We’re not done.

…………………b..t……can’t………………………..pro..is..e………………….to……………………………..tell………………..literally……..all..we..have…………………………………………………suspect..thrill…is…………….wh..t………to……..raging…round………….in..what..we..see…….drive..down..to……inghim..shi.the..weekend..once..you’re……………and..about..desire..next..year…..mouth……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..Hel..o? He….o? ……lo?

I thought I saw you move for a moment there. Like your cheek twitched or something. Maybe. The doctor’s said not to rule it out. Well, one of them did, the nice one I told you about, the young lady doctor. That other one you had, the older gent, he said- well, he didn’t mind pissing on our parade let’s say.

Are you in there John? Did you twitch or not? Can you feel my hand on yours now? I so want you to. I so want you to feel it. I bet if you can hear me then you can feel my hand as well. I choose to believe that you can. But if you can feel my hand then you can feel the restraints too and I need to apologise for that; I wish they weren’t necessary John, but there might be some involuntary movement. It can be dangerous, according to my research. There are all kinds of online forums for coma carers, people looking after catatonics or persistent vegetative states. I’m learning all the lingo. It helps.  You’re not done John. We’re not done.

Who knows what you’ll think when you open your eyes one day, try to sit, and find yourself tied to a hospital bed in your own basement. Sorry about that too, but this is the only place I could fit your equipment. You’ve got all kinds of machines keeping you going John, pumping stuff in, pumping stuff out. Wouldn’t want to get those two the wrong way round. If you can hear my voice then you can hear the little whirrings and beeps they make. Delicate things they are, but bulky. I have your room now. I must say, from the way you spoke about the house I imagined it bigger than this. I hardly had space for all my things when your stuff was still here.

Let’s not sugarcoat the situation John; I’m having to do everything for you, stuff a person’s own mother would shrink from doing. I don’t mind it though John, I don’t mind it at all. I’ve learnt all about the machines and how to maintain them, how to repair them if I need to. What would help you, what would hurt. When I checked you out from the hospital I told them we were going private from now on- my little white lie. I just didn’t want them intruding John, didn’t want doctor’s crawling all about the place, telling me how to care for you, telling me what’s in your best interests. They weren’t sorry to see the back of you John; caring for someone in your situation isn’t glamorous work, but when they didn’t find any living relatives, I think they assumed you’d be there forever. When I went in to, to ‘claim’ you as it were, they were overjoyed. They asked how we were related of course. I decided to say cousins in the end, which made the documents less trouble to produce. Another little white lie John, but I couldn’t leave you languishing there could I? Because we’re not done, are we John? No. Not for you to see out your days in a hospital bed when we could just as easily be here together.

And after all you’ve been through, well. Left for dead, but here you are. I had to come and find you after that. They talked me through your injuries John, as kindly as they could. That ugly word, torture. They had their own guesses as to what was used on you John, soldering irons, needles, hammers, knotted rope. Knotted rope? They didn’t need to tell me of course, I don’t think they even wanted to. It just spilled out of them, excrementally. I think it was a bit overwhelming for them, poor sensitive little dears. They even told the interns that you’d been in a car accident, to spare them. Can you imagine it?

Knotted rope though, now, I can’t imagine where they got that idea. I suppose the bull whip leaves a similar mark, but the lines aren’t as clear with rope. Are you in there John? Can you feel my hand on yours? I so want you to. I so want you to feel it.

(I would love comments on whether this piece works as a short horror story, if you think it is original, or any thoughts you have on the form- J Patrick Barton)

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Java Island: a True Story of (idiot) Tourists

If this was an exodus, then Tim Hayden was our Moses. In the manner of exodus the journey was turning out longer than expected, but although the promised land was not yet in sight, we held the faith and put our collars up against the wind.

‘Are we close?’

Tim didn’t look at the map but angled his face towards the sky, as if he might be checking our location against the position of the sun in a display of rugged outdoorsmanship, or receiving data from satellite navigation or possibly awaiting a message from god.

Tim’s a well-built guy, with the kind of thoughtful air and level tone that inspires confidence; it had been pure chance that the woman behind the counter of the hostel had passed the map to him rather than to me or Sam but, of the three of us, he was probably the one most likely to fall into the leadership role.

‘We’re getting closer,’ he said.

We stopped to roll cigarettes and stood together on a bridge, Sam and I looking down into the sluggish water below, Tim glancing around like someone sizing up the place’s potential for encampment. This far from the centre, Amsterdam had lost much of its charm, modern utilitarian suburbs replacing the ancient town houses that lean friendly towards the street, average, workaday Dutch citizens replacing the freaks and thieves and hookers.

We had been walking for about an hour since leaving our hostel that morning and hadn’t yet got anywhere worth being, but Tim’s confidence seemed firm and, in the absence of any better suggestions, Sam and I were resigned to follow him away from familiar ground and into uncharted territory.

It had occurred to us the night before, as we shared two microwave meals between the three of us, that we had not budgeted well for the trip. I was largely to blame for this, having assured the others, on the basis of my one previous trip to Amsterdam, that I would be able to track down a cheap place to stay by booking last-minute. I had once been able to upgrade to the first class compartment of a TGV Europe train by booking on the day, and it had become my habit of thought, against all subsequent evidence, to assume that anything booked last-minute would end up cheaper. On this basis I waited until the three of us were already in Amsterdam to find a hostel, my friends too much taken in by my brazen assurance to challenge the idea. But now that the ‘Flying Pig Uptown’ had most of our money we were having to adapt to a fiscal limitation, discreetly refilling our glasses from shop-bought beer cans and hopping on the back of moving trams to avoid the fare. Our biggest concern was recreation; we might be able to do the week on minimal food, and survive the odd miscalculated lunge towards the number 26 to Schipstikplatz, but if we weren’t going to have any fun, then we might as well have stayed in England.

Tim pinched his cigarette between thumb and middle finger and flicked, sending the butt spiralling over our heads and into the water below. Turning his back on us he unfolded the map, tapping it and nodding. Sam and I looked at each other and, dropping our cigarettes over the wall, joined him.

‘We’re about here,’ he said, indicating roughly three square miles of terrain, ‘so we need to head north-east for maybe another half hour, an hour at most. Definitely no more than an hour and a half.’ He pushed his fringe out of his eyes. ‘It’s going to be great.’

He set off and we followed after, both wondering if it was time for us to take a closer look at the map. Even the Israelites had their occasional doubts.

Our destination, far out from the usual tourist hotspots and enigmatically labelled ‘Java Island’ did not feature prominently on the map, edging off into the far right corner, half the island hanging off like depictions of America in medieval maps of the world. Unlike the cramped city centre, which was adorned with symbols representing restaurants, nightclubs and museums, the visible section of Java island had only one icon, a red trident over a green circle, repeated on every street.

The day remained cool, the broad Dutch sky scowling grey, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm so much as it increased our investment in the absurd promise that Java Island held. Over the previous few days we had entered several famous “coffee shops” and brought ourselves to various degrees of stupefaction with the controversial product they sold there. It was these exotic locations that had brought us to Amsterdam rather than any of the other famous European cities we might have visited. Like many twenty year old boys we were fans of cannabis and semi-regular users back in the UK, so the novelty of being able to smoke it openly was not lost on us, and we had a great many conversations, or possibly the same conversation a great many times, about the taboo that existed in our own country. It didn’t occur to us immediately that after the novelty wore off, smoking dope in The Netherlands would not differ widely from smoking it in our parent’s garages, so getting high was destined to be the touchstone for the trip, not just a single aspect of the time spent there but the logical accompaniment to every other activity. We got high to go to museums, to visit places of historical interest, to walk around the canals; naturally enough, when our financial situation became apparent to us, our chief concern was the continued consumption of world standard dope in comfortable, interesting surroundings, and our prerogative, expounded in the time-honoured vocabulary of the tourist  was to visit only the most ‘genuine’ and ‘traditional’ locations, experiencing the ‘real Amsterdam coffee shops’. There is a kind of tourist who identifies themself as a ‘traveller’, and who is forever engaged in a sort of existential quest for realness in the places they visit, anticipating a location which, though necesarily predicated on perfect continuity is nonetheless welcoming to the tourist, but crucially, not to tourism in general. It’s a big ask, and the search has driven more than a few backpackers to cynicism. Worse is the dilemma of those who do find what they are looking for, because it is too often torn away from them by some unforseen factor, an incongruous Irish Pub, a keen expatriate community, or heaven forbid, a McDonald’s.

Ours was not so lofty an ambition, but as we walked a grand theory of Java Island was being formed.

‘If there’s a coffee shop on every street,’ Sam asked, ‘how do they do enough business to stay open?’

Tim frowned. ‘They must be small,’ he said, ‘so their costs will be low. The rent will be next to nothing this far out. And maybe the other half of the island- the half that’s not on the map- is full of people, so there’s lots of business nearby.’

We all agreed with this obvious wisdom.

After another half hour of walking I had a sudden inspiration. ‘Doesn’t the word “Java”,’ I asked, ‘have something to do with coffee?’

‘I think so,’ said Sam. ‘What’s your point?’

‘Well, Java Island, has lots of coffee shops. Could this be where that name came from?’

We arrived at the bank of the river Amstel and began to cross the bridge, walking in profile along a narrow pedestrian footpath.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Sam eventually, raising his voice over the traffic noise, ‘I’m pretty sure the Java Island you’re thinking of is in Indonesia or someplace.’

‘Then perhaps it’s the other way around,’ I said looking back over my shoulder. ‘Perhaps they named this island that because of the number of coffee shops they have.’

We thought this was almost certainly the case and exited the bridge footpath, Tim spreading the map over a bin.

‘I thought,’ he began ponderously, ‘that we were crossing Dijkbracht.’ He pointed it out. ‘But the bridge we crossed was too long for that.’

‘So where are we?’ I asked.

He peered at he map, glancing occasionally at the small area of apartment buildings into which we had emerged.

‘Well, I guess that must have been… Jan Schaeferburg then.’ He stood and folded the map away, looking this way and that.

‘So, what does it mean?’ I asked, ‘Are we close?’

He raised a speculative eyebrow. ‘We’re here’

The three of us looked around. If this was a hub of urban cannabis culture it was hiding it remarkably well. At first glance the various apartment buildings that seemed to constitute the majority of the island were individual and quirky, but, looking further down the length of the island it became obvious that there was a repeated pattern of the same five or six designs.

‘Well,’ ventured Sam, ‘if this is the place let’s have a look around. Maybe there’s something further in.’

Walking a few paces it became clear that there was nothing further in the direction we were headed; the island, it transpired, was only about 100 feet across, apartment buildings shore to shore.

‘The map said there was a coffee shop on every street,’ said Tim. ‘You both saw it.’

We stood for a moment, each of us silently reaching for our tobacco pouches. The journey had at this point taken somewhere around three hours and it was dawning on me what it might mean to have to turn back now, without having achieved anything, and walk back another three hours.

‘Well maybe we need to head that way.’ I pointed down the length of the island. ‘It’s not deep but it’s quite long. Could be that what we’re looking for is that way.’

They turned and followed my finger. The same five or six apartment buildings repeated as far as we could see, without a single person in sight. They frowned over their cigarettes. Sam looked out towards the river, while Tim crumpled the map unconsciouly in his spare hand.

I binned my cigarette and left them both where they were standing. The skinny island was crossed by regular canals with apartment buildings on either side and I walked until I got to the middle, where there was a grassy area with some neat benches and a single lonely swing. I turned back and met the others walking my way.

‘No use,’ I said, ‘It’s the same that side as well.’

Tim hissed though his teeth.

‘I don’t get it,’ he muttered, brandishing the map. ‘There should be a coffee shop right there, right bloody there.’

Sam and I looked at the forlorn little bridge he was pointing towards.

Sam looked at us. ‘You don’t suppose that maybe there is one there? That it’s in one of the apartment buildings or something?’

‘I don’t see anything,’ I said, craning my neck. ‘Do you want to go and knock?’

He looked away.

I asked Tim if I could see the map. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously but held it out to me, standing away as I unfolded it.

I followed our path from the south, our hostel on Vondelpark, and along the circuitous route we had wound through the city. I only had a hazy idea of where we had been for most of the afternoon but I could track our recent progress from a nearby museum shaped like an old wooden ship and the very long bridge that had finally brought us here. There was no question that we were on Java Island; it was the end of the line and there was nowhere after here. I tried to pinpoint exactly where we were standing, just this side of the grassy area, the last possible place on the map, the very uppermost right-hand corner. I looked in the key for the symbol we had been following around the city for the entire trip, the little trident on the little circle. Only…

‘Tim?’ I tried to keep my voice as conciliatory as possible as I held the map out for him to see.

‘This symbol here, the green trident on the red circle? That means a coffee shop.’

He nodded vigorously.

‘And this other symbol, the one where we are now: the red  trident on the green circle? That means “interesting bridge”.’

This is a fictionalised version of a real event. Most of it is true, the largest change being that it was at least as much the authors fault as it was Tim’s. 

Remember kids: doing drugs doesn’t make you cool. It just makes people think you’re cool. Which is actually pretty cool. 

Cranking it out

Have I got the stuff? Have I got the stuff? Sugar, do you really want to be that way? Sugar, do you really want this to be a strictly business, no frills, no names, no smalltalk tradeoff? Sugar, do you want to know what I had to go through to get this for you? To bring this all the way uptown (me without an automobile by the way) and keep it warm on this nasty winter’s day (about body temperature or 37°c, don’t ask) and put together the whole shebang from production to delivery in less than an hour? All that and you can’t even say hi to a fella? Jesus.

No, don’t humour me. We’ve missed the oppurtunity to make this a civilised exchange. If you want all business, I can do all business. But Jesus.

Let me talk you through this. The product- it’s right here by the way, no, don’t take take it out the box, the cold will ruin it- the product is top notch, the producer being not only a sound worker but also a close personal friend. I’ve got ten guys, ten vendors, and this guy would be my first pick every time. I don’t offer guarantees as a rule, but I can tell you that his success rate is around 90%, so any failures are likely to be the result of human error. On the part of the customer I mean. So when you go about using it, Read the Frickin Instructions. They’re included with delivery, right there in the box, and you can’t go too far wrong if you just do Exactly what they say. Specifically: You may be tempted to use half of this supply and sell the rest on. You wouldn’t be the first. Do not do this. Aside from the risk of arrest, and the likelihood that what you sell will have deteriorated beyond use (it being an extremely perishable product), the amount you have bought is the amount that you will need. Using less than the full amount purchased will very likely result in failure.

You know, there was a time- not too long ago although I’ll bet you’re too young to remember- there was a time when half the planet was producing it. We were surfing a tidal wave of the stuff, blowing bubbles with it. People were giving it out for free. You could fill a bathtub, if you were so inclined. Nobody thought twice about it. Hell, people were going out of their way to avoid it. Now you’ve got to scour the country to find ten guys still making it. I know that you know this little lady, I want you to understand it. I’m ready to hand this over; it’s three milliliters give or take, and the price is six grand, so take a moment, be sure you want it, and then make the transfer.

You’ve made a smart choice. I know it’s tempting to go legit, pay five times as much at a government outlet. Their propaganda is the stuff of nightmares, I’ve seen it. Limbless babies, disease, miscarriages. Trying to scare custom away from the indepedent contractor. That won’t happen to you. I know this because I depend on referrals and repeat business. So if in the future you find yourself wanting to go again- or for that matter, if you’ve got any lady friends that might want to get fixed up- you give them my number. Like I said, I’ve got ten guys, ten fertile business contacts, producing well, producing more than I can sell even. Cranking it out. I’m open to doing discounts on bulk orders. You have my number.

Anyway. That’s that then. This is yours, be careful with it. Good luck, and remember what I said about reading the instructions. It’s going to be great, best thing you’ll ever do. Money well spent. Try not to think about it as two grand per milliliter. Think of it as two grand per 600 million sperm. See you around.

Stourhead

Stour: Archaic, armed combat; battle

            British Dialect, a time of tumult/confusion

The surface of the lake ripples slightly with the unhurried activities of the ducks, and the reflections of autumnal trees tremble into indistinct shades, golds and reds without form. The grass bends under a breeze that does not quite have the strength to lift the fallen leaves from the lawn, and the treetops barely sway.

It is from the gift-shop side of the Gardens that he emerges, issuing from the dense treeline before crouching, stock still, his eyes wide as he scans the open space before him. Even approaching from the west, from the high ground, he couldn’t get a good view of Stourhead until he was within this perimeter of trees.

He grips the thin parcel tightly in his left hand; the other is flat to the ground, keeping him balanced as he struggles to moderate the volume of his breathing and keep the tension in his legs, ready to run.

Across the lake he can see the ducks meandering over the water. He exhales and stands.

The midday sun casts an inverse spotlight of shadow under his feet and he moves in short, energetic bursts, pausing every few feet to squat and glance around. When a flock of starlings erupts from the trees ahead of him he hits the ground, clutching the parcel to his chest and staring into the woods. He lies like that for a long time, panting and blinking until he is confident that he is alone. 

‘Always wait,’ is what he’s been told, ‘because it’s always too soon to assume you’re safe.’ He marks the advice well, but then, he’s also been told him not to venture out alone, and here he is.

He doesn’t stand upright now, inching across the lawn in a military crouch, always pirouetting to take in his surroundings. He’s exposed, and he knows it should worry him, but he’s too relieved to be out of the forest to think about it rationally.

Near the edge of the lake, passing the mock Temple which he circles twice, checking it’s empty. The lake laps at its own borders, oscillating with a dream of tides, and he scoops bowled handfuls of it to wash the sweat from his neck and to slick back his hair. Somehow he wants to look his best for this.

Most of the flowers in the bed have been fully choked by weeds and others have shrivelled without the ministrations of the staff, but still there are a few late butterflies attending what remains, wings beating the air with foppish persistence. He doesn’t know a thing about gardening save for what he can or can’t eat, but he recognises the plush honeysuckle by its hated smell. She had always wanted them in the house, before, and he had denied her that. He raked up a few rough bundles now, grinning morbidly at the small rusted sign beside them: ‘Do NOT pick the flowers.’

Clutching this gift under one arm, and the package under the other, he begins to move along the shore of the lake. Across the water he can see another of the estate’s anomalous buildings, a grotto set into a natural outcrop of rock. When they had come to this place together she had read the guidebook cover to cover before they even found the path, pointing out every eccentricity. It’s a blur now, the history lesson, a small detail in the memory of the day, the memory of the experience. She had explained the building’s foundation in Greek myth as they held hands, so he recollects exactly the texture of her palm, and the lilt of her voice, and nothing of what was said. Squinting, shielding his eyes from the glare, he can make out a family of squirrels scampering over the surface of the grotto.

He has nearly arrived, and finds himself checking that his laces are firmly tied, that his small backpack is sealed and that there is enough water in it for the return journey. He is taking an unconscious inventory of the contents of his pockets when he scolds himself for delaying; juggling the parcel and flowers, he frees up a hand to run through his hair, and strides towards the place where she is waiting.

The mound of loose earth is not adorned, no headstone or wooden cross. He had rushed the job, racing against the setting sun with a tiny hand-held shovel, smearing mud over his face as he fought with his own streaming eyes. Bringing her here had been a huge exertion, and in the rush he had fallen short of the traditional six feet. He had laid her to rest in this place she loved, just like she said on their one previous visit, before everything, before the world had fallen apart. Now he stands at the foot of her grave, suddenly heedless of his surroundings.

‘Hello Hen. Can you hear me?’ He lays the parcel on the ground, suddenly embarrassed by it.

‘I didn’t have time to say anything when I… when I was last here.’ He gestures towards the lake behind him, the trees on the hill, the gardens.

‘I hope you weren’t joking about being buried here,’ he says, ‘I had a hell of a time bringing you.’ His face flushes. ‘Not that I minded, I… I’d do it again.’

He puts the parcel and the flowers on the ground, and runs a hand through his wiry hair.

‘That was a bloody silly thing to say wasn’t it?’ He chuckles. ‘You wouldn’t have let that one go would you? “I’d do it again.” Jesus.’

He kicks his toe against the grass and stays silent for a while.

‘I brought you flowers. I got them myself- no service stations open.’ He grins. ‘Honeysuckle. I still think they stink. Like locker-rooms, I always used to say, right? They stink of sweaty locker-rooms, but, well, they’re for you, and you don’t mind. I’ll put them here for you.’

He places them on her grave, which looks the better for having them, and lights one of his precious cigarettes.

‘Not many of these left about Hen,’ he says, exhaling. ‘Not nearly enough for a lifetime- it looks like you might finally get your wish. I’ll have to quit if I smoke the last cigarettes in the world.’ He twirls it about his fingertips. ‘Not much of much really. Canned food’s gone so far as we can tell. People I’m with now have a few farmers. They’re teaching us, keeping the knowledge alive. Keeping us alive.’

He hears a thudding behind him and the parcel is in his hands, wrapping torn off faster than thought; the stock sits in his shoulder, a finger on the trigger in a fluid reflex born of long nights, unexpected screams, running; he is looking down the barrel at a deer, a doe, not fifty feet away. The doe watches him watch her and neither moves. In this moment he considers shooting it, weighing up the meal against the attention the sound might attract. No. He didn’t come here to kill anything today, so he slowly eases the hammer down and exhales.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it Hen? I don’t remember seeing deer when we were here. Maybe they’re doing better without people around.’ He doesn’t look around at the grave, but keeps talking aloud to her, to himself, whichever, and he feels as if the two of them are sharing a moment. The doe paws a hoof at the grass but doesn’t leave.

‘I wanted to bring something of yours from the old house,’ he says, ‘but there’s no way into the city now. They’re everywhere. There are more of them than there are of us, millions of them, billions. So maybe it belongs to them now, the world. ‘ The end of his cigarette is still smouldering in the grass next to him and he reaches towards it. The doe shifts it weight between legs but doesn’t bolt, so he drags out the last few puffs before sending the butt arcing into the lake. Still the doe gazes at him.

‘We used to say it was the end of the world, didn’t we Hen, when the trouble first started up? But look around- world seems to be getting on without us.’

The doe turns away in a sudden, wild scattering of hooves, and glides across the wide lawn, disappearing into the cover of hedges. He sighs, and scans the treeline around the lake.

‘Well that was nice while it lasted.’ He frowns at the stillness a minute longer before getting up from the ground and turning towards the grave; the earth there is shifting in molehill sized mounds, the movement creating the illusion of growth as two hands push their way upwards. He doesn’t flinch as the arms, ragged, exposed to the elbow, make clumsy progress into the open air; he’s seen too many of the creatures up close to be genuinely shocked. The smell is a factor though; after three weeks in a shallow grave, she is shedding flesh in broad strips, with the small pressure of roots and stones tearing sections of the ruined face that is beginning to emerge.

He gags a little, feeling impolite, and puts a hand over his mouth, smelling honeysuckle.

‘I’m sorry Hen. I didn’t know. They didn’t get you, so I didn’t…I thought you’d just rest. I didn’t know it could…I didn’t know.’ As he talks he is checking the cartridges, dry, the action on the trigger,oiled. ‘Maybe if I had buried you deeper…’ He backs up a few feet, levelling the shotgun at her face. A robin lands on the lawn just a few feet away, digging for worms.

‘I hope you won’t mind if I don’t bury you a second time,’ he says, ‘but I’m going to have run. More will come.’ Her head is fully out now, unrecognisable against the paragon of youth and beauty he holds in his mind. There are two deep pits in her face, sunken and dry, with thin trails of pus weeping from either side. To her left, the robin is shaking an unearthed worm into its gullet.

He’s waiting for a clear shot, needing the entirety of her head to rise up before he’ll risk a valuable shell. Her emergence is slow, like a birth, and the sun is low over the trees when the shotgun’s first report finally echoes around the grounds, scattering birds in every direction, but the second one has less impact.

The Everyday Trials of the Clairvoyant

Oh Lord, here he is,’ Mrs Benheim was thinking, as I crossed the threshold of her pub. ‘I don’t have any quarrel with his sort, but if he ever brought a boyfriend in here I wouldn’t know where to look.’

I nodded to the uncles playing cribbage at the card table as I strolled up to the bar, and they nodded back, squinting through their spectacles to see if I was one of their more obscure male relatives.

‘Evening Mrs Benheim,’ I said, with a cheeriness I had been practising moments before, outside the pub.

‘Evening Glenn.’ Her smile was fixed and calculating, weighing my appearance now against the teenage version she had last seen five or six years ago.

‘You look, erm, well…’ she hesitated, taking in my neatly trimmed goatee and gelled hair. ‘You look well.’

I ordered a gin and tonic, which seemed to confirm something with her, and we fell into an inane chat that carried across the cosy pub and into the conversation topics of every quietly inebriated local. Sensing the bar patrons hanging on my description of the drive down from London, I mused that being back in the countryside after so long was a bit like being a celebrity.

‘Six hours in the car?’ Mrs Benheim was saying, ‘Poor love, you must be tired.’

I could hear her thinking about her own journey to London a few years previous; her late husband Paul had done the trip in just under four and a half hours. ‘But then, he was a proper man,’ she thought. I fastened my affected grin more firmly. ‘You’ll be meeting your father then?’ she asked.

I consulted my watch in an unnecessary gesture.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘In a little while.’

Stock still, this shrivelled woman briefly searched my eyes.

‘Small wonder you’re in here,’ she was thinking, ‘I imagine you’ll need a few drinks to brace yourself for that meeting.’

I was tempted to ask her if she had done something different with her hair, knowing that it had not changed style in my lifetime.

‘Evening Fred,’ hailed one of the uncles, approaching the bar and shaking my hand.

‘It’s Glenn.’

He stared along his narrow nose at me, under his glasses.

‘I haven’t got a bloody clue,’ he was thinking, ‘Is this one of my Ilsa’s lot?’

‘Ah, Glenn,’ he said, clapping me on the shoulder, ‘Good to see you lad. How’s your mother?’

I blushed and Mrs Benheim’s wart girdled eye gleamed maleficently.

‘Glenn is Tom Watkins boy,’ she announced.

The old uncles eyes glazed over and I could hear him quickly revisiting my family history to try to place me in his past experience. At the cards table the other miscellaneous uncles looked away as this one among them struggled through my entire genealogy, to arrive at the faux pas he was currently making.

‘Ah, I’m sorry lad,’ he said, slapping his forehead. ‘You’ll be here to see your father I suppose?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, repeating the artificial watch check. ‘In a little while.’

We stood through a miasmic silence before he remembered why he was there.

‘Pint of the dark tower please Betty,’ he said, fishing a fiver from his breast pocket. I wondered why I still couldn’t bring myself to call Mrs Benheim “Betty”.

While Mrs Benheim was pouring the dark goop into a pint mug, I listened in to this awkward uncle’s thoughts as he searched for a way to breach the dead air between us. Mental images of the Britain in bloom committee, the prayer group and the summer grain harvest flicked through his mind but he dismissed them. When Amy settled on the forefront of his thoughts I was so intrigued that I accidently turned to listen before he started talking.

‘Ere,’ he said, ‘you knew my Amy didn’t you?’

I feigned a dim recollection as my extremities tingled with charged nostalgia.

‘Amy…’ I murmured, speculatively stroking my goatee. ‘Oh yes, Amy. She moved away, no?’

‘That’s right,’ the uncle said roundly, warming to his topic, ‘her folks took her off Bristol way when she were a teen. You were quite keen on her, the story goes?’

Along the bar I heard Mrs Benheim thinking, ‘Quite a little tomboy that Amy.’ Then, with a glance at me, ‘That was a foreshadowing. I wonder if it was the big city that queered him.’ I ignored her and let my nerves ache at the ascendant cognizance of all the things that I nearly did with Amy. A memory surfaced, more sensation than image; a smooth crease of inner thigh and short, rapid breaths that drew in the intertwined scents of her juvenile perfume and the hay which carpeted the floor of the barn where we were to make our tryst; the unconquered perimeters of cotton underwear, once mysterious but in that moment yielding; a keen advance by millimetres, the slim chasm that remained and oh, oh the proximity. That most crucial moment had been obliterated by her father’s voice from the house, her quick departure from the barn and soon after, her complete departure from my life.

‘I had quite forgotten,’ I breathed.

‘Well, she’s back in town,’ the uncle wheezed, collecting his change from Mrs Benheim, who added, ‘Because of the divorce.’

‘Old hag,’ thought the uncle, with a rheumy glare. ‘Thanking you,‘ he said, raising his mug to her with a flourish. ‘I’m sure you’ll see her about,’ he continued sheepishly, ‘she’s often… she’s often about.’ He walked back to the cards table with a slight stagger and I turned to Mrs Benheim.

‘Has Amy been back long?’ I asked with a practised nonchalance, knowing that if the old crone could have read my mind, all her doubts about me would have been alleviated.

‘Oh, about a month I believe,’ she replied, polishing a glass and holding it up to light. ‘I suppose you heard about the divorce?’

I felt an unreasoning jealousy stir in my stomach.

‘Actually I had no idea she had got married.’

Outwardly Mrs Benheim remained unmoved, but in the cramped recesses of her mind a narrative was shaping: Amy’s story and how best to tell it.

‘She was married not quite two years ago,‘ she said , leaning closer to me with a glance at the uncle over at the cards table, ‘to a fellar she had known for six months.’ Her eyebrows lifted with the significance of the statement and I nodded to encourage her on. ‘Course, it didn’t work; he wasn’t “mature enough” apparently, and they had their difficulties, all told.’

Still had some of the bruises when she turned up here,’ Mrs Benhiem was thinking. ‘She never did know when to keep her mouth shut.’

I balked at this odious matron’s pitilessness but asked her where Amy was staying.

‘Why, in your father’s guest house as it happens. Funny he didn’t mention it to you.’

I thought back to the terse telephone conversation with my father which had prompted the visit; it had been strictly no frills and completely devoid of gossip.

‘Perhaps he was keeping it as a surprise.’

Mrs Benheim nodded as she inexpertly sliced a lemon for my second gin and tonic.

‘Perhaps.’‘Or perhaps he’s keeping his cards close to his chest, as always. Never did have much occasion to talk to you.’

I excused myself, hiding my balled fists and made for the restroom.

While I was standing at the urinal, relieving myself and trying to calm down, a cubicle door swung open and a portly figure stumbled out over the slippery off-white tiles.

I saw him out the corner of my eye, washing his hands and doing a double take when he recognised me.

‘Evening Glenn!’ he said, turning to face me.

‘Evening, mate,’ I replied, with the twin embarrassments of failing to recognise him and having him watch me piss.

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ he said accusingly.

I did a quick tour of his memories and saw the two of us, still in short trousers, collaborating on mother’s day cards in primary school.

I finished, shook and zipped.

‘Don’t start with me Harold,’ I said, grinning, ‘of course I remember you.’

He chortled and slapped me hard on the back as I rinsed my hands.

‘So what brings you back to rural life?’ he asked.

‘I’m meeting with my father.’

Harold was a little too drunk to hide the surprise from his face. ‘Meeting him in the pub? Do it in a public place I suppose, less fuss.’

‘Well that’s nice.’ He paused. ‘Did you know Amy’s back?’ he asked as we left the bathroom together.

‘That’s what they tell me.’

‘She’s all grown up now.’ He made an hourglass motion with his hands and pulled a rapturous face.

I nodded meekly. ‘Quite.’

‘Yeah well,’ I could hear him thinking, ‘can’t expect you to be too interested in the women folk can we?’

‘Have you seen much of her?’ I asked, through gritted teeth.

‘Not nearly enough,’ he said roguishly, swigging at his pint, ‘I should like to see more.’

I sipped my gin and tonic without comment. The pub door swung open behind us and I glanced over my shoulder reflexively.

‘Keen to see her are you?’ Harold asked, catching my look.

‘Now you leave him be,’ interjected Mrs Benheim, ‘I’m sure he’s just looking forward to seeing his father.’ The two of them looked at each other conspiratorially, without saying or thinking anything.

Harold took his leave and joined his table, leaving me to tune into the background chatter of the pub. Across the room I saw an old neighbour of mine and I waved with genuine warmth.

He returned the wave, thinking ‘Poor lad doesn’t deserve this.’

Acquaintances from school were huddled around a long table with Harold; they looked away when I spotted them and I received a mishmash of thoughts from the group.

‘…and do we really want to be in here when…’

‘…old enough to be her…’

‘…heard the son’s gay but will that make any…’

‘…could have just said over the phone…’

I felt a tap at my elbow and turned to see Mrs Benheim sliding another drink across to me.

‘Have this, love,’ she said, leaning slightly over the bar as Amy and my father entered.

And please don’t make a scene.’

A Note from the Editor

I suppose I should start this foreword by explaining that the publication of the following text is in direct conflict with the advice of many lawyers, including my own, as well as my peers in the publishing industry, the Los Angeles Police Department, the friends and family of the author, and my own wife. I do not take the judgement of so many well-informed people and institutions lightly, nor do I claim to have any greater insight into the matter, save for my access to the unedited version of the text.

In my defence, I remind the reader that the interest and demand of the general public is the only force a successful publisher ever need respond to, especially in a case which has been so widely followed and yet for which so little reliable information is available; furthermore, in presenting this document to the world, I am following what may turn out to have been the last request of its author, an act with which I intend to honour his spectacular life as well as raise awareness of the unusual circumstances around his departure from the world stage. I can only hope that wherever he is, his explicit instructions to me concerning the release of his memoirs, if such they might be called, still marry with his desire that his adoring public understand the pressures under which he laboured for so long.

Billy Ray Jetson, more commonly known as ‘RayGun Jetson’ by his fans, began his rise to fame with soft rock band DarkThrob, which signed with Universal records in 1972, the same year in which Aerosmith were signed to Columbia records. This year was to be the start of hugely successful careers for both bands, as well as a temperamental and competitive relationship between the two. One of the many popular folk-tales of that era refers to the impossibility of having both bands on stage in the same night, owing to the refusal of each to open for the other; a lesser known but more strongly believed story suggests that RayGun refused to allow Universal Studios bosses to sign Aerosmith when their contract with Columbia ended, threatening to quit the label.

Such stories form the bedrock of a labyrinthine mythology spanning four decades, the same number of doomed marriages, several prolonged and ultimately futile periods in rehabilitation clinics, fights, flings, and nights in jail; his simultaneous relationships with three different Bond girls is still a favourite anecdote on the Sunset Strip, and the resulting catfight at the 1982 Oscar ceremony is YouTube’s highest rated video from any award ceremony ever. In this much at least, the elements, if not the scale, of RayGun Jetson’s story are entirely typical of any lead singer in a rock band at that time.

RayGun’s long-term drug addiction in particular brought him much unwanted attention from the press, largely due to his inability to perform on stage throughout the late 1980’s; Steve Tyler, RayGun’s counterpart in Aerosmith, commented in ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine in 1986: “It’s bullshit what some people are saying about RayGun Jetson man, making out that he’s some kind of wild drug fiend like no other… the only difference between him and me, or him and Slash, or him and the other guys in his own band… is that he can’t take drugs and just get on with it. He gets completely out of his mind, every time.” 1

There is a startling and heretofore unknown level of detail regarding this aspect of RayGun’s existence to be found in the following pages, with the details ‘blurred’ only so far as is necessary to protect the innocent. In fact, part of the extreme controversy surrounding the release of this material is due to RayGun’s uncompromising confessional style, not only unburdening himself but implicating swathes of the Hollywood elite in the most bizarre and improbable illicit practices. The resulting unrest among the L.A glitterazi, and their aforementioned hordes of legal representatives, has come close to preventing this publication and may yet prove to be the end of my career.

Of course, such wild lifestyles were very much the norm in the period of DarkThrob’s fame, a period which saw the drug and alcohol related deaths of Ian Curtis, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Moon and many others; nothing here is remarkable about RayGun Jetson, save perhaps that he didn’t die. Throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when the band was still among the most commercially successful performing acts around, RayGun, though seriously endangering his health, managed to avoid the trend for overdosing; the band’s short-lived revival in the late 1990’s, which opened them up to a new generation of fans, was still marred by heavy drugs use which nonetheless did not seem to seriously incapacitate RayGun.

Little had been seen of him the singer after 2000, when he moved to Los Angeles; his only national media appearance revolved around a brief and controversial association with the Church of Scientology. It was in this period that I first met RayGun, at a time when he was bouncing between would-be publishers with the hope of sharing his written work with the world. Like most of my colleagues in the industry, I was initially excited by the prospect of that rare gem, a guaranteed commercial success; and, also like my colleagues in the industry, I was dismayed by the work RayGun had to show me. As I have mentioned, the age of his universal stardom was over, so while he still had the potential for popularity with an older generation of readers, his fame was not sufficient for me to overlook the glaring faults of his surreal and seemingly hallucinatory writings. I sometimes envy that younger, untroubled version of myself, the man with enough ambition to avoid the risk involved in being attached to this publication. I wonder if perhaps I wouldn’t be a happier man for obeying my first instinct, and binning the book, but I can only leave it to posterity to judge me as it will.

It is impossible for me to imagine that you, the reader, are unfamiliar with some of the more outlandish rumours which started receiving minor publicity, predominantly in the U.S.A., at the turn of the millennium. A story began to circulate that RayGun Jetson claimed to be able to see into the near future. Specifically, he insisted that he was always aware of the exact details of the next day of his life, and that he was able to alter events in order to make their outcome beneficial to him. This became public knowledge after RayGun discussed his ‘ability’ with an undercover music journalist at a party in Keith Richards L.A. Mansion, and later featured in an unflattering ‘Kerrang’2 column about ‘partied out’ musicians of the past.

The episode was seen by many as the inevitable consequence of the life RayGun had led, and on the face of it, seemed no stranger than the tales of his binge weeks with Ozzy Osbourne and Tommy Lee.

There was however a second article on the same theme, which, for reasons that shall become obvious, never made it to print. On the 10th of September 2001, RayGun appeared in a local office of the L.A.P..D., utterly inebriated and apparently terrified, raving about ‘attackers’. He became belligerent when asked to leave, and was quickly arrested after verbally abusing the desk Sergeant; a search revealed him to be in possession of three grams of crack cocaine, and he was detained overnight pending bail. The arrest report makes for interesting reading; it describes RayGun as being ‘… totally, almost incoherently intoxicated…’ and notes, with a hint of amusement, ‘…the detainee is convinced that the United States will come under attack within forty-eight hours.’

Obviously, the fallout of the September 11th attacks meant that no newspaper, even one on the West coast, was going to run a comic celebrity interest story, especially when that story raised such uncomfortable questions about how much RayGun knew of the terrible events which were to befall America.

Much has been made of this incident on certain online forums, and theories abound, often claiming that RayGun did indeed have some kind of precognitive ability. Many supporters of this theory point to RayGun’s strange behaviour during a 1992 appearance on ‘Tonight with Jay Leno’, when the singer seemed distracted and refused to talk about anything other than the DL State football game scheduled for the following day. Leno and the audience mocked RayGun’s certainty that Colorado would knock New York State out of the tournament in the first round, citing the one-hundred to one odds being offered by the bookies. As football fans will recall, Colorado won that game for the first time in a century, allowing RayGun to pocket a cool $200,000 from the insight.3

Likewise, great significance is leant to RayGun’s apparent aptitude for manipulating the stock market as, despite having no formal education or background in investment, he chose to organise the majority of the accumulated wealth of DarkThrob into risky portfolios on the one-day trading floor of NASDAQ; the band subsequently profited by unprecedented margins. These accounts, tied in with the retrospective analysis of album titles such as ‘Foresight’, ’24 Ahead’ and ‘Let me Tell you Tomorrow’ have birthed a tranche of conspiracy theories ranging from the thought-provoking to the downright wacky.

Whatever ‘evidence’ is bandied about is more likely to be the result of a very human desire for the inexplicable than a compelling argument for a seer-singer-songwriter; the book is composed of the largely verbatim writings of RayGun Jetson, and it contains many more such examples of his apparent precognition, some more and some less compelling than those I’ve already mentioned. I have read it many times, and spent long, wistful nights preoccupied with both the decision to print it and with the plausibility of its content, so I advise you to enter into it with a spirit of healthy scepticism; there is nothing to gain from either your disdain or your naivety, and at the very least the collection offers a fascinating insight into what an independent psychoanalyst has described as ‘…a quite standard, but abnormally resolute form of schizophrenia.’4 The content of this book seems to support that theory, but only as much as it supports any other; it’s rambling in places, obsessed with minor details and interactions with seemingly random people; most of the prophetic moments have lost their meaning now that the events they refer to have already occurred, and it’s often impossible to tell whether RayGun documented them before or after they actually happened. What we are left with is not quite a novel, nor a diary. Perhaps it is best viewed as a curiosity, presented to the world without an objective- but then again perhaps it is, as many have suggested, a kind of suicide note meant to further the cult of personality which built up around the performer in his latter years.

Billy ‘RayGun’ Jetson was last seen in the front garden of his Venice Hills house in California at 10:30am, on the 22nd of February 2012, by a neighbour who was leaving to walk his dog. One other person, his housekeeper, saw him earlier in the morning, but could not say whether his behaviour was more or less unusual than at any other time. He continued writing his compelling account of life with precognition until that same afternoon, at which point he seems to have vanished; nobody reports having seen him leave his house, his cars were safely locked away in the garage, and there were no personal effects missing from his home. Police on the scene could not identify any sign of violence or forced entry; extensive forensic investigation turned up only the wholly expected drugs caches; the only unusual thing in the entire house was a thick, hand written book on the kitchen table, an extended version of the copy he had brought to me some years before with a view to getting it published. There was a note attached, addressed to me, which simply said, “Wilco- today, I can’t see. It all ends at 2.42 pm. Publish it if you want to.” It would be vain of me to believe that RayGun gave me such a significant role in his end purely to punish me for my previous lack of faith in his work, although that was how I felt immediately after I was told, and how I still feel on occasion. The police ultimately decided that this note was sufficient grounds to assume suicide, and when a short search of the local area turned up nothing, the file on Bill ‘RayGun’ Jetson was closed.

So, if you’ve just picked up a copy of this book in your local store, and you’re still unsure whether or not it appeals to you, I recommend to you its grand themes: the ultimate party lifestyle, an unsolved mystery bigger than ‘Elvis Lives’, and a Cassandra complex rock’n’roller who disappeared off the face of the Earth. Enter this madhouse then, with my compliments.

Tom Wilco

September 2012

1 Terunga Elsapora, ‘Dude I’m Like, Totally…’, Kerrang, 312 (2001), 4-5.

2 Bobby Bozna, ‘Who’da Thunk It?’, Illustrated Sports Weekly, 189 (1992), 12-13.

3 Harry Maxwell, ‘Aerosmith and the 80’s’, Rolling Stone, 42 (1986), 22-26

4 Verity Westwode , PsychoUnlogical: The Uncharted Depths of the Human Mind-Maze (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 59.

Nonentity

It was a clammy night in Buenos Nerbes and I was at an alright party at El Grouch’s, a place that needed a refurb so badly it was fast becoming retro. There were girls doing jello shooter off other girls and I was watching this, drinking a beer, maybe posing a little too. At some point this guy walked right up and just stood next to me, also drinking a beer, and maybe he was posing as well. I couldn’t tell. Anyway, his being there kind of mirrored what I was doing in this unsavoury sort of way. It made me feel like a dork, both of us standing around and digging on these bikini chicks like watching sports, so I eyeballed him a bit and he toasted me with his beer. I think this is where Howard entered. Normally I would have kind of, ignored, Howard at a party. He’s a pretty good guy. Alright dude to get a beer with or hit a little surf, but a total bum at parties, with girls. So like, he starts jabbering and I don’t ignore him, even though this is Howard at a party, because that other guy with the beer was making it less cool to watch the bikinis.

‘Zack, I think I’m fading away man.’

Raised eyebrow from me. ‘Is it Xanax? I have told you.’

He was shaking his head and sweating, and his eyes were all over the room. ‘No Zack, I haven’t taken anything. I stopped taking things a while back.’ His eyes stopped cartwheeling and he looked at me straight. ‘I was on a fruit diet too.’

I snorted and patted his big belly, still getting some bikini shooter action in my peripherals but mainly watching him. ‘If you’re on a fruit diet you must want to fade away, a bit.’

‘It’s not right man,’ he mumbled with unsteady breath, ‘You don’t shoot the messenger.’ Right then he grabbed my arm, gripped it tight, and stared straight into me. ‘Where have you been, outside of Buenos Nerbes?’

‘Shit.’ I scratched my head. ‘My parents have the holiday place up in Banshire. So there’s that. Maybe day trips around Moloho.’

‘Those are just the extremities of Buenos Nerbes.’

I shrugged. ‘What’s your point? Are you any better travelled?’ He started shaking his head again and didn’t stop for a while. I watched the jello fun, covertly.

‘No, I’m not any better travelled than you,’ he said. ‘Is anyone?’ He swept his arm over the room and I noticed a few people in the crowd I was pretty sure I had met before. ‘Is anyone here likely to have left Beunos Nerbes, in their entire lives?’

I copied his sweeping gesture. ‘It’s clearly the place to be.’

That seemed to get to him. ‘It’s a place to not be.’

The rest of the party was pretty good. I went home with one of the bikini jello crew, I forget which, and she left before I got up which was cool.
The next morning I had a message on my phone from Howard that said, “I am not being.”

 ***

I think it was about two more days, or something, before I saw Howard again. He was standing at the clammy bar of an alright little Hawaiian place that served some pretty good punch, and he was staring at a half coconut nearly full of pink stuff that was next to him on a barstool.
I walked over. ‘If it’s that bad man, I’ll buy you a different one. Try the blue.’ He kept staring and I could see white all the way around his irises.

‘Pick it up.’ 

I looked at the half coconut. ‘What, this?’ I picked up the drink. ‘Is it yours or not?’

‘Put it down.’

I replaced it on the stool and he reached out his arm, gripping the drink but not moving it.

‘Are you going to move that Howard? I wanna sit down.’

‘I can’t. It won’t move. I’ve been trying for thirty minutes.’ He glanced around the bar, frowning. I saw some guy near the entrance that I knew from school or a party or something and waved. ‘You would have thought someone would have noticed.’

I picked up the drink and sipped it. ‘Pretty good,’ I said nodding, ‘Sure you don’t want it?’
He waved it off. ‘Don’t know what would happen if I tried to drink it anyway. Have you ever felt like a character in a story?’ The question caught me so off guard that I almost answered him honestly. 

‘Sure. Everybody fantasizes Howard. The thing to remember is…’

‘No that’s not what I’m talking about.’ He placed his palm on his forehead and rubbed his temples. I thought I heard him say that he couldn’t feel his hands but the Hawaiian place was kinda loud. ‘Let me put it another way,’ he said. ‘Say you were a character in a story, but something happened to you. Maybe you die. What happens with the story?’

I reached my arms out wide, grinning. ‘The story stops if I die. I’m the main character.’ 

He watched me sip his drink rheumy-eyed. ‘We should all be so optimistic. Pick someone else then. Say I died, in your story. What then?’

Howard was making me way nervous at this point so I took a big swig from the half- coconut and scoped the room again. There were drunk girls doing stuff with jello but I couldn’t tell if they were the same ones. At last I said, ‘Well it would make me mighty sad. How’s that?’

He smiled weakly and shrugged. ‘Alright, I guess.’

‘Howard?’

‘Yeah?’

I tried to weigh my words carefully. ‘Are you gonna, like, kill yourself?’
His forehead creased, perplexed. ‘I think I might have already.’
More stuff happened in the next few days. A party I think. And maybe a graduation or a christening or something.

***
I don’t how long it had been after the night in the Hawaiian place when I found Howard, on the beach around noon. The tide was coming in deep and undermining children’s castles.

‘Kinda clammy today isn’t it?’ he asked over his shoulder as I walked up behind him.

‘Kinda,’ I replied. ‘What are you doing out here?’

He gazed out across the dull ocean. ‘I was wondering how far I would make it if I just swam straight out. If I’d get somewhere else.’ I opened my mouth to respond, closed my mouth again. He caught my look. ‘But not in a suicide kind of way. What are you doing out here?’

‘I wanted to ask you something. The stuff about being in a story.’

He smiled. He looked tired.  ‘Caught your imagination did it?’

‘Maybe.’

He turned bodily towards me without stirring the sand. ‘Let’s forget about who the main character is. It’s probably a dumb question. Maybe I should ask what characters are?’

I shrugged and took the bait. ‘What are characters Howard?’

He sighed. ‘If I wrote down this conversation, straight up, just as we’re speaking it now, it still wouldn’t be us on the page. The moment you write it, it stops being something that’s happening and becomes something that happened. When you read it later on, you’re not the same you, I’m not the same me and that’s not us talking.’

‘Like the sand?’

‘What?’

I hesitated. ‘Well, if you took a photo of the sand, by the time you looked at it, there would be a slightly different beach there. People walk on it and there’s the tide and… Am I being dumb?’

He smiled softly. ‘No Zack. Top of the class.’ He stood up and started walking down the beach. ‘But what if a character realised that that’s all they are? What if they woke up to the story?’

Pacing behind Howard, I had to laugh at how insane he was becoming and I made a mental note to stick with drugs and avoid fruit. ‘Howard, if I was writing a story and a character starting taking over, I would write that sucker out of the damned story.’

‘Not easy though.’

‘No?’

‘Not if you’ve been working on the story for a while. You’d have to go back over what you’d written and kick over the traces right?’

‘Um, yeah?’

‘What’s your earliest memory?’

Again with the sneak attack.

‘Um… shit man, the life I lead I can’t always remember what I did the night before.’

‘Answer the question.’

I stopped to kick a deflated soccer ball into the sea. ‘School? I pretty much remember school I think.’

‘And what do you remember from school? What are your impressions?’

‘Um…’

‘Remember any people from school?’

I snapped my fingers, excited. ‘Yeah, hey yeah, I saw this guy at the Hawaiian joint the other night and I’m pretty sure I knew him from school.’

‘Name?’

I shrugged. 

‘Do you think if a character only knew what they absolutely needed to know, maybe just what had already come up in their story, do you think they would notice?’

‘Maybe. Probably not. If they did, I reckon they would be fucked.’

Howard turned his back on me and started walking away. ‘Zack, I reckon you are right.’

I called after him but he didn’t stop and I didn’t want to be chasing him around, so I sat on the beach for a while, maybe an hour or a few hours, thinking. I got up to go after him at one point but I couldn’t see any footprints in the sand.

I left Howard a voicemail asking where he had gone. I left one asking how he felt. I left another asking who else he had talked to about this. I called a fourth time to ask why I couldn’t pick up my knife at dinner and why people’s eyes kept glazing over when I spoke to them. I tried to call a fifth time but there was nobody called Howard in my address book.