Posts Tagged ‘Short Story’

Rowan Park Estate, East London, March 1979.

Jack didn’t mean to lose his temper. He certainly didn’t intend to make his mother cry. But he did, and she had. He faced her in the small living room of their high-rise flat, the vividness of his anger in contrast to the muted décor, the chintz, and the soft furnishings.

“Don’t cry. I’m sorry. It’s just… I’m upset too,” he managed to say.

“What have you got to be upset about?” She said, avoiding his gaze. “I’m the one who keeps everything together around here.” She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.

“Yeah, everything’s together. We’re all so together.” He could feel his anger gathering momentum, preparing for another eruption. His face reddened.

“We make do.”

“Yeah. We do that.”

“I thought you were going out. Haven’t you got a band to muck about with? What’s wrong with them? Go bother them.” She said, looking up at last. “Go on, go do whatever it is you do that apparently makes you so hard done by.” She turned from Jack and headed out of the living room into the adjoining kitchen. Jack followed a few paces behind, his footsteps measured.

“There’s nothing wrong with them. And it’s not mucking about. It’s the only thing that makes sense in this shithole.” He paused before adding, “I never said I was hard done by. I said, I need you to listen; to face up to things. To not be… elsewhere.”

“Well go to them. Why are you hanging around here upsetting your mother for no good reason?” She said with her back to him.

“I want things to change. I want you to see that things need to change. I’m fed up of everything. Everyone walks around here like things are all all right when really nothing is. Everything’s falling apart. You’re not even here half the time, first it was dad, and now you. Then there’s Lorraine,” he said, hanging back and loitering behind her.

He was so much taller than she was these days, so much stronger. She seemed weak and frail — pathetic even. Her vulnerability fuelled his anger, and he took a step back, afraid of his emotions; afraid of the way it made him feel looming over this small creature that was his mother. He clenched and unclenched his fists.

For a moment Shirley just ignored her son and flicked the switch on a nearby kettle. She then immediately set about wiping the chipped Formica surface around it with a damp cloth she pulled from the sink. “Now you’re just being daft. I have to work late,” she said, finally.

“So you say.” He began playing with a badge on his jacket. The badge was red and white and designed to look like a famous fizzy drink logo. Enjoy Co-Caine — It’s the real thing, it stated in white lettering.

“Somebody has to keep you fed and watered, not that I get any thanks for it.” She began searching in a cupboard above the sink.

“Well how come you only started coming home late these last few weeks?”

“Lorraine’s pregnant, we need more money. I took on extra shifts. Maybe you should get a job yourself. There’s an idea, eh?”

“There are no jobs ‘round here.”

“There are if you look,” she said, and finally turned to face him with a cup and saucer in hand. She looked at him searchingly as if she were taking in her son’s features for the first time after a long absence. Noting that he had dyed his short dark hair blond, how tall he had become; how hard his dark eyes now seemed. “You could look.”

“Don’t you watch the news? The country is stuffed. Everybody’s striking. There’s no money and no jobs. The sooner the Russians blow this place up the better.” His tone had softened slightly now that his mother had turned to face him.

“I don’t know what’s got into you lately, I really don’t.”

“It’s not me, it’s everyone else. Anyway, Lorraine’s fella works, so why are you doing extra shifts?”

“How long do you think that’s going to last?”

“Why won’t it? Because he’s black?”

“You just said yourself there are no jobs. I never mentioned his colour or said I disliked him.”

“You do dislike him.”

“Jack, stop it! I have never said anything against him. That was your father. It’s your sister’s choice. Besides, there’s a baby now so we just have to put up with it.” She turned away again and began heaping sugar into her cup.

“Fucking hypocrites the lot of you.”

“You need to wash your mouth out. Fancy talking to your own mother like that.”

Jack turned away himself now and started pacing around the kitchen. He opened the fridge and peered inside, but he had no real interest in its contents, which anyhow seemed unusually spare. Closing it again, he walked over to the window and pushed aside the net curtain. From this vantage point, looking directly down, he could see the sprawl of the estate’s council housing, another nearby estate, several streets of red-bricked terraced housing, a local sweet shop, betting shop, and a Chinese take-away. It all looked humdrum and innocuous.

“Can I have some money?”

“What? You ain’t ‘alf got some front!”

“I need money for a gig.”

“Money for drugs more like. Don’t think I don’t know what you boys get up to in those garages. The whole estate knows what goes on there.”

“The whole estate is a bunch of mindless idiots.”

“Pots and kettles, some might say. Why can’t you be into something nice? All this punk nonsense. It muddles your brain.”

“Punk is freedom. It’s the only thing that’s real. Everything else is bollocks. All that psychedelic hippy shit? People ain’t got time to think about free love and outer space when they’re all completely skint.”

“It’s that Paul Timmons. He’s responsible for this. He’s a terrible influence on you.”

“He ain’t an influence on me. I’m nineteen, mum. Anyway, he has done more for me than most other people I could name. I don’t know why you have such a grudge against him.”

Shirley tutted and shook her head. “Take a couple of quid out of my purse on the bedside cabinet. It’s all I have until I get paid.”

“I’m sorry about earlier,” he said, turning from the window and walking back towards her.

“Forget it.”

The kettle began to rumble and expel steam excitedly.

“It’s just… if dad has started hitting you, you can’t let it go on.”

“I said forget it. Please.”

“These last few weeks it seems like everything is just breaking apart, like there are all these… cracks. There’s this heaviness everywhere. And with us. It was bad before, but now it’s even worse. Lorraine, you, dad; this damned block that’s like a broken prison still holding on to its inmates.”

“Prison might do you some good.”

“I suppose you’d like that.”

The switch on the kettle clicked.

“Just go.”

This time he did as instructed. It was his parent’s bedroom, but apart from some shoes, an old pair of work boots, and a bottle of Old Spice, there was very little to testify to the presence of his father. This was his mother’s room, his father just happened to sleep here. He picked up the purse, which lay, as his mother had said, on top of the bedside cabinet. It was big and red. He emptied it of its contents.

“Sometimes things are just what they are, Paul, and nothing we do can change them. We just have to make do the best we can.” Her raised voice carried down the passage, where he imagined she stood pointedly with her cup of tea in hand.

Paul put the money in his pocket. That’s what I’m doing, mum he thought to himself. “Thanks!”

*****

He pressed for the lift. Someone had again smashed the little green number display panel so he couldn’t tell whether it was at ground level or on one of the nine other odd-numbered floors that this lift stopped at, besides the one he himself was on. There was another lift in the block that served the even numbered floors. At the touch of the button, the unhealthy sounding mechanics sprang into action. By the sound it made Jack reasoned the lift was probably somewhere close to the ground. He lit the last cigarette in his pack of ten, and paced squeakily on the plastic tiled flooring while he waited for it to ascend.

Each of the floors in the block had a large window with views across the city. He made his way over to the one on his floor and looked out through the wire-threaded glass to a panorama of Central London. It was now raining hard. Good. He liked the rain. This place, his life, felt to him like it needed cleansing. Maybe if it rained hard enough…  In the distance, against a backdrop of gunmetal grey, he could see the Post Office Tower and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was a enviable view. If he had nothing else, he had no shortage of views. But it was not enough for him to get the frightened image of his mother’s face out of his head. His thoughts returned to their argument, transposing on the external vista his own internal imagery. He watched himself pounding the living room table with his fists, his mother jumping back with fright. He blew smoke at the window.

Out of the corner of his vision he observed a pigeon land clumsily on the edge of a balcony, its head bobbing left and right. He sniggered. Daft bird. He thought it looked bewildered, and lost. It caused him to wonder if the whole estate weren’t some kind of nexus for the lost; a magnet for the terminally disappointed, the discarded, and the forgotten. Or if Rowan Park just eventually made everybody that way. A consequence, maybe, of its isolating architecture and monolithic drabness. Was it possible to design a landscape that induced such qualities? Jack imagined some insidious plan hatched in the mind of the estate’s architects: let’s see how these poor people react to living in these conditions. What a great experiment. Will it alter their behaviour? We could learn so much. Fascinating.

The lift rattled to a stop and opened with a grinding squeal. He stepped away from his London vista, and into the confines of a dimly lit, urine soaked, steel box. He jabbed at the button marked Ground Floor, before flicking his dog-end into the puddle of piss. He listened to it fizzle, and inhaled the acrid smell. The lift initiated its shuddering descent.

The entrance to the underground section of the derelict car park appeared to float before him in a watery haze. As it had done countless times before, it drew him onwards. It was a refuge, and not just from the rain. It was for him and his friends, a private underworld; a chthonic entity of concrete and rust, and a guardian of as yet undiscovered treasure. It was from this place that the forces of destiny operating in his life would manifest. It was from here he would make his mark on the world.

Beyond the used-to-be-sliding metal gates, the darker outline of several huddled figures could be seen. One of them caused an orange light to glow fiercely for a short moment. Jack focused on it like a homing beacon, and splashed through the puddles in his biker boots to reach it.

*****

“Give us a fag then,” Jack said. A half-mumbled “all right,” an “oi,” and a grunt greeted him in return. The grunt he knew came courtesy of Paul Timmons. It was he who had lit the flare that guided Jack. “You are a fag. There you go, dirty queer,” Paul said with a goading smile as he passed Jack a cigarette. Paul was the lead singer in the punk band they named after their favourite meeting spot, The Garages (not Garage City as Jack had originally wanted), and was, with his impressively large blue Mohican, the bands very own living mascot. He served as a symbol for all they aspired to be: one-hundred percent pure punk attitude.

“What’s new then?”

“Jack, why do you always end a sentence with then?” This was Rob. He wore a ripped white T-shirt on which he had scrawled: R.I.P Sid 1957 – 1979 in black ink. Jack approved, and smiled to himself.

“Because I do. What of it? THEN!”

“Now, now, girls. Play nice. So what you got for us, Jack?”

“Nothing much, a couple of quid off me mum.”

“She’s a good ol’ girl your mother, never let anyone say otherwise. You can always rely on her to sort you out.” Paul smirked, and winked at Scott who responded by turning his back and walking away deeper into the interior of the garages.

Jack sucked the air, and clenched his fists. He was feeling particularly tense today. He stared at Paul for a while, who, lost in the act of his smoking, failed to notice. He appeared shrouded in darkness, Jack thought. He was a mystery to the others for the most part, and he seemed to like to keep things that way. But Jack wasn’t only thinking figuratively, the shadows thrown up by the gloomy interior seemed to cling to Paul today, having the effect of causing him to appear as though partially eroded by his surroundings. It was as if the murk was penetrating him bodily.

“There’s a gig at the Hope and Anchor tonight. A band from up North called Joy Division. Supposed to be pretty good. They want seventy-five pence entry,” Rob said.

“Seventy-five? Thieving bastards. I heard about them, they played there in December. So Jess said. They only charged sixty then, and she said it were nearly empty. Forget them. Let’s use the money to get wired and make our own gig.”

“We should rehearse. We need to get things moving if we’re serious about making this band work,” Jack said.

“Bloody ‘ell, what’s happened to you? Mr. Serious. Why did you get money off your ol’ dear if you weren’t planning on getting a little high?”

“I never said I wasn’t planning to get high, I just said we need to get serious about what we’re doing with this band. Don’t you want to get out of this shithole, Paul?”

“Nope, I just wanna get out my ‘ead. I like this shithole. It’s my shithole. And I ain’t giving it up, neither.”

“You’ll probably die here.”

“That’s fine by me. We can’t rehearse yet, anyway: Jess has the keys to the lock up. Just relax, Jack, isn’t that why we come here? Why we made this little bunker our shelter against the fallout of life’s crap.

“Where did Scott go?” Rob interjected.

“I’m over here,” a voice shouted from behind a concrete ramp. “You guys need to come and look at this.”

“Why? What you done, Scott? Pissed yourself? Found your dick and given yourself a fright?”

Rob and Jack laughed.

“Piss off, Paul! I’m serious, there’s something here I wanted to show you, it’s really weird.”

“Ooooh!”

“There’s some kind of… gash, a split in the floor.”

They all laughed harder.

Jack looked around at the interior of the abandoned structure. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Graffiti daubed concrete pillars broke the otherwise uniform emptiness. One at least had suffered a strong impact, a collision with a car most obviously: large chunks of masonry were missing from its side and the steel wiring could be seen protruding at various points from within. The rusted shell of a Ford Capri still languished in its final resting place near the rear of the building. Not far away a feeble amount of light filtered in via an additional opening to the outside. Elsewhere, shadows and discarded rubbish gathered in the spaces that had once been reserved for cars that actually worked. Rain pooled in spreading lakes near the centre of the building. Ambient sounds of dripping water and trickling rivulets, accompanied by the occasional clatter of wind-blown metal echoing from somewhere above, filled the space. Concrete ramps led off either side to further parking on the upper floors and on the rooftop, a space which Jack thought by now probably resembled the local lido.

“A weird gash? Have you guys been huffing without me?”

“Don’t be daft. We knew you’d be here. Once you were done cooing over your sister’s half-caste sprog.” Paul sneered.

Jack couldn’t see the sneer, but he sensed it. He tensed and took a deep breath. “My sister is pregnant, she doesn’t have a sprog yet.” He waited for a reply, but none came. “Right, Scott show us this fucking gash.”

The gash, and it could be said that it really was a gash of sorts, was clear to see: it was a ridged tearing of the stone floor, red about the edges like a wound. In length it was perhaps a little over three foot, in width not much more than a hand span, less as it tapered off at both ends. A noxious smell permeated the slightly warmer air about it. It was positioned in a shadowed section near to the last ramp heading upwards as one entered from the front of the building. And there was, even for those who hadn’t spent the better part of the last eighteen months high on various solvents, no logical explanation for what it was and what it was doing there.

“Shit, what’s that?” Jack said.

“How the hell should we know,” Paul said, lighting another cigarette.

“Well, how long has it been there?”

“It was there when I came here on my own last week, that was the first time I noticed it,” Scott said.

“Shit.”

“But it could have been there longer. I mean, when do we ever look back here?”

“It stinks, what’s that smell?” Jack said, leaning a little closer. He breathed in the warm stench. “Ugh! It smells terrible. This can’t be right,” he said, backing away again. “It’s giving off some kind of fumes.”

Jack stepped away from the opening in the floor completely. He felt a little woozy. His heart was pounding in his chest, and he thought he heard his name being called by someone from the floor above. “Did you hear that?” He said. His cohorts looked at him quizzically, and Jack thought, a little menacingly. He made to head up the ramp.

“Where are you going?” Scott said to Jack. Jack turned around to face him, noticing that his friend’s shaved head and nose piercings reflected the red of the scarred floor. It made him look sinister in Jack’s eyes.

“Upstairs, someone’s calling my name.” It was then that Jack saw something that shocked him so much he fell backwards, skidding on the inclined stone floor, and coming to rest in a pool of dark water.

*****

Jack was soaking wet and cold. Not just cold, but freezing. It took him a while to get his bearings, and to realise that he was sitting partially submerged in a large puddle of water. He jumped to his feet, and then immediately regretted moving so quickly. His vision blurred. He felt like he was about to vomit.

Then he remembered the others, the shadowy faces that had rushed at him from all sides. Some were even vaguely familiar. More than vaguely familiar. Had one not been his mother? And Paul? But Paul was stood beside him. That didn’t make sense. Panicked, he called for his friends, but his voice was swallowed by the dark and no reply was forthcoming. He could hear the familiar sounds of dripping water and clanging metal. It was so much darker than he remembered it being earlier, he could barely see anything at all. He turned to look behind him, and saw from the muted glow of the street lights beyond the gates that it was now dark outside, too. What the hell had happened? And why have those tossers just left me alone in a pool of water. Confused and angry, he turned around and started towards the exit.

The abrupt noise of a car engine ahead brought him to a halt. He listened intently, transfixed by the sound of screeching tyres splashing through water followed by the slamming of car doors closed with haste. He knew what this meant. In theory the car could be carrying anyone, but somehow there was a familiar rhythm to these sounds. Three figures appeared as silhouettes blocking the exit. A radio crackled. Torches were switched on. Jack still frozen to the spot, flinched as the beam of one caught him directly in the eye.

“Police! Come forward and keep you arms out to your side. Don’t make any sudden moves.”

“What the hell, I haven’t done anything.” Jack moaned, trying to block the penetrating beam of the torch with his forearm.

“Didn’t say you had. But we’re investigating reports of a disturbance, and from what I can see, you look like you’ve been in a disturbance.” The officer stepped forward and grabbed Jack’s forearm in a sudden sidestepping manoeuvre. He stamped a puddle and further soaked Jack in the process. The other two circled behind, torches illuminating the ground before them, and shortly afterwards one of them gave him a shove in the centre of his back. “I haven’t fucking done anything,” Jack complained more forcibly, wincing as his arms were forced into a rear position and his hands cuffed behind his back.

“You can’t arrest me for nothing.”

“You’re not being arrested — yet. I’m placing you in handcuffs for both our safety, and while we try and figure out what has happened here, who you are, and why you’re covered in blood.”

“Covered in blood..?” Jack murmured as he was spun around to look directly at the officer that had cuffed him.

“Stay calm, son, while we try and get to the bottom of this. I’m Sergeant Eades. Now…”

“There’s something over here,” one of the other officers called aloud from further into the gloomy interior. “Bloody hell! What is this?”

“Jenkins stay here and mind our young friend, while I have at look at what Stamp has found.” Sergeant Eades stepped tentatively into the deeper dark.

“Christ’s sake!”

“You can say that again, Sarge. I think he did a pretty good job on this guy.”

Sergeant Eades shot his PC a reproachful look. “What a mess…” He arced the beam of his torch over the sight before him, revealing the horror it illuminated in a piecemeal fashion. “Jenkings! Call for a van, we’re going to be taking our young friend in. And ask CID to attend…  And Jenkins, tell him he is now most definitely being arrested.” He took a deep breath. “Right, Stamp, shine your beam slowly over this section, let’s be clear what exactly we’re looking at, and then we’re going to have to look over every part of this slag heap.”

“It looks like he was thrown against the pillar. There’s steel wiring sticking out from where the concrete has fallen away, here, and here, and both of these have penetrated him. Impaling him through the torso, and then through the neck.”

“You’re a genius, Stamp. I don’t know why you haven’t made DI yet.”

“Thanks, Sarge”.

Sergeant Eades rolled his eyes. “That in itself could be an accident, but Mr. Mohican here looks like he has gone a few rounds with a wild animal. What are all those lacerations? Keep your eye out for a weapon. And stay alert, we don’t know who else may be here.”

*****

“There were four of them, allegedly. All part of a band. A Punk band called The Garages. Can you believe that? These kids would be dangerous if they had half a brain,” Inspector Marriot said.

“I’d say impaling someone and then nigh on shredding them with God knows what is pretty dangerous, sir”.

“Ha! Well, quite.” Inspector Marriot smiled at Sergeant Eades, and took a sip from his tea while pondering his Sergeant’s faultless observation. “We can account for three of them. I want you and the uniform boys to focus on trying to find the one that is missing: Robert Harris.  I have a photograph here provided to us by his parents. Apparently, he has dyed his hair green, and has had a stud put in his left nostril since this was taken.”

Sergeant Eades leaned across the inspector’s desk to get a clear look at the picture. “What about the one that was brought in afterwards? This Scott chap. What’s his story?”

“Haven’t been able to get a word of sense out of him. He doesn’t strike me as particularly bright, and he’s delusional. They were obviously all as high as kites.”

“Delusional?”

“He has been prattling about some shadow men. We’ll get more sense once the drugs have worn off, I dare say.”

“And what about our man, Jack? What has he said?”

“Not much. Who the four of them are, why they were there. He says they hang about there all the time, it’s like their den or something. You would think they were twelve. He says he doesn’t remember anything else, that he woke up in a puddle, and that he thinks he saw visions of people he knows. And some kind of dark tower. Insists he didn’t do anything. How he can know that for certain if he apparently can’t remember anything else doesn’t seem to have registered. Obviously been inhaling something as well.”

“Tower? He lives in one of the tower blocks doesn’t he?

“Yes, with his mother, father, and pregnant sister. We’re about to bring the mother in to answer some questions. Apparently, he saw a different tower. I have no idea, sergeant, and I’m not minded to get caught up chasing after the phantoms of a drug addled most-likely murderer. I don’t see the relevance of any tower, not the Eiffel Tower, not the Bloody Tower, and not even the one he lives in. All I care to know about from this Jack, is how exactly his friend met his death in those garages? Where this other missing chap is? And which among them is responsible for the mess back there? Since of the two we have, only Jack was covered in blood, I’m also inclined to suspect he may be enjoying selective amnesia.”

“You do realise, sir, that we didn’t recover any drugs.”

“Did you recover drug related paraphernalia?”

“Some, yes, and signs of solvent abuse, but…”

“I think we can be reasonably assured of their narcotic predilection.”

“Did Jenkins show you the mark on the floor back there?”

“No, your man Stamp did, actually. This boy Scott keeps babbling about it, says they came from there. Whoever they are.”

“It is weird. The mark on the floor I mean. I’ve not seen anything like it before.”

“It’s an old building. Has been out of use for years. The Council really ought to have knocked it down by now. Would save us a lot of problems. And they can knock down the whole estate while they’re at it. I suspect this weird mark is just where the floor has cracked through constant flooding, and it has taken on some kind of twisted significance in the minds of these young morons because of whatever the hell it is they’ve been inhaling. Don’t over-complicate things, Eades.”

“Mmm.”

“You sound unconvinced. Look, whatever that mark is, I doubt it pushed our man onto a foot of steel masonry wire and then ripped him apart.”

“No, sir,” Sergeant Eades agreed. He folded up the picture of Robert Harris and put it in his pocket.

*****

“Do you mind if we call you Shirley?”

“You can call me what you like, it’s not going to make any difference now.”

“You do understand why we’ve brought you here, don’t you?”

“Please, I just want to see my son.” She ran a hand through her dyed blonde hair. It felt greasy.

“You will, but there’s a few things we need to clarify first.”

“My son idolised him. If only he knew.”

“Knew what, Shirley?”

“That he didn’t give a damn about my Jack, or anybody but himself, that he wasn’t some soon to be rock star; he had no talent except as a fraud, a bully, and a user.”

“Go on.”

Shirley looked at the desk that separated her from the two interviewing detectives. She needed something to do with her hands, a distraction. There was nothing on the desk that would do. “Do you have a cigarette, please?”

“Have one of these,” said the second of the two officers, uttering his first words since they had entered the small interview room. He was young and handsome thought Shirley. Very clean and tidy looking. Probably a bit of a mummy’s boy. Nothing wrong with that. He lit her smoke, and she thanked him with a wan smile.

“Shirley, is there something you want to tell us about the relationship between your son and Paul Timmons?” The interviewer continued.

“No, not him. You know he was nearly ten years older than the rest? Why at twenty-seven would you hang around with a bunch of eighteen and nineteen year olds? No reason. Unless you were up to no good.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand, you said not him. A moment ago when I asked about Paul’s relationship to your son. Wh….

“Me,” Shirley interrupted. “Paul’s relationship with me is what you should ask about.”

“Right.”

“He was blackmailing me. Using me for whatever he could get. That’s the kind of man Paul Timmons is. Was. Handy with his fists, too. Good riddance, I say.”

“Blackmail?”

“He told me if I didn’t sort him out, he would tell my husband the truth about our daughter.”

“I see.”

“What do you see? You don’t see anything. You don’t know what life is really like for us on that estate. My daughter is pregnant by a man who brings her to other men to have sex for money. Do you understand? My husband doesn’t know, Jack doesn’t know, the bloke my daughter is supposedly going steady with, and who puts up with no end of abuse from my idiotic husband, he doesn’t know. He thinks he’s the father. The only people who know are me, my daughter, and my daughter’s best friend, Jess, who also happens to have been shacked up with Paul bloody Timmons.”

“How have you managed to keep this hidden from your husband, and from Jack? Surely they would have noticed something going on?”

“Jack did notice. We argued over it earlier today. Charlie, my husband, wouldn’t notice if his own head fell off. You can thank the whiskey for that. And that’s just the way of things. There are some things you can’t change. You just have to make do. Paper over the cracks as best you can, and hope nobody pays too much attention. That’s how we get by in my world, detective.”

“Can I get you a drink, Shirley.”

“Tea, thank you. And some tissue if you don’t mind.”

“Shirley, is there any way in which Jack could have found this out?”

“I don’t see how. Paul wouldn’t tell while he was onto a good thing. Neither would Jess, whether for fear of Paul or supposed loyalty to my Lorraine.”

“Okay, thanks Shirley. I’ll get you that tea now.”

*****

“What a mess this is, sir”.

“We have a motive now, sergeant. If we can prove that our man Jack knew about this blackmail, and the abuse of his mother.”

“But did he? His mother says he didn’t, and it doesn’t make sense for Timmons to have told him. So how would he have known?”

“Maybe Timmons told one of the others? A boast of some kind. And then they spilled the beans to Jack. It would make sense, don’t you think? We had better have another chat with him. And another thing, have you considered why Jack’s mother volunteered the information about her and Paul Timmons so freely? If, as she claims, he didn’t know, then why would she tell? With Timmons dead that’s her problem solved, surely? If you were in her position you would hope this wouldn’t get out at all.”

“She may just be a honest woman. She doesn’t strike me as the most devious of types. Or she may be attempting to pre-empt what she thinks of as inevitable, knowing that we would now investigate all avenues. The other thing is we still don’t really know how he, or they, could have done it. He was covered in blood, but the blood was on his shirt mostly. His hands had no blood on them from what I could tell. Yet this Timmons fellow was pretty much shredded, I think you’d agree, and by what? We’ve found no weapon. And if Jack had done that surely he would have had blood all over his hands?

“He could have washed them in the rain water. There were huge puddles everywhere in those garages. Didn’t he say he fell in a puddle? The blood could have washed off his hands and arms, but obviously wouldn’t have come out of his shirt. We haven’t found a weapon, but we’ve also got a missing man. This Robert Harris most likely ran off with the weapon or weapons. We have no idea what his part in this is yet. All three of the younger boys could have decided to do in our man Timmons. Although this Scott chap hasn’t so much as a speck of blood on him.”

“I’m not sure, sir. We don’t even know for certain that this Harris was there, and this Scott lad was found on the second floor cowering in a corner, claiming that that crack in the garage floor had caused some kind of shadow men to appear.”

“Drugs, Sergeant. Not much we can do about that, sadly.”

“He said this was just the start, and that cracks would soon appear in all our lives,” Stamp said, making both Sergeant and Inspector jump.

“Stamp, what is it?”

“That’s what this Scott fellow said in interview, apparently.”

“Is there something you particularly wanted, Stamp?”

“We’ve found Rob Harris. It’s not good news. He has apparently thrown himself off the thirteenth floor balcony of a flat in Aspen Court. Girlfriend’s parent’s flat. Jenkins is there getting the details for CID now.”

“How do we know he wasn’t pushed?”

“We don’t, but it looks that way. There was a note on him, Sarge”.

“A suicide note?”

“Not much of one. It’s a bit bloody, do you have gloves?”

“Just show it to me.”

Stamp unfolded the square paper that looked like it had been ripped from out of a school exercise book. It was marked by splotches and smears in several shades of red. In the centre, written in what appeared to be black felt tip pen, there were two sentences:

Not Jack. Not just in the head.

“Christ’s sake, sir” None of this makes any sense.

download

***

The Garages by Jason Baki ©2012

The old tree groaned.

Perhaps in the knowledge it would soon be an accomplice to murder.

The victim, hands and feet bound, squirmed, struggled, and made panicked noises from behind a tight-fitting gag. The others sat him down at the base of the tree. One of them, the largest, out of breath from the effort it had taken to carry him, pulled the victim’s legs towards himself and then threaded them under the arch of a thick outgrowing root. A green pointed boot came away in his hand. He considered pushing it back onto the foot from which it had escaped but decided to toss it aside instead.

“Aw! He’s lost a boot. And look his ear on the left side has nearly come off,” he said to nobody in particular.

“You got the rope?” Said another. This one tall, and thin even with the black hooded robe he wore. He was addressing the third member of their amateur cabal.

“Yeah I got the rope, but I’m not climbing the tree, so you had better be good at tying knots.”

“Just give me the rope.”

“It will soon be dark.” It was the large one again, his breathing beginning to steady. He was looking at the cloudless and reddening sky.

“This had better work or we’re deep in it,” said the third, handing the rope to the tall one.

Royce, by unspoken consent their leader, seized the rope impatiently. “It will work. Why wouldn’t it? I know they come here, I’ve seen them.” He gathered the rope together with growing glee, and smirking widely, showed it to the one whose neck would soon wear it. The victim looked away.

“Just because you’ve seen them it doesn’t mean they’re going to respond. And even if they do respond it might not be in the way we expect.”  He was staring at the grass covered mounds on the hillside. His name was Hugh. He spoke with the same soft Welsh accent that had echoed through those valleys for generations.

“They’ll come, and they’ll respond as we expect. Just shut up.” Royce set the gathered rope on the ground and clambered out of his robe. He was wearing a dark t-shirt with a Celtic Knot design on it, faded jeans, and hiking boots. “You boys had better get your robes out of the bag as well.” He surveyed the tree looking for the best spot from which to begin his climb, and for the best place to fasten the rope.

“You know, we probably don’t need the props,” said the larger one. Raymond was his name, but they called him Redmond on account of his hair colour. “I mean, if this is going to work the way we think, all they really care about is the sacrifice.” He was studying the back of Royce who had now moved to the base of the tree and was testing for hand-holds.

“We need to do it the way it has always been done, and the book said they had pointy ears like an elf, and green clothing, and the others wore black hooded robes. Therefore we got the black robes and Harry has the elf costume.”

Harry, meanwhile, struggled trying to bring his feet out from under the root of the tree.  He was tired, and his struggles were weak. He had been drugged earlier and was still groggy. He leaned back against the base of the tree shutting his eyes as his head began to swirl.

“I never knew I’d end up being one of those insane murderer types you read about,” Hugh Said. He was still looking in the direction of the mounds. The sun was setting behind them, its red-orange glow a dying halo of contrasting colour against the lush green covering of the mounds.  “The weird thing is, I feel normal. I always imagined that if I went insane I’d at least feel different, even if I thought I was sane. Now I think I’m insane, but I feel…”

“Just shut the hell up will you. I’m trying to concentrate. Anyway, it’s not murder. It’s different,” Royce said. He was now a little way up the tree and poised above Harry who had sloped backwards, his eyes closed.

Harry began to hum. The sound clear despite his gag.

Ignoring Harry, Royce said, “I’ll need you to pass me up the rope in a second.”

Harry’s humming grew noticeably louder.

“What’s going on with him?” Redmond crouched a little and peered at his former friend. “He’s humming a tune, and he looks all delirious and happy. Sort of.”

Royce sat himself on the base of a thick branch which seemed ideal for the purpose he intended. “Leave him be, Redmond. It’s just his way of coping. Better he’s humming than bloody well screaming.”  Royce tested the branch, it seemed sturdy enough. “Pass me the rope.”

Hugh turned around and trundled to where Royce had put the rope. “We’re all completely insane.” He mumbled to himself.

Royce edged forward and took the rope from Hugh who held it out somewhat reluctantly. Hugh had his eyes on Royce, but his ears were listening to Harry. He started to feel light-headed.

Royce bagan tying the rope around the branch. A rising wind raised more murmurs from the tree as he did so. Royce fixed his attention on making good the knot. He did not notice Hugh and Redmond fall to the ground.

“Right, I think that should do the trick.” He gave the rope a tug — it held. “Excellent.”

Royce looked down to where his friends had been standing and were now splayed on the ground. His self-satisfied smile quickly replaced first by surprise and then anxiety.

“What the hell?” He said.

Harry was swaying now, rocking back against the trunk of the tree, and smiling visibly, his teeth biting loosely on the gag. The tune he was humming undulated high and low in time with his swaying.

“Now’s not the time to piss about guys,” Royce said, but he knew Hugh and Redmond were not the kind for such impromptu humour.

He began to edge backwards down the branch towards the trunk of the tree, and as he did his head began to spin. He managed to back up far enough to position himself once again just above Harry, before he fell and landed unconscious on top of his intended victim.

Harry didn’t feel any pain when Royce fell on top of him, even though the bulk of Royce’s rump dropped onto his waist and smashed him into the knotted base of the tree. He was elsewhere, lost in song, and focused on the figures calling from the twilight. One of them, slender to the point of being skeletal, walked towards him.  It was a curious movement, both graceful and jerky; a display of harsh angles and bony edges. Then a pallid face with thin lips and large black eyes appeared before him. It spoke and Harry heard the words faster than those stretched lips formed them.

“Why do you mock us?”  It said in an aged voice. “After all these years, you still have nothing better to do than taunt us?”

Harry couldn’t count how many figures were now before him, but it seemed like a dozen at least. He had stopped his humming. Fear was upon him, and pain from where Royce had landed on him. He tried to back up and felt something jagged dig against his back.

“I’m sorry.” He mumbled from behind the gag. “Don’t hurt me.”

The pale face withdrew a little, and the strange figure stood upright. It was tall. Harry couldn’t determine its gender from appearance alone, but its voice had been masculine. It appeared to be naked, but Harry’s vision was blurred and he could see no genitalia on display. The creature looked at Harry’s fallen captors.

“They brought you here?”

Harry nodded.

“To mock us.”

Harry shook his head.

The creature was in Harry’s face again. It smelled like dank earth. It raised a hand and slashed at him with midnight edged fingers. He winced and drew his head back, banging it against the tree. The gag fell away from his cheek on one side.

“Speak,” it said.

Harry regained his composure and shook his head vigorously to dislodge the gag from his mouth. He felt dizzy, and a warm trickle on his cheek.

“Speak,” it said again, withdrawing slightly.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“The truth.”

“We were friends. At least I thought we were friends. We played games together. You know, fantasy games. Not sex… Um. I mean like board games about fantasy things. Except we didn’t use a board really, either….”  He paused to test for a reaction, but was greeted only with silence.  “Anyway, we’ve been playing for a few years, met online, through a computer. You know. Do you know…?

The creature stared.

“It was good, but Royce was always into the fantasy thing a bit too much. He got lucky and found this apparently rare book after hunting for information about fairies. It had rituals in it that supposedly called the fairy folk. I thought he was nuts. But I guess I should have taken him more seriously. He told the others that if they did this one ritual, which required a sacrifice, the spirits, elves, would come and grant him great powers or immortality. He convinced them it wasn’t a real sacrifice as the elves would only take the victim to their world. I’m not sure actually how convinced the others really were, but I guess they were convinced enough. All along when I heard them mention stuff about it, I thought they’d get over it. They asked me to help find a suitable victim. I told them to grow up. They then decided I would have to do – I guess. Fuck. Royce said he came out here one night and saw elves. I’m thinking now that maybe he was telling the truth.”

The creature nodded, and sat itself down in front of Harry.

“Once we lived above ground as you do,” it began; “it was a battle, fought long ago, that forced us to retreat into the hills. Nevertheless people remembered us. They remembered what we had taught them. And they respected us. Back then we did not look as we do now, but the passing of time and the hatred of humanity has not been kind to us.”

Harry leaned back and listened, relaxing a little.

“Eventually the respect and reverence your folk once held for us was replaced by fear, and then some sought to make for themselves a name by seeking us out. They found ways to harm us, and to ward against our crafts, especially as we were weakened. They would hang us from the trees like your friends attempted with you, with chains made of hurtful metal, and our bodies smeared with painful pigment. They would mock us, and taunt us, and dare us to confront them.  In time we learned to stay away. To withdraw completely form the world of men. Humanity had become dangerous and demented, and there was no reasoning with men or their new found ideas. Thankfully, after some time they forgot about us. Eventually even their theatrical rituals invented to mimic and celebrate our suffering faded into memory. And now you come along. Unfortunately for you, after all this time we’re finally tired of hiding.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. And he meant it.

“Your remorse is not enough.”

“But I didn’t want any of this. They were going to hang me.”

“For hundreds of years we have hid from the surface because of the actions of your kind, do you really think your regret is of any consequence?”  The creature inched forward to peer into Harry’s eyes, its own dark eyes slickened with the appearance of an oily film.

“You cannot be allowed to live. You are a threat to us. We will announce our return to the world on our own terms.  Humans cannot be given opportunity to muster their strength against us.  I must tell you, in our exile we have grown hungry, as all of nature is now hungry from your actions. Even the tree is hungry. Can you not hear how it calls for your life?  This land has been stained by the actions of your people against us, and now only the life essence of the despoilers will remove that stain. Will revivify that which has wizened and stupefied. We intend to bring back vitality. To bring ourselves back to vitality. But you should know, in the past we never once required any sacrifice.”

“Please…”

Harry saw several of the figures beyond the one he had been talking to begin to close in on him. Then his mind began to spin, and a smile formed on his lips. He began to hum.  The aches and pain in his body subsided. He closed his eyes. He did not see Hugh and Redmond disappear down the hillside towards the mounds, dragged by shadows into darkness. He did not hear the sound of bone and flesh being rendered, or the last flashes of reflected sunset on the obsidian blade as it tore into the architect of his capture.  He did not feel the warm spray of Royce’s blood as it splashed across his face and stained his comic attire.  He saw and felt nothing. He heard only the enchanting melody that filled his mind and escaped his lips. He did not even feel the rope tighten around his neck. He certainly did not feel the breeze as he swayed back and forth.

I am lying in the dark deep underground. There is cold stone beneath me, jagged in places, and damp. I have become strangely comforted by the pain it causes as its ridges knead my near naked flesh. I am here against my will — what remains of it at least — forced into servitude, along with everyone else in this subterranean complex. I don’t recall exactly how I came to be here. I have only vague memories of a life before. Perhaps they are dreams. If ever there was a reality other than this, I know it now only as an idealistic yearning. If somehow I got from there to here, well, I think I probably just slipped and fell.

I’m not alone. The Tyrant — original, I know, but how else am I to think of him? — has enslaved many of us here. Mostly those imprisoned are children and young adults it seems. Now I come to it, I see very few actual adults. When I see anything at all that is. Some of these others serve him. Some, it seems, even do so willingly. I knew myself that if ever I was to find a way out then I must become one of those that serve. So I did. I have learned to play the game.

I can hear laboured breathing nearby, and an occasional suppressed cough. I wish those others were closer so that I might share the warmth of human contact. Many lay around the cavern floor as I do. Those less fortunate are locked in drawers held under large beds upon which none may sleep. More still are confined in cupboards. Of the transgressors, these are the lucky ones.

A heavy door scrapes open, followed by the widening glare of a harsh light. When my eyes adjust I am staring at a pair of booted feet, their dark shine just an inch from my face. They crunch on the gravelly stone floor. I can smell leather, and in my thoughts I equate it with power.

“Get up!” The voice is young, and lacks the authority I had conjured in my mind.

I strain my neck and let my eyes absorb the stark beauty of the crisp red and black uniform, and of the boy within struggling to invoke the presence it requires. I do as I am commanded. Afflicted by a dull ache in my joints, I wince. The boy needles me with a scornful glare, visible even in the gloom. Beyond his outline, I see the huddled shapes of the others scattered about the room. The boy in the uniform must only be fourteen or thereabouts. Lying here with this child stood over me it all seems so ridiculous. I could overpower him easily. But then I know there are more like him waiting outside the room – child soldiers, with guns, and other more frightening weapons.

I too have a uniform of red and black. The boy offers it to me now, a command in his eyes. I nod assent, stand, and take it from him. He watches me intently but impassively as I dress myself, then when I’m done he nods and points at the door behind.

Mostly I perform a dull routine of sentry duty watching over others in the same position I myself had occupied only a little while previously. Others who have fallen through a similar gap and who have disappeared from view. On account of my service I have been given access to new areas. Mostly corridors of metal – part of a facility that adjoins the more natural cavern network I was already familiar with, and where I still spend my nights. There are many places I’m not allowed access to, of course. I’m new and not yet fully trusted. I still have a way to go to prove my worth. To earn my metaphorical spurs.

I stand in front of a locker in a corridor walled by them, thinking of spurs for my boots. I recall the smell of leather and polish from the boy’s shiny footwear a moment ago. These days I have become accustomed to the smell of my own boots. But not today it seems. Today for some reason I cannot find them. I was certain I had placed them in my locker.

An alarm sounds. The metallic sheen of this part of the complex is suddenly bathed in a pulsating red glow, the rows of lockers all reflecting it eagerly. Have I forgotten my intention to escape this place? I am reminded now that I have to find a way out, even though I wonder if such a way exists. And now something has caused alarms to sound and there is a flurry of activity. Red and black clad men, adult men it seems, surprisingly, running to and fro in a panic. I should join them, but I can’t find my boots.

Someone approaches. A captain according to his armband.

“What are you doing? Get moving,” he shouts, spraying spittle in my face.

“I can’t find my boots,” I say, and suddenly it seems like the most profound thing I’ve ever said. As if somehow it explains all my lack of agency, all my meandering, all my despair. He glares at me and I can feel the disgust with which he regards me, as if my very existence blights his world.

“Then hurry up and find them,” he says, finally.

I don’t find them. I don’t even bother looking for them. I decide to make use of the commotion to search for a way out. I pause to gather my thoughts, standing barefoot on the hard floor of that long corridor, with its unmarked metallic walls and metal ceiling tiles, and I bathe in the red glow of the sentry lights that abound within it like so many angry pulsing stars.

The place is a maze. I’m not sure where to even begin looking for a way out. I’ve also noticed that the red lights aren’t the only things embedded in the ceiling, several little black turrets have appeared in places, and they rotate silently in line with my movements. Unsurprisingly they make me nervous.

I have no idea where to go. Uncertain what else to do I try to find the centre of the complex. Or a centre. I figure if I follow the direction from which the captain came I may at least find a barracks or something. It may seem strange to seek out the centre, but then the sentries have dispersed to… actually, I don’t know. Outside? The periphery? I could be wrong but I’m thinking probably not the centre. Maybe I’ll learn something important. If it comes to it I can say I’m lost.

Eventually I find myself in a long corridor, wider than the others, but otherwise just as featureless. It terminates at a set of double steel doors. Closed. No obvious sign of how to open them. I push. Nothing. What now? I lean with my back against the doors and sink a little towards the cold floor. It is silent in this section apart from the alarm. I place my ear to the door, half expecting the doors to swing open and dump me unceremoniously at the feet of some angry general or perhaps even The Tyrant himself. Nothing. Perhaps it would have been better to follow the others to the source of the disruption. A little way back in the direction from which I have just come another corridor leads off from the one I’m in, not as wide by the look of it, nor as brightly lit. I hadn’t noticed it until now. I take it. Not a huge amount of options otherwise. It is significantly darker, actually, and it opens out after a tense fumbling trek that seems to last an age, into a room. A very large room. Although somehow smaller for the presence that resides within.

“I’m sorry it has taken a little time for us to become acquainted,” says the presence. “The nature of the operation here requires a certain level of discretion. I’m sure you understand. Honestly, not many find their way to me. And it’s not necessary for the day to day running of things for my person to be made known to all. In fact it would be a great hindrance. But I recognised from the start that you and I would meet. Every now and then someone finds a way, and I sense them when they draw near. I think of it as a gift of intuition,” she says, tucking errant hair into a purple turban.

A pause. The woman removes a cigarette from somewhere inside the scarlet dress (robes?) that drapes her ample form, and ignites it on a nearby candle. One of the many candles that adorn the room. Odd that this room in the centre of a facility of cold metal and tracking turrets should be decked with candles. Odd as well that the candle is placed upon what looks like a cash register. And now I see that the room is full of those too, of different designs and styles from modern to vintage, each with a candle on top. The woman continues, “I won’t offer you a smoke, I don’t want to encourage you.” Then she winks at me, and behind an issuing cloud I catch sight of a smile. I really wish that I had not. The woman takes another drag of her cigarette, and as she does gold bangles, baubles, and bracelets of various kinds jangle on her wrist and arm. In her left hand she has what looks like a wine goblet, also of gold. She sips from it and it seems to darken the rouge of her lips.

“So, getting back to the advent of this encounter, what usually happens now in these situations is we agree on a way forward. There are always roles to fill for the willing.”

My mind is turning with questions, but I can’t gather enough cohesion to formulate any that would make sense. I am hovering on the precipice of a profound revelation, grasping mentally to secure it, but I am confronted by shadow, and fear, and inertia.

“I can’t find my boots,” I say.

“I know, honey. It’s okay. That’s not important now,” she says. And the cigarette flares once more.

I have apparently been given special privileges. There is a house – an understatement, a sprawling mansion – and I have been given permission to leave the subterranean complex to serve in this house under the charge of the most trusted servants. I am now being shown the run down and poorly lit living quarters by a pack of ragged looking young men. No sharp uniforms here I note. Several of them have taken hold of chunky iron rings and are straining to pull out a large wooden pallet like box to which the rings are attached from under a massive, and what I assume must be communal, bed. The servants lift the lid off the box and inside among some straw, and some unpleasant smelling detritus of indeterminable nature, are three young men bound hand and foot. They are also gagged, and apparently unconscious.

“They are kept stored like this throughout the house,” says one of the pack. “If the ones in your section have been taken out for any reason then you need to make sure they are put away before you sleep. Depending on what they’ve been used for you may need to clean them up. Most likely you will. Don’t worry too much if they are missing parts, but if any perish, there are rules regarding disposal which you’ll be told about later. Make sure you obey those, because people get them wrong all the time and it causes untold problems. In the meantime just remember to keep your section tidy. You’ll be paired up with Scotland who will show you the ropes.” His words barely register. I nod.

*****

“Why do they call you Scotland?” I ask.

“How come dae ye think?”

“They said you’ll show me the ropes.”

“Aye.”

He’s thin and pale. His hair is short and dark. Handsome. I feel oddly comfortable in his presence. He has a look in his eyes. An alive look. A rarity among those I’ve encountered in this place. It stirs me in ways I should probably find troubling, but don’t.

“Stay here until I come back. And get some kip,” he says. Sounding a lot less Scottish than a moment ago.

I feel like I’ve been asleep for a very long time, but in reality it was only a few hours. The house is quiet. A warm body sleeps next to me on one side, but on the other side is the edge of the bed. Below me there are thumps and muffled groans. It is dark, but not completely. I cannot tell the source of the ambient light, but I can spot the outline of a door. The one I came in by. That will do. I gather myself together.

Corridors. My existence is blighted by corridors. From the one I’m standing in I can see into a room, a kitchen by the looks of it, in which a young girl stands washing pans. She hasn’t noticed me. It occurs to me that this is the first girl I’ve seen in… I’m suddenly not sure if I’ve seen one before. Here. I mean. I must have seen a girl before. There was the woman only a few hours earlier. The woman at the centre of the underground complex with the cigarette and the smile. The woman in charge. But here now is a girl. Looking wretched. I move on. Probably best if I’m not seen.

The arm that grabs me from behind is lean and strong. A hand muffles my mouth. My right arm is pinned behind me and an elbow pushes into the small of my back, hard, but only enough to drive me forward. I’m led to a landing at the top of some stairs. The arm releases me, and spins me around. Scotland.

“Usually when a person has been given special privileges it is enough for them to settle down. At least for a while. But not you. You have curiosity. A dangerous thing.”

“I need to find a way out. I don’t belong here. I was somewhere else before. I remember. Vaguely, but I remember.” My voice finds some forcefulness, some vim. “I remember,” I say again.

“I don’t doubt you. And neither does she. But you have forgotten one thing. The alarms? Earlier? You found your way out of the routine assigned to you because there was commotion and alarms going off – right?” He does a little bobbing thing with his head.

“Yes, there were alarms and I was supposed to help but I couldn’t find my boots,” I say.

“They weren’t really your boots were they?”

“No.” I look at my bare feet.

“Okay. In brief. You’re not the first one to remember. But, you do seem to have triggered a particularly strong set of reactions. The alarms have been going in the underground for some time. And outside it has been storming relentlessly. She moved you here to placate you, as she always does, she is very accommodating like that. I’m guessing this time it hasn’t worked.”

“How do you know this? You don’t seem particularly placid to me. How is it that you don’t trigger alarms, and storms?”

“I did. I’ve been responsible for some pretty memorable storms. But somehow it wasn’t enough. The timing wasn’t right. And I learned to abide by the rules. I reigned in my nature,” he shrugged.

“She must be pretty stupid if she assigned you to me as a mentor. She must have known there was a risk?” I say.

“It’s been a long time. And who said there was a risk? I’m telling you this, but you have no idea what I’m going to do now I’ve caught you wandering the corridors at night when you should have been sleeping.”

At the top of the next flight of stairs, on a landing there, I catch sight of movement. A prowler. On four legs. I can just about see it, but I don’t believe what I’m seeing. It looks like a large cat. And then it roars.

“Shit,” I say, and make to run. Scotland grabs me by the arm.

“Relax. I told you there were storms. The leopard and the storms they are allied. Its presence is not unfamiliar to us. Whenever the storms appear so does the leopard. Whatever its purpose, it apparently has no intention of harming us.”

“And you?” I say, forcibly jerking my arm out of his grip. “What exactly is your intention?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I intend to claim my freedom.”

The sound of crashing and running echoes up the stairs from below. Something has woken the servants. I can hear shouts, and doors slamming. I look first at Scotland and then back up towards where the leopard was a moment ago. It has gone. I turn again to Scotland, and I see a young face wearied by years of compliance and servitude. But I see fire. Burning still.

“It’s your time too. Or soon will be.” I blurt at him. “This isn’t just about me. And somehow she knows. It’s no coincidence she placed us together. She was probably expecting things to calm down for a while. That you’d placate me long enough for her to figure out what was happening. She hasn’t forgotten the storms of the past, but she doesn’t know what is unfolding around her now. What we remember is outside of her power. This is bigger than her.” I’ve no idea where this stuff is coming from. My brain, like the storm I too can now hear raging outside, is super-charged.

“You think there aren’t rebels in the house? Would-be revolutionaries and factions of every stripe occupy the many levels of this place. It’s not all calm. Controlled. But not calm. None of them know what is really going on or what they would do if their efforts yielded notable success, but they push at things regardless. She obviously knows a lot more than we think. And she laughs at these rebels, who I’m fairly certain serve her, just in a different way. So maybe you are right, but she sees a bigger picture than we do right now,” he says.

“If those rebels serve her then it is probably because she uses them to create confusion. What is real? What is not? Those others don’t remember. We do. And that’s why she is afraid.”

“You didn’t even know about the storms or any rebels until just now and suddenly you can determine what is true in all this? Wow! I’m impressed.”

“No need for sarcasm.” I say, the force of my conviction lost.

“And you’re a better man than me, because honestly, I’ve just got far enough to recognise some of the surprising forms that the lies can take,” he continued, ignoring me.

*****

Scotland let me go. I knew he would. I’m outside, the cold biting against me. My feet, still naked, pound wet earth. Behind me is the mansion. And rising above the walls beyond it I can now see that it is just one of many. I imagine there to be a vast open plain full of these buildings each encircled within their own walled perimeter but linked by an endless network of underground catacombs and tunnels. I stay focused ahead where I can see a crowd of adults gathering in what looks like a driveway. There are double automatic doors positioned across it. They are open but slowly closing. There are servants and guards rushing towards the crowd of people gathered there. Those people look relaxed, indifferent to the frantic and near hysterical behaviour of the young servants, and not to have noticed the guards or the storm. I push on. I can see the leopard is sitting out in the open now. The dark raindrops falling on its fur look as though they are the cause of its spots. The leopard is the storm and the storm is the leopard. In this place the most surreal abstractions make a kind of twisted sense.

Shots are fired. The guards are shooting at the people gathered in front of the double doors. But the bullets are passing though them. And I realise those people aren’t really here. I get it now in one of those eureka type moments as if the lightning has struck me, and contained not surging currents of potentially lethal voltage, but divine inspiration. The storm. The alarms. The outside is crashing in. The wider outside beyond the walls of this place. And I am the reason. But so too is Scotland. In the past perhaps it wasn’t enough when just one remembered. But now there is more than one. Maybe there are others still that I don’t know about.

More bullets. One very close by. I need to be careful. I am still here in this world of the child soldiers with their red and black uniforms. I doubt their bullets will pass through me without harm. But I have nowhere to go. Only forward. My feet are slapping a sodden rhythm. My head is charged by the storm, and thoughts of Scotland, and leopards, and children bound under beds.

A lad rushes past me. He’s making a full-on dash for the gates. He’s from here — young and dressed in the tattered clothing of a slave. I am stirred from my mesmerism by his sudden appearance and bolt after him at full pelt. My mind doesn’t have time to question the whys or hows of his sudden appearance. We both run straight at the assembled crowd of newcomers and panicked servants. The crowd parts, but I suspect they needn’t have. We drive on through, this lad and I, and out of the gates as they are about to close.

In the streets beyond there are many puzzled faces. A few have stopped to look at the gates of the complex as they close, as though noticing them for the first time. A sign on the gates, made of red lettering enclosed within a red circle, reads: Cult II. From this side the gates look like they belong to an abandoned warehouse. I am in the outside world. Home? Free? I realise immediately and instinctively that the existence of The Tyrant and the world I have just left is completely obscured from sight here. The people going about their business are ignorant, but they are not unaffected. These worlds connect. One creates the other and vice versa.

The lad who came through the door with me is lying outside of the gates on the pavement, apparently asleep. In his soiled and ruined clothing he looks like any of the young homeless people you see on the streets in the big city. And in that I have perhaps the first truly lucid moment of recognition regarding my own life. Few pay the lad any mind. Although a small crowd are standing around looking disoriented and vague as if afflicted for a brief moment by spirit possession or alien interference. I wonder if when he awakens the boy will remember as I do. His was a lucky escape it would seem. A desperate last minute dash that thankfully aided my own liberation. Something that strikes me as a little convenient. Or at the very least bound by more than chance.

I walk on with no idea of where to head. Placing one foot in front of the other, I think of the servants in the mansion, the perverted caricature of some warped fable that is their reality, and I even wonder about returning. But I’m fairly certain if I opened the gates, if I could open the gates, I would find only an abandoned warehouse on the other side. I still have more to remember. I don’t even know how I got there the first time or who I actually am in this world. And there is certainly something very strange about the way I have come back. Very little makes sense. It is like my mind has replaced detail and logic with sign and suggestion. But I’m confident it’s just a matter of time. I’m getting the hang of this memory thing. And I at least know my feet are now encased in a comfortable, if exceptionally well worn, pair of boots. My own boots. If I have learned anything from that place, it is that these symbolic details matter.

I won’t question how the boots have come to suddenly appear since my leaving. I guess I’ll need to get the hang of these new rules in time. Like the way certain things are connected by threads that are not always obvious. That is something I feel I have also come to know. In my head I have this fuzzy sense of a multitude of interconnected life and environmental strands. I can almost see them. They completely elude the dulled sense of the crowd I now walk among, but they are webbed by them just as strongly. More, I might say. If I concentrate I sense that even the external world of seemingly fixed matter and form can be altered by plucking at the right situational thread; as though the apparently solid material world takes its shape according to a vast network of hidden thought lines. Of course my own mind could just be unravelling. Maybe I should seek help. I know I need to find a way to help those others. Especially that Scottish lad. With the fire in his eyes. Who desires above all else to be free. And whose time I feel certain is soon to come.