Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Out Damned Spot, William Shakespeare Crime-Scene Cleaner , by F J McQueen. Published by Urbane Publications, 2016

https://urbanepublications.com/our-books/
https://urbanepublications.com/authors/?s=F+J+McQueen&book-authors=&order=

This is the most extraordinary work of fiction that I have read in a long, long time.

1

We expect fiction to be set in our known world, where responses to environment are known, our own experience, and as ordinary. In a fantasy work the same applies: they are all recognisable people in recognisable situations, it is the details that are different.
But what if one’s responses to the environment became other than the known? What if the environment became other than our experienced world?

The shift, here, is in cognition: something is different, something is ‘other’, and nothing becomes accessible to the ‘predictive text’ of our inner narration.

The story centres around the nodes of Shakespeare’s main plays. We navigate a world that opens, like the Shakespearean world discovering its America.
Will Shakespeare is on the last day of his work as a hospital doctor. What had gone wrong? We presume that something had. And why was he woken once more at midnight with that terrible sound? One that no one else could hear?
The ordinary of that world, though, was not our ordinary.
He set up next day as a Crime-Scene cleaner. The crimes? The plays are littered with the wrongfully dead.
His cleaning fluid – and here we enter a world truly chilling – is mysteriously provided for him by nine seriously unsettling people. Or are they all emanations of one? And their price? A meal of oneself.

2

There is a short story by Leonora Carrington, Cast Down By Sorrow, where the narrator meets the elderly but coquettish Arabelle Pegase. She speaks of her clothes, and mentions a dress she has that is made from cat’s heads,
What was your reaction to that? Horrified, like mine? And yet I think that her intention with this image is something else – it is a changed aesthetic, even a changed system of ethics, that she is describing.
It is used as an artistic, painter’s, image, visual and tactile, rather than humanistic.
And similarly here, the images in this book have their own wholeness, inner logic, that is not literary in the narrow sense that it is being used more and more at the present time.

There is an incident where a soil boat appears – or is it a grave? It takes you places; it takes you to the river of time where golems struggle to hold back a certain day. Made of clay they crumble constantly as they strain and struggle to keep hold against the flow of time. As they crumble new ones take their place, a constant renewing. But you sense the struggle, the need.
These are not literary images, but visual images – they could work as graphic images in a graphic novel. The visual, this is where the where the book’s Venn-structure overlaps the most.
But, some might say, golems do not appear in The Plays. No, but they are part of the sensibility of the period, of the wider environment of the time. And also of our time.
This is one of the many aspects of the book I especially like, it’s willingness to not stay harnessed to ploughing the narrow furrow of what we now take to be The Plays.

Take MacBeth’s three witches, they make their appearance early on in the tale, transposed as oracles, in a hospital cupboard. And they prophesy… impossible things. But the impossibles become increasingly possible as the tale deepens into itself.

How does it work? One crack in the world-self narrative we spin for ourselves – one crack, and a different take on reality becomes possible.
It is a cognitive shift.

In another’s hand the story could become whimsy – but that does not happen. The images are impactful, the writing of a very high standard, and the overall imagining quite devastating in its range and implications.

 

 

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Echoland

Posted: September 9, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

In the beginning was silence.
Ok, waves smashed on rocks long ago eroded, and great winds whipped trees out. Avalanches roared.
When the great Silures climbed out of stifling swamps, the hectic seas, they grew up and developed into monstrous beings among the plenty of the lands, and all those sounds around them.
And so, when eventually their small hunting area became scarce of game, they needed wider ranges.
They noticed the sounds around, noticed how it was the louder and more fierce sounds, made them all run, leave empty grounds. And the louder better. And so,
‘Rumble, ruMBLE, CRASH, CRASH!’ they roared.
‘AAARGH! WHOOP-AAAARGH!’
It worked, the others fled. Was that an avalanche? Was there a storm coming?
The new hunting ground was theirs.

Of course, other Silures had developed these tricks long ago, though some were only just catching-on. Was there one progenitor of tactics, trickery? You could say it was the most idle, or arrogant, the most selfish, unpopular, most ignorant, the bullies of the groups, tried this out. All to different degrees of effectiveness.
And so a competitiveness developed between them; each marshalled their weaker siblings and those who hung around for the pickings.

In the beginning was… relative… silence.
It was when the apes came down from the trees…. This happened wherever there was a long period of bad years, of droughts, fires, and the trees died a long way back. It happened everywhere the new weather patterns created from scrub and forest, bare pasture and grasslands.

The apes were crammed into smaller areas – they needed space. And also, they were curious. Their times of plenty, in the distant past, left them hungry, with a hunger they could not recognise, and nothing could assuage. Maybe if they searched in these lands, so antithetical to their natures, they could find the lost things.

And they chittered and chattered as they went, bonding their groups across the distances of the plains, deep in the grasses.

Who was it copied whom? Did the animals pick up on this new noise coming into their lands? And was this how bird calls began, imitating the morning calls of the roving bands, and the evening calls to rest? Or did the upright apes copy the new noises of birds, animals, they found themselves amongst? Then they could lure them to a sense of safety. Catch them.
Or was that for their own protection: the trickery and tactics of the Silures coming down to them in remote genetic patterns? Or was it that if they could imitate those around them, blend in, then maybe they’d be accepted?

But times, climates, terrains, change, and with them, the needs and requirements. Isolated groups sang morning bird calls to each other, becoming broken phrases, snatches of sound. A questioning note took on a certain gesture; an angry growl became a sneer.
– Echo-ing that which was inside themselves, as they clung to each other in their groups, as they passed through the dangerous places.

And cockerels copied the morning songs of the incomers. And when they themselves had long forgotten those songs, or even the state of mind, peace, appreciation, they drew those songs from, the cockerels remembered their own variations.
To try and retain some sense of wonder, some parts in the incomers grew religions from the ashes of those long forgotten camp fires.
Morning songs were now echoed in the calls summoning all to minarets, meetings, sacrifices. And the clicks of language, consonantal songs, were in the tocsin, the curfew sounds of night.

“I have never understood this about parenthood,” he was saying.
She knew the signs, the worn, ragged expression on his young face, the pitch of the voice, thin and insistent, forcing itself beyond its strength. “This need to identify with them, like… like trying to open up some psychic doorway. Become them….” And them mumbling unformed thoughts he cannot quite reach:
“Sink into a general identity.”

She had learned patience; as though that was her doorway to him, them, the world.

“It’s always been my…” struggling for words they both know will not come, “ I’ve spent so much of my life trying to demystify them. Mum. Dad. See them as people. And it’s such a disappointment. Their petty squabbling all my life. Their insistence on hurt. And, you know, sometimes, Sometimes… Maybe I should have left alone. Which is the most disappointing, them, or finding them as that?”

She looked at him again, guarding her expression. “I have to go. You know that.”

“God yes.” He jumped, “The traffick’ll be murder. Do be careful… out there.” Lame smile, the Hill Street Blues thing. Shared things; nothings, things they have somehow given such a value to.

“Look, you get off. And I’ll get the shopping so you can come straight home, and no…”

“Bye, love.”

*

She sat, hands between her knees, all tight, staring at her empty cappuccino. Sammy waited. Something was coming. She caught a yawn peeping out behind her waiting.

“I… ah. Do you think Dave is ok?”

“Ok?”

“I… ah… Twice now… I’ve…  heard him in the shower. Crying.”

“What? Really crying?”

“Kind of quietly. You know… well, it reminded me of a child. In bed, alone at night.”

“God, Lil., that sounds so sad.”

“I know, I know, I…”

“Has he said anything? Have you…?”

“I tried to. That last time. I met him, you know accidently on purpose, coming out of the shower…”

“And?”

“It was the look on his face. I couldn’t read it. I thought a bit of resentment, blame, but it was washed away by something…. I couldn’t, after that. Maybe it’s a man thing!”

“They’re not that different from us.”

“You’d never have said that one time!”

“Ah, well.”

“Look. I know this is going to sound weird. Bad. But…”

“Lil! I don’t know what I can say!”

“Look, I’ve worked it out: we go for a drink, after. Then I make an excuse…”

“Lil!”

“It’s me taking the risks here. With your histories.”

“How do you know Tony won’t want to come too?”

“Because. Because if he did the state he’s in at the mo., one drink’d knock him sideways. He knows that, and I know that.”

*

“Well, Dave, I’ll have to be getting back too.”

“Oh, Sammy, Sammy. I’m getting old, Sammy. Can you imagine! Only, what, five years between us. Feels like a life-time.”

“You’re only…”

“I’m losing my hair, Sammy. Big time. The plug-hole…”

“It could be anything, change of season. Even alopaecia.”

“Not only that, though, is it. Everything droops. I’ve shrunk horribly where it matters, and everything else just hangs.”

“You’re just out of tone.”

“You and me, we had good times. Those evenings in Durham. Romantic evenings. Lovely romantic evenings”

“You certainly have a long memory, Dave.”

“Come on, you must remember that hotel, those nights.”

“It was draughty, the furniture was dusty; fingermarks…”

“Don’t spoil it, Sammy!”

“Well, who had to clean up, afterwards?”

“But they were perfect. Admit it, weren’t they!”

“You have really no idea, do you Dave! What’s so romantic about ending up douching in a grimy bathroom. While you slept the sleep of the dead!”

“Sammy, don’t be… that’s…”

“That’s how it was, Dave. That’s really how it was.”

“I don’t know why you have to be so viscous. Don’t you understand what I’m saying? I can’t even do it anymore! She never comes near me, anyway. What have I got to raise a flag for.”

“And so you’re going to dribble into your drink for the rest of your life. Give it a rest, Dave.”

“So, and what’s your Tony got that I haven’t? From what I hear…”

“Ok, Dave. You’re on your own. Bye. Oh, and, don’t forget to give Lil my best wishes.”

*

Sometimes I catch myself hoping the car won’t start. I’d sit back, at my desk. A good hour before the cleaners come in. Fresh coffee; feet up. Cars chugging and honking five stories below. The quiet it makes.

Just so very sad to see him ill. Five years now. Improving. But now he knows that’s five years lost. Better, maybe, if he knew nothing about them; so hard to realise… We all live in out heads most of the time. So when something comes and… zonks you like that: nothing to remember when memory is our big resource.

 

My niece is doing Criminology; second year, now. God, I’d love to have done something like that. Options on our ACAS forms were post-war rationing.

Kids get all the best deals.

 

 

BRUTALISM

Posted: June 10, 2018 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

He walked out of there into a mechanical world. It should have been a new world, the old world new again. But it was a mechanical world.

The hearing aids were the new part; they were calibrated to the loss of the higher frequencies, and so upped the treble for him. The simple laws of materials and their resonances meant those upper frequencies had the tinny sound of some ipod ear pieces.

He walked out of there expecting to hear the world as he had known it; it was not that world. What he heard was a mechanised version: a bird flew by, flapping its wings for take-off and height-gain. There was instant visual and environmental recognition, here was an urban pigeon entering onto a length of flight, the road to the next junction, maybe. It was too built-up for wood pigeons, though they had the same flapping-slap of flight. But this time it sounded like a rustling newspaper, a large broadsheet. This was not that familiar sound to vision connect he knew so well.

His cotton trousers brushed soft cotton socks; it was a rasping sound. That was wrong. He was so intent on this hearing phenomena, these anomalies, the car just missed him. The slightly off-centre focus of his hearing, a little further to the back of his head, skewed his balance; he felt he was lurching around. By the side of a road this was not good.

He came to that junction in the road and turned, off the curb again, on then off.

‘Did you see that fool, then?’

‘Drink. Or drugs.’

‘Shouldn’t be out.’

‘What a tosser.’

He walked away quickly. This is what he got the aids for, to hear conversations again. But this…. All those times outside of conversations, anything not one-to-one, anything with background music, or just sounds blanking out all finer sounds…. And this is what he needed them for? To hear this kind of thing? Everything has its plus, and its minus.

He was in the shopping precinct now; all around were conversations. He was no longer shut out, separated by a blurred barrier of sound, now he could hear. And what did he hear? Conversation as social glue, as recognition codes among women, and among men; the youths uttered a kind of blank-faced vowel-heavy monosyllabic talk. Back with their girlfriends they were animated and fully vocal again. This was bonding, rather than intercourse: all had come outdoors to re-register themselves as social beings of a certain type, place, age, social level.

That hiss. What was it? It was the hair over his ears, the ear pieces. Whenever his ears moved, and it was surprising how often, or his scalp moved – that too – whenever all the continual physiological responses of his head occurred it gave a hissing sound, like a simmering. It should be a lower sound, a rustle of hair on plastic, on packed plastic, not hollow; but a rustle.

It was then he began to notice the changes in the new sounds, a mismatch of known sound from recognised stimuli, and this altered sound. His sense of balance, ok, that was expected and explainable: his mind listened to these new sounds despite himself. His mind was so taken up with this that it left his vision to fend for itself. And so, that object glimpsed for a second, and which he had glimpsed so many times and knew to be a faded flower head over his high garden wall, now gave him a sudden alert.

He was home, and brushing up the soil he had just walked in with a hand brush. What was that? A crow cawing somewhere close. It was his shirt brushing the flock wall paper as he moved. Nothing was matching with anything else. His mind supplied the correct explanations, but the cause was not the right one. Although vision was always king, sound was the council of ministers, the underlying sense and explanation to everything seen.

Now every sound had borders again. Things you are not aware of, things taken for granted, things slowly accustomed to, building up, accumulating, as your own sense of self grows. And now how very untidy this house – everything overspilling. My god, he thought, Where’ve I been?

The week was taken up with tidying, only, the clarity was like a razor. He became ruthless; everything went. His comfortable apartment became… stark, sharp edged, with high-lumin light bulbs that gave no mercy.

A part of him found he could not stay indoors longer than needed. He interpreted this as being focused, energized. This mismatch set up a sense of restless energy that frequently tipped into acts of anger, sudden bursts, that made no sense to him. He’d leave whoever he had hurt, and walk away amazed at himself, appalled at himself, and thrilled.

He searched out the cleaner parts of the city. The Business sectors? No; vacant buildings accumulated there, closed-downs. It became a tumbleweed centre. No, the places he gravitated to were the financial sectors. Behind their black windows they generated as much energy as they had before. This time, they did it clandestinely. Their offices were… sharp-edged, minimalist, with high-lumin light bulbs. This was his new home.

But even there, a part of him shrank away from full commitment.

The straight abrupt angles of the building in front of him was the promotion of common sense and business confidence, of four-square achievement; solid, dependable. This was the crown of the great city.

Now, however, it and many of the ones in this style, especially in close proximity like this, their own financial sector, now radiated to all an overbearing feeling of dullness, of deadness of spirit and enterprise. They had come represent the hubris and failure of an economic system that was flawed at heart.

His hearing was now like that; it dictated to sight a different, diminished repertoire of sounds to meaning.

I know you can still hear me, the voice was saying. Remember. You must remember everything. Remember what we agreed.

What does remember mean?

All our work here, the voice was still talking, softly, close by, somewhere, all your own research with The Earth Council. You must remember everything. Remem…..

Dark.

Peter, love… Oh, my love… don’t leave me…. You must let… go….

Has he gone?

My love. Rebecca. Ah, Rebecca.
And for a moment he stirred, struggled towards her voice. But the effort was too much.

Dark.

There was a slowly increasing crushing sensation. He jerked awake, panicky. His body was crushing him.
Remember. Leap for the light.
He remembered, but this sensation was not on the list. No one knew about this. Crushing inward. He held on, as they had agreed, held on, and held on. He was panicking now. The crushing grew to a frenzy of noise; it was like a screeching, as though his whole body was screaming out.
He held on, held on, until it reached top pitch… then let go.
He was flung out. Into the light, the light streaming in.
It was overwhelming.
From crushing, to release. From frenzy, to peace. From  noise, to silence.
Overwhelming.

And coming towards him, out of the light, he saw old comrades, his parents, his infant son. None had aged, all were just as he remembered them. All did… exactly as he expected them to do. He’d dreamed this, so many times. And now here they were… doing… just exactly what he… dreamed.
Through their bodies the light was still bright. He looked towards it, looked closely. And looking took him there.

He was bodiless.
All was so familiar; more familiar than his living state.
He was memory, and knowledge. He was awareness.
And before him was the world of spirit. With all its endless rebirths.
Knowledge, though, that was of a different nature to what he knew: the research, dissertations, theories he was to remember. Knowledge was the body’s own.
And he’d left that. His body was gone now, and he felt its essential knowledge fading.

He felt the power of life now, undiminished, no longer filtered through his senses, through the switchback structure of his brain, his mind, and the world.
This and that, this and that, always this play of the world and its effects on him.
But the real knowledge was fading.

The aim of their higher research at the Earth Council was to focus the minds’ energy back into the earth, to replenish it, heal it. That had been their life’s work.
But the world of spirit was not like that. The world of spirit was all about rebirths.
And all the previous births, lives, now came to mind, to instant recall, were no longer caught up in the thick webs of the body.
But each life, he saw it now in the fading knowledge, was a stumbling, fumbling, inching towards learning.  Many times he had not made it all. His last one… his last one….
The only brightness in it was Rebecca.
He felt a strengthening, the knowledge pulsed again a moment. She was the life and the light in all that clumsiness. And he had leapt away, and was now lost here, without her.
Lost, and back on the rebirth treadmill.
She had been his chance. To stay with her, to return his life energy to the earth properly. To die in his body, and return all he owed back to earth.
In the dark grave.

At last. An end to the treadmill.

That light – was his body tearing open, before it?
Is that what had happened there? Or was that the serene glow they had tried to tell each other it was? An evening pathway leading to peace?
A ragged intrusion, or a blossoming? And the screaming out, wasn’t it more a kind of sigh, as his cells released their energy?
Oh, language, language lies so easily.
Each new life, rebirth, was not as they had tried to make it, a building on previous experience, attainments – no, each life was always from point zero again.
Older hands at this rebirthing had dragged bits with them into next lives, memories lingering, as they rushed into it all over again.
There are always these anomalies, and they have no particular meaning or use to anyone.
The memories that lingered were never the ones with any importance, those were taken up, absorbed,  into one’s deeper self. Into the body. The ones that still fluttered about were wisps of no interest.

 

And the facilitators had now noticed him. They were coming over.
He had done this himself in previous leaps, gently coaxing the bewildered back into births.
Less trouble, that way: a wandering lifeforce  – always in the way of the flow.

But that is not how the earth is healed!
He saw it in that pulse of knowledge that memory of Rebecca had released in his fading body.
We heal it, by returning everything to it.
He looked around, sensed the great busyness.
If we’d all gone back into the earth, the dark of the grave, then, rather than depleting the earth, denying it the life energies we take into the light…. We’ve denuded the earth; we’re constantly weakening it, leaving it unreplenished. And all to feed our own sense of self, with all these lives.

That is the problem with that crucifixion. The death in the sky, that life into spirit. That leap was out, and away.

She has been five years buried in my illness with me, and now released.
I took her away from her friends, and her family; now she can find them again.
I gave her a marriage of sadness and the loss of our only child.
All that blame and recrimination; now she can let it go.

The light in her hair, though; I will never forget that.
This is what I should remember. These things are what matter; what I should remember.

And the facilitators guided him away from the body he continued to hover within, from the wife who wept.

What does… memember… mean…?

 

 

THE DETAILS cont

Had he been asleep? Something had changed. He looked around and there stood Mr Frederickson, section engineer.

‘What on earth…?’ Chris began. Frederickson in his shabby clothes: jumper and trousers a size too big – either that, or he had a lost a whole size recently. How was that possible? And how could he get away with dressing so shabby in the ultra-regulated offices of the Block? He must have friends on the inside. That was the only answer.

‘Have to disconnect the phone. Orders.’

‘How did you get in here?’

‘My little secret,’ he smirked.

‘I don’t suppose you feel like sharing it? For a…’ he rummaged in his pockets. Frederickson was already shaking his head. He walked to the phone and… yanked it from the wall.

‘Very skilled, your job.’

‘At times. Actually, it can be very skilled. And here is the interesting part: I am come to offer you a deal.’

‘Oh yes?’ warily.

‘Yes.’ confidently. ‘A way out of here.’

‘…for..?’

‘OK, let’s say, someone wants to meet you. You say hello, and, well, take it from there.’

‘Tell me more.’ Chris said. ‘No promises, mind.’

‘It’s in the details.’ said Frederickson.

‘There are the details that matter, and the details that don’t. The details that matter you can’t change, they’re always the same, evidence, provable in a court of law. But the details that don’t matter… ah, there we have it. They are the key.’

‘With a little manipulation it can all be altered. The room is still a room… take this one,’ he said, ‘as a for-instance, ok? This room holds you locked in. Door, window, ceiling, floor, wall, skirting… you get me? A little attention to the details that don’t matter, and, well, it’s still a room, but it can be a Waiting Room, or better still an Ante-Room, or Entrance Room. And the window a window of opportunity: the window-cleaner’s cradle, see, an elevator!’

‘How… er… how do I, does one, get to the elevator?’ he attempted a disinterested face.

‘One simply walks and takes it.’

‘But the window ledge…’

‘… is a corridor. A narrow one, with only one wall, but still a corridor.’

Got it. Chris thought. All in the mind. Like bladder control. All in the mind. ‘Ok,’ he said ‘… let’s give it a go.’

‘No, no, no. It’s an IS, not a maybe. Open that window when I say and… there you are. It’s not what you see, but what Is. But only when I say.’

‘It either is there or it’s not? I open the window and it is, or… not?’

‘No. Open the window When I Say. And Then it is.’

‘So,’ Frederickson said, ‘are we ready?’

Chris dashed to the window and hand on latch, turned. Frederickson was already stood right behind him. Chris nearly went through the window, glass and all.
‘No! No! No! Look, I’LL say. Ok? Aaand… open the window… NOW.’
Chris swung it wide, and…
‘Oooh, yes. Just look at that! Look. Look.’ he was tugging Frederickson’s sleeve.

‘Not such a big deal.’ So they stepped out into the narrow corridor, and…

‘Still a long way down, isn’t it.’ Chris said.

Frederickson paused, looked. Did he turn a little pale? ‘Yes; yes it is, isn’t it. Erm – perhaps a little recap. Inside. OK?’

They returned to the room. He walked Chris away from the window. Chris kept his elbows in; didn’t want any more of that business. Frederickson stood looking at the wall. Grey painted plasterboard. Was that a sheen of sweat on his face?

‘Ahem,’ clearing his throat, Frederickson seemed to be addressing the wall. ‘See this wall,’ he said, ‘It’s always a wall, yes? But what if it was a wall of fog, say? Yes?’

‘Right colour,’

‘Yes. So. Fog then. We can handle that one. Together then, and… step forward…Now!’ They did. And it was. Choking, blinding fog.

Chris heard him somewhere; it sounded like he was having trouble.

‘This wiring,’ he was muttering. ‘Shouldn’t be allowed. Definitely a Health and Safety issue. All this damned wiring.’

 

Excerpts from my 3-part urban fantasy novel, QUEEN OF THE CITY.
Amazon Kindle, now.https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07CQSVNV5/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1524942001&sr=1-1&keywords=queen+of+the+city

The Details

Chris shut the door quietly and stood looking at the phone, ringing.
It had rung about four or five times, and then all of a sudden auto-pilot kicked in; he knelt, picked up the receiver and went into the script:

‘Good morning’ (was it still morning? Who knows),
‘Epith, Wrang and Company.
This is Christopher speaking.
How may I be of assistance?’
He had always thought this last part too long-winded, Chris’ attention floated: the script was a little flowery perhaps. No, he had come to prefer something a little more snappier, like….

‘Christopher? Is that you?’

Who was this? Female. Young. Familiar voice, a Birmingham echo still in the vowel sounds. Very familiar. He was coming in to land quite rapidly…
Incredulously:

‘Andrea?’

‘Christopher?’

At that he gurgled incoherently. Too many words, and too little mouth.

‘I don’t know where I am,’ she said.

‘It’s been days.’

‘I don’t know where I am.’

‘It was all arranged; everyone contacted…’

‘I don’t know where I am.’

‘… all the invites sent out; flowers; caterers…’

‘Christopher…’

‘…hall booked, engagement party…’

‘Christopher.’

‘…and then you ring up days later and say…’

‘Christopher!’

‘…you don’t know… where you are? What do you mean you don’t where you are?’

‘I don’t. I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know where here is, it’s…’

‘Well, where is it?’

‘I Don’t Know.’

‘Well, well… describe it.’

‘It’s just a room. No windows, no chairs, tables. Nothing.’

‘What are you doing there?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘How do you eat?’

‘A cat flap. In the door. A polystyrene tray. No one says anything. No one comes in.’

‘How do you… toilet?’

‘Christopher.’

‘Go on, how do you, you know?’ A pause, silence; phone static. Then:

‘Cat litter tray.’

‘And…’

‘Through the cat flap.’

‘How do you…’

‘What?’ It didn’t sound like a question.

‘… you know… wipe…’

‘I don’t believe this. I am asking for help here, and you ask me …?’

‘Sorry.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Sorry.’

Silence again; static. ‘Are you going to help me? Or not?’

‘You don’t know where you are?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘And you don’t see anyone to ask, or…. You don’t remember…’

And then the phone went dead.
Chris knelt looking stupidly at the receiver. It purred to him like a cat. A robotic but contented cat. Gradually some confidence returned: ‘Look,’ he said to it, ‘I’ve always been good at the details. I love details; the more the better for me. I had to ask how, you know. It’s the details that tell, make it, ahem, real. Put the phone down, you fool.’ Did he hear a stifled laugh, somewhere? No. How could he?

He did hear voices approaching, though, and the shush-shush of shoes over carpet. Louder, approaching the door. Chris froze. The handle was held, turned. The door swung open. Silence.

‘I heard voices. I’m sure of it. No one here. Witherswill, there’s no one here.’ It was the CEO. Sir.

And head of Security.

‘Look, keep this door locked in future.’

‘Aye-aye, sir.’

Then he strode away. Chris was about to let out a long-held breath, when

‘I know you’re there,’ said Witherswill. He pulled the door shut smartly. Locked it with a sharp click. He whistled as he shush-shushed off. At that moment Chris would have given his shoes for a litter tray.

Gently, he tried the door. Nothing. Locked. That only left… the window, and the cradle. Even the thought of it gave him bladder pressure. He looked back at the phone. ‘I should at least have asked for her phone number.’ he muttered, aware now how empty rooms make noise. He tried re-dial. Nothing. He tried call-back. Nothing. He ran through the repertoire of phone knowledge. Nothing helpful for this situation. Then it struck him: ‘My god! I am the bridegroom!’

Andrea… he just couldn’t face the memory of that evening again, and sat staring blankly out of the window at grey on grey sky. A smattering of rain. ‘It’d make the cradle slippery. So that’s that.’
And besides, his stomach and leg muscles were aching from all that exercise.