Today has been a very strange day, I received two phone calls within a minute of each other.
Milo -my little warrior, The People’s Tripe Princess had recovered from his knee surgery and was being enough of a pain for the vets to want to release him as soon as possible.
I felt a sudden burst of heart warming joy, hung up the phone and got the news almost straight away that my Uncle had died. If anybody remembers the nightmare of his disappearance, the story never really ended.
Fraud was proven but the systems don’t work and two Police cases went to Action Fraud – an organisation that makes the NHS look efficient.
My Uncle died peacefully in a place that he was cared for. He’ll be buried next to his parents and the wider family will be able to grieve and recover and not be wondering what happened to him. He can rest easy knowing that he was a good man and was loved.
I’ll never be able to repay those who helped us in some truly dark days, but they know I’ll always have their back now.
Milo is happy to be home and has eaten and taken his meds- he was refusing in the kennel. The veterinary nurse said that he was immediately a different dog when I turned up.
It’s a bittersweet day, but I’ve done my best for both of them. I’ll arrange the funeral, sort finances and sleep on the floor for a few days so that I don’t have to cage Milo while he recovers.
The dog nudged my hand away from the keyboard as I was trying to edit a work document so that it made a bit more sense. I patted his head and he nudged my hand again so that I had to look at him.
He was gazing at me steadily and seriously; his huge amber eyes unwavering as he stared.
Outside the windows, yet another storm was driving rain into the house at 50mph and I paused my work for a while.
‘That’s my question. What?’
‘You’re being deliberately difficult aren’t you…’
‘No. It’s just such a big question. What happens after we die ?’
I sat back and looked at him for a few moments.
‘Where did that come from? Are you worried about dying ?’ We’d been at the vet a few hours before and I wondered if that had triggered this.
‘No. I’m not worried. But I just wondered what happens when we go away. Are any of those people that have been here and then gone away dead ? ‘
‘No. What makes you think that?. I know they’re still out there as I see them online.
‘Online ? So you can’t see or hear them for real? You’re taking it on faith then ? Are we in the Matrix?’
My head was starting to hurt at this stage. He had a point. People had come and gone in our lives and as far as he was concerned, they’d ceased to exist.
‘No. We’re not in the Matrix – probably anyway. And you’re right. I have to trust that what I see online and in chats is real. And that’s why your question is so tough.’
He looked at me, I swear that his eyes are backlit sometimes .. Outside, the rain and wind got stronger and it was hard to see the tree-line.
‘Every religion has a view of what’s next and how you get there. Including Atheists who believe that there’s nothing. The problem with religion though is that it’s all tied in with behavioural controls and rule sets. I’m not sure that any of it applies to dogs.’
‘Yes. Rules. Thou shalt? Thou shalt not.. etc. ‘
‘You don’t sound convinced’
‘’No. some of it is common sense tied into the time it was written down. Not eating pork in the Middle East before they knew how to cure or had chillers was sensible- now….’
I tailed off. This was a tough conversation with anybody. With a dog though …
He was still staring at me
‘OK. But what do YOU think happens? ‘
‘I don’t know. I’m what’s called an agnostic, I’m not arrogant enough to think that I know and I’m not easily led so I can’t get on board with religion – what do you think? Do dogs have any insight?’
‘No of course not’
He looked up at me and put his paw on my arm.
‘ I can tell you what I hope though.’
It was my turn to look at him keenly.
‘ I hope that in many years to come, I’ll fall asleep and wake up in the garden. I’ll be surrounded by my toys and all my friends will be near. Then I’ll hear the music come on and you’ll walk round the corner with one of my squeaky toys and we’ll play games while the barbecue cooks. Then all your friends will arrive and we’ll go for walks and play more games and…’
‘And when the day is over, I’ll fall asleep on your lap and then….’
He looked up at me, his huge eyes glowing .
‘And then we’ll wake up and do it all again. How does that sound?’
I smiled at him.
‘It sounds like you just started a religion. I’m in…’
The dog woke up from his dream-filled sleep just a few miles before we reached Corley Services on a trip back from Essex to visit my dad again.
It had been a pleasant trip and I’d done some more clearance of the old house and had a car full of bags of..
‘What’s that stuff in the back of the car then? There’s a lot of it and it smells….. dry.’
I smiled, smells and food were the main drivers in his life, apart from when he’d sit in the garden and obsessively watch the ponies next door for hours on end. He still hasn’t told me why.
‘It’s books, hundreds of them, I’m going to give them to a charity shop.’
His nose wrinkled in question.
‘It’s a shop that sells mostly second hand things that people donate and they use the money for good causes.’
One ear flopped back down again as he pondered this point.
‘And you’ve finished with these books?’
‘Yes I’ve read them all, some a few times and I don’t want to throw them away, I’d like somebody else to read them.’
He was silent for a while, his huge amber eyes gazing up at me me from his little bed on the seat next to me.
‘Do you think that you could teach me to read?’
I looked carefully at him, both ears were up and he looked serious.
‘ I don’t know, maybe. Trouble is that you can’t turn a page or power up a Kindle, so it won’t help a lot. Why do you want to do that?’
‘Well. First of all, I’d like to be able to look at the signs on the road and read the speed of the car, because I’m not sure that you can actually read those things yourself.’
I smiled, he had me there. ‘And what else?’
‘What else? Everything else. I listen to you talking on your conference calls and when we go out and I can hear the hesitation and the lies in some of those voices and I just KNOW that they haven’t understood anything. And I want to understand. I want to know the truth about things. It’s not that I don’t believe you, but……’
His nose wrinkled in the expression that I’ve come to call ‘Cartoon Dog’, a multitude of complex emotions passed across his face and I waited for him to finish.
‘But… I just want to be able to make my own mind up about things and I’m surprised at how many humans can’t or don’t. It’s scary for me because they could decide that dogs are bad just because somebody said so.’
He had a point, people were becoming easily swayed by emotional arguments that bore no logic or relationship to the real world at all.
‘I still don’t think that I can teach you to read what you want to. How about if I read to you occasionally and we can have a think about what it is that we’ve read and heard?’
Both ears were now fully up and he regarded me carefully.
‘Promise? Can we start with the little book that you take into the garden sometimes?’
‘The Hagakure? Yes I don’t see why not, it’s a sort of philosophy and instruction manual all in one. It’s probably a good place to start.’
The amber eyes glowed for a second
‘Will it help me sort those ponies out?’
And with that, he curled up and went back to sleep.
And I murmured some remembered words from the book to him while he dozed
‘The extent of one’s courage or cowardice cannot be measured in ordinary times. All is revealed when something happens.’
I was sitting in the garden, chilling out and quietly sipping a beer while listening to some gentle Motorhead tracks when the dog lifted his head from where he’d been sunbathing and looked intently at me. I turned the music down a bit as he ambled over next to me.
After a suitable pause for him to yawn and stretch, he finally got round to the point.
‘You know, I was quite surprised by you yesterday.’
‘Why? What did I do? Cook your steak exactly the way you like it? Keep the walking pace steady? Fill your water bowl as if I were a head waiter in a top restaurant?’
He made a dismissive motion with a paw and made a little jump to get in the chair next to me.
‘No, none of that, although the steak was pretty good I suppose. No it was the protesters, I was quite impressed that you seem to have got over your recent bout of Tourette’s and that you managed to speak to them without swearing.’
He grinned at me to show that he might be joking and continued on.
‘To tell the truth, you were very polite, you asked them a couple of questions that seemed to confuse them and you wished them luck. I thought that you didn’t have any time for those ‘Black Lives Matter’ people. Actually, I seem to remember you calling them a number of names, many of them quite profane and some that may even be illegal in some places.’
I took a couple of sips of beer while I considered my answer. I was impressed at his hearing to be honest, I’d left him on the other side of the square with a friend while I wandered over to have a chat.
‘Well, the thing is that they were quite nice really, they seem to think that they’re helping somebody or other and it’s quite a brave thing for only two people to try to do in a small town. They weren’t getting in the way and they were polite.’
He wrinkled his face in the expression that I’ve started to call ‘Cartoon Dog’, he’s got quite expressive over the past few months and it’s nice to watch the emotions dance over what was once a very closed little face.
‘I sense a ‘but’ here….’
‘But…. they’re misguided and are treating a massively complicated issue as if it’s a one sided thing that says all black people are victims, all white people apart from themselves and their allies are evil racists and that a movement with Marxist aims and shadowy backers will somehow make everything right.’
He laid his head on his paws and waited for me to continue.
‘And so, I went over to talk to them. They’d made some little placards and one of them had a list of names that presumably were victims of some injustice or other including Mark Duggan. Twice. I asked why he was on there twice with different spellings and the answer was that they had written all the names themselves. So.. a mistake. I didn’t bother asking if they knew anymore about him than his name. He had been a murder suspect himself before he was shot by the cops.’
The dog wrinkled his nose in query.
‘It was a strange story, but although I’m not always a fan of the police, I think that it was done in good faith. I also never saw anybody riot or burn down parts of their own town when the cops shot Harry Stanley for having a table leg in a carrier bag.’
He wrinkled his nose again.
‘Don’t worry about that today, the point is that bad things happen to all sorts of people. Situations get out of control and people make mistakes. But to try to make out that that the police are institutionally racist is just stupid…’
I paused for more beer while he looked at me through drowsy eyes.
‘So I asked them if they’d be putting Kriss Donald or Ross Parker on their list. They confessed that they’d never heard of them and I suspect that they’d had to google all of the names that were actually there – or take them from a list published by BLM. I asked them to google the names when they had 5 minutes and then wished them luck with their protest.’
The dog was almost asleep in the sun at this point, his paws beginning to twitch.
‘Why did you do that?’
‘Because they’re still brave for doing a small protest in a town that mostly ignored them. Because abuse won’t help and maybe they’ll be curious enough to look for some more sources than whatever they’re reading now. Because…..’
I trailed off. He was fully asleep now and chasing squirrels in his sleep. I moved quietly to the kitchen in search of more beers.
I had just finished a conference call when the dog did his little trick of putting his nose under my hand and guiding it to the top of his head so that I could stroke him. He looked at me with his enormous eyes and asked a question.
‘What’s Moral Authority then?’
I was surprised at the question, it wasn’t like his normal ‘where’s dinner’ ? Why won’t you play catch with me right NOW?’ sort of thing and it was a moment or two before I realised that I’d used the phrase earlier in the week.
‘It’s a good question but it’s a bit hard to answer. Let me think for a second so that you can see what I mean by it.’
He stared at me intently, waiting for the answer to what was obviously a burning question for him.
‘Right…. you know when you have one of your very infrequent little accidents because I’m too dead to the world to hear you in the middle of the night?’
He raised a paw in assent and I continued.
‘Did you ever notice that I don’t get angry and that I just clean it up and give you a little pat to reassure you?’
He lifted the paw again and looked at me even more intently.
‘Well, I’ve had my fair share of accidents myself, including accidents in broad daylight that aren’t drink related and some even worse and more public ones when I’ve been slightly drunk.’
He cocked his head and looked at me as if to show that he understood, then asked the question anyway.
‘When you say accidents, you mean poo and vomit?’
‘Yes. Afraid so. I’ve had some embarrassing moments, but then most of us have. So that’s why I don’t get upset. It’s not your fault and I can’t blame you for an upset tummy or catching a bug…. although, you do bring some of it on yourself with that fucking lamb-bone that you keep burying and digging up.’
He grinned at me and I continued.
‘So. In this case, Moral Authority means that I don’t feel that I have a case to be upset with you for things that I’ve done. And I’ve done some bad things. I once pissed on the driver door handles of over a dozen police cars in a police car park after I’d got drunk at a wedding reception in a police station bar.’
He was now sitting and looking intently at me.
‘And now I think about it, I’ve got more of those types of incidents in my past than I really care to mention right now. I’m not ashamed of any of them but I’m not overly proud either. And some of them were very funny at the time.’
‘But the trouble is that some people want to tell us all how to live our lives and they’re very happy to tell US what to do and why we should do it. Whether it’s obeying increasingly arbitrary Lockdown rules or why WE should slavishly follow a set of laws that others seem to be exempt from.’
I paused as I was trying to keep the tone of my voice calm, he’s prone to taking me too literally sometimes and I don’t want to stress him if I can’t help it.
‘Anyway. This week has been very strange. The government has seen fit to publish new rules on the lockdown that make even less sense than before and thousands of people across the country have started marching and rioting because somebody died over 3000 miles away. To add insult to injury, politicians, the police and other useful idiots have supported this and have been taking the knee in support. ‘
His ears pricked up and pointed forward.
‘They did WHAT? Why did they do that? Has the country been conquered?’
‘Sadly, no. The Leader of the Opposition, who has kept silent about antisemitism in his own party for years despite having a Jewish wife posted a picture of himself doing it. Loads of others have and they’ve effectively lost the right to lead us. The government has either got a very cunning plan or they’ve fucked this up as statues are being torn down, TV shows are being deleted from memory like some Stalinist purge and they’ve let that ridiculous dwarf Khan board Churchill’s statue up in case some mental defectives try to tear it down.’
He sighed and laid his head on his paws.
‘So, this Moral Authority thing?’
‘I decided a few weeks ago that I would take whatever risks that I wanted to in order to have some form of real life again. This has just pushed it further and accelerated it. These people have lost the authority to govern. The law applies or it doesn’t.’
‘It doesn’t make a lot of difference to us living here or the quiet lifestyle that we have, but it just means that we’ll see who we want to. Go out. Have friends round, have fun.’
He raised an ear.
‘We can always call it a protest. DOGLIVESMATTER Motherfuckers’
I nodded and dialled into my next conference call.
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.
It wasn’t anything major that started it all off. Not nuclear testing, or global warming, or volcanic activity or even the pollution from the Gulf War. No, it was something really quite minor and everyday. So, things happened slowly and that’s where I’ll start.
Ever since I was a boy, I’ve been fascinated with Science Fiction. Films, books, comics, cartoons, anything. I especially loved stories about nature gone mad, films like Tarantula or Them. Books like The Rats, Night Of The Crabs, Mantis! , Spiders, the list seems endless.
I’m sure you’ve got the idea by now, ordinary, if disgusting creatures mutated by chemical or nuclear accidents, grown to huge size and developing a craving for human flesh.
If only things were as simple as that, we might have a chance.
When I’ve finished this, I’ll seal it in a plastic container and seal that in concrete inscribed with today’s date and my name. Maybe, one day, in the distant future, it might be read.
The house is as safe as I can make it, but I don’t think that it will stay that way for long, even steel can only take so much punishment and lead can only screen a finite amount of radiation. The walls are not so thick that I can’t hear them baying and snarling outside, those that are left alive. One of them ripped the TV camera from the wall yesterday, so I can’t even see what they’re up to anymore. Perhaps that is a blessing.
I bought the house from the family of a survivalist. He had built the house complete with a bunker that had been designed to withstand a nuclear attack, well, theoretically anyway. The end of the cold war left him in a state of deep depression and he eventually blew his brains out with an uzi. When I moved in, I found that his bunker was well below specification, it was swarming with ants. I put down masses of poison and, when the room was insect-free, I had it sprayed, floor to ceiling with a quick setting plastic compound.
Even at that time, I didn’t fully understand what was happening, I’m not sure that anybody did. Apart from Solcom, who were so busy trying to cover their tracks that they lost sight of the real problem. It was probably too late anyway, the process had started.
If you were here, now, with me, as I look around my refuge/prison, what would you see?
Probably nothing special.
That’s where you would be wrong, as everybody was wrong. We were so busy looking at chemical spillages and nuclear radiation, that we missed the obvious until it was much, much, much too late. Solcom had their suspicions for almost a year before they went to the government. A whole year. It makes me feel sick to think of all that wasted time, all the lives that were wasted, one by one, until it became an epidemic.
The first proven victim was attacked in Devon on a bright summer’s day. Her name was Edith Watson and she was thirty seven years old and married with two children. She was walking down the local High Street with a carrier bag full of shopping. According to witnesses, she suddenly dropped her shopping and started to flail at the air around her. Then the sky above her head darkened and a loud humming noise could be heard from almost a quarter of a mile away. Within seconds, it was as if she grew a second, lumpy and heaving skin. She let out one piercing scream, but that was almost instantly muffled and she fell to the ground. People ran towards her to help, but were beaten back almost immediately.
All anybody could do, was to watch her die.
Why she was picked out as a target, is still unclear. What is clear, is that a swarm of bees, a whole hive, over thirty thousand of them, attacked her at once. She was dead within minutes as the combined toxin raced through her system. The attack in itself, although horrible, was not unusual; many cases of the kind had been reported over the years, mostly in South America. No, what set this attack apart, was the fact that the bees on the top layers stung the bees underneath them, and the attack didn’t stop until every single bee was dead. I have a photograph somewhere, of this poor woman, buried under a mound of dead bees, unrecognisable as a human being.
There were another eleven attacks of this kind over the next few months. People attacked and killed by bees, wasps and even locusts. On one occasion, a baby was stripped to the bone by ants, while his parents dozed at a picnic. On all these occasions, the insects turned on each other after the initial killing. People in high places started to ask questions. Only Solcom knew the answer and they weren’t telling.
Did you know that some people can pick up radio signals through their fillings or through metal plates in their head? There have been recorded cases of some of these people going berserk and embarking on a killing spree that usually ends with their own suicide.
Something in their minds just fuse and they are as good as dead from that point on.
Did you know that in the early 1990s, a “yuppie cancer” was diagnosed? It was caused by the microwaves emitted and received by mobile phones and developed on the side of the head, by the ears.
Did you know that the radar on AWACS planes is so powerful, that if you stood in front of it while it was operational, that it would literally cook you?
Have you ever heard of Sick Building Syndrome? There are various theories about the cause of this problem, ranging from ley lines to a lack of plant life in and around the building. The Chinese employ a Feng Shui man to tell them the correct spot to build. On or near a “Dragon” is considered bad “Joss”,( luck ) and such sites are avoided. Whatever the reasoning behind it, the problem is real and such buildings tend to have a lower productivity output and a dramatically worse sickness record than that of a “healthy” building.
In 1993, Solcom developed the Nanowave, it was based on the microwave but occupied a millionth of the space and time of its predecessor. It was also capable of carrying two hundred and fifty times more information. This amounted to a revolution in telecommunications, video phones were now a reality rather than an expensive, unreliable luxury. Portable videophones became the norm as people drifted away from the old style of communicating. Solcom became powerful beyond measure, eclipsing the Japanese giants and totally eliminating B.T and Mercury as competitors. Nanowave relays were set up in every country in the world, with huge gigawatt transmitters erected in Antarctica and the North Pole.
In 1995, Dr Ernst Lubin, the inventor of the Nanowave went mad. He started to see imaginary insects everywhere. He was committed to a mental home for three months and was pronounced to be cured after much pressure was applied to the trustees of the home by Solcom. It was considered bad P.R to have an employee locked up. Two weeks after his release, he wandered into a McDonalds with an assault rifle and killed twenty three people before turning the gun on himself.
Shortly after, a game warden in the Kokuri National Park in Kenya started to observe strange behaviour amongst the animals. This was typified by an attack by lions on a herd of impala.
It started as a normal hunt, the lionesses split into a loose formation and started their initial run to break up the herd. The herd didn’t move. All four of the lionesses scored a kill, easily bringing down an impala. Then it started to go wrong. Instead of running away, the impala charged the predators en masse. The big cats didn’t stand a chance, and the video footage of the charge makes for disturbing viewing. The lionesses were each gored dozens of times by the slim horns of their prey and were ripped apart by the savagery of the thrusts. Within minutes, there was just a huge expanse of red dirt and torn off limbs scattered about. Then the real carnage started. The impala, seemingly driven mad by their frenzied attack, turned on each other. Again the video footage is horrendous, the overall impression is of dust and blood and the death screams of tortured animals. Not one impala survived.
In London, on September 15th 1995, four tourists and one policeman were literally shredded by pigeons in Trafalgar Square. The pigeons then battled in mid-air until not one survived. Eyewitnesses speak of a rain of blood coating every square inch and of Admiral Nelson turning a bright glistening red.
Between October 1995 and April 1996, every single member of the Nanowave team died violently. Some started fights in bars, some committed suicide in a variety of gruesome ways. One team member while on the twenty fifth floor of a building in Los Angeles, turned to his companion and said; “There’s that bastard Robinson down there, I’m going to get him.”
He then leapt out of the window, shouting abuse all the way down.
On April 20th 1996, Solcom finally turned to the governments of the world and asked for help. Many governments, including our own, had already started their own investigations and that is where I first became aware of the magnitude of the problem.
I had been seconded to the American government team, to help them to make sense of the St Patrick’s Day Massacre on March 17th.
On that day, a peaceful parade in the middle of New York, erupted into the worst riot that the world had ever seen. It had started when one of the marchers, seeing somebody in the crowd wearing an orange hat, leapt at the unfortunate hat-wearer and smashed his skull with his baton.
This seemed to be the signal that the crowd had been waiting for, friend flew against friend, brother against brother father against son.
The whole parade ground to a halt as thousands of people grappled against each other makeshift clubs and jagged bottles flying. When the police tried to step in, they were swamped and their weapons ripped from their hands.
Gunshots started to echo.
The mayor of New York attacked the Commissioner of Police with the jagged end of a champagne bottle, ripping his throat out on live television across America. The riot spread and spread, the whole crowd started fighting and the police had to fall back to wait for a lull.
It didn’t come.
People killed and killed and killed, until they were in turn, killed themselves. The phrase “rivers of blood” could have been coined for this one day alone. The streets were awash with bright, arterial blood, up to the depth of the combatant’s ankles. Some people who may have survived their wounds, drowned in blood.
And still it didn’t stop.
Eventually, the Army were called in and had no choice but to open up on the crowd with automatic weapons. At first they rebelled against the very thought of killing their fellow Americans and tried to help the survivors. That idea changed when they too, were attacked by the crowd, and, in one unforgettable moment, a young trooper had his throat bitten out by an eight year old girl.
Of a crowd of more than 50,000 people, only two hundred and forty seven people survived.
Bulldozers had to be used to clear the streets of bodies.
Nobody, including myself, had any idea what could have triggered normal people to act like bloodthirsty savages. Have you ever seen a Zombie film? That’s what those people looked like, only they didn’t shuffle and were as quick as vipers. We were getting nowhere with the investigation, and post-mortem after post-mortem showed no tangible results.
Then Solcom came forward and everything changed.
At first, their story was too much to take in, it didn’t make any sense. Then, all of a sudden, it did.
That’s when I bought this house. I stocked it with thousands of books, tons of food and thousands of gallons of water.
Preparing for a siege.
You see, Solcom had found, very early on, that the Nanowave was a mutagen.
It altered, very subtly and over the course of time, the chemistry of the brain.
Let me give you an example.
You’re walking along the road, it’s dark and you can hear footsteps behind you. You hear something that sounds like the snick of a flick-knife. At this point, your body is flooded with adrenalin and the fight or flight response is initiated. The blood in your body drains from your skin and is transferred to the major organs, the heart, the brain etc. Depending on your personal makeup, you will now turn to face the challenge or you will run away. The most common response is to run.
However, the Nanowaves alter the receptors in the brain that govern this response and the only option that your brain will allow is to fight. Studies have shown that many psychopaths have a slightly altered chemistry and that their only response to a threat is a sudden, devastating attack. The problem however, doesn’t end there, once the adrenalin levels are sufficient to start an attack, the part of the brain that governs reason is disabled.
Once the various governments involved found the cause of the problem, they found that they had another.
Everybody was dependent on the Nanowave.
The transmitters couldn’t be switched off or destroyed.
Instead, experiments were tried to change the frequency that the waves used, and more traffic was routed through satellites.
To no avail.
If anything, things became worse.
On August 1st 1996, two hundred and eleven people in a Hackney housing estate were killed by an attack of millions of cockroaches.
On August 13th 1996, four thousand people in New Orleans were killed by rats.
There were countless examples of people being attacked by the family dog or cat. Those people that managed to fight off the attacks, went on to kill family and friends before dying themselves.
On November 21st 1996, a garrison of British Army troops stationed in Crosmaglen were sniped at on a housing estate. They replied with mortars, machine guns and grenades. The dead were uncountable, mainly because it was hard to find all the pieces.
The list was endless.
On December 5th 1996, all nuclear bases around the world were shut down; even the Chinese had to accept that it was too dangerous to leave a single one manned. All nuclear submarines were recalled and disabled. All strategic bombers were stood down indefinitely.
The world, theoretically, was a safer place.
On January 17th 1997, I quietly resigned my job and retired to my house.
Things seemed to get worse from there.
Every day, there seemed to be new atrocities. Nature going berserk, people going berserk. Parliament stopped meeting on April 11th 1997, after a thankfully empty, House of Commons debate erupted into sickening violence. There were one hundred and eleven dead.
All decisions are made from an underground bunker. I’ve seen it, it’s not as secure as mine.
The streets now are full of bloodthirsty, empty-eyed mobs, using anything as a weapon. I saw one of them clutching a dismembered arm, using it as a club.
I have enough food and water to last me for years, my bunker is virtually impregnable, even the air is recycled rather than filtered in. I don’t think that anybody or anything can get in.
What worries me, what terrifies me, is that someday soon, I’ll want to get out.
It’s Easter Monday as I write this and the UK is still under lockdown, it’s day…
I’m not sure what day of lockdown it is, because I’m not counting.
My guess for the relaxation of restrictions is around the first week of May. I won’t be sorry if it’s earlier of course, but I won’t overly panic if it’s longer.
I miss friends and family, but that’s why we have phones, and Skype and WebEx and Zoom and all the other near-magical tools that can make us feel like we’re in the same room.
Let’s face it, if you’re in the UK, don’t have the virus but do have food and drink, you’re winning right now. Don’t believe me, go to Malaysia where it’s full military lockdown with drones overhead or India, where basic sanitation is still beyond the reach of millions.
Still, it’s tough for many people who haven’t had the dubious benefit of being in a hotel for months at a time where the only people that you’re likely to speak to are waiters or where calls home have to be tightly scheduled.
I had a look on the iTunes Store today for apps that might help with that mystic thing called ‘Mindfulness’ – there’s a lot of them out there and they all seem to want you to spend upwards of $100 a year to look at some pretty pictures, listen to some vague noises and bore yourself into a stupor. I think that they’re probably making a fortune from those poor souls who need a mental boost.
My only plan for getting through this is as follows, you can follow it or do whatever you want:
1. Take every two days as it’s own thing. There is only today and tomorrow (tomorrow is a work day but otherwise won’t be much different)
2. Avoid TV, Radio and printed ‘news’ – unfollow and actively block people like Piers Morgan , Robert Peston and anybody that you see on social media spreading horror stories and conspiracy theories.
3. Look for the positives in life. Your friends especially will always be there if you need a bit of support on a given day. Spring is here and the world outside is beautiful. Get out early or late if you can and enjoy the sunrise or sunset without so many people around.
4. Revisit the songs, books and films that made you happy when you were younger. Take delight in finding new meanings in each one now that you’re both older and wiser.
5. Seek the things that made you laugh, they probably still do. I’ve been rewatching ‘Bottom’ and it still makes me laugh out loud as the first time I saw it.
6. Drink or don’t. Exercise or don’t. It’s only two days. You can do what you like in the next two days.
7. That’s it.
Today I’ve followed my own rules, I rang my Dad, walked Milo along some beautiful countryside, read a portion of one of my favourite books and I’m sat in the garden writing this with the Lexicon of Love by ABC playing in the background. I’m as content as I can be for now. Later I’ll have a gin and change the music to something more suitable, maybe AC-DC or Manson or Wagner, who knows?
Maybe I’ll update this in the distant future. But that’s after tomorrow, so I won’t stress it.