Banana Petroleum

bananapetroleum

Banana Petroleum by Chris Green

Banana petroleum,’ the caller says and then hangs up. Banana petroleum? It sounds like a cryptic crossword clue, or something. With the dull flat disconnected tone ringing in my ear, I continue to grip the receiver as if by registering my puzzlement, an explanation might be forthcoming.

I record all the calls we get on our landline, even the ones I answer. In these days of scams and hoaxes, you can’t be too careful. Thus I am able to play the message back. The man’s voice has no trace of an accent. Neither does it have that echoey sound you get from a robot voice. Predictably, the number has been withheld.

I decide that it’s best not to worry about it. Perhaps it is part of some leftfield promotional campaign to launch a new product. Perhaps this will become apparent in due course. I get back to my painting of the Aurora Borealis. Sarah will be home soon and I want to make it look like I’ve been productive while she’s been out. I haven’t actually finished a painting for weeks, let alone sold one.

Turban sophistry. It’s a text on my mobile this time. Once again, an apparently meaningless pairing of random words. Number withheld again. Troll? Prankster? But ….. why me? Why would a prankster be targeting me? Someone bearing a grudge? I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset anyone. I’ve led a very low profile life since I’ve been here.

Bewildering they may be, but the messages are hardly life-threatening. Determined not to allow a trivial matter to halt my artistic undertaking, I get back to the Aurora Borealis. I dab some bold green swirls onto the canvas. When working in oils, I find it is best to be decisive. The more layers of paint you can get into the painting, the better the result. That’s the beauty of oils. You can really put some depth into the work. I am just mixing up some purple when I hear two emails ping on my laptop, one after the other. At first, I ignore them but curiosity gets the better of me. The sender for both of them I discover is noreply@nowhere.com Neither of them has any subject so there’s not a lot to go on. The messages too are becoming weirder. Shrapnel perpendicular says the one and yarrow nucleon the other.

Strange is never good. I learnt that a long time ago. My mind is racing. Surely, it couldn’t be …….. No, the idea is absurd. But, there again….. To distract myself, I slip a Wagner CD into the Bose. Götterdämmerung, Twilight of the Gods. I turn the volume up so that I won’t be disturbed again and continue with my painting. I apply some viridian green straight from the tube and shape it with a palette knife, hacking at the canvas. I mix some with a little titanium white and cut that in. I step back to take a look. I do not hear Sarah come in.

I found this on the mat.’ she says. She is holding a postcard with the words, gazpacho termination written on it. ‘What is that all about?’

I mutter something about being as puzzled as she is. And I am. But, I am beginning to get a bad feeling that the message might relate to my past. I have not told Sarah about my past. I cannot.

I can’t hear you,’ she says. ‘Can’t you turn that awful racket down?’

For some time, I’ve been getting the impression that Sarah does not appreciate Wagner as much as I do. There again, I do not like Alanis Morisette. Or Laura Marling. Relationships, though, like other covenants are all about compromise. So, with Valhalla in flames and the Rhine overflowing its banks, I pause the opera. I give her a brief summary of the previous messages. As I do so, fresh emails ping on the laptop. noreply@nowhere.com No subject. Sedation complaisance. Leotard provincialism.

I try to shrug them off but Sarah is having none of it. Perhaps she detects that beneath it all I know something is wrong.

What about that chap you met a couple of weeks ago in the market?’ she says. ‘The geeky one with the snake called Gary who started talking to you about that number that’s too big to tell you how big it is?’

Graham’s number. It’s called Graham’s number.’

Yes. That’s the one. Might it be him?’

What, Norman? No, I think Norman is just an ageing trainspotter.’

How about the bloke who wrote The Early Worm Catches the Bird? The one who was telling us about Philip C. Dark, when we were sat outside the cathedral. He was a bit creepy.’

Just a lonely old author, I think. I can’t imagine many people read his books. Pretty harmless though. Anyway, whoever it is knows my number, my mobile number, our house number and my email.’

You mean, it might be someone we know well?’

There is that possibility,’ I say. ‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, though. There’s bound to be a reasonable explanation.’

The room goes quiet. I can sense Sarah weighing up who she might be suspicious of. Our friend, Hoagy Platt possibly? He’s a bit of a joker. Might he do something like this, she might be wondering? Freda Mann, the poet or Dean Runner perhaps? As long as it’s someone like that and it’s innocent fun, then it will be all right.

Let me have a look at the emails,’ Sarah says, finally. ‘Perhaps there’s something about these communications you haven’t spotted.’

I open up my Googlemail account for her.

Where are they?’ she says, scrolling up and down the page. ‘Where are these messages?’

I take a look. To my alarm, there is no longer any sign of them. They are not even in Trash. They seem to have somehow been completely deleted. I take out my phone. The text message too is gone. The message on the phone too is missing. Is this good or is this bad? I’m hoping it’s good but I need time to weigh up the situation.

If you have been in a relationship for any length of time, you will be familiar with that look you get when your partner feels that you have been trying to deceive her. You will be familiar too with the cold silence that follows this, in most cases for the rest of the day. Sometimes the following day too. But it’s an ill wind and all that. Without any of her interruptions and with no further unsolicited messages, I am able to make significant progress on my painting. Could this be the secret of great artists? Might Mrs Monet too have thought that Claude was keeping things from her and given him the silent treatment?

Late the following day, Sarah’s son, Jack calls in. We are not sure if Jack is living with us or not. He appears from time to time to raid the fridge and then is gone again. He is off to a festival, this time, apparently.

Mum gone to bed, has she?’ he says, as he munches his way through a slice of pizza. ‘She not speaking to you again?’

Having no children of my own, I get on pretty well with Jack. I give him a summary of what has happened.

Probably some sort of password generator,’ he says. ‘Good idea! You and Mum are always forgetting passwords.’

I give Jack’s interesting explanation some thought but reject it. After all, the people that had offered you the password would also know it which would immediately compromise its security.

To my relief, there are no more unexplained messages over the next few days. Sarah now thinks that I may have imagined the earlier ones. I begin to entertain the idea that she may be right. She suggests that I ought to see someone to help me over my confusion, Dr Gauguin perhaps. But, as time passes she backs down and things around the house return to normal. I even manage to finish my Aurora Borealis painting and decide to take it along to my local gallery.

You get used to the interior of a car. Its features become so familiar that as you drive it around from day to day you hardly even notice them. But as I start the Nissan up, it slowly dawns on me that something is different. At first, I don’t seem to be able to put my finger on what it is. Then it hits me. A great big blow to the solar plexus. Alongside the various readouts for fuel, temperature and mileage on the instrument panel are the words Supernova tarpaulin in orange Helvetica script. It is difficult to see what this might have to do with the functioning of the car. Genocide presbyopia, it reads now. These might be just words but there is no rational explanation for these muddled phrases appearing on the dashboard display. Someone is messing with my head. Someone with a shedload of technology and guile at their fingertips. Could it really be my comrades returning to spirit me away? Surely, after all this time, they would have forgotten about me. But, who else could be behind it? It’s not going to be anyone from around these parts. They still think communication through the internet is a pretty smart idea. They can’t communicate person to person through random everyday materials. It must be my people coming to take me back home. After all, wasn’t it a glitch in the Earth translation widget on the landing craft that left me stranded here in the first place?

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

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Out Of Time

outoftime3

Out Of Time by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘When did you arrive?’ asks Kimberley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one in particular answers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Across The Universe

acrosstheuniverse

Across The Universe by Chris Green

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

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

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

……………………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………………………………………

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

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

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

………………………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

It seems a well practised line, but Rocky chuckles.

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

An understatement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Regularly,’ says Billy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘There might have been a panic,’ says Rocky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Lady and Red

ladyandredpic2016

Lady and Red by Chris Green

Lady doesn’t like going up in the elevator to Red’s ninth floor apartment. It moves so slowly that sometimes it doesn’t seem to be moving at all. She is afraid that one day she will get stuck in it with a killer. Not that you often have to share the lift. Belvedere Heights, in contradiction to its name, is one of those modern blocks where living in the accommodation seems to be an afterthought. Red is possibly one of a handful of full time residents. Lady understands that rents are prohibitively high. The chance of encountering an assailant is small. Security is tight. Belvedere Heights has a uniformed concierge who is there to vet unwanted visitors. The concierge is armed. And there are legions of CCTV cameras.

Belvedere Heights is not however designed with ostentation in mind. The discrete black and white interior of the building is lit by sunken wall lighting that changes colour with mood. You can view the different hues between floors as you go up in the elevator. The block is built for function. There are few features. It is minimalist, secretive. The casual observer could guess nothing of the people that might live there.

Lady sometimes wishes she did not have to visit Red. It can be a lonely experience. She gets so little back from her visits. It is as much as he can do to say hello. She will arrive at the apartment and let herself in. Red might be typing into his imac, playing his tenor saxophone, or just gazing out the window. The view to the west is admittedly a fine one, taking in a sweeping panorama of the city with the skyline settling against blue hills in the distance. When silhouetted against the sunset, the twin peaks are heavenly. Red might be mixing up some oil paints, watching a European movie without subtitles, or stroking his white Persian cat. He might be gazing at the Picasso prints on the walls or feeding his parrots. Whichever, he doesn’t appear to see Lady’s arrival as an important interruption. He will just continue as if she weren’t there.

Lady and Red have been lovers. Are they still lovers, she wonders. Sometimes she supposes they are lovers, but if they are this is very much on Red’s terms. He hardly casts a glance in her direction. Yet they have a deep understanding. Necessarily so as they work closely together. Red though is a man of few words. He does not speak unless he has something important to say. Lady seldom gets to start a conversation. Their communication just does not work that way. Given her background, this dynamic might appear to outsiders as a little strange. Although she is not a Lady as such, she does come from a long line of mid European aristocrats. Lady is a soubriquet to reflect her connections with nobility. She studied Philosophy at Cambridge, can speak nine languages and is a gifted painter. In addition in her mid thirties she is in her prime. She has wisdom and wit and a dazzling beauty.

What is it then that draws her even through the winter months several times a week to drive across town and wait for a response from this man of mystery? Certainly, there is an allure. Red has mystique, poise, charisma even. But this is not the primary reason that Lady comes to visit. She needs to be there. Just in case there is an assignment. After all, they are a team.

She knows little of Red’s background. What you see is what you get. He is matter of fact but enigmatic, passionate but objective. But he can also be a ghostly presence. He can blend in, become one with his surroundings. Sometimes when he is playing an extended solo, he and the instrument become one. He becomes the saxophone. His physical form drifts off into space. He becomes invisible to the eye. The soft arpeggios of his improvisations are left hanging in the air like celestial smoke-rings. It is such a moment now. The silver saxophone is suspended in mid air radiating the most sublime passage. Red is elsewhere, on his astral plane, intangible, quintesscent. Lady sits in the lotus position, silent, serene, mesmerised. Red is both the fool on the hill and the gypsy in her soul. For now, in this space, Lady is an acolyte of the transcendent spirit.

Yet, Lady is no flower child. That there are contradictions in everyone is something that is often overlooked and Lady is no exception. In another space Lady may well have killed people with her bare hands. The world is like that. There are many paradoxes. The greater the achievement, the greater the divergence. Mozart may have been a mass murderer, Bin Laden a brilliant water-colourist.

The door entry phone buzzes. It is a hollow sound. Instantly the atmosphere in the room changes. Red is back down from the heavens. He speaks on the intercom and admits the caller. It is Black. Black has no interest in jazz. Black calls round to Belvedere Heights on business. His business has to do with adjustment, temporal and psychic adjustment. He has called to give them a mission. They will be required to stop something that has happened from happening. This is known as a correction.

Everything that happens is governed by the principles of cause and effect, action and reaction. Sometimes apparently inconsequential actions by ordinary people can set off a chain of events that results in catastrophe. It is important that the likes of Black and Red have the ability to intervene, otherwise the world would have been blown to smithereens long ago. The undocumented presence of quantum gnostics like them is the force that ensures relative stability in a jumping universe. Their concern is not a political one, not about East and West, nor is it about right and wrong. It is purely about balance, to keep the world turning.

‘Stockholm,’ says Black. ‘Here are the tickets. They are for yesterday.’

Neither Red or Lady show surprise. They are accustomed to these impossible missions. To do what they do it is necessary to operate in the margins.

‘Understood,’ says Red.

‘Understood,’ echoes Lady.

‘Hemming Olofson mustn’t take that train to Malmo,’ says Black. ‘He will not then meet Marita Blom. They will not travel to Copenhagen together. They will not therefore discover the document that implicates his brother, Björn in the cover up by the Danish lawyers over the ownership of patent on ……. well you get the gist. And then finally Guatemala won’t then be destroyed by a plague of giant moths. And there won’t be a stand-off between the US and the Russians.’

‘Chains of events can be quite complex, can’t they?’ says Red. ‘We are on our way.’

The air crackles with the electricity of déjà vu. Two conversations are taking place simultaneously, one in the past and one in the present. The secret Red says is to stay focussed on both. They must coalesce. In between words, in between worlds, the air becomes turbulent as they tumble through space. They are buffeted this way and that in a whirling cyclone of uncertainty, like the Tower of Babel. Gradually Black’s presence fades. The job is over. Lady and Red are back to where they were.

‘I’m relieved that one is out of the way,’ says Lady. ‘These escapades can be so exhausting.’

‘It can be very strange,’ says Red. ‘But when you’ve seen through as many corrections as I have it will become second nature.’

‘I think Black was pleased,’ says Lady.

‘There aren’t too many people who can do what we do,’ says Red.

‘Is that a blessing or a curse?’ says Lady.

‘Nothing is ever straightforward,’ says Red. ‘Paradox is at the centre of everything.’

‘Red, I’ve been coming up here for a long time and for some while I’ve been meaning to ask you a question. I get a very strange sensation every time I come up in the elevator. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. On the one hand it feels as if someone is watching and they might at any moment attack me. But on the other hand it feels as if I’m not there anyway so how can I be being watched? What happens in the rest of the building?’

‘I’ll let you into a secret,’ says Red. ‘There is no rest of the building.’

‘But the lift and the corridors and the cameras?’

‘All an illusion.’

‘But the concierge with the gun. He says hello every time I come round.’

‘There is no concierge with a gun.’

‘But I do come up in the lift. And the lighting changes colour between floors?’

‘Its all held in place by auto suggestion and the subsequent belief that it is there.’

‘The space below?’

‘Ah! There is no space below as such. But would it help if I told you that the space you are referring to, the space where you imagine you are when you come into the building and come up in the elevator is the repository for curious matter?’ Red says, cryptically. With this said, he goes off to attend to his parrots.

Lady realises she now has an existential issue. She has always found Red’s information to be reliable and if he says that Belvedere Heights is nothing but an illusion then it is nothing but an illusion. But, therein lies the rub. If she stops believing in the substantial nature of Belvedere Heights, then she will not be able to get out. It occurs to her, not for the first time, that Red probably has not through normal channels left the building in years.

Lady goes into the hallway. The door through which she came, and more recently Black came, is no longer there. How is this possible? Whatever the explanation there must have been a way in. She has not always been here in this space. She has through belief or otherwise come and gone many times. Many many times. Nothing inside has changed. She goes into the westerly facing room. Red is still attending to the parrots. He has that look of detachment that she has become used to. He does not want a conversation. He feels he has said what he wanted to say and that is the end of the matter. Lady goes over to the window that looks out on to the city with the hills in the distance. The tall buildings and the blue hills look real enough, but might they too be an illusion to support the illusion of Belvedere Heights.

It takes Lady a while to get used to the idea of isolation. Rather than fight against it, she remembers learning long ago that the healthiest option in adverse circumstances like this is to go with the flow. Silence those voices that vex the spirit and nurture that peace that lies within the heart. This is a time for quiet contemplation. Besides, situations can change, in fact in life change is the only certainty.

Red is of similar mind. This is after all his world. He is philosophical about his role. His wisdom and poise begins to captivate Lady once more. He reads her sonnets and teaches her to play the violin. They watch the colours change in the evening sky as the sun sets over the twin peaks. They make love to Debussy. It is in one such tender moment, they are disturbed by a new caller. The door is back. Across the threshold is Gold. If Gold comes to call at Belvedere Heights then the matter is serious. Gold on this occasion is accompanied by Silver. Silver has never been before.

‘Three days ago Curt Dodge, a thirty two year old hacker believed to be from the Detroit, Michigan area hacked into the servers of the global communications satellites network and planted what is known as a blended threat that within fourteen days will have completely brought down the entire global system. You will have noticed already that your phone can’t detect its location.’

‘GPS is unable to detect Belvedere Heights anyway,’ says Red.

‘Ah yes. Of course. I see,’ says Gold. ‘Anyway, the threat that Dodge has come up with acts in an entirely random way. But, here’s the killer. It also gathers up any virus, worm or trojan it encounters along the way and adds them to the blend to increase its potency. One by one the satellites have gone down. There appears to be no defence against the attack.’

‘There are, or there were thirty one operational satellites. To take out the entire network is no mean feat,’ says Silver.

‘Now, clearly the objective is to go back to last week and liquidate Dodge before he has done any of this,’ says Gold. ‘The problem is that without GPS we have no idea where he is.’

‘A tricky one,’ says Red.

‘How long do you think we have?’ asks Lady.

‘I’d say three days at the most to make the correction. After that the damage might be irreparable,’ says Gold. ‘Even the Russian military satellites are failing.’

‘We know the length of time before you make an adjustment should not make a difference to its ultimate effectiveness, once you have made the adjustment. But with the entire system of global communication crippled this might not be the case here,’ says Silver. ‘There might be no way back.’

‘OK. Its down to our intuition then,’ says Red.

‘And good old fashioned occult powers,’ says Lady. ‘Witches broom and Abracadabra.’

I expect you have noticed that your satnavs and mobile phones have recovered from their momentary blip. You can assume from this that through the efforts of Lady and Red the correction was made. And until now you’ve not seen the name of Curt Dodge anywhere. These things just don’t get out into the public domain.

It would be difficult to describe how the job might have been done. Highlights could include mental projection, psychic navigation, invisibility, time travel, force field generation, teleportation, experimental jazz, and pranayama breathing. Planes? Guns? Maybe, maybe not. Illusion, willpower and luck will have played their part. And passion. Yes, passion is important. The operation would have been held together by imagination and belief, just like the things you see around you every day. Imagination and belief. Seeing is believing, but everyone sees things differently. Everyone constructs a different reality. No two are the same. Even should information about the exact techniques used here be available to governments, these would be classified. Better then that the secrets of their methods stay under wraps.

Make no mistake, your life will have been affected in some way by the corrections that quantum gnostics have made. Things don’t just run smoothly of their own accord and there’s no point in trusting politicians and government departments to get it right. Too much of their energy is invested in courting catastrophe. Just be thankful that there are hidden forces at work. That Lady and Red are there in the background refining their arcane skills.

If you are driving through the city you might be surprised at the circuitous route your satnav takes you on, but you might put this down to a poorly planned one way system. If you are on foot, at a certain point you might begin to feel dizzy. You might wonder what The Fractal Centre is and why you cannot go there. Either way there will be no sign of Belvedere Heights.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says. ‘

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

‘Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.

‘At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

‘Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

‘Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

‘Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

‘You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

‘The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

‘I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

‘I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

‘I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

‘Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

‘What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

‘Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

‘I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers anymore. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year anymore. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

‘We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a halftone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

‘Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

‘We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

‘We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin.’ This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

‘We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

‘Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

‘There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

‘You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

‘The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

‘And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

‘And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

‘You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening anymore. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

‘You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

‘You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

‘Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

‘So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

‘People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

‘People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Stranger On The Shore

stranger

Stranger on the Shore by Chris Green

He was there lurking in the shadows each time we went to the beach. My dog, Tarquin, a salt and pepper schnauzer would sometimes bark agitatedly as we approached. Tarquin had a habit of running up to strangers to introduce himself, so I would at this point throw a stick for him to chase after, and avert my gaze. Something about this spectral figure suggested that that he wanted to be alone and I was intruding on his space. At first, I found his baleful presence intimidating but by and by I convinced myself there must be an innocent explanation for his being there alone every evening on this remote stretch of the coast. Perhaps he was camping there. People had been known to camp on the beaches around here in the summer – at least until they were moved on.

My argument was that if he were a fugitive from justice or a child molester, he would surely have been caught by now. Besides, if he were the latter, this would not be the place to come. Very few children ventured on to this rough shingle. There were much better beaches for children a few miles away. This was a dog beach. And certainly not the most accessible dog beach. Perhaps he was an erstwhile mariner or a solitary poet or something. Whichever, it was clear that he did not want to make contact with me in any way. He was so well camouflaged that at first you might not notice he was there at all. He seemed to have the ability to find shadow where there was none and like a chameleon blended in perfectly with his surroundings so that at a distance of say ten or twenty yards, he was of indeterminate age or race. Tarquin and I gradually became accustomed to his clandestine behaviour. It became just a normal feature of our evening walks. After a week or two Tarquin did not even bother to bark at him.

Had I found him particularly disturbing I could have easily taken Tarquin up the other side of the cove towards the cliff path for his walks, but since my retirement, I had to admit I had become a creature of habit. In fact, if I’m honest, I liked to walk this way because Amy and I used to come here when we were courting. The Spring of 1961, it would have been when we met. Spurs were top of the league (I could still name the whole first team) and Wooden Heart was at number one in the pop charts. Amy was a member of the Elvis Presley fan club. I took her to see Flaming Star at the Gaumont, or was it Blue Hawaii? I was more of a Cliff fan myself. Livin’ Doll and Travelling Light. They were great tunes. Anyway, one time when I had my short back and sides at Reg Cropper’s, I had gotten ‘something for the weekend’ and we fumbled about behind a clump of rocks. Yuri Gagarin was in space at the time I remember. Ever since then I’ve felt an attachment to this beach. Amy, bless her heart, died three years ago from complications after a routine operation. I was inconsolable. That’s when I got Tarquin to keep me company, what with the children grown up and long gone. But I always thought of Amy when I walked this way.

I dropped news of my sightings casually into my daily conversations around the village. Mrs Chegwidden in the Post Office said she often went to the beach with her pastels, but had never seen him, nor had Spike at the garage where I had the Daewoo serviced. Barbara from the Age Concern Shop, who knew everything that went on around the area, hadn’t heard anything. My neighbours Breok and Merryn had not seen him, and my other neighbours Jack and Vera suffered from an intermittent deafness and did not understand what I was saying. Mushtaq in the general store where I bought Tarquin’s James Wellbeloved said he hadn’t got time to go to the beach since Nasim had gone off to work at The Eden Project. No one seemed to have caught sight of my man of mystery but me. I wondered if P. C. Trescothick might know something, but after the incident with Tarquin and the sheep, I did not like to draw attention to myself.

I kept an eye on the local newspaper, in fact went to the library in the nearby town to look at back copies. I remembered the days when I used to take Adam and Alice there after work on a Monday when the library was open late to give Amy a bit of a break. We did this I recall for several years in our Kermit green Deux Cheveaux. I would take the opportunity look at the local paper while they were choosing their Roald Dahl or Stig of the Dump. There never seemed much to report in those days. It was a quiet backwater.

The Advertiser today described a different world. A serial killer who had preyed on female cab drivers in the locality had been apprehended. A man had died in a charity cliff plunge to raise money for Disabled Surfers. There was controversy over a proposed Dial a Drink scheme being introduced where alcohol could be delivered to your door 24 hours a day, this on top of the more liberal licensing laws that were leading to lawlessness after hours in the local market towns. There were reports of chilling attacks on pensioners outside the post office, and a piece about nightclubs and bars being issued with ‘cocaine torches’, that door staff could shine into clubbers faces, which would make microscopic particles of the drug glow green. Clubbers; the only club there used to be around here was the United Services Club. There was a story about a dancing goat that you could hire for parties and another about a woman who crashed her car while teaching her dog to drive. There were, however, no reports of a furtive interloper living on a shingle beach in my neck of the woods.

It was outside the library that I bumped into Mikey.

‘Well Fuck me on a Friday, Frank! Good to see you, mate. It must be five years,’ he said. He was tilting a little. I imagined he was no longer on the wagon.

I agreed it had been a long time. In fact, I hadn’t seen Mikey since Amy’s funeral.

He quickly confirmed my suspicions about the drinking.

‘I’ll tell you what old mate. Come and have a beer with Stan and me later. We’ve started going to The Buccaneer.’

‘The Buccaneer?’ I questioned. ‘You can’t be serious.’

The Buccaneer as I remembered it was a bit select. Amy and I had had our silver wedding celebration there. Silver Service. Thirty pound a head back then. Adam was going through his punk phase at the time and had come in his bondage gear with his orange hair and full regalia of safety pins, embarrassing us all. It would have been hard at the time to predict that he would become a science teacher in Cumbria. Pillar of the community, married with the standard two children and a Ford Focus. Alice’s career path had been a tad unusual. After passing a City and Guilds Level 3 in the unlikely subject of Advanced Dog Grooming, she had opened a Dog Spa in the Cotswolds with her friend Terry. Terry, I should add is female. Probably no grandchildren there. My main regret I suppose was with the family so far flung, the only time I saw them was at Christmas. It could get lonely with just your own company all day long. There was Tarquin of course, but he was not a great conversationalist. Alice suggested I joined a dating agency but I wonder if I’m not a bit long in the tooth for all of that. Mikey’s voice brought me out of my reverie.

‘All the other pubs round here have been turned in bistros, Frankie, you know, posh nosh for the grockles,’ he said.

‘But the Buccaneer is the most exclusive of all the places around here.’ I protested, looking him up and down. ‘Surely they wouldn’t let you in in your tatters.’

‘You don’t get out a lot, Frank, do you? The Bucc went into a downward spiral in the nineties,’ he said. ‘Fortune Inns you might remember went bust. It was empty for yonks, five years or more. If you don’t count the hippy squatters. No one wanted it. Till The Flynns took it. Doesn’t do food anymore, well you can get scotch eggs and crisps. Cheapest beer around here, though…… All the holiday people go to The Yacht or The Jolly Slaver for their t-bone steaks or salmon in white wine sauce.’

‘Whole new world round here, Mikey, Seems determined to leave us the likes of me behind,’ I said. ‘Do you know what? Remember Rose Trevillick? I’ve just read in the paper that she has been fined for feeding the ducks in the park. What is going on?’

Mikey did not remember Rose. Or the park.

‘Stan’s doing well,’ he said. ‘He’ll be really pleased to see you. ‘Keeps talking about the time the two of you took the boat out around the headland that really bad winter.’

I had known Stan and Mikey for over twenty years. The three of us had worked together for a time doing shifts at the china clay factory. ‘Worked’ of course might have been a euphemism in Mikey’s case. He spent most of the time at the factory avoiding it. When you first met Mikey, you would listen to his stories with rapt attention. He had been junior billiards champion of the South West. He had had a trial for Plymouth Argyle Football Club. He had been the fifteenth person to complete the Rubik Cube. He had once been a roadie with Cream, and claimed to have once had a fling with Christine Perfect, or was it Julie Driscoll. To look at Mikey, all eighteen stone of him and not an inch over five feet four, you would have to say that either seemed unlikely. Stan, on the other hand, was someone on whose word you could rely. If Stan said that the Martians had landed you would expect to see little green men on your way to the Co-op. The thing was that Stan was quite likely to say that the Martians had landed. He had been for as long as I could remember into the study of UFOs. You might say Stan was impressionable but he was genuine.

The smoking ban meant we had to sit outside The Buccaneer, but as it was a nice evening I settled Tarquin down with a pork pie and a bowl of Guinness, and Mikey, Stan and I began to catch up. Mikey told me that he was back in the music business managing a Kinks tribute band called The Kunts – with a K. They had not as yet had many bookings but Mikey said they were good musicians and the singer looked just like Ray Davies circa 1966. ‘Only a question of time before they make it,’ he added.

‘You don’t think maybe the name might be the problem,’ I said. ‘I mean the punk era was 30 years ago.’

‘Not at all mate,’ said Mikey, There are bands called The FuckFucks, The Smackheads, The Leper Coons, Alien Autopsy, Jesus Chrysler, all sorts of irreverent names.’

‘I shouldn’t think many of them are on the tribute band circuit,’ I said. ‘There’s a kind of respectability involved when you book a band at the local town hall.’

Mikey said he had not had a proper job since he was laid off from the china clay factory. He got by by signing on at two different addresses, doing cash in hand felt roofing, and selling pirate DVDs at car boots. I recollected Jack at the butchers telling me he had bought Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards at a car boot and that he hadn’t been able to play them on his machine. Mikey was so indiscreet. He spent the next ten minutes reeling off a catalogue of scams that he had been engaged in. Nothing big or dramatic, but every one it seemed at the expense of some poor unsuspecting victim. He had no morals. No wonder Irene had divorced him.

Mikey’s mobile rang – Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, giving Stan the opportunity to talk about his newly discovered fascination with ‘rods’. I must have looked a little bewildered so he started at the beginning.

‘Rods,’ Stan explained ‘are possibly the best evidence we have of alien life to date, These things move much too quickly to be seen with the naked eye, but they can be captured on film and seen when the film is played back in slow motion. They appear to have appendages along their torsos which move in a wave like motion, and the torsos bend as they move. Rods can be from a few inches to several feet in length. They have been filmed all over the world. I’ve started filming them.’

He showed me some of the still photos of ‘rods’ he carried around with him.

‘Impressive, huh,’ he said with a self-congratulatory smile. ‘We could go filming one night down on that beach where you walk your dog, Frank. Round towards the cave. I’m sure we’d find there were rods there. What do you say?’

I was unconvinced. All the same, I agreed to go with him the following evening to look for rods. I had not had chance to bring the subject of the stranger on the shore into our conversation. I thought it would be better now not to mention it. This way I could just see what Stan made of him first hand. Mikey said he would not be able to make it.

‘Sorry guys,’ he said, grinning. ‘I’ve got a date.’

Not being used to drinking so much Old Thumper I had just about recovered and taken Tarquin for a quick walk along the river bank when Stan picked me up late in the afternoon the following day. We both blamed the excess on Mikey and agreed that he had always been a bad influence.

‘He’s always been that way,’ Stan said. ‘Difficult to have just a pint or two when Mikey’s around.’

‘Not going to change now,’ I agreed. ‘What’s this band he was talking about?’

There is no band,’ said Stan. ‘He was just winding you up.’

‘What about the date then,’ I said’

‘What do you think?’ said Stan.

‘Another Christine Perfect?’

‘Or Julie Driscoll.’

‘Lives in a fantasy world, doesn’t he’

‘Always has, always will.’

‘Swift half?’

‘Why not.’

We stopped off at The Buccaneer. It was nearly empty. Errol, the landlord explained to us how he had bought the place for a song, put on tap a good selection of strong ales and farmers’ cider and within a few weeks business was booming, but lately, The Bucc’ was going down the pan. He blamed the smoking ban. Most of his drinkers he said were also smokers. Also, a number of his guest beers had been banned from sale because they were too strong.

‘And of course, there’s the recession.’ he said. ‘Mikey’s probably my only regular customer. And he’s out on a date tonight he tells me.’

‘Not going to bring her in here then,’ added Stan.

‘No I don’t believe he will,’ said Errol.

It was nearly twilight when we arrived at the beach, the ideal time, Stan said, to film rods. He had some sophisticated video equipment. Nikon. We unloaded it from his Land Rover and carried it along the deserted shingle. A flock of herring gulls began circling a little way off. Their distinct trumpeting echoed around the bay. I had read somewhere that you could detect eleven distinct calls, each with a different message. A stiff breeze was coming in off the sea so it took Stan took a minute or two to steady the tripod in the ground. He then carefully set the camera up.

‘The secret is to use the sports setting,’ he said. ‘This will ensure you have a high shutter setting so each frame of video will look like a single picture without blur.’

I took his word for it. Maybe it had infra-red for night vision or some kind of thermal imaging. I was a bit of a technophobe so I did not like to ask. I was more interested to see whether he had noticed the shadowy figure in the scrub crouching behind the a clump of broom. It seemed he hadn’t. I wondered whether I should prompt him. I left it awhile, during which time he continued to make tiny adjustments to the camera settings. He talked excitedly about someone called Jose Escamilla from New Mexico, who had been the first person to film rods.

‘Over forty eight million people have visited his website and thousands have submitted photos of rods.’ he said. ‘I’ve put several of mine on the site. Jose emailed me to say how impressed he was by them.’

All the time he was speaking the figure did not move. He carried on crouching behind the scrub, camouflaged increasingly well by the gathering dusk. Stan peered through the viewfinder even though he had said that rods could not be seen with the naked eye, they only became visible during playback.

‘Stan,’ I said finally. ‘What do you make of that fellow there hiding behind the rock?’

‘Where? he said.

I pointed and he took a good look in that direction. He squinted myopically.

‘I can’t see anyone, Frank’ he said.

‘There,’ I shouted, pointing again. The figure was indistinct now. He had blended in with the landscape. A few seconds later I could not see him at all. He had disappeared.

Stan hadn’t at any stage picked up on the urgency of my quest and suggested that we moved on round to the cave before it became too dark. Stan had calculated also that there would be a window of a couple of hours before the tide was fully in. If we left it any longer we might find ourselves cut off. He handed me some equipment, folded up the tripod and off we set off into the gloaming. I was glad that I had not brought Tarquin. He did not like the cave very much. Perhaps it had something to do with the unusual acoustics.

Stan set up some backlighting and we spent an hour or so filming in the cave.

‘I am sure rods are extraterrestrial.’ he said. ‘We are used to seeing aliens being portrayed as two legged, two armed, two eyed human-like beings. But the truth of the matter is, and again this is only my opinion, alien life should be, well…. alien! Rods demonstrate they have some type of intelligence, as they will often dodge things that they would otherwise collide with. I’ll show you some of the film I’ve got later.’

While Stan held forth about the properties of rods and the incredible speeds they travelled at, I found myself looking for signs of the stranger, a sleeping bag or a backpack or something. The cave contained a random sample of the kind of marine litter one might expect to have been washed up and a few discarded food wrappers and crumpled beer cans, there was nothing suggest that anyone had been sleeping there recently.

On the way back I kept my eyes peeled for another glimpse and scanned the rocks with Stan’s powerful torch, but he seemed to have gone into hiding. I took Tarquin down to the beach regularly over the next few days but not once did I catch sight of the outlander. I looked amongst the scrub and sat for hours on a rock listening to the surf wash up on the shingle in the hope that he might suddenly appear. There was no sign. I began to question whether I had ever seen him. After all, no one else had. Had I become obsessed by an apparition? Or had I stepped into the twilight zone?

I thought about what Stan had been saying about rods. About alien life being alien. There was so much we did not understand. I had for instance read a little about superstring theory. I had got bogged down in the detail, but the theory posits that all physical matter is made up of vibrating elements called ‘strings’ rather than ball-like particles of conventional physics. String theory proposes that there are eleven dimensions; four correspond to the three ordinary spatial dimensions and time while the rest are curled up and not perceptible. This would help to explain a number of things. In such a scheme of things why shouldn’t there be rods? For that matter why shouldn’t there be a presence on the beach that only I had been able to see? If you thought enough about them, most things were plausible. Like the idea of the expanding universe, it was best not to think too much about them.

I had made the decision to give up on my preoccupation with the stranger, when I got a call from Stan. He said that he had transferred the film he had taken at the beach onto to his computer and was going through it frame by frame. He wanted me to come over right away and have a look.

Fifteen minutes later Stan was ushering me into what he referred to as his editing suite. Scattered around the walls were a series of prints of what appeared to be oversized illuminated insects. I took these to be Stan’s photos of rods. He sat me down in front of a Mac Pro with a large widescreen monitor. He then called up the media player clicked on a file and a film showing fairly unspectacular scenes of shingle and brush began playing. I watched as the camera panned along a small stretch of rocky outcrop. I recognised it of course, but it made dull viewing. Perhaps I was missing something. I had expected that he was going to show me some shots of rods from our visit to the cave.

‘But have a look at this,’ he said excitedly.

He stopped the film and played it from the beginning, jogging it forward one frame at a time. The images were a little hazy, but if you looked carefully, there was a figure crouched behind the rock just as I had seen him that night with Stan. Each frame confirmed his familiar presence.

'What do you think, Frank,' said Stan looking me in the eye. 'It's you, isn't it?'

We had stepped into the twilight zone. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.


© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved