Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

“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.

 

 

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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.

An Even Worse Day At The Office

The plywood door swung to; it was cheap and looked it. Behind the door the coats were still swinging, but they did not stop. Chris watched the movement, then he heard rustling. He looked closer, saw legs emerge. It was Williamson.

‘I thought you’d gone,’ he said. Silly stuff, but he had to say something. Williamson came out fully and stared at him with a glittering eye, his other was closed. It was a knowing, almost winking knowledge.
‘You know more about all this than you let on, don’t you.’ Chris said. He was being clever here; clearly he had my private detective head on. Williamson moved kind of sideways towards him, crab-like. He was a little disconcerted by this, blurted,
‘Well, out with it.’

‘There was a ship,’ Williamson said, his look far away. No, thought Chris, I hate the sea.  ‘And a storm-blast tyrannous and strong. It drove us southward ever south, far from shipping lanes, the current’s corridors. As though it was playing with us. It drove us on to places of many wonders. Then stranded us in a rotting calm of sea, the engines down.  A place of ice and fogs, and endless days. I had been drinking rain water since leaving port – better than that muck they bought in. An albatross found us. It used our ship for resting in the endless wastes of the nights; used us like a beacon, like a… toilet,’ he snarled suddenly. ‘So I shot the filthy thing. No meat on it neither. They all blamed me for that, my colleagues. Keep to your stations! the captain said. But they hacked me, the lot of them. Filthy emails, pop-ups, stuff, stuff…. . Reported me for the slightest slip. I was soon fearing for my future. What rescued me was those… little rats and mice about the place in those days.’

‘Couldn’t we skip this bit?’ asked Chris.

‘I cared for them, bedded them down in the warehouse, fed them, and mourned them when they died. It was as though a weight passed off me. I was skin and bone, but fed the little dears as if my own flesh and blood.’

‘You really shouldn’t be telling me, anybody, this.’ Chris said horrified, drawing away from him.

‘I have to. I have to tell it. And besides…’ he gave a cunning look, with both eyes this time, ‘You’re the bridegroom.’

‘What?’ Chris spluttered. ‘Have you gone soft on top?’

Williamson went scarlet, spitting fury, frantically combing and flattening a huge comb-over. Then drawing a utility knife for parcels, muttered, ‘We should have done this before.’ He put the knife between his teeth and made slowly towards him, scattering chairs with both hands. Chris backed away into the corner, and a filing cabinet. That bruise will stay with him forever. Williamson came on and on, a kind of wild look in his eyes. A part of Chris’s brain noted how he was heading straight for the pile of papers on the floor, and… the gonk.

Crunch, and slide. It was over in a fraction of a second, but the bruise had got his adrenalin going, speeded up his sense of time. Williamson was doing this kind of slap-stick routine of every time he put foot to floor the paper skidded out from under and he was down again.

Looking back he could not believe this – someone like him dived for the table between him and the door and rolled over it, landing on two feet facing the objective. In one stride Chris hit the door. It wouldn’t open. He rattled and rattled it. Williamson was snarling, threw the table over, and was standing. Then Chris remembered it was an inward opener, flung it open in panic – and in a bound he was free. It hit Williamson full in the face, though.

Chris heard his howls behind him as he took corner after corner among cubicles, doubling back to jump from where he last stood sideways, and off down the corridor outside, then another corridor. He felt like Danny in the snowy maze in The Shining. Except there was no snow and he was a lot older than Danny. And this was the admin section of a modern office. Ok and he was on the third floor. So no maze, no snow, no Dad with an axe (would old Williamson with a parcel knife do?) and he was not a kid.

Chris ended up in an empty office. Empty; even the carpet gone. Great, he thought. Now what do I do? But there outside the window, a window-cleaner’s cradle; if he just slipped out that window, past that post and…. No way. No way. I’d rather…. And it was then a phone rang. He tracked the sound down, behind, round. Behind the door, on the bare floor a connected phone.
Ringing.

A Bad Day At The Office

‘You are supposed to be my friend.’ Chris said, struggling to keep a faux pleading out of his voice. Instead it took on a completely unintended sarcastic tone. He knew he was misjudging work-relations badly here. The sarcastic tone was one he could go with, at least. Surely it would give him room to manoeuvre.

‘There are no friends here; only colleagues.’ Anders stated, not unkindly. Then, ‘Franklin, work station six, reported you late those times. Estworth, at nine, reported Franklin for wastage. Peterson, at three, reported all of you for laziness.… I could go on.’

‘Franklin and Estworth are my buddies.’ Chris mumbled. ‘We always have lunch breaks together. Joey Franklin, Pauly Peterson….  .’

‘Anyway. I never reported anyone…’ he said firmly ‘… for anything. Ever.’

‘No, we know that. You don’t fit in.’ said Anders.

‘You’re a wrong ‘un.’ butted in Williamson.

‘That’s enough of that,’ said Anders gently. ‘I can handle this… little matter.’ Williamson didn’t move. So they did; Anders took Chris by the elbow, a strangely intimate but peculiar grasp, and steered him further into the office. Williamson said suddenly,

‘We need The Machine. Now.’ Anders glanced up sharply but there was a gleam in Williamson’s eye, his long grey beard bristled as though alive. ‘We can’t afford any more slip ups,’ he hissed to Anders. ‘You know that.’ His hand was on Chris’ other elbow now.

‘Unhand me, greybeard loon.’ Chris said wryly, unhooking his elbows from their grasps. Williamson seemed to come to himself, a cold look swept across what could be seen of his face, like a Force Nine arctic blast. By that time the other people had left their work stations and gathered around them, blocking the door, the window.

They had all gathered from their work stations like beasts at a kill, or gnats around a no gnat-repellent sunbather. The strip lighting hummed; there was a strange bellows sound from somewhere.  ‘Still got that bad chest, then,’ one murmured to another.

Then Williamson burst back through the door, barging through them all on his way. He looked victorious. They all fell back; even the light went quiet. He glowered at the table where Anders and Chris sat. A prickling sensation of fear and sweat moved through the watchers, like a Mexican wave.

‘Now we’ll see.’ crowed Williamson. He approached the table and then with one sweep cleared laptop, papers and nodding gonk onto the floor.

‘I’m sure there’s no need for this,’ Anders said quietly.

‘Too late.’ crowed Williamson again. ‘I set it on the way back. It’s got to run its course now.’ An ‘Oh.’ went around the room. Anders looked defeated. Williamson went as if to place something on the table.
‘Well then. Come here you.’ Williamson gloated at Chris. All the while Chris had looked on a little perplexed. What was all this? What exactly was going on here?

‘There’s nothing there.’ he said, quite calmly. The room seemed to tilt for a fraction of a second; everyone gave a slight gasp. Or it was suddenly so quiet the one with the bad chest became very loud.

‘No. You’re not taking this away from me.’ snarled Williamson. ‘Let’s do it.’

‘There’s nothing there,’ Chris repeated. None would meet his eyes. He had spotted a CCTV camera blinking in the corner of the ceiling. ‘Look.’ he said, ‘I’ll show you.’ He uprighted the laptop, dithered over but left the gonk, then rummaged through computer programs. He found the Security folder, Camera Eight.

‘Now watch.’ They had to pay attention, he had used the instructor’s tone. His friend, Franklin, was an excellent mimic; he’d taught him the course tutor’s voice, on lunch-breaks. He knew it’d come in handy… somewhere.

They wouldn’t let him bring them over, it would mean touching them. Some even whimpered as he tried: grown men, twice his size, whimpering. He had caught their elbows to steer them; it was a peculiar gesture, he had to admit.

‘Look.’ he said, he rewound the footage then pressed Play. Williamson entered the room at a pace; they watched as several people lurched as he bounded into them. From the cameras’ angle all could see the extent of his bald patch. Chris glanced up, Williamson looked furious, surreptitiously combing hair over with his fingers. Was that a snigger from somewhere? They watched, all crowding round, as Williamson halted – they all counted the three seconds clicking by on the playback – then he approached the table, and cleared it. Chris noticed everyone look to the pile on the floor, at this. Williamson swept his hair over again. The play-back Williamson stood there before the table, looking triumphant; they could see his beard wag happily.

‘Now look.’ Chris said. ‘See, there’s nothing on the table.’ He looked around the room and they all looked aghast. Williamson looked horrified, shamed, embarrassed; he seemed to have shrunk a foot. Anders stepped forward and quietly cut the footage. He looked tired, upset. They all turned to him.

‘What’s it mean?’ someone asked. ‘We all saw it’

‘Obviously, I didn’t’ Chris said a little loftily.

‘It looks like we’ve been hacked,’ Anders said, almost to himself. He sat down, slumped in his chair, as far as the posture-chair would allow, anyway. The others filed out of the room silently. Chris watched them all disappear separately to their sections, an air of gloom, defeat, about the place.

‘It’s been happening a lot recently,’ Anders said wearily. ‘I hoped, I really hoped, it wouldn’t happen on my watch.’ He sounded old suddenly, a catch, a waver, in his voice. Then suddenly strong: ‘It’s too early. Ten thirty? Do these people never have the morning off?’ Chris looked at him; this was a side he had not seen before: Anders the Slacker. Well, well!

‘Who? Hacked? How? Why?’ Chris was all questions; his old day-release course tutor would have been proud.

‘The question is: Where?’ Anders said thoughtfully. He sat steepling his fingers as he thought long and deep. At last with a sigh he seemed to have come to some kind of resolution, stood up and moved to the door. ‘I’d better go and check on everyone,’ he said, more to himself than Chris. At the door he turned to him, looked him directly in the eye, said,
‘Whatever you do, do not leave this room. Do you hear me? Under any circumstances Do Not leave this room.’
Then he was gone.