The sidewalk ahead of him was unusually empty for this time of day, and a collision with another lunch hour dweller was not a likely outcome of walking without looking ahead. His long ash – grey winter coat – a present from his mother – hung down to his knees and was unbuttoned, revealing his tight fitting white shirt and charcoal grey cravat. He was the embodiment of corporate management.
Callum was walking briskly, and to any onlooker he would have appeared to be without any idea where he was going. He was not looking straight ahead, nor was he looking down. He knew where he was going, but his destination took second place to the noise in his head. The noise was a gnawing irritating thought which had been haunting him for well over two weeks, and it was unrelenting in its questioning.
‘Did it really happen?’
‘How could Frank just disappear if the truck hit his side?’
These questions and others would not leave him.
I cannot answer, and the interrogator inside me simply will not take ‘I don’t know’ as an answer.
Sleep had been evading him and he could not think of anything but the questions, however hard he tried. It felt like there was a blanket in front of his face, a veil he could not shake. It had been there since the near miss… the Incident – the gold medal winner in the daily fight for Callum’s attention.
“Please come on up Mr Incident, collect your gold meda…” he muttered under his breath, but the ceremony was interrupted by a collision…
“Watch where you’re going dipshit, you nearly made me spill my coffee!” A man scowled at him, regaining his balance, but never once stopping. Callum grunted, realized what had happened, and for a brief moment the here and now took the gold. He spun around, suddenly aware of everything around him, but not of everyone… Only of the stranger who he had unknowingly shoulder-charged.
”Sorry man, my fault” he yelled back at the man, but was ignored. The man simply kept walking down the sidewalk in the direction Callum had come, sipping his prized possession – a mocha java - and pulling his shoulders up, shrinking his neck in a sign of obvious cold.
Callum is looking around, first left then right. He sees all. He is taking in everything around him while mental sobriety remains on the top tier of the podium. He knows this feeling will not last long – two minutes at most – but while it lasts he feels like a Jedi, feels like Sherlock Holmes, feels like whatever you call someone who absorbs information like a detective solving a murder by simply looking at the crime scene and instantly knowing who did it, and how.
He notices the cold, and knows it is winter, early July to be precise. He had been aware of this during his entire walk, but now he knows it. He looks at the shop windows to the left and right of the road, identifies the reflections of other lunch hour dwellers’ faces in them. He is momentarily excited by the assurance that he could describe each face in fine detail should a horrible crime occur right this instant. By doing this he would help the police solve the crime and have his picture taken to be posted on facebook, or some community newspaper – nothing too mainstream. The photograph would be accompanied by a heroic tale about a young man who solved a crime. The headline would read something like: SHERLOCK CIVILIAN SHEDS LIGHT WHERE POLICE SEE DARKNESS.
Thoughts of freelance sleuthing leave his mind and he focuses on the cars driving slowly along the three lanes of the city street beside him. These are not vehicles bought merely for transport from point A to point B. These are the kinds of self-indulgent, over compensating toys one might find on the cover of CAR Magazine under the headline: 2016 EXECUTIVE MUST HAVES.
God, what is it with you and headlines today? He thinks to himself.
A black BMW 7-series, brown leather seats, windows tinted a dark blue.
A blood red convertible Jaguar F-Type, he does not notice much more than the black leather seats and the cigarette pressed tightly between the drivers lips. Camel. Don’t ash on the leather buddy!
This is fantastic. Callum thinks.
A white Range Rover Evoque, the attractive young lady inside can barely see over the steering wheel, and what little she can see must surely be further limited by the absurdly thick round sunglasses resting on her nose… The number plate for this one: RT 66 UY GP.
Obviously a gift from a rich husband. A reward for her womanly duties as arm candy and her wifely duties of shutting her god-damn bitch mouth about the affair she knows all too well about.
Callum thinks bitterly. He can’t confirm it, but he doesn’t need to.
The bitch has sold her soul for the smell of RR branded leather surrounding her. The bruises beneath those sunglasses and the thick make up seem a small sacrifice and are soon forgotten when she sees the look of envy in her friends’ eyes. This envy she loves too much to cry for help and tell them what the bastard is doing to her.
These thoughts come on suddenly. And the voice they come in doesn’t sound like his own. The voice seems angry, as if from a man bearing the weight of great and bitter hatred over a long time. He feels guilty for his thoughts, but more so because of the voice carrying them.
The noise starts making its creeping return to his mind as he is analysing a silver Porsche…something. It takes no time at all for the something to become a green, possibly blue blur.
Callum feels like a VIP guest watching some test through an observational window. On the other side of the window is a superbly illuminated room. The room has white walls and white floors, and there seems to be a bright light shining from within them. In the middle of the room stands his Sherlocky self. The Callum in the centre of the room represents the feeling of clarity and freshness he had experienced for the past few minutes, but now the walls are starting to close in. As they closed in, the light emitting from the walls and floors is fading and adopting a grey glow. The walls continue to close in like those of a trap room where the hero in a movie had inadvertently stumbled into and was now faced with imminent death. With every inch the walls creep closer to the hero, the room grows darker. Callum stands looking through the window, wanting to walk away but unable to tear himself from the scene unfolding before him. The room – the noise and its questions – is growing darker, causing a claustrophobic awareness that the world was no longer his crime scene.
Suddenly the walls come to a halt with an abrupt shudder, causing the room to reverberate with an echoing shock. The walls were just far enough apart for the hero not to be crushed, but yet unable to turn without rubbing his shoulders touching both.
Its back, let’s get going superman.
The return of the noise and its questions were immediately deafening and at the same time not there at all. Callum was so focused on the veil covering his mind that he never even noticed the vehicle heading toward him as he turned left to cross the street. He placed his left foot in the road and somewhere behind the veil he heard a woman’s scream. He felt a hand grasping at his left shoulder and brashly shrugged it off.
The screech of brakes and the car horn being blasted in his ears made him stop dead in his tracks, and as he looked up he saw the front bumper of the vehicle he had been studying – before his clarity started vanishing – three inches away from his right leg. The owner was climbing out, with a violent madness on his face.
“What the fuck…You got a death wish kid? I almost killed you!”
Kid? Deathwish?...do I? But I’m already…the accident…
Callum turned his head and looked the man directly in the eyes, it made him stop his advance so suddenly he appeared to be yanked back by his shirt collar. He turned around and got back into his vehicle without saying a word. Callum turned his head back, facing forward again and continued to cross the street. He blinked twice. The sound of other car horns being blasted were little more than a blur in the back of his mind. As he reached the opposite sidewalk, a momentary clarity came upon his mind.
Shit, that was close! I nearly ended up on that man’s lap, shattered pieces of his windscreen covering us both and my blood soaking into his khaki chinos.
In that moment a terrifying realization invaded Callum’s thoughts. Had this really been close or had this been incident number two. Had he survived this one? Had he survived the first one? Was this the conscious continuation Frank had told him about; a next plain where he just continued living, unaware of the family and friends he left behind in the other one? Was there a mother in the pre-incident plain who was currently at a morgue in this shit hole of a city identifying a son she loved. Was the dead son wearing a grey coat she had bought him less than two months ago? Was the coat in that plain covered in blood and shattered glass?
Less than half an hour later he had reached his destination – the unfortunate fighter who had ended the trip in third place, displaced by what he now called incident number two. He entered the large, undecorated and immaculately clean glass doors leading to the building’s foyer. He strolled up to a sign on the wall indicating which floors belonged to which companies. He had been here twice in the last week, and knew precisely where to go, but felt it necessary to confirm his destination regardless.
2nd FLOOR – OFFICE 216 DR JW WEIZMANN PSYCOLOGIST
Yeah, it’s still there, just like last time. Maybe I’m okay.
He turned right and started walking toward the elevator, all the while knowing deep down that he was not okay, knowing that his thoughts were lying to him; trying to lure him into a false sense of security. He arrived at the elevator and pressed the button with the up-facing arrow. The button instantly glowed green, as if to tell him his selection was correct and he was heading in the right direction.
“Thank you, captain obvious” he murmured to himself, unaware he was doing so.
”Beg your pardon?” a woman standing next to him asked.
He looked at her, not realizing why she would be asking him to repeat himself, and not aware of the look he was giving her. He was blinking again. Once. Twice. She backed away slowly, and headed to the stairs. She wasn’t going to spend any time in a confined space with this maniac. Callum could swear she was sobbing.
The elevator reached the ground floor within ten seconds of the woman taking her leave of him. From within, Callum heard a bell sound announcing the machine had arrived where it had been ordered to go. The doors opened and he stepped inside and spun around on his right heel to face them, feeling like Gene Kelly in a dance number. He grinned at himself in the mirror. He was feeling more positive now, seeing Dr Weizmann always made him feel hopeful. He looked at the silver panel of glass buttons all with numbers above them. The elevator was just like the hundreds he had been in throughout his life. Mirrors decorated the walls to the left and right of the box – He was grinning to himself in the one to the left - and the wall opposite the doors was covered in the kind of carpet one expected to see on a Sunday school room floor. At the top of the panel was the name of the company responsible for manufacturing this tribute to corporate laziness.
Callum pressed the button below the number 2, and the doors started to close. As they did, Callum heard the cables far above him kick-start into a dull mechanic hum, preparing to hoist his current cage up to floor number 2, where DR JW WEITZMANN – PSYCOLOGIST was waiting for him.
The appointment was for 14:00, and it was now 13:54… Punctual as ever, Cally-boy!
The elevator came to a rather sudden stop on floor 2, in the way such machines do, causing Callum’s stomach to catch up with the rest of him half a second after the latter had reached its destination. As the bell rang announcing its arrival, the lights inside the small mobile room began to flicker violently. They flickered three of four times – off, on, off, on - and then went out completely. Callum felt the hair on the back of his neck stand and his body stiffen with a chill. The breath he felt against his neck made his heart want to jump out of his chest – like some demented jack in the box – leaving a gruesome exit wound.
The voice from behind his ear was like the one who had judged the woman in the white Range Rover. No. It was not like the judging voice…it was the judging voice, and it made him sick to his stomach to hear it so close, no longer in his head, but behind him. Real. Living.
“Cally?... you intolerable little fuckwit. Is that you? Can it really be? Can you hear me?” Callum’s neck stiffened further and his body gave an involuntary jerk.
“No need to answer, my little ranger. That little squirm told me all I be needin’. What was that today? Number three? Number two?”… a pause. “Number seven? I’ve been waiting a long time Cally, a long looong time. Waiting for you my boy.“
The voice spoke slowly and had a southern twang to it. Every word was unnecessarily drawn out when spoken and it sounded as if the speaker’s lips were overly moistened, giving each lengthy word a wet sound, almost slurring. Callum heard two faint clicking sounds. Sounds he would later compare to a camera shutter, and then he felt the two hands reaching around his waist. The hands trailed around from his back, the nail of one of the fingers trailing behind the rest of the hand and lingering just that little while longer and scratching the coarse grey birthday present he was wearing. As the fingers reached Callum’s shirt buttons, they undid the one closest to his naval. At this Callum would have jerked, but he realized with terror that he was frozen still. He could not move, and a pressure was building up in his head.
An icy cold finger reached for his naval and he could feel the jagged edges of a long curved fingernail exploring the creases inside.
”Ooh Cally…the things I want show you” said the voice, the malice in it growing with every word, but so too the drawn out cut of it.
“So many times we were close, you and I…to meeting, you know. But you always managed to fuck it up.”
The jagged fingernail dug deeper into his naval, starting to hurt now. Then deeper – surely it must be drawing blood by now, thought Callum.
“Oh it is” said the voice, drawing out the last word with such purpose, Callum could almost imagine a snake, hissing behind him. As the one-nailed, slender hand continued to pierce his naval, the other started moving up toward his throat, and upon reaching it, took hold with such verocity, Callum felt as if he had been punched right on his Adam’s apple. “It is drawing blood, but don’t fear my dear…I shall not bleed you dry or leave you maimed. I be lackin’ such authority if you will. ‘Tis a few more whoopsies needed before...”
It can hear my thoughts
“It?” the voice sounded offended. “Cally…you hurt me, how rude…Mother and Becca shan’t be liking your manners one bit.”
The pressure in Callum’s head was building steadily and he felt like a pressure cooker, ready to start whistling. He tried to speak through clenched teeth while the nail dug deeper into him, but it was pointless. The other hand now wrapped around his throat, fingers extended with thumb and index finger nearly touching behind Callum’s neck. If the thumb had any nail whatsoever, they would be.
“Tata.” The voice snickered.
It was gone so suddenly that Callum simply stood for a moment, stood in the middle of that elevator, alone and shaking; stood wondering if it had been there at all.
Of course it was here, prick! You knew it was real before your neck hair rose. He thought to himself
As suddenly as they had gone out, the lights in the elevator came back on. Callum’s hands reached for the shirt buttons around his naval, but found they were fastened. He looked down, and could see a small red dot, marking the place where the nail had pierced him. He started doing up the buttons of his cloak, so as to hide the blood. There was a single ring of a bell, and the elevator doors opened. Callum looked up as he prepared to exit, and noticed the electronic clock above the door.
It can’t be, he thought to himself…