Aida Roundtree never expected she’d end up as a ghost, right up until the moment she became one. Not once in her 78 years of life had that possibility ever crossed her mind, but shortly after death she’d been given a choice in the matter: move on to the great beyond or stick around for a while to ‘keep an eye on the child‘.
The offer had been made by a slip of a girl, of no real age, who apparently traveled around in an invisible box. She’d arrived at the scene of Aida’s death with an entourage, a coterie that included a keep fit instructor of Amazonian proportions, a Chinese, Elvis-obsessed chef and a stunted grim reaper with a dry sense of humour. Aida hadn’t expected any of that either, but then again, who would?
Paul Darling was the child in question, the 13 month old reincarnation of Pestilence, one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Aida herself had delivered Paul into the world just the year before, and she had been babysitting him when she passed away. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep on duty but the sofa was so very comfortable and Paul had curled himself into her side and was gently snoring. Perhaps Aida caught the zees from him; she wondered if sleep was contagious. Certainly Paul’s delighted burbles of recognition at the sudden appearance of his long-time comrades, War, Famine and Death suggested to Aida that there was a lot more to Paul Darling than meets the eye. He would need watching.
Death had come only for Aida that afternoon, the slip of a girl explained. Finding Pestilence was a bonus, although Aida didn’t think the girl seemed all that surprised by the unexpected reunion. Aida didn’t quite know what to make of her; she was obviously in charge of the troop of deathcrashers, but really, she was just a slip of a girl of no real age. In a way she reminded Aida of herself when she was young and starting out as a midwife; she had the same look of someone that had found their vocation. Aida liked her, plus the girl had given her a lit cigarette and told her to keep it. Smoking was the one thing Aida immediately missed upon finding herself dead; it was a habit, she knew, but it was one she wore with pride.
Aida puffed on her cigarette as she considered the girl’s proposition. She noticed that it didn’t burn away and that both it and its ghostly wisps of smoke were now somehow part of her, part of her being. She looked at her cooling corpse that was slowly slumping on the sofa, and at the happy gathering going on in front of it. Paul may or may not be Pestilence, Aida was still processing that piece of information, but he was still just a baby and, more importantly, still in her care. At least until his mother got home.
She glanced at the watch on her wrist. Like the cigarette and the clothes Aida was wearing when she died, it too had now become part of her also. The watch hands had stopped at five to three, presumably fixed at the moment she died. She had no idea what time it really was nor how long before Jocasta would arrive home. Paul’s older sister Molly would be with her and Aida felt a twinge of guilt at the distress and inconvenience she was about to cause the pair of them. And just before Christmas!
Aida made her decision: either she was still asleep and this was one of those fantastical lucid dreams she’d heard about but had never ever experienced, or she really was dead. What was the worst that could happen?
The grim reaper didn’t seem happy when the slip of a girl told him Aida was to stay on as a ghost. He warned of ‘unintended consequences’ and cautioned against ‘supernatural meddling’, but it was to no avail; the decision had already been made. Aida wondered if the little reaper felt cheated at having to leave empty-handed; although he was very polite and accepted the decision graciously, he had disappeared soon after. Perhaps in a fit of pique or maybe he was on a schedule; Aida wasn’t sure about him yet; Death had already indicated that he knew Molly. To Aida’s mind getting to the bottom of that story was as good a reason as any to take up residence as a ghost in the Darling household. She could keep and eye on both the children.
A plan was quickly concocted to lessen the burden on Jocasta and Molly in the short-term. The War woman, called Wanda, was already acquainted with the family, so volunteered to wait outside the flat and intercept their return. She would need a pretext for wanting to speak with Jocasta, but once invited inside, she could take control of the Aida situation. Aida liked Wanda: as well as having the bearing and physique of superhero, she was literally stepping in to save the day; Wanda was every inch a Wanda Woman.
It was agreed: the Wanda Woman would wait on the landing outside the flat for Jocasta’s return, and the slip of a girl would depart with Chinese Elvis the exact same way that they’d arrived, by invisible box. Before leaving, the slip of a girl – Aida never did catch her name – hugged Paul and whispered in his ear before placing him in his playpen. Chinese Elvis pointed a pistol finger at Aida as he stepped inside the invisible box and disappeared. “Thagyouverramuch.”
It was not until later, much later that night, long after Aida’s body had been ‘discovered’ with all the tears and trauma that entailed, when everybody had left, been carried out or gone to bed, that Aida stood in the darkened living room alone, smoking and thinking about the enormity of her last day of life and first day as a ghost. She realised that she hadn’t thought to ask any pertinent questions about what she could or couldn’t do in her new condition, and that information had not been provided. She wasn’t even sure when or even if she would see any of her strange visitors again. Would she have to remain as a ghost until Paul’s 18th birthday and was no longer a child?
Aida looked at her wristwatch; it still said five to three.
Christmas came and New Year went. Festivities in the Darling household were a little subdued, no doubt due to Aida’s sudden death, but on the whole she enjoyed the experience, even if the family weren’t aware of her ghostly presence. When she’d been alive and working, Aida would volunteer to work the Christmas shifts; it only seemed fair to allow her colleagues with children to take that time off when she received the gift of delivering Christmas babies. She loved all the babies she’d brought into the world, but the Christmas ones were Aida’s favourites. Except for Paul; he’d made an unexpected Halloween entrance, long into Aida’s retirement. She’d been gratified to know that she had not only retained the skills she’d acquired over her long career and could use them, but that her mental faculties had not yet departed. Aida was glad of that still.
She spent the first few weeks of ghosthood exploring the parameters of her new existence. The first thing she noticed was that she was actually levitating, even though she was standing. Considering that she could pass straight through matter, including the floor, that made sense. It also meant Aida didn’t have to use her legs to propel herself around; she could just will herself to float in any particular direction. Forward, back, left, right, up down; she had complete freedom of movement.
She could even pass through living people, although Aida tried to avoid doing that after Jocasta had walked straight through her. Aida had felt a draining sensation that wasn’t exactly pleasant but fortunately didn’t linger. Curiously, Jocasta seemed to get an electrostatic shock from the interaction. Aida thought that was very interesting and would have experimented more, but it felt wrong to purposely do so without her friend’s consent, and how could Jocasta consent when she didn’t know that Aida was there. Aida remained true to her ethics and avoided all unnecessary contact.
Paul knew she was there, of course, but he was far too young to consent to becoming Aida’s test subject. He could both see and hear her, and would laugh uproariously when she pulled faces at him. Paul’s laugh was purely joyous and highly infectious; even Molly, who was deaf, would join in at her brother’s helpless laughing fit. Unlike sleep, Aida already knew that laughter was contagious, a fact born out at Molly’s birthday party on New Year’s Day. To prevent any accidental ‘bodyshock’ interactions, Aida watched the proceedings from the safety of the living room ceiling. Paul found this to be hilarious and soon the room full of 10 year olds, dosed up on cupcakes, soda and ice cream were falling about, laughing uproariously.
The only one of Aida’s strange death visitors to show up during this time was the Wanda Woman. She popped by and asked loudly if she could use the toilet. Aida wasn’t deaf or stupid and knew when she was being signalled to. In the privacy of the bathroom, with the basin tap running to muffle the sound of her voice, the Wanda Woman asked Aida how she was doing and if she’d encountered any problems so far. Aida hadn’t but mentioned what happened when Jocasta had walked through her.
“I felt a draining sensation and Jocasta seemed to get an electrostatic shock.” Aida explained. “I guess it could have been the carpet.”
“Have you tried it anywhere else? Like in the kitchen or the bathroom?” the Wanda Woman whispered.
“No, it’s not right to experiment on someone without their consent. Far too much of that has been going on already, if you ask me,” Aida opined.
The Wanda Woman promptly thrust her fist through Aida’s chest. “I have no such qualms.”
There was no static pop but neither did Aida feel the same draining sensation as before. The Wanda Woman hit her again. “Anything?”
Aida removed the cigarette from her lips and looked down at the straight, muscular arm punched through her sternum. “No, nothing.”
The Wanda Woman concluded that she might not be such a good test subject seeing as how she was formally the psychopomp for ‘WAR’ and not entirely human. Aida still thought that the static shock was probably caused by the hallway carpet.
“Have you been outside yet?” the Wanda Woman asked.
Aida was taken aback at the suggestion. The idea of leaving the flat, of going outside, hadn’t occurred to her and she didn’t know if it was prudent to try. The Wanda Woman explained that it was possible but without the protection of her body, prolonged exposure to the outside elements would eventually cause Aida to erode.
“How long does that take?”
The Wanda Woman didn’t know but advised Aida to avoid extreme weather.
Aida wasn’t planning on going outside much anyway.
“Only it’s your funeral next week.” The Wanda Woman said, flushing the toilet. “I dunno if you want to go along. It’s forecast to be overcast but dry. Cold, but that doesn’t affect you.”
Attending her own funeral would be another first for Aida post-mortem, although the Met Office giving an accurate forecast could also be considered a first. “Can I think about it?”
“Sure. I’m here now to see Jo about the arrangements.” The Wanda Woman rolled her eyes. “You don’t have any family, Aida, and that care home you lived in has been less than helpful.”
“I know, it’s being turned into a migrant hostel.” Aida snorted. “It’s strange that I had to die to find a new home.”
“No, it wasn’t your dying; everybody dies. You were given a choice, Aida. Ghosts are rare. They’re the victims of murder or have died in war. Same thing really. I’ve never heard of soul being given the choice before.”
There was a soft rapping at the bathroom door. “Is everything okay in there, Wanda?” Jocasta asked hesitantly.
“Yeah.” The Wanda Woman flushed the toilet again. “This needs a double flush. Sorry, I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Oh, okay.” Jocasta sounded embarrassed. “Whenever you’re ready. I’ve made you a cup of tea.”
“Thanks!” The Wanda Woman waited a couple of seconds before resuming her conversation. “You remember the short-arse with the scythe?” she asked Aida.
“The little reaper?”
“Yeah, that’s Death. He’s really good at his job but murder victims are a blind spot. He won’t acknowledge it, but I’ve see it happen myself. I mean, the sheer quantity of murder and killing that goes on during war is unfathomably large.”
Aida thought the Wanda Woman seemed almost wistful. She wasn’t sure she liked her as much as before.
“Sometimes the souls of people that have been murdered can give Death the slip. If they’re determined enough.”
“Because they seek revenge?” Aida asked.
The Wanda Woman check her appearance in the bathroom mirror. “Yeah, revenge, justice. Some just want to keep fighting but all they can really do is watch. They’re just voyeurs. Well, you know.” She turned off the basin tap. “Look, I’ve got to get in there. We’ll talk again soon,” she whispered to Aida and opened the bathroom door.
“Sorry about that, Jo. Dodgy curry from last night.” The Wanda Woman’s voice trailed down the hallway. “You might want to leave it ten minutes…”
Aida stayed in the bathroom, thinking about what the Wanda Woman had just told her. She most definitely hadn’t been murdered, Aida was sure of that. Not that the government hadn’t given it the old college try in the last couple of years, what with their Rona lockdowns and their miracle ‘cure’ that was nothing of the sort. Never before had Aida heard such errant nonsense as that spewed by seemingly serious people about the wondrous Rona vaccine. Babies are born in nine months, not vaccines which require years of safety testing. Aida had refused to take the shot, or any of the subsequent doses, despite the cajoling and threats to comply. As far as she was concerned, the Rona jab was pure poison.
Molly came into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She started to unbutton her jeans, so Aida decided to leave her to her privacy and join the two women in the front room. She arrived just in time to hear Jocasta say that she was to be cremated.
“Going up in smoke. Not a bad way to go, I suppose,” Aida said loudly as she floated past them.
Taken by surprise, the Wanda Woman choked on her tea.
“Are you okay?” Jocasta asked, slapping her friend on the back.
“Wrong ‘ole,” the Wanda Woman spluttered and croaked between hacking coughs. “I’m okay.”
Aida floated up to her spot on the ceiling. Just a voyeur, my eye, she thought, sniffly.
The first of many surprises for Aida on the day of her funeral was that, for once, the Met Office had got it right; the day had dawned cold, overcast and dry, just as they forecast. Aida wondered if weathermen give each other high fives for making an accurate prediction. She was half hoping they would get it wrong as usual, and that there would be a raging tornado. She would then have the excuse not to attend her own funeral, but Aida hadn’t been a coward in life and she certainly wasn’t going to start now that she was dead.
Her second surprise was the transportation that the Wanda Woman had arranged for the family to travel to the crematorium. It was an enormous pink Cadillac, with a white, shiny roof and an abundance of chrome adorning it. The car’s white-walled tires straddled the lines designating the disabled parking bay in the forecourt of the flats. The gleaming paintwork and trim of the 1955 Cadillac positively popped against the bleak, urban backdrop of the Elysium estate. Both had been built at the same time; it was an incongruous sight.
“WOW!” Molly cried with delight and skipped toward the car.
Jocasta looked stunned. “Wow.”
The Wanda Woman didn’t say anything but her amusement at her friends’ reactions was evident on her face.
“What are you up to?” Aida was suspicious, but the Wanda Woman simply placed a finger on her smirking lips in response.
The driver was Aida’s third surprise of the day.
“Hello, hello,” Chinese Elvis greeted Jocasta and Molly and opened the back door for them. “My name is Xi Xi. Please get in.”
Chinese Elvis was more soberly dressed than the last time Aida had seen him. He was wearing a smart black suit, white shirt and black, silk tie, with not a rhinestone in sight, although he was still sporting a greasy quiff and sunglasses.
Molly scrambled into the car first, bouncing across the oversized backseat to the far side. She was followed by her mother, who ran her hand over the soft leather, cream upholstery; Jocasta had never parked her behind on anything so sumptuous before. “Just wow.”
The Wanda Woman handed Paul to Jocasta. “I’ll just be a moment,” she said, closing the back door. “Aida, you remember my friend Xi Xi,” she said in a low voice. “This is his car and he’s going to drive us today. I hope that’s okay with you.”
“Hello, Mrs Roundtree,” Chinese Elvis said amiably. “It’s good to see you again.”
“Where’s the car seat for Paul?” Aida asked brusquely.
Chinese Elvis looked non-plussed.
“She means Pesto,” the Wanda Woman told him. “Look, Aida, possibly we got off on the wrong foot last week, but there’s nothing sinister going on here. Paul, Pesto, he’s family to me and Famine. We just want to spend some time with him too.”
“War speaks truth, Mrs Roundtree,” Xi Xi said softly. “We care very much for Paul’s family. They are now our family and we will help them. Like family.”
Aida looked back and forth between War and Famine. “But what about the car seat? It’s dangerous to sit him on a lap. What if there’s an accident?”
“There won’t be.” The Wanda Woman opened the car door. “I already checked,” she said sliding inside the backseat and closing the door behind her.
Aida looked at Chinese Elvis. “What does that mean?”
“Believe me, Mrs Roundtree, this car is very expensive. I drive it most carefully,” Chinese Elvis assured Aida. “You can sit up front with me. I am very happy for you to smoke.”
Aida felt a surprising jolt of gratitude even though she knew her ghostly cigarette smoke couldn’t actually bother anybody now. “That’s something I not heard in a very long time. Thank you.”
“You know, smoking suppresses appetite.” Chinese Elvis walked round to the driver’s side. “For me, cigarettes are the greatest invention ever.”
Aida watched him get into the car. Chinese Elvis was right; fatties used to be a rarity back in the days when everyone smoked. Now hardly anyone did and cellulite had gone through the roof. Aida floated herself into the passenger seat of the pink Cadillac, deciding that she rather liked Chinese Elvis.
“Okay,” Xi Xi said, looking behind him at the full backseat. “Are we ready to rock and roll?”
Paul shrieked and reached out his chubby arms toward Xi Xi. “Fam. Fam.”
“That’s right,” the Wanda Woman said, lowering Paul’s arms. “Time to vamoose.”
Xi Xi turned the ignition key and the engine rumbled into life. As the Cadillac pulled forwards, Aida slid backwards. The Wanda Woman yelled in surprise as Aida passed straight through her and out of the back of the car.
Still floating in a sitting position, Aida watched the brake lights go on as the car stopped in front of her. “What on earth?”
Chinese Elvis got out of the car and walked round to the back. He crouched down like he was inspecting the rear tire. “Mrs Roundtree,” he hissed, “Did you forget that you are a ghost?”
Aida straighten up. “What happened?”
“The car cannot move you. Only you can move you.”
“Oh, I didn’t think of that.” Aida suddenly felt foolish. “So I need to move at the same speed as the car?”
“Yes. Can you do it?”
Through the back window, Aida could see heads start to crane round to see what the hold up was. She saw the earnest look on crouching Chinese Elvis’ face. “I can try.”
“Good.” Chinese Elvis stood up, smiling. “You just need to concentrate. Hey, you know what’s good for concentration?”
Aida float toward the front passenger door. “I dunno. What?”
“Smoking.” Chinese Elvis’ smile broke wider. “Didn’t I say cigarettes are the best invention ever?”
The journey to the crematorium was something of a white knuckled one for Aida, despite the fact that she was unable to grip on to anything, tightly or otherwise. With her cigarette clamped between grim set lips and her palms flat against her thighs, Aida floated in the front passenger seat, peering intently at the road ahead. A couple of times she slipped through the back of her seat when she failed to accelerate in time with the Cadillac, much to the Wanda Woman’s annoyance. The only real mishap occurred when Chinese Elvis braked sharply for a late crosser at a zebra crossing, but Aida carried on moving.
She quickly stopped herself and reversed back to the passenger seat. “Whoops.”
“You’re doing well.”
“What was that?” Jocasta asked.
Chinese Elvis realised his error in complimenting Aida. “Oh, you all are doing really well,” he told Jocasta through the rear-view mirror. “Such a sad day.”
From the backseat, the Wanda Woman rolled her eyes. “Yes, it’s an extremely trying time.”
And then it happened, just as the high, stone wall that marked the start of the crematorium grounds appeared up ahead, the heavens opened and it began to rain.
For Aida, it was the least surprising thing to happen that day. “Bloody weathermen. Can’t they get anything right?”
The Lord’s my shepherd; I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
in pastures green; he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
Aida stood at the back of the crematorium chapel, listening to the congregation sing, feeling isolated and sad. It wasn’t that the turnout for her funeral service was meagre – it wasn’t. Aida may not have had any living family but she had made many friends in her life. Apart from the Darlings and the Wanda Woman, residents and staff from Frampton Court, the care home where she’d lived filled the pews. There were former colleagues from her working days, and even one or two she’d helped birth into the world had come to pay their respects. No, Aida’s feeling of sadness stemmed from the fact that she had no way of communicating with them. She could try to join in their conversations, share reminiscences and ask how they’re doing, but what was the point? In the presence of so many alive, it finally hit home to Aida that she really was dead.
It was a mistake to come, she decided and left the chapel. The pink Cadillac was parked on the far side of the car park and it was still tipping down. She would go back to the car. Chinese Elvis was there and at least Aida could talk to him.
“Sod it!” she said and zoomed off in the direction of the car park. The rain didn’t hinder her, the parked hearse that had delivered her body to the crematorium didn’t stop her progress, nor did the extensive lawn, slippery and wet, slow her down. Aida zipped straight through the trees and shrubbery that concealed the packed car park, but what she saw next; however, brought her to a stop.
A group of four people had gathered by the Cadillac. They appeared to be admiring it as they moved around the car, pointing out interesting details to each other. Aida could see Chinese Elvis sitting in the driver’s seat, looking relaxed and seemingly oblivious of the strangers poking around outside the Cadillac. He was still wearing his sunglasses and it took Aida a second or two to realise that Chinese Elvis was fast asleep.
She didn’t recognise any of people surrounding the car but she doubted they harboured nefarious intentions for the vehicle or Chinese Elvis. For one thing, they all looked underdressed to be wandering outside on a cold, wet January lunchtime. There was an elderly black man wearing paisley pyjamas; a ruddy-faced teenager in a football strip; a purple-haired woman wearing only shorts and a tee-shirt that sported the large, black type number across her chest, and a tall, tanned and handsome man wearing nothing but a bathrobe that barely reached his muscular thighs.
“Excuse me,” Aida called to the group. “What are you doing?”
Four heads immediately snapped round in her direction. The four strangers stared at Aida and Aida stared back. They all wore a similar expression of surprise on their faces and, like Aida, none of them appeared to be wet from standing in the rain.
“Hello dear lady,” the old, black man called to Aida, stepping forward. “We are just admiring this very fine vehicle. It is not every day you get to see Elvis Presley’s pink Cadillac up close.”
“It’s not the original,” the lad in the football kit interjected. “I told you, that’s on display in Graceland in America.”
“Okay, okay,” the old man said with a chuckle. He indicated to his companions. “Do not be frightened, dear lady. This is Craig, Jaki and Simon. My name is Benjamin. What’s your name?”
“Aida. Aida Roundtree. You’re all ghosts.”
“As are you, Aida,” Benjamin replied with a smile.
“I know that.” Aida floated forward, through parked vehicles and joined the group. “That’s my funeral going on back there. What are you doing here?”
Teenage Craig answered with a shrug. “We live here.”
“What, at the crematorium? Why?”
“In case any others attend their own funerals like we did. Like you are,” purple-haired Jaki replied. “We’re building a community.”
“Excuse me, Aida,” good-looking Simon in a bathrobe interrupted. “Is that a cigarette you’re smoking?”
Oh no, Aida thought. Even after death, I’m going to be told not to smoke. I hope he doesn’t tell me it’s bad for my health.
“Yes,” she said defiantly and took deep drag. “What of it?”
“How?” Simon shook his head with befuddlement. “I know I was vaping when I died but I don’t have it with me now.” He grimaced in frustration. “I distinctly remember. I was having a relaxing vape on my bed after my workout and shower. What if I didn’t pick it up and just left it there?”
Aida weighed up whether or not to tell Simon that she’d been gifted the cigarette by the slip of a girl of no real age, but that would take too long to explain. Perhaps for another time. “I don’t think so.”
Simon looked disappointed but Aida had a sudden inkling; she remembered that on the day of her death, the slip of the girl had shared the cigarette with her whilst they chatted. Aida held it out to Simon. “Would you like a drag?”
Simon was hesitant. “Can I?”
Aida shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno. You’re the first ghosts I’ve met.”
“Okay.” Simon gingerly plucked the cigarette from Aida’s fingers. He brought it to his lips and inhaled. “Oh my god,” he exhaled rapturously. “Oh yes! That works.”
He took another drag and blew out a ghostly plume of smoke that immediately rejoined his body. “Thanks,” Simon said and started to pass the cigarette back to Aida “I needed that.”
“Keep it,” Aida replied. She held up her hand to show him the smoking cigarette she still held between her fingers.
Simon looked from his cigarette to Aida’s.“That’s fucking awesome!” he cried. “Sorry, I mean that’s awesome. Thanks!”
“Whoa. How did you do that?” Craig asked in amazement.
“Aida, dear lady,” Benjamin said solicitously. “Could I also trouble you for one of those?”
“Sure.” Aida passed him her cigarette and another immediately formed between her fingers.
“Me, too,” Jaki said. “Does it hurt to do that?”
“Not at all,” Aida said, passing her the cigarette. “And how about you?” she asked Craig. “Are you old enough to smoke?”
Craig gave Aida a look of disbelief. “I’m dead. Who cares how old I am?” He took the cigarette from Aida. “Thanks, being a ghost can be really boring. Hey, you don’t have a football as well, do you?”
Aida laughed. “No, sorry, I don’t have one of those.”
“Shame,” Craig said, smoking his first ever cigarette.
The five ghosts stood in the car park, smoking and getting acquainted, unconcerned with the teeming rain that fell right through them. They shared their death stories: like Aida, Benjamin and Simon had died in their sleep. Jaki had collapsed during a breast cancer charity run and couldn’t be revived. Craig had suffered a heart attack whilst soccer training. A second one in the ambulance on the way to the hospital had seen him off. All had died in the past two years.
“And none of you encountered the little fella?” Aida asked. Her four new friends looked back at her blankly. “You know, the little reaper. He’s about yay high, wears a black robe and carries a scythe. He’s a little grim.”
The four ghosts shook their heads. “No, nothing like that,” Benjamin said. “I came here for my funeral, hoping for closure. The only ghosts I’ve met are Simon, Jaki and Craig. And now you.”
Something wasn’t making sense to Aida. The Wanda Woman had specifically told her that ghosts are rare, although common in war, and were a result of being murdered. But none of these people died fighting in a war and they weren’t seeking revenge for their untimely demises. In fact they seemed positively sanguine about their deaths and not at all curious as to why they were ghosts at all.
She had to ask: “So, did you all have the Rona jabs?”
The ghosts looked confused by Aida’s question, except for Craig who cast his eyes toward the ground.
“Well, I had my two,” Benjamin answered. “Why?”
“Don’t mind me, I’m just old and nosy. When did you get them?”
“Let me see now.” Benjamin looked skyward as he remembered. “That would have been in January and April 2021. I got a whole month’s worth of protection out of them before I died.” He laughed jovially at the idea but Aida wasn’t laughing.
“Oh, I see where you’re going,” Jaki huffed. “You’re one of those anti-vaxxers.”
“And you have purple hair but we’re both dead,” Aida snapped back. “Did you get one or two boosters?”
Benjamin was surprised. “There were boosters shots?”
“One.” Jaki’s nostrils flared with anger. “I got one for the booster campaign November ’21, but I died the following July. They’re not related. If anything, climate change was the contributing factor in my death. I mean, it was really hot that day.”
Aida looked at Simon. He simply held up the index and middle fingers of his right hand, that held his cigarette. “Two, no boosters.”
“Craig?” Aida asked gently, turning to the teenager. Craig’s head was still bowed but Aida could see his chin wobbling. “I see.”
“One,”Craig whispered hoarsely. “At school, at the start of September term. The day before I… you know…”
“Oh, Craig, I’m so sorry.” Aida wanted to hug the poor boy. He was so young; it was so unfair.
“You wicked, old cow,” Jaki threw her cigarette to the floor and stomped on it. “Why are you causing upset? I take it you weren’t vaxxed, so why aren’t you still alive, Aida?”
“Everybody dies. That’s a fact,” Aida said kindly. She pointed to the smouldering cigarette that had reappeared again between Jaki’s fingers. “A much better question to ask is, why are you a ghost?”
The silence that followed was awkward but blessedly brief. “Because I was murdered,” Simon spoke softly.
Craig nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, I was killed, I know it.”
“What?!” Jaki sighed dramatically. “You’re not buying this crap, are you? Is it because she gave you a fag?” She turned and threw her cigarette away, but when she turned back, it was dangling from her lips. “Ugh. What is going on?”
“I don’t know, Jaki,” Benjamin said evenly. “For all of my life, my expectation was that when I die, my ancestors, sorely missed family, the people I loved would welcome me into their warm embrace. There is a reason why I am here and not there. I don’t what it is, but I would like to find out. Maybe then I can go home.”
Jaki was still not convinced – Aida could tell as much from the look on her face and the tightly crossed arms under her chest. Jaki had a large bosom; it couldn’t have been comfortable running with those, for fun or otherwise, Aida decided. And then she noticed the three digit number across her chest.
“Do you believe in coincidence, Jaki?” Aida asked. Benjamin, Simon and Craig all looked at each other.
Jaki shrugged her hunched shoulders. “I don’t know what you mean,” she answered gruffly.
“Well, do you believe in signs?”
“Like signs from God? Don’t tell me you’ve got one of those as well?” Jaki answered sarcastically.
Aida wasn’t phased by the young woman’s dismissive demeanour. “See this watch,” she said, lifting her wrist. “It’s broken. It stopped at the moment I died. I have no idea why I’m still wearing it. I still look at it.” Aida shook her head dismissively. “Jaki, what time does it say?”
As Aida held her arm out, Benjamin, Simon and Craig all leaned in to take a look.
Jaki begrudgingly looked at the time on Aida’s wristwatch. “It says five to three. So?”
Craig saw it first. “Whoa, no way!”
Simon and Benjamin looked at each other in confusion. “I don’t get it,” Benjamin said.
“Oh,” Simon said with sudden realisation. “It’s phonetic. Awesome.”
“Ah ha, yes!” Benjamin turned to Jaki. “I see it now.”
“See what? It says five to three. That doesn’t mean anything,” Jaki shouted in frustration.
“Except it’s also your running number, Jaki. You’re wearing it,” Craig explained.
Aida thought Craig had cheered up immensely. He was a sharp lad.
“Jaki,” Benjamin said kindly. “Aida’s died at five to three. You died wearing 523. Can you hear it? It’s the same.”
Jaki was silently shaking, fists clenched at the end of ramrod arms held straight at her side. It was good-looking Simon, in a far too short a bathrobe to be really decent, Aida thought, who finally triggered her.
“Jaki, sweetheart. Just face it,” Simon purred between cigarette puffs. “Aida’s got your number.”
“ARGH!” Jaki screamed and stomped her foot. It passed silently through the tarmac surface of the car park. “Argh. I’m going. See you later.”
Jaki zoomed off in the direction of the crematorium. The remaining ghosts watched her leave.
“Will she be alright?” Aida asked.
“She’s upset. She’ll be okay once she calms down,” Benjamin said reassuringly. “She’ll be fi-”
“Oi! Aida!” Jaki called back from the far side of the car park. She pointed toward the chapel. “That’s your funeral, yeah?”
Aida nodded. “Yes.”
Jaki pulled an ugly face. It was most unbecoming. “Good, I’m going to zap your mourners.” She zoomed off.
Now Aida was confused. “What does she mean? What’s she going to do?”
“Ah, don’t worry, she can’t do anything,” Craig said. “Not really, except give electrostatic shocks. Man, that’s such a weak superpower.” He sounded disgusted.
“The bodyshocks are real? That’s very interesting.” Aida filed that bit of information away for further reflection. Goodness knows she had the time to think about how that might be useful.
“Do you think there are more ghosts at other crematoriums and churches?”
Benjamin took a puff of his cigarette and then placed it behind his ear. “Do you know, Aida, I hadn’t thought about that. There could be.”
“We could look,” Craig added. “I’d be up for some of that. One of them might have a football.”
“Are you going to stay with us?” Simon asked Aida. “Don’t mind Jaki. She has to learn to be more inclusive. If you’re right about the Rona jabs, then we can probably expect our numbers to grow. We could use your help.”
Aida was touched by the offer and a little tempted; however, she’d promised the slip of a girl that she would keep watch over Paul, and Aida had no intention of reneging on their deal. Still, it was good being around the other ghosts. They were a nice crowd, Jaki’s tantrum notwithstanding and even that was fun. They gave Aida a sense of being.
“I’ll have to take a rain-check on that, I’m afraid. But I promise you, I’ll be back.”
“Good evening, everyone!” Simon called from the the front of the chapel. “I can see we have some noobs with us tonight, so I’ll just quickly cover some basics first.”
Aida sat in the back row of the darkened chapel and looked at the pews filled in front of her. They were nearly as full as on the day of her funeral, just a few short months ago. Simon was right: there were a lot of new faces in the crowd tonight, which made Aida feel happy and yet incredibly sad. As usual, all the ghosts in attendance possessed a lit cigarette. Some smoked theirs and others didn’t, but all of the ghosts would share their cigarette with any new lost soul encountered. It was a bit like a badge of honour, Aida had decided, except entirely more useful.
She smiled and puffed on the original, the cigarette given to her by the slip of the girl, as she waited for Simon to start. He was becoming quite the motivational speaker, not to mention easy on the eye.
Simon stepped out from behind the lectern and strode up the centre aisle, stopping at the midway point. He waited until he had everyone’s attention before starting to speak.
“We’re here because we were murdered.”
Aida could see heads nodding in agreement.
“You, me, all of us,” Simon continued. “Whatever their motives, the authorities we trusted lied to and killed us. They robbed us of both our lives and our natural deaths. There’s a reason why we’re here. There’s a reason why you’re here.”
He looked around at the attentive faces. “Welcome to Fright Club. The first rule of Fright Club is: we don’t let them get away with it.”
Simon paused dramatically. “The second rule of Fright Club is…”
“WE DO NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT,” the audience roared back.
At the rear of the chapel, unobserved and unperceived by the ghosts attending Fright Club, God and Death stood in her invisible Situation Room and watched the proceedings unfold.
“I did warn at the time that allowing Aida Roundtree to remain as a ghost would have unintended consequences, Ma’am.” Death would never gloat, but he did feel vindicated.
Indeed, I remember.
“Do you hear them? They sound very angry.”
They were murdered.
“She’s building an army,” Death continued. “They are seeking revenge.”
Oh, Big D, an army of avenging ghosts? Surely that’s just a little too Tolkienesque, even for you.
“Unintended consequences from supernatural meddling, Ma’am. Aida Roundtree is up to something. I know it.”
She’s doing a fine job watching over Pesto, according to War and Famine. They have both sent in progress reports. Pesto adores her.
“But do they know about her ghost army?” The conversation wasn’t going at all how Death had imagined it would. In fact he was starting to think that God wasn’t quite as alarmed at the situation as he was.
I don’t think so. I will mention it to War, though. I’m sure she’ll be amused.
More unintended consequences, Big D?
Death no longer felt any vindication. He remained silent.
The one aspect which I do find most troubling is why weren’t these souls collected when they died? Are you looking in to that?
“Unfortunately, a small number of murder victims will go unreaped, each year.” Death dropped his head in shame. “However, according to the Aether records, all of these ghosts should still be living people. An investigation is already underway.”
You will keep me updated?
“I will, Ma’am.”
God smiled down at Death.
Good. Honestly, Big D, an army of ghosts? It’s not as if ghosts can do anything…
*So what did you think of it, Clicky?*
*You’re just saying that… /stubs butt… Go and get a Song…*
That’s all for now, Dear Reader. Until next time, have a Song… ❤
As you can see, the latest volume of the Underdog Anthology is now available to buy. It’s only available as a Kindle book at the moment, but the paperback will follow shortly. The cost of the Kindle book is only 79p, which works out at less than 10p a tale, and that’s throwing the Afterword in for free! I draw this to your attention, Dear Reader, as it seems to be a hell of a bargain, and something you may well want to take advantage of 😉
*Well, yeah, the stories in it are pretty dark, Clicky, but nothing like real life, right now. Seriously, have you seen who the UK government and mainstream media are fervently supporting in Ukraine?*
As a further enticement to purchasing a copy of UAXX, Dear Reader, the Afterword is reproduced in full below… I did say it’s for free 😉
by Roo B. Doo
Welcome, Dear Reader, to the Afterword of this here Underdog Anthology. Not sure if you’ve realised but this volume bears the sign of the double-cross. Watch out! How we’ve managed to get to number XX I’ll never know 😉
A double-cross is an ‘act of treachery’. In 1941, MI5 set up a military counter espionage unit called The Twenty Committee. The naming of this unit clearly linked the double crosses of the Roman numerals for twenty (XX) with one of the unit’s aims, which was to ‘double cross’ Germany by coercing German spies to become English double agents. In April XX-XX, the UK’s chief of the defence staff General Sir Nick Carter revealed the secretive 77th Brigade of the British Army was involved in countering coronavirus misinformation online. A double dose of double-cross. Yikes to be on the end of that!
There is also a double-cross in ‘vaxx’ which, sadly to say, people are continuing to discover is entirely apt.
How about a sing-song, Dear Reader, to cheer ourselves up? As is traditional on this dead poets page, the lyrics of a poem or song are carved up, mangled and mutilated to fit a current thing. This time, to add a little piquancy, only one of the songwriters, Kelly Gordon, is dead. Dean Kay is alive and thriving, according to Wikipedia, which makes this a dead but alive offering.
The most famous version of this song is by Frank Sinatra and it’s a belter. He’s definitely dead but, in life, had a reputation for hanging out with Mafia types and, it is said, the famous singer/movie superstar character, Johnny Fontane, in The Godfather was based on Frank Sinatra. That resulted in a bed full of horse’s head. The Mafia, now there’s an organisation where the double-cross is just part and parcel of doing business.
Considering where we are, some might say that’s also apt…
That’s what all the politicians say
Get the first jab in April, shot two in May
They said we’d have to be immune
If we wanted to see Disney World in June
They said Vaxx life
Governments and Media scream
‘You Anti-vaxxers get your kicks
Stopping our Build Back Better dream
But they don’t let it, let it get them down
Cause they believe they can still win us around
They tried persuasion, peer pressure, payola, proscription
And pure gaslighting
We’ve been set up, locked down over and over
Just to get one thing
Each lie they come up with
Told to our face
‘It’s safe & effective’
They’re a fucking disgrace
They tell us, ‘you must comply’ yet
The thought of acquiescing, baby
Well, my heart just ain’t gonna buy that
Cause if I wobble and take one single try
What’s the betting that I’d be that one to die
Or get blood clots, Bells palsy, brain tumour, breast cancer
or blood poisoning
On top of getting Covid over and over
The ‘Long Covid’ thing
Each time the Media tries lying
Right to our face
‘It’s safe and effective’
They’re a fucking disgrace
There’s anger, I can’t deny it
The thought of cutting heads off, I must still decry it
But if they ever give it one more try
People will rise up
And this time they’ll die
I’ll also be posting up my story from Underdog Anthology XX later this week. It’s called Wholly Ghost and it’s the eighth installment of my Ronageddon series. If you are unfamiliar with previous seven stories, there is a link to them under ‘Pages’ on the left-hand sidebar.
As you may know, my good friend and missive writer extraordinaire, Cade Fon Apollyon, unexpectedly died in July. What you may not know, however, is that at the start of 2022, he was about to be made homeless…
*It’s not been great, Clicky..*
… Fortunately, that didn’t happen but the start of January was a worrisome time; he had to decide what to do with his stuff that he couldn’t carry on him, which included his computer and all his writings on it…
*That was a epic scrolling sesh through DMs last night to find Cade’s permission, Clicky…*
… Christmas Ever was Cade’s first foray into fictional writing and it appeared in Underdog Anthology IV in December 2017. It is kinda long, so I suggest you get yourself a drink, settle back and enjoy because the pay-off is spectacular… 😉
by C.F. Apollyon
Voice: What is clean?
Patient 4: I’ve had some thoughts about that.
We spend a great deal of time trying to work out the particulars of the concept of clean. We remove. We add. We remove one thing by adding another. I sometimes wonder about the mechanics of the processes involved in cleaning, and the oversight involved in determining what is worthy of the label: clean.
Aren’t all of those things connected? These things that are removed….where do they go? And where did they come from that they needed to be here? What is this strange factory that produces these things that need to be removed? And is that company also owned by the same people that create the things that need to be added to remove the other? Anyway, these particular rooms definitely appear…clean.
Four white walls covered by what appears to be an ocean of white paint. Upon closer inspection, hundreds of small rivulets of this paint can be seen just about everywhere, so one might assume that the entirety of the painting process was done in rapid fashion. Maybe we are onto something there as to the origins of this cleaning process and its necessity. Perhaps cinder blocks, or, “breeze-blocks” as they are known elsewhere in the world, were not meant to be painted?
The channels of mortar between the gaps in cinder blocks appear to be the catalyst for the paint rivulets. Perhaps the paint itself is to blame, or even the choice of paint type? What if the blocks were painted prior to installation? No…that wouldn’t work. Surely the masonry workers are as hasty about their work as the painters, and there would surely be chipping of the paint as these heavy blocks were moved about from place to place. I wonder how many times these blocks were moved from place to place before finally arriving here where I find them today. I wonder what the person who manufactured this particular block here, had for dinner last night.
What did I have for dinner last night? Was last evening last night? I try not to think about day and night that much anymore.
White flooring with slightly shiny and reflective tiles that are somehow not slippery except when wearing only socks as a footwear choice. They take our shoes, and only give us socks to wear here. Only one door to get in and out. I know where the door is, but considering the socks and how slippery the floor is when wearing them, I won’t be getting out of this room in any hurry. I guess I could take them off. Under duress, I wonder if I would have time to remove my socks, and how the time taken to remove them would improve the amount of time it would take to cover the distance to the door. To be as complete as possible in my thinking, there would be much more distance to cover once one were out the door and beyond this room. Perhaps I should take my socks with me should I need to put them on again.
Thinking about it now, and under certain circumstances, I’m not too sure as to how “clean” this single door design can be. But it appears that someone worked it out as being acceptable, and now here it is, willed into existence. Never mind that the locking mechanism that can only be opened from the outside is going to be a hindrance should I need to vacate this room post-haste. I don’t recall anyone mentioning that we were to be housed in locked rooms to which we, the volunteers, would have no key.
Brightly lit. I’m not sure that I’ve seen this many light fixtures in such a small room before. Not that the room is particularly small. It’s actually quite large, and certainly large to be a room designed for a single occupant. Irrespective, the number of light fixtures seems…excessive. The manufacturer who makes these light fixtures most likely had a heart-attack at the amount of money to be made on this contract, should they be the one to win it. It was probably simultaneously heart-breaking as they carved pennies off of individual components here and there to come up with a winning bid. I wonder if they kept track of how much money was lost by being the winning bidder. Considering the number of light fixtures in this room alone, multiplied by the size of this facility…Wow. I would imagine it would have been enough to pay off the mortgage, and still have enough left over to buy summer homes for every employee in the company. Not that companies are known to do that. Probably just paid a lot of overtime wages for the duration of the contract in lieu of wage increases, and the workers were probably thankful for it. Make hay while the sun shines.
Does the sun even go down any more?
The desk is rather small, and the chair quite uncomfortable. In tandem, it is quite uncomfortable to sit and write for any period of time. Such a massive room compared to the “major” components that currently occupy it. A room designed to be occupied by a single occupant. I wonder how far the designers went in calculating who and what would occupy this room. Much to think about there with respect to who chose what and where over spans of time. Perhaps the desk is not small, but that the room is big? No. I can’t think like that. Destructive thinking in a constructive environment serves no one. There can be no standardization within standardized testing without a certain resonance to maintain that flow. They certainly didn’t hire anyone familiar with Fung Shui to design this place.
I can only assume that “flow” from a scientific perspective, requires room. Vast amounts of room, with little to no hindrances. Sounds more like a vacuum to me. And that’s what this pressurized and climate-controlled “clean” building feels like – a vacuum. But doesn’t science also contend that vacuums are “unnatural”? Maybe that’s what causes the underlying “insidious resonance” that permeates this place. An unquenchable desired to return to its natural state, which is foiled by exacting dimensions of exacting specifications, that are relentlessly reinforced by the electricity that drives the machinery, which never allows this structure to relax. Pressures and temperatures are strictly maintained, and inputs closely monitored to determine outputs. All routines are…well…routine. These routines are extraordinarily involved, and yet quite mundane. So much for “exemplary” being anything other than “average” I guess. But isn’t that the nature of flow? Aggregate? “No one raindrop thinks that it calls the flood?” or something like that?
I noticed a hole in one of my socks this morning. I wonder how long it would take me to locate and reassemble those missing fibres?
They’ll be coming soon. I’ve no idea what time it is since they don’t afford us clocks, there are no clocks in the hallways nor anywhere else, and no one wears watches in the entire facility. Not that I’ve seen anyway, but I do know that they’ll be coming soon. I can only wonder what they will make of these most recent – how do I describe this? – “Most recent events”. I certainly don’t understand them.
It is certain that I can comprehend these changes in myself and my room, but I’ve no understanding of them nor what transpired as to what cause them. Unusual that they would happen at a “less-interaction” time period. A scheduled period of time where no staff interacts nor engages directly with me for a specified time. These times vary, and I never know how long these periods will be. Or at least, I’m not supposed to know. But, I have gotten quite good at guessing when they will occur and for how long. Irrespective of my ability to interpolate and estimate quite accurately, and my newfound quandaries as to when estimates cease being estimations, I can honestly say that I didn’t see this coming. I only need to move the bed before they get here. Or should I leave it for contrast?
It’s doubtful they will notice I’ve left my clothes locker in its original position. It’s small since it only contains three t-shirts and two pairs of these sleep-pants they make us wear. It remains firmly planted on the floor in its original position, just to the right of the door as one enters my room. Have I mentioned that there are actually two doors in my doorway? The outside door opens out, the inside door opens inwards towards the room, and I suppose that this is to act as a noise buffer. I once recorded some of my music in a recording studio that had the exact same design. Two heavy oak doors that were meticulously hanged in their frames, and further sealed with sound-proof weather stripping wherever there was a gap. Quite clever actually.
They aren’t fond of change, changes or changing. The logic in this thinking of theirs baffles me since the whole point of their drug testing program and programs are to actuate and facilitate change. To be more specific, they are trying to change a change that is in mid-change. No wonder they seem to despise change. They are doing the equivalent of throwing a running chainsaw into a wood-chipper to see which one wins, under what circumstances, and repeating that same test over and over with completely new and different subjects. Trying to isolate and quantify a variance that they themselves are generating.
I wonder if they see their methods the same way that I do. Irrespective, their methods most likely keeps chainsaw and wood-chipper manufacturers happy. Perhaps scratching their heads as to where all the trees are coming from, and where they are going to, but happy. I wonder if those manufactures also had to bid for their contracts. I guess I’d better digress before I get too silly with my analogy that somehow compares a competition between chainsaws and wood-chippers, to modern medical drug testing programs and their methodologies. Dumping a medication into a person isn’t even remotely close to a competition between shredding and chopping devices….is it?
It baffles them that I know exactly how long I’ve been here, yet keep no calendar, nor do I mark time in any way. 3 years, 4 months, 16 days. Strange that I never know whether it is day or night. I wonder if they are simply humoring me by telling me that my knowledge of my time spent here is exact. I’m certain that my inability to know whether it is night or day confounds them. The staff works odd shifts, and they rotate these shifts so as to keep all of the drug testers off-balance is my best guess. However, I can only assume that certain staff actually live on-site for certain periods of time, which is how they somehow appear to never sleep, arriving at all hours of the day and night.
I can’t remember what it is like to sleep. “To sleep? Perchance to dream?” I cannot help but giggle to myself that I remember those lines, but yeah…that’s destructive…don’t go there. That does get me to thinking though…I wonder if the staff, or at least some of them, are actually former drug-testers like me.
Perhaps I should mention how long the tester, 17 doors down from me, has been here. Or maybe both the tester 17 doors down andthe tester in the adjacent building that is in room A-11-A on the 7th floor. I can only wonder as to their reaction should I be correct. Perhaps they should shuffle us in our rooms and see if my sequencing abilities remain intact. Or if not, how long it takes them to re-coalesce. Why should a room be numbered “A-11-A” that is on the 7th floor? And should I tell them that I also know that sequencing schematic and all of the particulars as to why they do it? The tester across the hall was bleeding for some reason last night. Not sure from where, nor why, but there is a bit of blood that remains on the t-shirt they used to stem the bleeding. I’ve never actually seen the tester across the hall, but I know them a bit. I know they went to great lengths to remove the blood from the shirt, and that they are nervous about the staff discovering it.
Oh no. The tester across the hall is bleeding again. I hope they know that I am on the verge of tears over here. Not to make them feel guilty; I certainly don’t want that. Just that I know that they are worried and scared, and that I’m not trying to intrude. I feel for them. Good thoughts. Good Karma. Good vibrations. Fung fucking Shui. Chi or Chee or vanilla chai tea or whatever in the hell it would take to make them feel the slightest bit better.
God almighty! Am I beating them up with Kung-Fu Kindness? I shudder at that thought. Is that possible? Suddenly, that “killing with kindness” quip sounds less appealing than ever. Maybe just a quick prayer of sorts will be sufficient. The time has come for me to move the bed, and I’ve estimated it’s going to take me approximately 6 hours to do so. That’ll leave about 17 minutes. 17 minutes before the first of what will most likely be a record number of visitors today. I wonder who they will be.
I just had the most odd of impulses. I have these impulses all the time, but I usually dismiss them because of the staff rotations. But I have the strangest feeling that my first visitor is going to be one of the directors. One of the directors meaning, one of the managing directors. He’s a doctor. Actually a doctor many times over, who holds multiple PhD’s in medicine and business. Also a Master’s Degree in music of all damn things. I’ve met him before, we’ve spoken, and I can only assume that my being a self-taught musician, and his holding a Master’s in music is cause for some of the friction between us. Ironic that we are both musicians whose musical careers were both commercial flops. Perhaps we should start a band. Heh Heh Heh. Got to go, but maybe if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll inquire as to his interest in starting a band. I guess I’ve got 6 hours and 14 minutes to think up a band name.
It just occurred to me that I’ve been here for 3 years, 4 months, and 16 days. I entered this room on August 8, of 2014. August 8th is my father’s birthday. Or at least, it was my father’s birthday until he died. Anyway…that means that today is Christmas Eve. Wow. Why are specific dates suddenly flooding into my head?
That means today is December 24th of 2017…Christmas Eve. That means, that tomorrow is Christmas…Christmas Day.
Note to self: I may or may not want to wish Dr. Music a “Merry Christmas” and “A Happy New Year”. Gotta factor in that this day will probably stick with Dr. Music for some time to come, and perhaps the rest of his life. Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Ever for Dr. Music and his colleagues and investors and family and on and on and on. It’s a lot to think about, and it really does weigh on me. Ironic that visually, I would assume that not much would appear to be weighing on me at all. But he can make his own best determinations as to the physical qualities of my being when he gets here. I’ve no idea what to tell him. Maybe “the band idea” will lighten things up a bit. Why am I suddenly calling him Dr. Music?
Voice: What are you doing?
Dr. Mews: I wish that I knew.
The sun is setting. It’s low in the afternoon sky. That cannot be right.
Voice: Why not?
Dr.Mews: Because my alarm clock will be going off soon. There is no clock on my alarm, so why do I still refer to it as an alarm clock?
Voice: Only you can answer that.
I’m standing alone in the living area. The view is outside the rear window on this house. I say “this house”, because I do not live here. Or at least, I don’t own it. It’s owned by the Company, and used to temporarily house employees that are in site-to-site rotation. Its rear window, made of four huge glass panes that must be at least twelve feet tall each, faces the river. And the river is to the east. I am facing east, and looking east, yet the sun is setting. Why is the sun setting in the eastern sky?
Voice: Where is your family?
Dr.Mews: They are at home. Asleep like me. I’m dreaming. I’m thinking of them, but I’m not dreaming of them. Is that an unusual distinction to make within a dream?
Voice: I’ll let you answer that one as well.
I have to be dreaming this, because the sun is setting in the eastern sky. The sun is in the correct position to set were everything flipped and facing west, but the sun rises from this same easterly direction in a completely different place. So it has to be setting. It’s entirely too far south to be rising.
Voice: That picture there. Is that your family?
I listen to the voice as I continue to look out the window at the unusual setting sun, turning my head slightly to notice the picture of my wife and three children that is sitting on the small table next to the window. It’s the only personal item that I carry with me when I travel. As with the rest of the contents of the room, everything is oriented as it should be within the photo. Correct places, correct orientations, my wife’s wedding ring is visible and on her left hand, which appears to the right since she is facing the camera.
Dr. Mews: Yes, that is my family.
Voice: How many are in your family?
I count the faces in the photo.
Dr. Mews: My wife and three children. So…there are four in my family.
Voice: I see five.
The alarm seems to work in one regard. I’ve no idea what time it actually is, but the crests of where the horizons of earth and sky meet seems to be the correct shades of blue to properly indicate morning. I guess it works in all regards: one, it’s loud; two, it’s precise; three, I’ve no idea what time it is and; four, it’s efficient and effective.
It’s also irritating on virtually every level, but at least I can sleep. The same cannot be said for many of the residents on-site, but hopefully that will change. That’s the goal. Or at least, one of them.
This is quite a nice residence, but I admit that I hate being on-site. I cannot bring my family, and it makes me feel so distant from both them and everyone else that lives here. Like some rogue interloper that’s always leaving one family for another. Let’s skip the coffee and get to the pertinents.
The Time-Sequencer-Variant-Unit, or, Tim’S VU. Not very creative with respect to acronyms, and the “VU” portion admittedly took me aback when I first heard it since “VU” usually refers to a Volume Unit Meter. But when I learned that the person who created this apparatus was named Tim, and that Tim was also a musician, it started to make a bit more sense to me. Time and timing is everything in music. Many parts, at many times, and Tim’S VU was much more than some randomly timed noise-maker that told you when to prepare for sleep and when to wake. It was more like a clock of clocks that somehow kept no time, and yet kept perfect time, as if it were somehow dialled in and connected to the universe itself.
I’ve understood the basic premise of the device since I was first introduced to it. But the embedded nature of some of the thinking that Tim did to create it still confounds and amazes me. I wonder sometimes about asking Tim to actually connect a VU Meter to one of these devices for me so that I could perhaps watch it rise and fall as it does whatever it is that it is doing. I’ve spent some time in a recording studio myself, and watching the VU meters rise and fall on the large mixing consoles was always like watching a choreographed dance of indications as to the sounds being routed from and to their proper places within the whole of the music being played and recorded. Needs a little more here, a little less there. I’ve no idea what led him to, nor how he actually connected these things, but he did.
Now the entire system is connected via satellite via a complex routing of a minimum of computers and infrastructures. “A Merging” is how Tim himself describes it. “Non-Impact-Architecture” is what the base system has become to be known internally. An active and passive sonar system of sorts, that pings only when and where it can, and listens the rest of the time for these opportunities to present themselves. How it pings, who it pings and when, Tim admits is as much a mystery to him as everyone else. He simply stumbled across these “time gaps” while looking for something else entirely. The dimensional aspects of these gaps, and how the system calculates them is also quite involved yet mysterious. The system has no database and no records are kept.
On record: This is Dr. Issac Mews dictating. We are currently on-record until otherwise specified. Again Dr. Issac Mews dictating on unknown date, at unknown time, and I am dictating post a successful TSVU sleep arousal from a successful sleep cycle. Sleep cycle commenced at unknown time on unknown date. Sleep cycle was alone, in a bed, and occurred in unspecified guest residence on unspecified site. Specifics will be amended per standard procedure in what should be Appendix A of this report unless otherwise noted.
One dream in the most recent sleep cycle, and the dream was fairly lucid and clear. Contents were primarily known landscape and known infrastructure within a known and familiar environment, with the only discrepancy being that certain aspects outwardly were reversed, such as the sun setting in the correct position but in the wrong direction, while certain inward aspects remained constant, consistent and correct. Inward aspects that remained correct were and are, familiar and/or personal items that displayed dimensionally correct. Physical proportions in all cases, inwardly and outwardly, remained consistent in scalar terms, and no size aberrations were noted. Initial post-sleep conclusion being that the most recent dream-state is indicative of both normal REM sleep and continued normal sleep patterns.
Off-record. Good Morning to you Transcriptionist Number 74.
I’ve no idea who Transcriptionist #74 actually is. I only know the procedures and protocols that are used within the division of the Company that handles all of the transcription, and know that the suffix of the report number on each transcribed report refers to a specific transcriptionist. As in “Report #AAA000.74”, with the “.74” portion of the report number being a reference to a specific person.
I know this, because up until about 4 years ago, this number was always changing when I proofread my transcribed dictation. Typically, I had to send a report back 4 to 5 times with corrections. After speaking with several others about the quality of their reports, and their telling me similar with respect to corrections, I became convinced that some department hadto be padding their particular cost-center numbers for some reason since our cost-center is billed by the line with respect to transcribed reports. An internal conspiracy may be a bit of a stretch under the circumstances perhaps, but after reading the reports while listening to copies of my own dictation, I could not understand how the most simple of words could be misheard and mistyped by a professional transcriptionist.
Professional medicaltranscriptionist no less. While we typically do no use much medical terminology in most of our dictation within the company, we are most of us medical doctors. These medical transcriptionists are people who spend their days typing at a furious 80 to 100 words per minute, and these words are mostly what one might refer to as “25-cent words” of the medical variety. Words like “Ganglioglioma” and “Gastroenteritis” and “Gastroenterologist” or “Campylobacter” would probably be considered some of the more tame terminology in our unusual vernacular. I can only imagine what the word count per minute must be within transcribing reports that contain a more common and less medical vernacular. I am thinking of both “less-medical vernacular” and “Campylobacter” in the same thought. I’ve no idea why that sprung to mind. Which reminds me that I need to eat.
I made a few inquiries as to the quality of my reports, and eventually everything began to change. The quality did not improve, it got worse. So, I made a few changes myself. Upon listening to my own dictation, I began to notice things on the recordings that seemed to synch-up with some of the errors on the transcribed reports. Things like me coughing, or turning my head, or dictating while I was driving, or on an airplane. One of the worst though, was leaving my hand-held recorder on after I had stopped dictating. I later learned that the transcriptionist must sit there and listen to the silence, no matter how long it is, to ensure that I do not begin dictating again. Most transcriptionists do not get paid to sit and listen to silence.
I also learned that there are routines built-in to the software that transfers the dictation portions from the recording device to the transcription servers. During the upload and transfer of the digital audio recordings, these routines search the digital files for extended periods of silence, remove them, then concatenate the file portions that contain audio back together. However, these routines are typically not successful when the recorder is left on where people are talking in the background. I suddenly became aware of the possibility of a transcriptionist having to sit through a sudden romantic interlude between me and my wife that occurred on the kitchen table because the children were out of the house and we were alone. We were not; some damn fool had left the handheld dictation device on just prior to our rendezvous. We’ve been known to be…spirited.
This got me to thinking about audio levels, which got me to thinking about Tim’S VU. I discussed some thoughts about automation with my colleagues, but they suggested that I was already on the right track by attempting to be more mindful about when, where, and how I was dictating. I agreed with them. Automation is not always the answer, and sometimes not even “an” answer. Automation doesn’t always exist, and where it does it exist, augmentation to existing processes always has the potential to create more problems than it resolves. In addition, they congratulated me on having a frisky-wife and added that they would love to hear the audio, should it ever surface. Doctors can be cantankerous. But in parting there was yet another glimmer of hope – it was noted that transcriptionists are quite well versed in both poor dictation habits and cranky doctors with attitude issues. Also that transcriptionists tend to be quite discrete and even protective of those who they transcribe for. There are more than just and only doctors and transcriptionists involved in these processes. We aredealing with patients and those patient’s personal information. Personal information so sensitive, that most of the time this information is only shared between doctor and patient via a patient that would most likely rather not be sharing it. Noted. It’s amazing what we sometimes forget, and why.
On-record: Aberrative observations. One: A detached voice of a primarily interrogative but seemingly non-malevolent nature. Approximately 3 to 5 questions were asked, all were addressed directly to me, and were all specific to me. However I would add that direct as though these question were, there was an unusual vagueness within the specificity of the contents and contexts of this and these inquiries. Almost as if the unseen presence already knew the answers to the questions I was being asked.
Note to typist: colon aberrative observation one comma footnote one colon to follow. Continuing current dictation, comma, I would also note that this exchange was brief but within the confines of what can only be described as a casual conversation between acquaintances, with no further qualification as to the depth of the relationship between these acquaintances. The lack of any further qualification being an attempt on my part to avoid any unnecessary nomenclatures or distinctions.
Off-record: Hello again Number 74. I actually think I said good morning the first time, but I hope that you are having a good day, whatever time it is where you are. I’m going to take a quick break and then try and skip down to aberrative observation one, footnote one. I apologize for having to insert that note where I did, and hope that my jumping to old school dictation techniques didn’t throw off your rhythm too bad. I just remembered something that I think important during the process of me trying to recall my dream. I’ll let you know if we need to start anywhere other than footnote one. Be right back.
I double and triple check the handheld dictation recorder any time that I turn it on or off. Perhaps Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is actually some personal penitence that we assign ourselves to keep us from repeating our same mistakes.
Whoever Transcriptionist #74 is, they are a master at what they do and have been so since the first day they appeared in my life. I didn’t request them nor anyone else, nor have I requested that #74 remain the only transcriptionist that transcribes my reports. But that is how it has worked out.
I no longer have to dictate punctuation. They add it for me, and it’s almost always perfect. Why is my mind suddenly wandering to Patient #4? I’m going to assume that it is the “4” in “74” that has my mind straying a bit. I rarely have to inform #74 that they need to call up certain templates for certain reports, but I tend to try and do so. A horrible thought has just crept into my head. What if #74 were to suddenly disappear? Would I be dictating a linguistic nightmare to whoever replaced them? I think my head and heart are suddenly feeling just about as low as humanly possible right now. What sort of corporate nightmare have we created?
I appreciate everything that this person does for me, all while simultaneously taking it for granted. My God…has this person ever even had a vacation? Had to take off sick? Bereavement? I depend on this person absolutely, and yet I know nothing about them. I’ve always considered my dropping by to meet them in person as being rude, and potentially even creepy, never mind that it violates Company policy to do so. Is that why I feel so comfortable? Company policy?
Still off record Number 74. I’m going to start off with footnote One, but I did want to give you a bit of a heads-up. After the footnote is complete, and barring any other unforeseens, I will be moving on to form Alpha Eleven Alpha. That’s capital letter “A”, dash one one, dash capital letter “A”, or Alpha Eleven Alpha. I hadn’t intended on this, but I think I’m going to need a special form to prepare for today, so if you want to go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do to call up that particular template, maybe this little heads-up will help. I have to pause here for a second.
It’s not unusual for doctors to make “off record” notes in their dictation. However we always try to keep it brief, to the point, and as business related as possible. However, it is also not unusual to make non-specific personal annotations and comments directed specifically at whoever is listening to the recording of the dictation and actually transcribing the report. However, only one person transcribes my reports, and has for several years now. Is that what’s bothering me? Or is it my upcoming visit with Patient Four? What the hell. You only get one opportunity to fuck things up completely and correctly, so why not.
Still off record Number 74. I don’t know who you are, but I just want you to know that I appreciate everything that you do. I apologize if and when I take you, and what you do, for granted. Even though you will not be transcribing the previous sentence, I’m sure that it would contain all of the commas or any other punctuation in the correct places. I do notice these things and I thank you for noticing them too.
I had to pause again. I was tempted to fall back on older methods and actually dictate the punctuation and any other specifics, but I feel I cannot do that here and now. I have to let them be who they are. It is, after all, why they are where they are. I guess I better take a few more breaths and collect myself before continuing. I have to rely on them, and rely on myself to rely on them.
An interesting note about a specific exchange within the scope of the conversation that took place within my dream-state. There was a particular query that was originally thought by me to be rather straightforward and direct. The question asked of me by this detached voice was simple: How many are in your family? My answer appeared to be incorrect according to this unseen participant. Within my dream, there was a picture of my wife and children, and it was and is the same photo that I carry with me when away from home or travelling. I have one wife, and three children, they are all in the photo, so in response to the question asked, I responded four. The detached voice quickly but gingerly corrected me, and stated bluntly that they saw five. “I see five”. That was the verbatim response. I can only assume that the fifth member of my family to which this voice was referring to was me. In my dream, this voice had specifically referenced the photo, so I simply counted the faces of my wife and children. For the sake of space, I will be omitting further comment at this time. However, I’m going to request that an additional copy of this report be sent to my office so that the report can be amended later.
Off-record Number 74. And if you could pull up that Alpha Eleven Alpha template now, I should be dictating less hindered from here now that I have that footnote off my chest. It felt like the elephant in the room was sitting on my chest. Apologies for the parlance.
Beep Beep. The Time-Sequencer-Variant-Unit just beeped twice. That means two hours until my visit with Patient Four, give or take ten minutes either way. Once you start operating on Tim’S VU time, absolutes with respect to time, as we know it, go right out the window. Did I think the word “fuck” earlier? What in the hell has gotten into me?
Voice: What are you doing?
Patient 4: I have no idea.
This is not what I expected. Not where I expected to be. It’s been four hours, and I’ve somehow managed only to move the bed to the opposite side of the room. On the upside, the bed itself is upside-down. Heh heh. A strange upside perhaps, but an upside nonetheless. I’ve two hours to go. Perhaps I’ve missed something?
Moving the bed may seem like a simple task, but not here, and certainly not now. The beds here are more of a cot than an actual bed. The bed’s frame is light and rather flimsy, topped by a thin, soft mattress that gets replaced every few months. More aggregate and more vendor contracts to contemplate. I wonder what they do with the old ones.
I had six hours to complete my task of moving the bed, but I didn’t calculate that it would actually take that long. I also need to remember to move my clothes locker a bit once I get the bed moved. But just a bit.
I was quite convinced that there were no surveillance cameras in the rooms, but I was only partially correct. There are cameras in the room, or at least, a camera. One – in the corner – above the clothes locker, and the clothes locker is situated to where it is out of view of the camera. I suppose so that the blind spot in the corner would be the only place where someone could hide, and the clothes locker being placed in that particular corner prevents someone from hiding there. Anyone standing in front of, or even crouching in front of it, can be seen by the camera.
Quite clever actually. Someone obviously put a hell of a lot of thought into this. If the clothes locker is moved at all, even slightly, it will be visible to the camera. If the clothes locker is moved to a different part of the room, they will notice and assume that someone is hiding unseen in the corner. I’m sure they have some sort of checklist for when they first turn the camera on, and the clothes locker is most likely the most important item on that list. Not that there is much in the way of furnishings in this room, but there is some beauty to the simplicity of it all.
The cameras are almost never on. They turn the camera on a few minutes before any visitors arrive, leave it on for the duration of the visit, then turn it off a few minutes after the visitor leaves. The camera is tiny, well placed, and it took me a long time to discover it. I’ve never actually seen it, but I know it’s there.
My thinking is that if I move the clothes locker just enough, its top corner should be visible in the camera when they turn it on. This should cause them to change their visitation protocol for the current visitation, and Dr. Music will not be my first visitor of the day, but my second.
Any visitors after Dr. Music will most likely have to draw straws among themselves. I can’t imagine anyone being anxious to drop by. But Dr. Music will be. He’s already anxious about visiting, but I get the feeling he’s very nervous.
Voice: Any ideas as to what he might be nervous about?
Patient 4: Camera. Wait…not “a” camera…but…cameras. Cameras, as in…plural.
Patient 4: Pictures? Or…”a” picture? Yeah. A picture.
Voice: So, if I’ve got this straight, your Dr. Music is nervous about cameras, plural, but only “a” picture. Do I have that straight?
Patient 4: That’s the best that I can figure.
Voice: Pretty good at figuring are you?
Patient 4: Not really.
A few tics under two hours. I won’t move the clothes locker until I can get my bed moved to where it needs to be. Perhaps I should move it back to where it was, and start over.
Voice: Whatever you think is best.
Let me try a few other things first. I’m not fond of going backwards. The last time I went backwards when doing something like this was quite unpleasant.
On-Record: This is Dr. Issac Mews, dictating from Residence One, Site One, and the current date is October 24, of 2017, exact time unknown. We are currently in the year of a twenty two cycle, that’s two two cycle, so the actual date is December 24, 2017, with October 24 being two months behind the current actual date. The uncanny nature of the lack of numerical variance within randomization routines is, ironically, remarkable. Not only is the lack of numerical variances within approved randomization protocols remarkable, this significance is augmented by the numerical significances of the numbers themselves. Even attempts to randomize the randomization routines themselves have returned result sets that can only be described as extraordinary.
God almighty…I have to pause for a moment. The date is supposed to be October 24, but it’s actually December 24. Two months forward, and two months back. Two plus two equals four. Two four two. Or even, twenty four forwards, forty two backwards. These numbers meant nothing to me until I stumbled into the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time. Don’t numbers start to lose their meaning when we tinker with an established and relevant base? I’ve no idea. Or at least, I don’t know any more.
I swear, if there is an afterlife, and I get there, I’m gonna punch someone in the nose for all the grief they’ve caused me. Not really, but it’s a funny thought to imagine to take the edge off. What in the hell am I doing here on Christmas Eve? Gotta remember to punch Carl Jung in the nose at some point. Maybe I could call it “The Synchro-Fist-City Punch”…or something like that. I only know that the numerics portions of his “Synchronicity” concept are cause for a great deal of dismay in certain sectors of this modern world of ours. I guess even the most staunch of any discipline or belief system can be bent or broken under the right circumstances.
Form Alpha Eleven Alpha, and I am recommending Alpha Eleven Alpha, Back To Front Protocol. All eyes, all departments, all eleven divisions, All eleven exclusions. It is my recommendation that standard randomization protocol be followed for the eleven exclusions of eleven, and under no circumstances is standard randomization protocol to be modified in any way prior to the randomization event. One exclusion per division, and the eleven excluded employees are to be included within 24 hours of report delivery. Standard procedure dictates that the eleven employees randomly selected for exclusion are to be included 48 hours after an A11A report delivery, but I am modifying this ad-hoc to 24 hours, and recommend that this be the only deviation from any and all A11A handling protocols with respect to this particular A11A report.
Break. Personal annotation.
There are those groups, within the company and elsewhere, that tend to scoff at the significance of numerical patterns, and I include myself within these groups although I personally do not identify with any particular group or school of thought. However, the basis of most all work with numbers, is in fact, the search for numerical significance and significances. I cannot help but note the duality that becomes apparent in two different contexts of finding these numbers we seek. Set A being finding the numbers we seek, and Set B being finding the numbers we were not seeking, but expected. One tends to bring happiness and possibly even relief, and one set tends to bring anger and possibly even dismay.
I feel it necessary to point out that in and among these duality sets lurks a third set, and that is Set C – finding numbers that we were not seeking, unexpected and/or do not understand. Finding numbers of this and these qualities tends to invoke fear, and perhaps even inspire terror, as we find ourselves, for lack of a better term”off the map”. I must also point out that in my studies, subsequent to the events that provoked their necessity, have shown that these unforeseen results sets are anything but “off the map”, and are in fact quite well documented. At the risk of sounding a shade, for lack of a better word, “edificationistic”, the numbers recently so common in our studies are indicative of not the numbers being off the map, but rather it is that we ourselves are “off the map”. What exactly this means, I am not entirely sure. I am simply of the mind that any and all considerations should be given to the significance and insignificance of our findings, and that both are potentially equally applicable.
There are going to be some who aren’t going to like me changing the delivery time frame for excluded employees, and they aren’t going to like it one bit. But it’s within my power to do so, it’s my prerogative, and I’ve never done it before. Never felt the need. I wonder if #74 even knows what “Back To Front Protocol” is? I better mention it.
Off-record: hello again Number 74, I’m going to be as thorough as I can here, but I feel the need to start with the History section since there will most likely need to be some need for oversight and fact checking with respect to Form Alpha Eleven Alpha, going all the way back.
Wait…scratch that…I’m sorry….I need to start with Requests and Recommendations, pending, and then we’ll go to History from there. Are we straight on that Number 74? God I hope you are, because I’m all over the place today. I apologize for that. Also, not trying to tell you your business, but it just occurred to me that you may not be familiar with the “Back To Front Protocol” for form Alpha Eleven Alpha. I described it in my dictation a bit, and it simply means that everyone within the company will get a copy of this report. So I guess that means you’ll get one too, so you may not want to make any typos. Just a little humor Number 74. Oh, and eleven employees will be randomly selected to be excluded from receiving the report for 48 hours, but I’ve amended this to be reduced to only 24 hours. Just thought you might like to know that in the event you didn’t already. I guess if you don’t get the report when everyone else does, it won’t really matter since you are hearing it’s contents well in advance.
I’ve little doubt that there are those… um….”within the architecture”, we’ll say, who listen to each and every dictation by each and every person. I’m also quite sure that there are most likely some of these “less official” raw diction recordings that “make the rounds” when they are of particular interest to whoever they are of particular interest to. If so, I’m sure that my sudden banter with Transcriptionist #74 will most likely raise some eyebrows, but I don’t care. I tire of the voyeuristic nature of the managerial processes and processors that are completely removed from the processes themselves, yet somehow deeply entrenched in the process. I’m not even sure that my synopsis or estimation of what is transpiring where, and at who’s behest, is even quasi-accurate. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s quasi-classifiable. I don’t despise my fellow executives and managers. It’s as tough a job as any. I’ve no idea what I’m trying to convince myself of here.
On-record: Requests and Recommendations, item one. External. Department of Fish and Wildlife, the request is dated October 23 of 2017, and this is this actual date of request with no internal amendments nor alterations to the date specified on the request. Specific contents of request and copy of letter to be included with this report. Summary of request is the addition of four to eight more wildlife observation sites on and/or at Company Site One, internal site designation Potomac Plus. Fish and Wildlife observation sites are to be equipped with one video camera and/or one trail-cam per site. These additional four to eight observation sites are needed to augment the existing thirty-two sites that already exist, and The Department of Fish and Wildlife states that they need these additional sites to augment the existing gaps in coverage that exist because of oversight with the design and placement of the original thirty-two sites.
Jesus H. Christ. I’ve had this request for barely a week now, and it makes my head want to cave-in just thinking about it. It was sent and received, right at what is now two months ago, and I’m already quite certain that someone has already somehow taken some further liberties with the existing observation sites that they installed three years ago. I’ve got to settle down a shade; stay positive, keep your humor, just…tame it, OK? Fuck it.
Request is approved for eight additional sites with conditions, and conditions to be met are as follows.
Condition 1: Each site is to be equipped with either a single video camera or a single trail cam, and not both. Any wildlife observation site, including existing sites, that is found by company security, maintenance, the lawn care team or any other employee of the company, to have, or appear to have more than one camera of any kind, will be hereby authorized to take any/all additional cameras, as long as they leave at least one at the individual observation site where the additional cameras were found. They may then do whatever they choose with this and/or these additional cameras, as they are now their own personal property, since there is only supposed to be one camera per observation site.
I can guarantee, that the NSA or CIA or FBI or even all of those, are going to be falling over each other trying to get those additional cameras off-site before they can be proven by their own internal investigations departments that there are in fact, more than thirty-two cameras currently installed on-site here at Site One. Should be quite the rugby scrum between agencies to see who owns which ones.
I must say though, that I am already feeling sorry of the Department of Fish and Wildlife employees who’ll be caught up in this mess, but I’m sure that there are already plenty of people internal to that agency that are well informed as to other agencies and their interests. A sharp-eyed groundskeeper found the first “aberrant” site, and it was actually one of the twenty-eight sights that are actually on Company grounds, on-site, and not one of the four sites that are just beyond the perimeter fence. That land is also owned by the Company, but technically not on-site. Hence the distinctions of Site One and Potomac Plus, which are actually the same thing. Site One is everything inside the perimeter fence, Potomac Plus is the entire site, which includes Site One.
The camera housing was pointed at the sky, but the camera itself appeared to have been removed from the camera housing, and the internal camera portion was now held to the bottom of the camera housing with duct tape. It was also now pointed directly at building three. They obviously had issues in the process, and had run a new cable that they didn’t even bother to bury in some places out near, and just beyond the perimeter fence. The groundskeeper who found it was actually trimming the hedges nearby, and the camera looked broken at first observation. But upon closer inspection, he noted the duct tape, was worried that something else was going on, and he reported it to security. For the most part we ignored it. We reported to Fish and Wildlife that one of their cameras appeared to have a wardrobe or some other malfunction. They quickly came out to “fix it”, and according to our own security team, there now appears to be at least four cameras at that particular site.
There are those within the Company that have spun some wild tales as to who tampered with that first camera, up to and including the gardener who found it. The logic of some being, the government is watching us, and they wanted us to know it. I’ve no idea, and to be honest, I don’t care. That sounds hateful. I need to dial this back.
Condition 2: Each additional site is to be maintained by Fish and Wildlife, with no exceptions.
Condition 3: That the Department of Fish and Wildlife submit for review, plans for suggestions of any sites that can be restructured, repositioned and/or removed completely.
I guess they think I don’t pay taxes, but I do, just like everybody else.
Condition 4: That the Director of Fish and Wildlife, along with the Director and/or Directors of the specific studies and or programs related to the observational data provided by the on-site video of Site One or Potomac Plus, watch the video marked 337 dash XC in Patient Four’s file, before any new observational equipment of any kind is placed on-site at Site One and/or Potomac Plus.
Condition 5: That the aforementioned meet with me personally to discuss the contents of this video prior to any additional sites and/or equipment are installed.
There have been multiple attempts within the Company to report these anomalous findings on a regular basis to The Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, we are not contractually obligated to do so. We are actually obligated to do nothing other than say yes or no to the sites themselves and what they can or cannot contain. But I guess thinking about all of this sticky mess right now is about the only thing keeping me grounded.
We, as a company, have reported what we’ve found, when we’ve found it. Thinking that it was some corporate intrusion was quickly ruled out, and The State Department has assured us that no foreign government needs to be investigated, because of all the cameras do indeed belong to The Department of Fish and Wildlife…even the extra ones. They have assured us that only one camera is ever in use at any one time, and any additional cameras are simply backups that were allowed for under the maintenance clauses of the original agreement. This revelation caused an internal relaxation of security procedures, protocols and infrastructure utilization…and that’s when everything started to change.
Please contact my office to regarding scheduling of the aforementioned meeting. Thank you for your considerations and attention to this matter, sincerely, Dr. Issac Mews, President, CEO, Chief Medical Director, Managing Director of Special Projects.
Break for item number two.
Still on-record, Requests and Recommendations, item two. Internal. Personal request, executive level, request dated July 3, 2017. Request for time off, dates of December 24 to December 26 of 2017, and the request is from Dr. Issac Mews. Request was approved by Human Resources on August 8 of 2017, and forwarded to executive management for final approval also on August 8, 2017. Received and approved by managing members on August 9,2017, and forwarded to the offices of the President/CEO for final approval on August 9, 2017. All company guidelines and procedures appear to have been followed. Please mark the request as denied, no reason given, add copy to employee file.
Off-record: that’s all the requests I care to add here Number 74, but I would like an amendment of a footnote for one other request that I have here before we get to the history section.
On-record: Requests and Recommendations Footnote A, request from a Ms. Melanie Chadwick for a personal meeting with me, details as to reason were unspecified. However, Ms. Chadwick is former patient in prior practice. Meeting is approved, and I would like to schedule a tentative date of Monday March 6, 2018. I would also like to personally draft a reply, and do not want to use any standard form letters. This has been added to the footnote section since I will need to draft the reply myself, and will also need to wait on a response from Ms. Chadwick. Will add details to any and all subsequent report and or reports if, as, and when necessary.
Off-record: That’s all of the requests. Next will be History, and once we are through that, that should be all of the dictation we can get to prior to my visit today.
I don’t know if Fish and Wildlife will actually take the time to watch that video of Patient 4, but they should. It’s possible they’ve already seen it, but I’d really like to know why the sudden need for more sites. Every single camera points inwards to Site One, and the site really isn’t that large. Certainly not large enough to necessitate 40 camera sites to monitor both migratory and indigenous regional bird life in this one small section of land near the Potomac River in Virginia.
Patient 4 was attending a birthday party for one of his nephews. His ex-wife’s brother’s son, and the party was being held at the residence of Patient 4’s then brother and sister-in-law. The video, taken in the living area of these relatives’ residence, shows Patient 4 sitting in a chair, directly in front of a fish tank, and he, along with the rest of the people in attendance. are watching Patient 4’s nephew open their presents. The video itself is not of Patient 4. But the camera does pan over to and across him as the person who was shooting the video, presumably Patient 4’s daughter, is primarily filming the present opening process. This video was filmed on what was later to be determined to be a personal handheld digital video camera.
As the video progresses, it is clear that Patient 4 is sitting very close to the fish tank, with his head almost touching the glass. After later examining other photos and video, it was determined Patient 4’s daughter was seated next to Patient 4 in front of the fish tank at times, but in the video in question, the chair next to him is empty, indicating that she was filming the video. After the anomalies were found in the video, subsequent interviews with Patient 4’s children and ex-wife have confirmed that Patient 4’s daughter in fact made the video.
It was almost better to show subsequent first-time viewers the video back to front. But it was decided that this would prejudice anyone watching as to what they are seeing, assuming that they see anything at all. There are those who don’t see it, but those who originally discovered it were slightly perplexed as to what they were seeing. That is about the time that video came to my attention.
In the last three shots where Patient 4 can be seen sitting in front of the fish tank, it becomes clear that all of the fish in the tank have began to school just behind Patient 4’s head. Upon rewinding the tape, it is clear that in the first shot, Patient 4 had only recently sat down in the chair, as the fish are spread out rather equally all throughout the fish tank. The tank itself was estimated to be between a 40 to 50 gallon tank, fresh water, containing approximately 50 to 75 Fan-Tail Guppies fishes, and between 5 to 10 other species of fish of no more than two per species. As the video progresses, it becomes clear that the fish behind Patient 4 are migrating from all areas of the tank to directly behind Patient 4’s head which is directly in front of the glass. Patient 4 appears oblivious to the fish gathering behind his head…until the second to the last image of him.
Patient 4 seemed quite relaxed in the entire video, until the video catches him turning around for some unknown reason to look at the fish tank, and he seems to notice the fish massing behind his head. When Patient 4 turns back around facing forward, his facial features have changed from a relaxed comfort, to one of what can only be described as panic. There is almost a knowing in his eyes as to what is happening and why, but his posture and body language changes rapidly to almost a fight or flight type posture.
There was only one more shot of Patient 4 in the video, and although his posture seems to have relaxed a bit he has, what can only be described as, an uncomfortable smile on his face. Not quite a smirk, but also not quite a smile. It was as if in that short period, he had worked out what was happening, why, and what to do about it. Review of the video and photos that are time-stamped post-video observations show that Patient 4 was only seen sitting in that chair one other time, and his daughter was seated next to him. The fish were once again massing directly behind his head.
He has to know something. What that is, I don’t know. Perhaps I don’t need to. Perhaps he doesn’t know, and is figuring it out as he goes like the rest of us.
I do know that I’m very glad that I left my visit with Patient One out of the reports thus far. Visiting both Patient Four and Patient One in the same day might be looked upon as excessive. But I’m here, and so are they. All of the paperwork was done properly. It all remained outside of my office completely until returned approved, and so my personal final approval is in line with everyone else’s approvals. There is no way I could have possibly known that things would develop that required Form A11A. But, that’s what you are going to need to visit Room A-11-A, and it looks like I’ll be visiting there today as well.
I also know that I need to get something in my stomach. I’m starving.
Almost there, and with plenty of time to spare. Assuming the bed continues to cooperate with my calculations, I should have about 1 hour and 15 minutes to spare, plus the additional 17 minutes. And I gotta remember to move that clothes locker.
Voice: Do you know how that bed stays where it is?
Patient 4: Gimme a break. You know that I don’t. I mean, I kinda do, but not really in a way that I am prepared to try and explain.
Voice: So what are you going to tell them?
Patient 4: If the opportunity presents itself, I’ll talk about the singularities a bit, and then…
Voice: Sorry to interrupt, but what about the program and how these are related?
Patient 4: I’ve no idea. I’ll do the best that I can. They’re going to want, and even need to talk gravity. That means I need to stay within the context of time, so I can stay within the context of gravity, and stay the fuck away from the inter-dimensional and multi-dimensional bullshit.
Voice: Multi-dimensional, and inter-dimensional bullshit, eh? Tell me about it.
Patient 4: Go fuck yourself. I’d rather piss-glass.
Voice: No to the first, but I’ll see what I can do on that second one.
Patient 4: Fair enough. Something sad must be coming. You always try and get me giggling just prior to me thinking about something sad.
Voice: You’re too busy thinking about Patient 1 and Patient 7.
Patient 4: We’re the only three left of the original group.
Voice: Three of the original ten are left. And those three are still in a program that originally contained six thousand, three-hundred, and thirty-seven in total. Only three left out of that entire group. Should make headlines worldwide with a body-count that large.
Patient 4: I’m happy that they’ve all been released, that they are all safe, and living their lives.
Voice: Not all.
Patient 4: It’s rare that I don’t think about Patient 74.
Voice: Patient 1, Patient 4, Patient 7, and Patient 74. Three alive, one…erm…not so much. What do you think the odds are that those specific numbers are significant?
Patient 4: I’d rather try to explain to Dr. Duncan the particulars of singularities and their significances within a multi-interdimensional framework.
Voice: Sounds complex. You think Dr. Duncan is dumb?
Patient 4: No. Not even a little. Actually, I find he’s extremely smart. Just interested in other things.
Voice: I would agree with that appraisal. Have you considered what will happen if Dr. Duncan hangs out with you for a while and tries to get his own appraisal of the situation?
Patient 4: If that’s the case, then Dr. Duncan gets, and probably deserves, the particulars of singularities and their significances within a multi-interdimensional framework.
Voice: You know, your sarcasm and less-than-optimistic appraisals of situations are actually quite funny.
Patient 4: Thank you.
Voice: You are welcome.
Patient 4: I just don’t think that he’ll stay for very long. No matter who walks through that door, nor when, I’m winging it and making it up as I go.
Voice: Good thing you’ve got help.
Patient 4: All you need is love.
Voice: I like The Beatles too.
I’ve decided on a band name. Two Makes A Third. Two…makes a third, as in 1/3. Two, plus one, plus three, equals 6. Six can be interpreted as two threes. Thirty-three and 1/3. A numeric stretch, but connectible. Two failed musicians, two failed careers, joined by fate for a third attempt at stardom and fame. It’ll never happen, and it’s a stupid name, but Dr. Music might find it amusing. I doubt he’s happy about being here on Christmas Eve. I know that I am not, although I’ve no idea where I would be were I not here. Where will I go when and if they release me?
I don’t see it as such a stretch that musicians tend to be at odds with one another. Can you imagine sticking two painters in the same room to work on the same painting? What about three painters, or four, or even five or more, all working at the same time, and different times, to paint the same painting? That’s kind of how I see the process of musicians working together to make music. I’ve no further qualifications to add to that analogy.
Tim knows more about the Time-Sequencer-Variant-Unit than anyone, and not just and only because he invented it. Tim likes to say that he discovered it more than invented it. That said, there are many that understand Tim’S VU quite well, and even come up with some amazing challenges and additions to it that even Tim admits that he never would have thought of. But it’s discoveries like these that keep Tim at it. Whenever someone suddenly knows more, Tim rises to the challenge and will find multiple new dynamics based on a single find of another. It’s what he does.
Tim also is a bit of a study in virtually any and all things. He and his knowledge of more esoteric types of thinking is how I stumbled into some paths that have both helped and hurt me immensely. Based on my time spent in these areas, that’s just how it works. Help, and hurt. The study of some of the more “ancient” types of knowledge and wisdom have led me down some strange pathways to be sure. But I find solace in knowing that everything comes from somewhere.
To think that our elders and predecessors were somehow all incompetent nincompoops, is almost akin to denying our own existence. We could not be where we are were it not for them. That said, Tim has given me a way to find not only a newfound respect for mathematics and especially geometry, but he’s kept me reigned-in a bit, with respect to my enthusiasms for these strange realms. I can still recall the conversation that helped me a great deal. Like finding a master guru at something you’ve been pursuing, after you’ve spent decades trying to go it alone. Upon stumbling into this master guru, they afford just five minutes of their time, and completely sort you out in the span of that five minutes.
“Tim, what about this and these ancient sites, holographic multi-dimensional whatever it is, and this sacred geometry nonsense,” I asked almost hatefully.
Tim responded with an empathy I did not expect. “Look, if you are an architect, you don’t keep the protractor or ruler or whatever tool you need on the page the whole time. You find the tool you need, you use it to do what you need to with it, then set it aside. A template for helping to create and maintain templates, irrespective of what that template is. A 454 cubic inch Chevy engine is a template.”
This took me aback. I had never thought of a car engine as a template. A template made of, and from, templates. There was almost a flicker of understanding, but he continued. “Issac, you’re a medical doctor for chrissakes. It’s in your nature to overthink, over-add, and over-reduce, all so you can find what you are looking for. You personally could have a penis the size of a Howitzer cannon, and that would not negate your trained need, plus any personal need to compensate and overcompensate. So much for society’s compensation theories that are anything but contextual and situational observations of a temporary nature.”
Tim had an odd look on his face, and I can only imagine it was based on the look on mine. I have no idea if I understood that second bit at all, but I was suddenly transported to my youth, and thought of name-calling and labelling types of associations. Temporary things that can and do change, and what changes when and where.
“I’m with you. Keep going.” I somehow managed to stammer, and wondered if I was participating, or simply interrupting. He certainly had my mind working in some new ways.
“Would you use a reflex hammer to take someone’s temperature, or your stethoscope to check someone’s prostate?” I would have expected a grin from Tim, but his face was stoic and rigid as he awaited my response.
“Those would not be my first choices, no,” I responded, all while trying to work out the dynamics of how either of those could work under any circumstances.
“I see the gears turning Issac. You are most likely trying to figure out how to best utilize a doctor’s bag, that for whatever reason, only contains a reflex hammer and stethoscope. You’ve got two more patients to see. One patient has flu-like symptoms, and the other patient is complaining that it feels like he has a football up his ass. You’re trying to make do with what you have, and make both of those people whole in the process. Who are you omitting Issac?” Tim finished on a quizzical and yet decidedly parochial tone.
I suddenly return to the present and remember the voice.
Voice: I see five.
Am I forgetting myself? Let’s go back.
“OK…wait a minute Tim. I kind of sort of see what you are getting at. But you almost simultaneously validated and invalidated virtually everything within not only modern medicine, but also most modern modalities and schools of thought with respect to the benefits of accumulated knowledge.” My head was decidedly spinning and not spinning at the same time.
“What the hell good is accumulated knowledge to you as a caregiver when you’ve got a guy who’s prostate is swollen to the size of a tennis ball, and only a reflex hammer and stethoscope an to fix it? Are you going to beat him to death with the reflex hammer to put him out of both of your miseries?” Tim’s argument would be almost vapid were it not for the distance that we’d already covered. But my being at a loss somehow turned to my advantage.
“Maybe. Maybe that’s the exact way to proceed. I can let him wear the stethoscope so that he can more accurately listen to me do it,” I fired back.
Tim looked shocked. His eyes grew wide with dismay at my response, but then his face relaxed and he broke out into an uproarious laughter that made him start coughing.
“I get it,” he said between coughs, and continued to laugh. “You worked out that the blows would probably be much louder if he were wearing the stethoscope. Some dramatic music of sorts to listen to as you go out. That’s funny. I hadn’t thought of that,” he coughed more than spoke.
“Well Tim, I hadn’t realized that you had thought of any of this.”
”I hadn’t Issac. Making it up, off-the-cuff, as we speak, based on my experiences here and there. Where and how we can relate, and maybe where we can’t. We each of us, handle our successes and failures however we do. But there is a lot more to life than just success and failure. Life is not just and only some constant state of peak or valley. How the hell would we know that there was a peak to summit if there were no valleys?” Tim finished on a tone that sounded as if he had given me all that he had available to give at this time. I found this an odd coincidence, as I was already dreamily wandering elsewhere myself.
“Life, is not a constant state, of either peak or valley. I like that.” I must have sounded like someone who had just stumbled onto the exact coordinates of the last known location of The Holy Grail.
“Feel free to make as many mistakes as you like with that one.” He was smiling again. “I enjoy talking with you Issac. You challenge me to think.”
Dah Dah Dah, Dah Dit, Dit. Tim’S VU roused me from my thinking. One, in Morse Code: Dash Dash Dash, Dash Dot, Dot. One hour to go. I need to get with it.
On record: History. Site One no longer maintains more than one-thousand five hundred patients at any given time. Total patient beds on-site is two-thousand two-hundred, divided between three main buildings and two auxiliary buildings, all of which are designed for patient occupancy. All buildings on-site are adequately staffed with medical personnel, including those buildings which do not permanently house patients, the only exceptions being the on-site executive housing which are detached and separate structures located at various remote locations on-site, and the motor pool and maintenance buildings which are both co-located in close proximity to one another and both adjoin Main Building One.
All current programs are in the process of being eliminated. All programs and their associated participants are being consolidated from remote sites and routed through Site One as these programs terminate and the participants released from their contracts. At present, there are six-hundred and thirty-seven patients, and six-hundred staff that are housed on-site at Site One. The majority of on-site staff occupies the same quarters as patients at various times during the rotation schedule, and do so in rotating shifts. All patients and staff are rotated to new quarters every seven to ten days. With current patient and staff occupancy numbers, there is a vacancy of nine-hundred and sixty-three unoccupied quarters. However, these unoccupied quarters are included within the rotations, and no quarter goes unoccupied for more than thirty days.
The rotation schedules can and do change based on needs as, if, and when they arise. The only exceptions to any of these protocols being four more or less permanent and/or long term on-site occupants. These occupants are the remaining participants of the original programs, and are patients classified as follows:
Patient 1 – Program A group A, and all programs beyond.
Patient 4 – Program A group A, and all programs beyond.
Patient 7 – Program A group B, continuing through Program E.
Patient 0 – Program 0 and beyond.
All of these participants maintain residence in the same rooms, and have done so throughout the entirety of their participation and stays. Patients 1 and 4 are located in Building Two, specific locations are classified as restricted. Patients 7 and 0 are located in Building Three, with Patient 7’s location being classified as restricted, and Patient Zero is located in Room A-11-A, although the specific location of this room is classified as restricted.
Today I will be visiting both Patients 1 and 4, with the focus being on the visitation with Patient 4. An unplanned visitation of Patient 0 has arisen via unforeseen events and/or necessity. No specific details are currently available as to this necessity, nor can specific events be cited as cause.
Standard visitation protocol is being followed, and a second doctor will be on-site at time of visitations to act as a backup to my being primary should any anomalies or other need arise. I do not know who the second doctor will be, and they have been randomly selected from a group of three doctors within site rotation that will be available and on-site at the time of visits. Doctors within that rotation for today are Doctors Duncan, Percy, and Soldano.
At this time there are no plans to change the current rotation schedule. All current programs are scheduled to be completely eliminated and participants released from their contracts within twenty-four months of January 1st 2018. All subsequent programs are currently slated to begin on or about 12 months from January 1st 2018.
Recruiting for new programs is currently underway, contract signing will begin on or about June 1st 2018, and continue through the end of calendar year 2018.
Report to continue post-visitation.
Off-record. Thank you Number 74. I’ll talk to you on a different recording when I get back. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours.
God I hate this shit sometimes. The upside being, that the majority of the planet is probably in a pretty good mood right now, and will be so for the next day or so. I’m certainly not in a bad mood. I just have this weird feeling that I’ve forgotten something, or I’m going to forget something, and it’s going to be important.
“Good day to you. Dr. Mews to see Patient Four.” I recognize the attendant for the ward on this floor, but don’t recall a name. She’s pretty. Nice smile, and very relaxed face. Like a Buddha that’s just pulled a 16-hour shift like it were a walk in the park. But she also looks like someone that most likely has training in several martial arts, and can break your arm with a pencil.
“And a good day to you Dr. Mews. Dr. Duncan will be acting as your second today, and he has already called and assured me that he will be ‘either early or late, but still on time’. His words. Not entirely sure what that meant, but I guess we’ll figure it out.” She was able to be sarcastic without sounding bitter. Hopefully she can cheer up Dr. Duncan if he’s having a rough day.
“Let me ask you something. Do you have any training in any martial arts?” I asked as delicately as he could.
“Yeah, actually I do. Some anyway. I used to box semi-professionally and took some martial arts classes here and there. Why?”
“Well, I have a daughter who has expressed an interest in taking some martial arts. She seems more interested in devising a valid reason for taking these classes above and beyond the typical “for self-defense” reason that most quote. She tells me that it looks interesting, and that’s the only reason she wants to take martial arts class.”
“What’s wrong with that?” replied the attendant.
“Nothing. And I’ve told her as much. She herself thinks that is not a valid enough reason, and I take that to mean that her friends may be exerting some influence.”
“Well, I can’t say for sure why I took martial arts classes except to perhaps help me with my boxing. That’s the best I have to offer. Oh, and the second office behind you and to the left is available until time.”
“Thank you for entertaining my query, and I appreciate your input.”
She didn’t offer a name and I’m not going to ask. I feel like an idiot already for not asking in the first place. I’m going to crawl into the empty office, shut the door, and pretend my attempt at being a normal human is damn near impossible when in this place. I guess I don’t think of myself as others may most likely or potentially see me.
“Look, I have to be on the 8th floor of building two, in fifteen minutes. I won’t be up there long, I’ll bring it right back. If I’m not back in 30 minutes, you can walk over to building two, and drive it back yourself…it’ll be parked right out front,” Dr. Duncan told the motor pool attendant.
Dr. Danny Duncan could be a persuasive influence when he wanted to be. Everything made sense to him. Or at least, in a world where everything was designed specifically for Dr. Danny Duncan, everything made sense. Dr. Danny Duncan did not live in a world where everything was specifically designed for Dr. Danny Duncan, therefore, he had to improvise.
“Dr. Duncan, I can’t let you take the grounds keeper’s golf cart. Much less, take it just to drive right back to a building that you just walked all the way from for the sole purpose of taking the golf cart for a spin.,” the motor pool attendant said with a hesitant indignance. The poor guy drew the short stick in some cosmic lottery for today. Not only is he working on Christmas Eve, he’s having to deal with Dr. Danny Duncan’s broken dreams of someday becoming a world champion stock-car driver.
“Well, I also came to see about requisitioning a car for the evening,” Dr. Duncan fired back.
“Dr. Duncan…you are on-site in rotation and can’t leave the campus.”
“Is there anything you don’t know?” Dr. Duncan asked dryly.
“I don’t know why you’d walk all the way over here just to borrow the grounds keeper’s golf cart so you could drive right back to where you just came from. But I’ll be happy to drive you back in it. Fair enough?”
“No…but it will do until I can talk you into letting me drive it.”
As promised, the motor pool attendant dropped Dr. Duncan off out in front of Building Two, and only had to stave off two requests to stop the vehicle and let Dr. Duncan drive while they were en route.
Dr. Duncan fancied himself as a comedy writer of sorts. Always trying to find humor in any situation. During his time as an emergency room doctor, he had found that humor always has a place, even in and among the gore and tragedy that tends to overshadow that realm’s triumphs. Under duress, and under stress, Dr. Duncan was a master of timing with respect to when and where a comedic edge would serve, and when and where it would not. The rest of his time was spent planning and plotting, constantly devising scenarios, no matter how bizarre and far fetched, to ply his comedic wares.
Like the time when a woman – drug overdose, suspected suicide attempt – was brought into the emergency room. She had chosen hydrocodone, an opiate, as her way out. But once the Nalaxone was administered to counter the opiates in her system, she came out of the opiate induced slumber in a rather agitated state. Presumably, something similar to the state that landed her in the emergency room in the first place, without the aid of the calming effects of the medication she had tried to overdose on. A floor tile had recently been replaced in the emergency room stall she was admitted to, and one of the workers had left a razor-knife on one of the counters. Long after, it was a subject of debate as to how long that razor-knife had sat on the counter unnoticed and unchallenged, but it would eventually demonstrate how a light bit of humor, at the right time, can change the most determined and able of ships.
The woman had obviously started casing the room for anything handy, spotted the razor-knife, sprung from her bed, was oblivious to the IV catheter that ripped from her arm and vein as she went, grabbed the knife, and threatened everyone in the room with it whilst she retreated to a solitary corner in the room.
Dr. Duncan, who was just next door checking on a patient, heard the commotion, politely excused himself, and proceeded next door. Upon arriving, the patient immediately pointed the knife at him in a threatening manner, and commanded him to stay back. He proceeded to one of the cabinets, calmly opened the cabinet, procured some gauze and tape, turned to the woman and said, “Honey, if we don’t get something on that arm where you’ve ripped your IV out, you are going to bleed to death.”
The woman looked down at her arm, saw the blood streaming from it, and immediately started to cry. After a moment or two of reflection, the woman said “That’s pretty funny doctor. I wouldn’t have noticed had you not said something.”
By the time the woman finished, Dr. Duncan had already slowly and calmly walked over to the woman, knelt down, and begun to clean and dress her arm, all while she held the razor-knife in her hand. As he finished cleaning and dressing her wound, the sound of the blade being retracted could be heard with an audible ‘click’.
She held it towards one of the nurses, who delicately took it from her. “You know, if no one claims ownership to it, and you don’t mind removing the blades from that, I wouldn’t mind keeping that.”
BEEP! “Dr. Mews? Dr. Duncan is here,” the Ward Attendant’s voice informed me over the intercom.
“I’ll be right there.” Why in hell was she using the intercom when I’m right across the hall? Did I doze off to sleep? I stood up and went left the room. “Good day Dr. Duncan.”
“And a good day to you Dr. Mews,” Dr. Duncan greeted me jovially. “I just got a ride in the groundskeeper’s golf cart.”
“And I cannot wait to hear all about it sometime later today Dr. Duncan.”
Ward Attendant glanced at each of us coolly. “Are the doctors ready for protocol?”
“Dr. Issac Mews, present and ready.”
“Dr. Danny Duncan, present and ready.”
The Ward Attendant continued, “Dr Mews, who authorized visitation today?”
“Correct. Dr. Mews, who selected Dr. Duncan to act as second today.”
“Correct. Dr. Mews, what is the override password?”
“There is no override authorization for today, no spaces, one five one one three.”
“Correct. Dr. Mews, do you wish to override?”
“I do, with right to retract.”
“Correct. Dr. Mews, what is the override authorization retraction password?”
“Correct. Dr. Duncan, are you ready to act as second?”
“Protocol is verified, awaiting audible confirmation from TSVU.”
“Audible confirmation has been attained and confirmed via all attending parties and via TSVU at unknown time on unknown date. Should any anomalous discrepancies be identified during the visual portion of this process, Dr. Mews will be in authority, and Dr. Duncan will proceed with the visitation of Patient 4. Dr. Duncan, is this acceptable?”
“Dr. Mews, is this factually accurate?”
Only the briefest of upward of flicks of the Ward Attendant’s mouth outwardly betrayed her complete satisfaction. “Doctors, if you will please follow me to the security room, we can proceed with visual protocol and analysis procedures.”
It was a short walk to the security room. The room was cavernous looking. Previously there was an entire room lined with video monitors, and staffed by three security staff personnel that monitored patients and access passages twenty-four hours a day. Now, there was a single monitor, and it was currently black since no active monitoring takes place, anywhere, except within the room of the patient being visited by medical staff.
“Preliminary security protocols have been completed. If you would, please activate the camera in Patient #4’s room,” the Ward Attendant instructed the guardian of the monitor.
The security attendant had not even looked at us when we entered the room. One person, sitting alone, staring at a lone monitor that was powered on, but had only a black screen. He knew we were coming, and must be anxious to get his bit over with so he can leave. Possibly even for the day, and get home to loved one’s for Christmas. A nice thought, but he’s probably in rotation, and won’t be going anywhere except outside of the room once we are finished.
The security person flipped a switch, the screen flickered to life, but instead of a plain black screen, there was now only a plain white screen. Nothing. Plain…white…nothing. The room was completely empty.
At that moment, the security room that we occupied, even with four people present, seemed as empty as the room that we were looking into via the video monitoring system. Is this even possible? I’m not sure about the others, but there was some unseen force acting on me that was somehow keeping my blood from running completely cold. Were we looking at ourselves?
“Um…Dr. Mews?” The Security Attendant sounded hesitant.
“Yes. I’m all ears,” I replied, still stunned and rapidly calculating.
“Doctor, this may seem out of line. But when you came into the room, I noticed that your pants were unzipped.”
That’swhy he was so goddamn stoic when we first came into the security room! He was probably trying to figure out how and when to tell me my pants were unzipped. That also must be what I was so worried about forgetting earlier. No wonder I was so worried.
“Thank you sir and excuse me ma’am and sirs, while I remedy one of two immediate items of concern.” I did the standard male version of the “pants zipper check”, confirmation was attained, pants were zipped. I couldn’t help but think that my pants might be zipped up in one way, but my pants were quite down in another. One issue down, one issue to go.
“I’d laugh my ass off at the timing of that particular revelation if I weren’t currently so dumbfounded with amazement in what I am notseeing on the video feed right now,” Dr. Duncan said just lightly enough to be heard by all.
Most likely less than twenty seconds had passed since the camera monitoring Patient 4’s room had been activated. I’m certain that the Ward Attendant would have already asked me for instructions had she not been interrupted by the security attendant’s method of dealing with this unfolding saga.
“Dr. Mews, how would you like to proceed?” The Ward Attendant was falling back into character, and back onto protocol, but was cut short by Dr. Duncan interrupting excitedly.
“WAIT!!! Right there! Bottom left corner. You see that?”
I leaned in for a closer look at the monitor. He’s right. “The clothes locker is there,” I replied.
“And it’s out place,” agreed Dr. Duncan. “That means that Patient 4 wanted us to see it.”
“That means he hasto be in there,” I added.
“What? Why? Wait.” Dr. Duncan frowned. “I agree with you on the point that he wanted us to see the clothes locker. But how in the hell does that also mean that he’s still in there? There’s nothing that indicates there’s anything in there except the clothes locker,” Dr. Duncan said in a not entirely unconvinced voice.
“And how long did it take us to determine that?” I queried.
“And the status of your zipper,” quipped the Ward Attendant.
Dr. Duncan stiffled his laugh at the Ward Attendant’s addition, while simultaneously turning his head to give her a look of approval. “I would say we are at about one minute, if we are including “The Zipper Heard Round The Room Incident”. If not, I’d still say the same thing.” Dr. Duncan was trying to find some humor, but retreated. “That means he’s expecting one of us in about one minute. He’s in there.”
I was already convinced, and got the feeling that Patient 4 wanted to convince me and everyone quickly. One down, many more to go.
I know Patient 4 a bit. So does Dr. Duncan, which is why Dr. Duncan is entertaining any and all possibilities at this point. I continued in my line of thinking as best I could decipher based on the information we had at that moment. Suddenly I realized that the Ward Attendant was right. Our musing to ourselves was not going to get us anywhere, and it was going to get us there rapidly.
“I’m telling you, he’s in there. Something else is afoot, but I’m telling you…he’s in there. And Danny, we’ve got to get you in there too.”
“I’m ready,” Dr. Duncan confirmed. He said it with a determination and confidence that filled me to the brim with a hope that was only just previously absent.
“Dr. Mews, am I to assume that we are proceeding with Dr. Duncan as your alternate?” the Ward Attendant interjected.
“You may. And I’ve not forgotten about you. Just trying to maintain my composure and do this right, whatever that may be.”
“Issac, never mind Patient 4, where’s the rest of the furniture?” Dr. Duncan added, half-whispering in my direction.
“Danny, if it were up my ass, I’d most likely know exactly where the rest of the furniture is. But it’s not, so I don’t. I think we’re all quite certain that the clothes locker is there. That one single fact is thanks to your keen eye, and that’s the best that I have to offer at this time.” It really was the best I could muster under the circumstances, and it garnered a snickers from both the Ward and Security attendants.
“Noted,” replied Dr. Duncan with a slight smirk on his face. I could tell he was making a note of that one, assuming that he’s not heard it before, to use again somewhere, some day. Knowing Dr. Danny Duncan, it’s entirely possible that I originally heard that analogy from him.
“Security zipper guy,” I addressed the Security Attendant. He slowly turned to look at me, obviously carrying the weight of the moniker I just just bestowed upon him. “If you wouldn’t mind, pick up that phone next to you, and get me the motor pool.”
Voice: I see five.
“Wait…scratch that,” said Dr. Mews.
“Good. I thought I was going to have to mention to you, that a vehicle with fewer than four seats would be less than preferable.” Dr. Danny Duncan was indeed a master at comedic timing.
“All right, here’s what we are going to do. The hold password for protocol anomaly detection is ‘FOR’…that’s Foxtrot – Oscar – Romeo. Sylvia, I need you to make some calls for me.”
“How do you remember my name?” the Ward Attendant asked with mild incredulity.
“I don’t know how, but I’m glad that my first guess was correct. That said, I need you to call the motor pool, and have them call maintenance. Have the motor pool attendant tell the maintenance attendant they they need to call IT support for the security division, and have IT to run diagnostics on all security systems, starting with the video surveillance systems in Building Three first, and then Building Two.”
“Why Building Three first?” the Security Attendant interrupted.
“Because it gives us a complete on-site analysis with contrast for a better picture of what is actually happening where. We know the camera is working, we just need to follow the rules as best we can without causing some kind of panic,” Dr. Mews responded. “Anyone here feeling panicked?”
The occupants of the room looked at each other, and all shook their heads no.
“Good. Let’s keep it that way, do our jobs, and we can all dream of going out for pizza and beer when we’re through this, even though we actually can’t. Sound good?” Dr. Mews was finding a confidence he didn’t know that he had. Maybe he had it, and just didn’t remember?
Again the room’s occupants looked at each other, and nodded agreement.
“One more thing,” Dr. Mews continued, “I need maintenance to check their records for any maintenance done within the last thirty days, on any video monitoring systems in all buildings, starting with building two. I only need to know what if any maintenance was done and when, and any issues or discrepancies that the diagnostics results return. We’ve got four minutes, so let’s get to it. Danny, come with me. You two, I’ll be right back.”
The two doctors left the room, and went out into the corridor.
“Since when do we have four minutes?” Dr. Duncan asked with quizzical twist to his face.
“Since whenever we do, but trust me, we do. That’s the best that I can figure from here, and the best that I have to offer as a response,” replied Dr. Mews.
“Issac, barring your sudden time variance, the best Ican figure it thus far is that your plan is bordering on genius. But I think I need to remind you that you are simultaneously adhering to, and breaking protocol at the same time.” Dr. Duncan’s voice contained only concern, and no doubt.
“I know that Danny. One of the privileges of helping to write the structures that holds everything up, is a simultaneous knowledge of what will bring it all down. Those can be handy things to know at certain times.”
“Fair enough. But can I relate to you aloud how I’m interpreting this plan of yours as I see it happening? I want to make sure you know what I’m thinking that youare thinking, and that we are at least within a few zipcodes of each other on the map as to our thinking as a team.”
“Fire away, and don’t hold back on me Danny. Not now.”
“Well…since you put it that way…simplicity.”
“You’re basically pulling up the drawbridge to the castle without actually doing so. Is that close?”
“So far, so good.”
“If there’s no smoke, and no fire, there are no alarms to sound, even if protocol dictates that you should do so. That’s why you routed that request to check the security cameras in the way that you did. To get more than a select few people involved in the goings on. Not just and only us four, and Patient 4, wherever he is. To get the gears turning without actually engaging the mechanism that sounds a warning.”
“You and your powers of perception continue to amaze me.”
“That there is strength in numbers, with no need to further qualify what that number is with respect to amounts. One army is still one. Raising the alarm without actually raising or sounding it. Keeping things calm, so as not to disturb a calm which already exists. Everything is already in motion, and has been for some time. Anyone who comes crashing in now, is not going to save anything or anyone, rather, they’ll bring the storm with them. Patient 4 taking the time to intentionally move that clothes locker and make it visible really did the trick for you didn’t it?”
“Yes it did Dr. Duncan. Everything in that room, including Patient 4, is gone. We nowknow that the clothes locker is there, and he wanted us to know it was there…that’s why he moved it. He had to know that the clothes locker would be checked during the visual phase of visitation protocol. He’s telling us that he’s there, and that it is safe for someone to come in.”
“Any ideas as to what I’m going to find in that room other than the clothes locker?”
I’ve not ventured there and I’m trying not to. But I maintain that Patient 4 is indeed in there, and Patient 4 needs some help. He needs some help, and he’s not sure how to ask for it nor what kind of help to ask for. It appears that he’s prefaced this need to ask for help by giving as much help as he can prior to asking.”
“Saying a great deal without saying much at all. Not saying anything actually, which I find odd because I’ve always known Patient 4 to be quite verbose at times.”
“Me too. And I appreciate you taking the time to ponder these things Dr. Duncan. I’m glad that it was you in the rotation today.”
“Me too Dr. Mews. Anything you want me to take with me?”
“Just your sense of humor wrapped in that big brain of yours and even bigger heart that powers it all.”
“I think you intentionally listed those smallest to largest.”
“That’s what I like about you Danny. If there’s a bright side, you’ll find it. You want me to walk down with you?”
“Let’s skip that so as to keep the protocol breaches to a manageable figure, and you go back in and do your job while I do mine. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough. The doors are already unlocked.”
Dr. Duncan started down the hallway, toward his rendezvous with Patient 4, while Dr. Mews retreated back into the security room.
Voice: 3D? You call yourself 3D?
Dr Danny Duncan: Sure. Dr Danny Duncan in 3D.
I’m always working on my comedy routines. Gives me some contrast. This walk down the hall should give me some time to work on that routine a bit if I slow up my pace just a shade. It’s not a race. Keep it casual…so says Dr. Mews. Noted.
Plenty of time to prepare to be completely unprepared…it’s the only way to prepare. If there’s one thing that my time in the trauma unit taught me, it’s that everyone, and every situation is different. All of the medical training that exists cannot prepare you for dealing with the reality that you have no clue what is going to come through your door, nor how, nor when. This is not a trait indigenous to only the trauma unit, nor even only to practising medicine. You’re never prepared for the first time you fall off your bike. Likewise, you are never prepared for the first time you see someone else fall off their bike. You can apply that to just about anything and everything with respect to life and the processes involved in the experiencing of it. The first time is always the first time. Even the second time is the first time that the second time has happened. Yikes…psychiatry. That has the potential to get repetitive real quick, so let’s change the subject.
So yeah…comedy. Not much of a subject change really. Not that I view psychiatry as the “tragedy” portion of that combination. Danny…you’ve no idea what you are saying nor trying to say, so change the damn subject.
Voice: Where are you going?
Dr. Duncan: I’ve not a clue. Wait!
I’m headed to a performance. A performance, in a mostly empty room. A performance, in a mostly empty room, containing, most likely, only a clothes locker. That means that I’ll have potentially one audience member in an otherwise empty auditorium. I wonder if the clothes locker is empty as well? Would that make a difference? A performance in an empty room to an empty clothes locker sounds more something generated by the likes of Dr Mews’ professional music career than it does my professional comedic career – Bad da ching– I’ve trained my entire life for this moment. And I’m opening to an empty house. And now, I’ve spent my entire walk contemplating everything but comedy. That’s pretty funny. It’ll do.
Now I’ve gotta focus on Patient 4. He’s the reason I am where I am. If Issac is right, and he needs help, please God, let me be the person for the job at this stage in the show. I’m opening for Dr. Mews. That’s pretty funny as well. A mediocre, but compelling and entertaining comedy act, opening for a horrendously terrible musical act. That also, is quite funny.
Patient 4, and his troubles lay just beyond this door.
Just and only, Patient 4, no less, and no more.
Who chooses to step through?
I, Dr. Danny Duncan do.
Voice: Well said.
I guess 3D is ready to hit the stage.
Wait a second…is Patient 4 supposed to get medication today? Damnit. We completely skipped protocol for the most part, and I didn’t think to ask. Shit!Calm down Danny. We’re not even entirely convinced he’s in there. Review, then change the subject. I’m here, Dr. Mews didn’t mention it, I didn’t think of it, and we are completely off the map anyway…so…composure check, then keep going.
Voice: Keep going…
Dr. Duncan: Damn right. Keep going.
Voice: I like the sound of that.
Upon arriving at the door of Patient 4’s room, Dr. Duncan thought to himself that now would be a good time to have X-Ray vision. Windows on the heavy sound-proof doors would have worked just as well, but neither were currently available.
Should he knock? It was not required by procedure to do so but Patient 4 had to know someone was coming. Dr Duncan decided that Patient 4 most likely knew that he was standing outside of his door right now. Things were already completely sideways, so he surmised that a light knock on the door couldn’t hurt. It may even be the polite thing to do, considering the circumstances.
Knock, knock knock.
Dr. Duncan rapped as gently on the door as he could. He wanted it to be heard, but also knew of the sensitivities to sound that Patient 4 has. He could only imagine what those “gentle” raps must have sounded like to Patient 4.
Volcanic eruptions? Claps of thunder? Nuclear explosions? He wouldn’t knock again and opened the outer door as quietly as he could.
Dr. Duncan contemplated the differences in sound generated by the outer door which opened outward, and the inner door which opened inward. Surely there was a great difference between the two from the perspective of Patient 4. Upon opening the inner door, there would no longer be a buffer of any kind to guard against sound from the outside environment. Not to mention, that any sound generated by opening the inner door itself, would mostly be directed inward and reverberate in and around the inside of the room itself. He gently turned the doorknob which responded with some light clicking of metal parts contacting one another, and the heavy door easily swung open inwardly into the room.
His eyes confirmed what was shown on the video monitor via the video camera in the room – Patient 4 was nowhere to be found. His bed, his desk, his chair, also missing. Dr. Duncan peered deeper into the room, and glanced to the right to check the clothes locker. Sure enough, it was there, but there was no Patient 4 crouching in hiding, waiting to pounce. Dr. Duncan thought it odd that he had not previously considered this an option.
I guess I’d never imagine Patient 4 doing such a thing, he thought to himself.
Keeping his feet planted firmly in place, Dr. Duncan leaned deeper into the room so he could see if the clothes locker had in fact been moved. There was a slight gap between the clothes locker and the wall directly behind it. Dr Duncan wondered if Dr Mews could see his head in the video surveillance camera feed. He leaned even further into the room and glanced upwards at the camera, giving a visual thumbs up.
”What do you have for me today?”
There wasn’t enough humor in existence to make sense of what was now tumbling through Dr. Danny Duncan’s head.
Voice: How’d that “preparing to be completely unprepared” go?
Dr Danny Duncan: We’ll have to wait and see on that. But it would appear…so far, so good.
If only I hadn’t thought of that X-Ray vision shit just prior to entering the room. Thank God! Something tangible to beat myself up with. We’ve made this poor bastard invisible somehow, and I was just thinking about how cool it would be to have X-Ray vision. Way to go Duncan. Good job. Nice thinking.
It’s odd how we as individuals are able learn how to think nice thoughts.
Wait a second. Wait just one damn second here. My heart is racing yet my brain hasn’t yet caught up with my ears. That wasPatient 4’s voice, but it didn’t come from a direction in which I’m normally used to detecting a voice from. Why do I suddenly feel as if someone has just yelled at me from a rooftop, while I’m walking on the street below? Reverberation. Time. Timing. That’s probably why my brain could be said to be failing my ears.
I don’t want to see this, but I have to see this. Or at least, I have to look in the direction my stupid thumbs up signal is pointing. Up. Up. Up. I have to look up.
There is Patient 4, seated on his bed, which is also somehow up there on the ceiling, looking directly down at me and smiling. If Patient 4 were a woman, that would be the most marvellous smile I’d ever seen. But Patient 4 isn’t a woman, so whatever I can make of it later will have to do. There was no contempt, and it became clear that Patient 4 had gone to great lengths to make this…this…revelation…as painless and friendly as possible.
Family. Why am I thinking family? Family and friends…who they are…and when…and who gets to decide. Patient 4 may not be family, but he’s certainly a friend. We continued to look at each other, and even though our positioning perspectives are radically different, suddenly, there is really nothing unusual about the things that are transpiring. We have, both of us, covered some ground. Together…separately…yet all together, even when apart. Lots of knowing goes into knowing I guess. The smile on Patient 4’s face broadened as if he were about to giggle at the length of time it’s taking me to collect my thoughts.
“What do you have for me today? Do you have anything for me today?” Patient 4 said rather matter-of-factly, without sounding the least bit condescending.
“I’d say you’ve had enough. But let me go check just the same.”
Patient 4 snickers slightly and gives me a thumbs up, the smile never leaving his face. as I retreat from the room, closing both of the doors quietly behind me.
*Yeah, I miss him too, Clicky…*
Have a delightful Christmas, Dear Reader and… Have a Song… ❤
…It’s a Christmas edition, so all the short stories contained within it are Christmas themed. Here’s a sample…
*Christmas horror… Fab!*
…My own contribution this time is the latest episode of the ‘Ronageddon’ series of misadventures, which started with what I thought at the time to be a single, one-off story in the Halloween Underdog Anthology of 2020 called ‘What Time Do You Finish?’…
*Fuck Fauci! You mean I could have another seven of these to write, Clicky? …/deep drag…*
*…/sings… ‘In Covid-1984 the test series against the West Indies seemed like another…’*
…Since then, we’ve encountered Death, War, Famine, Father Christmas, Satan, God, the stork that delivers babies and Elvis Presley, but one of the principal characters from the first story is yet to make an appearance. This time, Dear Reader, we’re Finding Pesto… 😉
by Roo B. Doo
The old woman stopped and puffed her cheeks several times as she reached the third floor landing of the Elysium block of flats. The day was bright and bitterly cold but she was wrapped up against the December weather: fur lined boots, fur collared coat and a fur hat insulated her from the worst of the frosty air. After climbing six flights of stairs, however, the old woman was feeling uncomfortably warm. She got her breath back before making her way to the door decorated with a Christmas wreath, at the far end of the landing.
“Aida! Thanks so much for doing this, I really appreciate it,” the middle aged woman gushed as she opened the door wide to allow Aida Roundtree entrance to her home.
“I couldn’t say no to a spot of babysitting,” Aida replied, kissing Jocasta Darling on the cheek as she stepped inside. “How’s it all going? You’re all well?”
“Yeah, not bad,” Jocasta replied as she led Aida through to the kitchen where the kettle on the stove was just starting to whistle. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes, please.” Aida unbuttoned her coat and sat down at the kitchen table. “I would have been here sooner but there’s a bloody great puddle of piss in your lifts. I took the stairs.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Jocasta poured the boiling water into the mugs on the counter.
“Why, was it you?”
Jocasta was confused. “Was it me that what?”
“That pissed in the lifts.”
“No,” Jocasta laughed. She had missed the old woman’s sense of humour since she’d been sacked from her cleaning job at Frampton Lodge where Aida resided.
Jocasta set the mugs on the table and sat down. “I never use the lifts if I can help it. I don’t know why people feel the need to use them as a toilet.”
“They’re animals marking their territory,” Aida replied sagely. She lifted the steaming mug to her lips and took a tentative sip. “Ah, lovely. What time’s your hair appointment?”
“In about half an hour or so but I’ve time for a cuppa.”
Aida appraised Jocasta with her eyes. “You’re looking very well. Have you lost weight?”
Jocasta blushed. “A little bit. I’ve been exercising.”
“Those stairs will keep you fit.”
“Yes. I’ve been taking some self-defence classes and the instructor is a bit of a hard taskmaster on fitness.”
Aida noted the sparkle in Jocasta’s eyes and wondered if her ‘instructor’ was a fine looking fellow. “Well, you’re looking good on it.”
“Thank you. Wanda agreed to exchange lessons for a spot of cleaning, but actually I’m hoping to turn that into a paying gig, start my own little cleaning business. Fingers crossed.”
Wanda? Aida decided it was probably just the exercise causing Jocasta’s eyes to sparkle. Probably. “Fingers crossed.”
“And how are things with you?” Jocasta asked.
Aida sighed and opened her handbag. She took out a folded letter and slid it across the table. “That arrived yesterday.”
Jocasta’s brow creased as she read the letter. “They’re evicting you?”
“They’re evicting all of us,” Aida replied emphatically. “Frampton Lodge Retirement Home will, by the end of February, become Frampton Lodge Refugee Hostel.”
Jocasta was incredulous. “They can’t do this!”
“But they are,” Aida said sadly. She took another sip of tea.
“I don’t understand. Why would they do this?”
Aida chuckled; Jocasta was lovely woman but she could be a tad naïve. “Money. The government’s offering them more money to house refugees than old people. A lot more money, I’ll bet.”
Jocasta shook her head. “That’s dreadful and so wrong.”
“Well, you know first hand how unscrupulous they are when you were sacked for refusing the Rona jab.”
“Oh my god, Aida, what about the rest of the staff there?”
“Given notice, just like the residents. They can save a bundle on staff costs, because the immigrants won’t need nurses or carers, and they probably won’t need cleaners either.” Aida lifted her mug. “Merry Christmas,” she said bitterly.
Aida saw worry lines crease Jocasta’s face and suddenly felt guilty; she had no right to burden her friend with such bad news. “Anyway, I rang the Council straight away and wrote to my MP, so they’re on to it. There’s nothing more to be done about it today. Besides, I’m here to babysit. Where is the lad?”
“Paul’s in his playpen in the front room,” Jocasta said distractedly as she re-read the letter.
Aida gently pulled the letter from Jocasta’s grip, folded it and put it back in her handbag. “Are you going to show me to him then?”
“Of course.” Jocasta stood up abruptly. Though she tried to hide her feelings, her eyes were shiny with unshed tears.
Now Aida felt really guilty. She placed her hand on Jocasta’s arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Look at it this way: the worst that can happen hasn’t happened yet and it might still work out okay; I could end up somewhere better. God knows they’ve been running Frampton into the ground over the past three years. The place is a dump.”
Jocasta sniffed loudly and nodded. “We can talk about it later when I get back?”
“Of course. Now help me up. Paul’s through here?”
Aida made her way to the front room and stood in the doorway. The room was festively decorated: dozens of Christmas cards were blu-tacked to both sides of the door and a Christmas tree, smothered in strands of tinsel and laden with baubles, stood twinkling in the corner. Paul sat in his playpen, gazing placidly at the colourful tree lights flashing on and off.
“Paul,” Jocasta called to get the toddler’s attention. “Look who’s here. Mrs Roundtree’s come for a visit.”
Aida followed Jocasta into the room. “Hello Paul!”
Paul tore his gaze from the Christmas tree lights and smiled.
“He’s been awake all morning, so he’ll likely want a nap in a while. And he’s been fed, so he shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Oh, this little chap is never a problem, are you darling?” Aida lent down and cooed at the toddler. “Haven’t you got big!”
The previous year, Aida had delivered Paul into the world when Jocasta’s waters had suddenly broken whilst on a Halloween visit to Frampton Lodge. Fortunately for Jocasta, Aida had been a career midwife before retirement and her skills, like muscle memory, had sprung into action when faced with the emergency.
“Cat!” Paul crawled across the playpen toward Aida and pulled himself upright. He reached up a chubby hand. “Cat!”
Aida glanced at Jocasta. “He’s talking and can stand up?”
Jocasta beamed at her son. “Yeah, he’s starting to.”
“You like my hat?” Aida asked, bowing her head so that Paul could touch the fur. “It’s a special hat, called a ushanka. It’s from Russia.”
“Cat!” Paul burbled and scrunched the fur with his fingers.
“One of the neighbours has a cat, I think. It likes to sit on the window ledge. Molly taught him ‘cat’,” Jocasta explained.
“Well, she’s an attentive big sister.” Aida took her hat off and placed it on the little boy’s head. “There you go. You can wear my cat hat.”
Paul screamed with surprise and laughed with delight as the hat slid down past his ears.
Jocasta lifted the brim to reveal Paul’s smiling eyes. “Aida, he’ll dribble all over it.”
“Oh, spit brushes out.” Aida removed her coat and laid it over the arm of the sofa. “Now, shouldn’t you get a move on?”
Jocasta looked at her watch. “Okay. I’m picking Molly up from school after the hairdressers and then we can have a proper catch up talk when we get back.”
“One second.” Aida pulled her purse from her handbag. She opened it and took out two ten pound notes. “Stop at the chippie on the way back and get us a fish supper for tea. My treat.”
Jocasta wavered before taking the money. “Are you sure?”
“Of course. I told you, my treat. I’ll have rock if they’ve got it. If not, then get me a battered sausage.”
“Thank you.” Jocasta knew better than to argue with Aida. She gave her another kiss on the cheek.
“And a pickled onion, but not one of them big buggers. I’ll be blowing off all night.”
“Bye Paul! Mummy will be back in a while. Be good for Mrs Roundtree.” Jocasta waved at Paul and started to leave but stopped before reaching the door. “Oh, there’s a bottle made up in the fridge,” she told Aida, “just in case, and the nappies and wipes are in the changing bag next to the sofa.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll find my way around.”
“Okay, I won’t be long. Bye-bye Paul. Bye-bye.” Jocasta waved to her son once more and left.
Aida picked up the TV remote controller and switched the TV on. She flicked through the channels until she found one showing horse racing.
She lifted Paul, still wearing her hat, out of the playpen. “Gee-gees, Paul. There’s gee-gees on the telly. Want to watch the gee-gees with me?”
“Gee gee,” Paul burbled.
“My, you are a quick learner,” Aida said, clucking Paul under the chin. “We’re going to sit on the sofa, you and me, and stroke my cat hat and watch the gee-gees on the telly. We’re going to have a lovely afternoon together.”
War yawned loudly and stretched her long limbs. She tossed the copy of Halo she’d been flitting through onto the magazines spread out on the low table in front of where she sat. “I’m bored. Do you think we’ll have to wait much longer?”
Famine sat on the floor in a lotus position, meditating. He was wearing his chef’s whites that had been carefully accessorized with gleaming rhinestones.
They’d been summoned by God for a meeting and had sat in the reception of the God Lobby for what felt like an eternity to War but was actually a little over five minutes. “Are you not talking to me?”
Famine serenely ignored her.
War’s eyes narrowed as she considered how best to get her apocalypse colleague’s attention. “Elvis Presley was overrated.”
Famine’s top lip started to curl but he remained silent.
“He was alright as a G.I. – I mean, who doesn’t love a G.I.? – but his fat phase? Sheesh! What a porker.”
Not a sound came from Famine but the muscle in his cheek started to twitch.
“It’s ironic really when you think about it,” War teased, “that Famine, King of Hunger, idolises ‘The King’, who had to be buried in an extra large coffin because he couldn’t pass up a quarter-pounder.”
“Shut your mouth,” Famine ordered in a low voice. “Elvis is King.”
“Shame about your Christmas karaoke competition being cancelled again,” War continued nonchalantly. “Must be personally gutting for you, having won it three times already.”
Famine’s shoulders sagged and his head slumped to his chest. He’d lost this particular battle with War when he bit on her quarter-pounder jibe. “Yes, I am disappoint.”
“So what happened?”
Famine unfurled his legs and leaned back against the reception chair behind him. “Everyone pulled out. Can’t have a competition with no competitors.”
“Why? You had a great crowd at last year’s event.”
The 2021 Elvis Karaoke and Striptease challenge held at Lapland nightclub, Father Christmas’s favourite haunt, had been a wildly successful evening, attracting entrants from across the country and drawing a large, enthusiastic audience. It culminated in Famine’s corporeal form Xi Xi Fat winning the sought after title for the third time, and the death of the celebrity judge, TV chef Freddie Calender, who had just declared Xi Xi the winner. The cause of Freddie’s death was reported as ‘sudden’. The fact that he was wearing Xi Xi’s g-string over his face at the time was ruled as incidental and non-contributory by the coroner. Surprisingly, for such an ignoble end, Freddie’s death received scant coverage in the press.
“There’s only a handful of us left. Most can’t afford the expense of losing a night’s business and the cost of travel. The price of fuel and energy is draining the life out of restaurants. First we had the Rona to deal with and now this.”
“And there’s a ruddy great war going on!” War snorted angrily.
Famine was taken aback by War’s outburst. He cocked his head to one side. “War?”
War raked her hands through hair. “The war in Ukraine. We’re told it’s the reason for the fuel and energy crisis, and that’s what’s causing restaurants to close down, ergo people go hungry, Famine.”
“Then why the fuck ain’t I in Ukraine?” War sounded exasperated. “I should be there. It’s my job title. Why aren’t I involved?”
Because the war and famine aren’t real… yet. I’m sorry I’m late.
Both War and Famine stood up straight before God and bowed their heads. “Ma’am.”
I see that Death is also late.
War and Famine shot each other side eyes; usually God only refers to Death by the affectionate term ‘Big D’; that she called him ‘Death’ was not a good sign.
Well, I’m sure he’ll join us when he can. I understand he’s very busy.
The silence that followed was long and awkward, not least because melancholic moans from milling souls, filing their way through the God Lobby, rose up to fill it.
War was the first to raise her head. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, Ma’am, but the souls don’t sound very happy.”
They are not.
“What is causing their unhappiness?” Famine asked.
God strode toward the balcony edge of the reception area, elevated high above the lines of souls that swirled and undulated beneath. She beckoned to War and Famine to follow her.
Come. What do you see?
Famine spoke first. “There are more of them than normal.”
Correct. They are overcrowded. What else?
War leaned over the balcony, scanning the souls intently. “Wow. Young crowd.”
Also correct but what else?
“Babies,” Death replied gravely, making War and Famine jump with his sudden appearance. “Ma’am, too many babies are dying.”
God spun round to face her Grim Reaper.
Correct. Big D, I’m glad you could finally join us.
“Regrettably I cannot stay,” Death said brusquely. “I am here to ask for assistance.”
War cupped her hand to her ear. “Did you say ‘assistance’ or ‘assistants’?”
“He said ‘assistance’,” Famine gently chided his colleague. “Why would Death need assistants?”
“Alright!” War said indignantly. “I couldn’t hear over all the moaning.”
“Actually, I require both assistance and assistants.” Death sounded embarrassed.
God crouched down to Death’s eye level.
Big D, what is it?
“Ma’am, I’m afraid I have a… a situation.”
God nodded and stood up.
Understood. Quickly, return and we’ll be along shortly.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” Death bowed his head and disappeared.
Right. Come along you two.
God started walking across the reception toward the nacre entrance to the back office.
“Where are we going?” Famine asked as he followed behind.
To help Big D with his situation.
With the Situation Room.
War groaned. She’d travelled in the Situation Room before. It was a device, created by God, to allow its occupants to discretely observe a situation unfold in situ. Unfortunately, God hadn’t taken War’s statuesque physique into consideration during the design process. “That fucking thing gives me a crick in the neck.”
Aida dreamt she was sitting in a pub garden. It was a lovely summer’s day: the sky was blue, the breeze was warm and on the table in front of her was a beaded glass of vodka tonic and a cocked cigarette smouldering in the ash tray. She was alone except for a drunken wasp that was staggering between beer rings on the sun-bleached tabletop, drinking its fill. Behind her she could hear the sound of racing commentary on the television inside the pub. She looked back at its entrance, framed with ivy and steeped in shadow and thought it was so much nicer to be sitting outside in the sunshine.
She noticed a river flowing at the bottom of the garden and as she watched, a rowing boat pulled up and tied off at a mooring. Aida couldn’t tell if the black figure in the boat was very small or extremely near. She picked up her glass and wondered how much she’d drunk.
“Aida,” the figure called and waved. “Aida Roundtree, your time is up.”
Aida waved back and downed the rest of her drink. She took a last, deep drag on her cigarette before stubbing it out. Aida looked down at the wasp and felt sorry for it. She removed the lemon slice stuck on the rim of her glass and placed it in front of the inebriated insect. “Have some fruit.”
“Aida,” the figure called again, beckoning her forward.
“Coming,” Aida grumbled. She got up from her seat and started to make her way across the grass.
“Aida. Aida Roundtree,” the voice said.
Aida slowly opened her eyes. A black robed figure kneeled in front of her. At least Aida thought the figure was kneeling but a second glance showed that the figure was actually standing. “Oh, you’re both small and near,” she said. “You were in my dream.”
“Yes, you were sleeping,” the voice from inside the impenetrable black cowl said kindly.
Aida realised she’d dozed off whilst watching the telly. Baby Paul was fast asleep, curled into her side on the sofa and still wearing her hat. “Who are you?”
“I am Death,” the figure said.
Aida looked the grim reaper over sceptically. “Are you sure? I would have thought you’d be much taller.”
“I get that a lot,” Death replied. “I blame Ingmar Bergman.”
“Well, people don’t expect the Grim Reaper to be a munchkin. Except maybe for the Little People. Maybe.”
Death sighed. “No, they’re pretty much surprised I’m not taller as well.”
“That must grate,” Aida sympathised. “Why are you here again?”
“Aida. Aida Agnes Roundtree. You are dead and I’m here to transition you to the other side.”
“What’s on the other side?” Aida tried to shift her position on the sofa. She felt a sucking sensation as she discorporated from her dead, physical body. It wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t painful either.
Death paused. “You’ll find out.”
Aida pursed her lips and shook her head. “Nah.”
“Excuse me?” Death was not used to being denied.
“Oh, I’m sorry. No, thank you. I’m good right here for now.” Aida sounded determined.
“I understand how confusing it can be in the moments after death, but rest assured, you have died and I am here to move you on.”
“Well, you’re just going to have to wait.” Aida was adamant.
“What are we waiting for?”
“For this child’s mother to come home. Didn’t you notice the sleeping child next to me?”Aida said indignantly. “He’s in my care and I will not be leaving him all alone. Over my dead body.”
Aida’s face suddenly crumpled. She started to cry but shed no tears. “Poor Jocasta! Fancy coming home and finding the babysitter’s dead. She doesn’t deserve that! Nobody does. And poor Molly, Molly will be with her!”
“Molly?” Death reached into his robes and pulled out his PsyPad. He tapped the screen several times and scrolled. “Molly Darling lives here?”
“Yes,” Aida wailed. “Why?”
“Ah, yes,” Death said to himself. “I should have checked my Molly alerts. We have an appointment in half an hour.”
As he shut the cover on his PsyPad, Death was quite unprepared for the fearsome sight of a furious spectral Aida Roundtree hurling herself toward him.
“You leave Molly alone, you fiend! You’re not to touch a hair on that girl’s head!” Aida raged. But she passed straight through Death and landed in a heap on the floor. “Leave her alone.”
“Aida, I assure you, I have no intention of transitioning Molly any time soon. We are… acquainted.”
“Are you stalking her?” Aida demanded.
“No, nothing like that.” Death was surprised at his own defensiveness. “Molly is special.”
“Yes she is!” Aida lunged at Death once more and once more passed straight through him.
“Aida Roundtree, you need to calm yourself. Molly Darling has the ability to see me. She’s the only living human that can.”
“Oh, that poor girl,” Aida lamented loudly. “Not only is she deaf but she has you to contend with. What a curse to carry!”
Death was silent; he had never considered Molly’s ability as a curse before. There was that one time he’d wondered if he was a monster, but mostly he was too busy to think about anything more than his work. “Oh dear, Aida. We seem to have a situation.”
Aida was now standing, towering over Death with clenched fists and glaring at him malevolently.
“One moment. I’ll be right back,” Death said and vanished.
Death’s sudden disappearance startled Aida. She didn’t know what was going on and her nerves were shot to pieces. What she wanted more than anything was a cigarette. She reached into her cardigan pocket but her cigarette box and lighter weren’t there. She looked over at her dead body slumped on the sofa and saw the bulge of the cigarette box in her cardigan pocket. She tried to take it out but her hand moved straight through the pocket and the top of her thigh, as if they weren’t there. Aida grimaced. This has to be the worst week of my life.
Death startled Aida once again. “Whoop-de-doo,” she said bitterly.
“I am so sorry for any distress I have caused you, Aida Roundtree. That was never my intention,” Death apologised. “This has not been my best work.”
“You don’t say.” Aida stared down at Death, but she was no longer angry. If anything, she felt numb; the fight had gone from her.
“I’ve enlisted some help to assist us in this difficult situation.” Death gestured with his arm and from behind him a strikingly beautiful woman in a tracksuit stepped out of seemingly thin air. She was followed by a skinny Chinese chef wearing an abundance of rhinestones and slicked back hair.
“These are my friends Wanda and Xi Xi,” Death said. “They can stay with the child until Jocasta and Molly arrive home.”
“Wait,” Wanda addressed Death. “Jocasta and Molly Darling?”
“Are you the Wanda that’s teaching Jocasta self-defence?” Aida asked.
“Yeah.” Wanda sounded surprised. “Fitness and self-defence.”
“Yes, I recognise you from your photo. You were in the newspapers last year when that MP died.”
Wanda beamed with delight. “Yeah, Fighting Fit.”
“Let me guess.” Aida pointed at Xi Xi. “You’re the guy that works down the chip shop that swears he’s Elvis.”
“It’s more of a nighttime cafe,” Xi Xi replied earnestly. “Actually, we recently introduced some insect dishes to the menu to try and attract the more adventurous diner. Crispy Crickets, Baked Beetles, Edam and the Ants, you know, keeping with the music theme.”
“Really?” Wanda pulled a retching face. “And how’s that going for you?”
“So, so. It’s early days yet,” Xi Xi conceded.
Aida shook her head. “What the hell is happening?”
“Waaahhh!” Paul’s piercing cry cut through the chat.
“Aww, he’s awake,” Wanda said, stepping toward the sofa. “Do you know, I’ve only ever seen this child asleep. I was starting to think he’s Rip Van Winkle.”
She hoisted Paul up off the sofa and into her arm. “Aww, don’t cry, Paul. I like your hat,” Wanda cooed, stroking his face.”
But Paul wasn’t crying; he was smiling intensely. “Wah! Wah!”
War’s jaw dropped with sudden realisation. “Pesto? Pesto?!”
“Wah, wah, wah, wah.” Paul flung his arms around Wanda’s neck and nuzzled her hair. “Wah!”
“Is it, is that you Pesto?” Xi Xi asked, tentatively walking toward Wanda and Paul.
Paul looked at Xi Xi. “Faaaahhh!” he shouted with glee. Then he spotted Death “Dee!”
Aida stood alone and watched the strange reunion. She didn’t understand what was going on and was feeling quite forgotten.
Aida turned and saw a young woman holding out freshly lit cigarette.
“Thank you,” Aida said, plucking the cigarette from the woman’s grasp. She took a deep drag. “Where did you spring from?”
I have a box. It’s just there but it’s invisible. It’s how we arrived.
“Okay,” Aida said, puffing on the cigarette. She nodded her head toward the joyous gathering on the other side of the living room. “Looks like a family reunion.”
It is. That there is War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. They were cruelly split up two years ago.
“Weren’t we all,” Aida said dryly.
“And who are you?”
The young woman reached across and withdrew the cigarette from between Aida’s fingers. She took a light puff and handed it back.
I’m the designated driver.
Unseen by any of the occupants of 322 Elysium Estate, the smoky grey cat sat on the window sill silently watching the events of the afternoon unfold, as the daylight descending into night. Once it had seen enough, it nimbly jumped from one sill to another until it finally reached the ground. From there it ran past the rubbish bins and over the tall fence separating the estate from an empty road. It sauntered toward a street lamp and sat under its flickering cone of light, waiting.
The cat blinked lazily as headlights in the distance cut through the darkness. A vehicle rolled up and stopped under the street lamp and the orange light behind the TAXI sign on its roof switched off. A puff of cigar smoke escaped as the whirring driver’s window noisily descended, along with the sound of Bob Marley singing: Mr. Brown is a clown who rides through town in a coffin…
“Mr Tibbles,” Satan greeted the cat.
“You have something for me?”
Mr Tibbles miaowed again and swished his tail.
“So, the End of the World gang’s back together again,” Satan said reflectively. “Honestly, I thought it would have taken them longer.”
He snaked his arm out of the window and flicked the butt of his cigar to the curb, before gently scratching the top of the Mr Tibbles’ head with his long, sharp fingernails.
*Cade would have been tickled by it… /stubs butt…*
So there you go, Dear Reader. I hope you enjoyed Finding Pesto, I know I enjoyed writing it, and do please check out Underdog Anthology XIX for rest of its brilliant tales. The next Ronageddon story will be in volume XX, due in Spring 2023. Goodness knows what state the world will be in by then.
*Yeah, presented like one of Cade’s missive ‘wiki wavy walls’, Clicky… /smiles sadly… The story is dedicated to him…*
So, without further ado, here is Pale Glider for your entertainment…
by Roo B. Doo
Molly Darling had a secret friend. It wasn’t so much that her friend was ‘a secret’ but that nobody else could see him. She had caught glimpses of him on and off for years, mostly in her peripheral vision or at a distance, but more recently up close. Molly knew he was ‘a friend’ because when he did appear, he would give a wave and sign greetings to her. In her experience only friends took the time to learn to sign; Molly was deaf not dumb.
She strapped her boots tight and stood up to check her appearance in the full-length mirror in her mum’s bedroom. Pulling down on the fabric of the long, black robe she wore, Molly turned from side to side, paying particular attention to her feet. The bedroom carpet was too thick for a proper rolling test but she was satisfied that the fluorescent pink wheels of her roller skates were not visible below the hem of the robe.
Molly lifted the robe’s hood over her head until her face was hidden, and grabbed the plastic scythe that came as part of the costume from the fancy dress shop.
Perfect, she thought, taking one last look in the mirror. I look just like him.
Molly was sure she would win the prize for best Halloween costume at school that day.
God was not happy.
I’m not happy, Big D.
Death was neither happy nor unhappy. It didn’t even concern him that God constantly referred to him as ‘Big D’ when he was barely three-foot-three. “Ma’am?”
God strode around her island office, situated high above the swell of increasingly turbulent souls that filled the God Lobby below. Death smoothly glided alongside her as she paced.
Earlier today the Great Birthing Stork Marge Gerana reported to me that birthrates are down. Worryingly so, and now you’re telling me that death rates are up.
Death could understand why God was agitated; birth and death and somewhere to reside between the two states was God’s one true gift to humanity; what humans decided to do with this gift was left entirely up to them.
“It is a concerning turn of events, Ma’am,” Death agreed.
Both War and Famine are back in circulation, yet Pestilence remains elusive.
God was referring to the curious incident that occurred two years previous, when Satan had trapped a lycanthropic War, vampiric Famine and zombified Pestilence in the back of a London taxi. Halloween 2020 had a full Moon and as the clouds parted that evening, War had laid waste to Famine and Pestilence with bestial ferocity, before eventually succumbing to Pestilence’s toxicity. The only reason Satan had brought Death along that night was, apparently, for the ride.
Inexplicably War then turned up 6 months later as Wanda Warren, an entrepreneurial powerhouse, running a small but growing fitness enterprise. Wanda, however, had no memory of her previous incarnation as War. Not until she saw Death that is, but even then she had no recollection of the events of that fateful Halloween. Famine had only shown up this past Christmas. He turned out to be a Chinese Elvis-impersonating naked chef called XiXi Fat. Again, any knowledge of his former self was entirely lacking until XiXi laid eyes on Death.
Pesto had not yet revealed himself and Death wondered how that was possible considering just how busy he’d been of late. So busy in fact that it had become necessary to expand the workforce of the Grim Reaper Service to keep up.
“Ma’am,” Death said slowly; he had a suggestion but wasn’t sure how God would take it. “I’ve been thinking about this and I wonder if it would be a good idea if we could somehow observe what Old Scratch did with the bodies that night, after he let me out of the taxi.”
God looked at him blankly.
“I believe the Situation Room can travel both in space and time?”
God had created the Situation Room as a means of observing any given situation. It was a cube that allowed its occupants to look out but was completely invisible to anyone on the outside.
Death cleared his throat with a rattle and continued. “If we were able to observe what Satan did with the bodies of War, Famine and Pestilence, then maybe we can figure out where Pesto is.”
God stopped pacing.
Are you suggesting we spy on him?
Death shrugged. “He did hack our systems first.”
This was true; the whole Halloween scampocalypse of 2020 took place during a breach of the Cosmic Consciousness Neural Network. Although it had never been conclusively proven that Satan was behind it, all indicators and circumstantial evidence pointed in his direction. The question of who was to blame for the CCNN breakdown was more akin to the ‘who blew up the Nordstream undersea pipelines?’ mystery rather than ‘who shot JFK?’.
God drummed her fingers on her chin.
The Situation Room isn’t mobile, Big D. It can take us to any given spot but that’s all. The cube itself doesn’t actually move.
“But I can. I could follow Satan and see where he takes the bodies, and with this,” Death said, pulling his work PsyPad from beneath his robe, “you can follow me.”
God was not convinced.
Surely that won’t work if the CCNN isn’t operational.
Death flipped open the cover on his Psypad and tapped on an icon. “Look here, Bluetooth was installed in the tech upgrade you ordered as a result of the breach. It uses short-wave radio, so is independent of the network. We could sync up.”
So, I can track you?
“Indeed, Ma’am, from your PsyPad. I’m given to understand that there is an app for that.”
God was still doubtful.
And what if he sees you following him, Big D? That would cause no end of problems.
“Ma’am, I assure you, only very few see Death coming.”
God narrowed her eyes.
“And I’ll be careful.”
God sighed and cocked her head to one side. She placed her hand on top of Death’s bowed head.
Big D, when did you become so crafty?
“I cannot recall, Ma’am.” Death lifted his head and returned his PsyPad to the folds of his robe. “Eternity is an extremely long time.”
The morning was coldly dank and foggy, muffling Wanda Warren’s footsteps as she pounded her way around Victory park, on a solo run before the start of her first class. Wanda had a lot on her mind and none of it was good. She hoped a good, hard run would help to exorcise the frustration she was feeling from being caught on the twin horns of a dilemma that she didn’t like one little bit. As the Rona pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns of the past couple of years had started to fade from the public’s memory, so had interest and, more importantly, clientele from her outdoor, park-based fitness business, ‘Fighting Fit’. That was horn one.
The second stemmed from her previous existence as the second Horseman of the Apocalypse, War. The threat of nuclear annihilation had ramped up considerably during the course of the year as a major battle for hegemony was being conducted by global superpowers in eastern Europe, and Wanda had had nothing to do with it. As War, she thought she should have at least some involvement in the instigation of World War 3, but here she was, running laps around a park, worrying about her fledgling business being run into the ground. She wondered if her friend XiXi was feeling the same, although by all accounts, Famine was due to hit the big time in 2023.
Eat ze bugs. Loose the thugs. Kill the smugs. Wanda didn’t know where the sudden mantra came from, but it pounded through her mind, in time with her footfalls and the techno music blasting through her earphones.
She decided to stop at the bench by the duck pond for a breather and to stretch any remaining tension from her muscles. She thought of Jimbo Collins, the first client she’d ever lost. To be fair, Jimbo’s departure wasn’t of his own volition, as he’d died right here on the bench eighteen months earlier of a heart attack.
Or so it was claimed but who really knew the actual cause of Jimbo’s death; in the intervening time a whole swathe of fit, young people, from elite athletes to Sunday morning footballers, from across the world had also suddenly died for no apparent reason. Every medical authority in the world was dumbfounded and completely bemused as to the cause of these sudden deaths, but to Wanda, it sounded exactly like something Pestilence might have cooked up. And maybe he did; Pesto was still at large after all.
Wanda lifted her left leg and stretched it out along the back of the bench. She grabbed her ankle and rested her forehead on her knee. Closing her eyes, she stretched and breathed, which was why she didn’t see the loping figures emerge out of the fog from behind her. In fact Wanda’s first indication that she was no longer alone was when a rough hand grabbed her arse.
“What the..!” she yelled and opened her eyes. There were two of them, wearing dirty tracksuits and even dirtier leers on their faces.
“Hey lady. You need fuck?” the grabby one said and moved closer so that he could rub his groin against Wanda’s backside. “This is good position. It will be good. We fuck you hard and you enjoy.”
“Argh!” Wanda pushed the man away. “Get off me! Get the fuck away from me, the pair of you.”
The second man grinned at his accomplice and pulled a knife from his pocket. He showed Wanda the blade. “Lady, play nice or I will cut you.”
Wanda was momentarily shocked but she wasn’t scared. She was more furious with herself for letting her guard down; she’d worked long enough in Victory park to know the dregs that frequented it. These two were new.
Wanda mentally rolled her eyes. Tourists!
“You want to play a game?” she asked coquettishly. With her right hand, she slowly unzipped her tracksuit top to reveal heaving breasts and a flat stomach, all whilst dragging the earphones from her ears. She batted her eyes as she lifted up her left breast with the back of her right hand as she placed the earphones in the inside pocket. Sweat rolled across the top of her boob and trickled down into her cleavage. Wanda was immensely proud of her ‘boys’ as she often referred to her spectacular tits, and their ability to charm the pants off of most men.
The two attackers looked at each other. They couldn’t believe their luck. Grabby licked his lips. “A game? Yes, we play game.”
Wanda stretched sideways, provocatively, sliding her left hand down her leg to her ankle. “Let me guess.” The material of her tracksuit bottoms stretched tautly across her crotch. “I bet you want to play poke her.”
The man holding the knife was confused. “Poker? No, we want to fuck.”
Grabby chuckled. “No, she means ‘poke her’.” He thrust his hips backwards and forwards sharply to demonstrate. “Poke her.”
“Ah yes, I want to poke her.” Knife man turned to Wanda, “I want to poke you.”
“Oh, good, I’m so glad,” Wanda cooed, “’Cos I see your metal…” She abruptly flourished the knife she kept strapped to her calf under her tracksuit, before dropping her leg to the floor and taking a defensive stance. “And raise you chemical.”
The two men stepped back but it was nowhere quick or far enough away to avoid the stream of hot, burning agony Wanda sprayed directly into their eyes from the canister in her right hand. The would be rapists screamed and fell to their knees, covering their faces with their hands. The knife slipped from the assailant’s hand, which Wanda calmly kicked away into the long grass.
She took a deep breath and zipped up her tracksuit top. “God, I love the smell of pepper spray in the morning.”
The cloud cover was starting to thin and part on the night of Halloween in 2020. The area around Cleopatra’s Needle on the bank of the river Thames was deserted. Or at least it appeared to be deserted.
This is no good, Big D. It is far too bright from the street lamps. You won’t be able exit the Situation Room without being seen.
God and Death stood in the Situation Room, parked in front of one the sphinxes that flanked the towering Egyptian obelisk.
Death looked up at the sky above. Bright shafts of light from the full Moon were starting to break through the clouds; War would be starting to transform into a werewolf.
“Ma’am, Satan’s taxi will arrive here in approximately one minute and forty seconds. If I go now, I can hide in the shadows behind the bus stop across the road.” Death opened the door and prepared to glide out into the night.
God held him back.
Shouldn’t we synchronise our PsyPads or something?
“We synchronized them before we left,” Death replied, but the hint of nervous excitement in God’s voice was enough to give him pause. “We don’t have to do this, Ma’am. We can just leave if you prefer. Perhaps that would be best.”
God shook her head.
No. I’ll follow you on my Psypad and meet you at the end, wherever that is.
Death nodded. “It is exciting?”
Always. Now go.
Gently, God shoved Death through the door and closed it behind him. She watched him glide away, across the road and disappear behind the large bus stop poster of a Rona sufferer’s frightened face, with the instruction to ‘look into his eyes’. God tutted and wondered, not for the first time, if maybe she should get more involved with humanity; they were rather making a pig’s ear of it on their own.
After a short while, the rumble of an approaching taxi could be heard. God watched as it pulled to a stop just before the obelisk and sat there, engine ticking over. Through its windscreen she could see Satan behind the steering wheel, a fat cigar dangled between his even fatter lips. He appeared to be laughing at someone sitting next to him. Presumably the Death of 2020.
God checked the PsyPad screen for Big D’s position. He was represented by a red dot on a map and he seemed to be on the move already. She watched the red blip travel away up the street, double back and stop again.
What is Big D up to?
The front passenger door opened and the small figure of Death climbed out. The thumping sound of reggae filled the night, as Bob Marley’s voice rang out.
We’re jammin’. To think that jammin’ was a thing of the past. We’re jammin’, and I hope this jam is gonna last…
The music stopped as Death closed the taxi door. He glided toward Cleopatra’s Needle and disappeared. The taxi pulled away from the kerb and motored past the Situation Room, on to who knows where. God caught sight of Big D gliding along behind, his skeletal hands tightly gripping onto a chrome lip above the number plate at the rear of the taxi.
Now all God had to do was to wait and watch the progress of the red blip. The words of the song coming from the taxi played on her mind; it was a catchy tune.
We’re jammin’. Jammin’ Jammin’ Jamm-
God stopped singing and snatched up the PsyPad. She scanned the map and enlarged it with her fingertips. The red blip was gone!
He’s jamming! Oh no!
Somehow Satan knew of their plans and was jamming the signal. Big D was on his own.
Jocasta Darling felt exhausted as she wheeled the pushchair containing her sleeping son through the fog. She was glad he was finally sleeping peacefully; Paul was teething and had kept her up all night. It was his first birthday and Jocasta hoped he wouldn’t be crotchety all day. So far, so good, she thought wearily.
Her daughter held on to the handle of the pushchair, rolling along beside her. Molly’s school had encouraged its students to dress up for Halloween, for a fee of course, and Molly was dressed up as the grim reaper. On the importance of wearing roller skates with the outfit, Jocasta was still in the dark, but Molly had insisted on wearing them. Something about the way her imaginary friend moved or something, Jocasta wasn’t sure. All she knew was that Molly had been made up to receive the roller skates for her birthday and had hardly taken them off her feet since.
They were on their way to feed to ducks before school. It was a ritual Molly and her had started during the Rona lockdowns. The park was usually deserted at that time of the morning, except for the exercisers, especially in the summer months, but the weather was less than enticing today and Jocasta doubted they’d be out in force. She liked to smoke a cigarette whilst Molly fed the ducks and although a sit down and smoke appealed, it was too chilly this morning to be hanging around in the fog.
We’ll just feed the ducks and go, Jocasta decided, as they entered Victory park. She started to tick off all the things she had to do that day on her mental list: Feed ducks, drop Molly at school, shop for party food, cook party food, collect Molly from school, hold party, clean up, take Molly trick or treating, iron and go to bed. Jocasta had a full day ahead of her, as well as the million and one other things she would have to do that didn’t warrant a place on her mental list. No wonder she felt exhausted.
“Can I hold the bread?” Molly signed.
Jocasta stopped and looked down at her daughter. She brush the hood covering Molly’s head back so that could see her face and Molly could see hers; Jocasta was too tired that morning for signing, and Molly was an excellent lipreader.
“It’s very foggy so I want you to stay with me today. Don’t go skating off. Okay?”
Molly nodded. “OK.”
“What about your scythe?” Jocasta pointed to the plastic scythe Molly carried.
“I can carry both,” Molly said aloud.
Jocasta took the bread bag from her shopping bag hooked to the back of the pushchair and passed it to her daughter. “Okay, if you’re sure. Here’s the bread.”
They continued their journey along the empty path, walking and skating until they reached the rise just before the gentle slope down to the duck pond. Suddenly, Molly let go of the pushchair and started to freewheel forward, letting gravity do the work. She quickly disappeared into the fog.
“Molly!” Jocasta shouted before chiding her self – Molly couldn’t hear her. “Oh fuck!” she snapped and chased after her daughter.
Molly’s shrill scream turned Jocasta’s blood to ice. She plunged the pushchair faster through the fog. “Molly!”
Jocasta nearly ran straight into her as she reached the duck pond. Molly was standing stock still, silently pointing. The fog was less thick here so Jocasta could clearly see what Molly was pointing at: two men lay prone on the grass bank of the duck pond, with their heads submerged in the water. Between them knelt the woman who ran the big fitness classes in the park, and she was tightly gripping the back of their necks.
The woman turned her head toward Molly and Jocasta. “It’s okay,” she called. “It’s not what it looks like.”
The fitness lady yanked the men’s heads from the water. They gasped for breath and blinked their eyes. They looked terrified.
She stood up and bounded over to Jocasta and Molly, wiping her wet hands on her thighs. “Hello, I’m Wanda. I’ve seen you three in the park before, haven’t I? I run the Fighting Fit classes.”
Jocasta stood in awe of Wanda. Of course she’d noticed before that Wanda was attractive with a very nice figure, and that she obviously had a lot of energy, but that was from a distance. Jocasta was quite unprepared for how stunningly beautiful Wanda was up close, and how she exuded confidence and an overpowering sense of presence.
“What happened to them?” Jocasta asked feebly. She nodded toward the men, who were rubbing their eyes and frantically splashing water into their faces. “Were you drowning them?”
“No,” Wanda laughed. Her chuckle was deep and throaty. “No, these two fuc-” She looked down at Molly and stopped herself swearing. “These two ruffians attacked me. I was just defending myself.”
Jocasta was both horrified and impressed. “Oh my God, really? What did you do to them?”
Wanda shrugged. “I pepper sprayed them.”
“Isn’t that stuff illegal?”
“Probably.” Wanda shrugged again. “To be fair, one of them pulled a knife on me.”
“No,” Jocasta whispered and pulled Molly closer. “They’re not going to attack us, are they?”
“Doubtful. I have a knife too and they know that.” Wanda called over to the men, “You two know I’ve got a knife, don’t you?”
“Yes, yes,” one of them cried. “Please don’t hurt us more,” the other blubbered.
“And it’s A LOT BIGGER THAN YOURS!” Wanda shouted back. She turned to Jocasta and gave her a dazzling smile. “They’ve learnt their lesson. But that does remind me.”
Wanda bent down and spoke to Molly. “Can I borrow your plastic bag?”
Molly nodded and pulled the bread slices from their plastic wrapping and handed it to Wanda.
“Thanks, I’ll just be a moment.” Wanda disappeared into the fog.
Jocasta didn’t know whether to stay or run away. She felt like they stumbled into a scene from a Dirty Harry movie or an American TV cop show. This was too surreal for a Monday morning, Jocasta thought.
She pulled a packet from her coat pocket and plucked the single cigarette and lighter from inside. “Fuck it,” she said and lit up. She didn’t feel quite so tired anymore.
Wanda quickly returned, swing the plastic bread bag. She held it up as she approached Jocasta and Molly. “Their knife. Can’t leave something like that lying around. You never know who’ll find it.”
“Can I feed the ducks now?” Molly asked.
“Sure,” Wanda said. “One second.”
She stalked in the direction of the two bedraggled men. “RIGHT, you two. Fuck off, right now and DON’T come back. If I ever fucking SEE you nobheads again, I will slice your FUCKING nuts off and roast them. GOT IT?”
The two men scrambled to their feet. “We go, we go. Please, we go.”
Wanda returned to Jocasta and Molly after the men stumbled away crying. “There you go, darling, it’s safe to feed to duckies now,” she told Molly.
Jocasta puffed on her cigarette nervously. “What if they’re hanging around in the fog? I’ve got to get Molly to school.”
“Not if they know what good for them they won’t,” Wanda growled. “I don’t think so, but I’ll escort you through the park, if you like.”
“Yes, thank you.” Jocasta finished her cigarette and stubbed it out with her foot. She bent down and picked up the butt. She saw Wanda looking. “I don’t like to litter.”
The two women stood awkwardly in silence and watched Molly throw chunks of bread to the gathering ducks.
“I’m Jocasta and that’s Molly, my daughter. By the way, please don’t worry about swearing around her – Molly’s deaf.”
“Although she can read lips. So out of sight is out of earshot, or so to speak.”
“Actually, I know Death,” Wanda said casually. “He’s a personal friend. He’s not as tall as Molly, but he does kinda glide when he moves. The skates are a nice touch.”
Jocasta didn’t know how to respond; what could she say to that? “Thank you,” she mumbled.
“So…” she felt like she should say something. “Do you also teach self defence classes?” Jocasta asked. “If not, I really think you should.”
Wanda’s face lit up. “Hey, that’s a good idea.” She smiled and nodded her head. “Something for women. Most women struggle to keep up in my fitness classes.”
Jocasta felt oddly pleased at Wanda’s receptiveness to her suggestion. “I’d join. A self defence class, that is. I couldn’t do one of your fitness workouts. They look brutal.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t last two minutes,” Wanda said. “No offence.”
“Oh, none taken,” Jocasta assured Wanda. “I would like to know how to throw somebody though. I’ve always fancied throwing someone to the ground. You know, like judo.”
“Oh really?” Wanda seemed amused. “Got anyone in mind for the floor treatment?”
“Golly, I don’t know.” Jocasta didn’t expect to be put on the spot. “Um, there’s a multitude to choose from. Any of the smugs, I guess.”
Wanda’s eyebrows furrowed and her nostrils flared. “Why did you say smugs?”
Jocasta was taken aback at Wanda’s sudden sharp look and tone. “You know, condescending do-gooders. The ‘do as I say’ brigade. And if you don’t as they tell you, they’ll hound you until you do, smug in the illusion that they’re ‘doing good’. Smugs.” Jocasta stopped herself; she was starting to rant. “I’m sorry, did I offend you?”
Wanda glanced at her watch. “No, not at all, but that’s the second time I’ve heard the word ‘smugs’ today and it’s only eight-thirty in the morning. It’s not a term I’m familiar with.”
Wanda shook her head. “There are two things you need to know in life. One, there’s no such thing as coincidence.”
Molly returned from feeding the ducks. She grabbed the handle of the push chair. “I’m ready to go now.”
Wanda crouched down to speak to Molly directly. “If you let me carry your big stick, you can hold my hand and then me and your mum can wheel you through the park.” Wanda looked up to Jocasta. “Right, mum?”
“Really fast,” Wanda silently mouthed to Molly, and winked.
Molly suppressed a giggle and passed the scythe to her mum’s new friend. She slipped her hand inside Wanda’s free hand and they walked and rolled into the fog.
“What’s the second thing in life, I need to know,” Jocasta asked breathlessly. Wanda was setting a stiff pace.
“That floor you want to throw the smugs to, that floor is fucking hard. Be careful what you wish for.”
Jocasta decided that on the whole, she couldn’t disagree.
Liquid light reflections of traffic lights, street lamps and neon signage flowed along the sides and across the roof of the London black taxi as it sped through the city. It neither stopped nor slowed; every traffic light was green and every road devoid of other vehicles that may have hindered its passage. Even if the streets had not been empty, nobody would have seen the small, black robed figure clinging to the back of the taxi, skitching a ride.
After a while the streets became narrower, less well lit and the roads bumpier and neglected. A large pothole nearly threw Death off, but he managed to maintain his grip. He was very familiar with these streets; he had visited them many times before. Mostly for plague, cholera and TB, but that was in the past. Now it was more stabbings, drug overdoses and suicides requiring his presence, but Death had never toured them before and certainly not like this.
He suddenly had an inkling of where Satan was headed. He hoped it wasn’t where he suspected, but those hopes were soon dashed when the taxi pulled up in front of Death’s least favourite hangout in the city.
“Lapland,” Death sighed. Lapland nightclub had a seedy reputation for loose liquor and even looser elves. It was also Father Christmas’s main residence save for one day a year.
Satan opened the driver’s door and got out of the taxi. He adjusted the seat of his trousers and walked up to the door of the nightclub. He knocked three times.
Death took the opportunity to move to a covered position and glided silently into a darkened shop doorway across the street. He stood in the shadow and watched as the door to Lapland opened and Father Christmas stepped out.
“Brother!” Santa boomed jovially. He took the cigar from his mouth and held his arms out wide. Satan did likewise. “Brother.” They embraced.
Plot twist? Death wondered. So, the conspiracy theorists on spectral media were right along!
The difference in appearance between Santa and Satan was deep and yet superficial: one was white, bearded and a force for good; the other dark, clean shaven and mercilessly evil. But once seen together, the fraternal resemblance of the two was striking and obvious.
The Slay Brothers? Death mused, or Sleigh Brothers. Spectral media trolls will argue about this for years.
He slid his PsyPad from his robe. He wanted to check if God had arrived yet in the Situation Room, but as he opened the cover he realised that the sudden brightness of the screen could draw attention. Death hoped that God was nearby, also watching the fiendish family reunion unfold, and could corroborate what he was seeing.
Death watched as Satan handed the keys to the taxi over to Santa. The brothers embraced once more before Santa got into driver’s seat and drove away. Satan stood and watched the taxi leave, sucking on his cigar. He turned and started to walk slowly up the street, shaking his head and laughing. When he was level with Death’s hiding place, he stopped.
“You can come out now child,” Satan called and flicked his cigar butt in Death’s direction. “Come on now, I know you’re there. What is it she calls you? Big D.”
Death slowly left the shadows and glided onto the road to face Satan. He remained silent.
“That’s a pretty good joke, her calling you Big D. Would be considered downright cruel, by some folks. Worthy only of someone like me.”
A windblown plastic bag rolled between them. Intercity tumbleweed.
“Cat got your tongue?” Satan taunted. “Oh that’s right, you don’t have a tongue. But you do speak, so do you want to ask me?”
This is a trap, Death thought. He remained silent.
“I’ll wait.” Satan reached into his jacket and pulled out a fresh cigar. He rolled it between his fingers and sniffed the length of it. “Don’t you want to know where Pestilence is? I know you’ve been searching for him.”
Finally Death broke his silence. “Did Soda Pops tell you that?”
“Soda Pops? Is that what she calls my brother? Soda Pops?” Satan bit the top of his cigar off and spat it out. “So disrespectful.” He warmed its foot with a lighter. “And what kooky name has she given me?”
Satan paused lighting his cigar and stared at Death.
“I’ve only ever heard her refer to you by your pronouns,” Death continued. “He/him. But then I’ve only ever heard you refer to God by hers,” he added.
Satan nodded and lit his cigar. He took several small puffs and let out a cloud of smoke.
Death pulled his PsyPad from his robes and opened it. He tapped the screen and swiped it several times before replacing it. His retractable scythe sprung from the sleeve of his robe, the blade crackled with electricity. “Well then. It’s been nice to catch up, but I really must be going. Work to do.”
Death turned his back on Satan and glided away.
“Hey!” Satan called after him. “Don’t you want to know where Pestilence is, child?”
“No need. I’m sure Pesto will turn up when he’s ready.”
Death disappeared into thin air.
He knew we were there. He jammed the signal.
Death watched Satan stare after him through the transparent wall of the Situation Room. “How did you know where to find us, Ma’am?”
Once I realised I couldn’t track you with the PsyPad, I popped back to the God Lobby and got my binoculars. The Shard building has an excellent viewing platform. I could see for miles.
“I hope I distracted Scratch long enough for you to see where Soda Pops went.”
Indeed you did, Big D.
Death watched Satan finally turn away and go into Lapland. “And?”
I now know where Pestilence is.
Death gazed up at God. “Ma’am?”
A single, crystal clear tear ran down God’s cheek.
*Ain’t that the truth, Clicky. How in the fuck are we meant to be April Fooled this year?*
Hello there, Dear Reader! Long time, no speaky 😉
My good friend Cade Fon Apollyon sent me a tweet last night, depicting a weather event at his ‘old stomping ground’…
*He says that’s Tyson’s Corner in Virginia and tornadoes there are extremely rare…*
… Which reminded me of a bunch of tweets that crossed my Twitter feed earlier this week, all saying the same thing…
*Nice example, Clicky, butt that’s knot someone I follow… /lights up and smokes… Say, did you know there’s a 137 reference in that Tweeter’s bio?*
*Just a happy coincidence, then? Okay…*
… And that whole Oscars ‘Slap Heard Around the World’ scene at the start of the week put me in mind of Cade’s short story from Underdog Anthology XIV: Dark Ides of March, published in the Spring of 2021…
*Oh yeah. It even syncs… /drags… with a couple of your recent posts, Clicky… /exhales smoke…*
… So, I asked Cade if I could publish his story, here, at the LoL today, and he said, ‘Sure’…
*Knockout, Clicky, indeed…*
… So, here is ‘Spring Fevers and Bearded, Clammy Hands’ for your entertainment, Dear Reader. Enjoy! ❤
Spring Fevers and Bearded, Clammy Hands
Cade F.O.N Apollyon
If one were to read “A Novice’s Guide to Understanding Jealousy”, the first sentence of Chapter 1, Page 1 would almost absolutely have to immediately address the subject of a lack of self-awareness. In fact, I cannot see how the entire book could ever get around talking about anything except the topic of self-awareness and identifying one’s own shortcomings within the framework of this concept.
Jealousy, seems to place the offended party in some sort of vacuum. Like a shell or some sort of defensive posture where only the individual and their own interests matter. Their computational systems, assuming they have any, also seem to go offline.
“Mateo! Hel..loooo?!? Are you even fucking listening to me?”
My neighbor, John, was already agitated when he borderline accosted me in my car upon my arrival home from work. My zoning out in contemplation whilst being accused by my neighbor of having an affair with his wife is unlikely to assuage his irritation.
“My name is Matthew, Juan, and yes, I am very much listening to you.”
“I apologize, Matthew,” John fired back sarcastically. “Now, are you fucking my wife?”
“No, John, I am not. I’m standing here in the middle of my own front yard holding an empty lunch box, quasi-talking to you, really just hoping to go inside at some point and take my shoes off.”
I’d retorted with my usual dry and unemotional sarcasm. I tried not too sound precocious though as this was an extremely delicate and dangerous situation, and the last thing I need at this point is my friend thinking I’m trying to be cleverly deceptive.
“Have you, at any point, from the beginning of creation, to this very day, ever, fucked my wife?”
John was struggling, choosing his words for clarity; an obvious frustration and impatience in his voice.
“Yeah. But I only stuck my dick in halfway so I’m not fucking her nearly as much as I could be. And when one considers that my dick is only six inches long, it could be argued that I’m not fucking her very much at all.”
The look of shock and disbelief on his face reflected that my retort had caught him completely off guard. But as the initial look of surprise left his face, and his brain began to compute my actual words, his face contorted in confusion, began to relax, and I could tell it may have finally broke some ice as John’s default facial express returned. That expression then started to crack into a smile, it was obvious he was trying to restrain it, and he turned away from me briefly in order to, I assume, stymie a giggle. The slight hunch in the back, a hand to the face, and a couple of shoulder twitches were a dead-giveaway.
I’d already answered his initial query as to my ‘fucking his wife’, definitely and without hesitation in the negative. Quite easy to do as I was most certainly not ‘fucking’ his wife. Something very odd was going on here. This had to be one of his stupid, drawn out ‘practical jokes’. Surely some utterly ridiculous punchline, for which I will have to feign a fake laugh, is coming.
“Look John,” I said to his back. I have walked…” I glanced down quickly at the pedometer hanging from my belt to check the distance I had walked at work today; 17.3 miles, holy shit, “…seventeen point three miles today and my feet are feeling every foot of that. I’m going in to put my lunchbox down, take my shoes off, grab a beer, and I’ll be right back out. Do you want one?”
He knows, came a female voice in my head.
I froze. A warm tingling sensation suddenly appeared in my head, and quickly began to run from my crown, down my neck, and into my spine, as another warm and tingly feeling began in my feet and started emanating up my legs.
Great, I thought to myself. That’s all I need at this point…her.
The two opposing tingly feelings continued their creep and met somewhere in my lower back: we were connected now. That warm pulsing tingle of The Connection. We were synced.
Hello Matthew, came the woman’s voice again. I feel The Connection.I needed to speak with you. I needed to let you know that he knows. I needed to speak with you about how best to proceed regarding…
The woman’s voice was cut off as John, apparently having finally regained a composure he was comfortable with, turned back towards me.
“Yeah,” John started as he nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I’ll take a beer if it’s cold Matt. You get your shoes off, and I’ll meet you on your porch in a few. I’m going to go ask Patrice about dinner. Any chance you might wanna pop over? Do you have plans?”
John asking me to join he and his wife for dinner was not unusual. I was, after all, a lonely bachelor. A lonely divorcee. A washed-up burnout who over the past nine years had been fixed up with virtually every single woman John and his wife knew. But dinner tonight did not seem appropriate. I was in no way trying to read John’s intentions regarding this particular invitation as we had too much experience between us for me to read into it as being hostile. But I had to seriously consider it inappropriate under the circumstances.
Jesus, how uncomfortable might that dinner be? I thought to myself.
If you come to dinner, I’ll make you cum, came the woman’s voice again. I’ll cum all over your face Matthew, and you can cum on mine, if you want. It will be nothing but cumming for the both of us if you come to dinner.
Dammit Patrice, can you at least allow me to get my shoes off and grab your husband a beer before I make a decision on dinner?
Sure Matthew. I know my cooking isn’t always that great, but my dessert will make that dark and lonely heart of yours shine like the sun that it actually is. Mmm, I’m getting wet just thinking about having you inside me and seeing your light.
“Matt?” John said, snapping me away from my internal dialogue. “Matt, you’re zoning out again.”
“Sorry John. Been a long day at work and I have an even longer one in store tomorrow. I have a lot of work stuff on my mind,” I said, turning away from my neighbor and heading for the faux safety of my own home.
“Already trying to think of all the stuff I need to do tomorrow. Lemme grab you that beer. About ten minutes.”
I did not glance back to see if John was retreating back to his own property as I neared the relative safety of my own front porch.
Sorry you had a long day. I hope I get a long one tonight, Matthew.
Patrice, I myself would take an explanation of any length as to why your husband is over at my house breaking my balls over allegedly, quote ‘fucking you’, unquote.
I’ll explain in a bit Matt, and it will all make sense. I promise.
As I reached my front door, I tried to put Patrice and her shenanigans out of my head. Just as I began to fumble with my key for the lock, and just as freedom seemed imminent, I heard John call from what sounded like his driveway. I froze, closed my eyes, and tried not to shudder.
“Hey, Matt! Pedometer!” he shouted. “They ought to give those to pedophiles so cops know how many kids they’ve molested!”
I suddenly felt a tinge of fury. My heart knew that I should not be feeling this feeling, but I was. Whatever my neighbor was digging for, and why he was digging for it in me no longer mattered. This asshole has to be begging for a beating, but why he has chosen me to give it to him is a total mystery at this point.
Don’t let him get to you cowboy. You are closer that you know to being free of him forever.
I ignored Patrice’s comment entirely, turned to peek around the corner of my front porch to look over in the direction of the voice. Sure enough, there stood John in his own driveway. Immobile, and looking in my direction with a giant ridiculous smile on his face as if he’d just told the joke of the century and was now eagerly awaiting my guffaws of approval.
“That’s a great idea John,” I said in an absolutely flat tone. “Fantastic in fact. Why don’t you head inside right now and dial 911 and tell them your genius idea. You can tell me all about it when you come back over for your beer.”
The dry and unimpressed nature in my voice appeared to have gotten the message across, as his previously grinning face was now melting into such a pathetic sag that it appeared it may slide off his head.
He turned, looked down and I could tell his face was now twisting with confusion, and began walking dejectedly towards his house.
I turned back towards my front door, inserted my key into the lock, opened it, and stepped inside. Closing the door behind me, I could only think one word…sanctuary.
It may be a sanctuary from John, but not from me. With me, there is no sanctuary Matthew.
I need no sanctuary from you Patrice. You are my sanctuary.
* * *
John and I had become fast ‘friends’ when he and his wife, Patrice, had moved in next door to me a little over nine years ago. ‘Friends’ in the loose sense in that it was quite obvious from the start that John more or less inserted himself into my life whether I wanted him in it or not, and he was the type of fellow that clung to certain others who could provide him with specific things. He had a bombastic way for introducing himself to others, at which point he would size them up for what they could and could not provide.
I never considered him a bad guy, just not exactly a good one. Never seemed to have a thought of his own, which, unfortunately for me and because I was both easily accessible and tolerated his bullshit, just about every crazy idea, weird concept and stupid joke that drifted through John’s transom he would almost certainly parrot to me.
I stood inside my doorway for some time contemplating the nature of my relationship with my neighbors, and wondering what in the hell John was on about. As such, I find myself back at day one of when John and Patrice moved in, and going over every little detail as to how he’s gotten wind of mine and Patrice’s, alleged, affair.
Are you fucking my wife? Who in the hell asks a question like that? He didn’t really seem that peeved or upset. Perhaps the exchange didn’t happen like it does in the movies, and as such, he didn’t know how to react?
You’re contemplating aren’t you Matthew?
Patrice’s voice, in my head again. I’d forgotten we were still actively connected.
Yes Patrice, I am. Can you hear what I’m thinking? Like, the specifics?
No Matt, it’s more of a feeling. When we communicate directly, then yes the information sent along The Connection is very clear. But when you are mumbling internally I get nothing specific. Just maybe a feeling about what it may be regarding.
So, when I jerk off at night, you get no specifics nor details, you simply know I’m masturbating.
Rawr…so saucy Matthew. So aggressive. I like it. And speaking of, what was with that ‘you are my sanctuary Patrice’ nonsense?
For once, Patrice, I guess I just felt I needed to defend myself. The walls were kinda closing in, ya know?
Good on you Matt. That was brilliant. You’ve taken yet another step into…oh wait…John is calling me, needs to talk, he says.
OK, well, I’m going to ground myself and disconnect. I need to get your husband a beer, and I really need to get these fucking shoes off.
Matt, did you really walk seventeen point three miles today?
Yes I did Patrice. It was awful and I’m currently feeling all fifty-five of my years, and then some.
John wants me to come over and talk to you Matt.
What?! You, Patrice? Why you?
He feels that he may have upset you.
He did, Patrice. But that still doesn’t explain why he wants you to come over.
John seems to think that I’ll be able to smooth things over and you’ll come to dinner.
Patrice, I really don’t know if…
Shhhh….Matthew, just, let me come over. I’ll tell John it may take a bit, but I think I can smooth things over.
Patrice, this is weird as hell him sending you over, whom he just accused me of having an affair with. I’m on edge here.
Ground yourself Matt. Grab that beer, and I’ll drink it when I get there.
Patrice wait. Patrice?
“Fuck!” I said aloud.
She’s disconnecting. I could feel the tingly feeling in my back partially unwinding. She was already grounding herself.
I was still standing in the doorway, holding my keys and lunchbox. I felt so alone in the moment. Only recently had I, by some fluke of nature, acquired the ability to speak with anyone, any time, anywhere in the world, and yet at that precise moment I’d never felt more alone.
It didn’t help matters that, for the first six months after discovering my ability, I’d been talking, via thought alone, to a someone who originally told me that they were on the other side of the world. But as it turns out, this distant and seemingly completely harmless someone was actually less than fifty feet away the entire time. Patrice. And boy oh boy, once we discovered who each other actually was, did the tone and topics of the conversations ever change. The small talk and vagaries were gone. She was suddenly a firebrand, passionate, but a rogue, a rebel and downright nasty at times: and I don’t mean just and only sexual stuff either. For the last four months, she had toyed with me and psychologically beaten on me relentlessly. I had no idea what to make of any of it. Still don’t. Perhaps she’ll explain it someday if I can keep myself from tying cinder blocks to my feet and jumping into a lake.
You’re drifting again Matt. You really should ground before some sneaky someone you don’t know tries to connect.
I reached up with the hand holding my key ring, and selected the key that allowed itself to be singled out, as which key I used did not matter. This time it was the key to my one and only padlock.
I don’t even know where in the hell that padlock is, I thought to myself. No idea why I still have the key to it on my key ring.
No response from Patrice, nor anyone else for that matter, doesn’t feel like anyone else is connected nor trying to connect, so now all that remained was for me to close the current connection completely.
I reached out with the key, and touched it to the metal screw holding the face-plate cover to the light switch on the wall. Almost immediately, I could feel the somewhat diminished ball of coursing energy in my back begin to unwind like electrically charged noodles being slurped out via my head and feet, and then vanish completely.
I pulled the key away from the screw; disconnected. With little very little gusto and no thanks given to the key for its additional service, I hung my key ring on the key rack above the light switch, and retreated inward to get my shoes off my aching feet.
* * *
The doorbell rang and my hands suddenly went clammy.
How should I greet her? Should I shake her hand? Just say hello and immediately hand her a beer, while shuffling myself outside so that she does not attempt to come in? Should I go out into my backyard, toss the beer over the roof and into the front yard, and cry ‘My mom says I can’t come out to play right now, but there’s your beer crazy woman! Just like you like it! Shaken and stirred and every other fucking thing!’
It was just now dawning on me that, not only did I not really know my neighbor Patrice, we had never really spoken before. Not at any length, and most certainly never alone. Well, not ‘in person’ anyway. And most of the “remote” stuff was so scattered, unintelligible and seemingly pointless that the fact we’d been speaking almost non-stop for ten months, now too felt more like we’d never spoken at all.
Should I check my breath? Wait a second Matt…this isn’t a date. Relax.
Only now did a calmness fall upon me. The absolute absurdity of being thrown into a tangent over nothing at all. I was rattled over basically, nothing. A married woman is standing at my door, ringing the bell, because her husband, my neighbor, not fifteen minutes ago accused me of having an affair with his wife, the woman in question is now standing at my door, and he now wants her to smooth things over so I’ll come to dinner with them. Simple. I had not a damn thing to worry about. Except…
…Patrice and I have not spoken in person about our, less than conventional conversations. Wait, that doesn’t sound very good at all. “Less than conventional’ sounds exactly like what John was just accusing me of.
The doorbell rang again. My chest started to tighten.
Holy hell. It’d never occurred to me that myself and Patrice had not yet talked in person about our abilities. What if…oh my God…what if all this time, I wasn’t actually communicating telepathically with Patrice. What if some malicious asshole with psychic powers has been toying with me this entire time, and passing it off as if I was speaking to a neighbor because of some clue I’ve given away. Some game psychics play to amuse themselves, similar to a cat playing with a mouse.
I felt a very cold chill at the base of my neck, and for the first time in a very long time, I actually felt afraid. My mind was awash and digging through the memory banks for the last time that I’d even seen Patrice, let alone talked to her.
A knock now at the door. They are getting impatient and require a response. Doorbells fail, malfunction and sometimes just go unheard, but not knocks.
Face the music Matt. Grab a beer, this very second, then go answer the door.
“Hey Patrice. How are you?” I attempted to sound as nonchalant as possible as I pushed open the outward-facing glass door and made my way outside.
“Hello Matt. Is that beer for me? Or you.”
I could not tell if she was being playfully ignorant or not, so I just played it as cool as humanly possible for now.
“Why don’t you have a seat on the porch swing, I’ll sit in this chair here opposite you, and we can figure out who this beer is for.”
“Oh, OK, well, I hadn’t planned on staying long, but I guess I can sit for a moment Matt.”
“Whatever you want to do is fine Patrice,” I said while trying not to allow my face to twist with a confused look. “It’s just that I don’t think you’ve ever come over here before, so I guess I just assumed maybe you came to talk a bit, considering the circumstances and recent events.”
Patrice sat on the porch swing opposite me, and once she was seated I chose one of the four porch bar-chairs that were place around a small round table I’d picked up at a garage sale a few years back. The table was small, the chairs uncomfortable and I’d really only purchased the set as decoration as I had no friends to speak of and almost never had guests. For once, the table would come in handy and I placed the unopened can of beer on it.
Hands folded in her lap, Patrice was looking at me almost impatiently as if waiting for me to situate myself. For the first time I noticed that she had very beautiful blue crystalline eyes. I tended not to like blue eyes very much, crystalline blue even less, but in this case they suited her. She was attractive. I snapped out of my study of her form as it suddenly occurred to me that I was in great danger.
My heart was pumping at this point. Not from lust, nor anger, nor even fear nor any other emotion I could think of…this was a feeling of confusion that I’ve never before felt, and it was causing my heart a stress it had never before known. Not even twelve years ago when my wife of eighteen years told me she was through with me and my broken self, did my heart suffer this kind of trauma.
“Matt,” Patrice’s voice snapped me out of my waking coma, “John just told me about what happened earlier, and I must tell you that I am horrified.”
“I admit that I am quite confused as to exactly what just transpired Patrice.”
“Did he really shout out in a very loud voice from across the yard something about pedophiles to you?”
The bottom of the entire Universe just fell out from under me.
“Um, pedophiles?” I was trying to hold it together, but it was now clear that this slimy asshole is playing some kind of twisted game with me. He basically assaults me over adultery with his wife, and he goes home and makes up some bullshit story about a very in poor taste joke, completely omitting the adultery parts? “Yeah Patrice he did, and I guess he was trying to make a joke about the pedometer that I have to wear for work. It wasn’t very funny, was in poor taste, and I admit it upset me. Perhaps more than it should, but I do have to wear this thing every single work day, and to be completely honest and open, his comment is likely going to haunt me for some time for that very reason.”
“Well, I’m sorry that it upset you Matt, but that’s really not my concern nor why I came over,” Patrice said rather flatly.
The entire Universe just exploded. This is the kind of sick twisted games that my ex-wife used to play. Say, anything. Do, anything. Nothing, matters. She, held all the cards, she, was the dealer, and I had to play her games and take whatever she dealt out because I had nothing and no one in all creation, except for her. I was nothing more than a dislodged piece of navel lint in a wind storm.
“Matt, are you okay?” Patrice suddenly sounded exactly like her husband.
“I am contemplating what you’ve said,” I fired back calmly. “Were you expecting me to say something?”
“I guess maybe I expected you to ask me why I came over.”
“You’ve mentioned that you’re aware of something your husband said to me.”
“Yes, but that’s not the real reason I came over.”
“You said that already, Patrice.”
“Matt, are you angry about something?”
The alarm bells were most certainly going off now, full tilt, and this was absolutely turning into a life and death situation.
“Patrice, perhaps you should just tell me what you need since I don’t know you that well, and I’m certainly not a mind-reader.”
Patrice did not really react to my statement, but strangely reached around behind her back, and produced a large, letter-sized envelope. She leaned forward and offered it to me.
“Oh, haha, a mind-reader!” she said in an obviously forced tone, whilst simultaneously urging me with her eyes to take the envelope. “Me and John went to see a mind-reader once, except this one was a hypnotizer. Is that right? Hypnotizer?”
“Hypnotist,” I corrected her as I leaned forward and took the envelope. “I’m quite sure that hypnotists are those who hypnotize people for various reasons.”
A look of relief crossed Patrice’s face as I took the envelope from her hand, and I fell face-first into whatever new game she was now playing.
“Well, me and John went to this show where a hypnotist would pick people from the audience.” After finishing her thought, Patrice raised her hands in an mock envelope-opening type motion, implying that I should open it now, here, in her presence. “Anyway, John of course volunteered us both, and we both got to go up on stage and get hypnotized.”
Only moments before, my fear levels had just about caused my entire existence to seize and stop entirely, but now there was suddenly this strange feeling of…clarity. Perhaps everything leading up to this very moment in time was some kind of test to see if I could in any way handle the horrors that were almost sure to materialize from this envelope’s contents.
I noticed that Patrice was arching her eyebrows as if to hurry me along. I looked for a moment deeply into her eyes, and that gloomy image which was beginning to form of Patrice being John’s soulmate or clone or whatever it was had disappeared. Odd that it continued to rattle on outwardly as I peeled back the flap on the envelope and produced what appeared to be no less than five folded pages.
“John barked like a chicken and clucked like a dog.”
I had only just started to open the letter when it struck me what Patrice had just said.
“He barked like a chicken and clucked like a dog? Don’t you mean that he barked like a dog and clucked like a chicken Patrice?”
“That’s what the hypnotist said Matt. He told John to bark like a chicken and cluck like a dog. I don’t know how John did it, but he did.”
“That’s…frightening, Patrice. I don’t even want to know…”
‘GROUND YOURSELF RIGHT NOW!’
The first line of the first page jumped off the paper and hit me like a lightning bolt. Instinctively I started to reach down and grab one of the metal legs on the small table, but my survival instincts kicked in and I resisted the urge, thinking that this may be a trap of some kind. But almost as quickly as I began to doubt, I remember the odd feelings that I’ve felt during the processes of being grounded, ungrounded and The Connection. Being both an electrician and a semi-amateur radio enthusiast, there are things that have been happening over the past ten months that I can in no way begin to explain.
I looked up from the letter and at Patrice. She gave a small nod, and there was a calmness to her being which provided just enough assurance for me to throw caution to the wind and play along. Knowing that the table’s legs were a poor ground, I reached out and grabbed one anyway and continued to read as Patrice continued to ramble.
“I don’t really remember being hypnotized, but everyone said I was. They said I got trapped in a box that wasn’t there, and I couldn’t get out.”
For the time being, please read down only to where it says ‘STOP HERE!’, keep reading until you get there, and I’ll ramble on about hypnotists in the meantime. Also, keep your hand firmly wrapped around that metal leg on the table until we finish here, and please do not begin to wonder internally how I know all of this. I do, and answers will come later.’
“John says that he can remember being hypnotized, and he can remember everything he did, but I don’t remember anything at all,” Patrice continued. “He says he only did what he was told because he knew he was part of the act. But me? He says that I was absolutely terrified and screaming. He said I really honestly thought that I was trapped in a box even though there was no box.”
‘We are both of us in great danger because of our, ‘gifts’. I would ask that you, later at some point this evening, find yourself a proper grounding point, and read the remainder of this letter ONLY when grounded. I will go ahead and tell you that I am a beard. My marriage is an arranged sham so that my husband can collect his inheritance, and myself and John will not be married much longer as he is already arranging the divorce and planning to move to somewhere in Java. I will of course get a piece of his inheritance as payment for services tendered over the past fifteen years of marriage. More on that later though. The Great Magician is awake, and I have reason to believe that The Great Magician has somehow found the both of us…meaning you and I. Does this mean anything to you? I am so very sorry for all of this. Hopefully, the rest of the letter will better explain what I know, and what I don’t. P
A quick thumb through the sheets indicated that this letter was approximately eight pages long. Visions of Armageddon suddenly swirled in my head as my mind flashed back to the horrible tales of the end times taught me in church as a youth. But that’s exactly what this moment felt like. I felt like I had just walked out of the sunshine and green grasses onto the burning and bloody fields of Megiddo, and me right in the big middle of the fighting between the warring factions of good and evil.
“Which reminds me, Matt. John did ask me to tell you that he was sorry about his joke he made earlier, but the real reason that I came over was I wanted to know if I could borrow a cup of milk. I’m making John some cornbread for dinner, and I need some milk.”
“Patrice,” I said calmly, looking up from the letter. “Did you know that you can substitute beer for milk in certain baked goods?”
Patrice’s face was aghast. Honestly, aghast and unknowing. I’d hit her with a curve-ball.
“Really?” she said.
I folded the letter and thoughtfully placed it back into the envelope, before sliding the envelope into my shirt pocket as I stood.
“Yeah really really. I have a beer sitting right here, which I am going to give you. I’m going to go inside and get you…how much milk do you need?”
“I only needed one cup of milk. Whole milk if you have it,” she said rather sheepishly.
“Okay Patrice, I’m going to go inside and get you one cup of whole milk, and if you decide that you would like to give the beer a whirl, only use half of a cup of the milk in your cornbread, and use a half of a cup of the beer in substitution for the other half-cup of milk.”
“Will that really work?” Patrice asked disbelievingly. “What…what does this do?
“It gives the cornbread a bit of a different flavor is all. Better in biscuits, but it works with cornbread too. And you’ll have exactly four ounces of beer leftover you can sip on if you want.”
“Sure Matt, I’ll…give that a try. Thank you. Do I need…”
“This beer has already gotten kinda warm,” I said, not letting her finish. “Just make sure you allow it get a little warmer before adding it to the mix. I’ll be right back with your milk.”
I retreated into the house thinking that I had no idea what answers, if any, Patrice’s letter might contain. At this point, it was apparent that her rather substantial looking letter was more likely to contain mystery than clarity. One thing was certain though, I’d had just about enough of being at the mercy of the whims of an assembly of douchebag neighbors and cryptic mystics playing their god games. It was time for me to stop being a leaf in the wind, get serious, and hit the books to start researching this insanity. It was time that I become the storm.
Right after I get Patrice her milk, of course.
*Wait. he tweets out ‘it’s Friday once again’ each week, Clicky… /stubs butt… Doesn’t he?*
*Ah, ya got me…*
We hope you have enjoyed today’s post. If you’d like to read Cade’s story in proper book form, as well as 12 other short stories and a substantial poem from a variety of authors, then Underdog Anthology XIV is available for a staggeringly low price…
*You could get a full set of Underdog Anthologies for well under twenty quid. That’s fantastic value…*
“We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish and subvert”. - J Robert Oppenheimer.