The dog looked up from his basket in the car where he’d been sleeping next to me . ‘Are we there yet?’ He asked.
I was surprised, his timing was pretty close, we had about twenty minutes left to drive before we would get home.
‘I see you’re still listening to that German stuff, the whistle at the start of the track woke me up…. Again.’
His left ear raised up accusingly for a second before flopping back down again into the usual position just above his eye.
‘Yes, don’t you like it?’
‘It’s ok. All a bit vague sometimes though, what’s all that shark business about?’
I was surprised again. I didn’t know that he understood any German and pondered my reply for a moment.
‘Anyway. While you’re thinking about that, do you want to talk about the last few days ?’
His ear raised itself up again as he asked and I understood that this was the real question here.
‘OK, what do you want to know? ‘
‘All of it. Why did we leave? Where did you disappear to for half a day? Are we going home now? Will there be sossidges?’
I thought about this for a second while he hummed along to the chorus of ‘Engel’ , baring his teeth to the line ‘Gott weiß, ich will kein Engel sein’
There was no chance of that for either of us, so I grinned back at him and started speaking.
‘Well, we’ve been locked down for quite some time now and I’ve been looking at the stats and judging those carefully against my own interpretation of where we are… and I decided a week or so ago that it was time to see my Dad again.’
The ear lifted in silent question, so I carried on.
‘You’ve never seen him, but I may take you next time, not that you’ll see much either. Anyway, he lives 230 miles from me and I last saw him a week before the Lockdown kicked in and he hasn’t left his little flat since. We’re lucky that we can still go and hide out in the other house so that we didn’t have to do it all in one day.’
His eyebrows lifted. Three hours in the car was more than enough for him, even with my tuneful singing-along to Germanic rock music. ‘So why did you go? Is he sick ? Are you sick? Why? Why now? ‘
‘No. No. Nobody’s sick, not me. Not him. Nobody. It was just time to do it.’
‘Did you miss him that much then? ‘
‘No. Not really. I speak to him quite often. He just hasn’t been able to leave his flat for sixty days and there’s not much of a view for him. Or his cat.
Both ears pricked up now and he looked around quickly… I smiled at his reaction and carried on driving through the roadworks on the M6
‘There’s no cat here. Idiot. My dad has a cat that never manages to get out of the flat either, although i suspect she’d like to, I can’t imagine that it’s much fun being locked up with him 24×7.’
His left ear flopped again and he rested his head onto the centre console and gazed up at me with his huge amber eyes. I smiled fondly at him and stroked one of his velvety ears as I continued driving.
‘Anyway. I made the judgement call around a week ago that we’d make the trip and that I’d accept the risks for me.’
‘Risks?’ The ear raised briefly again and he continued looking up at me.
‘Risks of me catching the virus – that was acceptable, there was no risk to my dad as I stood outside his window. Risks of having an accident, risks of getting stuck if lockdown increased. That sort of thing… And… all of those risks were acceptable.’
‘If he’d been ill, would you still have gone?’
‘Yes… Much earlier, there’s the rules and there’s what’s right. The rules change all the time and it’s for each of us to work out what we can live with and more importantly what we can’t. I wanted to go this time to show my Dad that we’re still out here and we care. Everybody else has to make their own minds up, but they’re not my concern. We do what’s right for us in the moments that we have and we live with those decisions and their outcomes – for good or bad. We can’t go back or second guess. We keep moving forward…’
The ear lifted again.
‘Sort of like that German shark then?’
He dozed off again, leaving me to concentrate on driving.
Anything that I write, have ever written, or will ever write; is just a snapshot in time. A tiny glimpse of a small life and the lives and things that I observe.
Anybody reading this today (9th May 2020) will know immediately what Lockdown and Covid-19 mean. Hopefully, at some future point, we’ll have to remind ourselves of that strange time.
The time that the world basically went on hold. Every day similar to the last. Enough variations in the weather and.. oh Thank God… Work, so that I can tell the days apart. For those furloughed, out of work or retired, this must monotonous beyond belief.
I’m still living two days at a Time – but the lack of clarity, the screeching of various factions and the increasing disconnect when I talk to friends and family on the phone are all making the part of me that I’m keeping under my own lockdown want to rise up and do something. Fight back.
Against what though?
I’m still no clearer about the risk to myself or others, the relative mortality stats seem to be flawed at best and there are no recovery stats posted in the UK, although I know two people personally over 50 who’ve had it and survived.
But the itch is still there.
I drove halfway to town this morning and walked the dog before it got too hot and I saw a man with a Costa cup. I was actually excited and asked him if they’d reopened.
it was from the petrol station and therefore much more likely an infection vector than an actual shop. I didn’t tell him that, nor did I take his recommendation to go and buy one. He was a nice chap though and we agreed that it’s the little things that are starting to bite.
No physical contact at all for those of us who live alone. No handshake, no hug from a friend, no kiss of a cheek or the prospect of more from a new friend. No cuddle if you’re feeling down or a pat on the shoulder to push you forward.
A huge amount of people are living in solitary confinement and let’s be honest here (at least to ourselves), I have it lucky.
I have a job that never required me to travel much anyway. I have enough friends scattered across the world that I can talk to somebody at any time of the day or night if I feel the need to.
I have Milo.
Milo the Rescue Dog, the dog that I took from a shithole kennel in Warrington.
Milo of the missing teeth.
Milo of the doggie PTSD.
Milo, who spent Twenty PLUS weeks in the cage – the last time that he was dumped.
Milo of the apparently infinite capacity for love.
The longer the lockdown goes on, the more he wants to play in the garden, some variation of me chasing him around to grab a toy or a ball. A game that initiates nine times out of ten.
So I can’t complain. Not really.
The Rescue Dog has rescued me.
I’m one of the few people I know at work who isn’t struggling now. I have regular exercise and I’m not allowed to get too involved in work issues for long as it’s either walk-time or playtime again.
I can cope with this shit for a while longer.
I can take each day as it comes and try to see the beauty that surrounds us .
To appreciate each moment as a snapshot and to look for the next one.
But it can’t be forever and unless we can start being given more than platitudes and stats that don’t add up, I suspect that all those like me who are quietly sitting on the fence of this will take our own side.
Because I want to see my friends again, I want to sit in a bar or a garden and cry with laughter because somebody has left their phone too close to a pack of deviants. Or because somebody has made me wear a dress in public (for fun not perversion… although….).
I’ve made promises to myself.
I’m going to live day by day for now and take it as it comes.
Derek sat at his rig, flexed his fingers and put his mask in place before spinning up his own little VR construct.
There he was. Alive and waiting on the screen, ready to flatter, fluster and bemuse the waiting string of naive and desperate young things who would eventually allow him to lure them out and….
Enough. He had to get into character if this was going to work. He had to BE the character he portrayed. Ironic really, given that his construct was a struggling actor.
Jason Janus, for that was the actor’s real name (according to IMDB, who were the experts in this stuff, so they should know) was just not quite perfect enough to find any real work. Uncredited long-shots in adverts and a fiery death (also uncredited) in a minor blockbuster. He was a polymath by the standards of industry; Writer, Singer, Actor, a real triple-threat who couldn’t quite make it.
And the little girls lapped it up.
How could anybody so handsome, so well spoken, so.. so… Perceptive.. How could he not find real work?
Perhaps he needed a new fan-club leader, or social media expert, or perhaps they could just write to the major directors and work on his behalf?
Because the thing that he was hinting at was too much for somebody like them.. Wasn’t it?
Because he was perfect and he knew THEM in a way that nobody ever had.
He seemed to know just the right thing to say to cheer them up when they were at their lowest and had an uncanny ability to know exactly when they were low. Almost like their souls were bonded.
Except he’d never be crass enough to say that. He might say that he felt like he knew them in a way that he’d never felt before. He might allude to them perhaps having an ‘old soul’. Anything else usually came from them.
His little toys
They were correct though, he knew them in ways that even their best friends and parents didn’t. Every keystroke, every conversation, every whispered secret to their friends, every teardrop from a real or imagined hurt. And he had it all.
From the moment of first, meticulously researched and planned contact, he installed backdoors into their PCs, tablets and phones. Their diaries and secret thoughts were open to him.
He was an ACTOR
In this new world, Actors were somehow classed as key workers, never without a propaganda film to make, an advert to show the masses how to think, who to avoid, which class of people may be somehow filthy.
They looked at the photos on the news and entertainment websites that he directed them to. They loved it.
Look! There he is, just slightly out of focus, being punched by Jason Statham.
Look! There he is behind Dwayne Johnson on the red carpet at a premiere.
Look!!! There’s his script that has just been optioned by a major studio, directors were queuing up to take the job.
And… He had agreed that only HE could be the star!!!!!
AND. AND. AND.
He was looking for a special type of girl, somebody raw but beautiful, somebody without the layers of cynicism that he (they) despised.
He was looking.
She just had to be found somewhere.
AND OH MY GOD!!!
What were the odds of her friend in Singapore pointing her out to him online, inviting him into a chat group?
But that was how it started. Every single time, a friend that only contacted them intermittently would appear and chat for a while before mentioning THEIR new friend. This actor. He was only a friend and he seemed like the sort of person that they’d like to chat to.
Three- way chats became a two way chat at some point and they just got on SO WELL.
And let’s face it, the lockdown had fucked things beyond belief for people like her. The spirited types whose every move now was tracked by contact tracing apps. Where had she been? For how long? Who had she met?
Whole enterprises had sprung up around the apps and the New Puritanism, partly fuelled by the statist tendencies of both extremes of the political spectrum and the religious fundamentalists was now fanning big business.
If she met a boy for more than two minutes, her phone SHRIEKED and her parents would be notified. Try to go to one of the appointment-only bars and the bouncers would be on her in a heartbeat.
Oh. And her parents would be notified.
VR had caught on in a big way, but girls with wealthy parents like hers still had no leeway, they were constantly monitored and couldn’t get away with anything at all.
Or could they?
In his fourth or fifth text-only chat session, he’d suggest a private VR chat, hosted by one of his media friends, it wouldn’t be traceable and her parents would never know.
How could they resist?
And they didn’t, only one had got away.
She spooked when the VR programme glitched, seeing his real face and background. Nothing too horrible, he wasn’t ugly or fat, just much, much older and his eyes may just have looked a bit too bright, shiny and fevered for her liking.
He erased all traces of their chats from her devices and planted a few messages to her best friend that suggested that she’d like to be SO much more. Who’d believe what she said now?
Still, it meant that he now wore the mask and all the facial monitoring was done from within and nobody could identify him no matter what happened.
And now it was time to take the latest little starlet on to her trip with Destiny.
Little Callie Blau. School now finished and in her first year of college. Legally emancipated but restricted by the Lockdown, apps and lack of money as badly as a 19th century convent girl.
Black haired, pale skinned, dark eyed, red lipped. Genuinely beautiful in a way that none of the others had been. He was looking forward to this one more than he ever had before.
The tearing and gnashing of flesh
Callie was going to be perfect.
Mask on, he initiated the call, a few seconds of noise and there she was. She was in her bedroom as usual, a mix of schoolgirl pink and gothic black decor. She was desperate to change her image to something older, but her parents you know…?
‘Hello, I was worried that you might not call tonight, you seemed…preoccupied last night?’
He smiled. Outwardly it was warm and sweet, inwardly, it was cold and gratified that she’d walked into the setup so easily. So, so easily.
‘Wow, I can’t believe that you spotted that, I’m so sorry.. I just had something come through and it was just.. so.. so… perfect that I couldn’t believe it’
The girl smiled broadly, god, she really was perfect.
‘What? Is it your script? What is it?’
She leaned further forward into the virtual space, her usual outfit of jeans and ‘something blue’ – always blue, whether a sports top, t-shirt or hoodie. Her little joke – ‘Callie Blue’.
‘Come on, please tell me, I’ll just DIE.’
He smiled again, this was it. This was where the script that he had so lovingly prepared started to work on them.
‘Netflix have been in touch, they want to option it. I’ve played hard on this though and told them that I HAVE to play the lead and that I want to select my own leading lady. This is my only shot and I can’t take the risk. It HAS to be a newcomer, she HAS to be under 20 and she HAS to know how I think.’
‘And, I was.. I was…’
She leaned in again, the construct of the VR putting them into touching distance.
‘What? You were?’
He smiled again. The hook was set..
He leaned in, and…
FUCK.. What WAS THAT?
The girl looked perplexed, her perfect brow furrowing.
SHIT.. Had she seen the glitch? This was a weird one. He’d seen a darkened space, lit only by soft oil-burners, there may have been something in the dark – but he couldn’t be sure. Fucking software was glitching more than he’d like these days.
She was smiling nervously now, but he couldn’t see any trace of real knowledge in her eyes. He settled down again.
‘ I was wondering if you’d take a screen test? Tomorrow? After college?’
The girl was beaming now, the smile lighting up her face. This was almost going to be a shame..
‘Won’t know a thing, I’ve got a friend who can make your phone say it’s still at home and even if you’re not keen after you meet the casting director, you can keep the hack on your phone.’
The girl was all smiles now – a double-baited hook, potential fame and guaranteed work AND freedom to do whatever she wanted.
‘So how would we make it work?’
She was his now and her life could be measured in hours…
‘I’ll send a driver to pick you up, he’ll fix your phone on the spot and he’ll bring you to the studio. We’ll have a mocked-up set and I’ll be there with a cameraman and the casting director. I just know that you’re going to be right for this, you have everything the script needs. You’ll be gone for four hours max, your parents won’t even know you’re gone.’
That was true anyway, they were so used to being self-medicated after all these years of Lockdown that they were usually out of things by 9PM, knowing that the app would do their job for them. It wasn’t even like she could leave her phone behind, proximity and motion sensors had put paid to that little trick.
‘OK. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I can’t believe how lucky I am, I just can’t…….’
‘You deserve all of what’s coming, just PLEASE don’t let anybody know until after casting though, I have a non-disclosure clause that will kill the deal and take what little cash I have left.’
The girl nodded frantic assent and he moved to wrap the call up as soon as possible, knowing that she would be writing all this up in her ‘secret’ diary. He’d be wiping that before she left the house tomorrow.
The next day passed in a blur, so much to do, so much.
Print a Key Worker pass for one of his aliases.
Change the number plates on his people-carrier
Check his tool bag
Monitor the girl’s phone and activate the tracking programme he’d installed that would spoof her location to the Lockdown control app monitoring stations.
Check his tool bag again
All the good stuff was at the studio but he had a few things in there, just in case he needed them.
Check the VR programme. – that glitch was spooky and it wasn’t one of his scenes – no sign of it, but still a worry. He’d uninstall it after this and start from scratch
Print ‘the script’, the girl could read that while he drove her to the studio,
Shower, dress for the part, black suit, white shirt, dark tie.
It was an hour’s drive to the girl’s house and another hour from there to the studio- and it was a studio.
An uncle had left him an industrial park and a sizeable amount of cash. He’d taken one of the units and converted it to a working soundstage with lights, cameras and a full remote control setup.
The lights were already on and warming the space and he allowed himself a smile as he saw the girl waiting for him in the arranged place.
He pulled in, flashed his lights and watched her come to the door.
Even more beautiful in the flesh, she GLOWED , there was no other word for it. A simple blue dress, heels and no apparent makeup.
‘Good evening miss, can I have your phone please?’
She handed it over and he made a pantomime of making changes to it, opened up the app that he’d inserted and returned it. She climbed into the back seat , did up her seat-belt and he drove off.
He watched her in the rear-view mirror as she watched the app on her screen and saw that her phone was still apparently within 50 metres of her house.
‘Can I offer you a drink of water for the journey?’
Her dark eyes smiled at him from the mirror, her perfume was understated and smelled vaguely like incense, surprising for one so young – and very intoxicating.
‘No thank you, how long will the journey be?’
‘Just under an hour, Mr Janus is already there and he’s left a copy of the script for you in that envelope.’
That smile again.
A rustle of paper and she began to read, he watched her as often as he could while she did so and was a little worried by what seemed to be dark amusement in her eyes.
‘So Mr Janus, Jason.. wrote this by himself?’
‘ I believe so miss’
‘It’s a little dark, does the girl have to die?’
‘Oh. You haven’t read it. It seems a bit bleak.’
And yet she seemed to be smiling, was there something wrong with her?
‘We’re nearly there now miss, just another mile or so.’
‘Your voice seems familiar, have we spoken before?’
‘Ah Ok. I asked Jason, Mr Janus a question last night.’
‘Yes. I couldn’t believe that I was so lucky and I asked Jason if he was doing this just because he wanted to, that he wanted to give this dream to me.’
That strange question from last night, he’d brushed over it with a glib ‘Yes of course, you deserve this’, now here it was again.
Just in time to save him answering the question, the open doors and blinding lights of the soundstage came into view, illuminating the inside of the car and highlighting her perfect features.
‘DO YOU think he meant it? That he’s giving this to me freely?’
There was definite amusement there, if she suspected him, she should be scared, but.. she wasn’t. Why wasn’t she bothered? Why was she…. amused?
‘I.. don’t know miss, I can’t speak for him.’
‘Are you sure?’
The lights in the unit were dimming somehow, the blinding glare was retreating into a dull red glow where no lights should be.
“I.. I.. don’t know what you mean miss, I’m just a….’
She had taken his hand and was looking deeply into his eyes. That dark amusement was all that he could see now.
Fuck… How had he thought that she was young, she was so old.
‘Derek, the time for lies is over. You gave yourself freely to me last night and promised me whatever I wanted. Me Kali Blue, you gave yourself to me. You and that long trail of souls that you carry around you like a shroud.’
Fuck… she knew his name.. She knew about the others… How? How?
“Enough now Derek, it’s time.’
Tightening her grip on his hand, still with that dark amusement in her GLOWING eyes, she led him into the warm darkness.