings. To move out of the way of the masses that are now leaving the cinema, I carelessly step off the pavement into the trajectory of an articulated lorry which is going much too fast for the conditions. The leviathan narrowly misses me. Why do they have to come through the city at night? Isn’t it time that they re-opened the ring road? Is it really because of a nuclear leak? The driver gives a blast on his horn which sounds like a rock concert. I step the other way and a black Mercedes van with tinted windows narrowly misses me. It has a white logo on the side, MovieMax or something. Isn’t that the name of a film production company? Someone shouts something at me out of the window.

Bradley is nowhere to be seen. I imagine that he is making his way to the bus stop. Bradley is three years older than me, but as his brother I feel responsible for him. While his autism is what they call high functioning, it does give him the tendency to go on ahead, unaware of any companions or any complications there might be. He does not always see the need to put his intentions into words. It would be fair to say that he sometimes has difficulty with communication, and social interaction. He might have been fired by a sudden interest in something and already be back at the house we share.

It is but a short distance to the bus stop, but with visibility down to a few feet I get lost somewhere along Church Street. There is a lot of redevelopment and scaffolding is everywhere. The shops seem to have all changed since I was last in this part of the city and I can’t even see the church. The miasma is all enveloping. Even if I can find the bus stop, the buses will have surely stopped running. I begin to worry again about Bradley. What on earth could he be thinking, going off like that without me? I wonder about catching a cab. It is unlikely that cabs ever stop running.

I have to wait half an hour for a cab. I ask my cabbie, Gayna if she has by any chance picked up Bradley. I tell her that he is about six two and he is wearing a dark green padded hoodie with an orange logo on the front. I explain that he can be a bit direct and does not make eye contact when he speaks to you. She says that she hasn’t seen him, but she kindly radios her fellow cabbies and puts the word out on the street to look out for him. I am her last fare tonight, she says, as we trundle out to the suburbs at about ten miles an hour. She thinks the fog is getting worse and comes out with stories of the near accidents she has had. Her colleague, Maccy was not so lucky she says. He got mown down last week by an army truck at the Mason Williams roundabout.

Bradley does not turn up that night. I am not at first unduly alarmed. Although we have no family nearby, Bradley does have a number of friends; perhaps not friends in the traditional sense, but people who look out for him. He may have taken it into his head to drop in on one of them. After I have phoned round the ones I have numbers for and drawn a blank, I begin to feel a little concern. I let myself into his room and have a look around. It looks just as it always does, meticulously tidy, books lined up neatly in alphabetical order on pristine shelves and clothes neatly folded in drawers, shirts ironed and hanging neatly in the white-wood wardrobe. Nothing looks out of place. What in these circumstances would constitute a clue? I really do not know what I am looking for.

Heather, Bradley’s Support Worker returns my call from earlier. She says, ‘Bradley was fine last week. We had a great chat about probability. He’s really knows his stuff with with numbers and IT.’

‘Can you think of any reason he would go off?’ I ask. ‘Or anywhere he may have gone?’

‘No. But he is quite capable of doing things by himself, Parris. Don’t underestimate his abilities. He is more capable than a lot of people think. He practically runs the centre when he’s here. His only weakness is with customer facing issues. Although he helped out with a performing arts workshop recently. He seemed to loose his inhibitions a little one he got into it.’

‘Right’

‘He did say he likes playing online poker. He can calculate the odds. Card counting, he calls it. Between you and me I think that he’s won a bit of money. But I think that he thinks you don’t approve.’

‘I haven’t said that,’ I say. ‘I don’t think we’ve fallen out about it.’

‘He was excited about being in a film’, says Heather. ‘Excited probably isn’t the right word when you are talking about an ASD with HFA, but he was let’s say very positive about it. While he’s not OCD, he has a strange POV for an HFA.’

What on earth was she talking about? ‘We went to see an interactive film together,’ I say. ‘I think it must have been that. That’s when he disappeared in fact.’

‘Probably,’ says Heather. ‘I’m always getting details wrong. Look! I’ve got to go into a meeting. But I will have a think and get back to you.’

Heather doesn’t get back to me. When I phone back she is in a another meeting.

I don’t feel that Heather has done enough to convince me that Bradley is safe. I decide to report Bradley missing.

‘Do you know how many people go missing in the fog,’ says Sergeant Sangakkara.

I tell him that I don’t. Does he want me to guess?

He doesn’t give me a figure, but neither does he show much sympathy as he takes the details, even after I mention Bradley’s autism.

‘How do you spell that,’ he says.

He tells me he will be in touch if there are any developments. It is clearly a practised line, which means he doesn’t give a damn. He doesn’t even ask me to phone him if Bradley turns up. He probably didn’t want to be a policeman, he would have liked to be a pro-wrestler or something.

I rack my brains for an explanation. Am I missing something? Has Bradley said something that might have given me a clue? I begin to look at everyone suspiciously as if they might know something about his disappearance. I keep an eye on the news. The winds have picked up they say and the fog is dispersing. Flights are to resume from several airports. Two hundred people are trapped in a mine in North East China. Antarctica is now even smaller than they thought. There is tension in Iraq, Iran and Syria. There is always tension in Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why is it still on the news? The ring road is still closed. There is speculation that there might be some connection with terrorism. No-one it seems is available for comment.

I phone the CineLux. Perhaps they can give me some information about Bradley, from his checkout answers. I realise as I am dialling that it is a longshot.

Someone called Keisha introduces herself.

‘My name is Parris France” I say. ‘I came with my brother Bradley France to see Landscape on Screen 19 earlier this week, eleventh of November. That’s 11/11.’

She makes a joke about my name.

‘Yes, a lot of people remark on that,’ I say. ‘It’s Parris with a double r.’

‘How can I help, you Mr France?’

‘My brother is missing,’ I say. ‘I was wondering if you could have a look at Bradley’s checkout record to see if it might throw any light on his disappearance.’

Do I mind if she puts me on hold. I listen to a minute or two of Miley Cyrus. Ugh!

Keisha comes back on the phone. ‘I’m afraid we have no record of Bradley France being here that night, or in fact any other night. Are you sure you have the right cinema?’

I confirm this and suggest that she may be mistaken. She assures me that there is no chance of a mistake. ‘Perhaps he used another name,’ she suggests. ‘Several hundred people visited that evening. It would take a long time to go through each one and check out if they were genuine.’

I am by now desperate for news of Bradley and keep the phone by the bed just in case. It is a day or so before the silent phonecalls start. There is no pattern to them. They come at all hours. None of them brings up a number on caller display and each time I pick up, there is no one at the other end. I want to believe that these are automated calls, but once or twice I detect some background noise, traffic passing, or a dog barking. The information is too vague to offer any real clues. Predictably each time there is no call return number. I don’t want to think that it is Bradley trying to reach me because his silence during the call would indicate that he is in a particular kind of situation which means he cannot speak. On the other hand even if he is in danger, it would mean that he is alive. I recall seeing a psychological thriller about a woman who is driven to suicide by silent phonecalls. I cannot remember what it was called. Perhaps it was Silence or Mute or something like that. All I can recall was that it was incredibly scary.

Syreena, my married girlfriend, usually comes round to visit me two or three times a week, depending on when she can get away. To my chagrin, she is only able to come round on Thursday evening this week and the phone rings right in the middle of our lovemaking. I have the impression that Syreena secretly resents my continued support of Bradley. Although she has never said as much, she feels Bradley might be pulling the wool over our eyes with what she refers to as his condition. I hope we don’t fall out over it.

She has to get back, she says, because Mikhail will be back at ten. She does not specify where he will be back from. I do not know much about Mikhail. Syreena has never offered the information and I have never asked. Our clandestine liaison probably works better this way.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I will make it up to you.’

‘I’ll try and come over at the weekend,’ she says. ‘I expect everything will be fine by then.’

After about a dozen silent calls, I register with a call tracking service. TracknHack promise results, but it seems that they just want my money; they don’t actually have access to any special technology that would enable them to do so. I think about phoning Sergeant Sangakkara to chase up the police’s progress, but something tells me there won’t have been any. I’m sure that he won’t step up the investigation on the basis of a few silent calls. I decide to leave it for another day.

I experiment with different passwords and am finally able to get into Bradley’s Facebook account, but after a good look around I find no clues. Bradley has surprisingly few friends and there are no recent status reports from those he does have. I can’t put my finger on why I feel it, but it feels as if he, or somebody else, has been tidying the account up. I turn my attention towards his googlemail account. After a hour of trying to get into his email account I give up. His password is too difficult. He has not chosen something easy like IwntAstrONGpasswd28!! Someone has deleted his file history and there is nothing at all in Documents or Pictures. I do not have a lot to go on.

If there has been a fatality, the authorities surely would have come knocking. Bradley always carries ID and this is after all his home address. I try to use this as comfort, but my sense of optimism seems to be on a rest day. I begin to fear the worst. I do some internet research into the methods investigators use to find a missing person and discover that I am already employing them.

Bermuda is a small British overseas territory near the western edge of the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. The nearest landmass is over six hundred miles away. Bermuda is famous primarily for The Bermuda Triangle. This is unfortunate if you live in Bermuda and your family fly a lot or sail a lot, as many aircraft and ships have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. My family were in such a position. My father ran a courier business, although it is widely believed this was a cover for his undercover activity with the secret service. My parents light aircraft disappeared with both of them aboard shortly after taking off for Martha’s Vineyard. Searches were not so sophisticated back then; There were fewer satellites and GPS had not come in to being.

The loss of one’s parents in tragic circumstances is not a thing that you ever come to terms with. The pain does not go away. It is nearly twenty years since it happened, but I often think back to the carefree summer days when we enjoyed a family picnic on the beach at Horseshoe Bay with a gentle breeze coming in off the sea. Or swimming in the calm waters of Jobson’s Cove with its pink sands and volcanic rocks. Or Bradley and I playing volleyball with our friends on Elbow Beach in the school holidays. In Bermuda you are never more than a couple of miles from the coast. This idyllic life was taken away by a freak storm, or was it a magnetic fog that blew the plane’s instruments. Losing my brother in the dismal fogs in Britain’s second city would be adding insult to injury. I’m praying that lightning never strikes twice.

When they finally called off the search for the plane, we moved to England to stay with Uncle Cliff and his partner, Richard in Gweek in Cornwall. I was fourteen and Bradley was seventeen. Gweek is a village on the Helford River which is not in fact a river but a ria, a series of creeks flooded by the sea. Activity centred around boats and once we became used to having two uncles, we settled in easily. Bradley became very interested in boat engines and could spend all day taking one apart and putting it back together, withdrawing into his shell. Gradually Bradley’s ASD was diagnosed and his needs became a priority, although it wasn’t until eight years later, after I had graduated from Birmingham University, that he moved in with me here. Despite the fogs that over the years began to envelop the Midlands, there are more facilities here that take account of Bradley’s condition and he can more or less lead a normal life.

My neighbour, Dermot is at the door. He looks sober.

‘This parcel came for yer man Bradley earlier,’ he says. ‘I took it in for the UPS delivery man, so I did.’

‘I must have been asleep,’ I say. ‘I didn’t hear him.’

‘No worries,’ he says. ‘I haven’t seen Bradley around a lot lately. Is he all right?’

‘He’s disappeared,’ I say. Don’t you remember? I told you about it the other day and you said the same thing then.’

‘I think I may have just got back from O’Reillys‘. You’re as full as a catholic school, Niamh says to me sometimes. I like that, full as a catholic school. She’s got a grand way with words, Niamh.’

‘I was telling you about Bradley disappearing,’ I remind him.

‘Oh, that’s right. I believe you did say something. Hey, wait a minute! A week ago, no it might have been a bit longer, some men came round for Bradley and they looked a bit odd, so they did. I thought at the time, what’s the craic, they don’t look like they’re from round here. They were in a black Mercedes van with tinted windows.’

‘But there are lots of vans with tinted windows driving round here.’

‘No, not drug dealers vehicles. I think this one had some big white writing on the side and a logo.’ Dermot sketches something in the air.

‘What do you mean, they didn’t look like they were from round here?’

‘Well they didn’t have al Qaeda beards, I reckon …… and they weren’t Irish. And they weren’t Caribbean either. The van had a lot of …. you know, equipment in it.’

‘Would you be able to describe them?’

‘Some of them had, ……. like suits on, dark suits.’

‘You don’t remember when this was?’

‘There was a soft rain fog I remember, but that does not help ye much now does it?’

The fog seems to be descending again as we speak.

‘I expect you noticed but the ring road is open now that they’ve finished filming, Dermot says. ‘Must be quite a big film, don’t you think?’

With a cheery shrug of his shoulders, he says he must crack on. We have only been talking for couple of minutes but his departure leaves a vacuum. A creeping desolation settles over me. I’m not very good on my own any more. I need company. What I really need is for Bradley to come through the door and everything to be all right. It would be good to talk to someone. I wonder what I have done with my counsellor’s number. I can’t even remember her name now. Janelle Council? Milly Stover? No, she was my acupuncturist. Clora Kaiser? No! It’s not coming. It was a few years ago that I had my problem.

I am racked with indecision. I don’t seem to know what to do with the parcel. I should open it. Should I open it? It is addressed to Bradley. I think perhaps I should open it, but scared of what I might find, I just stare at the large rectangular box wrapped in brown paper and parcel tape. There is no return address on it, just Bradley’s name and address in black marker pen. What might be inside? The more I look at it, the more I become paralysed with fear. It is very light. Much lighter than a box this size should be. Everything about the balance of the package is unsettling. The chilling thought runs through me that it might contain Bradley’s soul. I recall seeing the film 21 Grams. The title refers to the apparent loss in body weight when the soul leaves the body. Bradley’s soul boxed up, what an absurd idea. But the package is so light. If I put it down I think it might just float away, like a helium balloon. Gingerly, I shake it. There is no sound.

I take the plunge and start slicing at the package tape with a kitchen knife. There is no torque and I have to hold the package down firmly with my other hand to stop it slipping away. I too have a sense of slipping away. My mind begins to wander, my thoughts become more and more fluid. I think about what Dermot was saying about the black van with the tinted windows. I didn’t let him finish telling me about the men who came with the van. He told me about the ones in dark suits but he was about to tell me about the others. There was equipment in the van, he said. Could they have been a film crew? And, what he said about the ring road. They were filming, he said. Filming. I think back to Landscape, the interactive film Bradley and I watched, what now seems like aeons ago. It was Bradley’s idea to go and see the film. With IF, they film lots of different scenes and let the audience choose. Lots of different scenes! Very odd camera angles! I wonder …… It begins to dawn on me what is happening. I notice there is a camera lens in the smoke alarm. And another in the ceiling light. There are small cameras all around the house. There is even one in the flowering bird of paradise plant and two in the eyes of Bradley’s OwlMan poster. They are everywhere. Why haven’t I noticed them before? Isn’t that Leif Velásquez peering through the window? He is wearing a jacket like Bradley’s. It has got the same logo on.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Black Fiat Uno

blackfiatuno2

Black Fiat Uno by Chris Green

It was Monday morning and I was not particularly pressed for time. I was off work as a result of an old Pilates injury flaring up. I had been told to rest. I was sorting out some matters that in my busy schedule at the kite repair workshop I never got the chance to attend to. I had upgraded all of the firewalls, spyware programs and virus checkers on the computer, de-fragmented the hard drive, and found five friends on Facebook. I had arranged for a tree surgeon to come and take a few feet off the weeping willow in the back garden, contacted the council about the broken streetlights, booked the car in for its MOT, and cleared the mouldy vegetables from the back of the carousel. Although my partner, Danuta, was on the face of it very thorough in cleaning the house, the kitchen cupboard seemed to be one area that escaped her attention.

I spent the rest of the morning watching a welcome repeat of ‘The History of the Harmonica’ on one of the new Freeview Channels, and over a light lunch, a special report on the prisoners’ strike. This was now into its fifth day with no signs of the prisoners’ demands for an extra £5 per week and a shorter working week being met. ‘The cost of drugs has gone up loads,’ one prisoner who was interviewed had said as justification for their action. ‘Why don’t we just beat the bleep bleep out of them?’ a warden had said not realising that he was on camera. In summing up the presenter, Giles Trevithick took the view of Foucault that perhaps prison was part of a larger carceral system that could not fail to produce offenders, and did nothing to offer a place in society for them if they reformed. It was surprising only that standoffs such as the current one did not occur more frequently.

I had just switched over to the Fishing Channel to watch the semi-finals of the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championships when there was a knock at the door. I was not expecting anyone so at first I let it go, but Alan, our Giant Schnauzer, started barking feverishly, so I got up to answer it. Perhaps it was Danuta, home early from her part-time job at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre, I thought, but then, she would have a key. Unless she had forgotten it. She had been in a bit of a fluster this morning after Alan had vacated on the hall carpet. ‘You should take him for more walks,’ she had shouted up the stairs. I reminded her that I had been told to take it easy; Dr Shipman had been quite specific on this point.

I found the key and opened it. Standing at the door was Eddie. To say I was shocked would not be an adequate appraisal of the situation. I hadn’t seen Eddie since I was twelve years old. Not since the incident with the cat…… I did a quick calculation. This would have been 1966. The thing was the Eddie that stood across the threshold with a football under his arm still seemed to be twelve years old. He even wore the same red Manchester United football shirt that I remembered with long sleeves and the number 11 on the back and the same green and white Gola Harrier trainers that he had been so proud of back then. He hadn’t changed a bit. He still had the same lank ginger hair and freckles. And the small mark over his left eyebrow where Nick had punched him outside our house and the blood had run down his face. Dad had had to take him to hospital to have four stitches. This definitely seemed to be the very same Eddie. The same gap between his front teeth which seemed too large for his mouth and made him look a little goofy.

Hi,’ he said in a blasé fashion as if he had seen me yesterday. There was no hint of surprise or curiosity on his face. He did not seem to notice that I had changed. That I was over forty years older, with a fuller figure, less hair and some unsightly facial scars.

Wanna come down the rec,’ he asked.

Eddie had always been the one to organise the kick-arounds. He was the one who owned the football. If his team was losing or if he was having a bad game, he would just say ‘it’s my ball’ and head off home with it, leaving me and Mart and Malc and whoever else was playing stranded. Before that he had been the one who had the Scalextric or the train set. He was the one whose house we would be able to go round to. He was an only child so his parents had a tendency to spoil him. He was always the first one to have the new trainers or the new football shirt or the new Kinks LP.

Eddie was bouncing the ball now with some vigour, clearly waiting for a reply. I thought perhaps that going to the rec was a little impractical as the ‘rec’ he was referring to was three hundred miles away. And of course there was my Pilates injury to consider. I asked him to come on in for a minute, hoping that the improbable situation would somehow resolve itself.

He came in and made his way through to the kitchen. I offered him a glass of Tizer. He remarked on the groovy new bottle. This was the first sign that he might be noticing a time warp.

The phone rang. I let it ring a while thinking perhaps it would make Eddie feel that he was being ignored if I took the call. The phone kept on ringing and Alan started barking at it, so I went into the front room and answered it. It was Danuta to tell me that she would be working late. Magda and Kinga had not turned up for work and things were pretty manic at the Fridge Magnet Advisory Centre. Fridge magnets had apparently featured on a lifestyle programme on Sky and there was a bit of a run on them. She had to go, she said, as there was a queue of people at the desk wondering what would be the best thing to put on their Smeg. I did not get the chance to tell her about our visitor. I wondered momentarily whether Danuta might be having an affair. This was the third time this month that there had been a television-led demand for fridge magnet advice. I dismissed the thought. If she were playing away there would be other signs, like lingerie catalogues coming through the mail, or new bottles of perfume appearing with inappropriate names like ‘Bitch’ or ‘Hussy’. I made a mental note to phone the centre later to see who answered. Meanwhile I had to get back to Eddie.

On returning to the kitchen there was no sign of Eddie, just an empty glass on the work surface by the fridge. I quickly scurried around the house, then the garden, but there was absolutely no trace of him. He had vanished.

I did not think I would be able to concentrate on the Mid Wales Regional Angling Championship, so I decided to pop to the supermarket to buy some garbanzo beans and some taboule. I had also noticed when I was cleaning out the carousel that we were getting a little low on guacamole and cactus leaf strips. Although Waitrose was not far, I decided to drive. I had recently, against all advice, bought a Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Honest John website had likened it to ‘a Ford Prefect on steroids’, and this was one of the better reviews. Now, even the novelty of its retro styling had worn off, which is why I had got it so cheap. It seemed to get from A to B though, albeit with alarming under-steer on corners.

I had not seen Ros since the spring of 1974 when we had had a brief fling. So imagine my surprise when there she was at the delicatessen counter. With her shoulder length reddish blond hair and flirtatious smile she was unmistakeable. She was exactly as I remembered her. She had not changed one bit. Her eyes still sparkled the way that they had and she still wore the same pale blue eye shadow and a light coat of black mascara around them. Everything about her seemed suddenly familiar. She even had on the same cheesecloth top that I had bought her from Jean Machine and a pair of flared FU’s jeans with a wide Biba belt. I remembered our first date. We had gone to see ‘The Way We Were’, and half way through I had said, ‘this film is rubbish, let’s go back to my place’ and to my surprise she had agreed.

Back then she was studying to be a chef and around May time, she had found herself with a heavy schedule of exams. With Ros busy revising, I had time on my hands and one night went to the Uzi Bar and come home somewhat worse for wear with a barmaid called Lola. Ros found out that I had slept with Lola when she came round next day and found a bracelet in my bed. I had not heard from her again.

However despite the intervening years she now appeared to instantly recognise me. And despite my erstwhile infidelity she greeted me with a big hug and seemed keen to ‘catch up’. Still in a state of disbelief, I struggled hard to find the right words to say, in fact any words at all. When finally I managed to ask her what she was doing now, she said she was studying to be a chef and had a heavy schedule of exams.

I don’t know if Ros became distracted by the range of Scandinavian furniture and modern art prints in the store or if she was just spirited away, but during the time the delicatessen assistant was weighing out my pitted green olives and taramasalata, she disappeared. I searched the store high and low and even got the shift supervisor to ask for her on the tannoy, but there was no sign.

As I drove away from the store my head was in turmoil. I ran through a red light by ‘Marcello’s All Day Breakfasts’, narrowly missing a Murco tanker, and almost mowed down an old lady and her Jack Russell on the zebra-crossing by the Fat Elvis Burger restaurant.

I had read enough of the self-help books that Danuta brought home from the community library to know that I had to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘get a grip’. Perhaps Louise L. Hay or James Redfield had not expressed it exactly in these terms but this seemed to be the general gist of their message. I put my Brian Eno CD on to relax me and tried breathing deeply as I had learned in Yoga. I pulled in by the stretch of water by the leisure centre and sat there for a few minutes, listening to the calming cries of the coots and the moorhens. I closed my eyes and tried to gather my thoughts. I told myself that whatever was happening I was not in a life-threatening situation. Everything could be resolved in fifty five minutes. This according to someone, whose name escaped me, was the amount of time it should take to adjust to a new situation over which you had no control.

I stretched my legs with a gentle stroll around the park, gradually gaining my self-control. A few joggers were out taking their early evening exercise and one or two people were out walking their dogs. When I noticed that the black collie-retriever bounding towards me looked a lot like Barry, my first thought was that I must have been daydreaming. A lot of dogs look alike. I made a quick calculation. Barry would be about 35. He would surely have died years ago. The dog barked excitedly as he approached. He nuzzled against my leg and then stood on his hind legs with his front paws against my chest, licking my upper arm affectionately. I quickly identified the heavily chewed black leather collar and the gouge on his neck where the fur was missing, the result of Barry’s tussle with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the car park at The Gordon Bennett. In the next instant we heard a loud whistle and Barry went bounding back across the park. I called out to the disappearing figure of Janice in the distance. Janice seemed not to hear. I called again. She did not look around. She was perhaps a hundred yards away but I felt sure it was her, even though she had to the best of my information moved to France shortly after we’d split up in 1983. The tie-dyed green denim jacket and the hennaed hair gave it away. This was how Janice would have looked in around 1983. She had a Walkman on. Probably, although I could not be sure, the one that she used to listen to her Joni Mitchell cassettes on. I stumbled on a patch of rough ground, and before I knew it, she and Barry were getting into the blue Chevette estate that we had bought together at the car auction. I remembered us bidding nervously. Neither of us knew much about cars. We had bought it for £550. I hadn’t seen a Chevette in years; they were not renowned for their durability. This one though seemed to be running well. It moved away with a healthy purr. I looked back. My car was parked too far away to think about driving after her.

The irregularities of spacetime were disturbing. Supernatural forces should remain in the realm of the imaginary. But this temporal upheaval was seemingly real. It was happening, now, and to me. I was scared. I felt like vomiting, my hands were shaking, and I was sweating like a Brazilian on the Victoria Line. Had I unwittingly uncovered a portal for parallel worlds, been sucked into the hypothetical wormhole. I had read about such things in Asimov and J. G. Ballard short stories and, but not given them much credence. It took a good deal of Pranayama breathing and another fifty five minutes of consolidation before I could get up from where I was now crouching. People were coming up to me and asking me if I was all right. A gnarled old crone with a bichon frise attempted to call an ambulance, a scarecrow with a limp offered me a pull on his hip flask, and a rangy Goth with a hair lip tried to sell me some ketamin.

No amount of deep breathing, philosophical principles or stress management techniques could have prepared me for my next encounter however. Returning to the Chrysler and noticing that the fuel gauge was low, I stopped at the BP filling station to fill up. There, at the adjacent pump, someone was putting fuel into a black Fiat Uno. I recognised the registration plate instantly. It was the Fiat I had owned in 1997. It took a spilt second, while I did a double take, before I recognised that the figure in the brightly coloured paisley shirt and combat fatigues bore an uncanny resemblance to me, as I would have looked around fifteen years ago. A lot slimmer and with considerably more hair. This was genuinely scary. I felt a chill run the length of my spine. This was not like looking at old photos of oneself or a video; this was watching a real living, breathing human being in real time. Wasn’t it? Reality was a fragile concept it seemed. Albert Einstein had called reality, ‘an illusion but a very persistent one’. But even this statement suggested there was room around the edges of reality for leakage. Facing myself over a few feet of garage forecourt defied any rational explanation. I was frozen to the spot; I couldn’t move.

I watched as my doppelganger slowly fed the fuel into the tank. I studied his mannerisms and his gestures in slow motion and one by one acknowledged them as my own. I recognised the flick of the neck, the squint against the light showing the lines etched on the forehead, the nervous shifting of weight from one foot to the other as he stood. I remembered buying those cream Converse Allstars cut-offs from a car boot. My heart raced and I felt a tightness in my chest. No doubt about it; the individual I was looking at was me. Amidst the inner turmoil, rational questions like ‘why hadn’t my 1997 personification noticed that the petrol was a little pricey?’ or ‘did the Fiat run on unleaded?’ tried to find a place in my consciousness. These were powerfully swept away by wave upon wave of blind panic as I sensed my whole life might be collapsing into a single moment.

He replaced the nozzle in the pump, and as he did he appeared to look right at me, or right through me. I couldn’t decide which. Could it have been that he did not recognise me? Or to look at it another way, should that be I did not recognise me – now that I was older. No one really knew exactly what form their ageing would take. It was not something you would give a lot of thought to. But of course Eddie had recognised me, and Ros had recognised me,despite my having changed significantly. And my smell must have been the same to Barry, although this was conclusive. Barry had always been quite a friendly dog.

My ‘other’ swivelled round. I thought he was about to come over. What would he do? Introduce himself? What would I do? I felt my legs buckle. This was not like one of those dreams where you dream about a past episode and the texture of the scenario as it unfolds is surreal. This was in clear focus in the here and now. I was watching me in an everyday situation in broad daylight. He did not come over. He seemed to hesitate in mid stride and turned to walk in the opposite direction towards the BP shop.

I was not very good on dates but I determined that in 1997 I would have still been with Mizuki. We were very happy back then in our second floor apartment overlooking the park. At weekends we would take the children to the pool or go walking in the woods. I remembered Mizuki and I went to see ‘As Good As It Gets’ at the Empire and realising how happy we were. Our contentment was of course not to last. I had been to see Mizuki’s cherry tree in the park recently. Someone had tied a ribbon around it with a bow. It had made me feel neglectful of her memory. I had lost touch with Sakura and Reiko a long time ago. They would have left school by now. At least none of them were in the Uno parked at the neighbouring pump; their presence would have cranked my present nightmare up another notch.

My other emerged from the shop with an evening newspaper. I read the headline. It was about Diana’s death. Something about a mystery white car in the Alma Tunnel. As he passed he seemed to look directly at me, or through me again. He could not have been more than twenty feet away. He got into the car. As he wound down his window I detected a hint of recognition….. I didn’t detect a hint of recognition….. I wasn’t sure. My mouth opened to call out to him but no words came. He drove off. The exhaust from the Fiat was still blowing, just as I remembered it. I put the pump back without having put any fuel in the car and set out to follow him.

He turned left down Hegel Avenue. I used to live on the Philosophers’ estate. I had lived there for over fifteen years, and it occurred to me that wherever we were headed was a run that I probably had made many times. I thought back to the types of journey I would have made in the Fiat in 1997. Mostly on account of the Fiat’s unreliability these would have been short journeys. To and from work. To the shops at Kirkegaard Court. Where would I have been likely to have been going at six thirty in the evening? It must have been after I had been made redundant from Gadgets and Gizmos. I usually didn’t finish there till late. Perhaps I was going to visit Mick or Charlie. They both lived in the Schopenauer Court flats. I might have been going to pick Mizuki up from the Sushi restaurant where she worked. I tried to recall if she had her own car back then. Memories of her came flooding back once again. We passed the Occam’s Razor pub where we used to sit out on summer evenings for a couple of halves of Old Poets.

The exhaust of the Fiat in front of me was now belching out black smoke. We seemed to be heading back on ourselves as we forked right into Rousseau Gardens. ‘A Brimful of Asha (On the 45)’ read a poster outside the ‘Oh My Cod’ takeaway. This surely was an old poster. Shouldn’t they have taken it down? We passed the Mahatma Gandhi Primary School where Sakura and Reiko used to go, and then right at the Karl Marx roundabout. It began to dawn on me where we were headed. Usually I would have turned left at the Karl Marx roundabout, taking me home along Darwin Road. Turning right meant we were ………..

I woke up in the Lewis Carroll Memorial Hospital. I had sustained multiple head injuries in the accident. I could not remember very much about the actual collision, but after a few sessions with Dr. Trinidad I recalled a little about the events leading up to it. An overweight elderly man driving an ugly black Chrysler had been tailgating me. It was a model I had not seen before. It was shaped like a hearse and its registration plate was in an unusual format.

I had first noticed this sinister character with his receding hairline and unsightly facial scars at the BP filling station. My attention was drawn to him because he was behaving very strangely. He stood there at the pump pointing the fuel hose into the air. He stared at me the whole time I was filling up. For a second I thought he seemed familiar but I could not place where I might have seen him. The more I contemplated this, the more I imagined I had been mistaken. I put my imagined recognition down to the intensity of his gaze.

When I pulled off he got into his car, without putting in any fuel in, and started following me. He kept his distance at first. I took a right at the Karl Marx roundabout into Nietzsche Avenue and ducked into Spinoza Crescent to make certain that he was really tailing me. He was closer now. I slowed down to give him the chance to overtake but he stayed behind. I sped up trying to lose him, but the Fiat was not very fast. The last thing I remember I was driving down Descartes Drive. He was right behind me, driving like a madman.

… heading for Descartes Drive, where years ago I had been rammed by an old maniac in a forties style gangster getaway car. About fifteen years ago. I had been trapped in my …. Fiat Uno.

 

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved